Contents | April 2003
The Atlantic Monthly | April 2003
Selections from recent reports, studies, and other documents. North Korea's ICBM's; rules of "Jetiquette"; the evolution of the centerfold model; the truth about deficits; radiation in New York City; the fall of the First Amendment
Documents from Transparency International, an organization dedicated to combating corruption across the world, are rarely uplifting but almost never dull, since they are essentially catalogues of the graft, venality, and chicanery to which human beings are prone, and to which they fall victim. Transparency International's latest annual report, just published, is full of such material. Just two examples, from India: In Bangalore 70 percent of mothers at a public maternity hospital reported having to bribe orderlies in order to see their newborns. (To see a baby son costs 300 rupees, or about $6.00; to see a daughter costs only 200 rupees.) And the Indian Defense Ministry became mired in "Coffingate" after ministry officials authorized payments of $2,500 each for coffins that cost just $172. Several Latin American countries have tried hiring female traffic police, on the theory (which has good evidence to support it) that women are less susceptible to bribes than men. But additional research shows that although a larger share of women in government positions is associated with significantly lower levels of corruption, women who rise to top-level positions in both public and private life tend to become as corrupt as men.
—Global Corruption Report 2003 (www.globalcorruptionreport.org)
North Korea's Missiles
A report published by the National Bureau of Asian Research last summer, little noted at the time, has acquired disconcerting new relevance. Amid comprehensive—and alarming—assessments of the ballistic-missile capabilities of various Asian countries (including China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, and the two Koreas), what compels attention is the section on North Korea. The Nodong-1, a Scud-derived missile the country is known to possess, is capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to U.S. military bases in Japan. The Taepodong-1 missile can go even farther; a few years ago the North Koreans test-fired one that landed off the Alaskan coast. And the Taepodong-2, which some observers believe the North Koreans may try to develop into a three-stage version, could go farther still: "Such a missile could reach most of the continental United States from North Korea."
—"Ballistic Missiles and Missile Defense in Asia" (www.nbr.org/publications/ analysis/vol13no3/13.3.pdf)
Discretion is Paramount
A company called Bombardier Flexjet, which sells "fractional ownership" shares in private aircraft, has helpfully provided a list of ten "Rules of 'Jetiquette'" for first-time fliers on privately owned jets. The rules were compiled by interviewing jet owners and flight crews. Here are a few:
Never, ever be late when invited to fly on someone's plane. This can't be said enough! ... Always arrive at least 20 minutes before scheduled departure or "wheels up."
Discretion is paramount. Discretion is considered to be the height of appropriate manners. You should not discuss in the terminal with whom you are flying or your destination.
Observe the boarding, seating, and drop-off hierarchies ... The captain or the owner of the aircraft will normally greet and escort you to the plane. The owner is usually the last to board. The owner will usually sit forward facing and as close to the flight deck as possible, depending on the layout of the aircraft. This way, the owner can more easily communicate with the crew in the event of in-flight destination changes or other issues that might need to be addressed ... And remember, the owner of the plane always gets dropped off before his guests.
—"First Time on a Private Aircraft? Observe These 10 Simple Rules of 'Jetiquette'"
Two researchers examined all 577 centerfold models depicted in Playboy from the magazine's first issue, in December of 1953, through the December 2001 issue. Their findings, published in a recent issue of BMJ (the British Medical Journal), reveal that the appearance of these centerfold models has become—contrary to "evolved optimal design"—more androgynous over time: bust and hip sizes have decreased while waist size has increased. These changes, the authors conclude, "are at odds with claims that centrefolds' body shapes are still more 'hourglasses' than 'stick insects' and that the maximally sexually attractive female waist:hip ratio is stable."
—"Shapely Centrefolds? Temporal Change in Body Measures: Trend Analysis" (bmj.com/cgi/reprint/325/7378/1447.pdf)
The Candy Effect
Restaurant servers who leave a piece of candy with the check make 18 percent more in tips than servers who don't. (Leaving two pieces of candy increases a tip even more.) Building on—believe it or not—more than thirty years of research on tip enhancement (which has established that "briefly touching one's customers, squatting during the initial contact, making additional nontask visits, and displaying a maximal smile when introducing oneself to one's customers have all been associated with increases in tip amounts"), four sociologists undertook two studies in an effort to determine which of several competing theories most accurately explains why "unexpected food treats" produce larger gratuities. Does the treat increase the "perceived friendliness" of the server? Does it increase the customer's identification with the server? Or does a "positive affect" produced by the treat make the customer's assessment of the server rosier? Actually, the authors conclude, writing in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, it's none of the above; what generates the larger tip is the "norm of reciprocity." The unexpected treat from the server makes the customer feel obligated to respond with a "friendly gesture" in kind.
—"Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping" (people.cornell.edu/pages/wml3/pdf/Candy_Manuscript.pdf)
Paul O'Neill Was Right
Before the Reagan era (and sometimes after it) Republicans were the stewards of fiscal discipline, preaching the gospel of deficit reduction. Democrats were the Keynesian profligates, saying that deficits generally didn't matter. Now the parties' positions are (generally speaking) reversed: Democrats preach deficit reduction and Republicans scoff at the practice. Though perhaps arcane to most people outside of Wall Street or university economics departments, the issue of deficit reduction is crucial to the question of whether Bush's proposed tax cuts will boost or retard economic growth. A recent paper by William Gale and Peter Orszag, two economists at the Brookings Institution, concludes that the Democrats (and the pre-Reagan Republicans) are right: deficits can be very bad for the economy, and therefore the tax cuts are dangerous. The authors make their argument two ways. The first is through economic logic: even introductory textbooks make clear that not only does government borrowing (necessary to close the budget gap) cause interest rates to rise, but increases in budget deficits reduce national saving, thereby reducing future national income. The second way the authors make their argument is more entertaining: they simply quote Bush Administration advisers and supply-side fellow travelers. The people who have said that growing budget deficits produce rising interest rates include Alan Greenspan, the current Federal Reserve chairman; Martin Feldstein, a Harvard professor and a dean of the supply-side movement; most of the rest of the economics profession; and the architect of the current tax proposal, R. Glenn Hubbard, who is President Bush's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Now Hubbard and company are being called upon to deny what they previously claimed was true. But before Democrats get too gleeful about this report, they should remember that the tax-and-spend left, as well as the supply-side right, may come to rue its conclusion—which makes as much of a case for controlling government spending as for not cutting taxes. (This report is an excellent primer for anyone wanting to get up to speed on the ideas at play in the tax-cut debate.)
—"The Economic Effects of Long-Term Fiscal Discipline" (www.brook.edu/ views/papers/gale/20021217.htm)
Unwanted Side Effects
A letter to the editor published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is discomfiting and reassuring in roughly equal measure. Two doctors from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, write of a thirty-four-year-old man with Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder, whom they treated with radioactive iodine. Three weeks later the patient returned to the clinic, complaining that police officers had twice apprehended him in a Manhattan subway station, where he was strip-searched and questioned. The doctors' conclusion: "This patient's experience indicates that radiation detection devices are being installed in public places in New York City and perhaps elsewhere. Patients who have been treated with radioactive iodine or other isotopes may be identified and interrogated by the police because of the radiation they emit." The doctors called the Terrorism Task Force of the New York City Police Department, which suggested that any physician treating a patient with isotopes provide a letter (listing a telephone number at which the physician can be reached around the clock) for the patient to carry at all times. Even so equipped, the doctors advise, such patients "may choose not to use public transportation to avoid this inconvenience."
—"Police Detainment of a Patient Following Treatment with Radioactive Iodine" [Note that The JAMA site requires paid membership and does not permit third parties such as The Atlantic to link directly to journal articles.]
Too Much Freedom?
Every year since 1997 the First Amendment Center has conducted a survey to measure American attitudes toward the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Though in previous years respondents were already evincing a fairly pinched idea of when those rights should be applied (for instance, in 2000 more than 50 percent expressed a willingness to censor speech that would offend a racial or religious group), the most recent survey—which is co-sponsored by the American Journalism Review—indicates that fear of terrorism has led many people to consider the First Amendment more a burden than a boon. Some examples: 49 percent of respondents said they believed the First Amendment gives us "too much" freedom (that's more than double the percentage expressing the same sentiment before 9/11); about 50 percent said that the government should have greater power than it does now to monitor religious groups—especially Muslim groups—in the interests of national security; more than 40 percent would limit academic freedom and prohibit professors from criticizing the military; and about 50 percent said that the press has been too aggressive in investigating the war on terror.
—"State of the First Amendment, 2002"
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 2003; Primary Sources; Volume 291, No. 3; 33-37.