Saturday, 28 February 2004

All about the oil

Sunday’s New York Times has the goods on Saddam Hussein’s corruption of the oil-for-food program. Sample highlight:

In the high-flying days after Iraq was allowed to sell its oil after 10 years of United Nations sanctions, the lobby of the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was the place to be to get a piece of the action.

That was where the oil traders would gather whenever a journalist, actor or political figure would arrive in Iraq and openly praise Mr. Hussein. Experience taught them that the visitor usually returned to the hotel with a gift voucher, courtesy of the Iraqi president or one of his aides, representing the right to buy one million barrels or more of Iraqi crude.

The vouchers had considerable value. With the major oil companies monopolizing most Persian Gulf oil, there was fierce competition among smaller traders for the chance to buy Iraqi oil. And as long as Iraq kept its oil prices low enough, traders could make a tidy profit, even after buying the voucher and paying the surcharge.

“We used to joke that if you get one million barrels, you could make $200,000,” Mr. Faraj, of SOMO, added, referring to a period when the vouchers sold for about 20 cents per barrel. “And yet the ones who got it were those people who used to come here and praise Saddam for his stand against imperialism.”

Read the whole, sad, damning thing. (Link via InstaPundit.)

The Laptop Dance

Well, after two days of trying, I finally got someone on the phone at Best Buy… and I will be getting a replacement laptop. Now to work out details; I have my eye on this one.

More toast

Steven Taylor has this week’s edition of the Toast-O-Meter; we’re firmly in the denouement stage here, folks.

There's partisanship... and then there's partisanship

Ken Waight of lying in ponds notes that two political columnists recently worked themselves into contortions to avoid criticizing their favored parties in their columns, while Matt Yglesias thinks Glenn Reynolds doesn’t go out of his way to criticize the right* enough.

Rational choice and tenure

Steven Bainbridge, in the course of congratulating Steven Taylor on his promotion, makes the following observation:

When I was up for tenure (a nerve-wracking time, even worse than sweating out the bar exam), a senior colleague told me that getting tenure didn’t change anything in your life except that you stopped thinking about tenure. I didn’t believe him, but it turned out to be true. If you’re internalized the norms of teaching and scholarship, you don’t change what you do. You just keep teaching and writing.

This seems like an odd analysis; the grant of tenure* doesn’t remove the incentive to publish, teach, and perform service at a high level (in the various department and college-prescribed ratios); while it is true you can no longer be fired for failing to do those things as proficiently, most associate-level professors at least aspire to promotion to full professor and the prestige and monetary rewards associated with that rank, which requires a similar level of effort (as between assistant and associate) to attain. Thus, we would rationally expect that professors would be more likely to slack off after promotion to full professor, rather than after achieving tenure.


I’ll be supporting Branden Robinson’s candidacy for Debian Project Leader for 2004–05; more details on the pending elections will be available sometime over the weekend, including the platforms of Branden and the other two candidates, Gergely Nagy and incumbent DPL Martin Michlmayr.

I’m also considering writing an academic paper on Debian’s use of Condorcet vote counting, although I haven’t quite decided which way to go with it.