Public Nuisance

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.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, October 18, 2002
OK., odds are you already read Talking Points. And if you don't, why not? But this story of how the Thune Senate campaign in South Dakota whipped up a phony vote fraud story out of a minor and innocent mistake is not to be missed.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Jeff Cooper used the New Jersey ballot controversy as a starting point for an excellent post on how judges interpret laws.
Tbogg (link from Atrios) suggests "Operation Inigo Montoya" for the new Iraq war. It's pretty good, but too obscure. From a marketing viewpoint, and we know that's the key one for this administration, I think it's a better move to update a classic. I would propose "Operation Just Bomb It".
White Elephants

With all the talk about Chafee possibly switching parties, the question that strikes me is: why not? I truly can't think of a single good reason for any centrist/liberal - and Chafee, with an ADA rating of up to 70% is quite liberal - to remain in the current Republican Party. Liberal Republicanism, generally northeastern or midwestern, is a great American tradition, but it's gone and not coming back.

Moderate/liberals have no noticable influence in determining their party's legislative agenda - even though the party would have no chance of a majority in either house without them. The centrists lack even token representation in the party leadership, either in House or Senate. That leadership now openly backs the "Alliance For Growth", whose function is to run right-wing candidates against moderates in Republican primaries. A President of their own party snubs them systematically, even though he needs, expects, and actually gets their votes.

No moderate Republican has been on a national ticket since 1964. The last one to actually head a Republican ticket was, I believe, Wilkie. The last who had a real shot at winning, instead of being a sacrificial lamb, may well have been Teddy Roosevelt. It's literally inconceivable that a Chafee or Snowe, or even Specter, could win the Republican nomination today; none has even bothered trying for years. No moderates other than Colin Powell have been seriously considered for the second slot in recent years, either. Powell gets consideration for his military background and race, and in spite of his actual beliefs.

By contrast, moderate or fairly conservative southerners have been on all recent Democratic tickets except for 1984 and 1972 - and 1972 was only because the border state southerner nominated for VP by the Convention hid a history of mental illness. Southerners have headed 7 of the last 10 Democratic tickets, and not improbably will head the next one.

Bill Clinton appointed two moderate northeastern Republicans to visible, prestigious posts, William Weld and Bill Cohen. Weld was blocked for confirmation - not by Democrats but by his own party. George Bush hasn't given a single good appointment to a moderate Republican. Christine Whitman is cited as an example, but other than being pro-choice she's pretty much orthodox on the rest of the party line. And her job, where she apparently isn't allowed to set policy and has to be the public face of some of Bush's least popular moves, is no great plum.

That's hitting the real bottom rung of the ladder in American politics. To have any hope, even a remote one, of a decent appointed job, you first have to hope that your party loses.

The major national organization for moderate Republicans, the only one that I know of, is the Ripon Society. I literally can't remember the last time I've seen a representative of theirs appearing as a talking head, or even seen a mention of them in the media. It's probably been over 25 years. Their web site looks barely active.

So go ahead and ride the donkey Lincoln, Marge, and the rest of you. What on earth have you got to lose?

Tapped In

The Tapped blog has a redesign and a new url. This would seem to indicate that Kausfiles' Tuesday scoop that the blog was out is a load of something that often gets scooped. No indication that the pink slip party Kaus predicted for Tuesday took place either.

The new Tapped definitely looks better. I've been a nice guy and updated my link, even though their this-is-not-a-blogroll blogroll has at least one (actually, rather more than one) conspicuous absence.

Divestment and Double Standards

DSquared is critical of a recent Friedman column in the divestment movement. Friedman wrote:

Memo to professors and students leading the divestiture campaign: Your campaign for divestiture from Israel is deeply dishonest and hypocritical, and any university that goes along with it does not deserve the title of institution of higher learning.

You are dishonest because to single out Israel as the only party to blame for the current impasse is to perpetrate a lie. Historians can debate whether the Camp David and Clinton peace proposals for a Palestinian state were for 85, 90, or 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. But what is not debatable is what the proper Palestinian response should have been. It should have been to tell Israel and America that their peace proposals were the first fair offer they had ever put forth, and although they still fell short of what Palestinians feel is a just two-state solution, Palestinians were now prepared to work with Israel and America to achieve that end. The proper response was not a Palestinian intifada and 100 suicide bombers, which are what brought Ariel Sharon to power....

You are also hypocrites. How is it that Egypt imprisons the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world, after a phony trial, and not a single student group in America calls for divestiture from Egypt? (I'm not calling for it, but the silence is telling.) How is it that Syria occupies Lebanon for 25 years, chokes the life out of its democracy, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Syria? How is it that Saudi Arabia denies its women the most basic human rights, and bans any other religion from being practiced publicly on its soil, and not a single student group calls for divestiture from Saudi Arabia?

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

Dsquared in response:

I would guess that the reason that there is no campaign for divestiture from Syria is that it doesn't have a stock exchange.

[Snipped paragraph describing the lack of major publicly traded companies in Arab states in detail.]

In fact, on the basis of the above research, I would hazard a guess (and perhaps award a small prize to anyone who can gainsay me with proof), that the major American university endowments have no investments at all in Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia, making it rather fucking pointless to campaign for them to "divest".

It is considered traditional at this point to fulminate about the kind of individual who makes this sort of pig-ignorant blanket assertion without bothering to spend five minutes on google to check the facts, but I'm scared of the blowback from that one.

Dsquared's argument is based entirely on the claim that divestment is aimed at companies based in Israel. If Dsquared him/herself had bother to spend five minutes checking the facts, it would have become clear that this isn't true, and that Friedman is completely correct in saying that the divestment campaign singles out Israel while ignoring other countries with far greater violations of human rights.

There isn't a single national divestment petition, but this one being circulated at what are arguably America's two most prestigious universities, can be taken as a fair instance.

As members of the MIT and Harvard University communities, we believe that our universities ought to use their influence - political and financial - to encourage the United States government and the government of Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinians. We therefore call on the US government to make military aid and arms sales to Israel conditional on immediate initiation and rapid progress in implementing the conditions listed below. We also call on MIT and Harvard to divest from Israel, and from US companies that sell arms to Israel, until these conditions are met:

Already Dsquared's argument is falling apart. Egypt is a major recipient of US military aid. In addition to arresting political dissidents and homosexuals, Egypt heavily persecutes its minority population of Coptic Christians. Copts have been murdered by Muslims with impunity (the police arrested other Copts and tortured them into signing confessions) and children have been forcibly taken from their parents to be raised as Muslims. American weapons are sold in large quantities to Saudi Arabia, and to Bahrain, which has no elections or legal political parties.

Pakistan also receives American weapons and has a notably poor human rights record. By law, Pakistanis who are members of the Ahmadiyya sect, regarded by most Muslims as heretical, are not Muslims, therefore not permitted to own Korans or be buried in Muslim cemeteries. They are barred from holding public assemblies. They can even be arrested for saying the traditional Muslim greeting when they meet each other. Numerous Pakistanis are serving prison terms for blasphemy, and members of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, and Christian minorities have been murdered. There are also arms sales, much smaller, to Lebanon, which is largely a puppet government under Syrian occupation. The circulators and signers of the petition don't seem to see any problem with these human rights abuses.

Israel is in compliance with United Nations Resolution 242 which notes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and which calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.

Resolution 242 doesn't call for unilateral withdrawal, but for withdrawal in a context of "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force". Israel is not in violation of the resolution more than other parties, including the PA. In fact, since Israel has withdrawn from most of the territories occupied in June 1967, and offered withdrawal from almost all of them, it is arguably the only state in the area in compliance with 242.

Israel is in compliance with the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report which recommends that Israel's use of legal torture be ended.

Israel does use torture, as does every other Middle East state. Unlike other states, Israel doesn't torture (or even hold) nonviolent political prisoners, nor does it use torture to obtain phony confessions.

In compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention ("The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies"; Article 49, paragraph 6), Israel ceases building new settlements, and vacates existing settlements, in the Occupied Territories.

Israel is in violation of international law in the sattlements, and I have long felt that most West Bank settlements and all Gaza settlements should be removed. However, China has violated this rule far more extensively than Israel.

Israel acknowledges in principle the applicability of United Nations Resolution 194 with respect to the rights of refugees, and accepts that refugees should either be allowed to return to their former lands or else be compensated for their losses, as agreed by the Palestinians and Israelis in bilateral negotiations.

Reslution 194 was a non-binding resolution which has long been obsolete. The petition cites it for one paragraph on return of refugees, while ignoring other provisions in it such as access to holy sites in Jerusalem (which was denied until Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967) and placing a significant portion of the West Bank under UN control.

This resolution, like the divestment movement, fantasizes that the situation of Palestinian refugees is unique. Jews were driven out of Arab countries after 1948, and have never been offered compensation for the destruction of their communities and the theft of their property. Non-Muslim refugees fled what became Pakistan in 1948 and their former homes have been destroyed or occupied. Several Central Asian nations are deliberately making life harder for Russian nationals to encourage them to return to the Russian Republic. There are refugees from many other conflicts all over the world - Korea, Indochina, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Algeria, and more who haven't excited the interest of the United Nations or the divestment movement.

Although the petition calls explicitly for divestment only from companies that sell weapons to Israel, the web site shows that "divestment from Israel" is intended to be understood much more broadly. The Harvard list includes companies that own shares of Israeli companies, companies that have Israeli subsidiaries, companies that have plants in Israel, and even McDonalds, for opening restaurants in Israel. The MIT list is described as "companies that have investments in Israel" and includes Pepsico, McDonald's, Weyerhauser, Pfizer, and Manpower, Inc. By the standards that the divestiture movement itself uses, every major American university almost certainly has investments in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

Update: Meryl Yourish ran into the same post and had some similar responses. Matthew Yglesias also has some sharp words on the Harvard divestment campaign.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Buy Bonds

Continuing today's trend of number-heavy posts, I note that it's time for those who have questioned the post-season play of Barry Bonds to eat their words. In the 10 games of the Giants' post-season, Bonds has batted a relatively modest .286. But his 4 home runs kicks his slugging percentage up to an impressive .786, 2nd highest of all players with 10 or more at bats on the 4 teams that played in the ALCS or NLCS. (Anaheim's Kennedy had a surreal slugging % of 1.000.) Bonds tied with several others for most home runs in the league playoffs. He was walked 14 times in 10 games, a pace that was actually above his all time major league record for the regular season, and gave him an on-base % of .500, 3rd among all LCS players. He score 10 runs and drove in 10, played key offensive roles in both of the two home victories that clinched the title for SF, and made no errors in 10 games.

Bonds' strong bat performance in the playoffs doesn't change the fact that Jeff Cooper is right. The Cardinals, especially in the fourth game, walked Bonds in situations where you have to pitch to opposing players, one of several reasons they deserved to lose.

Warm San Francisco Right

Lowell Ponte, writing in the always reliable Horowitz mouthpiece Front Page, asserts that San Francisco is moving to the right and Glenn Reynolds asks if it's true. Putting the headline into the lead graf: no.

If San Francisco, or the Bay Area region as a whole, are now tilting conservative, it's a phenomenon that doesn't show up at the polls. The Republican party is nearly uniformly unsuccessful in local elections. This page listing local congressmen shows 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans. To find those Republicans, the list had to go far afield from the Bay Area. They are Wally Herger (District 2) whose district covers the northeastern state and comes nowhere near to the Bay Area, and Doug Ose whose district is centered in the Sacramento Valley, but includes a chunk of Solano County. Solano County does touch on the Carquinez Strait, part of San Francisco Bay, but Ose's district doesn't.

In the California legislature, it's the same pattern. This page shows 25 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Of the Republicans, one lists his office in Redding, far outside the Bay Area, while Bruce McPherson's district includes major chunks of Monterey and San Benito counties. That leaves Lynn Leach as the only Republican, along with 30+ Democrats, whose district is entirely in the Bay Area.

Is there a historical trend towards Republicans? Comparing the Gore vote in 2000 with the votes in the last close election of 1976 shows the opposite. I used the data on the excellent presidential elections page of Dave Liep.

Presidential Election Comparison
County Gore Carter
San Francisco 76% 52%
Alameda 69% 58%
Contra Costa 58% 48%
Marin 64% 43%
San Mateo 64% 44%
Santa Clara 61% 47%
Santa Cruz 61% 51%
Solano 57% 45%
Sonoma 60% 48%

Carter, who fought hard for California, didn't carry most Bay Area counties, and he lost the state. Gore took California for granted and decided to focus on closer states. Bush spent millions on TV ads here which Gore never countered. Gore won the state by 1.3 million votes, beat Carter's percentage in every Bay county by 10% or more, ran up almost a 5 - 1 victory in San Francisco itself, and had landslide margins throughout the Bay Area. Nader won almost half as many SF votes as Bush.

Ponte also finds evidence in some propositions on the San Francisco November ballot. But these propositions come more from local business and landlord lobbies than the grassroots, and their support is unclear until they have been voted on. Furthermore, in spite of Ponte's claim that they represent a radical shift to the right, a claim echoed by the left-wing SF Bay Guardian, the content of the propositions doesn't seem to justify such language. According to the Department of Elections summary, Proposition R would allow about 85,000 apartments to undergo condo conversion over 25 years, if landlords wishing to convert met all of the following tests:

  • Tenants were offered the option to buy their apartments;

  • Tenants or resident owners from 25% to 40% of the units agreed to buy their apartments. The percentage would depend upon the total number of units in the building;

  • Tenants who did not wish to buy would receive a lifetime lease - if the unit remained the tenant's primary residence - with annual rent increases limited to 60% of any increase in the regional consumer price index; and

  • There had been no "owner move-in" eviction in the building during the past five years, and no eviction to remove apartments from the rental market in the past ten years.

Prop N, aimed at homelessness, looks harsher. It reduces the obviously problematic practice of giving cash payments to homeless persons, most of whom are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but seems to offer only existing services, rather than improved ones, as a substitute.

Ponte has observed one final trend that he claims must make California liberals shudder:

The liberal San Francisco Chronicle trembles and prays for forgiveness of its faults to San Andreas as it reports more and more signs that Northern California’s tectonic rightward drift seems irreversible. California’s demographics are realigning the Golden State’s political polarization from north-south to east-west and leaving its politics fragmented along new fault lines that threaten to shake the Leftist establishment down.

The trend is real, but the very article Ponte cites shows that it's conservatives who should be shuddering. The broader trend that Ponte tries to twist into a conservative story is outright catastrophic for Republicans. Previously Democratic rural areas in the the northern regions of the Central Vally and Sierra Nevadas now have gone Republican. (Gun control is probably the biggest factor.) But the Democratic majority in suburban parts of the Bay Area that were once competitive has become huge, while even worse news for Republicans is that urban and suburban regions in more heavily populated Soutern California have gone Democratic.

What does that mean in statewide electoral terms? Going back to to Gore-Carter comparison, Gore won only 9 counties that Carter lost. Carter won 17 counties that Gore lost, and Bush won several of those former Carter counties by lopsided margins. But 10 of those 17 counties cast 25,000 total votes or less, ranging all the way down to Sierra's 1,847 votes. Only Fresno cast over 130,000. Five of the six counties switching columns that cast 150,000 votes or more went to Gore. The largest counties that switched, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, had a combined total of almost 1.2 million votes, and a combined Gore margin of over 300,000. (San Mateo and Santa Clara are incidentally the heart of the supposedly more conservative Silicon Valley.) Carter's 30,000 vote San Francisco margin became Gore's 190,000, while the Democratic margin in LA increased from 50,000 to 850,000 - that 800,000 vote increase being roughly the same as the total munber of votes cast in all of the 17 counties that switched Republican. In Orange and San Diego, the two most populous counties that went Republican each time, Gore lost by much smaller margins than Carter did.

So Ponte's citation of a poll showing that SF is now more conservative on many issues than LA means not that SF is moving to the right, but that LA, which casts roughly 25% of the vote for the state and almost 3% for the entire US, has tilted decisively to the left. At the same time, most of the rural counties of Northern California are moving to the right, and some of the already right-tilting rural areas are moving farther right. The North/South divide left the state as a whole leaning mildly to the right. The new East/West division puts both of California's most populous regions on the same side and means a heavy tilt to the left.

This November, California will elect leaders in 7 statewide partisan offices, including Governor. At one point in the Reagan years, Republicans held all but one statewide office. Even getting pounded in 1998, they held on to two of them. This year, neither incumbent Republican is up for re-election and I predict they will be shut out, something that may have happened in the New Deal era, but hasn't in my lifetime.

Monday, October 14, 2002
The new blog Nitpicker points to Reason's article on this remarkably Orwellian logo for a new War on Terrorism agency.

Update: I may have to take back the word "Orwellian" According to a Latin expert quoted by Atrios, the motto on the seal is far more honest than I at first thought.

Andy Sullivan is delighted that:

The polls show that Americans get the president's arguments about Iraq in a post-9/11 world. According to a Pew Center poll, reported by ABCNews,

86 percent of those surveyed believed Saddam had nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them, and 66 percent believed he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

What's interesting about this is that the president's arguments that so many people agree with are backed by almost no evidence. Iraq is certainly attempting to produce a nuclear weapon, but has no facilities to create enriched uranium or plutonium. The one attempt to show that Iraq was close to actually acquiring nuclear weapons backfired when the report that supposedly proved the threat didn't say any such thing. And no credible analysts believe in a connection betwee Iraq and 9/11. In fact, Bush made neither of these claims in his speech:

We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy: the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.

Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.

We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America....

Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of his nuclear program in the past.
Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, he could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

It would seem then that the media has thrown enough of a scare into the public that they now believe conservative arguments for going to war, even those that conservatives are unwilling to make directly due to lack of proof. And unsurprisingly, Sullivan feels that this is good news.

Friday, October 11, 2002
Max Sawicky has printed a letter allegedly from a professional Secret Service sniper on the recent Maryland sniper murders. Max's correspondent and Susanna are agreed on at least one alarming point: both think the killer is likely to attack one or more policemen.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
The Marine and the Terrorist

Max Sawicky has taken some heat for asserting that warbloggers 'hail [Ollie North] as an American hero.' Ted Barlow came to Max's defense, noting that if not specifically among conservative bloggers, North clearly has a large following in the US right. And it is important to remember that bloggers are a relatively small and insignificant group, on both left and right.

Along with the evidence Ted offers, another interesting example is a popular right wing myth, in which North is the hero. One thing which North was criticized for in Iran-Contra was accepting the gift of an expensive security system for his home. North did create such a system, and he seems to have financed it illegally from Iranian arms sale funds, forging some documents in the process. In his defense, it should be noted that there was a plausible basis for believing that North really was a target of terrorists, and the US took the threat seriously enough to move his family out of their home onto a military base. The terrorist North claimed was after him was the notorious and recently deceased Abu Nidal.

In the myth, North replied by saying that he was under attack by "the most evil person alive", Osama Bin Laden. North was laughed at by his audience for being so worried about a man they had never heard of, and mocked by the Senator questioning him, who in most versions is Al Gore.

Almost all of this is a fabrication. The questioning about the security system was actually conducted by John Nields, an attorney working for the committee. Gore never asked about that or anything else, because he wasn't a member of the committee. North never mentioned Bin Laden, who at that time was an American ally fighting against the USSR in Afghanistan and had never carried out or even threatened any attacks on Americans.

This tale of how Ollie North prophesied while Al Gore and America slept promptly spread all across the Internet. Its popularity shows that North is indeed a folk hero, if not specifically among bloggers, at least among some portion - you might even call it the 'idiotarian' portion - of the right. Of course pulling in Al Gore from left field shows that he, along with Bill and Hillary, is equally iconic as a villain. It's especially amusing since it's the right that loves to claim Gore makes up stories about his past.

You Say You Want a Trickle Down Monetary Policy

Andrew Northrup and Charles Kuffner had some fun with this list from Bruce Bartlett of the Top 40 conservative songs. That inspired me to look it up, and the list was even sillier than I had thought.

For starters, #1 is Paul Anka's 'Having My Baby'. Now I'll grant that it does have some conservative tendencies - and the right can have it. How hard up for material do you have to be to make this number 1? It's sugary tripe, one of the very few hits of the era that makes 'Seasons in the Sun' sound good by comparison. Bartlett cites the anti-abortion reference in the lyrics to claim it for conservatism, but that's dubious since nothing in the lyric says that abortion is morally wrong. The real conservatism is in Anka's sexism - the phrase 'my baby' appears 12 times in the recording, the phrases 'our baby' or 'your baby', 0. (Incidentally, to make that count, I had to actually download and listen to the damn song. Never let it be said that the Nuisance won't bear any burden and pay any price to give my readers accurate information.)

Number 2 is 'Revolution' from the Beatles. This song, written as the Weather Underground was being born and the Black Panthers were in their prime, is certainly critical of revolution as a means of changing society, but it seems to be supportive of the basic goals. I can't see how it belongs in any real list of conservative tunes.

Bartlett also cited two anti-war song's, Pete Seeger's 'Turn, Turn, Turn' and Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don`t Take Your Love to Town', a song about a man whose life was ruined by being crippled in Vietnam. Another one making the cut is Ray Davies's 'Sunny Afternoon'. Here are some of the lyrics Bartlett cites for their supposed anti-tax message:

The taxman's taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
I can't even sail my yacht
He's taken taken everything I've got
All I got's this sunny afternoon...

My girlfriend's gone off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Tellin' tales of drunkenness and cruelty
While I'm sittin' here
Sippin' at my ice-cool beer
Lazin on a sunny afternoon

Isn't Bartlett aware that the taxes the song refers to were originally passed largely on the argument that they would be paid by people exactly like the speaker? With his tin ear for irony, I'm amazed that Bartlett didn't also include Randy Newman's 'Political Science'.

Approximately 1/3 of the list are religious songs, many from the great tradition of African-American gospel music, taken on the apparent belief that religious faith is inherently conservative, which I guess explains the long association of Rev Jesse Jackson with the Republican Party.

After all these, the biggest howler comes at the end, when Bartlett declares: "I frankly think it would be much harder to put together a companion list of the most left-wing songs." Bartlett's #1, as noted above, is a dreadful song, and his number 2 doesn't legitimately belong on the list. His top 10 also includes two utterly forgettable and largely forgotten songs, 'The Three Bells' and 'God, Country, and My Baby', the protest song 'Turn, Turn, Turn', and a song (Neil Diamond, 'America') which was prominently played at the 1988 Democratic Convention.

If I were to put together a similar left-wing list, my top choice would be between 'Blowing in the Wind', 'Imagine', and 'I Shall Be Released'. Competition for spots in the top ten would include 'American Pie', 'War', 'Born in the USA', 'Society`s Child', 'The Revolution Will not be Televised', 'Sounds of Silence', 'After the Gold Rush', 'Me and Bobby McGee', 'Sympathy For the Devil', 'Living for the City', 'Mother`s Little Helper', 'Sixteen Tons', 'Give Peace a Chance', 'Feel Like I`m Fixin` to Die', 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', 'The Star Spangled Banner' (Hendrix version), 'Fortunate Son', 'Everyday People', and 'American Song'. That's off the top of my head. Every single song in the above list and a bunch of others I either forgot or didn't list are way the hell better than 'Having My Baby'. I really don't think Bartlett wants to put his list up against mine.

Update: Max Sawicky also posted on the list, and his remarks drew a blizzard of comments. But none of Max's commenters seemed to have mentioned that Max described the lyrics of 'Turn, Turn, Turn', taken from Ecclesiastes 3, as 'Jesus material'. Holy Moses, Max! Who knew you were such a schlemiel?
My remarks above on certain songs are very close to some made by Charles in the post linked to.

This metafisking from Calpundit is likely to become a classic.
Susanna at Cut on the Bias has put up numerous good posts on the Maryland sniper killings, becoming pretty much sniper central for the blogosphere. This statement in today's post, though, makes no sense to me:

It looks like two may be involved, which I think makes it a little less of a white supremicist thing although I still think it's a factor. And I also still think there is a dominant personality, the shooter, and an acolyte, the driver.

I'm assuming that the last person killed was a random victim. Without ballistic evidence to prove a link to the earlier killings, there's a possibility that somebody with a grudge went after this specific guy, but since he wasn't a local, that seems improbable. And the witness report of two people leaving the scene seems to make a white supremacist motive more, rather than less, likely.

Criminals act from a vast array of motives, but criminal conspiracies are much narrower. The vast majority are formed by an expectation of mutual profit, a motive clearly not present in the sniper killings. In the absence of financial gain, the list of motives that can form and maintain a criminal conspiracy is very short indeed, and some kind of political/religious fanatacism is at the top of the list. While there are many varieties of nut causes, the undeniable expertise of this shooter with firearms is a trait characteristic of the extreme right white supremacist/militia type.

Sociopaths generally act alone. Almost by definition, their links to others are weak, and they rarely have spouses or even close friends. Where you have them acting together to kill, there's generally some connection to a political or religious cause. The only exception I can think of offhand for serial killings is the Lake/Ng murders, murders of young women which had a sexual motive.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002
There are some areas that technology should just leave alone. Link from boingboing.
News Item: Physical Laws Still Intact

Avedon Carol posted an item questioning whether fire from the burning planes could have melted the steel columns of the WTC. On one point, the questions were right. The fire wasn't hot enough to actually melt steel, and even if it had been, weakening of the steel from heat would have led to the columns failing to hold the weight above them (probably over 100,000 tons) well before the steel actually liquified. As Carol noted in an update, the towers collapsed mostly because heated steel loses strength. It begins to lose strength at only 425°C, which is about 800°F and actually lower than the temperature of a strong blaze in your fireplace.

The other major factor was that the heat from the fire was very uneven. Heat expands steel, so the uneven fire caused some columns to expand more than others, increasing structural stress. A detailed but not overly difficult account can be found here, (Link courtesy of RRE.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Legalize It

That's just what seems to be happening increasingly, particularly in the western states. Voters in Arizona are likely to approve by a large margin an initiative which legalizes medical marijuana according to a poll cited by MyDD. Talk Left notes that the same initiative also decriminalizes possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, even without medical permission.

Meanwhile, voters in Nevada seem ready to approve the actual legalization of marijuana. This would seem to be in Nevada's great tradition of living off the vices of Californians. Now that residents of the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego areas all have Indian casinos closer than the Nevada border, not to mention sports books and various forms of gambling on the internet without leaving home, making Nevada a pot center is a logical step.

Pro-marijuana initiatives seem to pass almost invariably when put to voters, which makes it interesting that they rarely do well in legislatures. Legislators still seem to fear the 'soft on drugs' label, however often the voters show that they are soft on marijuana. Very few Congressional candidates of either party that I've seen are talking about weakening federal marijuana law, or allowing state medical marijuana laws to override the federal laws, even when the state laws have been passed by their constituents.

Conservative candidates should be backing state's rights to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of principle, but I see no evidence of that going on either. Libertarian Party candidates do, obviously, but if Republicans or conservative Democrats who have a serious chance to win are supporting state's rights in marijuana law, I haven't heard of it. Nor are courts, which have recently overturned several federal provisions on the grounds that they exceed the constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce, shown any skepticism of the claim that growing a plant in your yard and selling it to somebody else living in the same city constitutes interstate commerce.

The hard right conservative that I used to car pool with a few years ago routinely denounced any governmental anti-tobacco action as an intrusion of the Nanny State, but invariably considered any weakening of laws against marijuana, homosexuality, or pornography as further proof that the US was imitating the decadence of the late Roman Empire. My attempts to get an explanation of how these theories were consistent never got very far.

Mark Kleiman has looked at the argument overseas New Jersey voters will be harmed by the ballot change, and agrees with me that it's bogus in the midst of a long post. (I read a similar argument on another blog yesterday, but am no longer sure where I saw it.) Another Kleiman post takes a particularly hard shot at the Bush team: "As far as I can tell, the biggest difference between the Bush White House and a pre-school is that the pre-school has adult supervision."

I haven't seen anything from a right-wing blogger which tries to give a clear demonstration of actual harm to voters done by the switch, but if anybody can point me to a coherent argument, I will link to it.

Monday, October 07, 2002
I caught most of the first California Gubernatorial debate today. I would rate it as having no clear winner. Simon was better than might have been expected, given his lack of political experience. He was forceful and did a good job of answering the questions he wanted to answer, rather than those actually asked, without being overly obvious about it.

On substance he was less impressive, not that that usually matters in these events. When asked about solving traffic congestion, he spoke only of building more freeways. The problem is that that never solves traffic problems. When you build freeways and reduce the amount of time to get from a suburb to a main employment center, the result is consistently creation of new and more distant suburban sprawl. On gun control, he announced that he would have vetoed several existing gun laws, but doesn't intend to repeal them and thinks that they should be more strictly enforced.

Davis had a few struggles with his tongue, notably boasting that his administration reduced the number of 'insured children'. He seemed to be aiming for self-deprecating humor when he spoke of going on Leno, but only hit strange. Davis, like Simon, ducked a question on how he will handle next year's budget, which, in the absence of an unexpectedly strong recovery, will probably require either a tax increase or heavy cuts in popular programs.

Simon tried several times to attack Davis for receiving questionable contributions; Davis aimed several shots at Simon associating him with Enron and other businesses involved in gouging California during last years energy crisis. Neither seemed to have new info or score sharp hits. Davis found multiple opportunities to mention that he is a Vietnam veteran, while Simon liked to remind us of his numerous children and siblings.

Since Davis continues to have a solid lead, the lack of any major edge in the debate probably goes to his overall advantage. I remain confident that he will win by a hefty margin.

Legal Notes

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent article on the excesses of the prosecution of Winona Ryder.

The fact that there were felony charges filed at all is astonishing in its own right, as an exposé conducted by the entertainment tabloid Extra, Celebrity Justice (dogged friend to celebs everywhere!) revealed that in court records of all 5,000 grand theft felony cases filed in Los Angeles County last year, not one defendant was facing penalties as harsh as Ryder's. In fact, in all cases involving theft exceeding the amount alleged in Ryder's case, the defendants received standard misdemeanor plea deals. The district attorney's office has refused to accept a plea for anything less than a felony in Ryder's case.

In fact, the district attorney's office has refused to accept Saks' own multiple requests to drop the charges against Ryder. In a recent article in the National Review online, Joel Mowbray writes that the Los Angeles district attorney's office warned Saks that if they didn't cooperate in the Ryder prosecution, their attorneys would no longer prosecute shoplifting cases at the Beverly Hills location. Hey, that will send a message to shoplifters!

Instead of pleading this case out and getting on with the business of prosecuting murderers and rapists, Cooley's office has now diverted at least eight attorneys to work full time on this case, with a deputy district attorney having to reschedule a murder prosecution so she can convict Ryder.

According to Lithwick, even the drug charges against Ryder are essentially phony. Ryder was in possession of a generic version of a brand medication for which she had a legitimate perscription. And the videotape makes the shoplifting charges look questionable as well. Eight attorneys in the DA's office dealing with this case which could have been pled down to a misdemeanor, as similar cases with no prior criminal record routinely are, means eight attorneys not going after murderers, rapists, or major white collar fraud.

Charles Kuffner notes that, in Nebraska, a victim has a legal right to appear at a parole hearing - but only to say what the prosecution wants. A victim who wishes to speak for clemency has no right to be heard: "The case went to Nebraska's highest court, which reached this conclusion: Victims who testify for the defendant are not legally victims. "

Aside from the bizarre legal conclusion, I really suspect that drawing the victim or victim's family into a long-running role in the drama as speakers for revenge, something which can last for a decade or more in a capital case, does make it harder for the family to genuinely recover from a catastrophe and get on with their lives. It would be very interesting to see real data on whether these `victim's rights` laws do actually contribute to anything except longer sentences.

Whose Franchise?

The petition of the New Jersey Republicans to the Supreme Court bases a substantial portion of its argument on the claim that changing the ballot would disenfranchise overseas voters.

Whether the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits the disenfranchisement of American military personnel and citizens by replacing candidates on the ballot after these citizens have already cast their vote?...Because the actions of the Supreme Court of New Jersey retroactively change the law passed by the legislature, and because it threatens to disenfranchise thousands of overseas voters, a stay of its order should issue immediately.

But who is being disenfranchised and in what way? The petition repeatedly asserts that this disenfranchisement will take place. I haven't read the whole document, but I can't see that it ever explains why.

The petition makes a great deal of ballots which have already been sent out; but there are fewer than 2,000 of these on a close reading. (The petition is deliberately worded to make it appear, on a casual reading, that there are more.) All others can be sent the new ballot, as can those who were already sent the old.

We know that, aside from pious declarations, the only persons whose franchise the Republicans really want to protect is Republicans. But those who want to vote for Forrester are clearly not being injured, since his name is on both ballots and they can vote for him either way. The same is true for those who want to vote for 3rd party candidates. So apparently the only voters who are endangered are Democrats, or at least those voting for Democratic candidates.

But those who have received ballots with Torricelli's name can still write in Lautenberg if they so choose. Indeed, there seems to be no problem for anyone except those who have already sent in their absentee ballots, certainly a subset and probably a small subset of those who were mailed ballots.

Those who have already voted for Torricelli are pretty much out of luck, since he has removed himself as a candidate. (Republicans continued to call for Torricelli to resign his candidacy after the first absentee ballots had been mailed out, in spite of all risks of disenfranchising overseas voters.) Those who have already voted for other candidates and don't want to change their vote are unaffected. Those who have already voted for Forrester and now would rather vote for Lautenberg are denied the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice, but they presumably would prefer to see their candidate on the ballot so that others can vote for him.

The only group I can see that is legitimately harmed by this is those voters who already voted for Torricelli but now would prefer to vote for Forrester. This can be assumed to be a small group, since all polls indicate that the replacement of Torricelli by Lautenberg has significantly reduced, rather than increased, Forrester's support. In fact, there is no evidence that a single voter is in this category.

A great deal is also made of the theory that any delay in the mailing of ballots to overseas voters is in itself a disenfranchisement of those voters. But in fact the delay is now being caused by the Republicans continuing to litigate the case, which does lead to a real threat that the ballots won't get out in time for overseas voters.

This is not the most audacious reason given by the Republicans for preventing New Jersey voters from exercising a choice. The following line (I could never make this up) appears on page 9: Prompt action from this Court is required to prevent growing public cynicism regarding evenhanded application of election law rules. Remember, this application is being filed on behalf of a candidate who, in this very election, has already requested, and obtained, a ballot change within the 51 day limit of New Jersey law. But it's essential that the same privilege be denied to his opponent "to prevent growing public cynicism" and demonstrate that laws are equally enforced.

Note: Also blogging on the same subject, Eugene Volokh asks a rhetorical question to which the answer is, "George Bush".

Saturday, October 05, 2002
I like Hesiod, but I have to wonder what the point of this entry is. Hesiod seems to be upset that Rusty Yates isn't spending enough to aid the defense of his wife Andrea. Hello - those kids she murdered weren't only hers. Just how much loyalty are you expected to feel for someone who kills your children?
Here's a little something for the surprisingly large number of people who have come to this site on searches for Firefly star Morena Baccarin. Baccarin is now ahead of Ann Coulter, Arthur Andersen, and even my beloved banana slug as a search subject, and likely soon to overtake Dick Cheney, who doesn't look nearly as good in an evening gown.
A major problem in building any more functional society in Iraq, as in Palestine, is that a substantial number of the potential leaders have been murdered. The Sunday Herald has quick profiles of some of Saddam's would-be successors. They're all better than Saddam, and, after that, there isn't a great deal to say in their favor. On the plus side, the Kurdish factions in northern Iraq seem for the present time to have settled their differences.
Friday, October 04, 2002
If you can notice any of the subtle signs that this isn't an authentic report of Al Qaeda terrorism, you're way ahead of the cops who didn't.
Tuesday, October 01, 2002
That Was Then, This Is Now

Atrios points out that Dubya recently signed a bill ordering the US to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but doesn't intend to comply with it. He says it, "impermissibly interferes with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs", and intends to treat it as only advisory.

Which is actually OK by me, both as to the Constitutional authority and the substance of the policy, The only odd part about it is that Bush actually supports moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Or at least he did, back when he was stumping for Jewish votes in 2000.

The really funny part of this is that Bush rather cleverly managed to play simultaneously to Jewish and Afab voters by mixing that promise for Jews with a promise for Arabs to end Clinton's practice of using secret evidence in INS hearings. That promise got him the endorsement of the American Muslim PAC. And once he got in, he broke both.

Sunday, September 29, 2002
Jay Caruso has responded to my Gore post below. I'm going to skip over what Jay wrote in my comments and address the more extensive arguments he made in his blog.

I wrote:When Al Gore talks, conservatives listen. And then they lie. And they never, ever, apologize or retract. They just play up one lie until it's discredited, or long after, and then go on to the next one. Conservatives pundits have been doing so for years. And their younger brethren in the blogosphere have learned the same rules.

Jay: Well, there you have it. Conservatives lie. Conservative pundits lie and conservative bloggers lie. Nothing like starting off a screed with a good ole dose of ad hominem! Don't actually try to refute anything said, just start off with what has become a left wing staple of late -- shout "LIAR!!!" and then try to explain it.

"Lie" is a harsh word. But to say it's justified in discussing the attacks on Gore, not just this one but the group of smears that conservatives have been using for years now, is a huge understatement.

One of the great things about debate in the blogosphere is that sometimes, if not often enough, people on both sides are willing to re-examine their views and especially are frequently willing to step back from bad arguments. I've pretty much given up any hope of seeing this among professionals, whose job it is to spin like mad and distort reality to push their cause, and who seem to lack any sense of either personal or professional obligation to the truth. But the fact that I do see it in bloggers gives me the more reason to get upset when bloggers caught in a false claim keep trying to push it.

While both sides can be guilty of this, it really does seem much more common on the right. For instance Jay, just before his post criticizing me, made a post complaining about a phony Bush picture that was being circulated "on many left wing blogs". This photo was exposed as a fake only a few days ago, not long after it started circulating. One of the first to label it was an emphatic leftist. Charles Kuffner also mentioned that it was phony. In fact, I've looked around, only a few days after this was exposed, and I can't find one liberal blog anywhere mentioning or showing the photo uncritically. I didn't find it on any liberal site either, but I looked mostly at blogs.

Compare this to the treatment of Gore. Charles Kuffner's post explicitly links to numerous conservative attacks on Clinton and Gore rehashing long-discredited smears. As I mentioned in my post, the Gore "Internet" lie, now 3 1/2 years old and exposed immediately after it started circulating, is being used by anti-Gore pundits to this day. It was also rehashed by a blogger in a post that Jay links to in this very piece. You could write a very sizable list of Clinton-Gore smears, either proven false by evidence or supported by no evidence, which have circulated for years and still do.

Well, the substance was ignored largely because it completely lacked any substance. Really. Gore's speech was nothing more than a rehash of what liberals having been saying now for months. It's all about what we shouldn't be doing, but doesn't say a word about what we should be doing. No ideas. No alternatives. Just a bunch of crowing about President Bush and what a bad boy he has been. However, if Alex wants a damning rebuttal to all of that 'substance' he can go and read what Virginia Postrel had to say about it.

Postrel did address the speech seriously and even made some good points. Stephen Green also took a shot - on the rocks, presumably. Both made incorrect criticisms, but that's another post, and I'll try to get to it later.

I also disagreed with Kelly's assertion that the Taliban has been destroyed. Jay replied:

Alex Frantz must be leaving on a different planet than you or I. The Taliban hasn't been destroyed? What did I miss? If it is false to say the Taliban has not been destroyed perhaps Frantz could point to a single source that would support his claim. Al Gore doesn't either. They don't because it's made up crap.

You want sources that the Taliban still exists? How about this, this, this, this, this, and this?
Frantz then goes on to support Al Gore's ridiculous statement that "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized" by pointing to a list put put by the FBI last October 10. Problem is, Frantz then goes on and contradicts his own conclusion by saying, "While it is true that most of those on this list were probably not directly involved in 9/11, this is the government's own list of the most critical and dangerous Al Qaeda activists..." Hello McFly!! If that is indeed true, than what Gore said isn't!

The essential problem with Jay's critique is that nobody knows how many people other than the terrorists who directly carried out the attacks had some involvement in 9/11. There might have been a handful of people, or hundreds. And a lot depends on who you count as involved - would you count all al Qaeda people who contacted or trained the terrorists, even those who didn't know what their mission was?

So we don't have any credible list of who was involved, or any real idea of how long such a list might be. And besides, it's irrelevant - we're at war with all of Al Qaeda, not just those personnel directly involved in 9/11. So I used the government's own list of the most wanted Al Qaeda terrorists, although I don't know how many had direct involvement, and probably the CIA doesn't either.

Incidentally, Jay's last sentence quoted above asserts that the fact that most of those on the list were not directly involved proves that most of those who were have been caught, a basic error in logic.

Jay also points out, correctly, that Gore (and I) misquoted Andrew Card. What Gore said, and I quoted, was "From an advertising point of view, you don't launch a new product line until after Labor Day." What Card really said was, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Mickey Kaus has, as Jay points out, convinced himself that this is a major difference. He doesn't convince me. His argument might be more persuasive if he didn't make the assumption, without any factual foundation, that Gore deliberately rewrote the quotation to make it worse. He could also have done without the absurd conclusion that the New Republic, having criticized the speech, should now apologize for having ever printed pro-Gore articles. (And incidentally, if he's planning to get excitable about minor dating carelessness, he shouldn't have posts dated "Wednesday, September 26, 2002 ".)

The remainder of Jay's post affirms that Jay still backs the claim that this speech contradicts one Gore made in 1991, without addressing the arguments made in the sources I cited, which blow away this claim to my satisfaction.

Note: The Instaman, in his first notice of this blog, suggests I won't approve of this shot at Gore. It's an interesting theory, but if Al Gore and Seymour Skinner were separated at birth, wouldn't the same also apply to their nemeses?

I have to admit, there are a lot of striking resemblances. Looking at some of Bart's blackboard exercises, Matt Groening might have guessed this all along:

  • They are laughing at me, not with me

  • I will not get very far with this attitude

  • I will not sell land in Florida

  • I will not hide behind the Fifth Amendment

  • I do not have diplomatic immunity

  • Nerve gas is not a toy

  • "The President did it" is not an excuse

  • Grammar is not a time of waste
  • I am not the acting President
  • I will not scare the Vice President
  • Genetics is not an excuse
Friday, September 27, 2002
Janet at Beyond Corporate has a War on Terror poster which is a satire - at least so far. She also has a link to this article which is intriguing, but mighty vague about what the software it's talking about actually does. This company page tells a bit more.
Sports Notes

The Oakland A's tonight clinched the AL West title with their 100th victory after being given a good run by the Anaheim Angels, who will be the AL wild card entry. The Giants continue to look very good for at least a wild card in the NL.

Meanwhile, I may have to back down on my earlier prediction that St Louis would have a good season in spite of their poor start. I know losing a player like Faulk (he'll be back on Sunday) has an impact on a team, but that's when other stars are supposed to step up and deliver. They aren't supposed to look like an Arena League player who's wandered into the big time, the way Kurt Warner did. Warner knew that with Faulk out he had to complete passes, but apparently nobody told him that when you complete a pass to a linebacker or DB, it doesn't count. Tampa Bay's defense only scored four picks, but I saw at least eight passes that could easily have been intercepted, and I missed some of the game. At one point at the beginning of the Fourth Quarter, three out of four passes were picks waiting to happen.

But then, the way his line was getting pushed around, it was impressive that Warner was able to stay on his feet long enough to throw interceptions. And this is supposed to be the best offense in the league? God, I'd hate to see what the worst looks like.

Randy Moss spent the night in jail after this incident where he struck a traffic cop while making an illegal turn and pushed her half a block. Witnesses at the scene reportedly were able to identify Moss because he stayed in first gear the whole time and gave up right away. Jay Leno tonight said, "How bad is that? He couldn't beat a meter maid in single coverage."

Thursday, September 26, 2002
Unpatriotic Gore

When Al Gore talks, conservatives listen. And then they lie. And they never, ever, apologize or retract. They just play up one lie until it's discredited, or long after, and then go on to the next one. Conservatives pundits have been doing so for years. And their younger brethren in the blogosphere have learned the same rules.

Gore's latest speech on Iraq has brought forth an entirely predictable string of attacks. As usual, the substance of the speech is being pretty largely ignored - if you consider substance, Gore generally looks good, because, unlike his critics in the media or the man who 'defeated' him in 2000, Gore actually is a man of substance. But there are plenty of other ways to attack a speech.

One good way to view the attacks on Gore is as projection. Pundits lined up to accuse Gore of being a liar and exaggerator in 2000. Unfortunately, the number of untruths they could find, although they searched his considerable record of public statements going all the way back to the Carter administration, was shockingly paltry, and what there was was generally ludicrously trivial. No problem - they just lied and exaggerated.

If Michael Kelly is projecting in his attack on Gore's speech, dishonesty is the least of his problems. He may possibly not be projecting, but what he surely isn't doing is providing a reasonable or honest response. Kelly has run through a whole theasaurus before he gets to a single specific criticism: Gore is "distasteful... beyond [the] decent politician...dishonest, cheap, low...hollow...bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas...breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension ... wretched...vile...contemptible. But I understate."

Damn, that sure does sound like Michael Kelly. And a lot like this Kelly column.

What Gore said, in essence, was that the war against al Queda has not been won and should be the nation's first priority. An attack on Iraq, especially if carried out unilaterally, will be at best a distraction from fighting terrorism, at worst, it may lead to reducing the international co-operation without which that war is unwinnable. And it shouldn't be undertaken until more careful thought than any we have evidence for has taken place concerning the real problem, which is not defeating the Iraqi military, but building a stable state after Saddam has been overthrown. These are at the worst reasonable criticisms, so unsurprisingly Kelly either ignores them or takes them out of context to distort them.
Here is Kelly's first actual complaint:

Gore uttered his first big lie in the second paragraph of the speech when he informed the audience that his main concern was with "those who attacked us on Sept. 11, and who have thus far gotten away with it." Who have thus far gotten away with it. The government of Gore's country has led a coalition of nations in war against al Qaeda, "those who attacked us on Sept. 11"; has destroyed al Qaeda's central organization and much of its physical assets; has destroyed the Taliban, which had made Afghanistan a state home for al Qaeda; has bombed the forces of al Qaeda from one end of Afghanistan to the other; has killed at least hundreds of terrorists and their allies; and has imprisoned hundreds more and is hunting down the rest around the world.

Most of this is true, some of it, such as the claim to have 'destroyed' the Taliban, is plainly false. While the Taliban and al Qaeda were damaged, probably significantly, by the Afghan campaign, neither one is gone by any means. Gore specifically pointed this out in his speech: "Unfortunately, when the Russians left [in 1989], we abandoned the Afghans and the lack of any coherent nation building program led directly to the conditions which fostered Al Qaeda terrorist bases and Osama Bin Laden's plotting against the World Trade Center. Incredibly, after defeating the Taliban rather easily, and despite pledges from President Bush that we would never again abandon Afghanistan we have done precisely that. And now the Taliban and Al Qaeda are quickly moving back to take up residence there again. "

Well, perhaps Gore was talking loosely. No. He made clear in the next sentence this was a considered indictment: "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized." If there is a more reprehensible piece of bloody-shirt-waving in American political history than this attempt by a man on the sidelines to position himself as the hero of 3,000 unavenged dead, I am not aware of it.

It seems that it was just yesterday that we were told that September 11 had changed everything, and that we must continue the war against al Qaeda for as long as it takes. Now, Bush has decided that he prefers to finish off Saddam, and asserting that we still need to continue the war against Osama is not merely reprehensible, but the single worst act of demagoguery in the history of the nation.

But is Gore wrong when he says that that "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized"? Well, of the 22 known terrorists on the list issued on Oct 10 last year, I could find no evidence on the FBI's own web site that a single one has been confirmed as killed or captured. (Mohammed Atef has been reported as killed, but is still listed as wanted by both the FBI and the State Department. There is also an uncertain report that another key figure from the list is in custody.) While it is true that most of those on this list were probably not directly involved in 9/11, this is the government's own list of the most critical and dangerous Al Qaeda activists, and from zero to two have been put out of commission after a year. This seems like less than an overwhelming success.

Kelly knows better, however:

The men who "implemented" the "coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans" are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.

So there's the proof that the War on Terrorism has been a complete success: the 9/11 terrorists died on 9/11, so obviously al Qaeda is beaten, due to the genius of George Bush! Apparently Kelly is borrowing his rhetorical style from the Vonnegut character who noted:
Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules -- and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.

This is the essence of Kelly's indictment, weak as it is to support the vituperation Kelly makes it with. But he does have a feeble sally or two left.

Although Gore knows that Bush has been publicly trying to move the nation toward war with Iraq since at least January, he pretended to believe the president was only now -- "in this high political season" -- pushing for war in order to gain electoral ground for his party and to divert attention from his administration's failure against al Qaeda by attacking "some other enemy whose location might be easier to identify." I see -- Bush is risking his presidency on a war with Iraq because it is the easy thing to do.

So Bush has been trying to move all year towards war with Iraq. His own aide said of the plan: "from an advertising point of view, you don't launch a new product line until after labor day." And yet when suddenly, in the middle of September, Bush for the first time asks Congress for what he has wanted all yerar, and asks for it befroe the elections, Gore suspects a political motive. How reprehensible.

Although Gore knows that Bush is also seeking, as Democrats also demanded, United Nations approval, he pretended this represented a failure of leadership as well because "thus far, we have not been successful in getting it." True enough -- because the Security Council hasn't voted. Thus far. Cute.

The Security Council hasn't voted partly because Bush has spent most of the year insisting that he didn't care about it. And because Bush has insisted so long that he isn't interested in a Security Coucnil resolution, the chances of getting one are probably decreased. God knows what Gore is upset about, that sure sounds like leadership to me.

The other entirely predictable attack is that Gore lied. The first public appearance of the attack in this case was from Brit Hume of Special Report, who claimed that Gore's latest speech misrepresented the stance he took in 1991. Hume's guests all had extensive records of aiding previous equally false Gore smears - Bill Sammon of the Moonie-owned Washington Times actually invented one of the less successful ones, falsely claiming that Gore had arranged a massive and environmentally harmful water release for a campaign photo op during the New Hampshire Primary. Unsurprisingly, they all went along with the story:

HUME: How do we explain that, as against what he said yesterday?

BILL SAMMON: It’s inexplicable. It’s puzzling why he would flip-flop on something so easily checkable.

MORTON KONDRACKE: He invented the Internet. He’s got a bad memory.

You have to look closely to appreciate the sheer gall and the breathtaking level of dishonesty on display here. Sammon expresses shock that Gore would distort "something so easily checkable". Kondracke then implicitly agrees, and cites the completely checkable, thoroughly discredited, "invented the internet" lie. And nobody blinks! This smear has been in wide circulation for two years, and Kondracke either knows it is a lie or is a total incompetent. But that's no problem: flat-out lies about Gore and total incompetence are both things that nobody in the media will call you on. And he's right; nobody does.

This latest smear has been shown to be a lie by Bob Somerby and by the excellent blogger Hesiod. Timothy Noah noted that the smear originated as a memo sent from the RNC.

The blogosphere was as enthusiastic about this story as the pundits. Henry Hanks repeated the lie So did Jay Caruso. Stephen Rittenberg used the out-of-context quotes to claim Gore was a 'post-modernist'. Glenn Reynolds linked approvingly to both Stephen and Henry, although also linking to a pro-Gore piece by Max Sawicky. And none of these bloggers has posted any sort of retraction.

By now this is a story of tiresome predictability. It isn't exactly a shocker that yet another story of Gore lying turns out to be all hot air. It's about as unexpected as a report on a group of cultists gathering to celebrate the end of the world being followed by a story noting that, notwithstanding the most careful exegesis of the Book of Revelations, the world is still turning.

But lies quite simply do work in politics, as long as the lie gets more circulation than the truth. They work in the media, when the media would rather spread them than expose them. And they seem to work in the blogosphere too.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Buffy Blog Burst

The following is part of a blogburst, a simultaneous, cross-linked posting of many blogs on a single theme. This blogburst concerns Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series, Angel. For a guide to other Buffy/Angel articles, go to The Buffy BlogBurst Index.

There is much interesting reading in the work of the bloggers already listed on the Buffy BlogBurst index. NZ Bear has a discussion with an unnamed but easily identifiable visitor from Sunnydale. Irongall has written a good piece whose highlight for me was a pun dropped in so casually I'm not even certain it was intentional. Mac Thomason is utterly hilarious. And there are others I haven't yet had an opportunity to read while busy writing this. I may be posting some remarks on these later.

Just about all of this discussion has focussed on Buffy and Sunnydale. That's appropriate, since Buffy is the first and usually the best of the shows, and the season premiere of Buffy is the occasion for today's blogburst. But I decided to go against the flow and write primarily about Angel, looking at where Angel stands after three seasons, and how some of the same themes, often religious, play out in Angel's LA and Buffy's Sunnydale.

Labels don't count for much in LA, where the good guys (Doyle, Lorne, and now Cordelia) are often demons and evil (Wolfram and Hart, Holtz) regularly comes in human form. Authority isn't reliable - Wes is led astray by ancient prophecies that are ultimately discovered to have been rewritten by a demon. Even virtue isn't always trustworthy - Gunn's group of vampire hunters is corrupted into a mindlessly violent gang, while one woman who has dedicated herself to helping the needy is unknowingly used as a tool by Wolfram & Hart. The Powers That Be are too distant, oracular, and mysterious to be depended on.

But the Buffyverse is never without a moral center, and there is one guide to the perplexed in LA, which was explicitly stated by Angel in Season 2, where Angel's night of sex with Darla led, not to losing his soul as Darla had expected, but to his understanding that:

if nothing we do matters... then all that matters is what we do. 'Cause that's all there is. What we do....If there isn't any bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

This is repeatedly described in the script as an 'epiphany', which means: "A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." The term goes back to a traditional Christian festival to commemorate the revelation of Christ as Messiah to the Magi, an instance of Whedon, who is said to be an atheist, using explicit religious themes to express the ethics underpinning the struggle of good and evil in the Buffyverse.

There was more religious imagery in the season finales. In Sunnydale, the world was saved by a carpenter preaching forgiveness and unconditional love. In LA, Angel was locked in a coffin and cast into the ocean, while Cordelia was ascending into heaven. (There were similarities in the previous season finales. Buffy gave her life to save the world, died, and was ultimately resurrected. In the closing episodes of Angel's second season, Cordelia and the group fought against evil priests who wanted to use her to fulfill their prophecies. But the cultural referent most visible in the adventure was, ironically, 'The Wizard of Oz'.)

As the new seasons open, Willow in Sunnydale and Wes in LA are both seeking redemption for their acts of the previous year. Willow, losing her sanity in her own grief and rage, nearly destroyed the world. Wes, not trusting Angel or his other allies, handed Angel and Darla's son over to Holtz. (Lilah directly compared him to Judas.) Angel's infant son Connor went with Holtz into a hell dimension, emerging a few LA days later (time isn't consistent across dimensions) as Steven, a superb adolescent fighter raised to accept Holtz as his father and vowing to kill Angel.

Forgiveness is a central idea here. Wes hasn't been entirely forgiven by his friends for taking Connor, and is bitter over their mistrusting him. Angel isn't even slightly interested in forgiving Wes, and, after brooding in his underwater coffin all summer, is reportedly going to be returning as partly or entirely the evil Angelus.

Holtz illustrates where the inability to forgive leads. His struggle against vampires was once a battle against evil. Angel killed and turned his child, leaving him (Holtz) consumed by no thought except vengeance. When Holtz is assembling a team of fighters in LA, he seeks out others who have lost loved ones to vampires and tests Justine's capacity to be his second in command by torturing her. His crusade is now about vigilantism, and the original purpose has been lost. It's the cost of fighting a war for bitterness instead of compassion. This is the path that Buffy has been able to avoid by her closeness to the Scoobies, as Angel has avoided it by his connection to the Angel Investigations crew. He came closest to it in Season Two, when after leaving Darla and Drusilla to make a buffet out of a large chunk of Wolfram & Hart, he fired his friends and was slipping into darkness until his epiphany.

Faith, who will be making return trips to both Sunnydale and LA this season, fell all the way because she lacked the support that Angel and Buffy had. Her watcher was killed, and she was never able to accept the Scoobies because of her jealousy of Buffy. She rejected Buffy's repeated overtures, and her inability to form other relationships was symbolized in her violent and promiscuous use of sex. Ultimately, she had to seek out Buffy's enemy to find acceptance.

WIllow is likely to have an easier return, precisely because her ties to both Xander and Buffy are so deep. Wes has a harder path, because his ties to the group are less strong, and perhaps also because he betrayed them secretly instead of openly and is now less trustworthy.

Where these conflicts will go in the new seasons I don't know, or even want to - it would spoil much of the pleasure of seeing them evolve. This is likely to be the last season for Buffy, since Sarah Gellar's contract will be up and she is in considerable demand for movies. Angel is in almost as much danger in the real world as in the fictional; it has a deadly time slot against the similar and deservedly popular 'Alias', as well as a completely dissimilar hit, 'Malcolm in the Middle', there's a weak lead-in from the so-so Buffy/Charlie's Angels clone, 'Charmed', and Joss Whedon is likely to be focusing more on his new show, 'Firefly', than the old ones. This could be the last year for one show or even both, but with the strength of the creative teams that make them, it is sure to be another satisfying one.

Monday, September 23, 2002
Sisyphus Shrugged has a good article up on Robert Erlich, the 'moderate' Republican running against Townsend for Governor in Maryland. It turns out that Erlich wasn't always such a moderate - you might even say he has been re-inventing himself, but of course only Democrats do that.
Lawrence Simon is now planning the personnel for his all blogger cabinet. Between my rather liberal perspective and my modest readership, I don't expect to qualify for any of the good jobs. So far, he hasn't even found anything for Josh Marshal, although his fellow Texan Charles Kuffner made the cut. But maybe, if the Ambassadorships to all those nice sunny islands are already spoken for, I can get a shot at Deputy Undersecretary of Silly Walks. There should still be a few jobs left over after all the right wing bloggers have been rewarded.
Gene Volokh has an interesting post on excesses in prescriptive grammar and his preference for descriptive (how people actually speak) over prescriptive (how some people believe you should speak) grammar. His example is 'ice cream' which, it turns out, was considered a linguistic outrage back when the term was first coined by those who insisted that the adjectival 'iced cream' was more appropriate.

'Ice cream' is actually less of an innovation than Volokh believes, because the phrase uses a popular and prolific English construction rule of joining two nouns together to form one noun. Professor Volokh presumably would approve of this construction since examples include gun metal and machine gun, along with log book, school bus, fat farm, summer camp, phone book, string bikini, taxicab, fleshpot, and blogburst. So the idea that nouns have to be matched with adjectives instead of other nouns is simply wrong.

Side note: it pretty much has to be two nouns, but there is one, to my knowledge only one, standard English expression in which two verbs are joined to form one noun, which can also be a verb. Universal acclaim and an exciting prize will not be awarded to the first person who figures out what it is.

Many prescriptive rules which still hold force in some circles are entirely useless. A classic example is the prohibition against splitting infinitives, which isn't a principle of Emglish grammar at all, but an import from the grammar of Greek and Latin, in which infinitives are indicated by a prefix or suffix instead of a distinct word and so can never be split. It was the absurd notion of some early grammarians that English grammar ought to resemble that of the classical languages, so a rule with no roots in the English language was invented, and unfortunately caught on. The idea that a sentence shouldn't end with a preposition has the same origin.

I encountered recently an interesting example in Rex Stout ('Might As Well Be Dead', 1946) of how rapidly usage can change.

"It's about my son. I want to find my son. About a month ago I put ads in the New York papers, and I contacted the New York police, and - What's the matter?"

The above paragraph contains something that Nero Wolfe, and presumably Rex Stout, considered a grammatical indecency. Not only will very few modern readers share Wolfe's indignity, I suspect that most will not even be able to guess what he objects to.

"Wolfe had made a face. I, at my desk, could have told Herold that unless his problem smelled like real money he might as well quit right there. One man who had made 'contact' a verb in that office had paid an extra thousand bucks for the privilege, though he hadn't known it."

I do often writhe when I see egregious examples of nouns like 'incentive' (the business world seems to be particularly guilty here) used as verbs. Maybe someday 'incentive' as a verb will be as utterly unnoticable as 'contact' or 'market' is today. Will that mean the language has grown richer and more flexible, or sloppier and uglier?

The world may be collapsing, but for at least one group of people, Bay Area sports fans, times have rarely been better. Sunday morning the Giants won their third straight, keeping a decent lead on the Dodgers, with even a remote shot at catching the suddenly slumping Diamondbacks. In the afternoon, I watched the A's complete their sweep of Texas, gaining a solid 3 game lead in the AL West and crushing the hopes of certain pro-Angels bloggers. With the 3rd lowest payroll in the major leagues, in their first season after losing a league MVP to free agency, the A's are in a position to end the regular season with the most wins of any team. It's a feat that has even caught the eye of the New Yorker, which has an interesting explanation of how it was possible.

Meanwhile, the 49ers won again, bringing the 49ers/Raiders combined record to a solid 4 -1. With both the As and Giants legitimate World Series contenders, it looks as if the 49ers and Raiders will both be Super Bowl challengers. (I think the 49ers are probably the better team of the two. For the last few seasons they've had the youngest defense in the league - actually younger in 2001 than the starting defense of BYU - which I think has been just a few players and some added experience short of being outstanding. And this season they may very well get there.) And during the commercials in the afternoon games, I was able to switch over to ABC and watch Stanford alumnus Tiger Woods win the Amex Championship with an amazing 25 under par.

Sunday, September 22, 2002
First Thoughts on 'Firefly'

[Warning: minor spoilers]

'Firefly' is the latest show from Joss Whedon, the creator of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', which any regular reader of this space knows by now I am a major fan of. It has some similarities to the legendary and brilliant British SF show, 'Blake`s 7', but the likeness is not overwhelming. Set several centuries in the future, it tells the story of a fairly ragtag crew aboard the space ship Serenity, eking out a precarious living by performing ad hoc and mostly illegal contracts while trying to stay ahead of the Alliance, an authoritarian government trying to bring all human worlds under their control.

It isn't really fair to judge a new show after only one episode. The premiere had to spend a lot of time establishing back story; it invested even more time setting up plot lines for future use, most notably involving a character who the crew see as insane but will clearly be shown in future shows to have powerful psi abilities, or something similar. In spite of those handicaps, it told a solid and interesting story with some good twists, while using the story to show us the characters.

After writing that and thinking about how much 'Firefly' tried to do, and actually did, in the first episode, I'm more impressed than when I started this review. Still, I have to rate the episode overall as good, not terrific. When I saw the premiere of 'Buffy' it grabbed me from the first show, in fact, almost from the first scene. In what I think was the second scene, Buffy meets a guidance couselor on the first day at her new school. The counselor pretentiously announces that at Sunnydale High, troubled students are given a new beginning and an opportunity to put their past problems behind them. To make his point, he begins tearing up Buffy's discipline record from the school she was previously kicked out of. But then he happens to read a bit of the report, reads a little more, and then grabs some scotch tape and begins piecing it back together. It was a terrific scene and I've been hooked from that moment. Nothing in 'Firefly' worked quite that well.

The main story line has the crew being hired to steal a mystery shipment on a relatively backwards planet. There are unexpected obstacles to overcome in the actual theft, but the biggest obstacle is when Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) finds out what he has actually stolen, and has to choose between his conscience and the risk of not only losing a large payoff but also deeply offending his distinctly nasty employer.

The cast is entirely unknown and near unknown performers, but looks solid. Probably the best so far is Morena Baccarin as Inara the 'companion', basically a high class courtesan, who's reasons for being aboard Serenity in the first place are less than clear. However, some of the other regulars had minimal roles in the premiere and may emerge as standouts later.

In sum, 'Firefly' showed me more than enough to make me want to come back for future episodes.

If Diane thinks that somebody out there doesn't like her, she's right. On the same day that Mac Thomason (permalink not working) got a hit on the string `"letter from gotham" bigot*`, I got one on `diane letter gotham insane`. Anybody else seeing anti-Diane strings in their referral logs?