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October 2003 Archives

October 1, 2003

Those parties sound like fun!

Over at the National Review, we read the two following statements about the Wilson/Novak affair:

From Jonah Goldberg: "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

From Clifford D. May: "That wasn't news to me. I had been told that — but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner..."

So, at these cocktail parties in Washington, we're supposed to believe, people gossip about "desk jockies." Considering that there are hundreds of thousands of so-called desk jockies in Washington, these parties must be a hoot! If May and Goldberg are to be believed, I'm imagining parties with conversations that go something like this:

May: I heard the other day that Jane Doe over at HUD is now buying her office stationary at Staples.

Goldberg: Doesn't she know that she's not at the NIH? EVERYBODY who is anybody at HUD buys their stationary at Office Depot!

May: When will these desk jockies ever learn?

Goldberg: I don't know, Cliff, I don't know. Did you hear about John Doe over at Commerce? Yeah, he didn't get his GS-8 promotion, so he's thinking of applying for a transfer to Veterans Affairs!

May: Wow! Wait until Rich hears about this!!!!! I've GOT to tell him.

I'm moving to Washington in a month. I was excited about it until I leared from Goldberg and May that this is what the social scene is like.

October 2, 2003

An unexpected outcome

The New York Times tells us of a new report released on Wednesday regarding America's public relations vis-a-vis the Muslim world.

The United States must drastically increase and overhaul its public relations efforts to salvage its plummeting image among Muslims and Arabs abroad, a panel chosen by the Bush administration has found.
Guess what? An advisory committee set up by the State Department recommends that... the State Department get more money. What a shocker. Has there ever been an advisory panel report -- has there ever been a government report of any sort -- that concluded that a program or agency was adequate and needed no more resources in order to do its job?

While the panel's conclusions don't actually sound that unreasonable, its methodology seems slightly less than scientifically rigorous as a manner of determining public opinion:

We contacted and were briefed by dozens of specialists and practitioners, both here and abroad in the public and private sectors, including non-governmental organizations. We traveled to Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Senegal, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and France. We used video conferencing for discussions with individuals in Pakistan and Indonesia.
Also, the report basically suggests that, regardless of the shortcomings of America's P.R. efforts, the real problem is American foreign policy. So it's not clear how much the suggestions by this panel will actually help.

Interestingly, though, the one specific program attempted by the United States, the "Shared Values" advertising campaign in which the U.S. produced advertisements showing that American society is Muslim-friendly -- does not receive criticism from the panel. (Except for its implementation: the panel found that it took the State Department three times as long to complete the project as private sector ad campaigns take.) The New York Times, as part of its Bush-administration-can-do-no-right, has derided the program for months, and trashes it again in their coverage of this story:

The panel's recommendations — including the establishment of a special White House coordinator for public relations efforts abroad — come at a time when some American officials acknowledge that programs even in the last couple of years have been confused and fitful.

The Bush administration, for example, started a program called "shared values" last year, a series of television commercials showing that Muslims in the United States lead lives of dignity and equal rights. The advertisements were suspended after several Arab countries refused to show them.

Many in the administration were privately critical of the commercials, agreeing with Arab and Muslim spokesmen who said they were irrelevant to Muslim concerns about American policies toward Iraq and Israel.

None of this has anything to do with what the panel said, however. The panel praised the campaign:
In our research, the Advisory Group became especially concerned, not so much about the content of the TV spots but about the protracted process and expense of bringing them to fruition. The process took far too long; flexibility and speed are urgent requirements in this kind of public diplomacy effort. Also, we found that, in some cases, resistance to the advertising campaign at some embassies may have contributed to the inability of the State Department to air the mini-documentaries on government television channels in key Arab countries.

We heard from several marketing experts who believed that advertising was not a good way to spread these messages. We disagree. The campaign was well -conceived and based on solid research.

The panel also found the campaign to be effective:
Indonesia was the only country where a post-campaign survey was done, and that survey produced high ratings for recognition and understanding. For example, the survey determined that 63 million Indonesians learned that “Islam is not discriminated against” and is given equal treatment with other religions in the United States.
The real problem was that the State Department, apparently out of petty bureaucratic jealousy, didn't get behind the plan, thus failing to convince several countries to let the campaign on the air. Supposed allies like Egypt and Jordan blocked the commercials -- even though Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. So yes, fine, create ad campaigns -- but stop coddling Arab dictators. That will do more for the U.S. than reorganizing and refunding bureaucracies in Washington.

Truth in advertising

This article is not on the editorial page.

Continue reading "Truth in advertising" »

Blogging for dollars?

Eugene Volokh has said that he isn't going to spend a lot of time blogging about Plamegate, because it doesn't fit his criteria for interesting blogging. Now some people are criticizing him for taking that stance.

Ed Cone thinks that Eugene has a responsibility to discuss the story:

A weblog is not a game of Solitaire. You engage your readers. You promise them certain things. Volokh and Insty have created themselves as important commentators on the serious issues of the day.

To ignore this story is to abdicate a role they are only too happy to play in other situations, which in turn devalues their credibility when they want to put the pundit's hat back on.


Of course, as Volokh says, nobody is paying them and they are free to write what they want.

But if they want to be taken seriously as a new kind of journalist , then they have to assume some of the responsibilities of journalists, too. Otherwise, it's just a hobby.

Eugene's primary defense, as Ed notes, is that he's not getting paid to do this, and can write about what he wants. That's true, and yet it's not really a complete rebuttal to Ed's complaint.

Even if Eugene were getting paid, he wouldn't have a responsibility to comment on the story. Eugene is not a newspaper (though the Volokh Conspiracy may have more contributors than some newspapers). If he were, the complaint might have some merit; one can certainly argue that newspapers implicitly promise that they'll provide all the relevant news of the day. (Or perhaps explicitly promise it: "All the news that's fit to print.") But one can't make that argument of columnists. Nobody would tell Thomas Friedman, "If you don't comment on global warming, you will lose all credibility and I will cease to pay attention to your discussions of Middle Eastern politics," would they? (Indeed, many would argue that Paul Krugman would gain credibility if he'd stick to his areas of expertise, instead of commenting on every issue of the day.) We read a columnist to find his take on what he finds interesting, and we take him seriously if he demonstrates that he knows what he's talking about.

Now, Ed is right when he says that as a blogger, "You promise them [your readers] certain things." But you don't promise them that you'll comment on every story. Punditry is not journalism. It's a different animal. As a blogger and as a pundit, you (implicitly) promise that what you do choose to write is accurate. If you hold yourself out as an expert in an area, your accuracy can be judged against a higher standard. But you certainly don't promise to discuss everything. Even if it's a job, and not "just a hobby." And that doesn't change even if you're prolific.

[Perhaps, in light of these criticisms, I should have an explicit promise to my readers: I promise to write about what I want to write about, when I want to write about it, when I have time to write about it, for as much as I choose to write about it. No more, no less. Now you can't say you weren't warned. However, for large sums of money, I'll post whatever you want me to. Heck, for large enough sums of money, I'll run naked through the streets of Baghdad.]

This is why we call it "Jumping To Conclusions."

I have generally agreed with Dan Drezner's take on Plamegate, but I think he gives a little too much credibility to administration critics, such as Salon's Eric Boehlert. Drezner writes:

Eric Boehlert's Salon piece undercut Robert Novak's credibility just as badly as Joseph Wilson's exaggerations undercut his credibility.


  • Surprisingly Boehlert buries the lead with this graf from the story:
    [A] former senior CIA intelligence officer confirms to Salon that Plame is both an analyst and an officer who works undercover, and was undercover when Novak outed her. Now that her identity has been exposed she cannot again work overseas, and the network of agents she once oversaw may be at risk.
    I think this falls under the "unbelievably disturbing' category.
  • Well, I think it does too -- if it's true.

    Let me preface my comments by explaining that this is exactly why I don't like this story as a blogging subject: we don't really have any facts. We're discussing second- and thirdhand reporting using almost solely anonymous sources. We've got anonymous people commenting about news stories of other anonymous people, as if the first group knew the identity of the second when we have no way to know whether they do.

    Boehlert's version of the facts simply doesn't sound credible to me, in two aspects:

    1. Valerie Plame is "an officer who works undercover," who has a "network of agents she once oversaw."
    2. Valerie Plame "was undercover when Novak outed her."
    As to the first point, does it seem credible that a person would be "working undercover" under her own name, while at the same time openly being married to a U.S. Ambassador under that name? I may be overestimating foreign intelligence services, but a maiden name doesn't exactly sound like much of a secret identity. How hard would it have been for anybody to figure out that Valerie Plame = Valerie Wilson, given that the ambassador's own bio (*) mentions his wife's maiden name?

    Moreover, if someone is "working undercover," while pretending to be an "energy industry analyst" as a cover -- as some stories have noted -- does it make sense that she doesn't have a cover? I spent some significant time the other day searching the internet, and found nothing about a Valerie Plame, energy industry analyst. Wouldn't there be something out there to establish her bona fides if she were actually operating undercover?

    As to the second point, Novak has been explicit about the fact that, when he checked up on the story, the CIA didn't seem to care much about whether Plame was outed. If she were actively undercover, that doesn't sound right. Moreover, I would think their post-leak response would have been a little more aggressive, don't you?

    Additionally, how would a "former senior CIA intelligence officer" be in a position to know what Plame's current assignment was?

    And, in a related question, if she were actively undercover, how would anybody in the White House know, to the point where they could leak it to Novak? That sort of information isn't posted on bulletin boards. The identity of an undercover operative is, from what I understand, very closely guarded. It doesn't appear anywhere outside the CIA, not even in reports based on what that operative has found. It's not going to be something that a Karl Rove would even have access to.

    These questions I raise have been bothering me for a couple of days now. Now, this could be based on my misunderstanding of the way covert operations work. But it doesn't quite pass the common sense test to me.

    None of this means that the leaker didn't commit a crime and doesn't deserve punishment. But it does call into question the significance of the damage done.

    (*)By the way, this really bothers me, now that I pay more attention to it. Several pundits have, in questioning why on earth Wilson was sent to Niger, noted that Wilson is an anti-Bush, anti-war partisan. That's one thing. But now that I see that's he's affiliated with the Middle East Institute, I'm very disturbed. The MEI is one of those Saudi-funded propaganda mills that Matt Welch brilliantly exposed last year. Now I really want to know what the people who originally picked Wilson were thinking.

    October 5, 2003

    Those who forget history...

    ... are damned to make an ass of themselves on CNN.

    By now, everybody knows that Robert Novak "outed" Valerie Plame's employer Brewster-Jennings and Associates. Brewster-Jennings seems to actually be a CIA front company pretending to be some sort of oil related firm.

    If this is true, which I think it is, it reveals that the CIA contains some people with some wit and that Bob Novak is, well, Bob Novak.

    Benjamin Brewster and Oliver Jennings were original investors in John Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company way back in the 1870s. Their investments made them rich men (think "Paul Allen rich"). There was even a marriage between the two families and Emma Brewster Jennings was a great socialite, philanthropist, and, among other things, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's step-grandmother (Emma was Hugh Auchincloss's mother).

    If I were creating a phony oil firm, I'd name it something like Brewster Jennings, too. I'd be betting that the august Washington press corp would never figure it out. It'd be a pretty safe bet, don't you think?

    October 6, 2003

    Asian American Success

    If you read to the end of this article, you'll see that the National Review wants (future tense, by the way) to see Asians succeed in America.

    It's a wonderful sentiment. It just warms my heart.

    UPDATE: Link added. Sorry about that.

    Ten little, nine little indians...

    To the surprise of nobody but Bob Graham, Bob Graham is out. Just 134 left. Oh, no, wait -- that's California. Just nine left.

    October 7, 2003

    Backlash against?

    I don't know if, as Jonah Goldberg claims, two people count as a strong backlash, but maybe these people are still pissed about how the Los Angeles Times covered Troopergate.

    It's more than a crowd, anyway

    I'm not any more certain than Partha that two people constitute a backlash.... but on the other hand, I think that 1,000 people do. (Link requires free registration.)

    October 8, 2003

    Do the math

    Remember all the pre-election hysteria from Democrats about how the recall election was unfair? They gave many reasons:

    1. The whole state elected Davis in 2002, while a handful of radicals were hijacking the state by pushing a recall which would be supported by only a few people.
    2. There would be hundreds of candidates and someone could get elected with only a small percentage of the vote.
    3. Davis could get more votes than the guy who replaced him and still "lose" to that guy.
    There were probably other arguments, but those were the ones I heard regularly.

    Surprise! None of those things came to pass.

    In fact,

    • More votes were cast in the recall election -- 7.9 million so far -- than were cast in the November 2002 general election that let Gray Davis remain as governor (about 7.5 million).
    • There were a large number of candidates, but not "hundreds," and the winner got 48.5% of the vote. Which was, in fact, a higher percentage than Gray Davis got in 2002, when he received 47.3% of the vote.
    • Schwarzenegger got more votes in this election to win the job (3.7 million) than Davis did in the recall portion of the election to retain the job (3.5 million).
    One can still argue that recall elections are a bad idea for one reason or another, but this should hopefully serve to demonstrate that most of the frantic pre-election Oh-my-god-they're-trying-to-subvert-democracy cries we heard in this instance were just partisan fearmongering. Perhaps this was less of a "circus" than the media had hoped it would be.

    So adding up Arnold and McClintock, plus dropouts like Ueberroth and lesser known people, more than 62% of the vote went to Republican candidates. What does that say about the state of politics in California? (I have no idea. It wasn't a rhetorical question.)

    By the way, the award for quirkiest vote total: in ninth place was "George Schwartzman." Who? I hate to be cynical about voters, but given that he got almost as many votes as more prominent candidates like Gary Coleman, Mary Carey, and Larry Flynt, it's hard not to conclude that there are a substantial number of retardsCalifornians who thought they were voting for Schwarzenegger, not Schwartzman.

    October 9, 2003

    Weak=Strong. Good=Bad. Democracy=Anti-Democracy.

    There may be no more pre-election hysteria, but there's plenty of post-election hysteria. For example, this piece by The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner:

    TRENDS AND FADS often start in California, and that thought should terrify anyone who cares about a functioning democracy. Yesterday's recall election is history's ironic revenge on a well-intentioned set of reforms championed by the Golden State's great progressive governor, Hiram Johnson. Johnson's Progressives, beginning in 1911, enacted the populist measures beloved by that generation of reformers -- the ballot initiative, the recall, and nonpartisan local elections. Johnson was a crusader against monopolies. He imagined that giving government back to the people would purge politics of the corruption of moneyed interests. [...]

    So, in a sense, Hiram Johnson had a point. If elected officials want to keep the confidence of voters, they had better get serious about addressing real problems.

    Unfortunately, Johnson's remedy is allowing disgusted voters to wreck democracy itself. California will be a long time digging out. Neither party should take any comfort.

    Kuttner's point seems to be that recalls and ballot initiatives are great ideas, except when he happens to disagree with the reasons and the results. Then they become undemocratic. Unfortunately for him, a majority of Californians disagreed with him and supported the recall.

    But why? On a certain level it doesn't matter, as Steven Den Beste points out:

    Why do I think Davis was recalled yesterday? Because 55 percent of the voters wanted Davis out, and 48% of them wanted Schwarzenegger to be his replacement. That's why.

    I know that sounds prosaic, but I think it's really the most important message of all. Yesterday we demonstrated that the government of the State of California works for its citizens and is controlled by them, and if the people become sufficiently dissatisfied with what the government does, they'll replace it.

    Absolutely. And Robert Kuttner apparently thinks that we all should be as terrified of this message as he is.

    As Long As Their Money Is Peach

    I've always vastly preferred America's classic, understated, and sober paper money to the bright Monopoly-hued money other countries use. But the recent redesigns of the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills replaced much of the elegant etching with dull blank space, and removed the pleasing symmetry of the obverse side altogether. That was very disappointing to me. And I'm afraid I'm going to like the new redesigns even less:

    The multi-hued design "makes a strong case that America is joining the rest of the world," says Andrew Nibley, chairman of Marsteller, which made the ads. "It's confusing for anyone, especially for those visiting the country, that all of our money is green."

    Color? Horrors!! What next, the metric system?

    Even if I do end up liking the new design once I have some of the bills in my hands (and I always like having money), I'm not going to get too attached. Apparently, we can expect a redesign every seven years or so to keep ahead of the counterfeiters.

    (By the way, have you ever noticed that, unlike the coins of most other countries, American coins have no numerals indicating the denomination? It's just "ONE CENT", "FIVE CENTS", ONE DIME", "QUARTER DOLLAR", "HALF DOLLAR" and "ONE DOLLAR". That's gotta be more confusing to foreigners than monocrhomatic bills.)

    October 14, 2003

    Don't change that channel

    Posting has been a little slow lately, because I was away for the weekend and then my $*$%$%# DSL was out yesterday. As Gray Davis always says, I'll be back.

    October 16, 2003

    You can lead a horse to water...

    It turns out that throwing money at problems may not solve them, particularly when we're discussing schools.

    For the second year in a row, tens of thousands of New York City public school students who qualify for free tutoring under federal law will not get the extra help, companies that provide the tutoring said yesterday.
    Enrollment is apparently running behind last year's rate, when 30,000 out of 240,000 -- 12% -- of eligible students bothered to sign up.

    Of course, the liberal party line -- which the New York Times portrays as the truth -- is that it's really the fault of the city. The application process is too confusing, or the city doesn't publicize it enough, or the deadlines are too short. That's after the government made a more extensive effort to inform parents and extended the deadlines.

    No acknowledgement that perhaps, just perhaps, if people are unwilling to make even minimal effort to help themselves or their children, there's nothing the government can do about it. (Of course, if the parents cared enough to take an interest, the students probably wouldn't need tutoring in the first place.)

    October 17, 2003



    Where to draw the line?

    A partisan Republican would be thrilled with the outcome of the Texas redistricting fight.

    Gov. Rick Perry announced late Monday that he had signed the bill, which received final passage in the Texas Senate on Sunday night along largely partisan lines, 17 to 14.

    Political scientists and other analysts on Monday identified 8 of the 17 Texas Democrats in Congress whose seats seem at risk under the remapping. Another district created around Midland, in West Texas, seemed clearly earmarked for the Republicans, who hope to pick up as many as seven seats next year. This would raise the number of Texas Republicans in the House to as many as 22 from the current 15.

    Partisan Democrats, of course, are dismayed. (As, needless to say, is the New York Times.) But what about those of us less interested in partisan scorekeeping, and more interested in ensuring a reasonable process? How should we feel?

    On the one hand, this does feel rather heavy-handed. It's a blatant partisan power grab by Republicans, and at that, a grab that goes outside the usual channels; as is well known, districting typically takes place only once per decade, and this decade's districting has already been completed in Texas. Republicans are simply taking advantage of the fact that they have more power in the Austin legislature to force through an extra round of districting that will benefit from them.

    On the other hand, the previous districts were hardly sacred; they were drawn up by a Democratic-leaning judicial panel after the legislature couldn't reach agreement on a plan, and they do not appear to accurately reflect the political views of the citizens of Texas. It's not clear why, just because Democrats happened to have more power a year ago, they should get to freeze their advantage in place for another ten years. And it's not as if Democrats are standing up for grand principle here:

    Several of the Democrats at risk — including two congressmen with nearly 50 years of experience between them — reacted angrily on Monday, saying the map was an effort to concentrate African-American and Hispanic voters in certain districts and paint Democrats as the party of minority voters, costing them white support.


    Mr. Frost said the changes were harmful enough to minority voters to require rejection by the Justice Department or the courts. A Republican tactic against the Democrats, he said, is to eliminate all white officials of consequence, so white voters will not identify with the Democratic party.

    Ah. So really, it's all about picking up all the minority votes without appearing too minority-friendly. Hardly the substance of Federalist-Antifederalist debates.

    And on the third hand, the typical genteel, congenial, collegial approach, the one preferred by the editorialists and the other good government types, involves a process which in some ways is far more sinister. It involves a process in which both parties get together and draw lines in such a way as to protect each party's incumbents. Certainly the party with more electoral clout attempts to gain an advantage -- but in such a way as to minimize the effects on each side. Is that really preferable to the DeLay plan? The latter may be one-sided, but at least it's honest. It doesn't masquerade as anything other than the partisan power grab that it is. Voters can decide what they think of such flagrant partisanship, and approve or disapprove in a straightforward manner. Politicians don't have the cover of civility to mask their self-interested intentions.

    I would have far more sympathy for Democrats in Texas if it seemed that they cared about anything here other than their own jobs. As long as they're only interested in their own partisan advantage, why should I care? Until they stand up for real principle, they don't deserve anything other than what they're getting. So what is the right approach, the one I could get behind?

    Simple: End gerrymandering altogether. The problem with what's going on in Texas isn't that Republicans are drawing lines which hurt Democrats more than is seemly. The problem is that Republicans are drawing lines on a partisan basis. Partisan gerrymandering has always existed, of course, but politicians are so much better at it than they used to be; sophisticated software has made it possible to draw and redraw, down to the block level, until the optimal amount of gerrymandering has taken place. And to what end? Incumbent protection, of course. Every year, we hear about how there are so few competitive House races, how out of 435 seats up for reelection only a few dozen are actually in danger of changing hands. And no, it isn't because of insufficient campaign finance reform. It's because the other ~400 districts are drawn so that nobody from the other party could possibly win the seat.

    Coming up with neutral nonpartisan (note: not bipartisan) algorithms to use in drawing districts, such that any partisan advantage in any decade is purely by chance, would solve many problems.

    1. It would increase the competitiveness of House races, giving citizens more of a choice. Without requiring a resort to unconstitutional campaign finance censorship.
    2. It would depolarize the House; a candidate who has a mixed constituency in his district has to govern closer to the center, rather than running towards the extremes of his party base.
    3. It would eliminate the decadely redistricting fights in the state capitals, and obviate the need for federal judges to step in and draw lines when those fights fail to reach a resolution.
    4. It would hopefully lessen the number of career politicians; fewer safe seats means politicians have to work to keep their jobs, which limits the attractiveness of the job to many of them.

    I don't mean to suggest that this is a panacea; there are some problems this approach can't fix, and might even cause. (For instance, fewer safe seats = more competitive races = more need for fundraising.) Senators have mixed constituencies, and yet many -- Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurmond, just to name two on either end of the spectrum -- have managed to become career senators. Still it's certainly worth a try, don't you think?

    Voters are such a drag

    Dave Yaseen is a good friend of mine, because we've learned to never talk politics. If he said anything like this to me at a party, I would, well, just politely excuse myself and get another drink:

    Repealing that god-awful insult of a tax cut isn't a winning position? I beg your pardon? It wasn't all that long ago we could energize people by saying something like 'they're gonna take your money and give it to, of all people the rich! America, is that what you want?'

    In other words, it wasn't all that long ago that Democrats could energize people by lying. Well, half lying. The government *is* taking away your money. That's called taxation. The lie is that a tax cut is the same as taking person X's money away to give to person Y. Let this fact sink in, folks: it is person Y's money in the first place! If I steal $100 from someone, and don't return $90 to him, you can't say I'm giving him $10. And you certainly can't say I'm taking $10 from you to give to him.

    With repetition and coordination, it would have sunk in and won us a lot of races.

    Yes, repeat the lie until people start to believe it. (Sadly, many people already do.)

    Yes, this debacle of an election is the media's fault. But it's our fault as well, and we need to drastically change the way we do things in the Democratic party, not diddle around with how to phrase things to make them palatable to the electorate. If we have to drag American voters, kicking and screaming to chose their own interests, so be it.

    Somehow I don't think "we're going to have to force the public to vote for us because we think the public is stupid" is much of a winning position. But hey, at least it's honest - in that it's an honest view into the elitist mindset of a good portion of our friends on the Left.

    Re: Argh

    Woo hoo!

    (Hey, we long-suffering New York fans haven't had a World Series appearance in nearly three years! )

    (Two being nearly three.)

    October 18, 2003


    Why do some people, like Jonah Goldberg, only complain about salaries when people they don't like are getting paid?


    I've gotta say goodbye to Jumping to Conclusions. It has been a lot of fun, and I want to thank David for letting me be a part of his blog for the past year and a few months. He didn't have to invite me, he never complained about anything I posted (once he did ask me to change a link, but after he explained why, I agreed) even though I fully realize that there is no way he agreed with one tenth of what I wrote. Thanks, David.

    I'm leaving because I'm joining the U.S State Department and, more specifically, the Foreign Service. I'm going to be a diplomat for the United States, and, hopefully, acquit myself with dignity and distinction like past officers such as George Kennan, Lawrence Eagleburger, J. Paul Bremer, Prudence Bushnell, and the thousands of others who have served with honor before me.

    In joining the State Department (and I'm sure "Richard" from the comments section is going to LOVE this), I have to swear an oath to publicly promote and defend all United States foreign policy (I've already signed such a form, but I'm going to be swearing it soon enough), so I'm precluded from participating in a blog concerning U.S. foreign policy (actually, there probably isn't a State Department regulation on this, but leaving is something I think I should do).

    In leaving, I'm actually going to make two requests, one serious and one partially in jest. The serious one first: last season, FOX produced a television series on young United States Foreign Service officers. It was called The American Embassy, and probably contained as much reality of being a junior FSO as Ally McBeal did in portraying young lawyers. It only lasted four episodes before it was cancelled, but I thought it was quite brilliant. If anybody has these episodes on tape or knows where I can get them on tape, please let me know. I'd really like to have them. The second is: I have an Amazon.com wish list, and following atrios's success, I've gotta recommend that you buy me a going away gift or a congratulations on your new job gift.

    I'm off to Arlington, Virginia and, after a few months, to parts over the ocean. No matter where I'm eventually posted, I'm going to be a loyal and constant reader of Jumping to Conclusions. And, as long as David doesn't take my password away, I might, at some point, come back and and give an update of some sort or make some sort of comment which doesn't violate my oath.

    Thanks again.

    Survey says...

    I sometimes (okay, often) criticize the New York Times for the way it frames stories. But I don't know that I've ever seen bias from them quite as blatant as this Agence France-Press report about a Stars and Stripes survey, headlined "Morale of US troops suffers in Iraq."

    A survey of US troops in Iraq by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes has found that nearly three-quarters of those questioned said unit morale was low or average, and that nearly half did not plan to re-enlist.
    So what's the problem? Where to begin.
    1. Statistics without context: "nearly half did not plan to re-enlist." What does that mean? How many people normally don't plan to re-enlist? The article doesn't say. We have no idea if this is above or below average. (The article does cite Donald Rumsfeld for the claim that recruitment and retention remain good, but by not providing actual data, the article makes it sound like a he-said-she-said debate.)
    2. "Of those questioned." The phrase glosses over the fact that the survey was actually non-scientific; the article admits, lower down, that the survey "was taken among soldiers who were available to answer questions and so was not a random sampling of troops." Which soldiers are more likely to answer questions about their morale? Disgruntled ones or ones who are content? You can't draw valid conclusions from a self-selected sample.
    3. Both of those are just typical bad reporting; they're excusable. The big flaw, though, the one that tips the meter from "useless" to "biased," is the heart of that sentence: "Nearly three-quarters... said unit morale was low or average."

      What did the survey actually find?

      Some 34 percent of those surveyed said morale was low or very low, 27 percent said it was high or very high, and the rest said it was average.
      Yes, that's right. Only one third said that morale was low, not the "nearly three quarters" implied by AFP. They simply added up the people who said it was low with people who didn't say it was low, and pretended that they all gave the same answer. An equally valid story -- except that it wouldn't have been a story then -- would have been, "Nearly two-thirds of troops said unit morale was average or high."
    So what we have here is a non-scientific survey in which 1/3 of respondents complain about their morale, and AFP tries to spin the story as 3/4 of troops having morale problems.

    Moreover, the article provides no context: what percent of troops usually describe their morale as low? Presumably there are always some disgruntled people in the military, right? How much higher is this than normal? And wouldn't it be important to know whether their morale was low because they want better food or whether their morale is low because they think the mission is hopeless? It makes a big difference, don't you think?

    Update: Incidentally, most newspapers appear to have framed the story in the negative (sample headlines: US forces in Iraq admit morale is low, US soldiers losing fight to keep up morale, Iraq briefs: Troops say morale low, and Survey: US Troops Suffering Low Morale). But I was amused to see Fox News' spin: Stars and Stripes Survey: Iraq Morale Could Be Better. That cup is half full, dammit.)

    October 19, 2003

    We know what's good for you

    Poor people are stupid. That is, ultimately, the thesis behind this Economic Scene column in the New York Times by Alan Krueger. Krueger reports on a study by political scientist Larry Bartels which suggests that most Americans don't vote intelligently. Poor and middle class people support tax cuts which won't benefit them, and the explanation proffered is "unenlightened self-interest." That is, they stupidly think that they're going to benefit from these cuts when they really aren't; if they knew better, they'd support higher taxes.

    A few problems with this. First, it ignores economic mobility, and hence fails to consider that people may support tax cuts on the rich because they hope to benefit from these cuts someday, even if they won't do so now.

    Second, it considers only short-term, first-order benefits. That is, "If this tax cut passes, will my take-home pay be bigger tomorrow?" It ignores the possibility that people believe in the essence of Bush's ideas: that tax cuts stimulate the economy, create jobs, and benefit everyone, even those who don't receive the tax cuts.

    Third, and perhaps most important, it proposes a model of voter behavior which would not be particularly desirable if people generally adhered to it. Do we want voters to vote based solely on "self-interest"? Do we want the poor to vote for tax hikes on the rich, the rich to favor the elimination of welfare, whites to support racial profiling, blacks to endorse slavery reparations, etc., based solely on their membership in these groups? I don't think Krueger or Bartels really want that. (As I've mentioned before, I wouldn't mind the All-Nieporents-Get-Millions-of-Dollars Government Grants -- but somehow, I don't think it would be good for the country.) So why single out the poor as the unenlightened ones for not voting the way Bartels/Krueger want them to?

    UPDATE: Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok had a similar take on this column, and added this observation:

    Moreover, isn't it interesting that when the poor vote against their "self-interest" they are labeled "uninformed" - Bartels compares them to Homer Simpson. But when Hollywood liberals like Barbara Streisand or rich philanthropists like Bill Gates Sr. vote against their "self-interest" they are called enlightened. What Krueger and Bartels refer to as self-interest is actually masking an ideology.
    Yep. And while there's nothing wrong with having an ideology, what makes the Krueger/Bartels position particularly obnoxious is that they don't appear to realize that they have one. They don't even demonstrate any recognition of the possibility that there could be good reasons -- or at least good motives -- for supporting tax cuts.

    October 21, 2003

    Hope they didn't put a lot of manpower into this lead

    Should we be encouraged by their thoroughness, or alarmed by how off base they were?

    October 22, 2003

    The glass is one-tenth empty

    Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times reports:

    A report released in August by the left-leaning Urban Institute in Washington said that more than 85 percent of those who left welfare from 2000 through 2002 now have a job, spousal support, and/or other government benefits. However, that is down from about 90 percent in a 1999 study.

    Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for families and children in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said he agreed with numerous estimates that 85 to 95 percent of all those who have left welfare since the overhaul legislation passed in 1996 had become better off, or at least not significantly worse off, financially. There are 2.4 million fewer American families on the federal welfare rolls than in 1996, when there were 4.4 million.

    Well, that's what she *reported*. But this is what she actually *wrote*:

    However, a report released in August by the left-leaning Urban Institute in Washington said that as many as one in seven families who left welfare from 2000 through 2002 had no work, no spousal support and no other government benefits. That is up from one in 10 in a 1999 study.

    Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for families and children in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said he agreed with numerous estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of all those who have left welfare since the overhaul legislation passed in 1996 had become significantly worse off financially. There are 2.4 million fewer American families on the federal welfare rolls than in 1996, when there were 4.4 million.

    And thus she attempts to turn the success of welfare reform into a failure. Same facts, different spin. (Of course, it *is* a failure for those approximately 300,000 families who are worse off. But remember that we've been in what some Democratic presidential candidates call the "worst economy since Hoover". Who's to say they wouldn't have been worse off without welfare reform? Heck, if *only* 10 to 15 percent of the poorest among us are doing worse than they were back in 1996 or 2000, then perhaps the economy isn't as bad as some would like us to believe...)

    October 23, 2003

    Money for nothing

    I had the same reaction to that New York Times story on welfare as Peter did, but he beat me to it.

    But one other thing struck me:

    However, a report released in August by the left-leaning Urban Institute in Washington said that as many as one in seven families who left welfare from 2000 through 2002 had no work, no spousal support and no other government benefits.
    I knew immediately that this was false, so I went to check it out. As far as I can tell, the study the reporter, Leslie Kaufman, is talking about is this one, and her statements are false.

    What the study actually said was this:

    About one in seven adults who left welfare recently is disconnected from both the labor market and the welfare system—that is, not working, without a working spouse, and not receiving welfare or disability benefits.
    What's the difference? Through sleight-of-hand or ignorance, Kaufman turns "welfare or disability" into "government benefits." In fact, they're not the same thing at all. "Welfare," as commonly defined (somewhat misleadingly) and as used by the Urban Institute, refers only to the direct cash payments to impoverished individuals -- the program formerly known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) and now Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

    But that certainly isn't the same thing as "government benefits," as the Times article implicitly admits deeply buried in paragraph eighteen. These families are still eligible for and receiving benefits such as food stamps and subsidized housing, not to mention Medicaid, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), the FCC's Universal Service Program, free school breakfasts and lunches, and scores of other government welfare programs.

    Moreover, there's another smaller bit of misleading language in the article; when it says these families receive "no spousal support," we're led to think that these people are all poor unwed mothers with no assistance in raising their kids. In fact, though, as the Urban Institute report says, "Some families do receive child support." (The trick is the word "spouse." Unmarried parents who contribute to household income aren't included.)

    I don't know that Kaufman was being deliberately dishonest, but if not, that's a pretty poorly written article. Clearly, the beginning of the article speaks in generalities while the end provides details -- as reporters are trained to do. But in this case, the details don't merely provide more specific information; they actually contradict the generalities. It's important to understand, in a public policy discussion, that TANF is only one portion of government welfare benefits, and that families who don't receive the former may still receive significant amounts of the latter. If Kaufman did understand that, then she was dishonest; if she didn't, then she's not qualified to be writing about the subject.

    (On the other hand, credit where credit is due. Kaufman did describe the organization as the "left-leaning Urban Institute," rather than pretending, as Paul Krugman so often does, that "nonpartisan" and "unbiased" mean the same thing.)

    October 24, 2003


    Two of my favorite talking points are touched upon in this New York Times story on global warming:

    1. Media bias:
      As a developing country, China is exempt from the Kyoto Protocol, the pending international agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. When President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol two years ago, he portrayed China's exemption as a serious flaw. The protocol has been embraced by most other big nations, however, and only requires ratification by Russia to take effect.
      Of course, saying that it "only requires ratification by Russia" is like saying that the liberation of Iraq "only required a UN resolution in its favor." Putin has said Russia isn't going to join Kyoto. But the bigger problem is that, once again, the Times is rewriting history to pretend that George Bush rejected Kyoto. Kyoto was DOA when Bill Clinton signed it. The Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto in 1997, when Clinton was in office. So why does the Times keep trying to pretend that the Bush administration changed US policy in this area?
    2. Reliability:
      Official Chinese statistics had shown a decline in coal production and consumption in the late 1990's, even as the economy was growing 8 percent a year. But many Western and Chinese researchers have become suspicious of that drop over the last several years.

      They point out that the decline assumed that local governments had followed Beijing's instructions to close 47,000 small, unsafe mines producing low-grade coal and many heavily polluting small power plants. Yet researchers who visited mines and power plants found that they often remained open, with the output not being reported to Beijing because local administrators feared an outcry if they shut down important employers.

      How much of the public policy debate is based upon the assumption that "official" statistics reflect reality? How accurate is that assumption? How accurate can global warming models be when the inputs consist of faulty data?

    October 25, 2003


    2-0 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 26, 2003

    Apt description

    The New York Times doesn't believe in enforcing immigration laws, which is fine. The New York Times makes that clear in its reporting, which is not fine. Illegal aliens are always treated in their pages as victims of the government. It's a point I make often in reading the paper. As such, I was amused to see Mosey's analysis of their reporting.

    A sob story in the New York Times with their usual "not getting the point, but trying to tug at your heart strings, anyway" style about two of the people busted in the WalMart third-shift cleaners raid.
    I think that ought to replace "All the News That's Fit To Print," don't you?

    I certainly think we may want to rethink our immigration laws, and I do think there are occasional circumstances in which we may genuinely feel sorry for the way an illegal alien is treated -- but even assuming this is one of those instances, that doesn't justify using the news section of the paper to make that case.

    Insert Orwell references here

    Two privacy related stories caught my eye today.

    1) Joanne Jacobs reports on a Buffalo charter school that is tracking students with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. For now, they track school attendance, but the principal "plans to use RFID to track library loans, disciplinary records, cafeteria purchases and visits to the nurse's office. Eventually he'd like to expand the system to track students' punctuality (or lack thereof) for every class and to verify the time they get on and off school buses."

    Joanne is cautiously supportive:

    I don't know. School is a public place. Library check-outs, school nurse visits and disciplinary problems are on record. This is a more efficient way of keeping attendance and managing school records. And it's a school of choice. Parents who don't want their kid wearing a tracking chip can send them to a school that doesn't keep such close tabs on students.
    I was slightly alarmed when I first heard of this story, but given that this is a charter school, I have far fewer concerns. The wonders of competition: let parents choose whether they like this approach or not.

    2) The Postal Service is looking into tracking every piece of mail, not just by location of the letter a la FedEx, but by the identity of the sender. They're starting with bulk mailings, but want to expand it to all mail.

    The President's Commission on the United States Postal Service recently recommended the use of sender identification for every piece of mail," the Federal Register stated. "Requiring sender-identification for discount-rate mail is an initial step on the road to intelligent mail."

    Also cited in the notice are two congressional committee recommendations urging the Postal Service to explore the concept of sender identification, including the "feasibility of using unique, traceable identifiers applied by the creator of the mailpiece."

    "We're not ready to go there yet, but we are trying to make an initial step to make all mail, including discount mail, easily identified as to who the sender is," Mr. Walker said.

    "Smart stamps" or personalized stamps with an embedded digital code would identify the sender, destination and class.

    I have no idea how this would work, logistically. It would require a total reworking of the postal system. You'd either have to be identified at the time of purchase of stamps -- in which case people wouldn't be able to borrow stamps from each other anymore -- or at the time of mailing -- in which case people wouldn't be able to mail for each other anymore.

    But logistics aside, this one is scarier than the story above. Unlike the charter school, the Postal Service holds a government monopoly, at least for ordinary mail. Anonymity is an established feature of mail, while it isn't a feature of school attendance. Want to be an anonymous whistleblower? Want to criticize politicians without retribution? Good luck. Indeed, the Supreme Court has upheld the right to speak anonymously in the past; this would make it much more difficult to do so.

    3) I guess I could add a third story here, which I saw the other day. Eric Muller of IsThatLegal? proposes a fund-raising technique for traffic cops:

    This program brings to mind a question that I have long pondered. It arises for me specifically in the context of the NJ Turnpike, but it pertains to any highway that gives you a toll coupon when you enter the highway and then collects it from you (with a payment) when you leave the highway.

    Highways like that strike me as huge potential revenue sources for the states that operate them. Why? Because they offer the possibility of entirely mechanized enforcement of the speeding laws.

    Let’s say the distance between exit 1 and exit 5 is 65 miles, and the posted speed limit is 65 miles per hour over that entire stretch of highway. If a person is issued a time-stamped entry coupon at Exit 1 at noon and arrives at Exit 5 before 1:00, he has been speeding. Period.

    Why not issue him a speeding ticket at exit 5 when he pays his toll and leaves the highway? This would be a superb revenue source for the state, and it would get people to stop speeding far more effectively (and cheaply) than sporadic enforcement by state troopers.

    As a technical matter, there's nothing wrong with Muller's idea. Unlike the "smart stamps," its's very simple to implement -- and in fact would be very efficient, more so than the current system. As a political matter, there'd be a riot if they tried to implement this. It wouldn't just be "privacy advocates" complaining. Speeding is a god-given right. If they catch you because you stupidly sped past a police car, that's one thing. If they catch you because Big Brother prevents you from speeding, that's intolerable. You might as well suggest that cars be programmed to read the speed limit from the road signs, and not permit drivers to exceed it.

    With all these issues, though, the real problem is that the whole "privacy" debate is ad hoc? We debate slogans on the one hand, and on the other hand, individual policies such as the ones above. People need to sit down and debate the fundamental questions: when do we have the right to anonymity? When do we have the right not to have people know who we are (*), and where we are? Are we ever entitled to these benefits in public? Is the "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard used by the Supreme Court even helpful here?

    (*) Which leads me to a current legal dispute in Nevada, over when the police have the right to ask you for identification. But I'll post on that elsewhen.

    October 27, 2003

    Like looking for hay in a haystack

    Andrew Sullivan is asking for assistance:

    If you find similar examples of headlines declaring things that the body of the piece denies, please send them in.
    Funny, I thought he already had a subscription to the New York Times. Pick a story. Any story.

    Moving To New Hampshire?

    The Democratic Party there isn't exactly preparing a welcome wagon for all those Free-Staters:

    "If you've got people saying we just want to mind our own business, keep government out of our lives, hey, we all feel that way," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. "But if they want to have a radical change in our form of government, no, you're not welcome here."

    Quick, someone alert John Kerry!

    October 28, 2003

    Tridekalateralism, give or take a few nations.

    Porphyrogenitus links to a list of countries that have troops helping us out in Iraq: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. There's Australia and Mongolia, too. Quick, someone alert Dennis "sorry unilateralism" Kucinich!


    Blogger James DiBenedetto suggests that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, while acting as an apologist for Malaysian anti-semitism, has no answers of his own.

    And if you've got a suggestion for combating anti-Semitism, Paul, we'd all love to hear it.
    But, honestly, he's not being fair to Krugman. Krugman does have suggestions. They're just idiotic:
    Why won't the administration mollify Muslims by firing Lt. Gen. William Boykin, whose anti-Islamic remarks have created vast ill will, from his counterterrorism position? Why won't it give moderate Muslims a better argument against the radicals by opposing Ariel Sharon's settlement policy, when a majority of Israelis think that some settlements should be abandoned, and even Israeli military officers have become bitterly critical of Mr. Sharon?

    The answer is that in these cases politics takes priority over the war on terror.

    No, Paul. The answer is that in these cases, your "solutions" have nothing to do with the problem. Islamic fanaticism isn't a result of William Boykin's comments. Islamic fanaticism long predates William Boykin's comments. In the months after 9/11, when Krugman's caricature of George Bush would have ranted and raved about our Islamic enemies, Bush went out of his way to proclaim Islam a religion of peace. He made it clear that our enemy wasn't Islam, but only Islamic extremists. (The much derided decision to include North Korea in the Axis of Evil ("What? Is Bush crazy? North Korea doesn't have ties to Iraq!") was clearly motivated by a desire to mention a non-Muslim country so the US wouldn't appear to be singling out Islamic ones.)) And yet, half of the Islamic world cheered for Osama Bin Laden, and the other half denied that he had anything to do with 9/11. Firing William Boykin would appease the New York Times, but not Islamofascists.

    And settlements? The only settlements that the US could oppose to improve our standing in the Muslim world are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Nobody cares about settlements. They hate Israel. Not settlements. No amount of involvement in the "peace process" on the part of Israel, or the United States, has ever mollified Islamic fanatics.

    The idea that there's some magic formula to make Islamic extremists like us is naive at best. But one suspects that Krugman doesn't really believe what he says; he's just using it as a club with which to attack his enemies. The US appeasing Islamic radicals by opposing Israeli settlements would be like the White House appeasing Paul Krugman by sending him a Christmas card. (And yes, I know that Krugman is Jewish.)

    October 30, 2003

    Fair And Balanced II

    Is Donald Luskin insane? If this post on Atrios is what it purports to be, he just might be; at a minimum, he sure doesn't have any common sense.

    Dear “Atrios”:

    This firm represents Donald L. Luskin, a Contributing Editor to National Review Online and author and host of Poorandstupid.com, among other activities. You recently linked to Mr. Luskin’s October 7, 2003, posting on his website entitled “Face To Face With Evil,” in which he chronicles his attendance at a lecture and book signing presented by Paul Krugman. You chose the unfortunate caption “Diary of a Stalker” for your link. More importantly, your readers, in responding to your invitation to comment, have posted numerous libelous statements regarding Mr. Luskin. Picking up on the theme you introduced, several have made false assertions that Mr. Luskin has committed the crime of stalking. Such a statement constitutes libel per se, an actionable tort subjecting both the author and the publisher to liability for both actual and punitive damages. As a result of your control over and participation in the comment section of your site, as well as the fact that Mr. Luskin has personally brought these libelous comments to your attention already, you face personal liability for their distribution.

    There's more in that vein.

    Threatening a libel suit because Atrios (parroting Paul Krugman) accused Luskin of "stalking"? There are so many things wrong with this that I don't know where to begin. But let's start with this: for a statement to be libel, it must be untrue. Not only must it be untrue, but it must be perceived as a statement of fact. While "stalking" is certainly a real crime, it is also a figure of speech. Would the reasonable reader, seeing that comment, think that Donald Luskin has committed the crime of stalking -- that is, causing a reasonable fear of bodily harm in a victim through a course of conduct directed at that person? Or would the reasonable reader understand it to be a metaphor, understand that Luskin is being accused of being unduly obsessed with attacking Krugman's views?

    Not only does the context here make it highly likely that it would be understood as the latter, but all the surrounding circumstances make it even clearer. That is, we have an anonymous speaker making the accusation on the internet. Most people who spend time on the internet quickly realize that hyperbole and overheated rhetoric is common, and doesn't have any special significance, particularly when anonymous.

    The second problem with the threatened lawsuit is that it's unlikely that Atrios would be held responsible for the comments made by his readers. Atrios is providing a forum for their views, but that's not enough. Congress, in one of the few things it has done right, has provided a safe harbor for those who run "interactive computer services" so that they're not liable if a user of those services makes a defamatory statement. (That's the general rule; there are exceptions.)

    Now, I should note that this is merely a demand letter, not a lawsuit, and it's possible that it is meant solely to intimidate. But if it actually provides a preview of Luskin's future legal strategy, then he and his attorneys need their heads examined. Didn't they learn anything from the Fox News-Al Franken suit? These sorts of suits make the plaintiffs look foolish and bullying, and give extra publicity to the defendants. And that's all they accomplish. What can he be thinking?

    October 31, 2003

    People Blog The Darndest Things

    If the Bible were written today, the story of the Good Samaritan would include his blogging his nice deeds of the day. (We'd also have the First Blog of Paul to the Ephesians, but that's besides the point). Here's an email from a reporter friend of mine:

    I was at an assignment last Thursday night (Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey of MTV "Newlyweds" fame). I drove a company van, left my workbag (which I shouldn't have brought) in the passenger seat, went into an event from 7 to 9:30 p.m. I came out and well, noticed a glint of glass in the front seat and quickly figured out I'd been robbed!Some guy (I'm assuming it was a guy) did a smash and grab, breaking the company vehicle's passenger window and taking my bag. I called 911 -- like they cared! They said someone would call me back eventually (they did... eventually).

    Anyway, fortunately, nothing of value was in my bag except to me and even then, nothing serious. The worst was something of sentimental value: my address book circa 1990 which I hardly used. I figured the bag was history.

    But while in Chicago the next day, I got a call from some guy named Dusty who... found my bag! I luckily had my cel phone bill in a side pocket and he called my number.

    Anyway, when I came to pick up my bag Monday evening, he had left already but his girlfriend (and secretary) was still there. She told me he wrote about finding my bag in his blog (the story is on the bottom half of his entry)


    It's hilarious! Anyway, I wanted to give him a gift certificate in front of the restaurant he found it (ESPNZone) but ESPNZone was having a private party and not giving out gift cards. So I stuck $30 in an envelope with a note and gave it to his girlfriend. A happy ending. The only thing stolen that I could fathom? A roll of stamps. He's set for Christmas, I guess... :)

    I saw him Saturday at a wedding after he had his bag stolen, but before he knew someone had found it. So I'm happy there was a happy ending. Sadly for the blogger, though, my friend is not a spy and does not have access to a hovercraft. (Although it's possible that he is a spy and I just don't know about it. But he'd better not be keeping a hovercraft from me!)

    About October 2003

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