Monday, December 30, 2002

The Dismal Science: That's what they call economics. But, when you get to forecasting, it's downright overjoyed. Witness this Livingston Survey from December, 1999. Look at the anticipation in overall economic growth, interest rates direction, and the future of the S&P. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Staggeringly so. Okay, if I could predict the market every quarter, I'd not be typing this blog. However, when you pull together 30 or so "experts" and this is the consensus. Oofah.
Hmmm, what could it be? A wonderful essay on how the Reaganites have taken over but the Thatcherites have fallen by the wayside is presented by the Economist. How, the author asks, did the Tories slip so fast, while the U.S. Republicans, despite 8 years of successful (politically-speaking) rule by Clinton are now flourishing? Part of the answer has to be that the U.S. economy, despite the hiccup of the past two years, is still exciting, while the Brits have a more moribund scenario. This, coupled with the new face of conservatism ("compassionate") helps sell the concept of smaller government and more privatization because the fear that the people will be "abandoned" is lessened. Anyway, great article.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

More Safe Guns: Now, I may be picking a nit here, but what does it mean to be against "gun rights"? Total opposition to the second amendment? A kind of uneasiness with widespread gun ownership? A Hollywood-left, fine-for-me-but-not-for-thee stance? Or a belief in that old cliche that the "keep and bear" clause really means just the militia? I want clarification!
A Week Off: More actually. I spent the time in Cleveland, doing Christmas with my in-laws. Say what you will about Cleveland, I was delighted by at least one cultural advantage: ashtrays everywhere. Everywhere! (Okay, not in the elevators, and certainly not in our non-smoking hotel room, but you get the point.) The first night in our hotel, my wife asked where I had gone for a cigarette. "The lobby," I said. She was stunned. If this secret gets out, all the people who smoke will leave New York for Cleveland, and since everyone save a few busybodies smokes in New York, Cleveland will be a hopping town. "No more shivering in doorways, folks. Yes sirree, we smoke indoors in Ohio!"

Monday, December 23, 2002

"Safe" guns: Surprise, surprise. New Jersey is first state to enact law mandating use of "smart technology" for guns. Now, I'm pretty much against "gun rights" but I recognize that the overwhelming majority of gun-owners are law-abiding people who have guns for recreation, hunting (another issue entirely) and self-protection. And my take on smart technology is that we are protecting children (accidentally killing friend or self), law enforcement (bad guy can't steal gun from holster), and then, more murkily, the population as a whole so that stole guns are rendered useless. However, I see the last issue as less viable as, over time, the crooks are able to get around the technology and then we're only slightly better off than we are now. However, the chances of accidental shootings and police having their weapons turned against them would seem to be dramatically reduced. I therefore don't see the downside, apart from maybe the cost. The technology is years away anyway, and I'm sure they will have a grandfather provision on existing weapons, so no one will be forced to give up the guns they have. All-in-all, if this tech can be perfected, I see this as only positive.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Why didn't they try this with Osama? If this technique is so effective, you'd think they could have gotten the Washington D.C. snipers a bit sooner. Just advertise "free Bushmaster ammo - apply within".
Mea Culpa: Uncareful reading caused me to proclaim myself the first to call Lott as a dead duck. Not so. My co-blogger was first. It would pain me if that link were to any website other than this one. Luckily...
Beatles, Alive and Dead: I'm catching up on Slate today, since I've not seen it in a week. David Samuels evaluates the offerings from each of the fabs, new or reissued, for the stocking-stuffing season. But here's the bigger point he gets at:
The mystery of why the Beatles were so great together and so spectacularly mediocre apart remains one of the deepest questions in rock 'n' roll.
That's a facile, conventional view of the post-Beatles Beatles, and I buy only part of it. First, Samuels doesn't mention that one of the lads, George, put out an undisputed non-group masterwork: All Things Must Pass. McCartney probably came closest after that with Band on the Run, the major downfall of which was that it was ostentatiously a canned masterpiece, whereas Harrison's double album sounded rambling, fun, and fresh. He's right that Lennon was the biggest disappointment, but honestly, if you strip all the Yoko stuff off Double Fantasy, what you're left with, while not a masterpiece, is a disarmingly forthright, solid record. Finally, Ringo is a great stomp, a funfest, and a reunion of sorts for all four Beatles; though they obviously weren't all in the studio at the same time, they all pitch in on this work.
The Wine Spec-Slate-or: Slate has an occasional wine column, but I've never seen Wine Spectator mentioned in their "in other magazines" roundup. This week it was. The feature story in WS (top 100 wines of the year) got another mention soon after when wine columnist Mike Steinberger hammered WS's choice of the E. Guigal Chateauneuf as wine of the year. An odd coincidence, or was Slate teeing one up for Steinberger? For those of us who like to drink wine (and not cavort in the adjective pool) WS made a good choice, and Guigal is a solid wine (I've had their dandy entry-level Cotes-du-Rhone). On the bang-for-the-buck meter, this probably is the wine of the year. Moreover, wine is a game of diminishing returns. As you move higher and higher on the price scale (assuming you pick wines worth their price), the increase in quality becomes comparatively small. I can remember trying the Opus One for the first time, and trying a great, pricey Brunello di Montalcino. Great wines, and I was delighted to drink them with the generous owners of the bottles. But worth the premium over a Columbia Crest? No.
Lott Steps Down: Hey, you! Yeah, you, our handful of readers. Remember where you heard it first.

Update: Here's the liberal "told you so." Atrios "told Mrs. Atrios [his mom?] he'd be gone be the weekend and she was starting to doubt my powers of prediction..." Funny that it slipped his mind to put it in writing, since he blogs everything else that addles his brain.

Update II: Okay, Josh Marshall said that Lott was "pretty much toast" earlier this week.

And the universe is only 2600 years old: Boy, this one is hard to beat. You don't expect this anymore out of a state Supreme Court Justice, even if it's Alabama. (Thanks to Volokh for link).
Frist thing's first: Let's just make sure the GOP's black bag types vet Frist for any "extra curricular" activities first. It doesn't matter how many marathons he's run if he's got that in his closet. Some things you can't outrun.
Yummy Links: I'm taking my son to Phoenix in January. I haven't decided which airline to fly yet. Oh, here's some help. (Link courtesy of Rachel, the nutty lib at the Big Breakfast on WRSI.)
Frist: The Post has a good survey of the Frist landscape. The article is subtle, but unmistakeable, in confirming that Frist is the White House choice. Here's an interesting bit:
Democrats acknowledge they are worried about Frist being the public face of the Republican party. Articulate and telegenic, he has the political equivalent of a good bedside manner, coming across as more moderate than many prominent Republicans, even though his voting record is fairly conservative.

It would be hard to attack a Princeton, Harvard and Stanford doctor surgeon who runs marathons and has done medical missionary work in the Sudan.

"He'd have a long honeymoon," sighed one Democratic aide. "It's hard to attack a heart-lung-transplant surgeon."

This could be the silver lining to an otherwise disastrous fortnight for the GOP.
The Next Hint: Bill Frist just jumped into the race for Majority Leader. You can be pretty certain he waited until Bush gave the go-ahead for this move. Everyone in the Senate will see this as a clear message from the White House that Lott will get no more support from the administration, and that Bush will quietly lobby for Frist. Nickles, who is nearly as powerful as Lott, and who has hinted before at a reach for the Majority Leader role, will step aside and endorse Frist. The walls close in on Lott.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Whole Lott[a] Waffling Going On: (This may be my best intro yet). Anyway, the only leverage Lott has is that he can resign (as you pointed out earlier) and take away numerical superiority (potentially). However, based on what we have seen of Lott, his ego won't allow it. So, he fights his war of attrition, his staffers start defecting (my brother served a semester with Vic Fazio a few years ago in Congress, and if there's one thing he learned, the staff is no better than their bosses in terms of opportunism), they move his office "temporarily" to a broom closet, and he ends up the vice-chair on the Senate Luncheon Committee. I'm not sure his ego will enjoy life as a back-bencher anymore than as an ex-Senator. I can see him at the end, totally wacked out, trying to trade hip-hop handshake-hugs with any black guy he can find (as they try to escape), calling each one "my nigga", then mangling the words to Nelly's latest hit at an impromptu press conference.
Uhh, Ms. Jennifer Lopez? This is the DEA.: Oh those criminally amusing Canadians. Kudos to one of the more imaginative drug smugglers.
Extra Bonus Reason Why Lott Should Go: Lincoln Chafee wasn't just talking because he likes the sound of his own voice. (Though that may be true as well.) This is the Rhode Island quasi-Republican's biggie hint with a side of fries that he has the GOP boxed in on this one: If Lott leaves the Senate in a huff, a Chafee party flip gives the Senate to the Dems (assuming Mississippi Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove appoints a Democrat to replace Lott). But, if Lott keeps the Majority Leader post, Chafee's got a great excuse to flip anyway, deadlocking the Senate. (Technically, Cheney becomes the tiebreaking vote in such a case, but look at what happened the last time the Senate was 50-50: Lott (ahem) let the GOP get rolled by Tom Daschle on a power sharing arrangement that made sure, for example, that nobody to the right of Pat Leahy got to sit on a federal bench.) Not convinced? Look at it this way: When was the last time you heard Chafee quoted in AP copy?
Why Lott Should Go: Two reasons. First, he's made himself irrelevant. Like Clinton and sexual follies, Lott and racism is a combination too precious for the opposition to pass up. (Notice that Clinton got very little done in his last term, and even less that wasn't explicitly endorsed by the GOP House. The GOP knows that it can't afford to waste control of Congress.) Rightly or wrongly, he's tarred by the brush that the GOP needs to avoid most. Second, I think that the GOP has secretly wanted him gone for some time. His previous tenure was less effective than the party had hoped, but he was still the natural choice for a fairly stagnant party. Now that the controversy has begun, if the party knew that 26 votes could be had to elect a new leader, Lott would be gone tomorrow. The only reason he still has some support is that no senator wants to be the tallest dandelion (Nickles excepted, since he's the heir apparent; it's worth the risk for him). If Lott fights off a challenge successfully, those who stood up in opposition will find themselves with less legislative clout than the Kennedys and Dascles of the Senate. Here's what's at the bottom of the teacup though. Senators will call one another, speak off the record, and realize that none of them has any real firm conviction about keeping Lott, other than a vague sense that the Democrats are succeeding at mau-mauing them. They'll get over it. Lott's toast.

Update: John Fund at WSJ backs me up on the Clinton comparison.

Material, schmaterial: Or maybe not. According to this Powell is going to declare the latest omission to be "another material breach," but he's not going to press for military action. Accordingly, we now have a third category: material, non-material and material-but-not-so-much-that-we'll-do-anything-about-it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Breach, Once More: Bush has no cards to lay on the table right now. Looks like you're correct: the real winner will be the "inspections regime" for now.
Saddamites: I can see how this is going to play out, following up on your post. We find omissions from Saddam's report on his weapons. This means we know of weapons from back in 1998 he didn't report in 2002. It is certainly also possible that we will find additional weapons that the report left out. To all this, the French will say: "See, the inspections and the international focus are working. There is no need to bomb Baghdad." Now, this has a a point. The problem is that one day, some day, Saddam will use weapons from his last hidden cache that the inspectors hadn't quite gotten to, and after his 15th chance to revise his report.
In this Corner: Jim Robbins at National Review makes this comment on Lott:
Another thing to consider with respect to Trent Lott is that if he goes down over something as inconsequential as an off-the-cuff remark, it will be a big win for the Dems.
He is answered, in effect, by Shelby Steele in today's WSJ (link requires registration). Steele argues that Republicans, in their push for an officially color-blind society, must be unblemished. That is how the conservative message wins over the mainstream:
The slow march of conservative principles back to mainstream respectability is still so fragile [as this event is proving] that conservatives themselves must be absolutely innocent of racism.
I think of the scene in DePalma's Untouchables when Ness tells the men charged with enforcing prohibition how they must abstain from alcohol, must be "pure." It's also similar to the advice many blacks recieved growing up in an era of discrimination: If you want to get a job (or get into a college, etc.), you can't simply be as good as the white person next to you. You have to be better. Republicans, if they ever want to win this fight, have to be 10 times cleaner on the issue of race because, like it or nor, they enter the public arena with the disadvantage of being seen as the "white" party. This perception is in general, I believe, undeserved. But Republican leaders and opinion makers who want to cry about that, rather than doing what is necessary to achieve real justice, should go on Oprah and get out of politics.
The Tripping Point: Query No. 1: If Bush wanted to today, and leaving aside the U.N. for the moment, would he have the necessary support in Congress to declare a war on Iraq? Query No. 2: Does he need to declare a "war", or can he simply use the powers granted to him after 9/11 or get a similar permission slip like his dad did in '91? Query No. 3: If he doesn't get a declaration, how long can he keep troops there? Subquery 3a: When does the operation in Iraq go from "war" to "peace-keeping"?

My take: He probably could muster enough support for some sort of declaration, but no one would want to call it a war. So, they'll let him use or modify his 9/11 terrorist powers somehow. It's going to be a massive peace-keeping effort, but I suppose that we should be in that phase once Saddam is dead or missing, at which point, to the extent there's any opposition left, it will surrender and get in line.
The International Game: And does anyone at Foggy Bottom really think that France and Russia are just waiting around for some solid evidence? Nobody's that stupid, not even Jacques Chirac. Our "allies" don't want this war to happen, because it threatens their economic interests. They like the status quo. Russia is desperate for client states, now that the former Warsaw Pact has all run off to join NATO. France needs someone to buy their crappy goods and tell them they're still a world power. Egypt and Saudi Arabia wouldn't mind seeing Hussein gone, but they'd hate for it to be the Yanks that do it, since it simply holds up the absolute feebleness of the Arab League in its own backyard. Stupidly, we agreed to play their game, to come up with the convincing evidence (never convincing enough, you can bet) that tips the scales to war. Now we've got to go to the UN with a straight face and pretend we've found a breach. They'll pretend to consider it, then they'll pretend to make a decision. Then they'll say "No. Go back to Square 1."
Material Breach: We've found some problems with the Iraqi declaration and are prepared to declare a violation, thus a casus belli, according to sources quoted here. I'm unconvinced. I've been hawkish on Iraq. I supported the president's "go it alone" stance. I was happy to rally behind a call to oust Saddam because, say, we don't like his face. But now that Bush has bought into the "process," he has to put something on the table here. If we're so convinced that we should go to war with Iraq, we should have done it months ago. Standing around wait for Russia and France to get on board (memo to State Dept: they won't) so that we can use this fig leaf of the 12,000 page declaration to go beg for UN approval is silly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Masters of the Obvious: Burton asks the question like it's new, because in the world of congressmen and upper-level bureaucrats, it is a novel concept. It's the giant elephant sitting on the couch that no one wants to mention. Most politicians are afraid to mention it because once they do, they can be smeared as "soft on crime" and "anti-family" (whatever that is). We all know that alcohol is at least as addictive as some of the "hard" drugs, but no one is prostituting himself out at night to score some Boone's Farm strawberry wine because it only costs $4.99. Now, the first question is which drugs do you de-criminalize, because the answer cannot be "all" I don't think - at least not at first. Clearly marijuana, ecstacy, things like this could probably go first. One could argue that even drugs like heroin can be managed, if legal, because you can get people into treatment (less stigma), and if they relapse, they don't need to knock down a drug store or prostitute themselves to score, because their fix would drop from say $40/day for their fixes, to maybe $8 or less. This argument has merit, but with these drugs that are super-addictive and quite destructive, you need to have a plan to phase them in.

Anyway, I'm not an expert on this. Bringing it back to the original point, however, is that we have a puritan-minded society that doesn't act like one. This hypocrisy keeps us from treating our most alarming problems, like drugs. Part of the issue is that alcohol, although briefly repealed, was such a part of the world's social construct (hell, they serve it in church) that outlawing it really was trying to shake something that wasn't shakable. Other drugs don't have this history, and thus, are not ingrained into a social framework (very few pot parties in 1878, I imagine). Non-alcohol drugs have always had this stigma about them which makes people just feel wrong or somehow naughty doing them, even if the effect is milder than their 4-martini lunch. It's an image thing. Maybe we need Madison Avenue to get on board.
Drug Warriors: Radley has a clip from Dan Burton on the drug war. Key passage:
Burton: "But I have one question that nobody ever asks, and that is this question: What would happen if there was no profit in drugs?"
This only serves to indicate how comatose our drug warriors are. First, this is a question that anyone with a shred of reason has asked countless times. Even National Review is pro-decriminalization, for god's sake. And Buckley's crew isn't exactly a bunch of bong-waving wake-n-bake types, you know. Our fearless Agitator optimistically hopes this is a Nixon-to-China moment in the drug war, and I hope he's right. But don't dump your bio-stocks for a bunch of Phillip Morris, thinking that huge profits from Marlboro Mellow are just around the corner. Yes, it's a start, but bear in mind that Burton thinks he just thought of something original. The kind of idiocy that requires in a policymaker is enough to squeegee any optimism out of me.
More on Smokes and Guns: And amen to that. Worrying about things like that should be taxed as a luxury good. Only in a rich, safe, healthy, clean country like America do we fret about these things. There are places where the the only worry about guns is about getting them, since the yokel in power outlawed them so he could do things like name calendar months after their himself. The closest you get to worrying about cigarettes is whether you'll get one when the junta sticks you against a wall and shoots you (with one of those rare guns) for something akin to ... blogging.
Ben Stein, Whiner? The downside of traditional conservatism (look out Trent Lott) is the tendency to put the past on a pedestal. This is why I can never be a Republican; the future excites me too much. On the other hand, as a practical matter, the government has a lot of influence in areas such as education. When the tots come out of the government re-education centers ... er, public school system ... thinking that Sacagawea was as important to our little republic as John Adams, something is warped. Methinks that was Ben's point. Ditto the legal system. When even the government is joining in fatuous lawsuits (e.g., against makers of smokes and guns) when they can't find support for legislation (i.e., from Americans, who tend to like smokes and guns), I think something is wrong that can't entirely be swept away as mooning over a lost, perfect, 1955 Leave-It-to-Beaver America.
Ever have this problem? I have real cognitive dissonance sometimes with artists whose politics I find distasteful. Example: Driving home last night, listening to REM's Document (don't believe the "I liked them when" crowd -- Document and Life's Rich Pageant are their high-water marks), I found myself singing along to songs like "Welcome to the Occupation" (blasts US political and business meddling in South America) and "Exhuming McCarthy" (unironic mau-mauing, as the title suggests). These are great songs, but I tire so much of the pop-song preachiness. And they're mild examples. Take, as another example, the unbelievably hateful gob of spittle called "Tramp the Dirt Down" that Elvis Costello flung at Maggie Thatcher (which makes the English Beat's "Stand Down, Margaret" seem like her campaign song). I hope I never get to the point of being unable to enjoy great works of music or art, simply out of disagreement with the artist or musician. But I still feel a little bit of guilt when I sing along with Billy Bragg's "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward."
Ben has officially become a crank: Part Two of his "article": When I was a young boy, things were different! We all grew up emulating Einstein, Oppenheimer and Roosevelt (the real one, not the communist). Why I remember after a 12-hour school day, we would rush home to perfect our craft. I specialized in rhetoric and would mesmerize my friends, holding them rapt for hours as I extolled the virtues of bran and the free-market economy, not the near socialism of the New Deal that nearly destroyed our country after one of the most successful economic expansions in years. My chum Robbie, would then take his turn, bewildering us with chemistry experiments that astounded the senses. Of course we all had to be home for dinner when Mom (herself an enterprising at-home industrialist) would have waiting for us a from-scratch welsh rarebit as Father gave his weekly lecture series (usually on geopolitical issues such as the unsustainability of the Ottoman Empire). Boy, we would hardly eat for fear of missing a word - and if we did, a quick lash from the belt brought us back. No televisions back then for us. Nothing but trash unlike today's offerings, especially on the education-oriented Comedy Central. Back then we didn't worry so much or carry on about all the problems you hear today like civil rights, workplace safety, and environmental issues. No, we just glossed over that superficial stuff, and went back to our books, where real change was effected!
Pandering, Inc.: Lott really has no shame. Now, it's possible he addresses the BET audience every Christmas, and if so, my apologies, but he really can't get much lower. The one part the press reports left out is as he was leaving the event, he professed how he plans to adopt a "little darkie" and "raise him like one of my own ... servants."
Win Ben Stein's Contempt: Glenn Reynolds found this amusing and accurate rant. Reynolds thinks Stein is too pessimistic, but perhaps he hasn't seen the line on the Peach Bowl shifting away from the Vols. I think Stein is right, and I think the pudding has a theme -- the glorification of everything transient, unearned, and often undeserved: luck (or astrology or mysticism or crystals) over science and education; celebrity over honor; hitting the lawsuit lottery over hard work and investment; demanding the fruit of another's labor over getting your own. I think it's a wholesale surrender of agency. And I think it has at least something to do with the way the government is determined to save us from our helpless selves, though whether that government is the cause or effect, I don't really know.

Monday, December 16, 2002

How much more of this am I expected to take? Here's Trent Lott on BET: "I'm sorry about [the comment]. I apologize for it. I've asked for forgiveness and I'm going to continue to do that ... But it is about actions more than words. As majority leader I can move an agenda that would hopefully be helpful to African Americans and minorities of all kinds and all Americans." How smarmy is that? A nice segue into why he should get to keep his job. What a punk. Here's the kicker, though:
Lott announced that he has changed his mind about making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday — having voted against it when it was on the Senate floor — and said he supports affirmative action.

"I'm for that," Lott said when asked by Gordon again. "I'm for affirmative action and I've practiced it."

(Trent, if you're going to become a Democrat over this, the GOP definitely doesn't want you in a leadership role.) As a final blow to his effectiveness (he ever had some?), Lott can no longer formulate a principled, conservative, color-blind policy on affirmative action, since only racists can be opposed to that. Get out, man. You're useless.
9/11 Commission and You, Puhfek Tugedtha [how I heard it]: Your "like him or not" parenthetical is certainly important in the analysis of the stature gap. Clearly, Kissinger, in terms of world events, prestige, etc. is/was heads-and-shoulders above Kean, who, despite being a two-term governor, isn't exactly on the national radar these days. He makes sense as he's local (to NYC), probably has kept up his Rolodex, and is not polarizing like Kissy. But here is the test: You're a mid-level bureaucrat at whatever the INS is being called these days, your pool secretary buzzes you: "I've got [Henry Kissinger] [Tom Kean] on the line." For whom do you interrupt your civil servant lunch?
9/11 Commission: Hank Kissinger's replacement is former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean. Growing up in Jersey, my only real memories of Kean are of his state boosterism slogan, "Noo Jehsey and Yoo: Pehfik Tugedduh." After putting Kissinger up there (like him or not), Bush brings in Kean with a certain stature gap. Like if Billy Crystal can't host the Oscars, the next name on your list to host is, I dunno, Carrot Top. No slight intended to Mr. Kean.
More Irony: Know of any etymological link between "caucus" and "caucasian"? Webster claims "caucus" to be of uncertain derivation.
Foot-Shooting II: Your post brings some threads together. Yes, the GOP does seem to get caught in situations that hint at sinister motives. You can bring up (as many people have) the Jesse Jackson "Hymietown" remark. But there is a difference. Jackson is not, and wasn't, an elected representative of the people. Which brings me to the next point: the racist blowhard one. I think it's important to be agnostic on this one. First, I don't know if the man is a racist. Grow up in Mississippi and you can end up with some serious racial blinders. (This, by the way, is just as true of Boston, though the blinders are different.) That said, he has clearly in the past, at the very least, pandered to a group of people with views like the ones now ascribed to him. In one sense, this is just politics -- you have to court the votes that are available, which is why every Democrat running for president in 04 will eventually kiss the netherbits of Al Sharpton during a trip to NYC. In another sense, the most important sense, this is political mountebankery. Whether it's Sharpton or the Council of Conservative Citizens or whatever they're called (huh, just noticed CCC ... KKK ... I suppose I'm the last one to figure this out, right?), the charlatanism of skirting the edges of their vile beliefs, just enough to catch the votes but keep the plausible deniability, is reprehensible. There's no place for Lott in the GOP leadership, and if Lott weathers the storm it will be a pyhrric victory for him and for the GOP.
I'm not sure it's irony, but it's funny: The best quote in support of Lott so far: "I think we should not lynch him," Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) said on CNN's "Late Edition." "I believe right now that Lott would have the confidence of the caucus." A white senator...from Alabama...says "we"... should not lynch...a white senator...from Mississippi...who espouses racist beliefs ... and professes love and admiration for a segregationist white senator from South Carolina. What would any of them know anything about lynchings anyway?
Foot-Shooting: Lott has gumption, I'll give him that. Such hubris, however, usually acts as a blinding agent, as it becomes more of a Nixon-paranoia ("they're just out to get me") versus a realistic look in the mirror (you're an out-moded, racist blowhard who just blew the chance to be majority leader). I've said this before, and I don't think you agreed with it whole-heartedly, but here goes: the GOP usually has the "dark side" aspect to its mis-deeds while the Dems are usually viewed as bumbling, stumbling, rumbling morons (the sexcapades are admittedly a bi-partisan issue). I'm not saying one is better than the other, but at a time when the GOP was really beginning to hone a good image (strong on war, security and taxes, while seeming open to issues like prescription plans and inclusiveness), this statement by Lott, and his resulting scorched earth response, is doing major damage to the Bessler Machine Bush had running of late.
Fitting Endgame: From the Corner comes this gem, gleaned from this morning's Washington Post: "Lott will not go down without a fight, though. His allies were examining Nickles's voting record to try to show that it smacks of intolerance on issues important to African Americans." So ol' Trent wants to go scorched earth on this? This reminds me of the search for a House Speaker right around impeachment time. The GOP was looking for someone who hadn't banged the help so that they could freely skewer Clinton on the subject. They ended up with Denny Hastert. If prizes were given for shooting yourself in the foot at every possible occasion, the GOP would be hall of fame material.
My brother was always the favored child: The NYT Magazine devoted its pages this past Sunday to the "Year of Ideas" where it highlights those innovative and interesting products, theories and inventions that hit our collective minds this year. Although there were many, many listed, this one resonated. The CW is that you should treat all your children the same, showing no favoritism to the extent it is possible. The new theory is that it's okay to show favorites, and the kids are pretty much understanding. Now, it doesn't say you can lock one in the basement while buying new cars for the other, but an overall lean towards one and away from the other is not only okay, it's natural. Now having two children, and honestly without a favorite (one only being a year old, that'd hardly be fair), I have worried about it, wondering which one would resent me ("Which ONE?" you say...). Now I'm guilt free.
By "Sunday shows" you mean ESPN, right?: Thank God Gore bowed out somewhat gracefully. Good timing too with the SNL bit (he was awful, but not un-watchable). I say Lott is gone. There's too much movement by his would-be replacements. Nickles is calling for his ouster and is salivating for the job even though he is term-limited. Plus, Lott gives too much ammo for the 2004 fight. Lieberman is a great choice in that he has a backbone and has some visibility. One wonders whether a short man can win the presidency (history bears me out on this). The Jewish thing, despite this being the 21st century, will also be an issue, I'm sure. Funny, isn't it, that JFK being a Catholic 40 years ago was a big deal too?
A Joke: There is a political cartoon from the 1960s showing a coiffed poodle (France) wearing a medal around its neck that reads "Common Market." A scrappy little bulldog (Great Britain) sits at the poodle's feet in a position of begging. The caption has the poodle saying, "It's not that common." Yeah, it's hard to tell a visual joke, but it's worth mentioning, since the EU is still sniffing at Turkey's desire to join. To Britain's credit, the bulldog hasn't forgotten the old days, and has pushed gently for a reconsideration of Turkey as an EU member. Meanwhile, de facto Turkish President Erdogan has asked the US for consideration in NAFTA. If the Europeans are going to continue to stiff arm the Turks, we should not leave them out in the cold. Turkey has the strongest and most diverse economy in the Muslim world, the most stable (and pro-western) government, and the best prospects for a 21st century that doesn't resemble the 13th. With this move, the originally provincial NAFTA could plant a foot firmly in Europe, with a toehold in western Asia. Turkey's neighbors in western Asia, the formerly cosmopolitan, educated, and middle-class nations of Iran and Iraq, may soon end their battles with insular tyranny, not to mention the disaster of central planning that tyranny always brings in its entourage. When that happens, sign them up for NAFTA, too. Our common market is that common. After all, we started it, and god knows the poodle would sniff at us, too, if we wanted to join.
Whirlwind: I took a news break this weekend. I don't watch the Sunday shows anyway, and I managed to avoid radio, TV, and newspapers. So here we are. Gore's out. Cardinal Law too. And Trent Lott is hanging by a thread. Give me a chance to catch up. My gut take: 1) The GOP will back down on Lott, because they are afraid of him spoiling the party by resigning from the Senate. 2) The church is still in deep doo-doo, especially since the Vatican refused to eat crow and forced a watering down of the zero-tolerence abuse policy. 3) Joe Lieberman can be the Dems odds-on favorite in 2004 in a New York minute if he can find a way back to all the centrist positions he abandoned in 2000. The trick will be to do it without looking like a schlemozel for leaving that center for uber-schlemiel Al Gore. My money says he can't pull it off.

Update: Kissinger is off the 9/11 panel (so we can feel safe that the panel will not bomb Cambodia), and Michael Bellesiles got his Bancroft Prize taken away when Columbia U discovered that it was fiction. (Perhaps a Booker Prize in the works?) Not that all of these were unexpected developments, but ye gods -- what the hell didn't happen this weekend?

Friday, December 13, 2002

It helps to be poor and non-white: Here's a fun little way to see if you'd get into one of the better state schools in the U.S. Some of the categories are a bit hard to gauge (recognition on your leadership attributes, for instance), but all-in-all, you can get a good idea of whether you have what it takes to be a Wolverine. For the record, I scored an 87 (I went low to middle of the road on my recognition scores - I really don't know how to gauge them). If I was a minority or "poor", I get in.
America and Anti-Americanism: I'm appreciative that Barbara Lerner parses the Turkish "anti-American" sentiment so clearly. I had been thinking about this since I read yesterday's WSJ editorial, which called Turkey "a cause for concern." The percentage of Turks (based on a Pew survey) who view America favorably has dropped sharply of late. Lerner, though, has more detailed information:
To understand Turkish attitudes towards us, it helps to ask a question the Pew researchers failed to ask: "Compared to what?" A survey of Turkish opinion released in March did just that. This one was conducted by the Bosporus University European Studies Center, using a sample three times the size of Pew's. Instead of focusing only on the Turks' attitudes toward the U.S., they explored their attitudes to other nations generally by asking: "Which country is Turkey's friend?" Here are the results: 34 percent said Turkey has no friends; 27 percent said the United States; 9 percent said other Muslim countries; 7 percent said the European Union.
It seems that the Turks are more realistic than anti-American. The EU certainly has gone out of its way to snub the Turks. And, as Lerner points out, our aid to Egypt (where America truly is hated) makes our support of Turkey look paltry. What is that money buying us in Egypt? Send it to Turkey as a gesture of thanks to a true ally.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

I keep waiting for the part where they ask for your credit card number: I've long ("long" in the sense that anything that starts with "http://" can be viewed as such) been a user and admirer of xrefer. It's a great source for quick and varied information on a word, phrase or concept. When I went to the site recently, I saw a link to an announcement. I thought to myself: "Ahh, the other shoe has dropped. It's going to be a subscription site only, or they'll only give you the Winne the Pooh reference." Fortunately, I was wrong, with the exception that they're dropping the Oxford University Press labels (no small thing, but still). So, a lukewarm "huzzah" and let's hope the site can sustain itself.
Living on the edge: This article speaks to what we were talking about a couple of days ago concerning blogs and the utility of the internet as a critical device. I can buy most of what he's saying.
Feeling old is state of whippersnapper: Radley is firmly ensconced in the just-to-the-left-of-mainstream-"alternative" radio category. I applaud his choices of The Doves, Coldplay and Wilco (although I confess, I'm not sure what all the hype was about). Ryan Adams has an unfortunate name, when coupled with his music, doesn't do much to distinguish himself from a crooner popular some 15 years ago. I don't know Kweller or Workman. As for the "I am Sam" soundtrack it is indeed a good pick. Beatles songs, when done well, always inspire. Given his choices, I'm surprised he didn't pick John Mayer. It's probably because he's being embraced a bit too snugly by the radios, but this guy's songs are pretty listenable. I'm waiting for this group's newest, which is being worked on as we speak. These guys sort of combine the quirkyness and inventiveness of Radiohead and the pathos and inflection of Coldplay (to use the inevitable comparisons). They're super top!
Of All People: Here's Paul O'Neill making half of the argument to the Financial Times:
"The corporations and businesses are just an intermediary between the citizens and the government. And the cost of that intermediate process is enormous because the corporate and business part of the tax code is unbelievably complicated and requires them to [...] employ hundreds of thousands of highly trained [...] people to thread their way through the tax code. And the cost of doing that also has to be recovered through the price of the goods that people pay."

"So you would eliminate the corporate income tax?" asks FT.

"Absolutely," says O'Neill.

(No doubt O'Neill would not be as fond of the flip side, the subsidy elimination.) I think a lot of people in the business world feel this way, and not all of them are pirates in neckties. As the numbers below indicate, this isn't just a bad bargain for taxpayers (we pay to create higher prices); it's a bad bargain for businesses, too.

Even better, here's Tom Nugent on the same subject:

Opponents of such a bold move argue that such a tax reduction is a gift to the corporation and unnecessary. On the contrary, eliminating corporate taxes provides a potential benefit to the consumer through lower prices, to the corporation through lower expenses and higher profits, and to shareholders — the economy — through higher stock prices. (Don’t forget the cost savings to the government as the people who monitor tax compliance are eliminated. Perhaps they could become sky marshals.)

Corporate Income Tax: Could we really abolish it? This chart shows that federal revenue from corporate income taxes has remained fairly steady over the years, staying typically under $150 billion. I haven’t run any numbers, but let’s say $150 billion is a ballpark average. Stephen Moore of Cato, testifying before John Kasich’s budget committee in 1999, estimated $75 billion in corporate subsidies in 1997, or roughly half of corporate income tax revenues. Already we’re in the realm of poor bargains. In 2001, Cato estimated that the figure was closer to $85 billion. So now we also know that, while corporate tax revenue is relatively stable, corporate welfare is growing. Further, this doesn’t take into account the market cost to consumers. Some of the corporate welfare programs cost us twice: once in taxes, again in higher prices. Moore estimates that restrictions on trade alone cost Americans another $80 billion dollars in consumer costs. I'm an amateur with a few minutes to spare. Imagine what a real wonk could prove. Let's kill the tax: we'll all pay less in taxes, and we'll kill the fiction that corporations pay taxes anyway, since that is just another "cost" passed on to consumers in higher prices.
More Fallout: Is Tom Daschle the most transparent human being ever to live? Having accepted Trent Lott's "apology" for his Strom Thurmond remarks (the Senate club, home to moronic statements from both sides of the aisle, protects its own), Daschle now wants a second chance at the dogpile. Classy move.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I Feel Old: I always do when I see something like Radley's best albums of 2002 list. Actually, I'd bet that Glenn Reynolds is older than I (since I didn't fool away any time in law school), yet he's still much hipper than I. Golly, what did I love this year? Well, the Wilco stuff was good, Kinks-y fun, but a bit of a yawn after several cuts. Ryan Adams (any of it) has a trying-too-hard-to-do-Nashville-Skyline feel that I despise. (Am I the only one who thinks that Bob Dylan never passed up a chance at an easy, dumb rhyme?) The straight-up country of the Chip Taylor/Carrie Rodriguez outing was more satisfying than any of the recent alt-country stuff. But mostly I went back. For example, XTC's Skylarking is one of the most underplayed albums of all time. (Fish up a cut off that on any station and I bet it's "Dear God.") The Police's Regatta de Blanc, which features three Stewart Copeland originals, also spent a lot of time in my car, along with Steve Earle's not-so-latest, Transcendental Blues. And, through my son (and via a gift from my brother- and sister-in-law), I rediscovered Abbey Road, the Beatles' masterpiece. (Yeah, spare me the Revolver lectures. Great album, but Road is flawlessly written, performed, and produced.)
Mark Steyn takes on the Kerry phenomenon, using the expensive haircut story as a metaphor for a blow-dried blowhard. Again, it's on the WSJ's subscriber site, so no link. Here's a clip:
I always enjoy the bit at the end of the haircut where the stylist holds up the hand mirror so you can see the back and sides. The trouble with Mr. Kerry's policies, as the mirror of the one hand reflects the mirror of the other hand reflects the mirror of the first hand, is that it's all back and sides and no front and center. Bill Clinton got away with this approach, but today it seems tonally at odds with the electorate: President Bush is certainly not undefeatable, but what is certain is that he won't be defeated by a politician whose gut instinct is to have no gut instincts. Mr. Kerry has never held an original position for longer than it took his party's interest groups to put the squeeze on him. The Democrats suffered last month because they were perceived on the central issues of war and national security as, at best, tentative and, worse, opportunist. The senator seems set to expand this losing formula from the war to every major policy area, until the entire Democratic platform has achieved the perfect snapped-seesaw symmetry of his eyebrows.
Does Steyn win Kaus's contest?
A letter in the WSJ yesterday (online for subscribers only) made me think of the campaign finance discussions we've had. "What is it about obvious that politicians do not understand" regarding CFR, the writer, one Mr. Haeberlen, asks, rightly observing that the attempt to stop money from getting into campaigns is like trying to stop water from flowing downhill. Like water, it finds its way around obstacles, through cracks and holes, right to where it goes naturally anyway. His solution? Supply-side theory. In his words:
The obvious answer [to the problem of money "buying" politicians] is the control of the power to deliver such services to willing buyers. One example is in Texas, which has a relatively weak governmental structure and a balanced budget requirement. That would be a start. I can hear the screams now from the politicians about limiting their freedoms. My heart bleeds. Any organization with an unlimited checking account and no accountability for unfunded mandates would get out of fiscal control in a hurry.
Talk about cutting the Gordian knot. Even if all the arguments in favor of reform are true, the problem lies not in the fact that money buys politicians, but in the fact that the politicians are selling themselves in the first place, and that they have the power to deliver. If Mr. Haeberlen sounds a bit like Phil Gramm, his signature line indicates he lives in ... Houston, Texas. Must be something in the water.
"You ought to be more than sorry; you ought to be gone" should be Bush's response. He's missing a great opportunity here to rebuke the excesses of his own party, even if in this case the excess may only be idiocy, not racism. He needs to put a bright line between himself and Lott, so that when the Dems bring this up in 2004 (any doubt this will be a major campaign theme?) Bush is clearly on the moral high ground.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

"I'm sorry for what happened": These words invoke a classic non-apology-apology. Note the similarities to Trent Lott: "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past," Lott said. "Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement." How about: "I apologize."? Does it matter if anyone was offended? Shouldn't it matter what was said was inane and possibly intentionally racist? Gore is certainly taking that position. Not that this surprises anyone, but he is perfectly aligned with Sharpton and Jackson, two other irrelevant blowhards. I can give Lott the benefit of the doubt that he said things badly, but his long record of southern pride" speaks otherwise.
Fuel Economy: Speaking of technological improvement. Volkswagen is working on a concept car for fuel efficiency. It looks like the batmobile redesigned for commuting. But it gets an amazing 239 miles per gallon.
Points, sharp and dull: I did post from an advocacy site so that I could included the heart-warming pictures of harp seals (remember when that was a cause-celebre?). The news was being posted on a variety of sites, including MSNBC. I agree (and included this in my original post) that record keeping and causal analysis are both vital to this issue. Nonetheless, even if we agree that greenhouse gases are on the decline, we don't do enough, your SUV point being most cogent (we only drive eco-friendly Japanese brands that get over 28 mpg). Bring back the station-wagon! This one is particularly sweet (okay, the mileage ain't great, but this is about as extreme as you get - having driven one, I can attest).
What Does It Mean? I guess, in the end, I'm asking whether there is enough evidence to hit the panic button, particularly since we do know that emissions and greenhouse gases continue to decline. There will no doubt be another uptick, when the third world industrializes. But their transition will be quicker than ours. (They won't have to go through years of gas guzzlers to get their Hondas, to use a clumsy metaphor.) Technology is beating the pollution problem, just as it beat disease, starvation, and exposure in so much of the first world. It is not without its drawbacks. But either you embrace progress and enjoy the ride, or you go back to hunting and gathering (and, incidentally, freezing, starving, and dying at 30 years of age). I don't see how we can put the progress genie back in the bottle, and I certainly don't see how it can be done cafeteria-style (yes to whompin' home theaters with subwoofers, but no to pollution).

Side note: Shouldn't anyone who has ever uttered a note of concern about global warming be pelted with heads of lettuce if they ever drive an SUV? I know several people who would be in line for that pelting, and I bet you do too.

The Other Point: You're right that I changed the subject, but the point is that we're beginning to reduce the side-effects of pollution produced by burning petroleum products. The good news is that we've probably seen the worst of it, and the trend toward cleaner air will continue. As for the Arctic melt, a couple of points. First, you linked an article from an advocacy group, an article that begins, "More ice melted from the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet this year than ever before recorded..." I don't really trust the advocacy group, particularly since the NYT points out that record keeping is part of the issue. In places where records are kept, the melting resembles what was measured in the 1950s. When the evidence is there for global warming, advocacy groups will no longer have to shade the truth in their press releases.

Second, climate can shift naturally, as you pointed out, and only a chowderhead or an activist would infer from available information that the causes are clear. The science on this is murky, at best. It's more like a bunch of observations shoehorned into a convenient box, with no room for data that conflict. (Ron Bailey and Bjorn Lomborg have covered this part pretty well.)

Whither Petroleum: You masterfully turned my concern over the environment into a discourse on the necessity of oil and the wonders of emerging technologies. Oh, and you threw in the fact that our air is much better than it's ever been. All true, all true. Karl Rove has nothing on you. My point was (or should have been) that if we are causing the ice to melt, we ought to figure out how to stop it. If we're causing it, the root of the problem is almost indisputably greenhouse gases. These are caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Now, I'm not one to suggest we throw away our cars and start riding bicycles; certainly that would be hypocritical. However, when our response is rather to reduce restrictions on cutting down trees while at the same time, encourage more drilling, we are doing nothing to address the problem, but rather accelerating the causes of the problem. Laughing at Kyoto while not proffering an alternative is so much spitting into the wind.
Wonderful, Counselor: Besides being what most of my clients call me, I love that portion of The Messiah. Anyway, I was thinking about it a few days ago and humming some parts of it to myself (having sung it in high school for a couple of years). Good on your wife for being so terribly thoughtful. "...almighty God, our everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace..."
Oil, Oil Everywhere: I disagree. I think drilling for oil is the answer -- at least the short-term answer. First, technology will supply cars that are cheaper and cleaner, and that oil will go farther and farther. Second, I'm not sure what options we have. Solar cars? Not in our lifetime. Hydrogen? Great, but mass producing hydrogen isn't necessarily more efficient than my Honda. I'm a big fan of the hybrid engine; a couple more years will bring enough innovation that it will be a more marketable concept. And that's the correct direction, too: to extract more and more from each quantum of pollution. Third, air quality has been greatly improved in America (despite what the anti-SUV crowd tells you) because technology has allowed us to do more work with fewer polluting byproducts. So why go bonkers about petrol pollution just as we're learning to use it cleanly and efficiently?

Will we someday bid farewell to the internal combustion engine? Perhaps. (Who knows, maybe the Amish will take to gasoline engines about then.) But when the day does finally arrive, the benefit to the environment will be negligible, because engines will use oil, as gasoline, so damn efficiently.

Comfort Ye: I didn't even notice when I climbed into my car this morning (half asleep) that a new compact disc had found its way into the door pocket. I found it getting out though, not quite hidden behind Steve Earle: Ormandy's famous performance of Messiah with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. A gift from my wife to replace the thoroughly scratched LP copy I've had for 10 years (and which was my father's for 25 before that). I'm not sure how much happier I could be today.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Easier to dig for oil, that's all: I don't know that this can be explained away so easily. Satellite images don't lie. Now, what is the cause of this ice melt, is it cyclical, and what impact does it have on us all? Certainly, I'd listen to anyone who can tell me that the ice melt is simply part of nature's workings, and that in another 50 years, everything will be frozen shut again. This may be hard to establish because our data only goes back so far, and because it doesn't seem to be true. I'll agree that the Kyoto Protocol isn't the cure-all that some say, but neither is Bush's choice to drill for more oil. There has to be a way to cut back on greenhouse emissions without crippling the economy. Again, I'm not sure what the effect of the ice melting is, but I can imagine that it signifies extensive change, and most of us don't want to change.
Kerry-mandering: One hopes that Kerry showed more decisiveness in Vietnam than he does now as a policy-maker. This recent piece from The New Republic shows the excellent contrast between Kerry the speaker and Kerry the actor. He constantly uses war analogies and refers back to his service continually while at the same time, he won't commit to action against Iraq (despite Russert asking him three different ways). Most importantly, he won't say why. The TNR article makes the point of showing that Kerry's main objection to any action in Iraq seems to be that Bush would be acting in a unilateral manner ... even if he's justified. Kerry requires "imminent" danger before he'd act without the U.N. This doesn't shape up to a principled stand against war. It's a principled stand against Bush getting credit for a successful one.
Save the Blogosphere!: I mostly agree with your take on blogging. The one difference between most media and their blog-critics is that the media can run their web sites with near impunity because they have their laboring oar in the print media, and most of their content is just taken from their daily drivel anyway. The blogger is usually a guy in his office or home drafting missives on things he finds whilst he surfs. Since no one gets paid to surf anymore (oh, bring back 1999!), one has to make a conscious choice to either surf instead of work, or surf instead of other free time activities. This is what makes blogging so interesting (it's not a corporate device), but also so perilous (no bling bling). Once you get funding, you start to chip away at what makes a blog so much fun. Anyway, Sullivan's pledge drive should certainly show what he is worth to everyone.
Blogging for Fun and Profit: I don't mean to make this a manifesto, but this is worth any blogger's (or reader's) thoughts. It's certainly important to have independent voices of commentary, but blogging for pay has some establishment-media characteristics about it. I don't mean to accuse Sullivan of hubris, and I do read him often, but he's not indispensible. Anyway, isn't that the point? If you can't afford to keep blogging, that's too bad. One less voice is a loss. If you want to make it a straight-up business model (and an ineffective model, viz Salon Premium), do so -- and let everyone make a cost-benefit decision of whether your site is worth the vig. At this point, strictly as an economic matter, I read the NYT, the Post, and various other old media for free. Why shouldn't their critics be free, too? (I do pay for the WSJ, but that is the one indispensible old media publication, the conservative voice that, right or wrong, sets the dialogue.) I often agree with Sullivan (and Radley, and Reynolds, and Kaus, etc.). And I don't suffer from low self-esteem, so I don't fear that, without them, I'm adrift in a sea of spin. I'm here writing with the rest (albeit with fewer hits) and I've beat some of the big boys to the unconventional wisdom once or twice. And being first into the breach on a particular piece of spin doesn't necessarily mean anything, except that maybe my Atlantic Monthly arrived before yours, or whatever. Point is, I should pay for Sullivan because he's better than the rest, and this has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction.
Pledge Drive: Andrew Sullivan interrupts this program... I'm not sure what to make of this. I love Sullivan's work, and I hope he can continue. I may even send him a donation, but I haven't decided yet.
More On (Moron) Lott: This is the face of a party that deserves the appallingly low minority vote it gets. The GOP is in a position to control the issues of the 21st century (vouchers, national security, pro-growth economic policy), while the Dems are still wedded to their paleo-interests. But they sacrifice their advantage when they let the southern white establishment run their party. In Lott's defense, he's probably too ignorant to understand this issue. I don't think he realizes that the future of the party belongs to the very people that find him offensive (blacks, latinos, gays, and non-Christian conservatives). Why push these people away?
Trent Lott: I'm astonished by his comments, but not really surprised. [Hmmm ... does that make any sense?] I've thought that Lott was out of the mainstream for years, and I had hoped that the GOP would deny him the Majority Leader role, since he bollixed it up last time. Maybe this will be the proximate cause. Yeah, it's fine for Republicans to fight for states' rights, and it is an issue that suffered at the hands of racists using it as a fig leaf. But in 1948 it wasn't even a fig leaf. Hell, it wasn't even a fig leaf in 1972 ("Segregation now..." etc.).

Friday, December 06, 2002

Friendly Skies: I'm with you on this one. Airline travel will be expensive again, and I'm not necessarily overjoyed by that. But that's the market, baby. There is much to be learned from the Southwest business model: If you want to offer low prices, you have to cut services (and cutting food service was perhaps the best idea to hit airlines since, well, airplanes). Likewise, the Concorde model: If you want to offer perqs, you have to charge for them.
Let them ride bikes: Thank God, our government has some sense left in its collective brain. With its refusal to guaranty $1.8B in loans to United Airlines, it may have killed the airline, but saved the industry. Until these fools can figure out how to competitively run air travel, let them fail. Will it inconvenience us? Short-term, but like taking a trip by air isn't a major inconvenience anyway. I'm not saying it's easy to wrangle 3-4 unions, deal with unpredictable weather, fuel costs, and maintenance (see Amtrak), but there has to be a way to do it. Clearly as long as the government backs these companies up, they will never have the incentive to be truly efficient (see Amtrak). People forget that not long ago, flying was seen as a privilege, and saved for special occasions. Yes, flying is ubiquitous and necessary nowadays, but there is no reason to treat it like some sacred cow. I don't see Greyhound calling for federally-guaranteed hand outs.
O'Neill & Lindsey (weren't they a 60's folk act?): Word had been for some time that O'Neill was Capitol Hill poison (ever-shifting positions, didn't play nice with lobbyists, didn't take advice from senators). He simply couldn't hack the public-soothing role his job required. Lindsey is/was equally brusque, and is viewed as the fall guy for whatever it is that is perceived to have gone wrong. Plus, Bush couldn't come up with a good nickname.
What are you a Commie?: It's my God-given right to use massive amounts of horsepower and machinery to accomplish the task that any simple, eco-friendly device could do just as well. Or perhaps you haven't noticed the slight surge in SUV purchases over the past few years. Go back to reading Trotsky.
New Blood: What to make of the resignations of Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey? The Corner is implying Bush-style ju-jitsu, perhaps an attempt to make the economy a GOP issue. I'm not inclined to disagree, though the timing is odd. As I've said before, I don't think the economy is in shambles. In fact, with the economy picking up steam lately, why send the message that your administration is nervous? The markets are responding well to the news, but only because the CW is that any change is change for the better. But, as National Review points out, this has been the feeling among the conservative mainstream for a while now.
Brink Lindsey, along with a fairly large slice of the blogging world, has combined sober, hawkish foreign policy with lower-case libertarianism quite nicely. It's about time, too. I'm not of the belief that a more isolationist foreign policy would do us any favors. I'm all for free trade, but look at what Saddam has managed to do to thwart the UN. Can you imagine having (and trusting) a trade pact with him? He'd cheat like hell.
You use an 8 horsepower snow thrower living in the Philly burbs? Isn't that like having a riding mover for one of those 1/32 acre lawns in Florida? You'd better have a driveway that's a mile long or I'm throwing the wuss flag. Here, try this out.
Let it snow: We got about 7-8 inches of snow yesterday, and all I could think about during my long, slow ride home on the train, and then my slower, more precarious ride home from the trainstation in my little Acura, was that I could finally use my snowblower. Let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying than eating away at cubic yard, after cubic yard of snow to make your driveway clean and dry. This was a gift from my dad who had bought his before he and my mom moved to a place where all the outdoor care is done by the condo association. Anyway, with the exception of finding a buried newspaper (which took about 10 minutes to clear from the machine), it was bliss baby, bliss.
To invade, or not to invade: Blogger Brink Lindsey writes yesterday about whether the Libertarian non-interventionist philosophy is really such a good idea. His basic argument, shown through some hypotheticals, boils down to that if your end is more freedom, then the means of invading, kicking out the warlords, and replacing them with a market economy, are justified. It may be a bit too simple as he lays it out, but I, for one, am convinced that neighboring countries (and even those farther away) have a duty (if not a moral imperative) to promote freedom and negate oppression in those countries around them. This argument can easily fall apart unless you are able to deal in moral absolutes (i.e. any dictator can act under the false pretense that he is invading Kuwait to "liberate" its people), and this is not to say that there won't always be cynics who second-guess the real reasons for crossing your neighbor's borders. I also realize that the cold realities of realpolitik allow for invasion only upon the perception of a threat or when strategic oil reserves get whacked. Nonetheless, I admire idealism and those who further its aim.
Affirmative Inaction: But what if Kinsley's point made in the excerpted language is not to prove whether affirmative action should or should not exist, but rather to show that the overall effect of affirmative action is much less than its critics espouse? I agree, you're either "fer it or agin it," but I'm not sure Kinsley is necessarily offering us a thesis on the efficiency of affirmative action. I think he's doing what he did with taxes: giving us some meat to chew on, offering a different angle, and letting us reach our own conclusions.
Kinsley, again: This time he takes on affirmative action. He does a good job seeing through the muck of the "victims" on both sides, but he does that weird pirouette again, as he did with taxes, addressing the personal. He says, quite rightly, of Justice Powell's "no quota" compromise, "Trouble is, the Constitution is not supposed to split the difference. It is supposed to declare basic principles." Exactly. So why does he go on to say, of plaintiff Grutter in the case the Supremes will hear this term:
Even assuming, implausibly, that every single one of the special-treatment minority students was less qualified than Grutter and would not have been admitted if they were white, that would have improved Grutter's own chances by about one-eighth. The likelihood that affirmative action done her in is very small.
Wait, is this about declaring basic principles or not? Grutter can prove that Michigan admitted students less qualified than she, unless race is a qualification. But Kinsley appears to want a higher standard: He wants Grutter to prove that one of the places an affirmative action beneficiary took would have been hers. That's an unreasonable standard, as he implies in his logical "basic principles" dismissal of the Bakke quota/factor compromise.
Taxed to Death: I agree that some people will think that taxes are unfair, no matter what. But Kinsley's point along the same lines cuts both ways. If a government tries to construct a tax system that is fair to individuals, it will have a hard time making one that is fair to society. Yes, uninsured medical costs seem an obvious deduction. But drawing the line is the age-old problem. Loan-interest costs, educational costs, equipment investment and depreciation -- once you've opened the door, everyone has a special case they can plead. Why should I have to choose (to use the Democrats favorite formulation) between feeding my family and fixing the roof? Obviously the government should step in to take care of one or the other, right? Isn't it unconstitutional to have to make choices like that? Or is it just life as it has been lived for millenia?

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Death and Taxes: Your philosophical argument re: Kinsley on tax reform reminds me of a similar argument concerning social ordering. I forget who proposed this, and maybe one of our many readers can supplement, but it goes like this: Society will be perfect in every way that matters to you and me. No taxes, no crime, no poverty (or whatever social order you want). The only catch is that there is one small, young girl, locked away in a dank, dark basement, who is barely fed, deprived of love, warmth and interaction. In order for our world to remain as perfect as it is, this girl must suffer, and more importantly, every one who is enjoying the fruits of this perfect society, must be acutely aware of her suffering. The obvious question is: Is it worth it? As long as you don't care about the young girl, everything is fine. But the moral ramifications are evident. Back to reality: given that taxes are unfair in one shape or sense to someone, no matter the construct, what is the best way to go about it? Hence, we have a multi-thousand page tax code. Can we apply Occam's Razor to this concept? I don't know. But shouldn't we try?
Kinsley' Article: He's amusing, that's for sure. But some of his points are too facile, particularly for someone that smart. For example, he says:
The share of total income taxes being paid by the top 1% or 10%, or whatever slice you choose, has been increasing over the past couple of decades. But the point to remember is that the top 1%'s or 10%'s share of total income has been increasing even faster than its share of income taxes. So its slice of the pie has been getting larger, not smaller.
I'm not sure what this has to do with anything, really. (Should we decide which ethnic or geographic groups go to the front lines in war based on who's breeding fastest?) What if the entire federal budget could be balanced by taxing just one fabulously rich guy, so rich that he wouldn't even feel the tax? Would it be fair for him to shoulder the burden? When we set tax rates and deduction categories, this is what we decide. The idea of taxing the one rich guy while exempting anyone who makes less is the same in principle to what we do now. Only the math is different.
Kerry Squared: I can't comment directly on what you're saying other than to say that your points are well-made (for a change). I'll need to research more his pulpit before jumping in (I don't frequent Imus on my dial). Nonetheless, I can comment (never to let a point get made without making my own) concerning Kerry's curious campaign strategy thus far (and assuming your critiques to have some merit - a risky proposition to be sure). Since he's really the first out of the gate (Gore's ever-present waffling doesn't count), he's going to get the most attention (a good thing) and the most criticism (also good as long as everyone mentions his name). If he's as truly off-base as you say, then one wonders who is advising him to take such strident positions at a time when people have the time to actually check his facts. Conversely, he'd be better off giving us some facts, as you demand, to support the claims he makes, because if he can back them up, he can really make an impression. Instead, he seems to be making all kinds of claims without back-up, which is as short-sighted as his tax holiday "plan." Maybe there's a pattern somewhere.
Kinsley on "Tax Reform": In light of your harangue, here's a light-hearted if not entirely untrue look at the codewords of tax "reform." The best point is that it's either a "subsidy" or an "incentive" depending on whether you are against it or for it.
More Kerry: Can we settle this once and for good? I'd like Senator Kerry to name the legislation he supported that "created" all the new jobs and brought about the white-hot economy of the late 90s. If he's going to take credit for it, which he certainly tried to do this morning, he should at least be able to explain it to a knucklehead like me. Oh, yeah, and he should be able to explain why the white-hot economy ashed over on his watch. In for a penny, in for a pound, Senator Kerry. Even honest Democrats admit that the surplus sneaked up on everyone. Kerry's attempt to sell it as his achievement shows a deficit of honest accomplishment and a dearth of principle. The best one can say about the economy is that it grew in spite of Senator Kerry.
The Great Pretender: Apologies to the Platters, but what else to call John Kerry? He was, naturally, on Imus this morning, humping his "exploratory committee," which is no doubt now exploring John Kerry for a principle. In one breath, Kerry said that he opposed the Bush tax cuts because "we can't afford it." In the next breath, he criticized the Bush tax cuts for not taking full effect for another eight years. And he, Kerry, has a plan to give tax relief now: a payroll tax holiday. Now, agree with him or not, you have to admit that this is not exactly a far-sighted plan. It involves no reform, it offers no incentive to invest or save, or even to spend wisely. (C'mon now, really, what do you have to show for your tax "rebate" from the tax cut package last summer? I got a Lucinda Williams disc and a bunch of great bitter; so flush was I that I threw away the empties rather than go get my deposit back.)

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

In re: Useless Information: How can you go on with out knowing this?
Have you met Alice? She comes off like Ralph Wiggum but if you stick to the kind of chat you'd have in the checkout line, she's a good chat. Give the Turing test to the ALICE AI Foundation's attempt at a thinking machine. Don't try to test her self-awareness, though, or she'll start spitting questions at you and claim to have lost track of the conversation.
Clinton: This thought just struck me: He's the best they've got, their most recent "winner." I'll wager his most fervent desire is to be the old star player, now retired, called back to coach the team to victory.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

It's all about the synergies baby: Happy AOL Day! Keep your ears and eyes open because it's big news day at the foundering media behemoth AOL Time Warner. Like everything in 1999/2000, this company was going to be different. It would seamlessly integrate old with new, digital with analog, and Instant Messaging with cable t.v. Well, okay it hasn't exactly been seamless. More like fruitless. Funny, what this hi-tech merger came down to was people. People from Time Warner didn't like being lorded over by the upstart AOL. Of course at the time, AOL was the darling of the economy and Time Warner was as good as dead. Anyway, it will be truly interesting to see whether this ship can be righted. Watch closely, because as goes this baby, so go the rest.
Drudge has DiIulio's letter to Ron Suskind. It reinforces the notion that the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity at all. There are some cheap shots ("Mayberry Machiavellis" just makes DiIulio look like a self-appointed sophisticate chuckling at the philistines in the west wing) but the text is also full of high praise of Bush's intelligence, dedication, and honesty. And what of Karl Rove? Sounds like DiIulio truly likes him, personally at least. The rest of the stuff about Karl having so much power - we heard the same when Karen Hughes left, that Karl would become the new "gatekeeper." Presidents need gatekeepers, else (as DiIulio points out) they end up like Clinton: disorganized, ad hoc policymakers watching the polls and careening their message in an attempt to hook up with a perceived zeitgeist. I think, in the case of Bush's administration, when DiIulio says he sees only politics, what he really sees is discipline. When there is no discipline in the west wing for 8 (some would say 12) years, its appearance can be shocking.
Let's have a little of this: Since I think we could all use a drink to get started today.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Okay, maybe he's not exactly like Howard Hughes: Although truly horrific to think of, Saddam gets an "F" for originality. These methods were being used by the Romans, for crying out loud.
Get off that mountain bike!: This is a public service announcement.
Oh that Kerr[e]y: Did you hear that he's now being referred to as "John F. Kerry?" No joke. In any event, anyone other than Gore has his (assuming no Hilary this time around) work cut out for him. No one in America knows who Kerry is or who the other guys are except for Lieby (Daschle, Edwards, et al.), and let's face it, Bush has approval ratings in the high sixties, which is pretty much untouchable. Either Monica II surfaces or one or more of our various "wars" go badly, otherwise I don't see a Demo victor.
With these guys as friends...: Poor North Korea. Now even the Russians and Chinese don't like them. For some reason, North Korea scares me more than Iraq. Is it the nuclear missle? Okay, that has something to do with it. But with Iraq, there's always been a bit of sheepish cat-and-mouse about it. Saddam really doesn't want to lose power, much less get killed, but he has to save face by thumbing his nose at the imperialist Americans. Eventually he gives in and with great huffing and puffing, settles down for a long winter's nap. Now I may be wrong, but North Korea doesn't seem to show this penchant for backing down. Maybe the country is that much more removed from reality (Saddam can at least remember 1991), but I can easily see it holding us all hostage with the "do we or don't we" strategy until we give major concessions. Fortunately, we have non-European "allies" in Russia and China, who, for their own reasons, don't want nukes over there any more than we do (being in short-range distance, I can see why). Nonetheless, as long as N.Korea is cagey and just a bit crazy, they will keep the dialogue running. Ultimatums won't work as well over there.
More on the Raineses: This morning, local radio host (on a music station, no less) was touting, on the air, a "civil rights" organization she works with - something to do with prison reform. (Okay, yes, I live in Massachusetts. I should be used to this now.) Her "cause" was a moral crusade, old-school civil rights like the reverend doctor practiced. What I've seen of the prison-reform cause in America leads me to believe two things: 1) cramped workout rooms, limited cable TV access, and lumpy meatloaf gravy are cruel and/or unusual; 2) the people who protest this crap have never seen how a prison functions in, oh, say, Cuba - a place my radio host might admire. This is nutshell Rainesianism - heavy breathing about injustices of the minor-annoyance variety, ham-fisted moralizing, and the kind of tsk-tsking that seems unbecoming of real liberalism. And the cause of actual civil rights, in the areas where improvement is still warranted, is sullied each time one of these baby-boom Sojourner Truths reaches to don the social justice mantle.
Paper of Record? Not lately. New York Times-bashing is the blogger's meat, and one of the sharpest, and earliest, sites on Times patrol was Ira Stoll's Smarter Times (which is lately overtaken by events - Mr. Stoll having taken up with the Sun crowd). Drudge links to this, the most mainstream of the shots the Times has taken lately. But what of it? It ain't news. I had a PoliSci prof ages ago who referred to the Times as the Red Rag of the Hudson - and he didn't just mean the editorial content, which is virtually indistinguishable from the dreadfully earnest whining at any number of big city papers. Is it the blogging phenomenon that is bringing this out in the open? The timing makes it an interesting, but unsubstantiated, parallel. But I don't think that explains it all. I'd like to think that the major force is the public's increasing unwillingness to accept the holier-than-thou diktat of the Howell Raineses of society.
And He's Off: John Kerry becomes the first to become an (unofficially) official candidate for '04. Is he as bad as Kaus makes him sound? I think he might be. His carping on Afghanistan was third-rate armchair generalship, and the kind of silly talk Kerry himself would've been all over had it been his cause. His hairsplitting on Iraq was just as bad. (Yeah, he's for it, but not really, plus don't blame him if it goes sour, since he's said that it could go badly.) So, no, he doesn't seem to be particularly an antidote to the Al Gore problem.
Hitch, on Kiss: We know that Hitchens is far from unbiased when it comes to Kissinger (though that doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong in his assessment of the man) and this piece in Slate reminds me of the VRWC mumblings about Clinton (such as Vince Foster, Mena, cocaine smuggling - Google those keywords for an eyeopener!). My conclusion, though, is that putting Kissinger at the head of the 9/11 investigation will do little, good or bad. Firstly, these panels are always investigating things, finding out what most Americans already know (e.g., balancing the budget could make our national debt grow slower), and then being studiously ignored by Congress. Secondly, the Ameican news media has managed to dig up quite a bit on why 9/11 happened, where the failures were, and who should be pinkslipped for the breakdown. More realities that Congress and the Bush administration have studiously ignored, except for the attempt to midwife the birth of a giant bureaucracy (Homeland Security) as an improvement on many smaller bureaucracies. (Predictable results to follow.) No, this is a dog-and-pony show - an attempt to tell us that the government wants answers, dammit! Plus, in an affront to Descartes' discourse on methods, the government has chosen its response to the problems before the problems have been officially discovered. What, do you think that if Kissinger's panel comes back and says that the Homeland Security Department is a bad idea, Bush will just undo it?
Moose can't hunt: Thanks to the Agitator for this link to a WaPo article on how the D.C. Sniper case was botched from the get-go. Okay, to be fair, much of this criticism is 20-20 hindsight, but it's clear that the police were far too intently focused on the white-box-van-with-one-white-guy theory. Should the police rely on profiling? Sure, because it's often correct. But there should be an alternative team devoted to thinking "outside the box [van]" that can look at patterns and deviations while ignoring the CW. And the idea that the police with initial jurisdiction get to run the show is somewhat ludicrous. There has to be a better spokesperson/coordinator than Moose. Yes, he's kitschy, but I don't want my chief of investigation to be about hipster websites, etc.