Thursday, October 23, 2008


French Judges Not On Strike

French judges aren't inclined to go on strike or even march in the street to demonstrate their grievances. There are lots of reasons for that. But enough judges had enough complaints for their union(s) to call for a demonstration of their dissatisfaction and voicing of their grievances. The problem is not their pay or retirement benefits, it is the means at their disposal to deliver their mission. Their complaints range from understaffing (with consequently long delays to deliver justice, or to provide educators and counselors for minors) to leaking roofs, to over-crowding of prisons.

They also have a number of constraints on their public behaviour. It may be "unseemly" for magistrates to march in the street, more so to go on strike, and even problematic to demonstrate collective protest in any way. Nevertheless, they felt the need to make their complaints known.

What to do? Some may have demonstrated if they weren't duty-bound to be somewhere else; I haven't seen any reports (yet) in the mainstream media of such demonstrations. Another, ingenious, solution, came from a very popular (anonymous) French lawyer blogger, Maître Eolas. He proposed to enable magistrates to express, anonymously or not, their grievances on his blog. About sixty availed themselves of the opportunity (according to his RSS feed, which is what I read unless I feel an unsuppressible interest in the comments).

This seems to be another remarkable, innovative use of the web to develop participation and communication in collective decision-making, even if the "collective decision-making" in this instance is not too real in the sense that the constituants of the collectivity are not particularly empowered to resolve the issues brought forward. At the very least, it provides a focussed, vetted source of pertinent information, arguments, and comments for the public as an alternative to the "press".

Bravo, Maître.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Henry Paulson's Hiring Practices

There are clearly several ways to express some things. For instance, doubts about the ability of the people recruited to execute Paulson's bailout plan to successfully do so. One might wonder whether anyone could do it, but the three views I've come across and would like to contrast all opine mainly about whether the people who have been appointed are likely to succeed.

First style: synthetic, clear and readable, common-sensical argument by Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics at Harvard and former chief economist of the World Bank, in
In mid-August, I had the temerity to predict that risks had come home to roost, and that a large US investment bank might soon fail or be forced into a highly distressed merger. Little did I imagine that today there would be no free-standing investment bank left on Wall Street. Indeed, after years of attracting many of the world’s best and brightest into ultra-high-paying jobs, collapsing investment banks are now throwing them out left and right. One such victim, a former student, called me the other day and asked: “What am I supposed to do now, get a real job?”

This brings us back to the US treasury’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to unclog the subprime mortgage market. The idea is that the US government will serve as buyer of last resort for the junk debt that the private sector has not been able to price. Who, exactly, does the treasury plan to employ to figure all this out? Why, unemployed investment bankers, of course!

Let’s ponder this. Investment bankers have been losing their cushy jobs because they could not figure out any convincing way to price distressed mortgage debt. Otherwise, their firms would have been able to tap the trillions of dollars now sitting on the sidelines, held by sovereign wealth funds, private equity groups, hedge funds, and others. Now, working for the taxpayer, these same investment bankers will suddenly come up with the magic pricing formula that has eluded them until now.

Second style: cartoon parable. The example is Wiley's Non Sequitur from 13 to 18 October 2008. Link to day one here, click on "next" above the cartoon to see the next scene.

Third: "serious journalism," New York Times style: The Guys From ‘Government Sachs’. I think it was a pretty interesting article, although a little tedious and too full of names (couldn't fewer Goldman Sachs alumni have been involved?). My main complaint is that it rambles, drowns the reader in facts and expert opinion citations, and doesn't convince; perhaps the two authors couldn't agree on its organization.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Music : Leon Russell

I recently heard something on the radio in the kitchen (Radio Regen-Bogen or SW2), a series of oldies, one or more of which brought Leon Russell to mind. And Steve Miller, or was that the one that brought Leon Russell to mind?

In any case, I went searching the web for a song or two, and news of Leon Russell and Steve Miller, and found some duds, but also learned a bit: I didn't know that Boz Scaggs had played with Miller, for instance. I discovered Russell's cover of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," perhaps familiar because others (Elvis among them) have also covered it--or did I listen to Danny O'Keefe on --what were the call letters of the C&W radio station in LA?-- but somehow Russell's seems (if the studio brass isn't too over the top) "just right." Curiously, in the

Danny O'Keefe recording on YouTube

it sounds like "you're not a kid at thirty-three" whereas in

the Leon Russell cover from 1984

(when Leon was 42 going on 43?) he seems to sing "you're not a kid at forty-three."

According to Wikipedia, He continues to tour at the age of 66. And why not? According to his official site,
he'll be playing in Las Vegas, NV - Dec. 13th.
There are other videos here and there on the web of recent concerts (including late 2007) which demonstrate that he still can when he wants to; but he seems to be doing more covers, including Rolling Stones songs on which his added value is not obvious. If he played Strasbourg, I'd try to attend, to see for myself, but Vegas is out of my range. The
"Song for You" with Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, though, is a treasure; Ray Charles, we miss you.

But nevermind the itinerary.

I remember watching the following Leon Russell session on KCET with my father, back around the time it was first aired--or maybe the first rerun. We both thought it was a real treat; warning: TV was monaural, and this recording may disappoint, but I like it for sentimental reasons.

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