Curiouser and curiouser

by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2004

“A very odd column by Christopher Hitchens”: about Ahmed Chalabi, the CIA, and so forth. It finishes by hinting at a more critical position toward the Allawi government than some of Hitchens’s admirers have hitherto managed:

bq. As I write, the Allawi government in Baghdad is trying, with American support, a version of an “iron fist” policy in the Shiite cities of the south. (“Like all weak governments,” as Disraeli once said in another connection, “it resorts to strong measures.”) Chalabi, who has spent much of this year in Najaf, thinks that this is extremely unwise. We shall be testing all these propositions, and more, as the months go by.

The Political Slime Machine

by Henry Farrell on August 11, 2004

“Steven Johnson”: has written “one of the smartest political essays”: that I’ve read in a long while, using a simplified version of complexity theory to explain why the Dean campaign went bad. Johnson argues that the Dean campaign was based on a simple positive feedback loop in which more volunteers and donations led to increased publicity, leading to yet more volunteers and donations _usw_. However, its radical decentralization and lack of complex communication meant that it wasn’t able to cope when the environment changed, and the feedback was interrupted, it couldn’t adapt. Like slime moulds and pheronome-induced ant trails, the Dean campaign was “great at conjuring up crowds … [b]ut … lousy at coping.”

Johnson suggests that other forms of emergent behaviour cope better with changes to the environment, but that they don’t scale very well. They’re probably not suited to large-scale national campaigns in complex polities like the US. This seems to me to be a useful corrective to some of the hype about new kinds of campaigning and fundraising. They are having important effects on politics – but it is unclear (at best) whether they can radically reshape politics at the national level. Johnson suggests that the political lessons of emergence apply more clearly and easily to Jane Jacobs style urbanism and local politics. It’s a fascinating little essay, which packs a lot of punch into seven pages. Go read.

The Al-Cockney Army

by Daniel on August 11, 2004

From this morning’s papers, a bit more light shed on the questions I raised below. It appears that explanation c) (that the Sadrist forces have been recruiting since April) is at least part of the reason for the discrepancy. I would imagine that the two Londoners who have shown up in Najaf are not particularly representative of what’s been going on, but it makes a useful hook for newspapers, and us, to have a look at what’s going on.

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Good Stuff from the Decembrist

by Kieran Healy on August 11, 2004

Two good things from Mark Schmitt (but you wouldn’t expect anything less, right?). There’s an “American Prospect Piece”: by him about the long-term effects of the congressional reforms of the 1950s and ’60s, and a “post about jobs with no sick leave”:

According to the brilliant analysts at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, sixty-six million workers, or 54% of the workforce, does not get a single paid sick day after a full year on the job.

That statistic, I think, is one of the best indicators of the two classes of the labor market, and how the divide is not so much about wages and income as about benefits and security. And those of us on the relatively secure side of the divide cannot really understand how different life is in a world where you don’t have any paid sick leave. I might think I understand what it is to earn low wages — $10,500/year, in my first job — but I’ve never had a job that didn’t offer sick days. Can’t even imagine it.

Jacob Hacker has a sort of “preview of his next book”: in The New Republic, and I think he is most clearly saying the big thing that needs to be said about the economy: That the principal problem, the big thing that has changed, is not the number of jobs, the rate of growth, or income inequality. It’s the shift in risk from the government and corporations onto individuals. … [B]ut while some of us have been able to exchange the security of the past for greater economic opportunity, a majority of workers are absorbing more risk without accompanying reward.

We’ve “mentioned”: this phenomenon “before”: at CT, as has Daniel in some older posts about “pension schemes”:


by Chris Bertram on August 11, 2004

From Mark Lynas’s “new blog on climate change”: (hat-tip “Harry’s Place”: ) comes “this story”: of the medieval village of “Heuersdorf”: , in eastern Germany, which is threatened by strip-mining for lignite. God knows why anyone should mine dirty, horrible, acid-rain producing brown coal anyway, let alone demolish medieval churches to do so. This story needs wider circulation.

“He got his Visionz from our visions.”

by Belle Waring on August 11, 2004

A strange and interesting article from the Washington Post, which highlights an urban subculture I know nothing about, despite having lived in D.C. for many years (not recently, though). The article is long, but the gist is this: there are about 30 high-end T-shirt and warm-up gear stores in D.C., each of which vies for its target audience with constantly changing styles and local spokesmen, from comedians to go-go bands. Apparently the trade started as a back-of-the-truck thing at clubs and concerts in the ’80’s, and grew into a big enterprise. The shirts usually sell at $100 each.

Around 1995, the style changed from silkscreens to elaborately embroidered shirts. And an enterprising Korean immigrant named Jung Kang began to sell his services, first as an embroiderer with unheard of turn-around time (he would deliver the shirts back the same day), then as a T-shirt producer as well. It seems like almost all the D.C. lines were using Kang. But then he got the idea to start his own shop, and his own line, called Visionz. He hired a popular local comedian as a spokesman, and hired local designers to come up with the T-shirt designs. And then he started selling the shirts for $30.

I think you can guess what happened next.

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