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Geitner Simmons is starting a series of posts on western water issues at his blog "Regions of Mind". The first in the series, titled "Can the West’s ‘hydraulic society’ be saved?" was posted on Monday, Jan 27, here: "Can the West’s ‘hydraulic society’ be saved?" Simmons is an editorial writer for the Omaha World-Herald. His blog carries many posts on history, especially U.S. history. This particular post links to newspaper articles describing the severity of the current drought and recent inter-state conflicts over water rights. He starts off with some great quotes:
This American West can best be described as a modern hydraulic society, which is to say, a social order based on the intensive, large-scale manipulation of water and its products in an arid setting.
-- Donald Worster, historian, 1985
We would be wise to remember every moment that roses also blossomed in Mesopotamia and Syria and Tunis and Ur of Chaldees -- and they are desert wastes now.
-- Bernard De Voto, historian, 1948
During last summer's scorching drought, some metro Denver neighborhoods, including Highlands Ranch, continued to enforce covenants that require heavy watering of lawns to keep them green.
-- Denver Post, Jan. 24, 2003"
Slate carried an article Wednesday by Chris Suellentrop on Glenn Hubbard, the Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors: "Glenn Hubbard. First-rate economist. Tax-cut champion. Presidential yes man". The theme is that the Council is meant to be a source of disinterested and neutral economic advice for the President - that it doesn't have a role of policy coordination and advocacy (the coordination role is more properly placed elsewhere - in the National Economic Council for example). A Council that advocates loses its reputation for disinterested analysis, and at worst begins to shade the facts to make its case. However, Hubbard - widely considered the "primary mover" behind the President's tax cut proposals, has taken on an advocacy role, and the bad results hypothesized above have taken place:
"For the past few months, Hubbard has dissembled on a new topic, this time the deficit's relationship to interest rates. Lately he has been insisting that there is "no link" between the two. "That's 'Rubinomics,' and we think it is completely wrong," Hubbard said in December. But Clinton economist Brad DeLong dug into Hubbard's textbook Money, the Financial System, and the Economy to find this quote, among others: "By the late 1990s, an emerging federal budget surplus put downward pressure on interest rates." Hubbard's textbook even has a handy-dandy formula explaining the relationship, which DeLong posted on his Web site."
New electronic rulemaking initiative
Cindy Skrzycki of the Washington Post reports on a new Federal initiative to place regulatory information on the Internet, and to allow for electornic comments:
Free market environmentalists criticize Bush
President Bush just can't seem to satisfy anyone - mainstream environmentalists are definitely not happy with his policies, as evidenced by the daily newspapers, and the two reports I noted in this post on January 19: "Two new reviews of Bush Administration environmental record". Now he's getting it from the free market environmental think tank "PERC" as reported by the Environmental News Service (ENS): "Bush Supporters Unhappy With Environmental Policy".
"Environmental policies can work better and be more cost effective, according PERC, when they rely on market based incentives, private initiatives and voluntary action. But the Bush administration has failed to apply these free market principles to its environmental policy, a new report from PERC finds, and has thereby ignored the rights of property owners and the benefits of decentralizing many environmental protections and regulations..."
How big are the world's economies?
The "Volokh Conspiracy" had a series of posts on the relative sizes of the world's economies today. The first post directed the reader to the "Impearls" blog for the following post: "Largest economies of the world — Updated to 2001". What's startling about this table is that although the U.S. is the world's biggest economy, China - not Japan - is the second biggest, Japan is third, and then India!! The table provides comparisons in terms of U.S. dollars, with conversion to dollars done so as to maintain purchasing power parity (PPP) - which was explained later in the day in this Volokh Conspiracy post: "Measuring GDP". If you want a more detailed - but still understandable - explanation of PPP look at this article in the Bureau of Labor Statistics magazine, Monthly Labor Review: "International Price Comparisons Based on Purchasing Power Parity". Finally, even later, the Conspiracy posted a link to a comprehensive World Bank survey of the relative sizes of the world's economies here: "Size of the Economy" Both
The ways of (some) powerful men
Yesterday, January 19, 1660, Samuel Pepys was summoned to the bedside of George Downing, one of the Four Tellers of the Receipt of the Exchequer, and offered a job "Thursday 19 January 1659/60":
Pepys was decidedly frightened of his new [in 1658] employer, whom he regarded as a stingy and perfidious rogue but whom he served with trembling and expedition. He was entirely at his beck and call when he was in England (fortunately, Downing spent much of his time in Holland), running messages for him, rising in the midst of his dinner to answer his summonses and even distributing his invitations when he gave a party. When he was remiss, he was soundly chidden by his master, who, as a good Commonwealth man, was not nice about minor courtesies…""A description of Downing
from Arthur Bryant’s Pepys bio"
It’s reminiscent of the Sun King’s ceremonial rising as attendants (and the court) waited on him in Versailles.
This also reminds me of the scene in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” (both book and movie) in which the head man conducts a business meeting using his cell phone (while he’s watching a soccer match somewhere in England) and his underlings are trying to communicate through speaker phone back in the New York headquarters.
Does it strike anyone else as interesting that the superior gets to loll around in bed, unshaven, messy, reclining, as the toady (shaven, I assume, and dressed, out in the cold weather and probably pretty early in the morning) waits on him?" "Bedside manners"
The generation gap
We got a DSL connection to the Internet at my house on Friday - so this post at the Winds of Change blog attracted my attention. This is a short essay by Trent Telenko on the way new communication technologies are widening the generation gap: "Broadband Pop Sociology".
"His 20s-something tank crews were using their appliqué data terminals to navigate across miles of desert for refueling and reprovisioning WITHOUT GETTING LOST OR COMMUNICATING VERBALLY. The radio chatter that the Army Col. listened to, in order to determine what was going on, was missing. This was a perfect example of how those over 30 couldn't understand what those under 30 were up to..."
Two new reviews of Bush Administration environmental record
The Environmental News Service reports on two new reviews of the Bush Administration environmental record, from an environmentalist viewpoint - by the Natural Resource Defense Council and the OMB Watch: "Bush Record on Environment Called Dismal ":
"For the second year in a row, federal agencies announced dozens of regulatory changes that will weaken safeguards for the nation's air, water, wetlands, forests, wildlands, wildlife and public health, finds a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report highlights the fact that the administration intensified its assault on environmental protections after the November mid-term congressional elections, and reveals how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) played a central role in coordinating the onslaught...
"Rewriting the Rules" is available on NRDC's Web site at: http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp
"The OMB Watch report, "Administration Advances Few Health, Safety and Environmental Protections," is available at: http://www.ombwatch.org/execreport/ "
Rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq
Slate carried diary entries from Rahul Chandran, a United Nations development worker in Afghanistan this week. You can link to the four short entries here: "diary A weeklong electronic journal.". Chandran's job is to help an Afghan ministry get back on its feet and provide services to its clients.
Wednesday: "It was another big meeting day—again with concern about the ministry and the riots. There is a lot of pressure building for us to deliver quick-impact projects, which will help with short-term stability and address (real and substantial) needs. At the same time, the ministry sees a need for more substantial, long-term programs that will help transform disability from a charity-based to a rights-based approach.
"As we sit and brainstorm, I can feel myself being drawn to short-term plans, both because I think the situation is serious, and the ministry needs to establish credibility, but also because I know that I am only here for six more months. I tell myself that I want to do something substantial because I want to ensure that I am useful to the Afghan people, but there's a strong element of wanting to leave something tangible behind other than a mountain of paper..."
In the City Journal Stanley Kurtz writes about the relevance of the model of US reconstruction of post-WWII Japan for the reconstruction of Iraq, and finds it wanting. He thinks British India may be a more appropriate model. I learned about this essay through "ParaPundit", and I'm going to refer you to that blog for the link to the Kurtz essay (because of the useful summary and short commentary there): "Stanley Kurtz: After the War "
P.S. January 20, 2003 "The Man Without Qualities takes Stanley Kurtz's point, but wonders if the "Turkish" model might be appropriate: "Japan Or Turkey In Iraq?".
North slope oil
Today the Bush Administration proposed opening about nine million miles of the National Petroleum Reserve to oil exploration. This isn't the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but a tract of land far to the west. Here's the story from the New York Times: "U.S. May Open Oil Reserve in Alaska to Development"
"The proposal affects nearly nine million acres of the Alaska North Slope in the government's National Petroleum Reserve.
"Home to distinctive wildlife and tundra, the land is near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the administration still hopes to win the necessary Congressional approval to open up to oil drilling.
"Today's draft proposal was released by the Bureau of Land Management, which offered four alternatives — including doing nothing — for the area, which was set aside in the 1920's for possible energy development..."
Who's in charge here?
There are a lot of people in an administration willing, and eager, to tell a President what to do. The Domestic Policy Council is the White House office that's supposed to coordinate policy advice from the different departments. A weak Domestic Policy Council can lead to drift, to poorly thought out policy proposals, and a policy vacuum that other strong characters will rush to fill. Timothy Noah at Slate went looking for the head of the Bush Administration Domestic Policy Council, and had trouble finding one: "Who Is Director of the Domestic Policy Council? A Chatterbox investigation". His column leaves the impression that Council leadership is weak. That's consistent with John DiIulio's comments reported in Esquire this past fall: "Policy analysis in the Bush White House". Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, is a strong character. The Washington Times points to his plans for social security this year: "New year reveals new Rove, the risk-taker".
The blogging news
Jane Galt posted a short piece with some advice and directions for persons who want to start a blog: "January 17, 2003".
Brad Delong - another blogger - talks about "linkrot." Blogs link back and forth, and to interesting material elsewhere on the Internet. Gradually these links get broken as other parties close or move their web pages - linkrot: "Consequences of Linkrot ".
There are lots of different blog formats - blogs with multiple posters are especially effective. Here are two good ones. The "The Volokh Conspiracy" deals primarily with U.S. law. I've just found the "Winds of Change", whose authors post on political and military affairs, cultural matters, and religious wisdom, apparently without regard for sect (for example, click here: "Sufi Wisdom of the Week: Let Love Rule" for Muslim Sufi wisdom).
The fight against light pollution in Ketchum, Idaho
Today's New York Times has a story on efforts to rein in light pollution in Ketchum, Idaho: "Lights Cloud the Night Sky" (free registration may be required).
" "That is a glare bomb," Dr. Pauley said. "It is an insult to the eye, and an insult to the sky."
"Dr. Pauley, 62, earned the nickname Dr. Dark for his crusade against light pollution, which led to restrictions that were passed here in 2000.
"His eyes narrowed. "I'm going to have to call that one in," he said.
"An environmental activist, amateur astronomer and a retired ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Pauley hunts down light polluters who treat the night sky, he said, like a junkyard, stabbing it with mercury-vapor and high-pressure sodium floodlights. Dr. Pauley is part of the Dark Sky movement, whose members urge urban areas to regulate their outdoor lighting..."
How the U.S. makes war
Donald Sensing blogs an essay on the role of improvisation in U.S. warmaking style: "Flexibility is the key to success in today's modern, volunteer, all-action Army! An essay on why improvisation is central to how the US military fights".
Daniel Drezner is a political scientist at the University of Chicago. In this link ("WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFGHANISTAN?") he reports on a recent Chicago seminar on post-war development work in Afghanistan conducted by expert Barnett Rubin. Things are going reasonably well. The Afghans do have a national feeling - they aren't entirely factionalized. Is the Taliban coming back?
How to succeed in government - if you're a political scientist (or economist)
Political scientist Daniel Drezner addressed this question on December 2, here: "POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS". The key paragraph:
Tradable water pollution credits
The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is proposing a tradable water pollution credit policy - allowing credits similar to those used in the successful sulfur dioxide trading program introduced with the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments: "EPA to Allow Polluters to Buy Clean Water Credits.
Environmental Groups Say Policy Weakens Law "
P.S.The EPA press release on this is here: "EPA Releases Innovative Approach to Cleaner Water". The EPA web page on this proposal is here: "Trading"
P.P.S.The World Resources Institute likes this idea:"NEWS RELEASE: WRI Welcomes New US Water Quality Trading Policy" This may be because WRI managing director, Paul Faeth, was the author of a report that apparently served as a basis for much of the administration's proposal. You can find that report here: "Fertile Ground". The Natural Resources Defense Council is not as optimistic: "New Administration Water Pollution Trading Policy is Illegal, Says NRDC. EPA Scheme Will Worsen Water Pollution, Threaten Public Health "
It uses hydrogen as its energy source ("Hydrogen can be derived from fossil fuels...from electrolyzed water, from methanol, even, if a new technique pans out, from corn starch and sugar beets. The most energy-hungry of those processes is still cleaner and more efficient than extracting, refining, and burning gasoline."), it is twice as efficient as a conventional internal combustion engine, and "nothing comes out of the tailpipe but a trickle of water."
Fuel cell technology - and it is in production (albeit still extremely expensive). "Last month, Honda and Toyota Motor announced the commercial availability of passenger cars powered by fuel cells." Jonathan Rauch - source of the quotes - has a brief introduction this month at "reasononline": "Cellular Connection. With a hum instead of a roar, the fuel cell is here." A nice short intro - the potential is clear and it's just over the horizon - no background on how it works.
I learned about this from Lynne Kiesling's blog "The Knowledge Problem".
How did the administration choose the path that's leading to war in Iraq?
The Sunday Washington Post has an article by Glenn Kessler reconstructing the story: "U.S. Decision on Iraq Has a Murky Past. Opponents of War Wonder When, How Policy Was Set ".
Politics of the Bush tax plan
The core of the tax plan is the elimination of the tax on dividends - but only a quarter of the population pays this tax - what's the political payoff? Ryan Lizza addresses this question in a New Republic article posted on Thursday: "Wealthy Choice". Free registration required for this site.
It's all about the elves
How many similarities can you find between Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungs and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? "Spengler," writing in the Asian Times says you can find a lot, lists many, but considers most of the similarities to be details, compared with this:
"Orcs of the world: Take note and beware."
More progress in Afghanistan
The Economist reports on the reconstruction of Afghanistan here: "The rebirth of a nation". There has been progress, things are getting better, but The Economist survey is less optimistic and more nuanced than the analysis I linked to here on January 3: "Progress in Afghanistan" The Germans have been giving us static over the potential war in Iraq, but they are our partners in rebuilding Afghanistan, and they've paid a price:
Using a fee to control externalities
Brad DeLong posts a link to a story in The Guardian on London's efforts to deal with the congestion externalities created by cars entering the city by imposing a "...£5 congestion charge for everyone (almost) who drives into central London...". Link here to DeLong's post: "Three Cheers for London Mayor Ken Livingstone ".
The Skeptical Environmentalist
The New York Times reported yesterday that a Danish scientific committee had Bjorn Lomborg had "displayed "scientific dishonesty" " in last year's The Skeptical Environmentalist. Recall that Lomborg had been very critical of many environmentalist claims in that book. The Times story is here: "Environment and Science: Danes Rebuke a 'Skeptic'":
"Professor Lomborg, who has a doctorate in political science and teaches statistics at the University of Aarhus, has portrayed the book as an unbiased scientific refutation of dire pronouncements by environmental groups. But it has been attacked as deeply flawed by many environmental scientists since its publication in English in 2001 by Cambridge University Press."
Postscript 1-10-03 Nick Schultz at Tech Central Stationweighs in: "A Smear Continues ". I also missed this additional post by Iain Murray yesterday: "Guilty! What's the charge?"
Postscript 1-11-03 Chris Bertram at Junius posts with additional links to the Lomborg story (including Lomborg's press release in response) here: "The original sources". The Wasington Post story is here: "Danish Professor Denounced for 'Scientific Dishonesty'" The Economist editorializes on the Lomborg affair here: "Thought control".
Postscript 1-13-03 Charles Paul Fruend has a column on the Danish committee's action here, on "reasononline," : "Burn, Baby Bjorn, Burn! The Report From the Committees on Saying McCarthyism in Danish"
Postscript 1-15-03 The World Resources Institute maintains a web page on the Lomborg book - while most of the links above are associated with people who are outraged by the Danish committee's report - the World Resources don't like the Lomborg book and presumably approve. In the interests of linking to both sides of the debate - here is the link to the World Resources Institute's Lomborg resource page: "MEDIA KIT: Debunking pseudo-scholarship: Things a journalist should know about The Skeptical Environmentalist " (where you can also find an English translation of the committee report).
How can we help poor people in third world countries?
By improving the property rights institutions in those countries? Alan Krueger reports on research in this area in his New York Times column today: "Study Looks at Squatters and Land Titles in Peru":
"Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, has long advocated reforming property rights for squatters as the path to economic development for poor countries. Now hard evidence suggests there may be something to Mr. de Soto's argument, although for reasons he did not anticipate."
13th Century pollution
I'm enjoying the new Pepys blog (see the blog links on the left side of the screen). Since it started last week readers have been posting commentary in the comments section. A comment from Pepys in yesterday's entry about "not having one coal of fire in the house" brought a comment from "Wooden rivet" on the origins of London's pollution problems. Among other things:
Does globalization lead to a reduction in environmental standards?
No, says Daniel Drezner in the article "Bottom Feeders" in Foreign Policy:
"...Similarly, openness to trade and investment does not lead to a race to the bottom in environmental conditions or regulations. Countries most open to outside investment-OECD nations-also have the most stringent environmental regulations. Even developing countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina, and Brazil have liberalized their foreign investment laws while simultaneously tightening environmental regulations. In Latin America, there is clear evidence that more protectionist countries, such as pre-NAFTA Mexico and Brazil under military rule, have been the biggest polluters. This finding is hardly surprising; the most protectionist economies in this century-the Warsaw Pact bloc-displayed the least concern for the environment. Privatization programs in these countries, which help attract foreign direct investment, have contributed to improved environmental performance as multinational corporations have transferred cleaner technologies from the developed world. In Brazil, for instance, the privatization of the petrochemicals sector in the early 1990s led to a greater acceptance of environmentally safe practices..."
Two new Skrzycki regulation columns
Two new columns by Washington Post regulation columnist Cindy Skrzycki:
On December 31 she wrote about a recent AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies panel discussion on the topic "How Can the Government Improve Regulation?". Participants included C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to President Bush, Sally Katzen, head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Clinton, Cass Sunstein, law professor from the University of Chicago, and Paul Noe, from the Bush Administration OMB.
"Paul Noe, Graham's counselor, said at the forum that his office is best suited to the role because it offers perspective about what regulatory policies are "best for society" and offers consumers a kind of insurance that rules will be of high quality. He said that good review focuses on efficiency (get rules reviewed in a timely way), sound science (make sure there is credible scientific evidence underpinning a rule, and transparency (let the public see how the rule came together and was reviewed)...
" "We need effective centralized regulatory review as a form of consumer protection because it's about maximizing social welfare," said Noe, explaining how the Bush administration OMB sees its role in approving -- or rejecting -- new rules."
"Federal agencies are no longer engaged in pumping out new rules, which in past years were often fended off in Congress at the urging of the business lobby.
"In short, Congress, which has been an important power center for lobbyists and special interests of all types when two parties shared power, is no longer where the action is. Instead, the real regulatory power moves to the Office of Management and Budget, which has been reinterpreting many Clinton rules and eliminating others. With that power consolidated within the Bush administration, many of the checks and balances that come with divided political power have been muted."
How does yesterday's tax package advance President Bush's reelection prospects?
Brad Delong posts on the political implications of yesterday's Administration tax proposals (the post is a long extract from a briefing by something called "G7" - a consulting firm I think): "The Useful G7 Daily Briefing ". Among other points - why wasn't there more in the proposals to help the states with their enormous budget deficits?
Why should we subsidize municipal capital expenditures through the tax system?
The Man Without Qualities posts on the linkages between President Bush's proposal to stop taxing dividend income and state/local finance. Among other things, he says:
What should we do about North Korea?
Daniel Drezer has one of the best overviews of the North Korea I've seen, here" "CRACKING THE NORTH KOREAN NUT" He thinks we need to look back to the diplomacy practiced by the first Bush Administration, in 1991:
Is the war with Iraq imminent?
Last August Donald Sensing predicted that if there were a war with Iraq, it would take place in February 2003: "Fighting a winter campaign in Iraq" At the end of a very thoughtful analysis he pointed out:
"2. If they are ready then, it will make sense to wait to attack until closer to the end of the Iraqi winter, say February-March, so that the onset of long-term good weather will find our forces in place in country for serious action to close the issue."
Meanwhile, Lynne Kiesling points to an Independent.co story on Russian-Saudi agreements to increase oil production to keep prices down - including down during a U.S.-Iraq war: "I HATE TO SAY "I TOLD YOU SO," BUT " Here's a direct link to the Independent.co story: "Saudis and Russia pledge to prevent surge in oil price"
"Opec has vowed repeatedly to fill any supply gap created by a possible US attack on Iraq."
Glenn Hubbard and the problem with deficits
Brad DeLong has a great post discussing the problems caused by long run deficits and the politics of influence on the President's Council of Economic Advisors - the nexus is glenn Hubbard, current Chair of the Council. Here: "It's Time for Glenn Hubbard to Quit as CEA Chair "
Is globalization contributing to increasing income inequality?
Laura Secor surveys the state of the debate in the Boston Globe: "Mind the gap
The debate over global inequality heats up". This is a readable article that highlights the importance of carefully defining what it is that you are talking about.
"But some economists contend that this observation isn't particularly meaningful. It takes countries as its unit of analysis, rather than people-and as a result, the 1.28 billion citizens of China count for no more than do the 448,569 citizens of Luxembourg. When economists weight each country's average income by population, they find that global inequality is in fact decreasing.
"Why? Because China and India, which between them house about 38 percent of the world's population, have experienced dramatic economic growth. "Whether global inequality will rise or fall depends by and large on what happens to average incomes in the big poor countries like China and India," says Dani Rodrik, an economist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government..."
David Broder will miss former Treasury Secretary O'Neill because he was frank and honest
David Broder used this Dec 12 Washington Post column to say he's going to miss O'Neill: "Why O'Neill Will Be Missed " :
Suppose someone besides Tolkien had written the Lord of the Rings?
What would the Lord of the Rings be like if it had been written by Ernest Hemingway? Mark Twain? Danielle Steele? Ayn Rand? Check this out: "The Straight Dope".
I learned about this from Mark Shea's blog: "Catholic and Enjoying It!".
Progress in Afghanistan
The success of a war in Iraq may be determined by what happens in the years after. Afghanistan provides a model (although Iraq and Afghanistan are clearly different countries with different cultures, aspirations, and problems) of post-war reconstruction efforts in an Islamic country. So, we should be watching Afghanistan carefully. Robert Oakley, a former U.S. ambassador to the Pakistan, has a column in today's Washington Post - he thinks things are going pretty well: "The New Afghanistan: Year 2".
"Starting from zero a year ago, the administration of President Hamid Karzai has achieved many attributes of a responsible government. It has a long-term national development framework and budget, worked out with the World Bank, the United Nations, the United States and other donors, and is carefully applying it to ensure that donor proposals meet Afghan realities. A central bank, fiscal discipline and a new national currency have been established. Construction of the large-scale Ring Road program has begun; large-scale community development projects will soon follow smaller efforts. An Afghan Defense Commission (including senior "warlords") has reached agreement on the size, makeup and training of the new army and the demobilization of local militias. This will take time but will ultimately be the Afghans' own solution to their endemic security problems. Prudence has proven to be better than prematurely deploying unready international peacekeepers (with inadequate resources) to remote areas. The violence that would have followed such deployments, involving al Qaeda, the Taliban and warlords, would have seriously disrupted both the war against terrorism and the process of gradually stabilizing the country."
How do political considerations affect tax policy?
Virginia Postrel looks at this in her "Economic Scene" column in the business section of today's New York Times: "Tax Policy as a Tool and a Weapon".
"Political considerations are already distorting two good economic ideas. The permanent campaign is transforming potentially significant tax reforms into flashy favors that enhance press releases more than economic growth..."
I learned about this from Postrel's blog: "Dynamist.com" (Postrel's blog started in late-December 2000, so is just two years old. Mine started at the beginning of July 2002 and so is six months).