Friday, April 29, 2005

About those Treasury Bonds...

From an explanation on Social Security in the USA Today:

Social Security trust fund has built up IOUs because it currently collects more payroll taxes than it pays out in benefits. It gives the surplus to the Treasury to spend on other government programs. In return it gets interest-bearing Treasury bonds.

So the government issues Treasury Bonds as IOUs (in the President's words) to cover the money it borrows from the Social Security surplus. That much makes sense. But Bush has stressed the lack of faith that he has in these Treasury Bonds at every stop along his Social Security tour. Here's an example from his social security speech in South Carolina on April 18:

Some people think there's a Social Security trust, where the government is holding your money, in an account with your name on it. It just doesn't work that way. That's not the way the system works. There is no vault holding your cash, waiting for you to retire. Instead, because we spend Social Security taxes on current retirees and other government programs, all that is left over in the so-called security trust is a bunch of filing cabinets with IOUs [treasury bonds] in them.

As a matter of fact, I went to West Virginia the other day to look at the filing cabinets, to make sure the IOUs [treasury bonds] were there -- paper. And it's there. And it's, frankly, not a very encouraging sight.

However, last night in his speech to the American people, he was singing an entirely different tune about the financial security of treasury bonds:

I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Options like this will make voluntary personal retirement accounts a safer investment that will allow an American to build a nest egg that he or she can pass on to whomever he or she chooses.

So which is it? Either TBs are useless IOUs not worth the paper they're written on or they're a secure investment back by the full faith and credit of the US government. So which is it, Mr. President?

Postscript: And in case you're wondering about the IOUs:

Physically, the trust fund consists of 8-by-11-inch sheets of paper, fastened inside two notebooks and tucked in a drawer of a four-drawer filing cabinet at the U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt in Parkersburg, W.Va. The drawer is secured by a combination lock.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

If I supersize it, do I get a minivan?

According to Le Monde, a Marseillais man has modified his diesel car to run on used vegetable oil. He acquires it from local restaurants, strains it and pours it into the tank. The car has an internal "stove" to heat the oil up to 90 degrees; I believe this comes standard on all frying grease diesels. There is of course one drawback, a slight odor of said frying grease which follows you around. But hey, if you're employed by McDonalds you've already got that problem. No telling how many McDonalds will be ordering for their delivery fleet.

Shouldn't the Wienermobile be running on this stuff?


Delay-ed no more

Let the games begin.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"It's a bird; it's a plane..."

Yep, it's a plane. That's what Toulouse residents are saying this morning as the new Airbus A380 took off from the Airbus runway for it's test flight. If you haven't heard or or seen the stats on this behemoth, have a look.

Over at CNN, the lead article has this little nugget of information.

Some passenger planes will have cocktail bars, double beds and massage parlors, while Airbus has suggested that selected jets may even have jacuzzis and mini-casinos.

Now that's what I call a full-service flight. But when will they introduce inflight photo development for folks who want to get off the plane with pictures ready to show? The article ends on this believable note:

Carbon fiber components and fuel-efficient technology also mean the cost per passenger should be up to 20 percent less than on a 747, raising the possibility of cheaper tickets, Airbus said.

Indeed, we can all expect serious reductions in our airfares...mhhmm yeah right!


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The 'NO' side.

The question should be more often asked to the NO side about what happens after May 29 if the NO wins. Usually the answer is tentative at best or extremely disturbing. The assumptions made is that there will be a new “compromise”.. but as many have pointed out, who is going to be ready for a new compromise more favourable to France’s social views? In other words, who is going to back us up?

The answer given by the far-left (The LCR and the likes) is a sort of revolution of the people – in the “people unite, sort of way. But this would only work in non-democratic states. Unless, you deny that the present governments of Europe are legitimate, then you have to accept that most voters in Europe tend to be more conservative. This is even more the case now with former communist countries that understandably don’t want to have anything to do with more government intrusion into their lives.

Another problem is not only that the ‘NO’ side has no real alternative but also they are completely divided. The Le Pen ‘NO’ vote is very different from that of the Communists. So how can they unite the rest of Europe if they can’t be united within their own country?

In the end, it is sheer arrogance for the French to think that they alone can change the compromise accepted by 24 governments, especially given the support of the present Constitutional Treaty by most Unions and civil bodies. It is a form of French Imperialism within Europe and a total denial of reality.

Come on, it is about time to get real!


Monday, April 25, 2005

The Gate that won't shut

Gannon-gate continues...

It's one thing to have journalists embedded with the military in Iraq. It's quite another to have political hacks embedded among the journalists at home? Remember James Guckert:

Guckert made more than 200 appearances at the White House during his two-year tenure with the fledging conservative websites GOPUSA and Talon News, attending 155 of 196 White House press briefings. He had little to no previous journalism experience, previously worked as a male escort, and was refused a congressional press pass.

But it gets weirder. Apparently he made many other visits to the White House, though these were not for press briefings or were of a time duration that far exceeded that taken by most journalists for the same briefings. In addition, he often didn't sign in (or out) with the Secret Service, according to their files, a fact which many journalists find highly suspicious in this post 9/11 world in which security is the mot du jour. This little scandal just keeps on growing. For a President who came in riding on the wings of morality, he sure does have a lot of explaining to do.

Take a look at the Secret Service logs recently obtained by two democratic congressmembers.



The Joker to the Thief is proud to endorse the YES vote to the French referendum to the Constitutional Treaty. Unfortunately we are quite aware that this endorsement is of little [OK – honestly, I should say absolutely “no”] significance BUT we like saying that anyway…

We will have more postings on the issue and will explain in greater details our choice. I have personally read most of it – although I browsed through part of Section III. It seems to me to be an honest compromise between different political trends.

One thing though is that I refuse to let politicians hijack my vote by taking advantage of the fear and anger of many people, or by blaming everything going wrong in this country on Europe and Brussels, or by using this for their own personal agenda and ulterior political motives, and it seems to me that it’s [mostly] all what the “NO” side is about.

People certainly have the right to be angry with their government's policies, but they are wrong to mix the issues. The referendum needn’t become a mid-term protest vote against an ever more unpopular government. We just have to wait two more years for that, and then we’ll get a kick!

And as Shakespeare once wrote: 'Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.' [Macbeth, I. iii.134]


Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Big Bad Word.

In France these days, if you ever want to smear a politician, a journalist or anyone for that matter, you just need to call them “libéral” or worse yet “ultralibéral”, and it’s as if you charged them with a crime worse than corruption, or murder. This is THE big bad word in France today, and it’s been largely used by those who support the ‘NO’ to the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, and there is a lot to say about that.
First, whenever the word is used, it is never defined maybe because of the assumption that everybody knows what it means and that there is a consensus that “libéralisme” is the new evil of our day and age. It has also become the scapegoat for anything going wrong in this country. It has been the new devil even though it is often devoid of ratonal meaning but maybe giving a definition is precisely what we need to do first.

Different definitions:
  • Originally the term “liberal” referred the Enlightenment tradition of limited political power and support of individual rights, so it was a very “progressive” notion in the context of 18th century. Obviously the definition has greatly evolved over the years and now it carries different meanings and connotations in different countries, including within Europe.
  • In France the word “libéralisme” means “free-market economy with laissez-faire policy”, and so “ultralibéralisme”, [a neologism like hyperpuissance some years ago] has been used as a pejorative term initially adopted by a large section of the French left against those they see as having extreme capitalist views. But the confusion between the two words has been entertained by many politicians and journalists who tend to use both indiscriminately.
  • The definition is somewhat different in northern Europe as it carries a more positive connotation associated with individual rights (close to what the Radicals tend to represent in French politics) with the belief that government should act to alleviate poverty and other social problems, but not through radical changes to the structure of society.
  • In the U.S. , the term means almost the exact opposite to what it means in France. After WWII, the term “liberal” was associated to the left-of center new liberalism and in the 50s (in the McCarthy era) former New Dealers and other people left of the center began to be referred to as “liberal”. In the 80s (during a turn to the right with Reagan), the word began to be used as a derogatory term by U.S. conservatives, as form of counter-reaction to the liberal consensus of the 60s. In recent years, the word “liberal” has been hijacked by Conservatives to mean an overly free-spirited, unaccountable, and compromised character or someone in favor of vast and needless government intrusion into people’s lives. As a result “liberals” now prefer to be called “Progressives”.
It is interesting to see that the word “liberal” went from being associated with Enlightenment values at the core of which is the notion of personal freedom to a negatively connoted term. The irony is that it is now used for demagogical rhetoric both in the U.S. and in France.
The commonality here is that in both countries, the word “liberal” has been hijacked by extremes – the Conservative right in the US and the far-left in France and as a result the center (the Socialists or the UMP in France) has to include the term and position itself in accordance. In other words, the center is forced to adopt the language and the mental frame of small minority groups.
The problem right now in France is that the word is often associated with the notion of free-market economy alone or with Capitalism, as if they necessarily implied laissez-faire policy. In the same way, in the US, political rhetoric often uses “freedom” associated with “free-market”. This obviously maintains confusion and manipulates public opinion., and needless to say that economic freedom does not necessarily equal personal freedom (and sometimes quite the opposite) and Capitalism does not necessarily mean laissez-faire policy.
What is usually agreed on is that some government intervention is needed.
Despite what people in Europe may think, the US is not ultra-liberal [the American government subsidizes part of its industry], and contrary to the common rhetoric in France, capitalism is mostly a positive economic model that creates wealth [if nothing else, ask former Communist countries]. So really, the consensus should be that Capitalism and democracy are the best available systems to work with and it is all a question of dosage. And this is the real issue – a discussion on the role of government, and its main function in society.
My view tends to be more Social-Democratic [i.e. regulatory systems over private enterprise in the interests of workers, consumers and small enterprise, some industrial regulation, government-funded health care and educational systems for all citizens, extensive system of social security, environmental protection laws, a progressive taxation system, etc… just to name a few] but I am ready for some discussion resulting in some compromise. Things will have to be global anyway.
And there will be differences between countries but a compromise can be found within Europe at least… and guess what, this compromise is actually exactly what the Constitutional Treaty is all about, and it’ll be up to us Europeans, when we vote, to fill in the frame of the new institutions with better policies, and maybe give the world something to dream about, the European Dream, as Jeremy Rifkin calls it.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Excuse the interruption

We are back after a brief hiatus to take care of exams and to travel back to the states, respectively. I must say, the news cycle didn't slow down one bit while we were out of action. No rest for the weary. So let's get to it.

1) It's the NFL draft today and my hometown Vikings have two picks in the first round. I don't suppose that interests many of you, but it's been a while since we had this sort of good fortune. Now if the football gods will only smile down on us and give us two marvelous picks, we would be most grateful.

2) The senate continues to debate the "Nuclear Option" of eliminating the filibuster in order to get an up-or-down vote on Bush's judicial nominees. The Republicans have now taken to calling it the "constitutional option" because the other verbiage didn't play well in the polls. Sounds a bit like personal accounts vs private accounts to me. I have to say I'm with Senator McCain on this one who's against it because Republicans "won't be in power forever." You wouldn't know that by the way they're acting though, would you?

3) Tom Delay is still in hot water over all sorts of improprieties and now he's claiming he's the victim of a vast left wing conspiracy (VLWC as it's come to be known in the blogosphere). Gee, sorry there ol' Tommy-boy, I would try to work up some pity for you, but I just can't seem to get the tears to come. Weren't you part of the conservative revolution ushered in with Gingrich in '94 who was going to change the culture of things around DC? Good job. You made scandals routine. Not bad!

4) Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is trying to privatize the weather. You read that right. He's proposed forbidding the government weather agencies making their weather forcasts available online, a move which would force people to pay for the services of private weather forcasters like AccuWeather. Is it just a coincidence that AccuWeather's president is an old friend and campaign contributor to Santorum?

Like I said, no slow down. But we're back and ready to sift through the rubble.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

About the Joker to the Thief.

If you come and visit us frequently, you may have noticed a stop of new postings in the last few days. The reason is that both members are currently unable to deliver. One is on a trip and the other is studying for a major exam whose dealine is at the end of this week. However, posting should resume some time next week (around April 19) as the American member will be back and soon after (the following week most probably), the blog should be in full speed again with even better articles and a greater variety of subjects (Boy, that sound like a real ad!) ;-)
In the meantime, feel free to read all the [sometimes controversial] postings we have put on line since our creation and don't hesitate to leave a comment. We like being challenged.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Music Machine

It's all the rage right now to learn what songs are on everyone's iPod. Frankly, for most people I couldn't care any less what songs they listen to. But when it comes to the President, let's just say I'm intrigued. The selection is respectable if not surprising given his Texas home. Country music is distinctly American and doesn't sell well abroad (like Bush), Fogerty came of age during the Vietnam War (like Bush), and Van Morrison is someone most Americans don't realize isn't American. (perhaps like...) All this is fun to analyze, but the money quote is this:

As for an analysis of Mr. Bush's playlist, Mr. Levy of Rolling Stone started out with this: "One thing that's interesting is that the president likes artists who don't like him."

Very few of us can say that.

Oh, and just in case you're interested (since I know you're not!), the most played artists on my iPod are Del Amitri, Sting, Los Lobos, Carla Bruni, Keren Ann, Coldplay and Allison Krauss. As far as I know, not one of them dislikes me, probably because none of them knows I exist.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Stickin' it to "The Man"

Drop what you're doing and go deliver a little justice to the man who has so warped and betrayed American capitalism. Ken Lay and his ilk will get their fair trial, since that's what we've agreed to as a society, but if you were wronged by their shenanigans, you have a small remedy...and it's only a mouse click away.


Saturday, April 09, 2005


Or What happens when a pope's death meets March Madness?! This is the American response that we've all been waiting for. Handicapping the pope's potential successors. I'm a big fan of the "Sweet Sistine" and can really appreciate the fact that they still make a spot for Duke! I wouldn't count them out.

hattip to KJ...good find!


Friday, April 08, 2005


Pope worship! That's what France's left and secularists are calling the French effort to honor the pope by flying the tricolor at half staff and instructing regional prefects to visit and pay their respects to local bishops. I've been waiting for this for days, waiting to watch France' past catholicism collide with it's present secularism. Of course it's not just secularism but a growing muslim population that - as a whole - takes its faith much more seriously than the catholics theirs that fuels this debate. The law forbidding veils and other ostenstatious displays of religion in the public sphere (read: schools) seems to contradict the State's instructions to honor the dead pontiff. Naturally this will all blow over in a couple of days, but it just goes to show that a religious debate - catholic/secular/muslim/jew - is always lying just below the surface. It's the itch that's constantly begging to be scratched.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lebanon at the Sorbonne

Well, it's off to a conference on Lebanon today at the Sorbonne. I'll give an update on the main points later. There will be Lebanese and French generals and political leaders present to discuss recent political developments and trends. Should be interesting.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Google this!

Ok, since it seems that everyone else is pointing out this latest technology which, truth be told, is as cool as it sounds, I suppose I could do the same. Google, of search engine fame, has recently bought the technology to do some pretty awesome maps, including not only digital versions but satellite images as well. It is some pretty cool stuff for those of us who work with old maps and imaging - mostly old woodcuts. This new technology is going to bowl over my professors.

Click here to see where I go to school. (updated link)

Click here to see where the other half of J2T went to school.

Just look at those technological differences between these countries. It sort of reminds me of the differences between Minitel and the Internet! If you think this is just one side of the Atlantic talking trash to the other, you're right. And it's all the more enjoyable right now because the other side is busy studying for a major exam, the agrégation. If you're unfamiliar with it, the 'agrég' is a subject specific exam with major professional implications in France. It's a bit like the CPA exam. You can teach without it, but your respect, salary and job possibilities increase once you've passed the exam. It exists for pretty much any subject you can teach.

So, no fun google searches for J for a while.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

E.U. Constitution – simple methodology

Some of us want to make sure they make the right choice and vote for the right reasons. Yet the problem seems to be that there is very little time left before May 29 and the text of the constitution is long and tedious – more than 400 articles. I have personally taken some time to read it and I have quickly browsed some articles while I read others more extensively and sometimes several times.

So what to do if you don’t have the time or the desire to read the text and yet want to make an honest a decision?

Well, the best thing is actually…. to cheat, but cheat in a smart sort of way – in a didactical way. The best way is most certainly to listen to the arguments from both sides as long as they refer to precise articles in the text. Discard anything or anyone trying to make a point without referring precisely to the text.

Then check the text and decide for yourself on the issues mentioned on both sides.

So really, the three important steps seem to be the following:

1) Read from the ‘YES’ side on the issue you’re most interested in and make a note of the articles mentioned.

2) Read the same arguments from the ‘NO’ side and make a note of the articles mentioned.

3) Compare your note, read the articles mentioned and make up your own mind. (the text is available on the net at


Monday, April 04, 2005

"Culture of Life" or just really anti-death?

One thing that has struck me about this whole Terri Schiavo affair (aside from being thankful that I am not in the US to witness what must have been a constant media presence in the poor woman's hospital room) is that the discourse from the conservatives seems to me much more anti-death than pro-life. I came across two posts recently in the blogosphere that confirmed this sentiment. From Amy Sullivan and Andrew Sullivan (scroll down) - a liberal and a conservative, both Christians. (no relation between these Sullivans, as far as I know)

As a Christian myself, I find it rather odd that we would place such a prime on remaining in "this world." The Apostle Paul, himself, prayed that God would allow him to simply pass on and join Him in paradise, but added that should he ask him to stay in this world that he be given strength. He more or less resigned himself to remaining here in this world when what he really wanted was to get to the next. There is a certain fear of death that I think comes from having made it pretty comfortable for ourselves here. If you want to read a great chapter about death, read the chapter on fecundity in Annie Dillard's "A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." It deals with the mind-boggling ubiquity of death in God's creation. It is everywhere, all the time. Like Job, Dillard asks why and comes away with silence. If the next world is so great, as our Sunday school classes are wont to remind us, then why do we go to such great lengths to artifically extend this stay? Matthew Yglesias (no relation to Julio, as far as I know) asks the obvious question of why Christians don't just start "offing" themselves to get to the next life. Because Matt, it's the nihilists and surrealists that consider(ed) suicide the ultimate act of the personal will, not Christians. There is much to celebrate and enjoy in this world. And there's a rather significant difference between taking your life and accepting your death.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

E.U. Constitution – the wrong reasons.

Is the majority always right in a democracy?

Well, it is hard to say when it comes to referendums in France. Not so much because the ‘no’ to the Constitutional Treaty is ahead in the polls but because the electorate seems to care very little about the actual question.

Let’s remind ourselves of the question asked:

"Do you approve of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the European Union?"

Yet the debate taking place in France has little to do with the Constitution itself and everything to do with national political issues. Saying to ‘no’ to the question is actually a way to blindly punish leaders and blame Paris and/or Brussels for everything going wrong. Everything is mixed up and populist politicians are taking advantage of the situation, blaming Europe for everything they haven’t been able to deliver or challenge.

Whether the French choose to vote ‘YES’ or ‘NO’, they should at least do it for the right reasons. They are right to be angry with their government's policies, but they are not right to mix the issues. The referendum needn’t become a mid-term protest vote against an ever more unpopular government. They just have to wait two more years for that.

The other thing I find extremely disturbing is that the ‘NO’ side seems to feed on fear and anger alone. This does not seem to me to be a good reason either. Fear is what extremes and populists use for their own frightening agenda and to promote their sick ideas.

And as Shakespeare once wrote: Present fears are less than horrible imaginings. [Macbeth, I. iii.134]

So whatever the French decide, let them do it for the right reason and let the debates be about the right issues.


Friday, April 01, 2005

This should be an April Fool's story, but...

It seems that Janeal Lee has been stripped of her title as Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin after photos of her were published in a Wisconsin paper that showed her STANDING. First off...Ms. Wheelchair? Secondly, you can be stripped of a disability "title" if you're not disabled enough? What sort of bizarre world do we live in? Pageant officials have given the title to the runner-up who will travel in Ms. Lee's stead to the national pageant in New York - presumably in her wheelchair.


The World's correctors

It seems that Le Monde, France's most respected news source, (a la NY Times) provides its online readers an additional service, a blog that corrects what the paper gets wrong. In true French fashion this means roughly that Le Monde has its own language police. While this could seem dry and boring, it occasionally leads to the rather humorous inclusion of information that you hadn't really that of before - like the two definitions of prostate.

Si la prostate du prostate refuse de fonctionner, il peut toujours remplir sa mission diplomatique, mais pour la fonction corporelle, c'est Miction impossible.

[If the prostate of the prostate refuses to function, he can still fulfill his diplomatic mission, but as for the bodily function, it's miction (urination) impossible.]

These competing definitions remind me of the difficult lyrics to the popular hymn that we often mis-sang as children:

All hail the power of Jesus' Name,
Let angels prostrate fall,
Bring forth the Royal Diadem
And crown him LORD of all.

Diadem, itself, posed a problem to us as children. But prostrate was a real conundrum since all we knew of prostate was that certain uncles and grandfathers had to have surgery on theirs. Why the Angel's prostate should be falling, we had NO idea.