Declare the pennies on your eyes
Maybe this site will come in handy: the Tax Observer apparently responds to reader questions, a great public service. Unfortunately all my problems are all with the state, so unless Tax Observer is familiar with the Illinois code, I may have to bite the bullet and get a real accountant. Blah.

No more than contingency plans
Nicholas Kristof's latest column about NK is really disturbing. There aren't a lot of specifics, but he seems to think the Bush admin is closer to a military approach than we've been led to believe.
The hawk faction believes that the U.S. as a last resort could make a surgical strike, even without South Korean consent, and that Kim Jong Il would not commit suicide by retaliating. The hawks may well be right. Then again, they may be wrong. And if they're wrong, it would be quite a mistake.

[...] Ironically, the gravity of the situation isn't yet fully understood in either South Korea or Japan, partly because they do not think this administration would be crazy enough to consider a military strike against North Korea. They're wrong.

I hadn't read much of Kristof before the past couple of months, but his reporting and analysis on North Korea has been superb. Apart from Josh Marshall, I haven't read anybody else who really seems to take this issue seriously - everyone else seems to be distracted by Iraq. But Kristof is well connected, and he seems to have a real sensitivity ot the issues involved.

An army in northern Iraq
Josh Marshall describes the Bush admin's cold hearted betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds.
[...] the deal we've just cut with the Turks belies much of the democratization argument. Now, for reasons I'll try to get into later, I'm something of a turkophile. But the administration's apparent decision to allow the Turkish army to range at will through Iraqi Kurdistan -- the one place in Iraq where something like democracy is taking root -- doesn't bode well for any grand democratic experiment.
I'm not sold on his argument - for one thing, I think the Kurds in Northern Iraq have a lot to fear from Saddam if there are no US military forces up there, so it might be worth making a few concessions. But I do have serious questions about whether Bush is serious about democracy in Iraq - much less the rest of the Middle East.

It looks like Bush has changed his tune on Americorps - according to this WP article, the new budget will cut the program's enrollment considerably:
[...] the omnibus spending legislation approved by Congress earlier this month caps AmeriCorps enrollment at 50,000 for 2003 -- no increase. The administration has told Congress that an accounting change required by the White House Office of Management and Budget will leave AmeriCorps with a $64 million shortfall in its $100 million trust fund for volunteers' scholarships.

Based on these figures, the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic group, calculated that AmeriCorps will have only enough funds for 28,000 slots.

What a disappointment. After 9/11, Bush made a lot of noise about providing opportunities and incentives for Americans young and old to serve their country, and not just in a military capacity. But apart from the callout associated with the federalization of airport security (which Bush opposed, in any case) I can't remember hearing anything else about it. And it's probably the only significant way Americans could hope to be support the war against terror here at home.

By the way, Bush announced this now-defunct Americorps expansion right after 9/11, echoing the ideas of John McCain, who has called for one or two years of required service - military or otherwise - for all Americans. Obviously McCain's idea is a non-starter, but adding volunteers to Americorps seems like a great step toward getting Americans involved in their government - and at a time when Americans want to get involved. But Bush has faced a lot of criticism from the right after the biggest expansion of government in recent memory, and the Americorps expansion was probably a good place to shore up his base. Too bad.

Market testing
This CNN article about extinction level events isn't very comforting. You almost get the feeling their probing they're audience to help put together a contingency plan.


Regime change
Finally, some hope that the oppression will end!

People all over the world: Join hands!
One of my main motivations in creating this weblog was to learn more about the blogopshere, which has fascinated me for a couple of years now. But somehow, finding a voice has become my primary concern now that I'm actually writing. This makes sense - it's so much harder to be removed from this kind of thing when you're actually doing it every day.

To fix this, I'm going to try a couple of things. First of all, I'm going to try to link to one new weblog per day - at least until I have a somewhat longer blogroll. Originally I had planned to link only to sites I looked at with some frequency, but I think this will be more interesting. My second idea is to write a serious post once a week on blogging more generally - maybe that way I can keep my head in the clouds?

The first of my blog-a-day posts was yesterday's link to Jeff Cooper's site, Cooped Up. Today I'm linking to Amygdala, where after a little wandering I ran into this great post defending the latest Star Trek incarnation. Evidently he's a fan.

Another local story: the anti-trust lawsuit against Dominick's and Jewel has been thrown out. We talked about this case some in my econ class and saw how this pricing behavior can be the result of normal competition in an oligopoly, although it's not clear whether that was the case here.

Four weeks of trial came to a quick end with Circuit Judge John Morrissey's six-page opinion that said lawyers who brought the class action suit failed to show clear and convincing evidence that the state's antitrust laws were violated.

Morrissey wrote that if consumers felt Jewel and Dominick's overcharged for milk, they could shop elsewhere, or even boycott the stores.

"I do not mean to oversimplify, but in our aforementioned free market and society, the defendants have competed, not conspired," Morrissey wrote. "If their milk prices are out of line, the remedy is a seasoned campaign of consumers doing the things this court has said, and not an action at law."

The strange thing about the decision is that the Morrissey's secondary argument - that consumers could simply shop somewhere else - isn't part of anti-trust law at all. It will be interesting to see whether this forms the basis for an appeal.

A course in marital theory
I can't find it online, but Chicago Public Radio had a piece today about pending marriage legislation that would require Illinois residents to take pre-marriage classes before they could get a license. This strikes me as bizarre... the Illinois State Assembly is going to tell me how to handle my marriage? Not likely.

As simple as decapitation
Dick Morris sees the coming conflict as more of a coup d'etat than a war:
By using aerial bombardment to disrupt the regime's communications with its minions and employing e-bombs to overload their computers, American strategists are enhancing their chances of killing or capturing Saddam without having to damage all of Iraq. Even if the dictator escapes alive to hide out somewhere in a cave near Osama's, his regime will be toppled and the coup will have succeeded.

[...] In a sense, we are returning to the polite notions of war of the 18th and early 19th centuries. When the British captured Philadelphia, they figured the American Revolution would collapse. When they burned Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812, they felt they had won the war. Union generals were forever trying to capture Richmond to end the Civil War. Then generals like Ulysses Grant realized that the key was to destroy the other side's army - and the modern meat-grinder war was born.

By focusing on capturing the instruments of power in Baghdad, we are returning to the earlier idea - but in a different context.

This is interesting, but it seems unlikely that we will be able to kill or capture Saddam so easily. If we knew where he was, wouldn't we have assassinated him already? This is a man who has multiple body doubles and has been in power for 23 years... he even survived a war with the mighty United States of America. I think he knows how to take care of himself.

The entanglement strategy
Haggai has a grave warning for the unexpected new coalition government in Israel:
[...] the Palestinians didn't accept Oslo as a devilishly clever strategic move in their struggle to destroy Israel, although that struggle continues today - they accepted it because the international situation at the time left them with no choice. Arafat himself is clearly beyond hope as a potential peacemaker and has to be replaced for there to be any chance of progress. But if Israel ignores the importance of much of the international community's view of the conflict, there won't be peace either. Military force, which is completely necessary and justified in fighting terrorism, isn't enough to bring peace - not by itself.
The whole post is worth a read.

Better than a sharp stick in the eye
It seems to me Iraq's decision to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles will make it much harder for the Bush admin to get intl support for the war effort - although according to this NYT atricle, "the allies also already maneuvering." Saddam is playing this perfectly right now; every move is timed perfectly, and international support for war is diminishing with each passing day. I suspect there will be plenty of delay in destroying the missiles though, since Iraq will need shortly.

Correct, as usual!
Everybody is eulogizing Fred Rogers today, and of course they're right to. I have the fondest memories of his show, and from what I've read today he was - remarkably enough - the same person in person as he was on television. One thing that surprised me - it turns out he wrote his own songs.

Stuck at orange forever?
Now that the Orange Alert is over, this article from Mary Lynn F. Jones (via CalPundit) is a little out of date:
By maintaining the same high alert level for three straight weeks, the government has effectively boxed itself into a situation where we may be stuck at orange forever. As a result, it's time to color the terror alert system useless, once and for all.

It seems likely that we will never go to green, or "low risk," because after September 11, the government will never again be able to essentially guarantee that we're free from the risk of an attack. Same goes for blue, or "guarded." Government officials appear worried that if we return to yellow, or "elevated," something bad will happen and they'll get blamed for telling us to relax a bit....All of which is to say that we are now looking at spending the majority of our lives at orange.

But I do think it's strange that they waited as long as they did to lower the threat level. Communications have apparently decreased considerably, and we haven't seen a terrorist attack. On the other hand, they may have to raise the level again soon, if there is a threat of attacks to coincide with our invasion if Iraq.

UPDATE: According to my econ prof, experts recommend a threat level that equates the likelihood of a threat with the chances of some real event - wrecking your car, or being struck by lightning - so that people will have a better idea of what to prepare for. The problem with this, of course, is that terrorist acts aren't random events, and it's much harder to judge the likelihood of success when you have such a small data pool.


Wine and wisdom
Jeff Cooper's weblog rates a special mention here, first of all because Jeff is a prof at Indiana University (which has a special place in my heart), but also becuase he mixes his political/legal commentary with weekly wine recommendations. Maybe I'll go buy a bottle of his last suggestion, a cheap Penfold's Shiraz-Cab.

Try, try again
I couldn't fail to notice the story about famous French chef Bernard Loiseau who killed himself when his rating decreased (for the record, it went from 19/20 to 17/20). Marco Pierre White tells us about the stressors these tops chefs face. Obviously there's the temptation to be appalled at the disconnect between the world we ourselves inhabit and the one these chefs are catering to. But with the premiere of my opera coming up so soon, it's easy to relate to the pressure of reviews and ratings. I go from inviting all my friends and imagining a great success to picking at the work we've done, tearing it apart even, bracing for disaster. And that first review - by the Indianapolis Star - will mean everything.

Don't worry, though, I'm only 26 - plenty of time to switch careers if things don't work out!

One dimensional crusaders for the common man
Also by way of Slate, the WP's Gene Weingarten calls Robert Burrows's self-published novel Great American Parade the worst novel ever published in the English language. No big surprises - it turns out to be a clumsily didactic treatment of the Bush tax plan in the form of a novel. But what interested me about it was how it got reviewed in the Washington Post; after all, it was self-published, so it didn't have navigate the highly credible and authoritative editorial process we submit to when we play by the rules.

When I googled Mr Burrows's novel, there were dozens of hits, all from college papers that were tricked into reviewing the book when they got their free copy in the mail. Even the Indiana Daily Student (an old employer of mine) had a review. What I'm wondering is: can this really work? Apparently the author printed up 2000 copies and sent them to college campuses around the country, hoping to generate buzz from the ground up. In this case it failed, probably because the novel was no good, but maybe this is something to think about... if, for instance, the novel were published online, reviews in college campuses around the country could really get it going. I'll have to run out and tell all my novelist friends.

A more jaundiced look
New York has chosen the Libeskind design for the WTC site. Slate's Chirstopher Hawthorne had some interesting analysis of the design on Tuesday:

Like Muschamp and many other critics, when I first saw a model of the Libeskind scheme at the World Financial Center I felt in it an emotional power that was lacking in the other schemes, which, despite moments of architectural inspiration, tended to be rather cold, even tactical, on the whole. Libeskind's proposal, on the other hand, succeeded as a coherent, artistic whole: It suggested leaving the WTC pit as an unfinished hole in the ground contained by rough-hewn slurry walls, around which would grow a new crop of translucent towers, including a sharply peaked tower with sky gardens on its upper floors. Of all the plans, it alone seemed to achieve a remarkable balance between mourning and our desire to reach back into the sky.

Muschamp himself has identified the proposal's "graphically powerful first impression." But with the benefit of distance, he has begun to take a more jaundiced look at Libeskind's uncanny talent for tapping into emotions like grief and our bewilderment at the range of human cruelty. Libeskind's recent success is directly traceable to his mining of this talent: I can't think of a single Libeskind design that doesn't exploit it to one degree or another. In a building like his best-known finished work, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, these responses seem entirely appropriate to the task. But in a process involving a good deal of salesmanship, as the World Trade Center dog-and-pony show has, these talents are capable of looking suspect, even tawdry. Muschamp is certainly not the only critic to have noted this. In a recent New Republic essay, Martin Filler labeled Libeskind "an entrepreneur of commemoration."

As I understand it, the design shown to the public is still very fluid, and what finally gets built may look very different. We'll have to see whether Muschamp's concerns are incorporated.

A dramatic and inspiring example
George Bush set forth his vision of a postwar Iraq this evening - "a dramatic and inspiring example to the Middle East." Meanwhile, the North Koreans have restarted the nuclear facility at Yongbyon.


More visceral reactions
We've heard a lot lately about Rumsfeld's attempts to fast-track missile defense. With all we know about the effectiveness of these systems, I'm not sure having one in place is going to make me feel a lot safer - especially if it hasn't even been tested. The whole thing may be a bluff (or maybe it's serious) but what amazes me about it is the timing. After all, this has been Bush's pet project since 9/11, and even before. But we're hearing about it now, because all of a sudden North Korea is in the news, flying MIGs into South Korean airspace and launching missiles into the Sea of Japan.

The problem with all this is that we've known all along about North Korea's nuclear machinations - or at least, our leaders have. And instead of engaging them in dialogue, or even taking preventative action a la our new preemption strategy, we've called them names and pushed for a missile shield to protect us when they take offense. The fact is that this missle shield is part of the problem. It creates an atmosphere of escalation and proliferation instead of negotiation and diplomacy.

By the way, there's another problem with the missile shield, besides just the fact that it doesn't work. Even before Tenet revealed that the North Koreans have missiles that can hit California, the Bush administration was still paralyzed by fear and indecision. The problem was that the North Koreans had the capacity to level Seoul or Tokyo if we attacked them preemptively or imposed a meaningful sanctions regime. But even with a missile shield, we'd still have this problem - even if we built missile shields to protect every country in the world, the North Koreans could level Seoul with artillery. No, his is a situation that will continue to escalate until we make a credible threat against the Pyongyang or sit down to negotiate. Instead, we're hiding under an improbable future technology. Will Kim Jong Il call our bluff?

A fine romance
Speaking of changes, is going to start charging for online access to print stories... they say 75% off the cover price, but I have to wonder what they pay for printing and postage. I can't really blame them, since I used to have a print subscription but let it run out since everything was online. Is this really the direction online content is going? A good reason to come to painpill, anyway!

You scratch my back and I'll scratch your record
By the way, Haggai Elitzur of Haggai's Place also paid me the compliment of a link. Do take a moment to check out his site, where "a splendid time is guaranteed for all."

Who is that man behind the curtain?
The Talking Dog has been so kind as to link to my site in his Dog Run, which has provided me with instructive descriptions of some great political weblogs. His description was kind enough (although now that I've altered the URL it's no longer current), but it did make me realize that I haven't explained who I am, or what I'm after with this site. Like I explained below, what I'm after is still a little murky, but who I am shouldn't be so hard. A capsule should go something like this:

This is the weblog of one Paul Goyette, currently a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago, but with curiosities and ambitions well beyond public political spheres. Most recently he completed the libretto for a children's opera entitled The Trio of Minuet, to premiere in Indianapolis this May. Before that he was a semi-willing employee of the Social Security Administration, where he failed to use his degree in Russian and Comparative Literature. When he grows up, he'd love to be a big-time jazz pianist, but in the meantime he's available for hire to those with less exacting musical taste and/or knowledge.

That should fill my narcicism quota for the evening.

Crisis of confidence
In a low bow to all of those who have called me flaky (and they are many!) I've decided to change the name of this site to painpill. It's not that I think I feel like two weeks have cleared up the murkiness around what exactly I want out of this site, and what exactly I want to be writing about. But the further I go, the harder it is for these kinds of things to change.

And I was somewhat uncomfortable with the name counterfactual. It was a little too suggestive of an argument-oriented approach, and I'm not by nature an argumentative type. With painpill I'm looking for something a little more playful, and perhaps a little wider in scope.

UPDATE: According to my girlfriend, changing the name was a bad idea. Let the readers revolt! Somehow I've managed to alienate half my audience.

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