Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
Prisoners of Azkaban
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
I was wondering what to say about this item. But the best is probably not to say anything.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Halliburton Co. has been awarded a $9.7 million contract to build an additional 204-cell detention camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to hold additional suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The move will expand the high-security prison on the base, where hundreds of such "detainees" from Afghanistan are already being held in 612 small cells....
Brown and Root Services, an engineering division of Halliburton, will build the additional 6-by-8-foot cells on the windward side of the remote U.S. base at the southeastern tip of Cuba, the Pentagon said.
The work is expected to be completed by October. But the Pentagon suggested on Friday that the facility could grow even more and that the contract could eventually total as much as $300 million if additional options were exercised over the next four years.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Here Comes the Sunni
Sunni Muslim Muslimpundit celebrated his return to blogging with a long article disputing the claim that Muslims view jihad as a struggle for self-improvement. Shia blogger Aziz Poonawalla posted a counter argument asserting that Adil's post was overly centered on the Sunni tradition, disregarding the very distinct Shia school.
Adil's argument, however, was in response to authors who spoke of Islam as a general movement. Here are again the key portions of the quotes he was criticizing:
In Western thought, heavily influenced by the medieval Christian Crusaders – with their own ideas about “holy war” – jihad has always been portrayed as an Islamic war against believers. Westerners point to the conquest of Spain in the eighth century by the Moors and the vast Ottoman Empire of the thirteenth through twentieth centuries, and focus on the bloodshed...Militancy is not the essence of jihad...The greater jihad as explained by The Prophet Muhammad is first inward-seeking: it involves the effort of each Muslim to become a better human being, to struggle to improve him- or herself. In doing so the follower of jihad can also benefit his or her community.
So Muslims were not inspired by a passionate religious zeal to impose their faith at sword point. Nor was “jihad” a pillar of their religion. The word “jihad” does not even primarily mean “holy war,” as Westerners tend to define it. It means “struggle, effort.” ...There is a very important and much quoted maxim attributed to Muhammad, which has him say to his companions while returning home after a battle, “We are returning from the lesser Jihad [the battle] to the greater Jihad,” the far more significant, crucial, and demanding struggle to reform one’s own society and to extirpate evil, greed, and malice from one’s own heart.
Almost any argument that tries to speak for Muslims this broadly will be doubtful. Other than belief in the unity of God and reverence for Mohammed, it would be hard to find much on which all Muslims agree. But to the degree that statements like this can be addressed at all, they should be addressed by looking at the beliefs of the majority of Muslims. And with all due respect to the Shia, the majority of Muslims are Sunni who use al Bukhari, Muslim, and the other major Sunni hadith collections, and very rarely accept hadith not found in them. For instance, see this page, obviously created by a Sunni, which mentions and rejects the very hadith Armstrong cites.
I don't think Adil ever meant to, or does, deny that there are Muslims who have this understanding of jihad, particularly among the Shia and Sufi. He was asserting that the idea isn't widely accepted among majority Sunni Muslims, nor can it be asserted with any reliablility to have originated from Mohammed. Writers who dismiss the association of violence with jihad as a Western fantasy are ignoring a great deal of reality. I mught also note that Armstrong's definition isn't incompatible with a violently militant understanding of Islam. Here is one theologian, whose name you may recognize, who clearly does believe in the greater jihad.
Maybe There's Something in the Water
I don't know what it is about Florida. They just seem to do strange things over there.
Like any good lefty blogger, I enjoy running fact checks on Instaman when he goes in for his Democrat bashing. But what am I supposed to do when he's completely right?
Sunday, July 28, 2002
The Poor Man has taken me off his blogroll, but he stays on mine. I just can't remove a guy who writes like this:
And before goth sucked … no, wait – goth always sucked. Actually, goth may have sucked the hardest in the eighties, the time when musicians decided that, in order to annoy parents in a new way, they wouldn’t play music really loud, or really fast, and they wouldn’t have lyrics about sex and drugs – they’d play it really boring, and sing about bats and Bela Legosi. It didn’t work. But it set the stage for pop goth, and industrial goth, and techno goth, and gothcore, so that we now have more words for shitty music than the Eskimos do for snow.
Noted Democratic National Committee shill Atrios says that Howard Kurtz is an RNC shill. Robert Musil assumes without argument, always a good way to make a case for 'liberal bias', that this is absurd.
What are the actual facts, as reflected in Kurtz's show? I looked at the transcripts from June 1 through July 27, to look at the pattern of what guests are invited and how they are treated.
06/01 - Conservative Laura Ingraham and mostly liberal Frank Rich, along with Paul Farhi (Washington Post). Discussion focussed on Brian Williams as potential replacement for Tom Brokaw. A real snorefest topic, but legit enough for a media commentary show. Fairly balanced discussion of such riveting subjects as Williams's wardrobe. On the plus side, Ingraham did manage to discuss Williams's ties without working in a reference to Al Gore and earth tones. How this happened is unknown, but she probably got a severe reprimand from Wingnut Central.
06/08 - Rich Lowry, Bill Press, Mike Isikoff. Balanced if you make the rather generous assumption that Isikoff is a neutral reporter. Throughout the transcript, Press is being ignored and has to interrupt Lowry to make his points. Kurtz addresses only two questions to Press and seven to Lowry, such as, "Didn't you expect the bleeding liberal media -- bleeding heart liberal media to be more loudly exercised about what some might call an erosion of civil liberties?", along with many to Isikoff.
06/15-Guests David Frost (on Watergate anniversary), Ed Kosner (N Y Daily News), Salt Lake local correspondent.
06/22-Republican strategist Mike Murphy with Vanity Fair writer Jim Wolcott, discussing George Stephanopoulos. A conservative balanced with a mainstream reporter, and again the majority of questions (seven to two) went to Murphy.
06/29-Two business reporters, Allan Chernoff (CNN) and David Faber (CNBC) discussing Wall Street scandals.
07/06-Interview with John McCain, followed by discussion with reporters Dana Milbank and Martha Brant.
07/13-Laura Ingraham faced off with an actual, honest-to-God liberal, Molly Ivins. Ivins did get her share of questions, but the questions were hostile. The tone was set by the first question to each speaker.
<07/20>Three guests, none with obvious political agendas, discussing business scandals: Michael Wolff ("New York" Magazine); Andy Serwer (Fortune Magazine); and Gerri Willis, (SmartMoney).
<07/27>Rich Lowry, Mark Whitaker (Newsweek), Karen Tumulty (Time). The first question asked to each largely assumes that Bush is the victim of media bias.
Total obviously conservative or Republican guests: 6. Total liberal guests: 3. Total Democratic guests: 0. And that's when you count as neutral Isikoff, best known as Ken Starr's favorite media outlet, and famed Bush sycophant Dana Milbank. A consistent pattern that the conservatives were asked more, or more favorable, questions than the liberals, if any.
This, of course, was all on the so-called "Clinton News Network". If it had been Fox or the other cable networks, it wouldn't have been so heavily tilted to the liberal side.
Update: Upon further review, the characterization of Dana Milbank as a 'famed Bush sycophant' seems unfair and is withdrawn.
A Fun New Blog
Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, bit I've got a hunch that Maru Soze isn't a huge fan of Our Beloved Leader.
Now the Nuisance isn't really famous for its adoration of 43, but over here he still rates as 'Bush' or sometimes even 'Mr Bush'.
On Maru's blog, he is variously Emperor Snippy, Squinty McSquirtpants, Laura's Little Liar, Chimpy the Pinhead, and Daddy's Widdle Doofus. And those are some of the nicer ones. If you want to see the actual mean ones, you'll have to check it out yourself.
Maru's snarky politics are mixed with gardening, cats, and British archeology. British archeology? Hey, the Internet wouldn't be half as much fun if it were predictable.
Saturday, July 27, 2002
Joy in Blogville
The mighty Muslimpundit is back in action, and back on the blogroll.
Ted Barlow notes that blogger Diane E has mysterious powers. Which is trouble for me, since she recently criticized this blog.
Gotta go now. Someone's kicking in the door.
Murphy's Law in Action
It seems I was unfair to blogger 'Eric Blair' when I dissed him for referring to "Hanlon's Razor". Elton Beard informs me that this term in common use, and a quick search show he's right.
The sites listed above fail to mention the derivation, which comes from a line in my personal favorite Heinlein short story, 'Logic of Empire':
"You have fallen into the commonest fallacy of all in dealing with social and economic subjects - the 'Devil Theory'."
"You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."
How Heinlein became Hanlon is a mystery, but Mr Blair is innocent.
An official Public Nuisance Apology is hereby issued - the first one I have ever needed to make.
We've already heard a great deal about the pre 9/11 failures of the FBI and the CIA. Now it's the NSA's turn.
Scientists recently discovered a new species of centipede in New York City. The idea of a new species being discovered in the middle of Central Park is amusing, but doesn't top the story - so cool I have to suspect it's apocryphal - that the great entomologist Edward O Wilson once discovered a new species of ants in the offices of the World Wildlife Fund. Link from Charles Murtaugh.
Friday, July 26, 2002
Following a link from Altercation, I checked out a new blog called Slacktivist. The 'Eric Blair' who writes it seems to be a different person from the 'Eric Blair' who runs Warbloggerwatch. It did seem promising - the blog is written from a relatively unusual perspective (Baptist liberal), had some good posts, and even earned extra credit for being a Buffy fan.
But just when I was starting to feel well-disposed, I saw this:
The New Republic looks at Insidergate from the perspective of Hanlon’s Razor, which states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
Hanlon's Razor? Hanlon??!!
I'd tell Mr Blair to hang his head in shame, but that really isn't an adequate penance.
Nick Denton's suggestion that Muslims in the West be regarded as 'dhimmis', the legal status granted to non-Muslim minorities in the East, has been commented on by Instaman, along with various other bloggers.
Let's turn the system around. In the West, it is the Muslims who are the dhimmis, the tolerated minority; they should be free to practice, so long as their Islam is a diluted Episcopalian version, expressed in a sabbath on Fridays, holidays at unusual times of the year, traditional names for children, and an annual parade through Brooklyn.
In other words, Western governments should make clear that the toleration of Muslim minorities is conditional. The West is a package deal: the prosperity that has attracted Muslim immigrants is a function of the Western tradition. Fundamentalist Islam is not, as the morally ambivalent would have it, as valid as any other system. Here's the Western dhimma: accept the supremacy of Western humanist values -- equal rights for women and sexual minorities, freedom of speech, and family law -- or leave.
This is wrong for some obvious reasons, like presumably putting the INS in charge of determining what is 'proper' vs 'excessive' Muslim observance. But the more subtle reason is that the concept of dhimmis is in many ways exactly what the most radical Islamists are demanding, and exactly what we need to avoid.
Dhimmis in Islamic tradition were communities who had agreed to live under Muslim rule, paid extra taxes, and received a certain degree of communal self-government in return. Under the Ottoman Empire which controlled most of the Middle East for several centuries, there were three millets, or recognized dhimmi communities: the Orthodox under the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Jews, and the Armenians under the Gregorian Patriarch. Gypsies, Monophysite Christians, Assyrians, and various other miscellaneous groups were crammed into the Armenian millet. (The claim which is seen from time to time that the Islamic world under this system was an early home for religious tolerance is largely a myth.)
A similar status is implied by some demands of the radical Islamists, as shown in this heavily blogged essay by Bawer:
In 1999 I moved from Amsterdam to Oslo. I soon found that in Oslo, as in Amsterdam, the cultural gap between natives and the Muslim immigrant minority (which, in Norway, consists largely of Pakistanis) was miles wide. Here, too, the native-born children of immigrants were called "second-generation immigrants," not Norwegians. (Indeed, in Norway these days the words "immigrant" and "Muslim" are effectively synonyms.) Here, too, the authorities, presumably fearing accusations of insensitivity or cultural imperialism, tended to avoid addressing undemocratic practices within immigrant communities.
Forced marriage is one of these practices. Among Muslims in Europe, it’s quite common for young people to be compelled by their parents to accept spouses they don’t want. Some women manage to escape these situations and seek protection in women’s shelters. In 1999 the Guardian published an article by Faisal Bodi, a British Muslim who complained about these shelters, which in Great Britain are called "women’s refuges." Charged Bodi, "Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl has walked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain the integrity of the family." (Bodi made certain to note–as if it definitively established the loathsome character of women’s shelters–"the preponderance of homosexuality among members and staff.") Citing universal Muslim belief in "the shariah, the body of laws defining our faith"–which he described, a bit unsettlingly, as "a sharp sword capable of cutting through the generational and cultural divide"–Bodi argued that British authorities must recognize the Muslim community "as an organic whole" and thus accord it a larger role in resolving conflicts over forced marriage. Bodi’s plaint was phrased with extreme delicacy, but the point was clear: when Muslim girls or women flee the tyranny of father or husband, the government should essentially hand them over to a group of Muslim men. In short, British law should effectively be subordinate to Muslim law. Group identity trumps individual rights.
In other words, they want to be a self-governing community, ignoring Western laws and imposing their own traditions on anybody who steps out of line. A millet, minus the numerous humiliations which were, and often still are, imposed on such communities in Muslim nations. They seek to be granted community rights rather than, in fact in direct opposition to, personal rights. The priority of individual rights over community rights is perhaps the most basic distinction between Western and Islamic culture, and until Western Muslims accept it, they will never become a full part of our society.
For the US, there is no need to import strange new ideas to deal with our Islamic minority. These immigrants, like the rest of us, can practice the religion they prefer in the manner they choose. They are under no obligation, any more than other Americans, to endorse or approve of our laws. They are under obligation to obey them, and forced marriages, female genital mutilation, incitement to violence, physical assaults on those who 'dishonor' families, etc, should be thoroughly punished under existing laws. For those who find that intolerable, then Denton's suggestion applies: they can move to countries whose laws are more to their liking.
For Europeans, the situation is a little more difficult, because they lack American experience in assimilating immigrants into their way of life. Americans understand the exceptional character of our political institutions, but relatively few recognize the same about our idea of citizenship, the belief that anyone can come here and be a full American simply by accepting our values. In Athens, the original home of democracy, citizenship was gained only by descent. Families could, and did, live in the city, pay its taxes, even fight in its wars for centuries without becoming citizens. Some of this exclusiveness remains in most of Europe and will have to change for these countries to successfully assimilate non-European populations. But such change obviously doesn't include the insane suggestion by one Norwegian professor quoted by Bawer that women should 'adapt themselves' to the tendencies of some men from Islamic societies to rape or attack women they consider improperly dressed.
Robert Musil has responded to my earlier post on the Rubin/Enron controversy. In his response, Mr Musil points to an earlier post critical of Rubin which comes with a formidable reading assignment. The Nuisance hasn't entirely completed the reading, but in what I have seen, there is nothing that really breaks new ground. There is discussion of the questionable Citigroup/Enron transactions, but I saw no new evidence tying them to Robert Rubin. There is nothing that seems to dispute the point that these transactions were legal, although whether they should have been is another matter. There is discussion, much of it from Mr Musil's past blogging, of the already known phone call in which Mr Rubin tried to intervene with the Treasury Department to forestall the credit downgrade that played a crucial role in triggering Enron's bankruptcy.
There isn't actually a huge gap between myself and Mr Musil; at least not on this matter. The Man Without Qualities does agree with my main point that there are no specific known statements at this time to investigate with regards to the False Statements Act. As I stated before, I agree with him that there are sufficient grounds for Mr Rubin to be questioned by the investigators looking into Enron, although I personally would be surprised to see the Republicans get any real political joy, much less an indictment, out of the exercise. My original post was somewhat harsher with Instapundit than with the MWQ, precisely because Instapundit implied in his choice of words that specific statements were in question, an implication the MWQ avoided.
I do think, however, that the following excerpt from Mr Musil's post is somewhat slippery:
There is no indication in the media that Mr. Rubin mentioned any of Citigroup's questionable involvement with Enron when he requested Mr. Fisher's aid in pressuring the rating agencies. If Mr. Rubin knew about Citigroup's involvement at the time he called Mr. Fisher, Mr. Rubin may have misled Mr. Fisher in violation of the False Statement Act. Mr. Rubin is also reported to have spoken to various federal officials since making that call. But there are no reports that Mr. Rubin detailed Citigroup's deeper involvement, or any of the troubling deals that have recently surfaced.
Mr Musil has slid over the very substantial difference between not being fully forthcoming and actual lying.
Courts have already ruled that in sworn testimony no statement, however deceptive or misleading, can be considered perjury unless there is actual falsehood. The same rule would have to apply to the FSA - to do otherwise would have the absurd result of placing a higher standard on an informal conversation than on testimony given under oath. Mr Rubin was not under any obligation to detail Enron's dealings with Citigroup in his conversation with Mr Fisher - particularly as Mr Fisher doesn't seem to have asked about them, according to his own and Rubin's descriptions of the discussion.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
Obviously, those who doubt that George Bush is a truly compassionate conservative haven't heard about this. (Link via Cursor.)
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
I don't buy into all of NLP, but their presuppositions seem to me to make sense. This one seems to be not only sound, but to say a good deal about the last two Presidents.
Bill Clinton used to drive many people, especially those of us who supported him, nearly frantic with his lack of fixed political ideology. But that very lack was part of his ability to drop policies which were no longer productive, and come up with new policies to fit the changed circumstances. It probably played a large role in making him the most successful President for decades.
Bush has shown some of that ability in foreign policy, where he has been relatively successful. His strongest specific complaint against Clinton during the campaign was that Clinton was sacrificing the national interest with excessive 'nation building'. Before 9/11, when the Intifada heated up, Bush was more conspicuously uninvolved during a Mid-East crisis than any President in memory.
Today Bush has an entirely new foreign policy. He is running an ambitious nation building exercise in Afghanistan, probably soon to be dwarfed by a far larger exercise in Iraq after Hussein is removed. We are involved again in trying to do something with the Palestine mess and may soon be helping to clean up the mess in Iran. (This refers to possible aid after the current government is removed, which I continue to see as very probable notwithstanding Diane's objections. I don't mean to imply that I'm suggesting an Iraq-style military intervention in Iran.)
After campaigning against it, Bush may soon find he is carrying out the most ambitious US efforts at nation building since the Marshall Plan.
By contrast, Bush's domestic policies are pretty much tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation. That's what he did as Governor, what he talked about during the campaign, and what he's sought as President. He doesn't seem able to bring himself to push for anything else.
Deregulation has been dropped in the current political climate, but Bush hasn't been able to seize the initiative with calls for new regulatory responses to the business scandals. He just isn't comfortable calling for new regulations, not to mention that he would often be calling for outlawing or increasing penalties for activities that he or Cheney have engaged in. Bush will likely sign whatever comes out of Congress on business reforms, because a veto would be too politically expensive, but he is substantially on the sidelines as far as the content of the bills.
Otherwise, Bush is still pushing to make his tax cuts permanent, citing a need to stimulate the economy. Don't ask how a cut in taxes 10 years away will stimulate the economy today; there is no answer.
How to stop the drop in stock prices? Bush's economic advisers came up with a plan which was wisely killed by the political advisers and justly mocked by Josh Marshall: cut capital gains taxes.
Krugman's latest column ends with a criticism of Bush that is fairly harsh even for Krugman, but not IMHO unjustified.
Look at it this way: The Bush administration's economic plans have not changed significantly since the fall of 1999, when they were introduced as a way to ward off a challenge from Steve Forbes. Back when the tax cut that eventually became law was announced, "Dow 36,000" was climbing the best-seller lists. The economic environment has changed completely; the administration's plans haven't changed a bit.
Our economic problems are real, but by no means catastrophic. What scares me is the utter inflexibility of the people who should be solving those problems.
The Clinton team was willing to go with increased regulation or market solutions, fiscal or monetarist intervention, an iron fist or a velvet glove, depending on the circumstances. The Bush team seems unable to make those adjustments.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
More Rightist Spin
Instapundit is getting ready to slap the cuffs on Robert Rubin:
ROBERT MUSIL says that Robert Rubin faces serious risk under the False Statements Act for statements he made denying or obfuscating his involvement with certain Enron-related events.
And in fact Musil does discuss Rubin's liabilities under the FSA:
The False Statements Act applies to every matter within the jurisdiction of every executive, legislative and judicial agency of the U.S. government.
So the False Statements Act probably applied to Robert Rubin's bizarre and notorious telephone call to Peter Fisher, in which Mr. Rubin reportedly asked Mr. Fisher to pressure the bond rating agencies to delay the then-expected downgrade of Enron debt. It applies to any statements Mr. Rubin has made regarding his knowledge of Enron to federal bank regulators or to the Securities and Exchange Commission or to Congress
Mr. Rubin should be carefully investigated for violation of the False Statements Act.
There is one trivial detail that's been omitted from this discussion of Mr Rubin's crimes: neither Musil nor Glenn provides a single example of a statement Rubin made that they believe to have been false. I understand that in some circles it's considered a sign of moral weakness to get picky about these matters when going after anybody associated with Bill Clinton, but a law professor ought to at least be aware of this point. Glenn's post strongly implies that specific false statements are under discussion: what are those statements?
It is completely proper to require Rubin to testify under oath concerning the notorious phone call in which Rubin tried to persuade a Treasury Undersecretary to prevent downgrading of Enron's credit rating. It is appropriate to ask how much he knew about the other Enron/Citigroup dealings revealed today. There's no reason so far to believe he had significant knowledge - it's already clear he wasn't at Citigroup when the deals were made, and Citigroup is a huge company with a lot of irons in a lot of fires. I haven't seen any evidence that Rubin had managerial responsibility, even after the fact, over the division that made the Enron trades.
These are legitimate questions to ask, but the eagerness to go after Rubin looks more like politics than like getting to the bottom of Enron. As if to emphasize the point, Sully now wants to pin not only Enron but the entire stock slump on Rubin.
Psi Powers Spreading
The Nuisance isn't the only blogger with the powers to foresee future posts of Andrew Sullivan. Hesiod over at Counterspin Central, a welcome addition to the blogosphere's vast left-wing conspiracy, predicted this morning that Republican spinners would try to blame the questionable Chase/Enron dealings, which took place before Robert Rubin went to Chase, on Rubin. He even mentioned Sullivan.
Monday, July 22, 2002
The Real Fifth Column
Sure, we've got Kaus and Coulter to warn us of the danger from violent leftists.
And the Nation is keeping an eye on violent right wing nuts.
But thank God we have Ted Barlow to warn America of the real threats: crazed gymnastics fans and Will and Grace jihadniks.
Dawn Olsen's recent foray into online education so impressed Instapundit that he's given her a new name.
The Sound of One Commissioner Voting
Ernst & Young, one of the Big
Somebody at the SEC, doubtless an anti-market fanatic, thought there might be some possible conflict there and started an investigation. But the investigation was recently ruled illegal, because only one SEC commissioner voted in favor of it. Two spots on the Commission are currently vacant, and two Commissioners recused themselves due to business ties with Ernst & Young, leaving only Commissioner Isaac Hunt. Hunt voted for the inquiry, but a court ruled that it was invalid without the votes of at least two members.
I Must Be Psychic
The Nuisance has been proven correct in its uncanny ability to predict what Andrew Sullivan will write about before he even posts.
Randy Andy's abstention from frantic attacks on the New York Times lasted for exactly 36 hours, 26 minutes, and 14 seconds - and for exactly 0 full length posts, as I predicted. At 2:00 am today, Andrew's first full length post since his pledge to abstain from swingin' at the Raines was released to an eager world, containing 6 items: 3 attacks on the Times, 2 criticisms of conservative critics of homosexuality, and a quick mention of Osama Bin Laden.
Personally, I blame Andrew's early relapse on Bill Clinton. Ever since he lied about that blow job, the helpless Beltway media has been unable to refrain from lies, half-truths, and generally asinine conduct. Granted, this started 20-odd years ago before most of them had ever heard of Bill Clinton, but he may very well have been getting blow jobs back then too, so it's still his fault.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
Proving that great minds blog alike, the Kolkata Libertarian made a prediction of the emergence of what he calls the I3 (Israel, Iran, India) axis, essentially the prediction made here the same day, but without Turkey.
Aziz Poonawalla observes that part of what unites the I3 nations is that each is a genuine nation, carrying forward a long cultural tradition. This is untrue of many other states in the region (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan), whose borders are often arbitrary lines drawn by the British Empire. Pakistan, for instance, was just those portions of the old British Raj that had a mainly Muslim population at the time of independence, but it had and still has little ethnic, linguistic, cultural, or even religious unity. Until it lost Bangla Desh in 1971, it lacked even geographic unity. Jordan was created as Trans-Jordan by Winston Churchill during the British Mandate, mostly as a reward to the Hashemite dynasty which had supported England and Lawrence of Arabia during WWI, but had lost much of its traditional territory to Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
By contrast, the I3 states all carry forward distinct and ancient national identities. Turkey is in this category as well; although not as ancient as the others, it does have an authentic distinct cultural identity dating back many centuries.
Jim Henley is less optimistic about this or any other alliance with Turkey, which he fears will lead us into conflict with the Kurds. This is a possible outcome, but by no means necessary or even probable.
An independent Kurdistan would be potentially destabilizing all through the region. Iran, which has its own Kurdish region, would be deeply opposed. India, with all manner of potential breakaway minorities, wouldn't like the idea any more. Pakistan and Afghanistan could both face problems with Pashtun nationalists who dream of uniting the Pashtun regions of those countries. Russia and China both have restless ethnic provinces and would be vigorously opposed. And so on, all through the region. So there are many good reasons unconnected with Turkey why the US opposes Kurdish independence and is unlikely to change.
What we can and should do is support the rights of the Kurdish minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. If the US is successful in installing a decent government in Iraq after Saddam is gone, this would actually be better for the Kurds than full independence, because the Kurds, as Iraqis, would be able to share in the wealth that is generated by Iraq's abundant oil, relatively little of it on Kurdish land.
If the Kurds are respected in their right to their own culture and traditions, and given a role in the government of Iraq along with a share in the nation's wealth, I suspect nationalism would be a far less powerful rallying cry. The current de facto autonomy in northern Iraq has been largely enforced by US power, and we have made clear from the beginning that it isn't considered a step towards independence. In spite of that, there have been almost no attacks from the Kurds on US or UN personnel.
I think the US will play an important role, along with Turkey, as the I3 axis emerges. We already have close relationships with Israel and Turkey, and close historic ties to Iran which should resume when the current unpleasantness ends.
As for US-Indian relations, they have fluctuated many times, mostly due to India's Pakistan issues. At present, the US feels a need to support a rather shaky government in Pakistan that helped us (with problems Pakistan played a large role in creating) in Afghanistan and seems to be making some attempt to deal with its domestic extremists. This has led to many Indians feeling abandoned by us. But India and the USA are the largest democracies in the world, each almost unimaginably diverse in ethnic and religious variety. These similarities run deeper than ephemeral political disputes. Bilateral trade is also growing quite rapidly, and so is the size and visibility of the Indian minority in the US. For all these reasons, I'm quite optimistic about US-Indian ties in the long run.
Safest Prediction I'll Ever Make
This is a promise that isn't going to be kept:
"I'm gonna lay off the Times for a while. "
Sullivan has cleverly made this possible by using the ambiguous term, a while. So far, it's been 23 hours, which could be construed as a while, and he hasn't broken it yet. But in those 23 hours he's only posted two sentences.
I confidently predict Sullivan's 'while' won't last out a full week. Frankly, I'd be a bit surprised if it lasts out a full post, but I have to concede Sullivan might possibly be able to control himself for that long.
Friday, July 19, 2002
Out For a Troll
Brendan O'Neill recently wrote a now-notorious troll denouncing bloggers, calling for, among other things, a 'sub-editor' for the blogosphere, and listing various rules we illiterate and unedited bloggers should follow so that we might one day advance to the superior level he automatically holds as somebody who gets paid to do this.
Here's one rule he forgot: If you write about something you are massively ignorant about, try not to make it obvious. Maybe a sub-editor would help with that, but it doesn't seem to have helped Brendan in this commentary on the letter to the Iranian People recently published on numerous blogs:
[Bloggers] can send no diplomats or troops to help you - which is a shame, because they really believe that American diplomats and troops are just what you need as you are clearly incapable of running your own affairs. Silly little Arabs that you are.
Free clue: Iranians are not Arabs. Technically some are, since Arabs are in fact one of the country's numerous ethnic minorities. But they are a small minority of the population. Over 90% of Iranians are not Arabs, and will explain this point to you quite emphatically, not always politely, if you are foolish enough to make this mistake in their presence.
The piece doesn't get much better from there. Pejman takes it down in detail, more detail than is really needed for a piece that starts out with such a howling error, but I'm sure he enjoyed doing it.
As supercilious and often obnoxious as he can be, O'Neill isn't as totally clueless as some think. This piece on the echo effect of the blogosphere (the second of two pieces with one permalink) does make a valid point.
Yet another article today on the endgame in Iran. (Link from Pejman.)
This graf is particularly startling:
In a further sign that the regime was losing its grip, it then confined its police to barracks in Isfahan, as it had done the previous day in Tehran -- doubting their loyalty. Instead they sent foreign thugs with paramilitary training, chiefly Palestinian and Iraqi Arabs, and Uzbeks and Tadzhiks from Afghanistan, to beat the demonstrators down. It was a desperate measure -- an implicit acknowledgement that the whole Persian people have now sided with the opposition.
One more sign of a dying regime: when you can't trust your own security forces, it's time to keep your bags packed for a quick 'pilgrimmage' to sunny Saudi Arabia.
And when the Iranian people regain their freedom, don't think they won't remember how Palestinian mercenaries served as the last-ditch enforcement arm of their oppressors. As noted here yesterday, the coming free Iran can be expected to have close relationships with both the US and Israel, as does Turkey and for largely the same reasons.
With Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and 3 former Soviet Republics on its borders, Iran is literally surrounded by unstable countries, some of them having various claims on Iranian territory. Russia itself is no longer a direct neighbor, but still has coastline on the Caspian Sea, and the various claims of the nations bordering on the Caspian Sea to fishing and oil exploration rights have not yet been sorted out.
Iran needs a strong ally without territorial ambitions in the area, and that's the US, as it has been for a century. In 1907 Engand and Russia, both fearing the rising power of Germany, decided to settle their disputes and and redrew the map of Iran (then Persia), dividing it into a northern zone of Russian 'influence', meaning de facto sovereignty, a southern British zone giving England control of most of the Persian Gulf coast, and a central zone which was left for the current Shah. No Persians were consulted on the division of their country, or even informed until after the fact.
This took place during the Constitutional Revolution. Persians who were fighting against both a reactionary monarchy and foreign imperialism looked to the US for help, and although the US in that era avoided direct involvement in such distant disputes, two Americans did play important roles.
Morgan Shuster, who had carried out a similar role in the Philipines, tried to put the finances and administration of the Constitutionalist government on a rational footing, although he ultimately failed and was forced back to the US by British and Russian interests. Howard Baskerville, who had come to Persia as a missionary and teacher, became a leader of the military resistance in Tabriz, and died fighting for the city.
Later, more internationalist US administrations did play a significant role in ensuring a fairer deal for Iran in their share of the profits from the British oil concession, and played the key role in blocking Stalin's attempts after WWII to install a puppet government in Teheran, or regain the former Russian sphere of influence in northern Iran.
Israel is another ally dictated by geopolitical logic. Countries on the edge of the Arab region, such as Israel, Turkey and Iran, or the Islamic region, such as India, tend to find themselves targeted for attack in one way or another. This is even more true of peoples and territories that aren't recognized nations such as the Southern Sudan, Spanish Sahara, and East Timor. Turkey has been largely spared as a NATO member - Turks must be more than a little jittery at the recent talk of the 'end of NATO'. But Iran, India, and Israel certainly haven't been. Since Israel has sophisticated technologies often matched only by the US, in some areas even better than the US, and unequalled expertise in standing up against Arab/Islamic attack, it becomes a natural ally.
The Post yesterday ran an article on the struggles of CA Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon. Some of the conservatives in the blogosphere made hopeful noises when recent polls showed that Gray Davis's lead over Simon had been reduced. I had meant to write a piece explaining why they will be disappointed when Davis wins in November, but Dan Walters pretty much wrote it for me. (Link from Ann Salisbury.)
Simon is running mostly on the premise that he is a business professional and therefore morally superior to any career politician. Sorry, wrong year for that one. (In the primary he ran on issues, but his issues work only in a GOP primary, and he'd rather ignore them between now and November.) Between his business history and his far-right positions on issues, Simon is plenty vulnerable to a negative campaign to make him less attractive. Davis has the money and the ruthlessness to run devastating negative ads. And the ads won't hurt Davis much - the supposed unpopularity of negative politics is exaggerated, and besides Davis is already not greatly loved. He doesn't have to be everyone's hero, which is lucky for him. He just needs to be a more attractive option than a guy who has no government experience, right-wing views inconsistent with those of most California voters, and a past shading the law and possibly violating it in his career as a money manager.
By November, this isn't going to be close. I think Davis will equal his runaway victory margin over Lungren in 1998, another race that in the summer many people thought Davis might lose.
For bloggers reading this (and sometimes I wonder if anyone else does) who are still on Blogspot:
If you're still having trouble publishing, go to archive and open your archive template. Save without making changes and publish. That should fix it.
With my publishing now working, my permalinks also are, to the best of my knowledge. If any reader notices something still broken, please let me know.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
It's no longer a question of whether Mickey Kaus has become a straight right-wing writer or remains in some sense liberal. That's already settled. The question is whether he's becoming a sensible right winger or a wing nut, and the answer is moving toward the latter option. With laughers like "The New York Times seems no more embarrassable on the subject of Bush-bashing overkill than the Wall Street Journal ed-page was on the subject of Clinton-bashing overkill", it's becoming clear why he links to the likes of Ann Coulter: the difference between them isn't huge and it's shrinking. As Atrios points out, (permalinks broken, and WTF is Blogger going to fix that? It's been a week now that most of us haven't had working links.) the Times has, with the exception of Krugman, been softer on Bush than the Times, much less the Journal, was on Clinton.
This isn't the only silliness in Kaus's recent blogging, as Avedon Carol points out.
Fun Islamic Facts
The following is from Ignaz Goldziher, "Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law", as quoted in Ibn Warraq, "Why I am not a Muslim", p 168.
The task of interpreting God's word and of regulating life in conformity became lost in... debating riddling questions in which extreme sophistry and hair-splitting are joined with the boldest and most reckless flights of fancy....[Since] demons frequently assume human shape, the jurists assess the consequences of such transformations for religious law; serious arguments and counterarguments are urged, for example, whether such beings can be numbered among the participamts necessary for the Friday service. Another problematic case that the divine law must clarify: how is one to deal with progeny from a marriage between a human being and a demon in human form.... What are the consequences in family law of such marriages? Indeed the problem of (marriages with the jinn) is treated in such circles with the same seriousness as any important point of the religious law.
It's Not Easy Being Green
Scientists have been asking for the last few years whether the now well-documented decline in the numbers and health of frog populations is due to parasites or pollution. New research suggests the factors may act in concert, with pesticides suppressing immunity in developing tadpoles and creating new opportunities for parasites. Although deformities didn't occur in the experiment in the absence of parasites, deformity rates rose 300 - 400% where parasites and pesticides were both present.
Here's a particularly cheering item from the report:
All of the pesticide concentrations used in the experiment were below EPA-recommended levels for safe drinking water. One of the pesticides tested was atrazine, the most heavily used agricultural herbicide in the United States, which has also been linked to reproductive deformities in other frog species.
Staying for Detention
Call me paranoid, but I don't think that National Review would find the detention of Joel Mowbray quite this amusing if Albright were still Secretary of State.
Nor should they, in fact. This is a pretty outrageous abuse of power and an angry reaction is well justified.
Music is the latest challenge to the dictatorship in Iran. Michael Ledeen thinks the end is near (link fron Glenn Frazier), and he's probably right.
The real proof the Iranian dictatorship is falling is that there are increasing cracks in what should be its base constituency of Shia clerics. Clerics who are serious about the future of Islam in Iran are increasingly recognizing that the Islamic Republic has been a disaster. A generation of young Iranians associate Islam with repression and mullahs with greed and corruption. A significant number of clerics realize that continuing misgovernment by mullahs could endanger the Islamic identity of the nation.
This is a development with profound significance. Iran had three major revolutionary movements in the 20th century (The Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911, the Mossadegh movement of 1950-1953, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979). Although only the last succeeded in gaining and holding state power, all three were echoed outside its borders in other Moslem countries. Iran has a well-educated populace (thanks in part to the Shah) and substantial economic resources. A real democracy could succeed in Iran, and would certainly be allied with the US and probably, whether openly or informally, with Israel. Especially if it took place in conjunction with the establishment of a new democracy in Iraq, which will be harder to carry out successfully, the example would carry powerfully to other nations.
A press preview of the upcoming Buffy season reveals that Glory will be back for a return engagement. Link via Mac.
You know, I can remember back in the good old days, when being dead used to really mean something.
Monday, July 15, 2002
A story in the LA Times today gives new information on Bush's sale of Harken stock. The story does seem to clear up some questions that I've been wondering about - one key point is that it seems clear the decision to drop the case was made by lower level investigators and not by Bush appointees.
Does this close the case? Not entirely, since there is some evidence that Bush had more knowledge of coming bad news than the investigation learned (link from Jason Rylander), and I would still like to know why the simple step of interviewing Bush to ask him exactly how much he knew at the time about Harken's coming losses wasn't done.
But the relevance of the case has always been political, not legal. Bush's position at Harken was the result of a pattern that ran through his entire business career, of making money not off his skills or work, but his name. The Texas Rangers deal that was financed by the sale of Harken stock was more of the same. And the fact that it is pretty well documented that Bush was at least technically in violation of SEC regulations by failing to submit the proper forms in time doesn't help, nor do his numerous stories in which everyone but him is responsible for the improper filings. Nor does the fact that he isn't the only Bush to have profitted extensively from his name and connections.
Some of this is probably unfair, but given the endless Clinton investigations (some still continuing today), you'll have to forgive me if I don't feel overcome with sympathy.
Bush is inescapably involved in the ethically shady (not necessarily illegal) transactions that Harken was engaged in while he served on its board. Cheney is, if anything, in deeper. Joshua Green's claim that Bush II has had the loosest ethical standards of any recent administration is entirely justified. This means, at the very least, that Bush has little to no credibility as an advocate of the tougher standards that the public - and investors - now demand.
Congratulations to the Rittenhouse Review, which has earned a semi-prestigious personal smear from the spectacularly vile David Horowitz. (There are too many of them for it to rank higher than semi-prestigious.)
Horowitz calls the Review a dirty commie. Note to my friends on the right: can one of you wake Mr Horowitz from his coma and explain to him it is no longer 1980?
Sunday, July 14, 2002
What's the difference between an Israeli Jew and a mass murderer?
I'm so glad we ignorant Americans, who actually miss the moral symmetry of Josef Mengele and an Israeli linguist, have sophisticated Europeans to explain these things to us.
Friday, July 12, 2002
The Ann Coulter Experiment
No, it isn't an alternative/progressive rock band. I wanted to join in the efforts by TAPPED, Scoobie Davis, and others to fact-check or just generally eviscerate Ann Coulter. I couldn't check the entire book - I'm not about to buy a copy and it's checked out or still in shipment at local libraries. And besides, that would involve reading the whole thing, and in the immortal words of Buffy Summers, "Raise your hand if eww."
So I decided to open the book, read one random page closely, and report on the outright falsehoods, fake arguments, and assorted dishonesty found therein.
I read page 152, the second page of a chapter which claims the liberal media inflates the intelligence of Democratic politicians. One page turns out to be more than enough to catch Coulter in direct lies and much more.
It was blindingly obvious... that Stevenson was a boob - certainly clear to the American people who continually rejected him for President - only later was Stevenson discovered to be a lowbrow who rarely read books. When he died, only a single book was found on his nightstand: The Social Register.
Here we have several propaganda techniques. A sweeping statement - Stevenson was a boob - is 'proven' by one piece of marginally relevant evidence, what he read on the last night of his life. In her footnote, Coulter mentions that in the entire Nexis database, only she and George Will cite this factoid. Possibly because they're the only ones silly enough to think it means anything.
Also notice that the fact that Stevenson lost two elections 'proves' that everyone except the media noticed he wasn't as smart as he was claimed to be. Or maybe, just maybe, the 1952 and 1956 elections were not exclusively referenda on Adlai Stevenson's IQ. Could be people actually thought that Ike would be a good President, and figured four years later they had been right
Proof by inadequate evidence and proof by wholly irrelevant evidence. Two Coulter trademarks, and we haven't even gone past the first paragraph yet.
The second paragraph cites several instances of press reports describing Bill or Hillary Clinton as intelligent. Since Coulter cites these as evidence of media bias, presumably she thinks this is untrue. So I am curious on one point: Coulter and her allies generally assert that the Clintons were guilty of criminal acts in Whitewater, Waco, the Travel Office, campaign fundraising, futures trading, the Madison S & L failure, Paula Jones, technology transfer to China, selling pardons, obstructing probes of most of the above, and a lot more I didn't get around to mentioning. Okay, you're entitled to believe that. But if you can successfully commit all those crimes, get caught only getting a blow job after years of multiple aggressive investigations, and still find time to be the first President since Truman to balance the budget, don't you have to be a little smarter than the ignorant hillbilly Clinton haters like to portray? In fact, don't you pretty much have to be Professor Moriarty?
Other Democrats alleged to have been disadvantaged by their oversized intellects include... every other Democrat you've ever heard of.
Every Democrat? It seems you just can't pick up a paper without reading yet another story on the magisterial intellect of Ted Kennedy or Joe Biden. The sweeping generalization; another rhetorical trick and another Coulter trademark.
The next paragraph goes for some gratuitous personal nastiness, raising Kitty Dukakis's diet pill addiction on the theory that Mike Dukakis being allegedly unaware of it proves his stupidity.
Okay, we've had various propaganda tricks and miscellaneous personal attacks. But in four whole paragraphs not a single outright lie! Is something wrong?
Don't worry folks, we're getting there.
Walter Mondale cleverly informed the voters in the middle of a campaign that he was going to raise their taxes. He also deftly sent his media strategists out to explain that the guy who had just walloped him in a debate was a senile old weakling.
What do you call it when a politician speaks out for policies he actually believes in during a campaign, even if it is likely to be unpopular? Ann Coulter has the answer: she calls it stupid.
Some of my readers are doubtless too young to remember the 1984 campaign, but I can assure you: Ann Coulter is the only human being alive who thinks Reagan 'walloped' Mondale in the first debate. (Since the debates were held on Oct 7 and Oct 21, and the reference she cites for this is the San Diego Union Tribune for Oct 12, this has to refer to the first debate.) Every newspaper and every pundit agreed that Reagan was horrible in the first debate. Coulter will of course attribute that unanimous verdict to liberal bias - and never mind that most of those same biased liberals said Reagan won the second debate. It might be a little harder for Coulter to dismiss this assessment of the first debate:
I have to say I lost.
I don't happen to have at my fingertips a copy of the Union Tribune for Oct 12, 1984, but Coulter does quote from it in the footnote: "Democrats are saying President Reagan's performance in the presidential debate may be a sign of increasing age..." This quote fails to support either the claim that Democrats said Reagan was senile (or a weakling), or the claim that Mondale instructed them to say so.
In fact, I remember that debate quite well, because the events struck me at the time. It was held on a Sunday. Everybody believed that Reagan, already known as the Great Communicator, would wipe the floor with Mondale. Instead, Reagan was dreadful. The news reports praised Mondale for an upset victory and said Reagan seemed 'confused' or 'uncertain', but when we talked about the debate in my office lunch room on Monday, both Democrats and Republicans said what the media had scrupulously not said: Reagan had sounded senile. On Tuesday, that celebrated far left agit-prop publication, The Wall Street Jounal printed an unsigned paragraph on the front page which, while giving no names, admitted that money managers on Wall Street were saying the same thing.
That opened the floodgates. On Wednesday, the media was openly speculating on whether Reagan was still mentally competent and in the next few days his lead shrank significantly. It went on until the second debate, when Reagan was directly asked about his health. Reagan deflected the question with a lame and obviously prepared joke and the Republican crowd in the room laughed loudly. Through the rest of the debate, Reagan was his usual self: confidently making assertions that were true mainly in his imagination and certain, correctly so, that he wouldn't be called on it. This was decreed by the punditocracy to close the senility question and it wasn't discussed in mainstream media for the remainder of the campaign.
In the debate, Mondale had no comment when asked to respond to Reagan's joke. Through the whole campaign, he stayed scrupulously away from raising the issue, never discussing it in public even for the week it was the dominant theme of media coverage of the race.
So we have our first lies: Reagan won the debate and Mondale orchestrated a campaign to say he was senile.
In the next and fortunately final paragraph of my reading assignment, Our Lady of the Smear Job turns to Jimmy Carter, who is also stupid because he "claimed to have been attacked by a killer rabbit during the 1980 campaign." You can find accounts of that incident here, or here, or here. All agree on some points: it was Jody Powell, a Carter aide, who made the story public. Carter discussed the incident only with his staff. And Carter never used the phrase "killer rabbit", which ran all through the stories that dominated the media for a month or so.
This sounds silly, mostly because it is. But there is a reason why Coulter raises and misuses the killer rabbit incident. Those who were around at the time remember that the story actually had a devastating political impact on Carter. The symbol of a President battling it out with a rabbit resonated with the real story that dominated the period, the hostages being held in Iran, and produced an image of a leader too weak to take on anything more dangerous than a bunny rabbit. To this day, conservatives who want to mock Carter are still pulling that killer rabbit out of their hats.
The example works strongly against Coulter's thesis: a significant factor in the election of her political hero was the 'liberal' media blowing up a ludicrous and trivial incident into major political damage to his opponent. By distorting the facts of this story, Coulter has slickly transformed a true tale that underemines her thesis into a fictionalized one that supports it.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
Nice Try, Not Buying
Robert Musil has posted a claim that the latest and perhaps finest Bushism (in Alterman's blog, which doesn't permalink items), is really a brilliant witticism.
“The problem with the French,” Bush confided in Blair, “is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”
Now that is clever, even brilliant, from the right angle, and if Mike Kinsley or P. J. O'Rourke had written it, I would certainly admire it as such. But in this case, as usual, the messenger is also the message. We're dealing here with a man who thinks it the height of witticism to call Vlad Putin "Pootie-Poot" or Queen Elizabeth "Queenie". At least he didn't ask her for an autographed copy of "We Are the Champions". This is a man who I am confident doesn't know the French for bon mot and didn't originate this line as a social commentary.
It should be noted that this is said to be a joke being told by Blair, so we don't know for certain that Bush actually said it.
Adventures With Blogger
As of right now, the permalinks appear to be up. No guaranteeing how long that will last.
Okay, I spoke way too soon. Somehow, the permalink on the Tax Freedom day post has gone kablooey - if you click on it, it directs you to the Bush business record post. But it's only two posts down from here.
In fact, the permalinks on everything posted since the Bush business records, including this post, are now pointing to it. Bizarroland. They do have unique numerical IDs, and the correct IDs show up in the URL space - but everything is pointing to the same post. I've never seen this particular problem on this or any blog before, and am open to suggestions. Maybe the index on the Blogger server is corrupted?
Permalinks on posts before the business record post seem to be working, but I'm not in a mood to promise anything right now.
Update: It isn't just this blog. Matthew Yglesias has the same bug, so there are probably lots of others.
Israel is starting to import foreign workers to take over jobs once held by Palestinians - a development that was predicted here several weeks ago. The first batch will come primarily from Thailand. Link from Mid-East Truth.
In other Israel news, Mohammed Dahlan, best known as the most powerful military and political leader in the Gaza Strip, has been appointed as Arafat's new National Security Adviser. Isn't that just the dream job of all time? The PA is not a nation, it has no security, its President isn't a President and he doesn't take advice.
And while we're in the region, congratulations to Brazilian/Israeli blogger Renatinha on her aliyah. After sticking around just long enough to catch the World Cup victory parade, she should be arriving in Israel today.
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Conservative blabbers in recent years have spent a lot of time talking about 'Tax Freedom Day', the theoretical day up until which you're wroking for the government and after which you get to keep your money.
One reason why Tax Freedom Day is so late for individuals is that it comes so early for corporations. This article gives a good description of some of the breaks being given to hard-pressed small businesses like Ford, Microsoft, and GE. Although for these guys actually every day is Tax Freedom Day, it allows me to calculate what the day for 2002 would be, based on their 1999-2000 tax rates, and including only federal taxes. (In several cases, the day is actually in 2001, because credits left them paying a negative tax.)
Is Our Children Learning?
The basis for the Cleveland voucher program recently upheld by the Supreme Court is the theory that vouchers will get kids out of failing schools into better ones. But a study of the program shows largely discouraging results.
Many parents tried to use vouchers to take children from 'bad' city schools to 'good' suburban schools with higher test scores. But the suburban schools uniformly refused to accept voucher students, apparently because they didn't believe they could do any better with these students, and were at risk of being seen as 'bad' schools if voucher students hurt their test scores.
Due to a lack of funds, many parents who applied for vouchers didn't receive them. A comparison of test scores for those who did get to voucher schools, mostly parochial schools, and those who applied for vouchers but had to stay in their failing public schools shows no substantial test score improvements for the voucher students.
Monday, July 08, 2002
Bush Ethicists to the Rescue
So let me see if I've got this straight:
This is the crack team which is now working on the problem of unethical business conduct. They certainly don't lack in expertise.
Sunday, July 07, 2002
The Nuisance has just recorded its 2,500th hit. To whoever came by from verizon.net and all the rest of you, my thanks. I do largely write this for my own enjoyment - I think you have to look at a blog that way to stay sane. But it's more rewarding writing for your own enjoyment when others find your work worthwhile.
Since it took 32 days to go from 0 to 1,000 and only 22 more to get to 2,500, the overall trend in my readership is definitely up.
In addition, with a reader from Brazil stopping by yesterday, the Nuisance has now been accessed from 24 different countries in all 6 populated continents, although probably 90% of readers continue to come from the USA.
The Beltway Bozos
Bob Somerby is back with another fine Daily Howler. In it, he quotes a Washington pundit (Charlie Cook, but it doesn't matter which one, they all say the same thing) talking about Gore's recent speech:
Listening to former Vice President Al Gore’s graceless remarks over the weekend, when he effectively blamed his 2000 presidential campaign loss on “polls, tactics and all the rest,” one question kept coming back to me: “Does he really believe what he’s saying?”…[F]rom my vantage point it seems that Gore was the weakest link in the Gore/Lieberman campaign—not his pollsters, his strategists, his tacticians or his other consultants. Even if it were the campaign's fault, it is completely tasteless to blame others - but, in this case, it simply isn't credible for Gore to pass the buck.
What was Cook so upset about that Kaus, in quoting the same column (July 2), referred to him as "the normally mild-mannered campaign maven Charlie Cook "? Well, essentially Gore said that he ran a bad campaign. Which is what every pundit in the beltway has been saying non-stop for a year and a half. Except it was Al Gore, so most of them didn't want to settle for 'bad' and called it the worst in recent history.
In other words, Gore was agreeing with what the pundits said. So naturally, they all jumped up to blast him.
Beltway pundits are, like most unintelligent pack animals, consistent. Partying like it was 2000, the hack pack who couldn't attack Gore for what he did say, all attacked him for what he didn't actually say, but they decided he had said - that the problems of the campaign were the faults of his aides and not his own. Apparently they all believe Al Gore, who has been running his campaigns for 28 years now and been around them since he was a child, never noticed in all that time that the candidates make the final decisions and set the tone of a campaign.
Bob Novak noted that Gore "named no names", in other words criticized nobody but himself, and drew the same conclusion that he was criticizing everybody but himself. And just to show he was in campaign form, Novak managed to work in two explicit and one implicit references to Gore 're-inventing' himself and one to his wardrobe.
On Capital Gang, Margaret Carlson was even more incoherent. Aside from hitting her spin points, she seemed to have no idea what she was saying:
CARLSON: Absolutely. And Mark, you know, right before that second debate, and speaking of consultants, Rick Berke in the "New York Times" reported that the consultants showed Al Gore the parody on "Saturday Night Live" of himself, and as a result, he was like a figure out of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in that second debate.
But Gore never knew who he was. Was he the alpha male in the earth tones? Was he the, you know, aggressive hard hitter? And if a guy can't run his own campaign and his own consultants and is blaming them a year and a half later, that's not very presidential.
And even though I don't think he had the best advice in the world, and he had way too much of it, be a man, don't blame them. Take the blame yourself.
And, by the way, if he had good advice right now, he wouldn't revisit 2000 even for a second.
She started out by - blaming Gore's consultants! She then proceeded to hit a string of old favorites: stiff "like a [wax] figure", "never knew who he was", "earth tones", "alpha male". She goes on to say that he was right in saying he got bad advice, but condemned him for blaming the advisers while studiously never mentioning he hadn't said that.
It always amuses me that these imbeciles just repeat the same pet phrases over and over - and it's Gore who gets trashed for being robotic.
HUNT: Mark, I've written a number of times over the last year and a half that Al Gore did, did -- before he considers running again, has to explain that jury (ph) performance in the 2000, why he was able, how he was able to snatch defeat during the greatest economy of our lifetime.
After hearing his explanation, I wish he'd go underground for a while now, I -- it was just terrible. It was not, it was, it was, it was also not accurate, it wasn't the consultants that were responsible for that dreary debate performance, it wasn't the consultants that were unable to distinguish between Clintonomics, which was loved by most Americans, and Clinton's character, which was despised by most Americans.
It was Al Gore that was unable to distinguish between the two, and so therefore just went into his own shell position on that.
Carlson has just said that Gore is foolish for talking about 2000. Hunt says Carlson is wrong and Gore has to talk about it, but manages to phrase it as a criticism of Gore rather than of Carlson. Gore's speech was closed to the press and neither Hunt nor other reporters heard it - but he still goes on to trash the explanation he has "heard" Gore make. It seems he has confirmed his opinions with so many fellow pundits by now that he is completely unaware that he is attacking not Gore's unheard speech but the voices in his head making up an imaginary Gore speech.
But if Hunt's content was peurile, at least you can't fault his eloquence: "I -- it was just terrible. It was not, it was, it was, it was also not accurate."
Damn, I wish I could turn a phrase like that.
Kausfiles on Friday actually noticed that Gore was being blamed for something he never said. He then goes on to criticize - Gore, of course.
Could this be one of those cases of instant pack misintepretation? I suppose so, although there were also things Gore could have said to prevent that intepretaion -- like "I had a great staff. I'm talking about my own mistakes here" -- that he apparently didn't say.
In other words, if somebody attacks you for saying something you never said, it must be your fault - you should have not said it more emphatically.
It's interesting that in this rehash of the old Gore themes, the "Gore is a liar" theme doesn't seem to be in play. Of course, that's the one that has to be backed up by some sort of facts, and if the pundits go back to it at this point, they run into the problem that in almost all of his 'lies' Gore told the truth and the reporters lied. So it's safer to go back to the 're-inventing' theme - absolutely anything Gore says or does without exception can be, and I guarantee will be, dismissed as him trying to re-invent himself yet again.
Saturday, July 06, 2002
Ooh, That's Gotta Hurt
Slate has nailed Hesham Mohamed Hadayet for the 'Whopper of the Week'. That would really damage the guy's reputation if he wasn't, you know, a dead terrorist.
Fall Into the GAAP
First the pundits blamed corporate crime on Bill Clinton getting a blow job. And it was dumb. But for some people, it wasn't dumb enough.
The honor rape atrocity in Pakistan is being condemned there as well as here. And the Pakistani Supreme Court is now involved in the case.
Friday, July 05, 2002
Unqualified Offerings has mentioned my earlier post on 90s politics. I mostly agree with what he says, but would disagree a little with this: "Boo to the Dems for fostering a metacontext in which any program any government ever institutes gets treated as a critical need that only the heartless or myopic could possibly imagine cutting."
I don't suggest that the Demos are at all above criticism, but I think the guilty party on this is mostly the electorate itself. Everybody approves of 'cutting government' and 'reducing waste' in the abstract; those promises poll well so are made repeatedly by Republicans and a growing number of Democrats. But when you go past vague talk of 'cutting government' and get to cutting actual lines in the budget, you discover that every one of those lines has some constituency supporting it. Ironically the largest items, the ones you would have to take on if you were serious about really reducing the scope of government, have the largest constituencies, and are for all practical purposes sacred cows.
An annual ritual lately in Washington has been the GOP making a stand to reduce or eliminate funding for PBS and/or the NEA. You can take reasonable positions on either side of this question, but what can't be reasonably supported is the narrative that Republicans have been quite successful in building up around this yearly event: that this is a serious debate about the size and extent of the federal government. This is a debate about $0.1 billion, in recent years even less, in a budget that is now running to $1,900 bn. It's a purely symbolic move by people who like to say they're against big government but don't want to take on the political risks of really meaning what they say.
The major places Repubs really have sought big cuts is in regulatory programs that they don't like to start out with, such as OSHA or EPA. This is mainly disguising an unpopular plank (weakened environmental protection) as a popular one (smaller government, reduced deficits). And even here the GOP isn't really prepared to stand by the logic of their position. The National Highway Traffic Safety Board (NHTSB) suffered several years of budgets that had increases below the cost of living or outright reductions in the 90s, along with some reductions in their ability to regulate or study the powerful automotive industry. When the Exploror/Goodrich scandal hit, legislators were unanimously shocked, shocked that it hadn't had the resources or clout to find out earlier what was going on. Nobody said, "Well, I've always stood for free markets and reduced government oversight. Naturally, that means that tragedies like this will be punished by damage to the companies responsible rather than by government action. The system is working just as it should."
Jim also put up an interesting post for the 4th about leftists and patriotism. The Nuisance is definitely on the left, proudly patriotic, emphatically pro-Israel, and more than slightly irritated when certain bloggers suggest that the first implies that you certainly aren't either of the last two, and are probably idiotarian to boot.
I do agree that there is a tendency to knee-jerk anti-Americanism in some sectors of the left. When the same people who denounced the US for not intervening during the slaughter in Rwanda turned around and denounced the intervention in Kosovo, I tried to find some consistent principle other than, "if the US is doing it, it must be wrong" and failed miserably. (Substitute Clinton for the US in that sentence and you'll see why some on the right did exactly the same.)
I think the left was right about Vietnam and is right today on missile defense and some other topics. I have reservations about the anti-globalization movement, although there are some compelling arguments to be made in its favor. But the left as a whole, particularly the hard left with which I once identified, has had more than its share in recent years of international positions that are not only wrong but very hard to explain or excuse by any normal standard of progressive values. For instance, much of the left used to support a unified Jewish-Arab secular democratic state in Israel/Palestine, back when that was the position of the PLO. This is a reasonable stance from a liberal, if not a practical, standpoint. But as secular nationalism has faded in the Arab world and Islamic fundamentalism has risen, the Palestinian movement increasingly embraces an open call for a state which has no place other than subservience even for Muslim women or Palestinian Christians, much less Jews. And some leftists have failed to turn away from either the increasingly reactionary objective or the utterly inhuman means used to promote it.
I don't think you can explain these positions without to some degree invoking anti-Americanism as well as a romantic attachment to non-Western cultures.
Jim has a shrewd insight in linking this attitude to varying views of the American past. Rightists tend to look to an idealized picture of our past and see that as a model. Leftists often overstate the very things in our past that rightists ignore, and look to models from the French Revolution and other more radical crises. They ignore that the more gradual mode of American liberal democracy has addressed problems like racial oppression, women's rights, and working class poverty far more effectually than Robespierre, Lenin, or Mao ever addressed equivalent issues in their societies.
In the US at least, the far left has become isolated and increasingly just irrelevant. This may explain why the Greens relish doing the one thing they can do that really effects the process and keeps them important - siphoning off enough Democratic votes to elect Republicans. The excitement of having an impact may outweigh the fact that the practical result of that impact is reactionary.
So what's a flag-waving leftist to do? Well. there's always bashing the right, which the Nuisance does with zeal and pleasure. I don't spend equivalent energy going after the American far left simply because at this time they don't matter very much, although I always enjoy a shot at Ralph Nader.
Beyond that, all I really can do is state what my positions are and try to show that they form a consistent outlook which embraces the traditional values of progressive thought that have somehow gotten lost in a significant portion of current left dogma. This blog, like other political blogs. is mostly a mechanism for generating and propagating memes, with the hope that the memes, if they are as sound as I believe them to be, will ultimately have at least some mild impact.
In stopping by Jim's place, don't miss this wonderful Frost poem. I know Frost mostly through the few standard pieces that are taught in every American High School English class and have never encountered this superb piece before. And Jim has put up a fine poem of his own right next to Frost's, which is certainly an act of great courage.
The Rittenhouse Review has temporarily ceased posting due to a death in the editor's family. My condolences and best wishes go to Mr Capozzola and his family.
Thursday, July 04, 2002
Clued vs Clueless Through History
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!
Wednesday, July 03, 2002
How is Andrew Sullivan Like Ari Fleischer?
They both demand the very highest standards of truthfulness and integrity - from anybody who dares to criticize George Bush or the GOP. Their side, however, can say any lying bullshit it pleases.
Sullivan is crowing loudly today about TAP's revised and lowered traffic estimates.
TAP, and every other site, uses software to determine their traffic levels. The software gives an 'exact' number of visits, hits, page views, and various other stats, but in fact that number has very little meaning. Most try to count unique visitors by counting unique IP addresses, but that is unreliable for a variety of reasons.
One problem is that firewalls, which the vast majority of users coming from an office or school will be behind, generally hide the originating IP address and only give you the domain. It's the equivalent of trading a full street address for the name of a city. If you have 10 readers with 10 different addresses, you have 10 distinct readers. But what if all 10 addresses are just 'Chicago'? It could be the same reader 10 times, 10 different readers, or anything in between.
I personally access the web through DSL using Win 98. It crashes regularly and has other problems, so I reboot almost every day and often twice a day. Each time I go back to the web I go back with a new IP address. (If your ISP doesn't do this, you have a major security problem.) Without using cookies, the sites I go to have no way to know I'm the same person at a new address. Many surfers don't accept cookies, and even their use, for various reasons too boring to detail here, by no means ensures accuracy.
These are two problems with counts; there are others. At this modest site with 50 - 125 readers a day, almost all of whom go to the home page and don't access any others, I use two traffic counters. They consistently have different numbers. For reasons I don't fully understand, when I first installed both the discrepancies were large; sometimes the high number was almost double the low. Now they tend to be smaller.
All of this just means that the numbers given by a traffic counter should be taken with considerable skepticism. The counters can be deceptive for those who don't understand web traffic because a number like TAP released today, 161,025 unique visitors in June, looks so exact. But it's really an estimate, and without taking a very detailed look at exactly how the numbers are arrived at, you can't even say whether the estimate is likely to be low or high.
TAP ran into another common problem: they simply had a buggy counter. The counter overcounted, essentially because of miscounted cookies. TAP published the number their counter gave them; when they were challenged they checked with the company that produced the counter and found out it had a bug. They then installed the upgraded counter and reported the corrected, lower figures the following month.
Now look how heavily Sullivan has spun those facts to try to substantiate the claim that TAP was lying:
HOW IS THE AMERICAN PROSPECT LIKE WORLDCOM? You've probably read lots of articles in the American Prospect, bemoaning big CEOs fiddling numbers, inflating profits, engaging in all sorts of creative accounting. Well, Bob Kuttner's online magazine should know. In the Columbia Journalism Review, they claimed 450,000 unique visitors a month. Amazing traffic. Eric Alterman, always alert to factual accuracy, pointed out that this showed the hegemony of the Left on the web. Well, after the equivalent of a blogger SEC investigation, they've finally released their amended report. Their actual unique visitors for June was 161,025 - a little over a third of their previous claim. In classic fashion, they don't admit their error; they don't apologize; they barely explain; they release the news the day before July 4. More spin. And I thought Chris Mooney was a straight-up kind of guy. These guys fibbed about something as basic as their web stats. And you're going to trust them on the economy?
Worldcom deliberately misreported billions of dollars in formal filings required of all public companies in order to hide a lack of profitability. TAP released numbers in good faith, which were inaccurate due to an error by their supplier, and which they were under no obligation to make public at all. Even Sully can't possibly be serious when he pretends to see these instances as parallel.
And this isn't even his worst spin on the topic. On June 17, Sullivan posted the following smear:
Finally, some candor from the American Prospect. The Kuttner claim that they had 500,000 subscribers to their magazine has been reduced to 50,000. This discrepancy has been blamed on a reporter for the Boston Business Journal....Score one for blogging pressure: without me and Mickey on their asses, do you think they would have ever conceded error? Remember that when I first raised the question, they accused me of being a "creationist" because I couldn't care less for empirical data. I'm too hardened to expect an apology, but if they haven't reported real new numbers within a week, I'll keep at 'em.
Sullivan's fellow conservative Instapundit had the integrity to point out that TAP's 'claim' of 500,000 subscribers was only a reporter's typo, made by the jounalist writing about TAP and not by the magazine. He even posted her e-mail to him to confirm it. But 'blogging pressure' has never forced Sullivan to retract or apologize in any way for this outright falsehood.
On the plus side, I am pleased to note that Andrew is finally spinning and distorting with working permalinks. So he's made some progress on the technical end. Now he just has to clean up his content.