Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review of: 'The Bottom Billion'

Help Beyond Aid
In his new book, Paul Collier pushes development economists to broaden their approach.

By Sam Boyd

July 31, 2007 | Prospect.org

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier (Oxford University Press, 222 Pages)

The last several years have witnessed the sudden growth of a nonfiction genre: the big development book. Each entry typically starts with a discussion of just how poor much of the world is, and then goes on to explain why and what is to be done. Joe Stiglitz, Jagdish Bhagwati, and many other leading economists have contributed, in one way or another, to the massive popular literature on development. Indeed, I can think of no other academic field where top researchers write so many books aimed at the general public.

Most notably, Jeff Sachs argued for vastly expanded aid in The End of Poverty, while William Easterly mocked this approach in his The White Man's Burden. Sachs believes that poor countries are stuck in a "poverty trap" in which the very fact they are poor keeps them from developing further. Under this theory, all the poorest countries need is a large one-time infusion of wealth that will allow them to grow on their own from there. Easterly points out that this notion has scant theoretical support and that no-one has been able to demonstrate that aid beyond 16 percent of GDP does anything to increase growth.

Most development economists are far more sympathetic to Easterly than Sachs. Tellingly, development luminary Abhijit Banerjee recently edited a book called Making Aid Work -- a title which reflects a general consensus that aid, in fact, currently does not work. This pessimistic consensus has left many people yearning for a broader and more hopeful take on the possibilities for development. In his new book, The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier seeks to address that desire and expand those possibilities by looking beyond aid as such.

Collier, former director of development research at the World Bank and now Director of Oxford's Center for the Study of African Economies, states explicitly in the book that he falls somewhere between Sachs's optimism and Easterly's pessimism, but that claim is a bit disingenuous -- Collier actually embraces Easterly's argument about the limitations of aid. But instead of resigning himself to advocating only marginal steps and hoping for limited improvements as Easterly does, he argues for an expansive approach that involves far more than direct monetary aid from the developed world.

Collier begins by pointing out that most of the world is in fact growing. Even many deeply poor countries will, without any direct aid from the developed world, be reasonably wealthy in a few decades time. The Indonesias and Brazils of the world have real problems, but ultimately they are doing fairly well. The most important question in development economics is what to do with the countries that are not. As his title implies, Collier considers the billion or so people who live in these stagnant and primarily African countries and seeks to explain why they remain poor and what can be done about it.

Collier is emphatic that "the central problem of the bottom billion is that they do not have growth." This runs somewhat contrary to the recent fashion in development literature, where any discussion of growth must emphasize how its benefits are distributed, and how its consequences can be made to be entirely benign and just. Collier argues that, as we have enough trouble creating growth at all, trying to manage how exactly its benefits are distributed is bound to end in failure.

The first section of the book lays out four traps developing countries fall into that prevent growth. First, conflict and poverty generate more conflict, which in turn further impoverishes a country. Second, being landlocked makes many kinds of economic activity difficult and dependent on the good will of neighbors. (Africa has by far the most landlocked countries in the world). Third, the existence of valuable natural resources make controlling the government attractive, which encourages bad conduct and makes exports uncompetitive by raising the price of foreign exchange. Finally, bad governance is destructive and self-perpetuating.

This is as lucid and concise an explanation of the problems of the developing world as anyone could want, though it does omit some important factors -- public health first among them. Nonetheless, it is an excellent introduction to the problems that bedevil the poorest countries.

If that were all The Bottom Billion had to offer, it would not be especially new. Fortunately, the second half of the book is concerned with how to break these traps, and this is where things get really interesting. Some of Collier's ideas are relatively moderate -- shifting from direct foreign aid to more technical assistance (that is, expert help given to developing countries with various difficult administrative tasks), establishing independent authorities outside national governments to spend aid monies, and more -- while others are much more radical.

Collier's most controversial proposal is his call for more military interventions by developed countries. Unsurprisingly, this was trumpeted in Niall "Empire" Ferguson's recent New York Times review as if it were the central message of the book. It isn't. Collier views military intervention as one tool among many to break countries out of a cycle of conflict. He points out that, judging by pretty much any metric, the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 was remarkably successful. He also argues that a more public commitment to preventing conflict in developing countries will reduce the likelihood of such conflict occurring at all.

Unfortunately, he doesn't take into account the difficulty of predicting ahead of time the cost or practicality of a military intervention. How confident can Western powers be that a given intervention will turn out like Sierra Leone in 2000 rather than, say, Somalia in 1993? Nonetheless, Collier is correct and courageous to point out that it often is within the power of Western governments to stop untold bloodshed with little effort.

Thankfully, Collier is on more solid empirical ground in his discussion of other potential solutions. His suggested approach to addressing the traps he discusses in the first section is to develop a set of international standards or charters that would make clear what role governments and aid agencies should play in various situations. He points to the Kimberly Process, which has already succeeded in dramatically lowering the price of conflict diamonds, though not at eliminating their trade altogether, as an example.

Most radically for an economist, Collier suggests giving bottom billion countries protection against competition from Asia and India. Those countries have become relatively wealthy by providing extremely cheap labor to the developed world, but it will be difficult for other countries to follow in their footsteps, as Asian and Indian labor costs have not yet risen enough to make moving to bottom billion countries worthwhile for Western companies.

Collier is not overly optimistic -- even if everything he suggests were to be enacted and be as effective as he hopes, it would be a long time before the bottom billion reached the level China is at today -- but he does bring a much needed spirit of optimism to the debate. The feud between Sachs and Easterly has dominated public discussion over development aid for the last several years, but, The Bottom Billion has the potential to break that cycle by broadening the debate. This is the best popular book on development I know of. It is not perfect by any means, but if it gets half as much attention as Sachs and Easterly's offerings, it will move the development discussion forward immensely.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bush makes 'exception' for nukular outlaw India

For one minute pretend you're Iran, and you see this sh*# between the U.S. and India. If you were Iran, you could come to only one logical conclusion: Get nuclear weapons ASAP, so that the West is forced to deal with you on equal terms.

As Pakistan and India have proven, once you show the world you have nukes, you're in a whole new league. They learned that you don't enter the elite Nuclear Club by invitation, you have to kick in the door with a BANG.

When we (America) cave in and make deals like this with India, we send the whole world the message that America is serious about non-proliferation just as long as you don't manage to acquire nuclear weapons. Once you get them, however, the whole story changes, and you're on a totally different level of international relations – a level of equals.

U.S. to announce nuclear exception for India
By David E. Sanger
July 27, 2007 | The International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON: Three years after President George W. Bush urged global rules to stop additional nations from making nuclear fuel, the White House will announce on Friday that it is carving out an exception for India, in a last-ditch effort to seal a civilian nuclear deal between the countries.

The scheduled announcement, described Thursday by senior American officials, follows more than a year of negotiations intended to keep an unusual arrangement between the countries from being defeated in New Delhi.

Until the overall deal was approved by Congress last year, the United States was prohibited by U.S. law from selling civilian nuclear technology to India because it has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The legislation passed by Congress allows the United States to sell both commercial nuclear technology and fuel to India, but would require a cutoff in nuclear assistance if India again tests a nuclear weapon. India's Parliament balked at the deal, with many politicians there complaining that the requirements infringed on India's sovereignty.

Under the arrangement that is to be announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush has agreed to go beyond the terms of the deal that Congress approved, promising to help India build a nuclear fuel repository and find alternative sources of nuclear fuel in the event of an American cutoff, skirting some of the provisions of the law.

In February 2004, Bush, in a major speech outlining new nuclear policies to prevent proliferation, declared that "enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." He won the cooperation of allies for a temporary suspension of new facilities to make fuel, but allies that include Canada and Australia have also expressed interest in uranium enrichment.

The problem is a delicate one for the administration, because this month American officials are working at the United Nations Security Council to win approval of harsher economic sanctions against Iran for trying to enrich uranium. India is already a nuclear weapons state and has refused to sign the treaty; Iran, a signer of the treaty, does not yet have nuclear weapons.

But in an interview Thursday, R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, who negotiated the deal, said, "Iran in no way, shape or form would merit similar treatment because Iran is a nuclear outlaw state."

[Quick, somebody find a 3-year-old who can demolish this line of reasoning! – J]

He noted that Iran hid its nuclear activities for many years from international inspectors, and that it still had not answered most of their questions about evidence that could suggest it was seeking weapons.

Because India never signed the treaty, it too was considered a nuclear outlaw for decades. But Bush, eager to place relations with India on a new footing, waived many of the restrictions in order to sign the initial deal. It was heavily supported by Indian-Americans and American nuclear equipment companies, which see a huge potential market for their reactors and expertise.

[Ah, the nexus of power and money. Doesn't it make you feel good to know that, even in our scary post-9/11 world, some things never change? -- J]

Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who opposed the initial deal and said he would try to defeat the new arrangement, said Thursday, "If you make an exception for India, we will be preaching from a barstool to the rest of the world."

Though India would be prohibited from using the fuel it purchases from the United States for nuclear weapons, the ability to reprocess the fuel means India's other supplies would be freed up to expand its arsenal.

"It creates a double standard," Markey said. "One set of rules for countries we like, another for countries we don't."

Robert Einhorn, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that in "the first phase of negotiations with India, the administration made concessions that put the country on par with countries that have signed" the Nonproliferation Treaty. (Israel and Pakistan are the only other countries that have refused to sign it, and North Korea quit the treaty four years ago.)

"Now we've gone beyond that, and given India something that we don't give to Russia and China."

In general, advocates of a far-stronger relationship between India and the United States have favored the nuclear cooperation deal, and it passed through Congress fairly easily. But those arguing that the administration has not made good on its promises to clamp down on the trade in nuclear fuel argue that Bush could be setting a precedent that will undercut his nonproliferation initiative.

Burns said he disagreed because "this agreement is so very much in our national interest."

"It will further our nonproliferation efforts globally" by gradually bringing India into the nuclear fold, he said.

Actual Photo of Dick Cheney's Heart Surgery

VP Cheney: VP Cheney's Heart Operation a Success
June 29, 2007
Associated Presss

WASHINGTON -- On Saturday doctors at George Washington University Hospital elected not risk a less invasive procedure on U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, instead opting for a good ole'-fashioned stake through the heart.

Inexplicably, Cheney survived the operation to clear his clotted veins of human blood and proceeded to drain all the surgeons and attending nurses before grunting at his aides for a cold, caffeine-free Diet Sprite and some FOXNews to "chill out" to, although the recovery-cum-operating room was already set at Cheney's preferred flesh-preserving temperature of 68 degrees.

After the operation, Cheney's doctors had no comment.

Cheney, who has survived four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, two artery-clearing angioplasties, an operation to implant a defibrillator, and the surgical removal of a child's humerus from his stomach, seemed in good spirits as he left the hospital under his own power four hours later.

Brushing aside reporters' questions with a characteristic "Blah!" and a flourish of his cape, Cheney turned into a fuzzy bat and flew away to an undisclosed location somewhere near Number One Observatory Circle in Washington, DC.

REVEALED: Bush loves Turkey after all

This investigative article is interesting for a few reasons. First, because Robert Novak (aka "The Prince of Darkness"), a loyal conservative, has basically outed Bush's secret plan for secretive U.S. Special Forces operations that the U.S. public was never supposed to know about. If Novak were a "liberal" journalist, certainly any valuable point he would make would be overshadowed by his "treasonous" revelation of U.S. war plans. Then again, it's not Novak's first time to be the first journalist to reveal secret government information (see: Valerie Plame).

One could explain Novak's decision to come forward with this damning information simply by stating he is an experienced journalist with lots of high-level U.S. Government sources who loves to scoop the competition. More likely, however, one could wager that Novak, himself a conservative supporter of Bush, is so shocked and dismayed at Bush's latest ill-conceived plan for U.S. military intervention, that he wants to nip this one in the bud with sharp public scrutiny.

But the details of Novak's revelation are even more interesting. Bush recognizes that he can't afford to lose America's strongest ally in the Muslim world, Turkey, due to the Iraq chaos. Turkey is everything we would like the Mideast to be: secular, democratic, Westward striving, tolerant, and a military ally of America.

Then again, the Kurds are America's strongest allies within Iraq, and we can't afford to offend them. Hence, Bush's genius idea to do everything all hush-hush like, with Special Forces troops who will never be detected in Iraqi Kurdistan, thanks to their ninja-like stealth. Yeah, right!

Let's see if, and how, Bush's renewed love affair with Turkey plays out!....

Bush's Turkish Gamble
By Robert D. Novak
July 30, 2007 | Washington Post

The morass in Iraq and deepening difficulties in Afghanistan have not deterred the Bush administration from taking on a dangerous and questionable new secret operation. High-level U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.

While detailed operational plans are necessarily concealed, the broad outlines have been presented to select members of Congress as required by law. U.S. Special Forces are to work with the Turkish army to suppress the Kurds' guerrilla campaign. The Bush administration is trying to prevent another front from opening in Iraq, which would have disastrous consequences. But this gamble risks major exposure and failure.

The Turkish initiative reflects the temperament and personality of George W. Bush. Even faithful congressional supporters of his Iraq policy have been stunned by the president's upbeat mood, which makes him appear oblivious to the loss of his political base. Despite the failing effort to impose a military solution in Iraq, he is willing to try imposing arms -- though clandestinely -- on Turkey's ancient problems with its Kurdish minority, who comprise one-fifth of the country's population.

The development of an autonomous Kurdish entity inside Iraq, resulting from the decline and fall of Saddam Hussein, has alarmed the Turkish government. That led to Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. combat troops to enter Iraq through Turkey, an eleventh-hour complication for the 2003 invasion. As the Kurds' political power grew inside Iraq, the Turkish government became steadily more uneasy about the centuries-old project of a Kurdistan spreading across international boundaries -- and chewing up big pieces of Turkey.

The dormant Turkish Kurd guerrilla fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) came to life. By June, the Turkish government was demonstrating its concern by lobbing artillery shells across the border. Ankara began protesting, to both Washington and Baghdad, that the PKK was using northern Iraq as a base for guerrilla operations. On July 11, in Washington, Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy became the first Turkish official to assert publicly that Iraqi Kurds have claims on Turkish territory. On July 20, just two days before his successful reelection, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a military incursion into Iraq against the Kurds. Last Wednesday, Murat Karayilan, head of the PKK political council, predicted that "the Turkish Army will attack southern Kurdistan."

Turkey has a well-trained, well-equipped army of 250,000 near the border, facing some 4,000 PKK fighters hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq. But significant cross-border operations surely would bring to the PKK's side the military forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the best U.S. ally in Iraq. What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq?

The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Cheney who is now undersecretary of defense for policy. Edelman, a Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years.

Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky? He responded that he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied. Even if all this is true, some of the briefed lawmakers left wondering whether this was a wise policy for handling the beleaguered Kurds, who had been betrayed so often by the U.S. government in years past.

The plan shows that hard experience has not dissuaded President Bush from attempting difficult ventures employing the use of force. On the contrary, two of the most intrepid supporters of the Iraq intervention -- John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- were surprised by Bush during a recent meeting with him. When they shared their impressions with colleagues, they commented on how unconcerned the president seemed. That may explain his willingness to embark on such a questionable venture against the Kurds.

Buchanan: Obama Had a Good Point

I don't really care about Obama & Hillary's jousting during & after the YouTube debate. I'm more interested in my man Pat Buchanan's eventual key points: (1) we (America) should be in constant contact with those we see as enemies, to prevent irreconcilable differences from leading us into war; (2) past U.S. presidents, including Republicans, have met with much fiercer enemies, leading to good things; and (3) none of America's current "enemies" pose an existential threat to the U.S., so let's not be so afraid to talk to them.

Hillary's Late Hit
by Patrick J. Buchanan
7/27/2007 | HumanEvents.com

When, in the South Carolina debate, Barack Obama said he would meet with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran and North Korea in his first year as president, he stepped into a cow pie.

Hillary pounced, declaring that in a Clinton White House, there would be no promised first-year meetings with any dictator or enemy of the United States.

The morning headline in Miami roared that Obama was open to meeting Fidel. In the Jewish community, word was surely being moved that Obama had opened the door to a face-to-face meeting with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust skeptic who has predicted the Israeli state is not long for the Middle East -- and should be transplanted to Europe.

Pundits watching that Citadel debate scored Hillary the winner, contrasting her presidential sobriety with Obama's puppy enthusiasm for talking to tyrants.

Why, then, with press and politicians declaring her the winner, did Hillary Clinton have to step in and clock Obama after she won the fight?

The day after the debate, Hillary said Obama had exposed himself as "irresponsible and naive."

This gave Barack, who had been busy explaining what he had meant, an opening to declare that what was "irresponsible and naive" was Sen. Clinton's vote to give George Bush a blank check to plunge us into a war in Iraq most Democrats have come to believe was the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history.

Instead of Barack's impetuosity being the issue, Hillary's war vote is now front and center, her greatest vulnerability in seeking the nomination of an antiwar party. Her eagerness to exploit Obama's blunder also suggests a lack of serenity and confidence in her double-digit lead over Obama.

In the next debate, Hillary is certain to be put on the defensive about her war vote, and Obama has been liberated, by her throwing the first punch, to hit back hard -- on his strongest issue, the war.

A surprising mistake by Sen. Clinton, who has run something close to a flawless campaign. But there is a more substantive issue here. That is the gravamen of the original question.

Should not the United States be in constant contact with those we see as enemies, to prevent irreconcilable differences from leading us into war? Here, Obama's instincts are not wrong.

During World War II and the Cold War, FDR and Harry Truman met with Josef Stalin. Ike invited the "Butcher of Budapest" for a 10-day tour of the United States and tete-a-tete at Camp David. JFK met Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna -- after he declared, "We will bury you." Richard Nixon went to China and toasted the tyrant responsible for the deaths of thousands of GIs in Korea and greatest mass murderer of the last century, Mao Zedong.

None of the five with whom Obama said he would meet is in the same league with these monsters of the 20th century.

Kim Jong-il has not launched a war on South Korea or tried to assassinate its prime minister and entire cabinet, as his father, Kim Il-Sung, did. Syria's Bashir al-Assad has yet to fight his first war and has never perpetrated the kind of massacre his father did in Homa. Yet, George H.W. Bush welcomed Hafez al-Assad as a fighting ally in the Gulf War.

Castro is the same evil tyrant he has always been. But Vice President Nixon survived meeting him, and he is surely less dangerous than the young Fidel, who reportedly urged the Soviets to fire their Cuban-based missiles at the United States, rather than pull them out.

Hugo Chavez is an anti-American demagogue, but also the twice-elected president of Venezuela. How does he threaten "The Republic That Never Retreats"? As for Ahmadinejad, he is not the supreme leader of Iran, and his nation has not launched a war since the Revolution of 1979. With no atomic weapons, no ICBMs, no air force to challenge ours, no navy, an economy 2 percent of ours and its oil reserves running out, Iran is scarcely an existential threat to the United States.

All of these rulers wish to be seen as defying the United States, but not one of them -- not North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela or Iran -- can seriously be seeking a major war with the United States that would bring wreckage and ruin to any or all of them.

What we have in common with them is that neither of us wants a hot war. As for a cold war, does any one of these nations represent a long-term strategic or ideological threat to a United States of 300 million, with 30 percent of the world's economy, and the best air force, navy and army on earth, and a nuclear arsenal of thousands of weapons?

If Bush can bring Libya's Muammar Khadafi, who was responsible for Pan Am 103, the Lockerbie massacre of American school kids, in from the cold, why cannot we talk with Hamas and Hezbollah and Assad and Ahmadinejad?

What has any of them done to us compared to what Khadafi did?

Though poorly stated, Barack Obama had a point.

Oxfam: 1/3 of Iraqis 'need urgent aid'

By any quality of life metric, Iraqis are worse off thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. How anybody can continue to sincerely justify the occupation is beyond my understanding. It's bad for America's interests, and it's definitely bad for Iraqis.

Like they say , if you're not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem. Withdrawal is a no-brainer.

One-Third of Iraqis 'need urgent aid'
30 July 2007 | BBCNews.com

Nearly a third of the population of Iraq is in need of immediate emergency aid, according to a new report from Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs.

The report said the government was failing to provide basics such as food and shelter for eight million people.

It warned of a humanitarian crisis that had escalated since the 2003 invasion.

Meanwhile, the US agency overseeing reconstruction in Iraq said economic mismanagement and corruption were equivalent to "a second insurgency".

Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction Stuart Bowen was appointed by the US Congress to audit how billions of dollars of US money is being and has been spent.

In a BBC interview, he described corruption as "an enemy of democracy" and said that it could not be allowed to continue at current levels.

"We have performed 95 audits that have found instances of programmatic weakness and waste, and we've got 57 ongoing cases right now, criminal cases, looking at fraud."

Last year, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government only spent 22% of its budget on vital rebuilding projects, while spending 99% of the allocation for salaries, he said.

The inspector general also described a process of transferring control of projects to the Iraqi government as troubling, and found cancellations, delays and costs that outstripped budgets.

He said "a pathway towards potential prosperity" could be found only if oil production was brought up to optimal levels, and security and corruption effectively managed.

'Ruined by war'

The Iraqi parliament is about to take the whole of August off as a holiday despite the problems and the Oxfam report highlighting the plight of many Iraqis.

The BBC's Nicholas Witchell in Baghdad says the report by the UK-based charity and the NGO Co-ordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) makes alarming reading.

The survey recognises that armed conflict is the greatest problem facing Iraqis, but finds a population "increasingly threatened by disease and malnutrition".

It suggests that 70% of Iraq's 26.5m population are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% prior to the invasion. Only 20% have access to effective sanitation.

Nearly 30% of children are malnourished, a sharp increase on the situation four years ago. Some 15% of Iraqis regularly cannot afford to eat.

The report also said 92% of Iraq's children suffered from learning problems.

It found that more than two million people have been displaced inside the country, while a further two million have fled to neighbouring countries. Many are living in dire poverty.

"Basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people," the director of Oxfam International, Jeremy Hobbs, said.

Mr Hobbs said that despite the violence, the Iraqi government and the international community could do more to meet people's needs.

On Thursday, an international conference in Jordan pledged to help the refugees with their difficulties. Oxfam has not operated in Iraq since 2003 for security reasons.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Evolution and 'irrational' economic choices

Not to make too much of this article from The Economist, but… This study relates to another recent article about the importance of "positional goods" in people's everyday economic choices, i.e. how people will opt for less in absolute terms if it means having more of something relative to their friends, neighbors, and peers.

Classical economics doesn't account for this kind of human "irrationality." But real people have a funny way of defying classical economic models.

Such "irrational" behavior is in fact quite reasonable, in the context of human evolution: It hearkens back to our ancient and unaltered genetic programming to do whatever maximizes our chances for successful procreation. And such behavior reflects how people must have been "civilized" many thousands of years ago to think not just about today's interactions and transactions with other people, but how today's choices will affect what we will receive from other people in the future.

Classical economists will have to get a lot more savvy and sophisticated if they want to model human economic behavior as it really is!

Money isn't everything
Jul 5th 2007 | The Economist
Men with a lot of testosterone make curious economic choices

PSYCHOLOGISTS have known for a long time that economists are wrong. Most economists—at least, those of the classical persuasion—believe that any financial gain, however small, is worth having. But psychologists know this is not true. They know because of the ultimatum game, the outcome of which is often the rejection of free money.

In this game, one player divides a pot of money between himself and another. The other then chooses whether to accept the offer. If he rejects it, neither player benefits. And despite the instincts of classical economics, a stingy offer (one that is less than about a quarter of the total) is, indeed, usually rejected. The question is, why?

One explanation of the rejectionist strategy is that human psychology is adapted for repeated interactions rather than one-off trades. In this case, taking a tough, if self-sacrificial, line at the beginning pays dividends in future rounds of the game. Rejecting a stingy offer in a one-off game is thus just a single move in a larger strategy. And indeed, when one-off ultimatum games are played by trained economists, who know all this, they do tend to accept stingy offers more often than other people would. But even they have their limits. To throw some light on why those limits exist, Terence Burnham of Harvard University recently gathered a group of students of microeconomics and asked them to play the ultimatum game. All of the students he recruited were men.

Dr Burnham's research budget ran to a bunch of $40 games. When there are many rounds in the ultimatum game, players learn to split the money more or less equally. But Dr Burnham was interested in a game of only one round. In this game, which the players knew in advance was final and could thus not affect future outcomes, proposers could choose only between offering the other player $25 (ie, more than half the total) or $5. Responders could accept or reject the offer as usual. Those results recorded, Dr Burnham took saliva samples from all the students and compared the testosterone levels assessed from those samples with decisions made in the one-round game.

As he describes in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the responders who rejected a low final offer had an average testosterone level more than 50% higher than the average of those who accepted. Five of the seven men with the highest testosterone levels in the study rejected a $5 ultimate offer but only one of the 19 others made the same decision.

What Dr Burnham's result supports is a much deeper rejection of the tenets of classical economics than one based on a slight mis-evolution of negotiating skills. It backs the idea that what people really strive for is relative rather than absolute prosperity. They would rather accept less themselves than see a rival get ahead. That is likely to be particularly true in individuals with high testosterone levels, since that hormone is correlated with social dominance in many species.

Economists often refer to this sort of behaviour as irrational. In fact, it is not. It is simply, as it were, differently rational. The things that money can buy are merely means to an end—social status—that brings desirable reproductive opportunities. If another route brings that status more directly, money is irrelevant.

Will the dominoes fall after Iraq withdrawal?

First they tried to scare us with "mushroom clouds" and doomsday scenarios if we didn't invade Iraq. Now that we've invaded and failure seems inevitable, the same people are trying to scare us with doomsday scenarios if we withdraw.

They were wrong then about Saddam's WMDs and ties to al Qaeda. So are they correct now? Don't you believe it!

Imagining Defeat
What happens if America retreats from Iraq?

Clifford D. May | National Review Online
July 26, 2007

For the sake of argument, imagine that opponents of the war in Iraq are right. Suppose that our military — designed to confront a different enemy, on a different battlefield, in a different era — has met its match. Suppose that the war against al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as against various Iranian-backed Shia militias, can not be won, and that staying on in Iraq can do nothing to protect America's vital national-security interests.

If that's true, we must prepare for defeat in Afghanistan as well. There is no reason to believe that the strategy being used against us in Iraq will be less effective 1,400 miles further east.

[Big leap he's making there. Afghanistan may be a lost cause, too, but the situation there is much different. For instance, Afghanistan is not in the midst of a sectarian war. And the population doesn't like our enemy, the Taleban (al Qaeda's sponsor), very much either. – J]

After exiting from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is inconceivable that we would then send U.S. forces into the wild and mountainous "frontier" provinces of northwest Pakistan where Osama bin Ladin has been rebuilding his base. Nor will we be able to exert much pressure on Pakistan's government to take serious action. Pakistan enjoyed cordial relations with the Taliban and al Qaeda prior to 9/11/01. Only after that attack, when Americans rose up in anger, did Pakistani leaders decide it would be wise to realign. Expect Pakistan to shift yet again should America retreat in humiliation from Iraq and Afghanistan.

[Iraq is irrelevant to the Pakistan problem. It's nigh inconceivable Bush would send troops into Pakistan even if U.S. troops remained in Iraq and Afghanistan. Putting U.S. boots on the ground in Pakistan for more than a few days would be disastrous. Villagers would be shooting in every direction at our troops, from behind every rock and hut. – J]

It is probable that Militant Islamists would soon rise to power in other countries as well. Start with Jordan, a nation that already has been attacked by suicide bombers dispatched by al Qaeda in Iraq. Move on to Bangladesh. Add Lebanon, too, a fledgling democracy under intense pressure from Hezbollah, Iran's longtime terrorist proxy.

[Here he makes another huge rhetorical leap. He fails to explain how our withdrawal from Iraq would cause militant Islamists to rise to power in other countries. He owes us that small courtesy, at least. Disregard everything in this paragraph, because it's more irrelevant bullshit meant to scare and confuse you. – J]

Gaza is now ruled by Hamas, a terrorist organization supported by both Iran and Sunni extremists in league with al Qaeda. Its short-term ambition will be to take over the West Bank as well.

Opponents of the U.S. mission in Iraq say they want to "change course." Most refuse to specify what their new course would be. Others say they want U.S. troops to "redeploy" to friendly countries in the region. But in international relations, nothing cools a friendship like defeat. For any regime to rely on the U.S. for security after the U.S. has abandoned Iraq would be high-risk. In fact, it would soon become apparent that the continuing presence of American forces invites subversion, terrorism and assassination of those in power.

[I wish he'd be specific. What countries are we talking about here? Kuwait? No way. We saved them from Saddam in 1991. Saudi Arabia? We already withdrew our troops, quietly, after 9/11, consistent with Osama bin Laden's demands; and the Saudis are handling their al Qaeda problem in their own stupid way: by funding it on the one hand, and torturing and imprisoning its operatives on the other. That corrupt family regime deserves whatever it gets. Turkey? We've already screwed them over, and our withdrawing from Iraq will only make them happy, since they hate Iraq's Kurds who are our best allies in Iraq.

I think America's withdrawing from the Mideast will send a strong signal to the Mideast that we're not going to guarantee the region's security if there's nothing in it for us, and if those country's don't make an effort to fight extremism and promote liberty themselves. We can't do all the heavy lifting by ourselves.

But his last sentence there is 100% accurate: "In fact, it would soon become apparent that the continuing presence of American forces invites subversion, terrorism and assassination of those in power." – J]

Over time, the only Muslim-majority states to resist the Islamists will be those that accommodate the Islamists. The Europeans, too, will cut their deals.

Israel will hold on — or die trying. You can't imagine a second Holocaust within a hundred years? Imagine harder.

[Before there is a second Jewish Holocaust, there will be an equal or greater Arab-Muslim Holocaust, because Israel is not going down without launching its nukes: what Israel calls the "Samson Option." – J]

In this environment, there will be no way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. With both Iran and a no-longer-allied Pakistan proliferating nukes, sooner or later it won't be just nation-states that have them. But our intelligence services are unlikely to be able to tell us with confidence who possesses these weapons of mass destruction or where they are hidden.

[How does our occupying Iraq help prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, or prevent Islamists from taking power in Pakistan? Again, his fears are irrelevant to the Iraq question. – J]

The best bet for the U.S. at this point will be "enhanced homeland security" which just means more guards, guns, and gates — more checkpoints where you'll open your bags and take off your shoes. Such measures will work until they don't — eventually, creative and determined terrorists will figure ways around them.

[But terrorists don't need to be all that creative. All they need are a few assault weapons and ammo, a few tons of fertilizer, a big truck, and chemicals from the hardware store. America offers all the legal ingredients necessary to go on a terror rampage. – J]

Since you've read this far, it would be unfair of me to leave you imagining only terrible scenarios — particularly since there is something else you may imagine: that the new strategy begin implemented by America's new military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, can succeed and indeed is succeeding.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is being cut off and killed. [Al Qaeda in Iraq is a miniscule part of the problem there, less than 10%. – J] Anti-American, pro-Iranian militias are back on their heels. ["Back on their heels"? What does that mean exactly? – J] If Petraeus and his troops are allowed to persist, if they are given the time, resources and support they need, the U.S. military presence in Iraq could be reduced — not eliminated — by this time next year. Iraqi troops would take their place, knowing we will continue to have their backs as they battle our common enemies.

The government in Baghdad probably will still be less effective and less admirable than President Bush had hoped. But, as his critics have noted, he hoped too much and planned too little. Still, the Baghdad government won't be a sponsor of terrorism — it won't resemble the anti-American regimes now in place in Tehran, Damascus and Gaza. That will count as an advance for America's national security — and a serious setback for the Islamist empire builders. Imagine that.

— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

'Armchair generals' still command Bush's war

Normally I wouldn't criticize my fellow esteemed armchair generals, but…. Why the hell did Bush let same the neocon nincompoops (many of whom never served in the military) who got us into this Iraq mess in the first place come up with the new strategy (the "surge"), hoping they could save the day?

Once again, it just goes to show how Bush is too dumb and stubborn to be our president: when he finds he's dug himself deep into a hole, he tries to dig himself up and out of it.

Arm chair generals help shape surge in Iraq
By Rowan Scarborough
July 25, 2007 | The Examiner

When it comes to the troop surge in Iraq, a bunch of arm chair generals in Washington are influencing the Bush Administration as much as the Joint Chiefs or theater commanders.

A group of military experts at the American Enterprise Institute, concerned that the U.S. was on the verge of a calamitous failure in Iraq, almost single handedly convinced the White House to change its strategy.

They banded together at AEI headquarters in downtown Washington early last December and hammered out the surge plan during a weekend session. It called for two major initiatives to defeat the insurgency: reinforcing the troops and restoring security to Iraqi neighborhoods. Then came trips to the White House by AEI military historian Frederick Kagan, retired Army Gen. John Keane and other surge proponents.

More and more officials began attending the sessions. Even Vice President Dick Cheney came. "We took the results of our planning session immediately to people in the administration," said AEI analyst Thomas Donnelly, a surge planner. "It became sort of a magnet for movers and shakers in the White House." Donnelly said the AEI approach won out over plans from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command. The two Army generals then in charge of Iraq had opposed a troop increase.

In January, President Bush announced the surge, which kicked off the next month. "I think without the AEI exercise, it would be highly unlikely we would have followed a completely different course over the last six months in Iraq," Donnelly said.

Keane already had done some ground work. He won a private meeting with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in September. The retired four-star bluntly told him that he would lose the war unless he changed tactics.

The emergence of AEI as a power player on Iraq belies the notion that neo-conservatives are on the decline in Washington. AEI brags an impressive roster of neo-con thinkers. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq war architect, arrived at AIE this summer, joining such prominent conservatives as John Bolton, David Frum and Michael Ledeen.

With its plan in place, the AEI Iraq team is not sitting still. Keane is an adviser to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. He has inspected war conditions on two visits. Kagan left for Iraq this week.

"It was kind of the 11th hour, 59th minute," Donnelly said of AEI's surge plan. "It's the function that think tanks are supposed to perform to provide independent advice and analysis."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taibbi answers reader questions

Rolling Stone's site is the most intentionally awful and confusing in the history of the WWW. If you want to find this interview with Taibbi, you have to look for it someplace else. Pathetic. Anyway, here 'tis....

Matt Taibbi Writes Back!

By Matt Taibbi, RollingStone.com
Posted on June 26, 2007

Editor's note: Matt Taibbi responds to two dozen reader questions. Questions were edited for length and/or clarity by Rolling Stone.


What made you want to become a political reporter? As a child, did you ever imagine yourself in the position that you are in today?

- Name Withheld

As a child I wanted to be a zoologist. Then from about the age of 14 on I wanted to be a novelist. I'm a political reporter because my fiction sucks. You should read it. I mean, it's not just bad, it's like … screamingly bad. Talents such as us end up in political journalism.


Why are some Republicans (and many media types) so hot and bothered about the prospect of Fred Thompson running for president? I can't recall one piece of notable legislation or accomplishment as senator. (They often point to his role as Howard Baker's counsel during Watergate, but to me that's less of an accomplishment and more a result of being Howard Baker's bag man in Tennessee.)

- Name Withheld

They're hot and bothered about him because he can win. The fact that he has no accomplishments makes him uniquely qualified for the modern presidency. The fact that he has no accomplishments and has been on Law and Order makes him well nigh a freaking political superstar. No record + media skillz + name recognition = electoral success. Personally I always get him confused with Joe Don Baker.


I'm pretty left leaning in most of my views, but nobody in the Democratic party really does it for me. Everything I see and read about Chuck Hagel makes me like him. What do you know/think of him?


Will in Colorado

Chuck Hagel is an interesting guy I guess. I talked to him once when, if I remember correctly, he was considering co-sponsoring Charlie Rangel's draft bill in the Senate. The thing about the current state of the Republican party is that Bush's implosion has opened the door for a resurgence of "real" Republicanism, i.e. small-government/isolationist Republicanism. Bush was really not much of a Republican at all -- more like a retarded Christian AA version of Woodrow Wilson. He spent like crazy and he got America involved in these crazy "let's export the wonderfulness of us" adventures. Because America these days has a cultural memory of about four seconds no one remembers that this is not the way Republicans used to act, but once Bush finally blew up, the door opened for some canny people in the party to remind everyone of that fact. Hagel looks like the first guy to try that tack.


1) Not that there's anything sinister with happening to agree with one party's values more, but do you think that your National Affairs coverage is perhaps a little bit too partisan?

2) What is your favorite YouTube campaign stunt? What is your least?

3) Will the blog or online media make print effectively irrelevant for political updates?

4) If you could ask George W. Bush one question and be actually guaranteed an honest answer, what would you ask him?

- Tyler Bass

1) Re partisanship: if you think my coverage of the Bush administration is unkind, wait until Hillary Clinton becomes president.

2) I don't watch You Tube much, but I do watch X Tube regularly. I keep hoping to catch someone like Lindsey Graham on there.

3) I don't think blogs will replace print media completely. As long as men keep shitting on Sunday mornings, the print newspaper will thrive.

4) As for Bush, the question I always wanted to ask him was if he thought Muslims automatically went to hell after death. I think that would be an interesting question because there's no way for him to answer it without pissing off one or the other group of lunatics. _______________________________________________

Of all of the viable candidates for the Democratic and Republican nominations, who will win on each side? Who will you support once this choice is made?

- Name Withheld

It's going to be Thompson against Hillary or Edwards and I'm going to cast a write-in vote for Joseph Stalin if it comes to that.


In person, is Hillary Clinton as cold and distant as she seems on television, in magazines, and in books?

- Name Withheld

I've only seen Hillary in person once and I was struck by how big her head is compared to the rest of her body. She looks like a bobblehead.


For all American politicians in general, how much of their religious faith is real, and how much is for the votes?

- Name Withheld

I think Bush's is real. Gary Bauer's is real, so is Santorum's. The rest are all completely full of shit. I remember Kerry trying to tell reporters on the plane once that he likes to pray quietly to himself at night or something like that. It was so sad. I was afraid the stewardesses were going to burst out laughing.


Hi Matt, first of all I'd like to say how much I enjoy reading your column. Here's my question: I live in the UK, and I always hear complaints made about the 'liberal american media'. However, there is virtually nothing in American news that even approaches what I would define as 'liberal'. Am I just missing what is in front my nose, or is it a figment of the right's paranoid imagination?

All the best

Michael Watt (Edinburgh, Britain)

Hi, Michael, thanks for the kind comments. Are you a Scot? I used to work with a room full of Scots in Russia and I could never tell what the fuck any of them were talking about. They all had ponytails and they were all drunk by 11 in the morning every day. Anyway the "liberal media" is a funny thing. Most reporters are, in fact, liberal, or at least would vote Democratic. So that's where that idea comes from -- the Limbaughs etc pick out these individuals, the Dan Rathers of the world, and use the statements they make in private to argue that there's a "liberal" media. But the companies these "liberal" reporters work for decide the editorial agenda. And that agenda is not necessarily conservative -- I would describe it more as nihilistic.


How long will it take for the Democrat hopefuls to realize that they cannot simply pull out of Iraq?

-- Burnwad

I saw an old episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" on the Sleuth channel the other night. In it a highly annoying Vince D'Onofrio falls between a subway car and the subway platform and he gets stuck there, with the train basically holding his guts in. The medics come in and they look at him and realize that if they move the train at all, his guts are going to fall out and he's going to die. But if they do nothing, he's going to slowly lose blood pressure and die. Either way, he's going to die. Iraq is Vince D'Onofrio. It doesn't overact as much, but it's just as fucked. The bloodbath is coming as soon as we leave, whether that's now or 20 years from now. But I'd be interested to hear your argument explaining how things are going to improve by us staying and spending a billion bucks a day or whatever playing Play Station in air conditioned trailers behind twenty-foot walls while Iraqis have six hours of electricity and pee into buckets and get their throats slit as soon as night falls. You're probably right, a few more years of that, and this Sunni-Shia hatred thing will pass.


Based on the public's current reaction to the republican party, do you believe more intelligent and constitutionalist candidates like Ron Paul will be dismissed as conservatives? Or will these presidential hopefuls still have a chance? What are your views on Republican candidates such as Ron Paul?

- Scott

I like Ron Paul a lot. Even before he ran for president I respected him as a guy who more or less voted his conscience in congress, which is rare. And as I said above, these "classic conservatives" I think are going to make a comeback eventually -- not sure if it will be him though.


Our 2008 presidential options all seem to have flaws. If there were someone else that you wish would run, who would it be?

- Gary Zarda

The politician I've most admired personally in recent times is Alexander Lebed, but he's both dead and Russian, so he probably would do very poorly in the primaries. I'm obviously a big fan of Bernie Sanders, I think he's an honest man, but I'd hate to see what the media would do to him if he ran. Running for president degrades a man, so asking me who I'd like to see run is a tough question. It's like asking who I'd like to see thrown in a tank with a shark. Sherrod Brown also seems like a decent guy to me.


Hi Matt,

I had a really obnoxious drunken argument with a bunch of recent college graduates the other day- I'm a bit older than them. Anyway, they were a bunch of cynical know it all assholes who kept arguing that pandering was absoutely necessary to be elected president in this day and age. In my drunken rage, I wasn't able to make any kind of a legitimate argument, but just kept yelling out "that's bullshit! that's not good enough!" However, the next morning when I woke up sober, I felt really depressed, because I kept thinking that maybe those asshole kids are right. What do you think??

- V.

I think you're right and those kids are full of shit. We've gotten so caught up in the horse-race aspect of campaigning that we forget that politicians also have a responsibility to educate people. To say ahead of time that you have to indulge prejudices or ignorance in the electorate in order to win not only shows a lack of confidence in the idea that minds can change over time, it's also an abdication of a true leader's responsibility. If the people will only elect a candidate who endorses wrong-headed positions, a true leader has to show them why they're wrong and make them change their vote. That's why we call them leaders. A politician who panders is not a leader. He's a follower.

That's what I hate most about American politics. Take a guy like John Kerry. He's sat in high-level committee meetings for 20 years or whatever, met world leaders, been briefed by intelligence operatives, etc. He knows all this stuff, yet during the course of the campaign he didn't tell us one goddamn thing we didn't know already. He put his hands over his heart and talked about how weepy he gets when he sees the flag. What a crock of shit. At least Bill Clinton -- who I'm not always a fan of, by the way -- at least Clinton in his speech at the Kerry convention went out of his way to explain to voters how racking up debt to China and Saudia Arabia affected national policy. He used his position to teach us something. But in general… we're supposed to look up to these guys, but all they do is try to jack us off.


Who was your most interesting interview? Why?

- Pete

I'd say Sy Hersh was among my most interesting. Also the aforementioned Lebed. I interviewed Gary Kasparov once and he was funny, kept talking about how he could take Anatoly Karpov in a street fight.


What is one topic/issue/event that you think is sorely lacking media coverage?


Justina M. Ashley

Hi, Justina,

That's easy -- it's poverty. I know one TV reporter who did a story about a murder in a poor town who was asked to recut his story and replace the interviews with poor people with his own standups, because TV doesn't like poor people to even be on camera. Advertisers hate poor people because studies have show people don't buy as much when they look at depressing images. That's why we like pro golf and The OC and all these other shows about rich people with nice teeth driving nice cars. There is a lot of poverty and economic instability, but it isn't on television unless it's being chased on COPS.


Out of these three people -- Nikolai Gogol, Hunter S. Thompson or Sy Hersh -- who would you say is your biggest influence and why? Is there anyone who's had a bigger impact on how you write and what you write about?

Keep on keepin' on,

Brian Summerfield

Hi Brian. Wow, a milestone in my life, the first time I've ever gotten the "influences" question. The funny thing about that question is that I get ripped so often for being a Hunter Thompson wannabe, but the guy I'm actually trying to rip off is H.L. Mencken. I must be doing a shitty job of it. He was my hero growing up, along with Saki and Gogol. I started my writing career trying to write novels like Gogol but they really sucked. People would read them and I would have to go back later and tell them what the funny parts were. Then I tried to write short stories like Saki and they were even worse. So the count is now 0-2.

The thing about Thompson, there's never going to be another Hunter Thompson. He was just a unique human being. And his prose style, although it's fairly easy to replicate superficially, there's a magic ingredient to it somewhere that no one else will ever be able to capture. I think I wrote this when he died, but that magic thing in Hunter's best writing is so elusive that even Thompson himself couldn't reproduce it in the last twenty years of his life or so. Anyway I used to think that someday I might be able to write that well, but now unfortunately I know better.

As for Hersh, I admire him, and I was actually surprised by how much I liked him when we met earlier this year, but he's never been a role model for me mainly because he's a real investigative reporter and I'm not. I love the guy, though. He's like seventy-nine or something and every politician in Washington is terrified of him. It's hilarious.



With everything that's going on in this country-the Iraq quagmire, threat of war with Iran, outrageous gas prices, a presidential race that began a year and a half early, just to name a few-why aren't we out in the streets? What's it going to take? How much is too much?

- MJ

I think it will take a lot more than this. People will go out on the streets when they're really really suffering, and we're not really suffering. We're a prosperous country run by a relatively static oligarchy of commercial/political interests, and while people have few real political choices and little recourse to change the worst aspects of our culture, they're not starving for the most part and will probably still prefer to enjoy the illusion of choice offered by the two-party system rather than openly revolt against it in the form or third-party politics or other, er, avenues. I think a collapse of American power due to other factors -- an overreliance on cheap foreign labor, a loss of foreign markets due to general political instability in parts of the third world, some catastrophe involving disease or nuclear terrorism or something -- I think that's far more likely than any kind of domestic uprising. And you know I think that's a good thing, that there's this political stability. I lived in Russia and some other messed-up places and I can say that as twisted as our culture is, particularly our media, stuff at least works. You turn the shower on in the morning, water comes out. If you call the cops, they'll come. You send the army to a foreign country, they don't start ripping their uniforms off and selling their weapons to the other side. I remember being in Russia once when they devalued the currency, I was talking to some dude at a beer stand when we got the news. Guy fell on the street with his tongue sticking out when he found out his life's savings was now worth about twenty cents. When that kind of stuff starts happening in America to millions of people, we'll get people on the streets.


Do you think Cheney will resign before leaving office? It's a scenario that lets Bush appoint the GOP front-runner to boost their chances of retaining the White House in '08. It also gives the administration a chance to let Cheney be the fall guy for the bloody quagmire that is Iraq.

- Ron Phillips

Cheney's not resigning from shit. When he leaves the White House, his fingernails will still be dug into the floorboards from when they had to drag him out.


What's your take on Al Gore's green crusade? Have you seen the art of him done up like Atlas in the latest Rolling Stone? (I guess you probably have.) Do you think he has much of a chance to actually effect positive (let's say legislative) change, or is it basically a Geldof good-feelings PR campaign?

- Name Withheld

I saw that picture and laughed at it. I'm sure someone in the composing room asked the editors if they should make the earth smaller or larger than Gore's belly. Seriously, my sense of Al Gore is that he'll do more good not being president. If it's uncorrupted by political ambitions I think people will take his environmental campaign more seriously. I also think that a massive national investment in alternative energy research might be something that could save this country (not only from an environmental standpoint, but economically and geopolitically), and if he and others like him are able to convince the political establishment that it's the smart and prudent thing to do, that would be an enormous accomplishment.


Also, what music do you listen to? Actually, do you listen to music at all?

- Name Withheld

I don't listen to much music. I think I've copped to this before but I'm one of those suburban white kids who grew up listening to rap. I also went through a classical music phase and tried to learn the piano, but ended up having a crush on my teacher and not learning anything. I didn't get anywhere with the girl either.



You've probably already been asked this too many times, but, are you planning to write the third installment of your 9/11 series? If not, why?

- Dallas Redig

Hi Dallas. I'll eventually publish this written debate I had with the Loose Change guys via email. It was pretty funny stuff. At one point I asked them if they'd made even a single phone call before they ran that stuff about the hijackers still being alive. Their answer was that they had made some calls, but "couldn't get through" to anyone. Then when I tried to point out that not getting through to anyone in your research is usually a good time not to publish your unverified material, they just ignored me and started babbling about how the original congressional report about 9/11 had 28 pages redacted, etc. etc. etc. It wasn't really a debate, it was like one angry non sequitur after another. Eventually they dropped the debate in the middle -- I haven't heard from them in a while.

But I'll get back to it eventually. I should say that the hardest thing for me in dealing with the Truthers is this feeling of being intimidated by how ridiculous they are. It would take a comic genius to really do them justice and the fear of falling short of that can be paralyzing. If you've ever seen the movie Eating Raoul there's this scene where Paul Bland throws an electric bug-zapper into a hot tub full of swingers and they all just sort of fall naked and limp all at once. It's hilarious. Somebody, and it may very well not be me, is going to write the electric bug-zapper of 9/11-debunker essays. But it's going to have to be an inspired effort, not something you just toss off in one night. I really wish Mark Twain were alive for that reason. A Jim Fetzer's Literary Offenses would potentially be one of the funniest things ever written in the English language.