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, February 28, 2003
The Two Towers

Initial blogosphere reation to the design chosen to replace the WTC seems to be largely negative. Personally, I rather like it. De gustibus non disputandem.

As a side note, ambitious projects are almost always denounced at first. Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial, probably the most successful piece of public architecture of my lifetime, was bitterly attacked when the proposal was first selected. The original WTC towers themselves were widely controversial.

Closer to my home turf, the Transamerica Pyramid was denounced for years, especially by columnist Herb Caen, who was at that time the most influential person in the city, but is now considered a local treasure. Caen ultimately admitted he was wrong, although he never backtracked on his much more justified mockery of the Vaillancourt Fountain. Before my time, one bold proposal was so controversial that several thousand lawsuits were filed to block construction. It was ultimately built anyway (and under budget) and this particular landmark is now widely considered a success.

Thursday, February 27, 2003
Bizarre search string of the day.
Monday, February 24, 2003
The Chicago Tribune (link from Calpundit) recently noted that George Bush was offended by Greenspan's recent testimony against further deficit increases:

When he publicly undercut President Bush's proposals to stimulate the economy, Alan Greenspan opened the door to widespread speculation that his career as chairman of the Federal Reserve may be drawing to a close.

The Fed chief angered the White House and many Republicans on Capitol Hill when he testified recently that Bush's proposed tax cuts were premature and that they should be offset by tax increases or spending reductions to keep the deficit under control.

This seems a little peculiar. Isn't Greenspan's advice that tax cuts be accompanied by spending cuts exactly what Bush and his geek chorus are claiming to support? This article (also cited in Michael Kinsley's recent evisceration of Bush's budgetary fantasies) quotes his own adviser:
"R. Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, acknowledged that reducing the size of government was a goal of the deficit plan. "

We're being told over and over that this deficit isn't a real deficit, it's a cunning plan to reduce the size of government. So why does Bush get so offended when somebody acts as if he takes his own PR seriously?

Sunday, February 23, 2003
How It's Done

Readers of Counterspin found out a few days ago about yet another Bush family dubious deal: Florida recently awarded a $7.5 milllion contract without competitive bidding to a company called Infinity Software, whose owner Thomas Lynch, is a substantial contributor to Jeb Bush and the Florida Republican Party. As a bonus, Infinity Software has provided a job to Jeb's junkie daughter Noelle, and kept the job offer open while she went through drug rehab. Now no doubt Noelle is highly qualified for her new duties - perhaps she'll be working in security, ingesting any suspicious white powders found around the office, a field in which she is a proven expert. But seeing as this isn't the first time that Florida has bent its rules to award a multi-million dollar contract to businesses owned by Republican contributors who have Bush family connections, it does look a tad suspicious.

Except it doesn't to most people because, unless you're part of the tiny minority who read liberal blogs, you don't know a thing about it. Not a word so far in the Times, the Post, or any other major national media I've been able to locate, and that isn't going to change much. Just today, the post ran a long, boring article about Jeb Bush that didn't include a single word about his friends' tendencies to accumulate government contracts, questions of whether his daughter was treated comparably with other Florida drug offenders, Jeb's ties to Enron that cost Florida pension funds over $300 mn, or the S & L loan that Jeb Bush and his partner defaulted on - although they were allowed to keep the building they used the loan to buy. All this, and more, have disappeared from the major media - if they were ever covered at all.
Josh Marshall has recently been covering another story extensively, how the Republicans paid to flood calls into a New Hampshire Democratic campaign center on election day, effectively shutting down much of its operation for a few hours, but the last time I checked, the story had rated only a few sentences in the Times and Post.

Remember Karl Rove's Intel stock? He took part in a decision which benefitted the company while owning the stock. It was in the papers for a week or so, then disappeared.

Compare this to a Clinton era 'scandal' such as 'Travelgate'. This was possibly the most absurd alleged scandal in US history: what happened, in essence, was that a government employee was fired after being caught illegally borrowing money (subsequently repaid) from government funds under his control. This trivial incident was expanded into years of investigations, headlines, and reports, during which the embezzler became transposed into a martyr (by a special act of Congress, his legal representation was paid for by taxpayers) and firing an employee for documented financial misconduct was treated as corrupt at best, if not criminal.

All through the Clinton years, one fake scandal after another was widely and uncritically reported. Major news organizations went so far as to doctor tapes of Webster Hubbell to make him appear to confirm allegations against Hillary Clinton he was in fact denying. Special Prosecutors were appointed, and when, like original Whitewater prosecutor Robert Fiske, they chose to be guided by the law instead of partisanship, they were dismissed. House and Senate committees conducted further investigations by the dozen. Talk radio plugged every new pseudo-scandal, while continuing to hype old ones, even after they had been discredited. The average person could hardly be expected to keep up with the endless string of charges, and to the degree that they saw an overall pattern, it was that the Clinton administration was constantly facing ethical charges. The same media organizations that had carried and pushed the scandal stories could be counted on never to mention the real pattern: scores of allegations were made and investigated at great length - Starr's famed $70 mn was only a fraction of the total budget spent investigating the Clinton administration - and not a single instance of any misuse of public authority was ever confirmed. The only people who were shown to have actually engaged in financial crimes - Hubbell and the McDougalls - weren't stealing for the Clintons. In fact, they stole from them.

By comparison, the current administration is never investigated. They control the FBI and both houses of Congress, and the Attorney General is a politician rather than a career prosecutor. The GAO has always been non-partisan, but Republicans forced it to drop an investigation of the Cheney energy policy That played as a one day story in the press, although it meant the de facto disarming of the most prestigious and expert organization investigating Executive Branch conduct and the elimination of a major check against Executive excesses. The decision early in the administration to interpret the law on public access to presidential papers so as to effectively annul it removed a less important check.

External checks on the administration are as weak as internal. Media outlets, owned by large corporations that are pressing their own interests in Washington, know they will be punished in Congress and Executive agencies if they rock the boat. Congressional Republicans recently directly linked an investigation of the mutual fund industry to a demand that the industry hire Republicans. Already with as much unchecked power as any modern administration, Bush and Ashcroft are seeking to use the terrorism threat to obtain even more sweeping powers. Since Lord Acton was indeed right, an administration that already has extensive cronyism and nepotism may soon become the most corrupt in history.

In politics perception is everything; reality, if not widely known, is almost totally irrelevant. By massively publicizing imaginary Clinton corruption while ignoring the real thing among the Bushes, a false idea of the relative integrity of the two administrations has been successfully created.

Saturday, February 22, 2003
The Homeland Security Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Looting

Many citizens have asked if there is anything they can do to help their communities in the event of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. Their names and addresses are on file and, in any emergency, they can be quickly located and questioned concerning their liberal altruistic tendencies.

Others, more in touch with true American values as embodied by our President, have asked, "How can I profit from the coming apocalypse?" This guide is presented for them by the Department of Homeland Security, in cooperation with this blog. Readers should be aware that looting may be illegal in some states, but that is no reason to be discouraged. After all, you will only be doing on a small scale what the President and most of his associates have been doing for years.

The Department of Homeland Security is not responsible for crimes committed using this guide. Any such crimes are entirely the responsibility of the reader and, of course, the Clinton administration

Location: Location is the first key for any successful looter. Too close to the explosion, and you will just be another charred victim. Too far away, and there will be no breakdown of law and order to provide looting opportunities. The proper location depends on the size, radioactivity, and center of the explosion, but unfortunately cannot usually be determined in advance.

Shelter: If you are close enough to a nuclear explosion for society to collapse, a good fallout shelter can greatly increase your chance of surviving long enough to successfully loot your friends, neighbors, and local business district.

Disguise: The successful looter should see without being seen. A mask can make you unrecognizable to witnesses and security cameras.

Avoid Distractions: As you go on your looting expeditions, you will see extensive death and destruction around you. Do not be distracted, but focus on your objective of finding and obtaining unguarded valuables.

Take Opportunities: Although you want to avoid excessive distractions, dead or unconscious people on the streets around you can be a source of substantial profit. Remember that after the apocalypse, items such as jewelry or quality watches are likely to retain more value than cash or credit cards, but cash should retain most of its value if the disaster is strictly local. If there are still some police operating in your area, it is helpful to obtain an ambulance and/or appropriate clothing and describe your quick check of each victim as 'triage'.

Entry: When you have chosen a home or business to loot, enter carefully. Look and listen, and move on if there are signs that other looters have already picked it clean.

Avoid Fire: Burning buildings are to be avoided. The dangers are too high, and fire has probably already consumed most valuables.

Move Quickly: Don't be greedy. Looting should be done promptly and efficiently, with no wasted time. The more time you spend looting a location, the greater the chance of something going wrong.

Proper Exits: While it is often necessary to enter a premise you intend to loot through a broken window, leaving by the same route exposes you to broken glass that can usually be avoided, and will be particularly dangerous if you have been stealing bulky items. Most doors are locked from the inside, so after you have finished looting, it is fast, safe, and easy to exit through normal routes.

Hazards: If you smell tear gas or hear gunshots, either from police or your fellow looters, it is best to crawl for a while. Not only will this leave you less exposed to dangers, but you may notice valuable items that other looters have dropped in their haste.

Camouflage: There will probably be numerous victims lying about in the property that you are looting. In an emergency, often the best thing to do is to temporarily become one of them, by playing dead until the crisis has passed. If possible, you should hide your profits in a well concealed location, then get as far away from it as you can before you start playing dead.

Other Hazards: From time to time, you may encounter officious busybodies who attempt to interfere with your activities by notifying the authorities.

In an area where buildings have been heavily damaged by fire, explosion, or even earthquakes, it is often possible to arrange 'accidents' that will get such pests out of your way.

Mutants: After a nuclear attack, you may encounter giant mutant looters, some of whom will probably have unknown super powers. These looters are much stronger than you, so you should stay out of their way whenever possible.

Giant aerosol cans are often a warning sign that giant mutant looters are in the vicinity. It is usually advisable to leave promptly before you encounter the mutants themselves.

Hygiene: Before and after looting expeditions, you should wash your hands thoroughly, especially in the event of chemical or biological attack. Dialing 911 is an excellent way to determine if emergency services in your area have collapsed sufficiently to produce an optimal looting environment.

Success: While proper looting can be demanding and dangerous, the valuable goods obtained make it all worthwhile. After you have stored your new belongings in a safe place and gotten some rest, you'll be eager to try another expedition. Good luck, and happy looting!

Thanks to Shrednow, which recently named this site as Blog of the Day. They make some good selections, and I enjoyed looking at several selected blogs, from the less political sector of the blogosphere, that I otherwise would probably never have seen. Here's a blogger I had never heard of who writes beautifully, as demonstrated by the story of High School delinquency that starts here, or this excellent Valentine's Day takeoff from Wallace Stevens
The war hasn't even started yet and it appears that the Bush crew is already drawing back from plans to democratize Iraq, as well as preparing for the traditional betrayal of the Kurds. Link from Tacitus. Meanwhile, the progress of Afghanistan continues to be slow, with little attention from Washington or the media.
It seems that somebody decided to hold a contest to see who could come up with the dumbest proposal for a security policy. And now, we have a winner. Really, for the US to use nukes pre-emptively on anybody we think might be an enemy makes perfect sense. It's not as if we have any other options, other than using the strongest military that has ever existed. And the rest of the world probably won't notice or care.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Last night's misfortune goes firmly on the short list of really bad Buffy episodes, still (and we pray permanently) headed by the dreadful "Beer" episode of Season 4. Buffy's increasingly belligerent pep talks to the Potentials are crossing into strange - of course Buffy has to carry the weight for all of them: only she has super powers, and that's what a Slayer does. Dumping another romantic disaster on Willow one episode after her last romance began is too pat an application of the constant rule that all Scoobies must have disastrous personal lives, and the final scene looked too much like an outtake from some low-budget knockoff of LOTR. Unlike some fans, I think this season has been strong so far, so I'm hoping this was just a temporary aberration.
Bad Company

I'm perfectly happy that Tom Friedman, who is usually quite good, has a column (link from Balkinization) today which echoes some points in my post just below on how Bush's bungling of diplomacy has destroyed support for a war which ought to be widely popular, It's okay that Instapundit has put up several posts which join me in mocking Chirac's absurd bullying of pro-US Eastern Europeans. Even if Glenn is more of right-winger than he admits to, he's a bright guy who gets a lot of stuff right, and anyway, I first found out about the story from his blog.

But now I find out (again from Glen) that the Arab News agrees with me and is also comparing Chirac to Bush! Do I have to retract the post, or maybe just take a shower?

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
The massive anti-war protests around the world last weekend were wrong, in my opinion, but they do provide one more demonstration of the striking incompetence of the Bush crew. After all, the prospective war is about enforcing Security Council resolutions and getting rid of Saddam Hussein, two objectives that really shouldn't upset large numbers of people. Bush's inability to sell such a war to the population of pretty much any country except the US - and he's barely sold it to us - is striking at first glance. But how credible can this administration possibly be on preserving UN authority when they've nearly said that the UN can remain relevant only so long as it marches in lockstep with US policy? Bush has no credibility in preserving international order, given his willingness to ignore treaties and international bodies he disapproves of. And foreigners are justly skeptical of the claim that democracy will be restored in Iraq by an administration which shows little enthusiasm for it in its own country. The war debate has gotten locked into a strange symmetry where, just as Hussein is the best argument for war, Bush is the best argument against it.

Meanwhile, Chirac is reminding us that there's no monopoly on stupidity and arrogance. When I read this in Instapundit, my first response was to check the source to be sure it wasn't actually from The Onion (it's real):

BRUSSELS, Belgium - French President Jacques Chirac launched a withering attack Monday on eastern European nations who signed letters backing the U.S. position on Iraq, warning it could jeopardize their chances of joining the European Union (news - web sites).

"It is not really responsible behavior," he told a news conference. "It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

So daring to disagree with the French position "is not well brought-up behavior", while actually having opinions that Chirac disagrees with is "a good opportunity to keep quiet". France and Germany also insisted on keepin the countries that will be joining the EU next year from being represented, even informally, at the emergency meeting to discuss the Iraq crisis that began yesterday, a step those countries will surely remember when they become full voting members. He threatened as well to exclude countries that backed the US position from joining the EU - which may, of course, be a blessing in disguise.

Overall, a display of vanity, bluster, and stupid threats to make Rumsfeld or Dubya himself proud. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there is definitely an opening for a renewal of close US-French relations at the head of state level.


There is a sort of perverse genius to Michael Jackson's obsessive publicity campaigns. ABC last night dedicated its entire prime time schedule to Jackson; NBC gave him 2 hours, and more is coming up later this week.

All this attention, remember, is for a guy whose last real succcess was Thriller (1982). Boy George, Duran Duran, The Go Gos, Billy Ray Cyrus, Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Beals, McCauley Culkin, and Chevy Chase, to name just a few, all have more recent hits than Jackson. But Jackson, in a weird symbiosis with the tabloid media - which is now pretty much coterminous with the media - still contrives to keep his freak show at center stage long after his celebrity has drowned out his considerable musical talent.

Political Insight

W. H. Auden had this all figured out a long time ago:

When Statesmen gravely say, ”We must be realistic”,
The chances are they‘re weak, and therefore pacifistic
But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps
Their generals are already poring over maps.

Monday, February 17, 2003
Thomas Nephew recently wrote a long, and for me rather persuasive, post supporting war against Iraq. Some points that are significant to me:

Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously by the Security Council, explicitly states what seems to be clearly supported by evidence, that Iraq has never fully complied with the original cease-fire resolutions from Gulf War I, as well as subsequent resolutions:

Deploring the fact that Iraq has not provided an accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure, as required by resolution 687 (1991), of all aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles with a range greater than one hundred and fifty kilometres, and of all holdings of such weapons, their components and production facilities and locations, as well as all other nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to nuclear-weapons-usable material,

Deploring further that Iraq repeatedly obstructed immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to sites designated by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), failed to cooperate fully and unconditionally with UNSCOM and IAEA weapons inspectors, as required by resolution 687 (1991), and ultimately ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM and the IAEA in 1998,

Deploring the absence, since December 1998, in Iraq of international monitoring, inspection, and verification, as required by relevant resolutions, of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, in spite of the Council's repeated demands that Iraq provide immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), established in resolution 1284 (1999) as the successor organization to UNSCOM...

Deploring also that the Government of Iraq has failed to comply with its commitments pursuant to resolution 687 (1991) with regard to terrorism, pursuant to resolution 688 (1991) to end repression of its civilian population and to provide access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in Iraq, and pursuant to resolutions 686 (1991), 687 (1991), and 1284 (1999) to return or cooperate in accounting for Kuwaiti and third country nationals wrongfully detained by Iraq, or to return Kuwaiti property wrongfully seized by Iraq,

Recalling that in its resolution 687 (1991) the Council declared that a ceasefire would be based on acceptance by Iraq of the provisions of that resolution, including the obligations on Iraq contained therein,

Determined to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions and recalling that the resolutions of the Council constitute the governing standard of Iraqi compliance.

1441 provides what the resolution itself describes as "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council", and plainly demands not merely the resumed access of inspectors to Iraq, but "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all, including underground, areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means of transport which they wish to inspect, as well as immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted, and private access to all officials and other persons whom UNMOVIC or the IAEA wish to interview." Finally, it:

Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.

Nobody seems to disagree that Iraq, while allowing inspectors to return, has been obstructing inspections to the best of its ability. And the Security Council itself has ruled, unanimously, that Iraq, 12 years later, has yet to comply with the original cease-fire terms of 1991. If this isn't a legitimate cause for war, just how much loger do we need to wait before Iraqi non-compliance is sufficient to justify a resort to armed enforcement of existing Security Council resolutions? If the Security Council in these circumstances can't enforce its own resolutions, how much credibility or relevance does it retain?

Nephew also points out:

what I call the "patient accumulation of failures" of U.N. sanctions on Iraq. Recall that until very lately, these peaceful but painful sanctions themselves were under attack by well-meaning but wrong-headed activists in the West: they were killing Iraqi babies, starving Iraqi children, ruining a country. In what I called a kind of moral jiu-jitsu, responsibility for these tribulations was shifted from Hussein to the Security Council and the United States.

Until recently, we were hearing that these sanctions caused unacceptable humanitarian costs, even that they had resulted in a million Iraqi deaths. If you take those claims seriously (and there is no reason at all to take seriously the claim of 1 million deaths, but undoubtedly some real cost to Iraqi civilians has occurred), you have to judge the cost of war against the cost of continued sanctions - unless you're prepared to advocate a policy of leaving Saddam free to develop his WMD programs unimpeded, a position that I don't think can be seriously defended.

In talking about the Iraqi deaths that will take place if war is launched, some anti-war writers have suggested that supporters of war don't care about Iraqi lives. However it seems probable that, purely in terms of the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, the suffering of what will probably be a relatively brief war is preferable to indefinite continuance of the combined punishments of further sanctions and the ongoing brutality of the current government.

We hear a lot about various competing numbers for the civilian casualties caused by US bombing in Afghanistan. But even assuming that the high end estimates - maybe 4,000 to 6,000 - are accurate, before the war we were hearing warnings that 500,000 or more people would die from famine in the coming winter. Since the war, over 9 million Afghan children have been vaccinated for polio and measles. Clearly, even by the high-end, probably inaccurate counts of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the net result has saved a huge number of lives.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
A Clever Trick

Meryl pointed me to this clever 'mind-reading' game. Meryl couldn't figure out, though, how it worked - she thought there was some complicated deal with watching how much time it takes to click and guessing from that what your calculation was. Actually, the trick is much simpler than that. Don't read past this if you don't want to see the 'spoiler'.

The app asks you to add the digits of a two-digit number together, then subtract the sum from the original number. For instance, with 31,

31 3+1 = 4 31 - 4 = 27

However, note that if you add one the number, you also increase the number being subtracted by one, so you'll get the same result:

31 3+1 = 4 31 - 4 = 27
32 3+2 = 5 32 - 5 = 27
33 3+3 = 6 33 - 6 = 27

In fact, 27 is the answer for the range of 30 - 39. That's the key to the 'mind-reading': however many numbers there are, the number of possible solutions is much smaller. To be more precise, the possible solutions are the numbers divisible by 9 from 9 to 81, also including 0 if you use 01, 02, 03, etc as two digit numbers. 0 - 9 is 0, 10 - 19 is 9, 20 - 29 is 18, etc. And if you look at the grid again, you'll find that all the possible solutions use the same symbol. (The symbols are re-assigned, and the correct answer changes, each time you enter the animation to make it less obvious. But those numbers are always linked to one symbol.)

Atrios, like myself, was mystified by Glenn's recent strange posting about the latest Bin Laden tape.

HOW CONVENIENT. Personally, I think this is evidence that Osama is dead, and that the CIA is supplying these tapes for purposes of its own. (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

But now that he's admitting a "partnership" with Iraq, it's going to be tough for people who've been saying "you can't even catch Osama" to deny this evidence. Heh.

Fortunately, Mark Kleiman has it all figured out.

Sleep Well, America!

After a tough beginning, Tom Ridge and his staff are now clearly on top of the Homeland Security sitution, as shown recently by CNN:

Duct tape sales rise amid terror fears

Americans have apparently heeded the U.S. government's advice to prepare for terror attacks, emptying hardware store shelves of duct tape.

On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison described a list of useful items, stores in the greater Washington, D.C. area reported a surge in sales of plastic sheeting, duct tape, and other emergency items.

This blog has now obtained exclusive photos of the crack team of newly-installed experts who are finally taking the vital actions needed to protect our country through duct tape:

Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Jeff Cooper's new site is now officially up. Adjust blogrolls accordingly.
Monday, February 10, 2003
Confessing My Dark Secrets

I am willing to own up to it: I plan to watch tonight's Joe Millionaire finale, as I have watched most of the series.

Joe Millionaire, as almost everybody knows by now, is the series in which a group of women compete for a handsome man whom they are told is a multi-millionaire, but is actually a construction worker. The series tagline asks whether money or love will win out, so it has already prepared to label its 'winner', should she reject a man who has systematically lied to her from the day they met, as a golddigger. Joe Millionaire promises its participants wealth and romance, while actually offering them poverty and humiliation, making it the first reality show inspired by the Bush economic policies.

In wonderful symmetry, everybody involved in the sleazefest seems to have someting to hide - again, like the Bush administration. Phony millionaire Evan is reported to owe some of his impressive muscles to steroids. Finalist Sarah has been notoriously outed as a star in bondage fetish videos. Near-finalist Melissa was my favorite, but has some serious problems speaking fluent English, and her 'customer service' career turns out to be in bartending. Even the Butler is said to have ripped off former clients. Only Zora seems to be scandal-free, at least so far.

The other, and better, reality/wanna-be celeb series that I've been watching lately is Star Search, which just ended its current run, but will be back soon with new contestants. The show really had a lot of good performers, but easily the highlight was child singing champion Tiffany Evans. She's a wonderful performer, who visually gives almost the feeling of a ventriloquism act. You just aren't prepared to hear that giant, Aretha-sized voice coming out of a tiny girl who probably weighs about 55 lbs. If you missed it, you can get some idea of what I mean here.

I am Shocked, Shocked

Brad DeLong feels baffled by the obviously destructive elements of the Bush budget:

I truly don't understand why anyone would do this. I understand why, once the administration has decided to do this, someone like Mickey Kaus would choose to run interference for them--for him policies are not real, but just a game, epater le liberaloisie and all that--plus running interference for Mitch Daniels and company gets him points he can spend on getting future interesting news leaks from Republican hacks.

But everybody who goes into politics for real--who runs for the Congress, or takes a senior job in the Executive Branch--is a patriot. There are other careers one can enter with a much hihger probability of success that promise more in the way of fame, wealth, and the absence of boredom. Only a deep love-of-country can make someone become an Assistant Secretary of HHS or a Director of OIRA or a Representative from the area around Knoxville.

Nobody enters politics seeking to make their country poorer, weaker, and more miserable. Only patriots enter American politics. And trying to mold America's mid-twenty-first century politics into a pattern like that of present-day Argentina is not a patriotic thing to do.

There is some explanation for why people who start out as patriots would get into this position. When you start out with high ideals and get professionally involved in politics and partisan combat, it's easy to forget that the point is to make the country better, not just to win. So it becomes increasingly easy to advocate things that are politically convenient even if you know that they aren't in the best long-term interests of the country, telling yourself that you need to make compromises to win and the good you're doing makes up for it. And a politics built around two year election cycles by its very nature tends to encourage short term thinking.

But for Bush, Cheney, and many of those around them, the answer is harsher. They aren't really interested in the welfare of the country at all, only their own and that of their friends. It is true that politics isn't the most rewarding of careers, that "There are other careers one can enter with a much hihger[sic] probability of success that promise more in the way of fame, wealth, and the absence of boredom." But for these people, politics is just the public loss leader for their real career of influence peddling. Bush made more off the Texas Rangers deal than he will make in the Presidency, even if he serves a full 8 years, and all his brothers have made similar scores in deals where they put up neither money nor special skills of their own. Cheney made a fortune off Halliburton, and is probably richer than Bush. Running for party and public offices, and using them to place a network of your friends into office, is a necessary preliminary step to the real payoff. The financial prospects for a career mixing public 'service' and cashing in in the private sector are far better than Brad allows for.

I may be blinded by my own considerable hostility, but I don't believe that most of the people at the core of this administration are patriots. Remember how they took office: given a choice between deeply compromising fundamental national institutions to block a full count in Florida and accepting the possibility - not the certainty or even likelihood, but just a possibility - of losing power, they chose to trash their country's basic institutions. That is not the act of a patriot. There is no reason to be shocked that they have shown the same degree of patriotism and integrity in exercising power as they showed in obtaining it.

Sunday, February 09, 2003
Since it seems to be the blogging rage at the moment, I might as well weigh in on the critical question of 24. I agree with Jesse that the Kim Bauer subplot, even if Kevin in a mocking sort of way, enjoys it, is the weakest part of the show. Kim was a legitimate part of the plot in the first season, since one of the numerous elements of the ludicrously complex terrorist plot was to kidnap her. (We never did get an explanation in the first season of how the villains, who appeared to have a workforce slightly larger than the population of Van Nuys, managed to assemble it without drawing any attention to themselves.) In the current season, the writers have found no way to draw her into the plot except by throwing a series of catastrophes at her. She is currently wandering around the hills someplace near LA. Her almost-latest problem is to have encountered a hungry mountain lion, after which she promptly and typically did the stupidest possible thing, trying to run away from it. She then hit her latest problem, being caught in some sort of snare with the lion still on her trail, which is where she's been left until this week's episode.

Matt Yglesias has provided an argument of why Kim should be on the show that I can only describe as compelling. But it is less persuasive than it might be because the producers of 24, who seem to have forgotten what network they're on, have taken remarkably little advantage of Elisha Cuthbert's impressive gifts. It's even more strange than Enterprise, where the producers hired Jolene Blalock, then buried her under makeup until she was unrecognizable, even though Blalock's special qualifications are not inferior to Ms Cuthbert's:

But Enterprise has managed to arrange for several scenes that showed Blalock's character T'Pol in some sort of high tech shower/sauna, all of them no doubt <cough> essential </cough> to the story. On 24, pretty much nothing. Maybe they need to import a writer or two from Alias, the current and possibly all-time leader in the find-a-plot-excuse-to-get-your-bombshell-actress-in-a-new-skanky-outfit-every-episode derby.

John Cole thinks that the best plot twist so far this season has been the Warner sister turning out to be a terrorist. It certainly succeeded in surprising me, and probably most other viewers, but it accomplished that mainly by cheating: we'd had no previous reason to believe that she was at odds with her family or anyone else, then she turns without warning from a valley girl arranging her marriage into a ruthless terrorist spending her wedding day blowing up the city she and her family live in. Maybe we'll get some reasonable explanation later on of why she joined the terrorists; more likely it will get swallowed up in future plot twists without ever being explained.

Friday, February 07, 2003
In his debate with Tapped over alleged corruption in BATF, Dave Kopel puts significant emphasis on the support for his position of something called the National Association of Treasury Agents. Kopel wrote:

As to whether BATF has reformed itself enough post-FOPA so much that it should get back the powers that were formerly abused, and receive new powers, my 1996 book No More Wacos: What's What with Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It, discusses a variety of post-1986 cases, including the Waco fiasco, and suggests that more reforms, rather than repeal of existing reforms, would be a good idea. The book had enough credibility with at the National Association of Treasury Agents (an independent, voluntary organization of some Treasury law enforcement employees) that the Spring 1997 issue of their magazine, The Agent, published some short excerpts. As the letters section from the summer 1997 issue explicates, NATA agrees with my argument in No More Wacos that the Waco tragedy was one example of the continuing, pervasive, and severe problems with BATF's management culture — rather then being primarily the fault of rank and file agents.

What is this association? It turns out it doesn't exist any more, at least not by that name, although it did in 1997. But it seems never to have been, as Kopel; wants you to think, a broad-based professional organization. The web site, last updated in 2000, shows that it was headquartered in Detroit and held its 2000 Annual Meeting, apparently the most recent one, at the Ramada Inn in Tupelo, Mississippi. ("Easy access to Elvis Presley museum, birthplace, and memorial chapel.") Doesn't really sound like a major national group. The general contents of the site is light on useful professional information about federal agencies and heavy on right wing politics. This doctored photo of the Elian Gonzales raid is a pretty fair sample of the contents.

No membership numbers are mentioned, and there is no indication that the group represents anything other than a small number of wing nuts pissed off at Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. Certainly the group seems to have no substantial grass roots support from the agents it purportedly represents. It's less than startling, and less than evidentiary, that this group was ready to embrace an attack on the ATF and affiliated agencies from a National Review writer.

When I called the number given on the site, I got a recording stating that the National Association of Treasury Agents is now the National Association of Federal Agents. If NATA has a fairly modest web presence, a small site and some mentions on other pages, the subsequent group seems to be literally invisible. I couldn't find a site through Google, the old group's site doesn't link to a new site, and I found no mention anywhere of the group being referenced or mentioned by any news article or other organizations. Looking for groups usind the NAFA acronym, I found among others North American Falconers Association, National Air Filtration Association, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, National Association of Forensics and Argumentation, Nordic Association for Andrology, Nordjysk Astronomisk Forening for Amatører, National Aboriginal Forestry Association, North American Fiddlers Association, but nothing about or from the National Association of Federal Agents. At the least it seems to be less of a going concern than the Nepal Australia Friendship Association.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Tapped is not entirely correct in the belief that even the most Orthodox schools of Judaism are comfortable with evolutionary theory. They quoted a long e-mail sent by an observant Jew who wrote:

Unlike Christianity, Judaism has never really been at odds with science (ie Galileo, Scopes Trial). Even its most orthodox elements (I would know, I go to an orthodox school that brings in Torah/Science speakers) agree with the evidence presented by evolution and big bang theories. In fact, they believe there is evidence in the bible that clearly supports them. And this isn't just in regard to abstract theological argument. I have a friend who's dad is an Astrophysicist and he says there are a solid amount of Orthodox astrophysicists who just believe the more science reveals, the more of God's wonder is shown to man. I mean, even the greatest Jewish scholars of the 13th century were physicians on the side.

What this misses is that it discusses only what is now often called Modern Orthodox, a school which evolved, so to speak, from traditional Rabbinic Judaism, which has a strong rationalist element. Traditional Orthodoxy was founded in ancient legal debates and its greatest teacher, Moses ben Maimonides, was, as the writer points out, a distinguished physician. But the other major school of traditional Judaism,the more mystical Chasidists, don't have equally strong rationalist commitments, and often take a strictly literal fundamentalist approach, as in this letter written by the Lubavitch Rebbe, probably the most famous modern Chasidic teacher, who asserts that scientific extrapolation has at best a probability of reaching the truth and therefore can never be accepted over Torah, which is seen as absolute truth.

You have to be pretty quick in the blogging business. This press conference, where jurors who convicted a marijuana grower but weren't told during the trial that he was growing only for a club that was licensed by the state's medical marijuana law, took place about 6 hours ago, and I heard about it on the local news 1 hour ago. Still, Talk Left already has the story, and Instapundit has already linked to Talk Left. Probably several other bloggers I haven't checked lately have it too.

If the government continues to go for guilty verdicts essentially by tricking jurors into giving verdicts that they wouldn't approve if they were fully informed, it seems likely that the long term effect, hopefully before too many innocent people are rotting in prison, will be to shut down the drug war altogether. If juries start to realize that exculpatory information is being withheld from them, they may just start refusing to convict, and the Feds won't be able to get any pot grower, medical or otherwise. Not that I'd spend a lot of tears crying over that result. It's what the DEA and DOJ deserve for what is at best an attempted end run around the Sixth Amendment.