an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.


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$zwichenzug$ sell-out zone





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.

Union Label

Direct Action
Gets the Goods!


some folks I know

Mark Dilley
a daily dose of architecture
Safety Neal
January Girl
mimi jingcha
Hop, Skip, Jump
ambivalent imbroglio
Brooke & Lian


some blogs I read

strip mining for whimsy
It's Matt's World
School of Blog
Fall of the State
Dru Blood
Echidne of the Snakes
Colossal Waste of Bandwidth
Running from the Thought Police
Bionic Octopus


some philosoblogs

Fake Barn Country
Freiheit und Wissen


some labor blogs

Confined Space
Working Life
Dispatches From the Trenches
Labor Blog
Eric Lee


some A-list blogs

This Modern World
Matthew Yglesias
Andrew Sullivan
Political Animal
The Volokh Conspiracy


some other links

Rule 33
This Week in Chess
War Nerd
National Priorities Project
Bible Gateway
Internet Archive
A Weekly Dose of Architecture
Orsinal: Morning Sunshine
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Safety Sign Builder
Get Your War On


some philosoblogging

Six views about reasons
Seidman on reflection and rationality
And another thing
Tiffany's argument for strong internalism
Internalism v. Externalism
What do internalists believe anyway?
Rationalism and internalism
The experimental method in philosophy
Advertising to children
On moral skepticism
A linguistic argument
More on Williams
Williams on reasons
General and particular
Normativity and morality
Political intuitions
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
Objectivity and morality
Thinking revolution
Abortion and coercion
Moore on torture
On the phenomenology of deliberation
Even more Deliberation Day
more Deliberation Day
Deliberation Day run-down
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
Every shepherd is an abomination
Droppin' H-bombs
ad hominem

Saturday, January 31, 2004


Weekend reading

+= The state of California is going to file an anti-trust suit against the three chains involved in the grocery strike. The stated reason for the suit is that their mutual aid pact, "hurts consumers by discouraging competitive pricing." The main legal issue seems to be that Food 4 Less, which is not involved in the strike, has pledged not to lower prices in an attempt to steal marketshare. link

+= The L.A. Times ran a three-part series on Wal-Mart back in November. It's good stuff. This link will take you to a page where all of the articles are referenced.

+= Freedom Rider: Wal-Mart and the Economic Destruction of Black Communities, by Margaret Kimberly.


A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks

From time to time I reread Tom Rainbow's Mad Scientist's Primer and dream of what could have been. If only I had been a little more diligent in my studies, and a little crazier, world conquest might be within my grasp. Secret Tesla technologies and suppressed Orgone research would inform my work as I built a facility surpassing even HAARP. Mighty earthquakes would dance at my command and the nations of the world would kneel at my feet! "BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH! Bring me twinkies," I would say, "and other pleasing snack cakes!"

Though I have accepted that this is not to be, I am gripped by a profound despair when I think of what might have been. In such moments, my only solace has been the sure knowledge that my government has committed itself to the development of earthquake weaponry. Since I fully expect to be President one day, the government's development of these technologies promises to restore to me the twinkies and other pleasing snack cakes which are my right.

So I am understandably upset by reports like this one. The main news is positive. Researchers working under a grant from the National Science Foundation have discovered that when quartz-rich rocks abrade against one another during earthquake-like conditions their breakdown produces a mineral gel. The presence of this gel reduces friction and can significantly increase the energy released by seismic activities.

Obviously, this research has important ramifications for the development of effective earthquake weaponry.

And yet, our government is sleeping at the switch. Rather than provide these ground-breaking researchers with the funding and support appropriate for their work, the National Science Foundation forces them to conduct their research on a shoe-string budget. According to the press release, "Future experiments will take advantage of a salvaged 100-horsepower BMW motorcycle engine."


Thursday, January 29, 2004



I know some of you may be considering your future and trying to decide whether five to ten years of graduate study in philosophy is right for you. As a public service I reproduce the following so that you may become acquainted with the sort of traditions which permeate institutions of higher education. This message just came over the grad listserv here.

-- snip --

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest Happy Hour Ministry in the history of our department.

One month ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, stepped down as Minister of Happiness. This momentous resignation came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of pissed off bartenders who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice and lackluster tips. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their resentment.

But one month later, the philosopher's thirst still is not quenched. One month later, the life of the philosopher is still sadly crippled by the manacles of alcoholism and the chains of boozery. One month later, the philosopher lives on a lonely island of debauchery in the midst of a vast ocean of decent, hard-working students. One month later, the philosopher is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So I have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice and flowing beverage. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence*. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force and copious amounts of PBR.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the tradition of Happy Hour.

I have a dream that one day this Ministry will not be questioned on its choice of bar or pub or watering hole.

I have a dream that one day students old and new will be able to sit down together at the table at the Embassay and share a pitcher.

I have a dream that future entering classes will look upon this Ministry as a sign of hope and good faith at the state of our graduate program.

I have a dream today.

Let beer flow in Urbana!

Let beer flow in Champaign!

Let beer flow tomorrow at Murphy's at 5!

The Minister

-- snip --


I come to bury Caesar...

Here in Illinois we don't have our primary until the middle of March, so I haven't been forced to choose a candidate. Rather than commit before I had to, I've been standing by the side of the road watching the parade go by. Today, just as yesterday, and nearly every day since the beginning of the political season, the best show has been the Dean campaign.

What a disaster. Joe Trippi quits. Roy "Washington Insider" Neel is hired. Ads are pulled in all seven states holding primaries or caucuses next Tuesday. The staff won't be paid. That soft thud you just heard is another Deaniac falling off the bandwagon. The campaign is broke, and in more ways than one.

Salon very professionally understates a key political liability, writing that, "critics are certain to question whether a candidate who could not manage the estimated $40 million he raised last year is capable of managing the world's biggest economy." But nobody says it better than .jasonblog.'s succinct, "Unless it turns out that he spent all that money we sent him on magic beans that are going to grow into a huge beanstalk of electoral might, I'm through with him."

Though I didn't invest in Dean the way a lot of people did, the spectacle of the last ten days has given me pause. For me, the promise of the Dean campaign was twofold. First, it seemed to offer a model a Democratic candidate could use to outflank Bush's fundraising juggernaut. Dean managed to energize a large cadre of donors and activists with a very small investment of organizational time and resources. Second, I thought that Dean raised the level of public debate in the country by turning his web campaign into a new kind of public space. This allowed his campaign to exert control over the national agenda in a way that limited Rove's ability to frame issues. But the promise of the Dean paradigm is, to say the least, threatened by the catastrophic failures in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the Lyndonville Savings Bank.

There are ample explanations available for Dean's troubles, many of which don't have anything to do with the internet campaign model. The press anointed him front-runner and favored him with a scrutiny that exaggerated and invented flaws. Gephardt launched a kamikaze attack. An account draining strategic decision was made to manufacture shock and awe in Iowa and New Hampshire. And, as the scream showed, Dean didn't always do well on TV. All of this is true, and much more besides.

But because the internet model had such promise it's worth giving it another look. It seems to me that Dean's campaign suffered from two serious problems that are directly traceable to the model. One, I think, isn't a deep problem and can be remedied fairly simply. The other, however, strikes me as much more fundamental.

The solvable problem is that Dean's volunteers just weren't very good organizers. This judgment is based partly on anecdotal reports gleaned from the blogosphere and the mainstream press, but mostly on the fact that their voter assessments in Iowa were utterly unconnected to reality. Since most of Dean's volunteers were political neophytes who had never worked on a campaign, this shouldn't be much of a surprise. Organizing is difficult to do well. More than anything else -- more than training, more than enthusiasm, more than being right -- it takes experience. And the experienced political volunteers weren't, by and large, volunteering for Dean.

This problem might have worked itself out if Dean hadn't become the front runner. If third place had been an acceptable result, his core volunteers could have used Iowa and New Hampshire to gain the experience needed for February and March. More importantly, if the online model were generally adopted, its pool of potential volunteers would quickly become much more experienced.

The more serious problem comes from the decentralized meme that the model imposes on the campaign as a whole. Salon reported today that "internal decision-making processes tended to be chaotic, with top supporters getting contradictory marching orders from Trippi and the Burlington staff in the same day." If you're wondering where the money went, ask yourself how budgetary decisions are likely to be made in that environment.

This problem is deep because decentralization is what makes the web campaign tick. By eschewing centralized control, the online model creates a community with a sense of participation and ownership. The vibrancy of this community accounts for the campaign's ability to generate funds and volunteers. Its very existence creates a public space which makes it possible for issues to be discussed in the kind of depth appropriate to a participatory democracy.

Now, it might be possible to marry a decentralized online campaign to a traditional top-down offline campaign. In fact, it looks like this is what the Dean campaign is going to try to do in the next few weeks. But this is a bad fit for several reasons. Most seriously, it undermines the participatory features of the online campaign which make that campaign attractive. For an online campaign just starting up, this would be fatal. For an established campaign like Dean's, it may be possible to change the conditions of the relationship without alienating the online community.

Another possibility is to divorce the web campaign from the candidate. Then, the model would be MoveOn.org instead of the Dean campaign. The online campaign might still support a candidate from time to time, but the virtual community wouldn't be constrained by the needs of a centralized organization.

While I think that communities like the one surrounding MoveOn.org will become increasingly important parts of the political process, those communities are fundamentally unlike the one promised by the Dean campaign's internet model. One practical difference is that candidates wouldn't be able to rely on the community for the kind of fundraising that Dean got from his web presence. But the crucial difference is that the imprimatur of a viable national candidate bestows a special kind of legitimacy on the campaign's online community.

Let me end by gesturing at the importance of this legitimacy by quoting a passage from John Rawls' Political Liberalism. Rawls wrote, "In a democratic society public reason is the reason of equal citizens who, as a collective body, exercise final political and coercive power over one another in enacting laws and amending their constitution." Participants in both MoveOn.org and in Dean's online campaign engage in public reason in something like Rawls' sense. What I am claiming is that participation in a campaign for political office has a special kind of importance because it is a direct exercise of political power, while participation in MoveOn.org is indirect. That difference is enough to affect the seriousness with which participants can and should regard their actions.


"Mr. President, when did you first realize that you suffer from intelligence failure?"

As much as I've been railing against the Kay/Cheney talking points lately, I have to admit that there's something about that question that resonates.

(By the way, the Center for American Progress has put together a concise refutation of the Administration's 'intelligence failure' script. link)

John Kerry has a line he's been repeating over and over, and it seems to me to be exactly the way to attack the Bush Administration. Kerry says, "George Bush has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country." Iowa / New Hampshire

The word 'inept' leaps out at me. If there's a policy area that you can point to and say, "This Administration handled that well," I don't know what it is. Even if you stick to the Administration's preferred script, the decision to invade Iraq looks like a bumbling failure -- an impression that only grows stronger as they continue to bungle the reconstruction.

But you don't have to stop with Iraq. How did 9/11 happen? Well, it certainly looks like one of the factors was that the Administration ignored the Clinton Administration's warnings that al Quaeda was a serious threat. What about the jobless recovery? That seems to have something to do with the Administration's choice to cut taxes rather than put together a realistic economic stimulus package. Last week Bush was pointing to Afghanistan as a nation building success story. But if that's what success looks like, then we're doing a better job in Iraq than I thought. The list goes on and on and on.

Calling the Bush Administration inept isn't just accurate, it's also good politics. Lots of Americans want to like George Bush. He seems like a good guy; he's jocular, religious, gregarious, the sort of guy you'd enjoy watching a ballgame with, or talking to about your crisis of faith. Call him a liar and people want to defend him. But an attack on somebody's competence isn't personal in the same way. We all know people who are nice enough, who we like, but who we just don't think would be capable of handling the Presidency. Attack Bush's competence and folks in the middle can take a look at the record and judge for themselves. And if they take a good look, they might not stay in the middle.

DeLong has a good riff that touches on this point: "Why do so many of us who worked so hard on economic policy for the Clinton administration, and who think of ourselves as mostly part of a sane and bipartisan center, find the Bush administration and its Republican congressional lapdogs so... disgusting, loathsome, contemptible? Why are we so bitter? After introspection, the answer for me at least as clear. We worked very hard for years to repair the damage that Ronald Reagan and company had done to America's fisc. We strained every nerve and muscle to find politically-possible and popularly-palatable ways to close the deficit, and put us in a position in which we can at least begin to think about the generational long-run problems of financing the retirement of the baby-boom generation and dealing with the rapidly-rising capabilities and costs of medicine. We saw a potential fiscal train wreck far off in the future, and didn't ignore it, didn't shrug our shoulders, didn't assume that it would be someone else's problem, but rolled up our sleeves and set to work. Then the Bush people come in. And in two and a half years they trash the place. They trash the place deliberately. They trash the place casually. They trash the place gleefully. They undo our work for no reason at all--just for the hell of it." link


Today's Wal-Mart reading

This is a pretty good discussion of Wal-Mart's efforts to prevent unionization. (from Bloomberg News)


Representative quote: "Rummage says Wal-Mart tries to head off unionism in the job interview. When he interviewed applicants at his supercenter, he wrote anything the person said about organized labor on a piece of yellow paper he said was included in interview packets for that purpose."

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


WMD Round-Up Yeeeeeeeee-Haaaaaah!!!!!

About the only Administration official who hasn't admitted that there aren't any WMDs is Bush, who today said, "There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to America and others. That's what we know. We know from years of intelligence -- not only our own intelligence services, but other intelligence-gathering organizations -- that he had weapons -- after all, he used them." link

While this is far from an admission of doubt, it's also not anywhere close to the kind of certainty Bush had formerly expressed -- a fact that didn't go unnoticed in the foreign press.

The Administration will take a hit on this, but they appear to have succeeded in getting their version of the facts out to the public. Some examples:

The lead from an AP story by Katherine Pfleger reads, "The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that resigned U.S. weapons inspector David Kay is doing the nation's intelligence system a favor with his harsh criticism of the CIA's flawed prewar estimates on Iraq's weapons capabilities." link

And the New York Times today published an unsigned editorial -- widely linked to throughout the left web -- which included the following paragraph: "Although administration officials cling to the hope of finding some evidence of terror weapons in a cubbyhole somewhere in Iraq, surely it is time to focus on how the intelligence could have been so wrong and perhaps avoid making the same mistakes with the next secretive dictator to come along. Mr. Kay largely exonerates President Bush and blames the global intelligence community. He believes the C.I.A. became so reliant on the much-maligned United Nations weapons inspectors that their withdrawal left it without spies of its own." link

Slate's Fred Kaplan notices that "Kay falls short of making a full break with the Bush administration" but does so in the context of an essay built around the thesis that Kay's release from government service has freed him to speak his mind. Moreover, in a discussion of Kay's claim that Hussein was lied to by his own weapons researchers, Kaplan speculates that, "it's quite likely that the CIA itself was deceived, intercepting some of these phony reports and treating them as credulously as Saddam did."

The question is, will the Administration succeed in positioning the failure to find WMDs as a failure of the intelligence community, or will it fall on their own heads? Or maybe a better question is, what's the best way to make sure it falls on their heads?

Robert Sheer seems to have settled on the strategy of ignoring Kay's CIA allegations. He writes, "In no previous instance of presidential malfeasance was so much at stake, both in preserving constitutional safeguards and national security. This egregious deception in leading us to war on phony intelligence overshadows those scandals based on greed, such as Teapot Dome during the Harding administration, or those aimed at political opponents, such as Watergate. And the White House continues to dig itself deeper into a hole by denying reality even as its lieutenants one by one find the courage to speak the truth."

But later in the same essay, Sheer approaches the issue that's been worrying me, writing,"The maddening aspect of all this is that we haven't needed Kay to set the record straight. The administration's systematic abuse of the facts, including the fraudulent link of Hussein to 9/11, has been obvious for two years. That's why 23 former U.S. intelligence experts — including several who quit in disgust — have been willing to speak out in Robert Greenwald's shocking documentary "Uncovered." The story they tell is one of an administration that went to war for reasons that smack of empire-building, then constructed a false reality to sell it to the American people." link

There has for months been enough evidence out there to build the case that the Administration manipulated intelligence to make Iraq look like more of a threat than it was. But the record shows that most Americans weren't convinced by that argument. The anti-war left wants to believe that an admission by the Administration that WMDs won't be found will suddenly render the argument persuasive. But because the Administration can turn around and blame the CIA, the admission needn't have that effect.

Daniel Ellsberg theorizes that, "there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now - the Pentagon Papers of Iraq - whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq," and calls on those who have access to those documents to take the personal risk of releasing them, "on the scale necessary to return foreign policy to democratic control." link

I tend to think that it's going to take a mountain of evidence to convince the voting public that the Administration engaged in a deliberate program of lying the nation into war. So I'd like to see Ellsberg's advice followed. But there's nothing you, me, or Howard Dean can do to bring that about.


Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay

Business Week has a story about the battle being waged between Apple, Microsoft, Real Networks, and Sony to establish a standard format for music files. My money is on Apple or Microsoft.

I'd call Real Networks the Sharpton of this race, except that I have too much respect for Sharpton. Maybe Real Networks is the LaRouche and Sony is the Perot.

What caught my attention was the description of how you would manage to "mix and match songs bought at different online music stores." Doing this involves, according to Business Week, a "process that induces hair-pulling and curses for non-techies."

Business Week's procedure: "copy the digital songs you bought online onto a CD. Then you load them back onto your computer, decompress them into something called a WAV file, and recompress them into MP3s."

Sounds to me like there's an extra step in there, but hey, I use a Mac.

At any rate, the headache -- which is quite real -- doesn't have anything to do with technical difficulties, and it's something that probably bothers techies and non-techies alike. It has to do with the time it takes to burn and rip music files just to get them on your MP3 player.

And this matters because the attraction of (legally) downloading music is, more than anything, immediacy. But if that's what attracts you to the process, you aren't going to download, burn, rip, and then, finally, listen. What you'll do is go to the store that has files in the format you use. So if you have an iPod, you'll go to the iTunes Music Store, and if you have a Dell DJ you'll go to Napster or Wal-$%$#@-Mart.

Since you don't have to drive across town to get to ITMS or Napster, and all the online music stores have pretty much the same stuff (or will soon), it's hard for me to see how this Battle of the Network Standards is supposed to get off the ground.

Am I missing something here?


If you've got 99 cents burning a hole in your pocket, I recommend Chet Atkins', "Boo Boo Stick Beat"

Monday, January 26, 2004


Zwichenzug: Your spot for Wal-Mart bashing...

If you're the sort of person who hates Wal-Mart and has time on your hands, you might enjoy reading this op-ed from James O. Goldsborough in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

You won't, however, want to read this op-ed from the Daily Illini. To get a feel for what you're going to miss, savor this quote, "Wal-Mart may be a disgusting corporate giant that operates with little regard for its workers. But until another store can do it as cheaply, I'm going to keep shopping there."

Actually, there's quite a bit of Wal-Mart news on the radar today. Here in Illinois, Wal-Mart is suing the Macomb city council in an effort to obtain a liquor license. link Meanwhile, in Maine a judge has allowed Joanne DiDonna's discrimination suit to go forward. DiDonna suffers from muscular dystrophy and alleges, "that Wal-Mart failed to accommodate her disability or to retain her in a back office position after her existing job was eliminated in a consolidation." link

Wal-Mart saw mixed results in the courts last week.

On the one hand, A judge in Florida denied class action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of low wage workers who claim they weren't paid for extra work. The judge in the case based his ruling on the fact that, "if it was proven Wal-Mart shortchanged the employees, determining the amount owed to each worker would overwhelm the court system." link

On the other hand, WasteNews.com reports that Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a Justice Department suit, "claiming that an unspecified number of the company's Sam's Club stores in 11 states sold ozone-depleting refrigerants to individuals who lacked proper certification." Actually, maybe this one's a win for Wal-Mart too...


California Grocery Strike, continued

The AFL-CIO is calling for a national boycott of Safeway supermarkets as a way of pressuring the chain to settle its dispute with striking and locked out workers in California.

Safeway also owns: Vons, Pavilions, Carrs, Dominick's, Randall's, Tom Thumb, Pak-n-$ave, and Genuardis.

You can read about the AFL-CIO boycott here. According to the story, the AFL-CIO is also working to organize pickets nationwide.

Things you can do:

(1) Don't shop at Safeway or at any Safeway owned stores.
(2) Join a picket near you.
(3) Contribute to the strike fund.
(4) Contact Safeway and let them know that you support the workers.


Operation 'We Don't Need No Stinkin' WMDs", continued

Another Bush Administration official has jumped into the public debate on the existence/relevance of Iraqi WMDs. This time it's John Ashcroft, who says that the Iraq War was justified even if Iraq didn't actually have any WMDs because they did have, "evil chemistry and evil biology."

(Read about Ashcroft's statements here)

Since the Attorney General isn't usually considered an expert on foreign policy, and we all know that the WAR ON TERRORISM isn't a criminal matter, it's more than a little odd that Ashcroft has anything to say about the grounds of justified war. Unless, that is, he's part of a coordinated Administration effort to ease into the admission that Iraq didn't have any WMD stockpiles.

Ashcroft fits neatly into the pattern I began blogging about Friday and mentioned again yesterday. As a loon Ashcroft is well positioned to float the idea that the war was justified by the imaginary existence of weapons. He's marked out territory that seems distinct from that occupied by Powell, Cheney, Bush, and Kay, but isn't really. And the press is, predictably, balancing Ashcroft's statements with a recapitulation of Kay's claims from last week.


On a related matter, .jasonblog. argues that the Administration's strategy won't work, because the Democrats will be able to put Bob Graham, "on television every Sunday pointing out that he saw the same intelligence, and was unable to conclude from it that the threat was imminent. The message will be front and center: The intelligence was not to blame."

While this is certainly something the Democrats will do, and will have to do, I'm not confident that this kind of response will succeed. In fact, it seems to me that it plays into Republican hands.

What the Bush Administration is trying to do is shift the debate from 'does Iraq have WMDs?' to 'how should one respond to the suspicion that Iraq has WMDs?' Then they can characterize themselves as, at worst, overly zealous in their desire to save American lives. Their critics, on the other hand, will be soft on terrorism.

Sunday, January 25, 2004


Just because you're paranoid...

Before I get into this, let me acknowledge that I am fully aware that the thesis of this post borders on nutjob conspiracy theory.

That said, I think the Bush Administration is in the midst of a large scale operation designed to cushion the blow when they finally admit the obvious -- Iraq didn't have WMDs. Moreover, (this is the conspiracy theory part of it) I think David Kay is playing a crucial role.

This isn't the first time I' ve claimed that the Administration is preparing to admit that WMDs won't be found. What's new is the allegation of a Kay connection. Let me call a few things to your attention:

Kay is being positioned as a dissenting voice, but isn't being treated as one. This began after Cheney's NPR interview last week, in which he claimed to be confident that WMDs would be found. The very next day Kay was giving interviews in which he expressed views that flatly contradicted those of the Vice President, and this fact was trumpeted with headlines saying things like, "Departing Weapons Inspector Disputes Cheney's WMD Claims." This admission felt like a victory to those who opposed the war, and has made Kay a minor hero. Keep in mind, though, that Kay isn't the first person to occupy this role. The difference is that Kay, unlike Paul O'Neill and Joseph Wilson, hasn't been criticized and hasn't been the victim of dirty tricks.

As a dissenting voice, Kay has credibility among Bush's critics. Many Americans, and many more people in the rest of the world, are deeply suspicious of everything said by the Bush Administration. Kay, by admitting that WMDs don't exist, is able to claim integrity for himself that Bush and Cheney will never have. More importantly, Kay is able to locate himself as the privileged source for criticism of the Bush Administration's decision to go to war.

Kay's critique doesn't hurt the Bush Administration. In a series of interviews today, Kay has been suggesting the same master narrative that Cheney was pushing last week. Namely, that the Administration was right to believe that Iraq had WMDs, and that their policy was the only sensible alternative available. Moreover, any fault lies with the 'intelligence community,' rather than the Administration. Kay even told NPR, "I actually think the intelligence community owes the president [an apology] rather than the president owing the American people." And because Kay isn't going to be identified with the Administration anymore, it's politically safe to have him say, "Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat." (emphasis added)

So what you've got, over the last week or so, are the President, the Vice President, David Kay, and Colin Powell all talking about WMDs in ways that seem, on the surface, to be very much at odds. The President defiantly says we were justified, but limits himself to the carefully parsed, 'WMD program related activities.' Cheney sticks to the hard line. Powell appears as the voice of reason among the insiders, admitting the possibility that there may be no stockpiles. And then there's Kay, firmly positioned as an outsider, announcing that he no longer believes that pre-war stockpiles existed. But look a little deeper and they're all saying the same thing.


California Grocery Strike

The California Grocery strike drags on. You can help low income workers keep their health insurance by making a donation to the strike fund.


Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor

The BBC reports that a minor official in a Finnish tax office died at his desk and went unnoticed for two days. According to the story, "co-workers had assumed the dead man - a tax auditor - was silently poring over returns." The head of personnel at the office allowed that, "procedures would have to be reviewed."

One of my colleagues here in the philosophy department believes -- with, he claims, Sartre -- that death is the fundamental problem of philosophy. What Sartre actually wrote, I think, was more like, 'suicide is the fundamental problem of philosophy.'

Sartre's worry was that we couldn't say with any confidence how life could have meaning, and so couldn't say with any assurance that suicide isn't a reasonable response to unhappiness. The project of philosophy, it then follows, is to provide us with an account of the meaningfulness of life and, thereby, give us reason to choose to live.

Whatever else Sartre is up to when he writes this sort of stuff, it's clear enough that he isn't really skeptical about the meaningfulness of life and doesn't really think that suicide threatens to be a rational choice. Instead, what Sartre seems to be talking about -- and I think this is what my colleague picks up on -- is the deep need we have to find a meaning for our lives, and the way in which this need is prompted by awareness of our own mortality. And the thought here is that any adequate account of the meaning of one's own life must include a thorough appreciation of the inevitability of death.

Deep waters, I suppose, but this is a line of thought which leads as easily to the bottle as to wisdom. Still, I won't be applying for a job with the IRS anytime soon.


Zwichenzug media watch, international edition

Al Jazeera is taking a pretty harsh line against Colin Powell in their reporting of his remark that, "What is the open question: how many stocks they had, if any, and if they had any, where did they go? And if they didn't have any, why wasn't that known beforehand?"

The headline for the story is, Powell fudge on Iraqi WMDs. The third paragraph begins, "His latest comments marked a major climb down from his earlier shrill rhetoric..." And the next paragraph describes Powell as, "chastised after months of futile search."

All this in contrast to the American press, where Powell has been consistently portrayed as the voice of diplomatic reason. While it's true that Al Jazeera is displaying some clear bias here, at least it's honest bias.

(See Al Jazeera's coverage here)

Friday, January 23, 2004


Warmongers of Mass Deception (WMD)

It's been widely reported that in an interview aired on NPR yesterday, Dick Cheney claimed that "the jury is still out" regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. It's also been widely reported today that David Kay, who led the American search for banned weapons has, "concluded there were no Iraqi stockpiles to be found."

(you can listen to Juan Willams' interview of Cheney here or read more about it here)

What caught my interest in the Cheney interview, though, was the emphasis he put on three claims. Those claims were:

(1) In concluding that Iraq had WMD, the Bush administration was relying on the work of the CIA.
(2) Others who had relied on similar information had reached similar conclusions.
(3) In pursuing 'regime change' the Bush administration was merely continuing a policy begun under the Clinton administration.

These claims aren't made in support of the headline grabbing assertion that the "jury is still out." Instead, they're a hedge against the day that the Bush Administration is forced to admit that there were no banned weapons. What they hope to say is something like, "hey, we were misled by the CIA, but so were lots of folks. We acted on the information we had at the time, and took only those actions our intelligence warranted. If you have any doubts, all you need to know is that the last administration had the same policy as we did."

None of this, of course, is particularly new (except maybe blaming it all on the CIA which, you've got to admit, is a stroke of evil genius). And each of the claims, viewed in a certain light, has a grain of truth in it. It's worth noticing again, though, because of the way Cheney's proposed narrative fits in with one of the narratives Bush offered in the State of the Union address.

The Bush narrative I'm thinking of is the contrast he drew between those who believed that our fight against terrorism was a 'war' and those who thought terrorism was merely a criminal matter. As has been widely noted, the point of stating the issue in this way is so that you'll be able to define everyone who disagrees with you as subscribing to a position you feel comfortable arguing against. You won't fool anybody who's really paying attention, but that's not who you're talking to.

In Cheney's suggested narrative, the point is to blur the difference between a reasonable view -- say, "Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, and dangerous, and we ought to pursue some kind of containment policy" -- and the kind of cowboy craziness exemplified by the Bush administration.

The idea is to pull all nuance out of political discourse, and to do it in a way that makes it seem impossible that anyone could disagree with you. If some pesky Democrat tries to criticize you, then they have the choice of either falling into the category you've carefully prepared for them or sounding as if their criticism isn't motivated by actual disagreement but, instead, by some sick desire for personal power.

Frankly, I don't have the slightest idea what can be done about this. One possibility is to do it better, to define the issues before your opponent, or in a way that swamps you opponent's attempt. I think that the Democrats often try to do this, but meet with limited success for a variety of reasons. But even when the Democrats succeed, I'm not satisfied with the result.

Sometimes, and this may be one of those times, I find myself in the grips of profound skepticism about the possibility of building a functional democracy. Either people want to participate actively in the process of self-government, or they don't. If they did, they'd pay enough attention to keep people like Cheney and Bush from manipulating them. But they don't pay enough attention. So they don't really want democracy.

But this is just the line of thought that leads you to turn into a Dick Cheney or a George Bush.


DeLong keeps the data coming...

This graph showing 'Real after-tax U.S. Corporate Profits' since 1990 is a must see. I'd like to see it graphed against compensation as a share of National Income.


Noncompliant browsers

An article I read (somewhere) the other day argued for the thesis that Microsoft's Internet Explorer was a noncompliant browser but had such incredible marketshare that they could get away with it. The result was that websites would alter their code to make sure that it worked under IE, instead of just keeping to W3C standards. The upshot, according to the article, was that rival browser publishers had to invest time and money emulating Internet Explorer's bugs.

This isn't an argument I'm competent to evaluate, and I didn't think much about it at the time. I use Safari, and most sites look just fine. If that's because Safari does a good job of emulating IE's bugs then that's ok by me.

Then I saw Zwichenzug on Internet Explorer. The box over there on the right was all screwed up.

Now, I'm not what you would call HTML savvy. It took me a few hours of diligent web research and template experimentation to get that box up there. And it bothers me that it doesn't work on most browsers. But I don't know how to fix it. So what I'm going to do is let you, gentle reader, help.

I made the box by defining (in my style sheet) two labels as follows:

#main {position: relative;top: 0;right: 0;padding-right: 10em;}
#right {position: absolute;top: 0;right: 0;width: 12em;}

Then, I used DIV tags to indicate where content is supposed to go. So I get things like, Div ID="main". Since all the content is in the right places, I suspect that I screwed up in defining the box. But I don't know what I did wrong.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Zwichenzug media watch...

At this moment CNN's splash page has Powell's admission that he was annoyed by France posted in two locations, under U.S. News and under Politics. They also have a story about criticism of the Pentagon's online voting project posted twice, under technology and politics.

What they don't have is any mention of this story from the Boston Globe which reports that, "Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media."

This is a significantly more serious charge than was originally made back in November, and it should be among today's lead stories. CNN certainly has the space.

But then, the story isn't given any prominence on the Globe's splash page either. Nor does it grace the top level of the New York Times. And I didn't hear anything about it on NPR this morning.

Maybe this is just the normal course of events and as the day wears on the story will percolate into prominence. Maybe.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


State of the Union

I'll say this for Shrub's speaking ability: at least he didn't end his coalition of the willing roll call with an inchoate primal scream.

Conservatives were disappointed that Bush didn't clearly endorse a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. What went unreported, however, is that Bush aides did circulate a proposed amendment on another topic earlier in the day. It read:

Article II, Section 3 of this Constitution shall be modified as follows: The text, "He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient" shall be excised and replaced with, "He shall from time to time convene a Pep Rally attended by both Houses of Congress, sitting members of the Supreme Court and Cabinet, and such other Dignitaries as may seem necessary, including but not limited to the Figureheads placed over the various Protectorates of these United States."

Bush talks earnestly about testing, and I seem to recall a SOTU a few years ago in which he spoke of 'the soft bigotry of diminished expectations.' Presumably, then, he thinks grade inflation is a problem. If that's the case then maybe he could ask the members of his caucus not to fill air with bloated praise for a speech that wasn't all that good. You just can't say 'The President's speech was an A+' with a straight face the day after every network has broadcast highlights from 'I Have A Dream.'

As long as we're talking style, the Democratic response was a disaster. I think Pelosi said the right words, but I was distracted by her botox brows. Note to Nancy: If you feel comfortable talking about your five grandchildren, you should feel comfortable having a few wrinkles. Let your skin down and live a little! As for Daschle, he's a better speaker than Bush or Pelosi, but between the head bob and the over the top emoting he came off as a weird cross between Danny Ocean and Ulysses Everett McGill.


The Nation's (best?) Newspaper

Gone are the days when I would shamefully hide my copy of USA Today from the prying eyes of my peers.

USATODAY.com - Behind the address

They also have a really good sports section.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Grocery strike update

The LA Times is reporting that the AFL-CIO has taken over tactical leadership in the California grocery strike. link Hopefully this will mean that we'll start to see increased solidarity from other unions. This strike is about a corporate desire to limit employer contributions to health care costs. As such, it should be seen as a skirmish in a broader battle. Hopefully the AFL-CIO'S involvement signals a recognition of this fact.

Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO's announced plan doesn't seem to have much to do with labor solidarity. According to the L.A. Times, "The plan is to pressure the supermarket companies by hounding executives and directors with phone calls and visits, staging demonstrations across the country — including a pray-in outside the Northern California home of the chief executive of Safeway Inc. — and persuading major grocery-company shareholders, such as pension funds, to take stands in the union's favor."

It might work. But quoth Chuck D, "Shut Em Down!"

Notably, the only union that's done much to support the California grocers so far is the Teamsters. But the Teamsters aren't a part of the AFL-CIO.


Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with D

Some random musings on yesterday's Iowa caucus:

-=I guess this means that Kerry is the new front runner. He learned from Dean that feisty works. His Nightline interview, and his acceptance speech, were heavy on Bush admin attacks. Plus, he managed to mention past tussles with Nixon, Reagan, and Gingrich. Signature quote: "People want a fighter in the White House who's on their side."

-=According to NPR's Juan Williams, Joe Trippi's analysis is that Gephardt went so negative that he destroyed his own campaign and seriously damaged Dean's. That sounds about right to me.

-=Dean is caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy loop. The knock on Dean was that he wasn't electable. This drove soft supporters to Kerry and Edwards, which led to a weak poll showing for Dean. And presto, you've got empirical evidence that Dean isn't electable.

-=Speaking of electability, I think part of Kerry's success comes from the fact that Democrats concerned about electability think that Kerry doesn't share Dean's weaknesses. Kerry has more political experience than Dean, so there won't be as much new dirt to dig up on him. He's also built a strong record on Foreign Policy. Kerry is starting to share Clinton's ability to exude mastery of a broad array of policy questions without sounding like a wonkish know-it-all. Dean, on the other hand, is an odd mix of Bush and Gore. When he knows his stuff he sometimes sounds arrogant, but there are also times (as is no surprise for a governor in the early stages of a campaign) when he just doesn't sound up to speed on national issues.

-=And what about Edwards? If he follows this up with a strong showing on February 3 — which he might, as one of two southerners in the race — he could turn into a real player. Apparently he had a deal with Kucinich that Kucinich's supporters would switch to Edwards whenever Kucinich didn't hit 15% in any caucus. So Edwards' numbers may be inflated. But how many Kucinich supporters are there?

-=The stat that really sticks out to me is that Kerry beat Dean 34%-29% among Democrats who strongly opposed the Iraq War.

-=Kerry, unlike Edwards, has an established network in the party. Now that he's shown that he's a serious player (and Gephardt appears to be out) Kerry may see more support from skittish donors.

-=A lot is going to depend on who Gephardt endorses. He doesn't seem to like Dean. Though Kerry is in the Senate and Gephardt in the House, they probably have a long-standing working relationship.

-=John Edwards had a strong showing and stayed positive. If Trippi's right about what happened to Gephardt, and if everybody else stays negative, then Edwards might make a move. Signature quote: "The politics of hope can overcome the politics of cynicism"

-=It looks like Dean has to win New Hampshire to remain viable, because February is going to be tough for him.

-=ABC reported that 40% of caucus goers claimed to have made up their mind in the last week. So they made up their mind after Dean's Iowa bashing came to light.

-=I haven't seen Dean's concession speech in its entirety, but the sound-bite seems to be a bombastic roll call of states followed by a bizarre attempt at a 'yee-hah.' One of Nightline's political analysts described the speech as 'maniacal.'

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Interagency co-operation

David Davidson and Cynthia Blake had doctor's recommendations allowing them to grow and consume medical marijuana under California's proposition 215. The state took them to court anyway, contending that they were each growing too much marijuana for personal consumption. But the state's case was in trouble. Their argument rested on the assumption -- rejected by juries in similar trials -- that a clipping is the same thing as a full grown plant. What to do, what to do?

Here's a plan: lure the defendants' attorneys into a conference with the judge where you announce that you are dropping the charges since as you speak federal agents are in the courtroom arresting the defendants on federal charges.

Feds Bust Medical Pot Patients In Courtroom


Cry yourself a river, but it don't take much to drown

"They hire a lot of single mothers that are desperate for jobs. So once they get them hooked in they know these people can't afford to quit, because they need these jobs to feed their kids."

That's a quote from this documentary on the Wal-Mart versus Women website.

It probably goes too far to allege back room shenanigans at corporate headquarters in Bentonville. Paying the lowest wages possible buys you a workforce comprised of people in precarious financial straits, and that's a population which includes a disproportionate number of single mothers. But whether planned or not, the fact is that Wal-Mart has achieved a workforce willing to put up with treatment bordering on abuse.

Consider, for example, this story from Sunday's New York Times. The article takes a look at Wal-Mart's practice of locking in employees during the graveyard shift at some stores.

The policy is long standing, though Wal-Mart has reformed since the late eighties, when "the fire doors of some Wal-Marts were chained shut." Employees are still routinely told that they'll lose their job if they leave through the fire exit when there's not a fire. Some employees have even been lied to by managers who claimed that, "fire doors could not be physically opened by the workers and that the doors would open automatically when the fire alarm was triggered."

The Times reports of several workers who were injured on the job but were unable to leave to get medical attention, including one woman who, "cut her finger badly with a box cutter but dared not go out the fire exit — waiting until morning to get 13 stitches at a hospital." In other cases, employees who became ill were unable to leave. As when "a stocker was deathly sick, throwing up repeatedly. [Another employee] said he called the store manager at home and told him, `You need to come let this person out.' He said: `Find one of the mattresses. Have him lay down on the floor.'"

The policy affects employees in a number of other ways. In order to avoid paying over-time, Wal-Mart doesn't allow employees to work over 40 hours a week. But the Times reports that at one store, "on many workers' fifth work day of the week, they would approach the 40-hour mark and then clock out, usually around 1 a.m. They would then have to sit around, napping, playing cards or watching television, until a manager arrived at 6 a.m."

What is Wal-Mart's explanation for these practices? They claim to be looking out for their employees. Stores are only locked, they say, in high crime areas. This explanation is weak on its face, since keeping bad guys locked out doesn't require that employees be locked in.

In any case, the corporate line is disputed by former employees and managers, who indicate that Wal-Mart is really trying to protect itself from its own employees. According to these sources, the practice is intended to prevent employee theft and to increase efficiency by preventing workers from being able to, "sneak outside to smoke a cigarette, get high or make a quick trip home."

The plain fact is that locking the doors is the cheapest solution to Wal-Mart's employee management problem. Better paid workers would be less likely to steal and would be more likely to take pride in their work. Failing that, adequate supervision could keep employees in line. But it's cheaper to lock them in. And since Wal-Mart employees need their jobs more than they need respect, they put up with the policy.

What we have here are legitimate business purposes combined with a faultless cost/benefit analysis, resulting in the most efficient policy possible. Wal-Mart's motives are not charitable, but neither are they objectionable according the economic faith professed by most Americans.

So why does Wal-Mart lie? The answer is that the truth doesn't sit well with Wal-Mart's image as middle America's discount supersavior. As Charles Fishman puts it, ever cheaper prices have consequences. Wal-Mart lies because it would be bad for business to let the low income shoppers it depends on realize that the chain is engaged in asymmetrical warfare against them.

Friday, January 16, 2004


A rich man with a tendency to believe in his own lies

Is it just me, or is there something a little creepy about the neocon meme, 'ownership society'? It's used to describe a coming Utopia in which every American owns a significant amount of stock. Neocons are trying to get us there through tax incentives that make it easier to accumulate and hold on to wealth.

It probably goes without saying that those kinds of tax incentives are going to exacerbate the disparity between the rich and the poor, on the old 'bet big to win big' principle. So this is another neocon program that dresses plutocracy in populist clothing.

What's creepy, though, is that when I think 'ownership society' I think antebellum South.


Better than star wars

I don't really know what's up with this: ScienceDaily News Release: From Matter Waves To A Crystal Of Atoms And Back

But I do know that if I were a script writer for, say Andromeda then somebody would we wreaking some serious shit with a Matter Wave Cannon.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Didn't you used to brush your teeth with vaseline?

This site highlights a real and serious problem, but, please. As much as I respect the institution of the Miss America pageant, I think we all know that Miss America should be seen and not heard. (This quicktime clip from the site is much better.)

Speaking of that peculiar institution, Champaign/Urbana's own special girl, Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, has been named a delegate to this year's Republican National Convention. link According to Zogby's latest numbers, Bush holds a commanding 11-3 lead among likely voters who were once Miss America.


Don't come home a drinkin' with lovin' on your mind

Here in the U.S. the government is hell bent on protecting us from the ravages of contraception. Meanwhile, Australia has extended contraceptive care to indigenous wildlife. Australia to put koalas 'on the pill'

Wednesday, January 14, 2004



In a comment posted either yesterday or this morning, Cliff wrote, "I remember "Look for the Union label" advertisements from my youth, but I bet if you surveyed 18-30 year old Americans, very few could explain why unions are important and what the value is in buying union products and services. I bet less than 10% of Americans under the age of 30 have their buying decisions influenced by whether the product is union made."

Meanwhile, Dilley posted this yesterday.

So what we've got here is a genuine union labeled weblog. If you'd like to visit some others, just click on the union bug in the top right hand corner of the page.



If you were the kind of person who checked out .jasonblog. you wouldn't need me to point this out to you:

Angry workers to meet with monkeys [January 13, 2004]

Why meet with monkeys? To protest the slow pace of contract negotiations.

"It is clear that these monkeys and apes will not be able to give us a solution but at least they can make us happy and can listen to our aspirations," Siswantoro said.


Nine plus three does not equal twelve

I'm in the process of losing an argument with a couple of math-savvy scientists. The argument seems to me to be of general interest, so I'm going to memorialize some of it here.

Let me just say, as an opening salvo, that while a few data points over the short run won't tell you anything about where Toto is staked, it might tell you something about where the mail carrier is walking.

Now, back to the beginning. This is going to be a narrative, so put on your story-time hats.

In a discussion of Bush's prospects for re-election I offered the banal observation that it will come down to two factors, the economy and Iraq. With regard to the economy, I claimed that: "As far as the economy goes, Bush desperately needs jobs. While job growth had been slowly trending up, it trended down in November and December. Retail, where most job growth has been taking place, always takes a hit in January. So I'm betting that the economy will lose jobs this month. If that scares the markets or damages consumer confidence, then Bush will have a severe headache. But I have mixed feelings about this, since I hope to eat this summer."

While I knew that I didn't really have the expertise to start making economic forecasts, I did feel pretty clever. But then a certain biophysicist (we'll call her Rosemary) slapped me down:

"Whoa, wait a sec. I'll agree with you that the economy is sucking and that Bush desperately needs jobs, but you're looking at a second derivative which is within the noise of your sample. The trend of the growth for the past three years has a mean of 285 more jobs created (or fewer jobs lost) each month than in the month previous, with a standard deviation of 138,000 more jobs created OR lost each month than in the month previous: it's noisy as hell, trending up only very slightly more than it trends down. It's more meaningful to point to the fact that short-term growth would have to be enormous to recoup the overall jobs lost; and that people are leaving the labor force unable to find jobs."

Ouch. Luckily, a certain physicist (we'll call him Matt) was standing near me when I got Rosemary's message and was able to make the problem clear to me. (Rosemary, by the way, has since put up an in-depth math-illiterate-accessible analysis here)

What I had done was look at the job growth figures from the last three months and noticed that the number of jobs added had declined each month. That is, in October the economy created about 100,000 jobs, in November about 40,000, and in December about 1,000. To me (a math illiterate) this looks like a trend. source

Rosemary's point, as I understand it, is that employment numbers are so volatile that the appearance of short-term trends is practically meaningless. In fact, if you follow that link to her analysis you'll see a graph which vividly shows that, "generally speaking [the short-term job growth trend] doesn't stay positive or negative for very long. In any given month saying 'the trend is positive' or 'the trend is negative' is pretty much meaningless since in the next month or so it's likely to reverse itself wildly." The upshot is that in order to see any kind of meaningful trend you need to take a long enough view to filter out the noise in the sample.

Matt illustrated this with the following example: Suppose that you have a dog chained to a stake and that the chain is fifty feet long, and suppose that you can observe the dog but you can't observe the stake. With enough measurements you'll be able to say precisely where the stake is. But just because you get a few measurements in some direction, that doesn't tell you that the stake is over there, or that somebody has moved the stake, say, six inches to the right.

To go a little deeper into the case, keep in mind that where the dog is at any given time is the result of a tremendous array of factors. Maybe something smells nice over here, or makes noise over there. Those factors--if you knew them--might explain why the data is ordered in the ways that it is. But knowing them doesn't help you figure out where the stake is. (if I'm parsing Matt's metaphor correctly, then the stake represents the underlying trend)

Knowing I was out of my depth, I resorted to an argument from authority. "Economists," I said, "are supposed to know a thing or two about math, and they use these sorts of numbers to talk about trends all the time. Do they know something you don't, or are they just being sloppy?"

Matt said, "they use those numbers because they are the only one's they have."

As a reply this is flip, but not without merit. One of the great problems in economics is to develop metrics which accurately report reality. For example, the job creation numbers we're talking about here have been harshly criticized because the Bureau of Labor Statistics only updates its survey annually, which may lead to underreporting of job growth. But if economists had to develop perfect metrics before doing anything else then they wouldn't do anything except econometrics. So, as Matt says, they make do with what they have.

Rosemary's reply was different, and pointed to the political uses of economic data. The data can be represented by a graph of a line with a, "very slight *positive* slope -- which is to say that on average since Jan 01, more jobs have been created (or fewer jobs have been lost) in each month than in the previous month." This graph could then be used to argue that, "the economy is growing -- fewer jobs are being lost and now jobs are even being created -- and that that growth is, in fact, accelerating." Or, on the other hand, you could create a graph which showed the dramatic loss of total jobs during the course of the Bush Administration (or, you could have this graph, which contrasts the loss of jobs with the rosy predictions BushCo used to sell their economic policy). Rosemary points out that, "since a voter's conclusion will be based on which of these two depictions stick with him, the choice of depiction presented by a given economist or journalist is a political one."

While I don't think anything Rosemary says is wrong, I don't want to believe that it's the whole picture either. I want to believe that when economists muck about in short-term forecasting they're sometimes doing something other than promoting a political agenda.

Which gets us back to the mail carrier. If our data on Toto's location shows that Toto spent some time off to one side this won't tell us that Toto's stake has moved. But the location of the stake might not be the only thing we're interested in. We might, for example, be interested in discovering whether the latest issue of Body and Soul has arrived.

In terms of job growth, we aren't interested only in the question of the (medium) term underlying trend. We're also interested in various short term trends and in the ability to make good predictions. So how can economists develop meaningful results? It seems to me that there are two paths that might be pursued.

First, assume that we are limited to the current data with regard to job creation. This doesn't mean that we can't appeal to other data in order to notice trends or make predictions. For example, we know that retail stores routinely add workers for the holiday rush and shed those workers during the early months of the year. This sort of information may not help us spot a genuine trend, but it might allow us to make good predictions.

But, second, we aren't limited to the current data. The Bureau of Labor statistics publishes this data monthly, but gathering the data is an ongoing process, and the data could be significantly refined. It seems likely that we could track job growth from day to day. This would give us a data set for the October-November-December period which is larger than that produced by looking at monthly numbers over the last three years. Given this larger data set, an economist might be able to make meaningful statements about trends over relatively short time periods.

Of course, even if I'm on the right track with this, my own forecast is pretty much indefensible. But that doesn't mean I'd turn down a bet.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Sam Walton, Boy Genius

The New York Times today reports that an internal Wal-Mart audit of "one week's time-clock records for roughly 25,000 employees" showed "60,767 apparent instances of workers not taking breaks, and 15,705 apparent instances of employees working through meal times." This is news because Wal-Mart is involved in "more than 40 lawsuits charging Wal-Mart with forcing employees to work without pay through lunch and rest breaks."

Wal-Mart claims that the results of the audit are 'meaningless' since employees might just have forgotten to clock out for breaks. But, "several lawyers who sued Wal-Mart also noted that over the years Wal-Mart had ordered its employees to make sure to clock out when they took lunch and breaks."

What bold action has Wal-Mart taken to correct this problem? Well, a few months after the audit, "Wal-Mart stopped requiring employees to clock out and in for 15-minute breaks." They did this, they say, "for their employees' convenience."


If you don't want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town

The Zwichenzug Wal-Mart Media Watch continues.

On last night's 10 o'clock local news (WAND ABC), Wal-Mart ran a sweet ad about a sales associate whose infant child had contracted some horrible disease. The child, we are told, got the best of care, including a trip to the Mayo Clinic. The ad ends with the father saying, "Wal-Mart has better benefits than people give them credit for."

It's becoming clear that Wal-Mart has developed an ad campaign designed to limit blow back from the California grocery strike.

But how do Wal-Mart's benefits stand up?

Walmart.com has a page of information for potential employees, but it doesn't give any specifics. We learn only that the plan, "covers most major medical expenses. The company contributes to the cost of health benefits and we offer affordable Associate plans. There is no limit for most health coverage." link

Let me highlight a few features of this description. First off, by saying that the plan 'covers most major medical expenses' Wal-Mart is telling us that it doesn't cover all major medical expenses. They're also hinting that it doesn't cover minor medical expenses--things like annual check-ups or flu shots. Keep this in mind and consider what 'no limit for most health coverage' might mean. Lastly, notice that though they tell us that the company 'contributes to the cost' they don't tell us the size of that contribution. From this we might infer that their contribution isn't much to brag about.

Something else bears mentioning. They don't say anything at all about eligibility for the health plan. But unless Wal-Mart is more generous than most companies, employees will have to put in six months to a year of full-time work before becoming eligible for health insurance coverage. Since many of Wal-Mart's sales associates are part timers, and Wal-Mart has a well documented history of culling senior employees from the work force, there's reason to suspect that enrollment in the health plan is not particularly high.

It's difficult to reconcile Wal-Mart's advertising copy with this analysis of Wal-Mart's health insurance plan. According to the analysis, Wal-Mart offers what's called a 'limited-benefit' plan, capped at $1000 per year. These plans are cheap and do cover things like routine doctor visits. But they don't pay the bills at the Mayo Clinic. The analysis looks to be about a year old, so it may be that Wal-Mart has changed plans.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor last October analyzes changes in employer sponsored health insurance and says that, "Some, like Wal-Mart, only offer catastrophic plans to cover primarily life-threatening situations." link This fits more closely with the advertising copy.

But whichever is right, whether Wal-Mart has a catastrophic plan or a limited-benefit plan, this much is clear: Their health insurance sucks.

Some additional bullshit: On their health insurance benefits page, Wal-Mart claims that, "60% of our Associates tell us they joined Wal-Mart because of our benefits." But in the Christian Science Monitor article a Wal-Mart spokesperson is quoted as saying that, "roughly 50 percent" of Wal-Mart's workers are enrolled in the health plan. So did 10% 'join' Wal-Mart for the benefits and then become disgusted with the health plan?

Monday, January 12, 2004


Halliburton on Mars?

Those folks at Salon sure do their homework. Joe Conason dug up this from February of 2001. The big news:"NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars."

Anything I could possibly say about this would begin with the phrase, "I don't usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, but..."

So I'm going to keep my mouth shut.


With his finger he wrote on the ground

Simplified, the Chomskian critique of American foreign policy has two elements. The first is that the United States mythologizes itself as the world's only moral state power, but that the way in which the U.S. exercises its power is not fundamentally different from the way other states have exercised their powers. The second part of the critique involves a commitment to what Chomsky calls Anarcho-Syndicalism, and boils down to the idea that any exercise of power over a person is necessarily objectionable.

Because I think hierarchies are inevitable I think the commitment to Anarcho-Syndicalism is a mistake. But Chomsky is dead on when he insists that American political discussion is distorted by a belief in American moral exceptionalism.

Case in point: New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman. He is a bright guy who makes an effort to stay informed and who (unlike a certain Times columnist whose name rhymes with liar) sincerely tries to present a truthful analysis of world events. And yet, a belief in American moral exceptionalism pervades his work.

For example, in a recent column he wrote:

"The cold war ended the way it did because at some bedrock level we and the Soviets "agreed on what is shameful." And shame, more than any laws or police, is how a village, a society or a culture expresses approval and disapproval and applies restraints. But today, alas, there is no bedrock agreement on what is shameful, what is outside the boundary of a civilized world. Unlike the Soviet Union, the Islamist terrorists are neither a state subject to conventional deterrence or international rules, nor individuals deterred by the fear of death. And their home societies, in too many cases, have not stigmatized their acts as "shameful." In too many cases, their spiritual leaders have provided them with religious cover, and their local charities have provided them with money. That is why suicide bombing is spreading."

Some of what Friedman has to say is insightful. There is something to the idea that societies are defined and regulated by implicit agreements concerning the character of acceptable acts. More importantly, he is right that the current condition of global unrest is due, in part, to the fact that we have become a global community without achieving any kind of ethical concord, and that, ultimately, the unrest cannot be ended unless we are able to achieve some kind of common understanding of the ethical boundaries within which we are to live.

But Friedman also labors under the misapprehension that here in the West we have a shared ethical grounding that governs our actions. The plain fact is that our government routinely engages in actions which are utterly shameful on any reasonable standard. To cite a single example, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was picked up by American officials while passing through an airport, shipped to Syria for torture by proxy, and released-uncharged-ten months later and forty pounds lighter. A nation which acts in this way cannot lecture from a position of presumed moral superiority.

That's not to say that Americans can't condemn suicide bombings. But the conversation in which they are condemned has to be one in which we also ask what it is we are doing to be hated so much. That is, it has to be a conversation wherein the United States and its detractors are granted equal respect, and where each side is expected to acknowledge both its own misdeeds and the legitimate concerns of the other. It has to be a conversation in which each party stands ready to modify its behavior in response to what is learned.

When we believe, as Friedman apparently does, that our government has comported itself well in the world, then we will not be able to understand the motivations and values of those who tilt against the United States. We will instead say that they have sacrificed rationality at the alter of religion, that they lack normal human fears and desires, and that they have somehow placed themselves outside of the ethical community. And when we say these things we have stopped the conversation before it starts.

Sunday, January 11, 2004


Foul men, foul deeds

You would think that by this point in the Bush administration I would be beyond shock. And yet...

In full:

Torture by proxy / How immigration threw a traveler to the wolves

Christopher H. Pyle
Sunday, January 4, 2004
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

On Sept. 26, 2002, U.S. immigration officials seized a Syrian-born Canadian at Kennedy International Airport, because his name had come up on an international watch list for possible terrorists. What happened next is chilling.

Maher Arar was about to change planes on his way home to Canada after visiting his wife's family in Tunisia when he was pulled aside for questioning. He was not a terrorist. He had no terrorist connections, but his name was on the list, so he was detained for questioning. Not ordinary, polite questioning, but abusive, insulting, degrading questioning by the immigration service, the FBI and the New York City Police Department.

He asked for a lawyer and was told he could not have one. He asked to call his family, but phone calls were not permitted. Instead, he was clapped into shackles and, for several days, made to "disappear." His family was frantic.

Finally, he was allowed to make a call. His government expected that Arar's right of safe passage under its passport would be respected. But it wasn't. Arar denied any connection to terrorists. He was not accused of any crimes, but U.S. agents wanted him questioned further by someone whose methods might be more persuasive than theirs.

So, they put Arar on a private plane and flew him to Washington, D.C. There, a new team, presumably from the CIA, took over and delivered him, by way of Jordan, to Syrian interrogators. This covert operation was legal, our Justice Department later claimed, because Arar is also a citizen of Syria by birth. The fact that he was a Canadian traveling on a Canadian passport, with a wife, two children and job in Canada, and had not lived in Syria for 16 years, was ignored. The Justice Department wanted him to be questioned by Syrian military intelligence, whose interrogation methods our government has repeatedly condemned.

The Syrians locked Arar in an underground cell the size of a grave: 3 feet wide, 6 feet long, 7 feet high. Then they questioned him, under torture, repeatedly, for 10 months. Finally, when it was obvious that their prisoner had no terrorist ties, they let him go, 40 pounds lighter, with a pronounced limp and chronic nightmares.

Why was Arar on our government's watch list? Because "multiple international intelligence agencies" had linked him to terrorist groups. How many agencies? Two. What had they reported? Not much.

The Syrians believed that Arar might be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why? Because a cousin of his mother's had been, nine years earlier, long after Arar moved to Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that the lease on Arar's apartment had been witnessed by a Syrian- born Canadian who was believed to know an Egyptian Canadian whose brother was allegedly mentioned in an al Qaeda document.

That's it. That's all they had: guilt by the most remote of computer- generated associations. But, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft, that was more than enough to justify Arar's delivery to Syria's torturers.

Besides, Ashcroft added, the torturers had expressly promised that they would not torture him.

Our intelligence agencies have a name for this torture-by-proxy. They call it "extraordinary rendition." As one intelligence official explained: "We don't kick the s -- out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the s -- out of them."

This secret program for torturing suspects has been authorized, if that is the right word for it, by a secret presidential finding. Where the president gets the authority to have anyone tortured has never been explained.

It is time someone asked. What our government did to Maher Arar is worse than anything the British did to our Colonial forefathers. It was worse than anything J. Edgar Hoover did to alleged Communists, civil rights workers and anti-war activists during his long program of dirty tricks.

According to the Bush administration, we are at "war" with al Qaeda. If so, then delivering a suspect to torturers is a war crime and should be prosecuted as such. But first, we need to know who was responsible, and that will not be easy -- unless there is a firestorm of protest.

Isn't it time to condemn torture by proxy and demand prosecution of the persons responsible? Isn't it time to question how these watch lists are assembled and used, before more of us fall victim to secret detentions and brutal interrogations based on guilt by computerized associations?

Christopher Pyle teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College.


Me and Sleepy had been playing clubs for a couple of months when we met Dopey, who could whistle like dabejeezus. Dopey knew Doc, who knew Sneezy...

I have always accepted the biblical injunction that, "Bodily exercise profiteth little." [1 Timothy 4:8] But CNN forced me to reconsider. According to this story, "The same family of chemicals that produces a buzz in marijuana smokers may be responsible for runner's high." As a reformed pot head, my first impulse was to say, "Run--don't walk--to something about an hour away!"

Thankfully, I'm smart enough to know that there are always risks when embarking on a new exercise program/addiction, so I did some research. In this case, I found out that, "mice bred for 30 generations to display increased voluntary wheel running behavior - an 'exercise addiction' - showed higher amounts of BDNF than normal, sedentary mice." link

BDNF, for those of you not in the know, is brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It's a chemical "involved in protecting and producing neurons in the hippocampus."

High levels of BDNF are correlated with learning difficulties. It turns out that, "the running addict, compared with the normal-running, control mice, perform 'terribly' when attempting to navigate around a maze."

Now this could have nothing to do with BDNF. It could be that running addicts are so fixated on exercise wheels that mazes just don't do it for them anymore. But do you really want to risk it?

For now, I'll stick to my sedentary ways. Pass the hookah.

Saturday, January 10, 2004


The best scientific minds of my generation destroyed by madness

Good to see that this whole Mission to Mars thing is being planned using hard-headed G.O.P. realism:

"The decision was controversial within the White House, with some aides arguing that it would make more sense to focus immediately on Mars, since humans have already landed on the moon and a Mars mission would build cleanly on the success of Spirit, the U.S. rover that landed safely on Mars last weekend. Bush himself settled the divisions, according to the sources, working from options that had been narrowed down by his senior adviser, Karl Rove." link

Don't want to be a luddite here, but given the way that debate on this issue has already damaged workplace civility in the White House, wouldn't it be a good idea to move on to something more practical? I think I will have heard somebody saying something about the extraordinary benefits we will have gotten from the development of time travel.


I wish I owned USA Today

Scroll down to the chart comparing actual payroll employment to the Bush Administration's Feb 2003 forecast--the title of the chart is "Payroll Employment Since January 2000"

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: a Weblog


A General says what?

"I think there's an impression that the armed forces is a male-dominated, hierarchical, authoritarian institution," General Wesley Clark, ret. link

"Gosh, General, I can't imagine why anyone would ever say such a thing, sir."

. . . .

My favorite quote from the article comes a little bit later. It's from Wisconsin Lt. Governor Barbara Walton. She said: "When I met him, I wanted to know what happens if you interrupt and challenge a general. I didn't want to be party to the election of one more defensive, arrogant male. What I found was that it's part of his nature to understand the lives of women."

She's stumping for the General, so I guess we can assume that he isn't just another defensive, arrogant male--he also wears sweaters. But what interests me here is that if you look beyond the casual male bashing then you see that a connection is being implied between a conversational strategy of 'interrupting and challenging' and the 'lives of women.'

It should be noted that this isn't a connection Lt. Gov. Walton is meaning to draw. Rather, the point she was trying to make had less to do with a woman's prerogative to interrupt than with the demonstrably true fact that lots of men just don't listen to women's voices. So what she's really saying is that Gen. Clark does listen. And if that's true, then bully for him.

Still, as I read the quote, what it literally says is that the way you show your (male) sensitivity is by not minding when people (ok, women) dispute your statements before you've completed your sentence. Speaking as a defensive, arrogant male who doesn't mind being challenged but hates being interrupted, I have a problem with this standard.

Worse, though, is the idea that women's discourse is somehow typified by impatient carping, and that male sensitivity lies in a capacity to tolerate this regrettable weakness. As I said before, this isn't an idea Lt. Gov. Walton is meaning to convey. But it's right there on the surface of her statement. And, by the way, it's an idea that has more than a little currency.

While I think Lt. Gov. Walton could afford to be a little more careful in her choice of words, my point here is not to criticize her. Rather, I think that her statement has koan like profundity in the way that it makes a point about conversational charity in such a way that it's almost impossible not to be aware of the uncharitable reading. And I think that's kind of neat.


Attention Wal-Mart shoppers

The last thing I expect to see while watching the evening news is an ad for Wal-Mart. Previcid-yes. Levitra-yes. Metamucil-yes. But Friday night, sandwiched between Vioxx and ex-lax, was Wal-Mart. Can't wait for Sunday morning to see if the ad makes another appearance between AIM and Archer Daniels Midland.

The story of the ad was that Wal-Mart had revitalized an inner city neighborhood in L.A. by putting a store in a building that had been "vacant for five years." Wal-Mart, we are told, created jobs and put the neighborhood back on its feet.

That same neighborhood is entering the fourth month of a grocery strike sparked, it seems, by a corporate decision to drive down wages and benefits in order to compete more effectively with Wal-Mart. The three supermarket chains involved have lost well over $1 billion in sales and will probably have to close some stores when the strike ends. The Union has exhausted it's strike fund and faces the possibility of similar fights nationwide. Striking workers have had to dip into whatever savings they might have had and, as of January 1, have lost their health insurance coverage.

But hey, at least Wal-Mart will sell them cheap posterboard for their picket signs. Always low prices. Always.

Thursday, January 08, 2004


In case you're still planning this evening's nightmare

City on fire | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


Immigration Reform: a dialogue

Inspector: Good morning. I understand your company has certified that you have a number of job opportunities that American workers refuse to fill?

Manager: Yes. Is there a problem?

Inspector: No, no. We just do these checks from time to time to insure that American workers won't be displaced.

Manager: Perfectly understandable. What's the drill?

Inspector: Well, why don't we start with a tour of the facilities, and after that we can talk wages and benefits.

Manager: Sounds good to me. Though the benefits talk will be short. Ha, ha!

Inspector: We shall see. Let me say first off that your facilities here are very impressive. I should think that any American would be proud to work in such conditions.

Manager: Oh yes, we're all Americans in this wing. The guest workers will be kept in the back. I'll take you there.

. . . .

Manager: As you can see—careful where you step, sir—this is the warehouse floor.

Inspector: What is that awful smell?

Manager: We're not quite sure.

Inspector: It's quite warm back here.

Manager: Yes, we've found that it isn't cost-efficient to air condition this area. If you'll step this way…

Inspector: Do you happen to have any ear-plugs? I'm finding this din quite disconcerting.

Manager: What was that?

Inspector: I said, oh never mind.

Manager: Sorry, I still didn't hear you. Right this way—watch your head…

Inspector: Ouch!

Manager: Are you all right?

Inspector: What?


Inspector: I think I'm bleeding.






Inspector: OK.

. . . .

Manager: Well, it looks like that cleaned up all right. Here's a bandage.

Inspector: Thank you.

Manager: Would you like some water to drink?

Inspector: Please.

Manager: Is Evian ok?

Inspector: That would be fine. Let's get back to business. What kind of wages do these jobs pay?

Manager: Minimum wage after a short training period.

Inspector: Do most of the employees make overtime?

Manager: Currently they do, but we're hoping to phase that out once we have an adequate work force.

Inspector: Benefits?

Manager: They get to live in America. Ha, ha!

Inspector: (chortles)

Manager: So what's the verdict?

Inspector: I see no problem with your certification. 


More grocery strike coverage

Here's a good article from the San Diego Union-Tribune Business section. End may be in sight for grocery strike

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Actual reporting from your crack Zwichenzug staff

Champaign, Illinois (Z) -- Members of the Women's Health Task Force (WHTF) today called on local health care providers to immediately comply with legislation that requires that they cover the cost of prescription contraceptives. The legislation, which went into effect January 1 after being passed last July, allows insurers to delay coverage until plans are renewed or amended, meaning that insurers may not be required to cover contraceptives for as much as another year.

In addition, loopholes in the law allow some local employers to avoid paying for coverage. For example, employers who run their own health insurance programs, such as the Carle Foundation Hospital, are exempt from the law.

While acknowledging that most health care providers who deny contraceptive coverage do so legally, WHTF argues that failure to provide coverage is gender discrimination.

"The fact that it's legal doesn't make it right," said WHTF spokesperson Brooke Anderson, "women are being required to pay more for health care just because they are women."

Kathie Spegal of Planned Parenthood pointed out that in December 2001 the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission issued an opinion that stated that exclusion of prescription contraceptives from health insurance plans is gender discrimination.

"No one who has filed an EEOC complaint has lost," said Ms. Spegal. "We're willing to go that route."





Trust me, this is a BIG deal:
Workday Minnesota: Judge bars new union reporting rules

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


If the mainstream press covers labor news, the terrorists will have won

Aljazeera.Net - Strikes cripple south California

It's not recent, but it's pretty good reporting. There's even a sidebar.


G-Slim 4 Life aka Black G-sus

More evidence that a clean mind is essential to a long life: It has been shown that an enzyme will eat the prion associated with Mad Cow Disease, provided that your brain "tissue was pretreated and in the presence of a detergent," and you're a a cow or a sheep. Really.


Unreported story puzzles the will

A search for 'California grocery strike' on the CNN website locates one story, from October. The story marks the beginning of the strike, has extensive quotes from management, and no quotes at all from workers. The New York Times does better, with a story from mid-December. MSNBC, which archives transcripts from local affiliates, also has a story from mid-December, but they didn't get it online until yesterday.

But the strike should be big news. For over three months, 70,000 grocery workers have either been on strike or locked out. All three of the major grocery chains in California are affected, having decided to negotiate with the union as a block. And the story isn't confined to California. A nine week strike of 4400 grocery workers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky ended just before Christmas. 10,000 grocery workers in St. Louis were on the streets from October 10 thru 24. In Chicago, Dominick's (owned by one of the chains involved in the California strike) is, according to this report, planning to close a fifth of its stores in the city, "as it prepares for a new round of labor talks."

This is one of those stories that needs a closer look. Follow that last link and one of the things you'll find out is that Dominick's showed a small but real operating profit last quarter. If you've somehow managed to follow the news of the California strike then you know that the workers aren't asking for any significant increases in compensation, that they are, in fact, being asked to agree to wage ceilings and reduced benefits, and that the three chains have shown strong profits over the last five years. So why would profitable companies court massive labor unrest in order to disrupt the status quo?

The companies say, and despite the objections of UFCW leaders there's really no reason to doubt them, that they believe they have to cut wages and benefits because Wal-Mart plans to open dozens of hybrid grocery store/supercenters in the area in the next several years. So the think piece, if any mainstream press would care to cover it, is about the way that Wal-Mart's expansion into urban markets is leading to massive labor upheaval.

"Ho-hum," you might say, "think pieces are all well and good, but if I wanted to think I'd read CounterPunch. The story isn't in the news because strikes, except at the beginning and the end, are pretty much the same day after day."

Point taken. But the thing is, there is new news if only someone would print it.

Back in November, the Teamsters stopped delivering goods to warehouses, leading to empty store shelves. This week, in an effort to restart the bargaining process by showing good faith, the UFCW pulled their picket lines from the warehouses and the Teamsters started up deliveries again. link

If that's not good enough for you, there's this: Yesterday the UFCW filed a lawsuit against Ralph's (one of the three chains) because Ralph's had begun re-hiring scab workers under false names and was failing to make contributions to the pension fund. This is dirty pool and it ought to be national news. It would be national news if the strike were being treated as if it were important.


There is some good news on the labor front. The good folks at Borders store #1 in Ann Arbor, Michigan have finally got a contract.