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February 2004 Archives

February 2, 2004

Free Hint: Don't Appoint Kissinger This Time

So after having his arm twisted, President Bush has finally agreed to an independent investigation of some sort as to what went wrong, intelligencewise, on the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction fiasco.

In terms of the politics of the situation,I think Bush is being an idiot. By rejecting the idea of an investigation, he made it look like he had something to hide. And by giving in only after weeks of criticism and demands for an investigation (or is it only days? It seems like weeks.), he's not going to get any credit for trying to get to the bottom of things. It looks like he grudgingly did so only after pressure became too great for him to bear. Which means either he simply doesn't care why the intelligence was wrong, or he already knows why, because he was aware it was false from the beginning.

For what it's worth, I think the answer is much closer to the former than the latter, with the added factor that he cares more about re-election than anything, and he feels that giving even an inch, admitting that there was a problem, will hurt his chances.

(Or is Bush craftier than I thought? Perhaps his logic went like this: "If I spontaneously respond to the Kay report by appointing a commission to investigate, my critics will accuse me of stalling. They'll insist upon a more immediate response. But by dragging my feet I got them to demand a commission to investigate, which I just gave them, so now they can't complain." Nah, he's not that crafty.)

My guess as to the ultimate outcome of the investigation: the resulting report will gently chide the administration for being too sure of itself, but will ultimately blame the CIA. But that blame will be posed in a way that actually exonerates the CIA; that is, the report will lay responsibility at the feet of the CIA, but rather than saying that they did something wrong, it will say that they need more resources in order to do their job effectively. I'm not going out on a limb here; every report about a government screwup ultimately concludes that the fault is institutional rather than personal, and proclaims that the solution is more money.

Canary in the coal mine?

In 2000, Dan Drezner worked as an (unpaid) advisor to the Bush campaign. In 2004, Dan Drezner hasn't decided who to support:

Here's my position -- I'm genuinely unsure of who I'm going to vote for. More and more, Bush reminds me of Nixon. He's not afraid to make the bold move in foreign policy. On domestic policy, Bush seems like he'll say or do anything, so long as it advances his short-term political advantage. If Karl Rove thought imposing wage and price controls would win Pennsylvania and Michigan for Bush, you'd see an Executive Order within 24 hours. Andrew Sullivan and others have delivered this harangue, so I won't repeat it.

If -- a big if -- the Democrats put forward a credible alternative, then I could very well pull the donkey lever.

As Mr. Instapundit would say: Indeed.

And if Bush can't even retain people like Drezner, he isn't going to win. As I've begun saying, I really don't understand Bush's strategy on so many issues at this point. Deficit spending is one thing; lowering taxes is good policy (as well as good politics), and defense outlays are necessary. But the simultaneous gratuitous bumps in domestic spending are then indefensible, and yet Bush seems to be determined to use the federal treasury to buy votes that can't be bought, while ignoring the votes this profligacy is costing him.

While I don't think any Democrat other than Joe "Joe-mentum" Lieberman can be trusted on foreign policy, or trade policy, and I don't want to see any of them nominating federal judges, we might well get better fiscal policy if we select one of them as president and retain a Republican Congress.

Revenge of the birds

Tee hee.

(See this entry if you don't get it.)

February 4, 2004

Stars and space

This weekend, the New York Times used 1500 words on its Op/Ed page to tell us how little room there is on the Op/Ed page:

After all, we don't have a lot of space. On a day with two columnists and an advertisement, Op-Ed has room for about 1,200 words of type. That's it. (Speaking of those advertisements: we have nothing to do with them. They're sold, placed and scheduled by The Times' advertising department.) These unyielding boundaries mean that Op-Ed cannot harbor any aspirations about being encyclopedic. ("All the views that are fit to print?" Not a chance, alas.) For this reason, important subjects, issues and ideas will go uncovered. Op-Ed will inevitably be subjective and idiosyncratic.

These space considerations can be frustrating for editors and contributors alike. Roughly 1,200 unsolicited submissions come to our office every week via e-mail, fax and the United States Postal Service. Many of these submissions are first-rate — and most get turned down simply because we don't have enough room to publish everything we like. How do we know they're good? Because all submissions are read; many are reviewed by the entire staff; some are hotly debated before a decision is made.

Okay. So if they get 1200 submissions every week, then that's about 170 every day. So how in the hell did someone there come to the conclusion that an Op/Ed on presidential horoscopes was one of the two best submissions of the day yesterday? I'm all for a newspaper not taking itself too seriously, but this is a paper that won't even print comics. And they have time for drivel like "Thus, Dr. Dean's character contains a paradox: he is both deep and shallow., "[Lieberman] is in a vital transitional phase.", "However, [Edwards'] chart shows him to be a true son of the messenger and trickster god, and so capable of exceptional dualism" and (my personal favorite) "[Sharpton] is fascinated by other cultures and desires global harmony, seeing the whole world as his home." ?!?!?!?!?!?!

February 5, 2004

It's not over 'til the fa--

Damien Penny, reviewing the results of Tuesday's primaries, says

John Edwards is getting all the attention for his victory in South Carolina despite losing to Kerry almost everywhere else, which suggests that the media would prefer a Bush-Edwards race to a Bush-Kerry one. But it's hard to see how Kerry can be stopped now.
Hard to see how Kerry can be stopped? Sheesh, Kerry has a total of 11% of the required delegate total to win the nomination -- and that includes a bunch of unpledged delegates; if you only count the ones actually pledged to Kerry right now, he has about 8% of the required total. Is he ahead? Sure; his closest competitor in pledged delegates is Edwards, who only has half that. But why on earth are people calling the race when, needing to get to 100, the score is 8-4? (Or 11-6, if you want to include the unpledged ones.)

Why are we (pundits and bloggers) so eager to declare winners and losers? Sure, if you gave me even odds, I'd pick Kerry over Edwards or Dean right now. But doesn't it stand to reason that if Kerry can go from frontrunner to nobody to frontrunner in such a short time, that he can revert to nobody in an equally short time?

I mean, it's not as if there's a real reason people are voting for Kerry; as David Brooks hilariously noted a couple of days before Tuesday's primaries, he's only getting support now because people have decided to give him support:

So New Hampshire voters who had dismissed Kerry as a pathetic, unelectable loser days before took a new look at him after Iowa and figured that if he could win an election, he must be electable (which is sort of definitional), and concluded he is a triumphantly electable winner. Now Kerry is riding this great wave of electability, and he has a huge seething army of fanatical Kerry supporters who will follow him to the death, unless, of course, he stumbles - in which case they will abandon him faster than you can say "electability."

In which case, John, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

So why treat his victory as a fait accompli? At least let the fat lady get out of her dressing room, first.

Stupid White Man

First he endorses Wesley Clark, and now this?

A high school senior's choice for a work-study job was a little too racy in the eyes of her superintendent.

Laura Williams, 17, took a job about a month ago as a hostess at a Hooters restaurant, the national chain known for its scantily clad waitresses.

Superintendent Michael Moore has asked Williams to quit, saying the job is not appropriate for a work-study program.

"I have questions in my mind because of the advertising and sexual connotations," Moore said.

What questions? Maybe I can help explain.

Hmm. Given that Hooters is a "family restaurant" (No, really; just ask them!), I wonder if the school can legally 'discriminate' against them based on their advertising. Doesn't sound content-neutral to me. I smell lawsuit! (Or maybe that's just greasy buffalo wings.)

Very unique

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Sasha Volokh has been struggling with the question of the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust. Or, rather, he hasn't been struggling; he's "not into" it. Rather, his readers have been struggling to convince him otherwise. See here and here for followups. His basic point can be summed up here...

Alas, I still don't buy the moral uniqueness. To repeat my point from below: the Holocaust is evil because killing six million Jews is six million murders, and committing six million murders is highly, highly evil. Really evil. But not more evil than killing six million other innocents. (As I've mentioned below, the Holocaust also has lots of characteristics that make it especially grisly, especially memorable, especially important as a cautionary tale, especially relevant in a world of ethnic warfare, etc.; but you can be all those things without having extra evil.)
...but you should read all three links (don't worry; they're not too long) so that you understand the context.

Sasha has already rejected several explanations, so I'm not sure he's going to buy this one, either, but let me have a go at the topic: Sasha mostly rejects the idea that motive matters. But the Holocaust is morally unique precisely because there was no motive, because it was so senseless. There have been other mass killings in history -- though few on the scale of the Holocaust -- and some of those were also ethnically motivated. But, to my knowledge -- and I acknowledge here that my knowledge of history is incomplete -- the Holocaust is the only instance of genocide purely for the sake of genocide.

Some cases of mass murder -- the famines in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, for instance -- were the result of attempts to implement and/or maintain economic "reforms." Insane attempts, to be sure, and the deaths were a foreseeable consequence, and the perpetrators didn't mind. But the primary idea wasn't to wipe out all these people; the idea was to make an omelet without caring how many eggs got broken along the way. (Clarification: to an extent, these famines were targetted at specific groups of people, people who presented a problem for the regimes. But that leads to my next point.)

What about the ethnically-based mass murders, where the killings were intentional? Well, most of those cases were actually the result of conflicts over land, resources, etc. Saddam Hussein wasn't gassing Kurds for fun; he was gassing Kurds because there was armed Kurdish opposition to his government and he was trying to suppress it. The Bosnia/Kosovo ethnic cleansings were similar. The westward expansion of the United States, which some have termed "genocide," was a straightforward conflict over land. Indians had it, Americans wanted it, and the only way to get it was to take it by force. I don't mean, of course, that these arguments excuse the killings of innocents, particularly on the huge scales in question. These cases were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. But in none of those cases was murder its own justification. General Sheridan may have said -- or may not have -- that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, but he didn't act on it. That is, while he may have killed Indians -- while many people did -- nobody was going around New York City ferreting out all those with a hint of Indian blood and slaughtering them; nobody, to my knowledge, was even suggesting it. Saddam Hussein wasn't planning to invade Turkey so that he could wipe out their Kurds.

But the Holocaust? It's different. The Nazi goal wasn't to take territory from Jews. It wasn't to take resources from Jews. It wasn't to destroy armed opposition to the German government. There was no underlying reason for it; the goal was to wipe out Jews. Worse, it was such an important goal for the Nazis that even while fighting a continental war for their regime's survival, resources were diverted away from the war effort to continue the Holocaust.

Is that different than merely killing people you come across? I think it is. I think killing for the pure pleasure of killing can be distinguished -- and can be reasonably said to be morally worse -- than killing to accomplish an end, no matter how evil the latter is. Sasha talks about the Holocaust being "not more evil than killing six million other innocents." I'll stipulate for the sake of argument that if a group decides they're going to kill six million names at random from the phone book, that would be just as bad as killing six million people in order to wipe out a specific ethnic group. But that isn't what happened, and as far as I know, that has never happened. As such, the Holocaust is morally unique among actual historical events.

February 6, 2004

Bad terrorists. No dessert for you.

While surfing, I happened to run across this, from last November, illustrating precisely why it's hard to take humanitarian NGOs seriously. This one's a Human Rights Watch press release: Iraq: Targeting of Civilians by Insurgents Must Stop. Er, yes. Scolding terrorists -- via press release, no less -- generally works quite well.

I know, I know: on the scale of things to complain about, this one's pretty low down on the list. It just struck me as absurd when I saw this.

Lawsuit kickoff

By now, I'm sure many people have heard of the idiot who became the first to file a lawsuit against Janet Jackson's breasts (or something like that). The news coverage has quoted the claim that the stunt caused people to "suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment, and serious injury." But the claim that most amused me was actually this one:

15. Moreover, because defendants knew that the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl half-time show would have a worldwide audience and knew that for much of the world, these events would reflect the standards and the reputation of Americans abroad, plaintiffs and members of the class have been defamed by the defendants and have suffered injuries and damages to their reputations as Americans. Defendants knew or should have known that the standing and credibility of Americans in the world would be harmed as a result of the defendants' self-indulgent and self-serving acts.
Words fail me. (And believe me, that's rather unusual. Just ask my wife.) But if I can sue anybody who embarrasses me as an American, look out, U.S. Congress, Pete Rose, and Geraldo Rivera.

Speaking of "self-indulgent and self-serving acts," I know an attorney who files a frivolous lawsuit to get his name in the newspaper. But it turns out he's not just an attorney; he's also a politician:

In addition to his law practice, Mr. Ritchie served as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 98th, 99th, and 100th General Assemblies, serving on the Finance, Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees and the Select Committee on Ethics.
Well, that explains it.

February 8, 2004

If she's not singing, she's at least coming on the stage

Okay, I've complained about premature declarations that Kerry has won the Democratic nomination, but I'm only as stubborn as I need to be before looking foolish. Given the results of Washington and Michigan, it doesn't seem realistic to expect anybody else is going to catch Kerry. As a mathematical matter, Kerry is miles away from the nomination, and anybody who hasn't dropped out can catch him. As a practical matter, though, things are different.

Edwards finished third in Michigan with 13%, and fourth in Washington, behind Dennis the extraterrestrial Kucinich. He hasn't done diddlysquat outside the South. He hasn't demonstrated any ability to appeal to non-Southern voters. At this point, you have to think he's running for vice president. Clark ditto -- only more so. He barely scratched the radar in either state. That leaves Howard Dean. But his campaign is in such disarray, and now to add insult to injury, one of his major backers, the AFSCME union has withdrawn its endorsement. That seems somewhat sleazy -- whoever heard of "takebacks" in the endorsement game -- but it's a big blow. Dean's pinning all his hopes on Wisconsin now -- but even if he wins, what good will that do him? Sending the message that he can only win in the most liberal states is hardly the way to convince people he can win the general election.

Worst part of Kerry winning: my mid-2003 prediction that Dean would win, which seemed so prescient just a few months ago, now seems to have been proven wrong. I hate being wrong.

Best part of Kerry winning: perhaps Dean's defeat will mean we will finally stop hearing left-wing blather about "grassroots" crap.

February 9, 2004


Gregg Easterbrook is usually sensible and almost always entertaining, but he has some weird obsessions. For instance, he's fanatically anti-SUV, once writing an article that called them "sociopathic." Now he's having a hissy fit over last Thursday's decision by Judge Shira Scheindlin that the NFL has to let Maurice Clarett enter the draft, despite Clarett's age.

He accuses Scheindlin of poor legal reasoning, but he illustrates poor reasoning himself, repeatedly using flawed analogies:

Why shouldn't a 19-year-old be allowed to be an airline pilot--how dare the airlines keep 19-year-olds out of the cockpit? Numerous professions require minimum age, possession of degrees or minimum years of training experience for entry. Judges don't order airlines to allow 19-year-olds at the controls, even though age and experience rules clearly place restraints on the bargaining power of 19-year-old aspiring pilots. But then--judges fly on planes, so they don't want them to crash. Federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who yesterday ordered the NFL draft open to anyone regardless of age, knows that if the NFL crashes that won't affect her.
Where do I start? First, the NFL's rules are not safety rules. It can't "crash." Second, "professions" don't require minimum age, possession of degrees, or minimum years of experience. Employers do. But not in conspiracy with each other; they decide individually what age they want. Of course, there are some professions with industry-wide requirements -- but those, such as airline pilot, are imposed by the government, not by companies conspiring together.

And as a matter of law, he's simply wrong.

And the NFL is one single business entity, creating one product: its season. Scheindlin's order is written as if pro football were an open marketplace of multiple independent businesses--anyone could field a team and challenge the Packers to a game, the way anyone can market a chewing gum and challenge Wrigley. But a pro sports league is a single business entity with multiple divisions. In the case of the NFL, the league is a business entity with 32 divisions, all having a shared interest in keeping product quality high. Anti-trust law, called on in Scheindlin's decision, binds General Motors when it competes against Ford. But the Rams aren't competing with the Steelers in that same way--the Rams aren't trying to put the Steelers out of business, nor are they trying to win over the Steelers' customers. In fact, the Rams and all other NFL teams strongly desire that the Steelers and all other NFL teams stay in business, which is why NFL teams equally share television revenues, their main source of income. Scheindlin's decision treats the NFL as 32 separate businesses; she just doesn't understand sports economics.
Perhaps, but Easterbrook just doesn't understand sports law. The teams aren't competing in the market for customers -- but they are competing in the market for players, and the NFL is 32 separate businesses. Some leagues -- Major League Soccer, for instance -- have set themselves up as single entities. That is, one company owns everything -- all the teams, contracts, etc. But the National Football League isn't such a league. Given the prominence of the antitrust suits the NFL has lost -- the Oakland Raiders suing to move to Los Angeles, for instance -- you'd think Easterbrook would know that.

Continue reading "Easterhuh?" »

Why not?

I happened to flip past the bad movie The Siege on television on Sunday. The basic plot: Muslim terrorists. Denzel Washington's kinder, gentler, civil-liberties-friendly FBI vs. Bruce Willis's mean ol' U.S. Army. (With Annette Benning adding the requisite CIA intrigue.) Frankly, it wasn't a very good film, with a particularly muddled ending, but because the movie was from 1998 -- in other words, before 9/11 -- there's some added poignancy to the plot. In the movie, there are terrorist cells operating in New York. The first takes out a city bus, Hamaslike. The FBI goes to work investigating. Each time the FBI thinks they've accomplished something, a new attack takes place. A Broadway theater. Then a school. Finally, a car bomb takes out the federal building itself, wiping out FBI headquarters in New York and killing hundreds of people. Panic everywhere. The federal government has had enough, and declares martial law, and we get to the silly Hollywood confrontation between the defenders of the Constitution and the defenders of people-who-don't-want-to-be-blown-up.

But here's the question: when you watch the movie, there's an eerie familiarity to events. But that very familiarity prompts you to ask: why was it different? Why were there a series of attacks in the movie but not in real life? How come Al Qaeda never followed up on 9/11? In Iraq, or Israel, we see repeated terror attacks, just like in the movie. But in the United States in real life, we had 9/11 and then nothing. Why? If the goal was to scare us, to disrupt our lives, to cause us to tear up the Constitution (as Denzel Washington cleverly discovered in the movie), to get us to pull out of the Middle East, to start a clash of civilizations, then why not have repeat attacks? Wouldn't a few suicide bombings on city buses in New York have stuck an exclamation point on 9/11? So why didn't they?

Don't tell me it's because our law enforcement is that effective; nobody ever accused the Israelis of being slouches, and yet they're not perfect. It's obviously not due to a shortage of terrorists, as we can see from events around the world. So why only one attack? (Not that I'm rooting for another attack, mind you. I just don't get it. It just seems like, whatever Al Qaeda's specific goal, extra attacks would have helped immensely.)

February 10, 2004

Gulf of the Atlantic

We always hear talk about the United States being the only industrialized country that still believes in the death penalty. It's not actually true; what people mean is that we're the only Western industrialized country which does. This is often cited as an example of American barbarism compared to European civilization, though there's actually some doubt about how much this reflects actual European opinion versus that of European "elites." But as far as reflecting the opinion of these "elites," it actually understates the difference between the two continents. Swiss voters approved a referendum to enact tougher sentencing laws on violent criminals, requiring them to be given life imprisonment if two psychiatrists agree at conviction that they're incurably dangerous, unless and until scientific evidence later shows that they can be "cured."

Seems pretty modest -- it's not even true life imprisonment, after all -- but believe it or not, these reforms are characterized as "some of Europe's harshest laws on violent criminals and pedophiles." But what illustrates the true gap between European "elites" and the US is that even these reforms are too much for them:

Legal experts said that Switzerland would violate the European human rights convention if the proposals were strictly interpreted and the criminals concerned were not granted regular judicial review of their cases.
Apparently, in some circles in Europe, parole is considered a "human right." Are these people delusional?

The issue, apparently, is their different view of the criminal justice system:

Heinz Sutter, the head of the justice ministry's legal department, said he hoped that the sisters would agree to a broader interpretation of their proposals that would be in line with the government's plans for reform.

"The proposals are questionable from the point of view of human rights," he said. "They could lead to criminals not being released even if it can be proved that they are no longer dangerous through illness or age, for example."

(Gasp! Criminals might not be released even if they're not dangerous! Horrors!) They seem to view imprisonment as strictly preventative; the idea that the justice system is supposed to punish doesn't seem to occur to them. But apparently that's only true of European "elites"; average Europeans -- or at least Swiss -- have a different view.

Central intelligence?

I'm obviously not an expert on the subject, and clearly Stansfield Turner is one. But does his proposal that the nation's fifteen intelligence agencies (?!?!? We have 15 intelligence agencies? Yes, we do.) be consolidated under one person really sound like the best idea? Turner suggests this as a solution to the problems with the Iraqi WMD intelligence, but I don't quite get his reasoning. The problems were the result of one or more of the following:

  • Deception by the president.
  • Cherry-picking of intelligence which supported the administration's proposals.
  • Inherent difficulties in gaining accurate information about the inner workings of a totalitarian state.
In any of those cases, I don't see how Turner's proposal is supposed to help. It might make it easier to pick out a scapegoat after the fact, but is that really what our goal should be? As long as you have more than one agency, there will always be more than one assessment, so "cherry picking" will always be possible. It's not as if putting all the agencies under one roof will result in one answer; to the extent it does, we already have a process -- the National Intelligence Estimate -- for coming up with a consensus of what the intelligence shows. Moreover, to the extent it does lead to a greater consensus, is that really a good thing? Intelligence is an ambiguous business; disguising that fact by creating the illusion of consensus would be more misleading than helpful.

Certainly, it would reduce inefficiency and duplication of effort if control of all intelligence agencies were centralized. Central planning always does that. The problem is that duplication of effort isn't always a bad thing. Competition is more chaotic, but that's a strength as well as a weakness. It means that when one attempt gets it wrong, another has the opportunity to get it right. Why give that up just to give the head of central intelligence more power?

You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore

Just kidding.

By the way, what should we make of this?

Dr. Dean said he "was unaware of making this decision" before announcing it. He explained that he often let choices "incubate unconsciously for a long time before I actually make a formal decision."
And Bush is supposed to be the dumb one? Do we really want a president who is "unaware" that he is making decisions?

(Actually, I think it's pretty clear that the answer is "no." But I suppose it's an interesting way to create plausible deniability: "Don't blame me; my subconscious did it when I wasn't paying attention.")

Great Moments In Border Security

I'm glad to know we're protecting the country from church-going Mainers:

Crossing the U.S.-Canada border to go to church on a Sunday cost a U.S. citizen $10,000 for breaching Washington's tough new security rules.

The expensive trip to church was a surprise for Richard Albert, a resident of rural Maine who lives so close to the Canadian border the U.S. customs office is right next door to his house...

The local U.S. customs station is closed on Sundays, so he just drove around the locked gate, as he had done every weekend since the gate appeared last May, following a tightening of border security.

My wife is from a border town in Maine very much like the one in the article (though her border crossing was open 24/7), so I know from experience that what the government has done to this poor guy is ludicrous. In some of these tiny French-speaking towns (which were lopped off from Canada rather arbitrarily when the border was finalized in the 1800's), the *only* way to the outside world is through Canada. Residents of these towns by necessity have been crossing the border unimpeded for centuries. (Heck, *I've* done it a few times.) Closing a flimsy little gate on these people and fining them when they try to go about their lives does nothing to make us safer.

Neither does leaving a border crossing unguarded in the first place, for that matter.

See No Evil

Bob Herbert asks:

Another broad issue that increasing numbers of voters are coalescing around is President Bush's credibility problems. There were no weapons of mass destruction. So why have we sacrificed the lives of more than 500 American troops and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians? What was the noble cause for which they died?

Sigh. How soon he forgets.

Because it's harder than we think?

David asks:

How come Al Qaeda never followed up on 9/11? In Iraq, or Israel, we see repeated terror attacks, just like in the movie. But in the United States in real life, we had 9/11 and then nothing. Why?

It's an unsettling question. Planting a bomb on a bus or a subway seems trivially easy. My fear is that it's only a matter of time untill it happens here.

Then again, consider where the terrorist attacks have been happening: Israel. Iraq. Indonesia. Turkey. Russia. Tunisia. Saudi Arabia. (Also consider such previously terrorism-prone places such as Spain and Northern Ireland). They've been happening there because that's where the terrorists already live. In each of those countries, they can count on the support of a not-insignificant percentage of the population. While it takes only a few people to set a bomb, one needs hundreds, if not thousands, of local supporters for an extended campaign of bombings. Israel's problem is not that they are slouches; their problem is that they live among hundreds of thousands of terrorist supporters. (If not more.)

Also consider that the number of people in on the 9/11 plot had to be kept small. The more people in the know, the more likely their chances of getting caught before pulling it off. In other words, planning to leave people behind to blow up buses and subways would risk blowing the whole plot. In any case, it is likely that Al Qaeda considered the attacks that did happen - one building hit, then another a few minutes later, then another a few more minutes later, then another that was supposed to be hit a few more minutes later - enough exclamation points already. (I know *I* wasn't thinking "is that all there is?")

I'd also optimistically consider that since 9/11 we are doing something right. As a blogger named Emily puts it:

I don't believe that not having to deal with (yet - knock on wood. HARD) suicide bombing or other terrorist "activities" on a regular basis doesn't make us weak. In fact, it makes us strong. You know why? Because life is pretty damn pleasant when you don't live with that reality, and when we were finally forced to, WE KICKED ASS. The Taliban? Gone. Al-Quaeda? On the run or hiding in caves.

Perhaps the terrorists have learned that while Americans are willing to more or less tolerate things blowing up in far-off lands, if things start blowing up again here, we're capable of kicking ass even harder.

Well, perhaps. It's a comforting hope, anyway.

February 12, 2004

Figure of speech

Andrew Sullivan links to Noam Scheiber in the New Republic describing the Kerry phenomenon, using the now-famous cliche:

Kerry is clearly benefiting from the fact that people think other people are going to vote for him down the road, which is why they're voting for him now; they're not voting for him because he's the candidate they personally want to be president. As Chait points out, this is classic bubble behavior--you buy a stock not because it's intrinsically valuable, but because other people are buying it and the price is going up (and you think both of these things is likely to continue).
But what the heck kind of sense does this analogy make? When you buy a stock that everyone else is buying, it's because you can make money by doing so. The value's going up, and you want to get in on the way up. But what on earth does that have to do with Kerry? A voter doesn't derive any benefit from voting for him just because everyone else is. A voter can't wait until his candidate's delegate total peaks and then sell at a profit.

How is it "bubble behavior"? Democrats are voting for Kerry because they think he is "intrinsically valuable" in this context -- that is, they think he can beat Bush. Yes, they're voting on "electability" rather than his stance on specific issues, and yes, I understand that reporters think this is a shallow approach. (But in the larger picture, they are voting based on his stance on various issues: they prefer his views to those of George Bush.) But that doesn't make it "bubble behavior."

February 13, 2004


The New York Times reports that interrogations of captured Iraqi generals has revealed how confused the Iraqi military was -- and Tim Blair reminds us of a minor reporting discrepancy by the English-speaking world's least competent journalist.

February 14, 2004

Why not? Redux

Blogger Soccer Dad -- if that's his real name -- cites Charles Krauthammer in attempting to answer the question I posed about why Al Qaeda didn't follow up on 9/11. Krauthammer -- who was wondering the same thing I was -- proposes two theories to explain it:

  • Our success in weakening Al Qaeda
  • A desire to avoid anticlimax
Neither theory is particularly convincing to me, though each may have some truth to it. The first theory might explain why there have been no attacks recently, but it doesn't explain why there weren't any in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, before we had a chance to degrade their capabilities. And anticlimax? Come on. Yes, Al Qaeda likes to go for the dramatic, but a truck bombing of a major New York landmark could have been pretty darn dramatic, no?

Another theory pointed to by Soccer Dad is Lee Harris's theory that the attacks weren't truly aimed at the United States at all, but at the "Arab street." The goal was to impress them -- which was accomplished -- rather than us, so there was no need to follow up. This reminds me that I actually read an intriguing essay by Harris a year or so, entitled Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology, which fleshes this out.

Soccer Dad does remind me, though, that Richard Reid (i.e., the Shoe Bomber) attempted to blow up a plane in the months after 9/11. He was stopped, of course; we shouldn't ignore the possibility that Al Qaeda has made other follow-up attempts that have just failed for one reason or another.

Still, I think the ultimate lesson here is that we should be grateful that I'm not the one running Al Qaeda. If I were, there would have been many more attacks.


The NY Times article that David links to below has this intriguing second-to-last paragraph:

Dr. Kay, the former chief C.I.A. weapons inspector, has said that his team learned that no Special Republican Guard units had chemical or biological weapons — but that all of the officers believed that some other Special Republican Guard unit had them. He said it appeared that the Iraqi officers were the victims of a disinformation campaign by Mr. Hussein.

So even the Iraqis thought they had WMD! (Make that the Iraqis plus nearly everyone else in the world who was paying attention at the time. So why is it supposed to be somehow scandalous that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair thought so,too?)

February 16, 2004

Attack Of The 50-Foot Rebels

"Aristide Protesters Grow in Size" - headline, Yahoo News.

[Editor's note: the AP changes its headlines frequently; for the headline Peter noted, see here or here.]

Quis cusotdiet ipsos custodes?

Let nobody say I've never agreed with lefty blogger Atrios -- because I've finally spotted a post of us that I agree with. He highlights an amazing bit of arrogance illustrated by ombudsman Dan Okrent's latest column in the New York Times. Written for some reason as an imaginary interview with Okrent on his brief experience as ombudsman:

Q. So tell me, Dan. How are they treating you at The Times?

A. I'm glad you asked. It has been both better and worse than I expected - better because a lot of people here believe that The Times should be as open to examination as those The Times itself examines each day; their welcome has been generous and heartening. What's worse than I expected is the overt hostility from some of those who don't want me here.

Q. Is it aimed at you, or at the job?

A. Both. One reporter ripped me up and down about how offensive it was that the staff had to endure public second-guessing, how it makes reporters vulnerable to further attack, how the hovering presence of an ombudsman can hinder aggressive reporting.


Others have complained that as a former magazine writer and editor, I don't know anything about newspapers; as a non-Timesman, I don't appreciate how The Times is different from all other media institutions...

Sheesh. Okrent has barely written much of anything yet in his brief tenure as ombudsman; he certainly hasn't criticized anybody in any significant way. And yet the writers are "hostile" and "offended" at the mere possibility that they'll be asked to justify their actions? And then they wonder why there's such hostility towards their institution?

February 17, 2004

Oh, brother

It's common to hear people complain about George Bush that he owes everything he has achieved in his life to his family. So this study reported in the New York Times was interesting:

His astonishing assertion: differences between families explain only 25 percent of the nation's income inequality; the remaining 75 percent is explained by differences between siblings.
According to the article, it seems as if the research stands so far; the weakness is primarily in the fact that he doesn't explain well what is responsible for differences. He doesn't reject the idea that forces outside our control are partly responsible for success or failure...
Some of his more provocative findings concern middle-borns. In families with three or more children, Mr. Conley says, middle offspring are less likely to receive financial support for their education and may do less well in school than their older and younger siblings. The chances that a second child will attend private school drop by 25 percent with the birth of a third, Mr. Conley found, and the likelihood that he or she will be held back a year increased severalfold. Unlike typical first- and last-borns, he reasons, middle children never experience family life as an only child; instead, they are forced to compete with their siblings for money and attention. (In this sense, he concedes, birth order does matter: not as a psychological variable but as a constraint on family resources.)
...but his overall research does suggest that there are many factors, and pre-existing income inequality is only a small part.

Bathroom Break

Matt Welch complains about bathroom technology:

Meanwhile, as the Paperless Office I've been hearing about for decades utterly fails to materialize in my pulp-cluttered writing room, technology has leapfrogged in the one area where it couldn't be less welcome: the Paperless Bathroom.

The men out there, especially, know what I'm talking about: scalding automatic hand-dryers that start and stop at random, sensory activated faucets that only dispense water once you've thrust both elbows in the sink, hopped on one foot and chanted "Bloody Mary" three times -- and not a single humble paper towel in sight.

I'm sure women have first-hand experience with the problem, too, and I find that automatic hand-dryers usually pump out room-temperature air. Automatic faucets rarely work well, but they're still better than the faucets one has to hold down to get any water. (Has anyone ever successfully washed their hands at a sink with a hold-down faucet?) But I agree with his general point. And I believe most people, given a choice, would prefer good ol' regular faucets and paper towels to unreliable sensors.

But even better than refular faucets are the foot-pedals I found all through Italy. It's the same principle as the hold-down faucets here in the U.S., only you hold a pedal down with your foot. Which frees your hands for washing. It's so simple. No touching a dirty faucet, no forgetting to turn the water off, and no running out of water in 1.5 seconds. And no balky, expensive sensors. It'd be the perfect solution if it weren't for the lack of temperature control. So why haven't I ever seen one over here?

(Not that the bathrooms in Italy are all perfect; too many of them charged 1000 lira to enter, and some of them had holes in the ground where the toilets should be. Still, that foot-pedal idea deserves a Nobel Prize in toiletry.)

February 18, 2004

Lots of ketchup

Random question: assuming we credit him with his wife's money -- and assuming he wins in November -- would John Kerry be the richest person ever to be president of the United States?

February 20, 2004

Blaming the victim...'s foot?

The dangers of being contrarian, as illustrated by Gregg Easterbrook. Writing about the University of Colorado's football coach getting suspended in the wake of allegations that his former placekicker, Katie Hnida, was raped by a teammate, Easterbrook writes:

But, absurdly, these serious issues are not the ones that led to yesterday's suspension of the Colorado coach, Gary Barnett. He was suspended for saying that Hnida is a terrible player. Hnida is, in fact, a terrible player. In this respect, Barnett was only saying what everybody in college football has been politely avoiding.


But competing against men who are significantly larger and stronger, Hnida simply wasn't much of a player. It's ridiculous that stating this plain fact--not the alleged tolerance of sexual harassment--is what got the Colorado coach into trouble.

The "whoosh" you hear is the sound of Easterbrook missing the point. Of course she isn't a good player. But Barnett wasn't suspended for what he said about her talent. He was suspended for when he talked about her talent. What he actually said was:
It's a guy's sport. (Players) felt like Katie was forced on them. It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. I mean, you could be 90 years old, but if you could go out and play, they would respect you. Well Katie was a girl, and not only was she a girl, she was terrible. OK? And there's no other way to say it,
If he wasn't insinuating that she got raped in part because she wasn't a very good player, then he's one of the most clueless public speakers I've ever heard of.

Oh, and of course there's also the allegation that he warned another rape victim that if she dared to file a police report against one of his players, he'd back the player 100%.

It was these statements, not an inaccurate scouting report, that got Barnett suspended; Easterbrook must have known that. But when you feel the need to say something different just for the sake of saying something different, you end up saying dumb things, sometimes. Easterbrook seems to fall into that trap all too frequently, now that he has a blog. (And thank you, no need to point out that I may be the pot calling the kettle black here. Unlike Easterbrook, I'm not a professional. I'm saying dumb things for fun, not profit.)

Constituent service

Speaking of clueless, I happened to run across this story (via Crosblog) from a couple of weeks ago about a right-wing congressman who has attempted to use his political influence to help one of his cronies get leniency after raping a teenage girl.

In what one Marin prosecutor called a situation that raises questions of propriety, U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey intervened on behalf of an acquaintance who raped a Marin teenager.

Woolsey, D-San Rafael, used her official congressional stationery to tell a sentencing judge the sex felon had a "promising life ahead of him."

Oh, wait, sorry -- Lynn Woosley isn't a right-wing congressman; she's actually a leftist Democratic congresswoman. Perhaps that explains why this story barely made the news anywhere. Can you imagine what the coverage would have been like if Trent Lott had done this?

And Woolsey's explanation of her actions? Dodging and weaving:

Pressed by the Independent Journal on why she sent the letter, Woolsey was initially defensive and seemed to draw a blank.

"Obviously, in my eyes he is not a criminal," she said of the son of her office employee. But then she appeared to change her mind. "I knew nothing about the incidents. I had no idea what the courts had found out."

Woolsey, who wrote her letter after Pearson pleaded guilty on Sept. 11, 2003, to raping the Marin teen, said she was advocating for Pearson's family, not for him.

"What I said in that letter was that when deciding his sentence, he has a good support system - that was not based on what he did or didn't do. His family support system would be paying very close attention to what happened to him."

So, her defense is that she decided to ask for leniency for a criminal without knowing what the criminal had done? I see.

Leaving aside the twisting and turning over the letter, what about her use of official taxpayer-purchased government stationery to do it? Does that seem a little... improper to anyone else? A private citizen certainly has the right to provide input before sentencing; indeed, as I understand it, character witnesses are a normal part of the sentencing process. But a member of Congress has no right to officially intervene.

This isn't a big deal (except to the victim); the only reason I'm blogging about it is because I was shocked to find out about it when it had gotten virtually no press coverage. As far as I can tell, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, nor the AP nor Reuters has picked up this story. Not even as a brief mention. Why not?

February 23, 2004

Manufacturing contempt

I wonder what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon thinks about linguistics. I only wonder because he is certainly as qualified to talk about the subject as the author of this piece was to write the op/ed in question.

The New York Times has sunk to new lows.

Where's the outrage?

Kevin Drum, who's generally one of the more thoughtful liberal bloggers out there, answers one of the more puzzling questions out there: why all the Bush hatred? I mean, I understand that people dislike his policies, but they hate him personally. Why?

Why do I dislike George Bush? Because of his policies, obviously, and also because of temperament and personality characteristics that rub me the wrong way. But there's more. Whenever I think about this, one of the things that always settles into my mind is that he just doesn't deserve to be president. He never paid his dues.

It's not just that he got the job based partly on his family name. You could say the same thing about FDR, JFK, Bush Sr, and Al Gore, and it doesn't especially bother me about any of them. It's more that I just can't figure out how he managed to become a consensus party choice for president after a mere single term as governor of Texas.

For many cultural conservatives, Bill Clinton symbolized everything wrong with liberalism -- a career politician, whose background included draft dodging, drug use, and adultery. And worse, none of these things bothered voters. It's one thing to be a draft-dodging-drug-using-adulterer; it's another to be a successful one.

For many liberals, George Bush represents the flip side of the coin; he symbolizes privilege. Unearned privilege. Worse, unrepentent unearned privilege. George HW Bush was also privileged, but nobody could accuse him of not working hard; Bob Dole's criticism of him, after all, was that Bush offered a "resume." The current president, by contrast, just seems to have stumbled his way to success his whole life, getting by on his name and his charm when his behavior "should" have doomed him.

In many ways, not that different than Bill Clinton. Which explains why there's as much Bush hatred as there was Clinton hatred.

February 25, 2004

Realty Bites

Here are two short and somewhat related blog posts I like: First, Gawker has a refreshing message for folks who complain when neighborhoods get cleaner and safer:

The whole Williamsburg/hipster-takeover/affordable housing thing is blowing out of control between the newspapers and the bloggers today. Listen people: we don't WANT all of you to have affordable housing. If you can't afford to live here, good. It's called natural selection by finance. It wouldn't kill you to live in some nice square state somewhere else, with other people like you. Walmart needs employees.

And Jane Galt answers the age-old question:

Why is it so hard for young single people to find one bedroom apartments in New York?

Because married people with children are still living in the $700 rent-stabilised one bedroom they [cough] inherited [/cough] rather than move.

And paying hundreds of dollars less for almost twice the square footage, than your humble (and humbly compensated) correspondant.

Rent control is but one of many answers. One can also blame:

  • "Affordable housing" laws that discourage development and redevelopment

  • Anti-development and anti-gentrification activists who fight every last building project in the city

  • The peculiar local custom that has tenants, not landlords, paying the cost of a realtor (thus further reducing the incentive to move)

  • The lack of a multiple listing service (which reduces the supply of apartments available to each realtor).

  • And snobby young single people who wouldn't dream of moving to an outer borough.

As wrongheaded as rent control is, that last group is key. These young single people *can* find relatively affordable one bedroom apartments in the city - if they're willing to move to good, safe, convenient, but uncool neighborhoods such as Sunnyside or Greenpoint. (And then endure the complaints of those who say they're bad people for helping to "gentrify" said neighborhoods.)

February 29, 2004

Pointing fingers

One thing you have to say about Paul Krugman; he's consistent.

If the prime minister of Indonesia is an anti-Semite, it's George Bush's fault. If Democrats are insanely protectionist, you can't blame them, because that's George Bush's fault, too. If the Lord of the Rings doesn't win an Oscar, I'm sure that there's some way that that will be George Bush's fault.

Hell, even South Park was more rational than Paul Krugman.

About February 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in February 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2004 is the previous archive.

March 2004 is the next archive.

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