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Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Kerry's Contest To Lose":

A smart-sounding and persuasive political item from Mickey Kaus (paragraph breaks added):

I've obsessively sniped at ABC's The Note for its declaration on August 11 that it was "Kerry's contest to lose." This might not seem fair--maybe it was Kerry's contest to lose and he lost it? Didn't The Note just guess wrong in a close election?

Answer: No! The whole point of ABC's Note is that its put out by the smartest, most knowledgeable and nuanced political insiders around, which it is. And the whole point of it being "Kerry's contest to lose" was that these experts were telling us that the underlying dynamic of the campaign favored Kerry because of Bush's "poisonous job approval, re-elect, and wrong track numbers."

But we now know that this considered judgment of the smartest, most knowledgeable insiders was wrong--it was Dem wishful-thinking spin. Kerry in fact did pretty well in the final months of the campaign. He won the debates. He didn't commit many gaffes. He raised tons of money and successfully turned out record numbers of Democratic voters. And he still lost. Why? Because the underlying dynamic of the campaign didn't actually favor him at all. It favored Bush, despite the supposedly tell-tale "wrong track numbers." The economy wasn't that bad, and voters knew it. Terrorism, and support for Bush on that issue, remained strong. And . . . Bush had a far more sophisticated campaign organization. . . .

How could brilliant genuine experts like Mark Halperin & Co. get it wrong? Because at some level they were conned by their peers and their Dem campaign sources (who were probably conning themselves) in a way I doubt they could be conned by Republican sources. . . .

Go to Mickey's column for more.

Republicans Need to Show Some Class in Washington State Defeat.--

The Republican candidate for governor of Washington State, Dino Rossi, lost a close recount to the Democratic candidate, Christine Gregoire. Now Rossi is calling for a new election (tip to Kos).

This is not the way to conduct elections. It didn't work for Al Gore in 2000, whose image was tarnished for a run in 2004. In South Dakota in 2002, on the other hand, John Thune rejected advice that he challenge the election (which he lost by about 500 votes) because of some allegations of vote fraud on Native American reservations (which were hotly denied by Democrats). Thune did the right thing for the system, accepted defeat, and came back to win in 2004. In the interim, the state also adopted some anti-fraud measures for voting (picture IDs).

Rossi should have tried to do the same; if he doesn't accept defeat gracefully, then the Republicans in Washington should choose someone else next time. There should be a limit to one man's political ambitions.

UPDATE: More on the Washington race at Amish Fight Club.

2D UPDATE: In a set of posts, Stefan Sharkansky is pointing out problems with the final recount, so go to Sound Politics if you want to follow the continuing questions about possible vote fraud.

Now I Know Skydivers Are Insane:

Not only do they jump out of perfectly good airplanes — they name parachutes and skydiving schools after Icarus. I'm staying on the ground, thank you very much; and not driving around in any Volkswagen Phaeton, either. For more, including Amelia Earhart luggage and Magellan Travel, see my Trojan Doctrine article.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Another Trojan Doctrine Example:
  2. Now I Know Skydivers Are Insane:
A Cool Experiment: Larry Lessig has announced that he will try to update his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace using a Wiki. He writes:
I'm extremely eager for the book to gain from the collective wisdom of at least part of the Net. No one can know whether this will work. But if if does, it could be very interesting.
Agreed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

More on Verve:

I was revising an old draft, and came across this sentence:

The problems of yesterday will not recur in exactly the same way tomorrow, but they may recur in related ways.

Blecch; all those prepositional phrases, the needless abstraction and complexity of the "way"'s, and even the slight fustiness of "recur" leach the life out of that sentence. A bit of work produced:

Tomorrow's problems won't be identical to yesterday's; but they may be similar enough.

Not perfect, and I'm not sure how great a minor sentence like this can be. But better than the original, I think.

UPDATE: Several people suggested "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes," attributed to Mark Twain; that quote is actually the very next sentence in my article. Why the repetition, you may ask? In academic work, I tend to try to stay literal, rather than figurative -- and when there's a great figurative phrase that captures things well, I try to express the matter clearly but literally first, and then say it figuratively. The downside of using both locutions is redundancy; the upside is precision and clarity, though I realize that the trade-off here is controversial.

Weak Attack on Blog by Journalist:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Nick Coleman has a pretty poor attack on the PowerLine blog (which had apparently criticized him in the past on many occasions). Consider a few snippets:

These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing. They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers.

This makes no sense. First, you can be "fair" and pursue a conservative agenda; presumably many on the Left, for instance, think that they're fair in their pursuit of an agenda.

Second, there's nothing reprehensible about opinion sites having a political agenda (whether "cooked up in conservative think tanks funded my millionaire power brokers" or not); PowerLine is clearly such an opinion site, as is the Conspiracy. Likewise, liberal columnists are perfectly entitled to have a liberal agenda. But when the ostensibly nonpolitical, objective news organizations within the media are politically slanted in their coverage of the news, that does merit condemnation — not because they're being opinionated, but because they're pretending not to be.

Or consider this:

Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism.

As Evan Coyne Maloney aptly points out, this is quite a remarkable admission by Mr. Coleman: Yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism, which it sounds like he prefers, was to serve the downtrodden. Shouldn't the purpose of news journalism be to tell the truth, rather than "serve" one group or another? Shouldn't opinion journalism include a wide range of opinion from a wide range of sources, not just that on the "serve the downtrodden" side?
Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices.
By way of background, consider that earlier in the story Mr. Coleman had "A story: In 1990, I reported that this newspaper's endorsement of DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich was decided by then-publisher and Perpich crony Roger Parkinson. He had quashed the decision of the newspaper's editorial board, which had voted in favor of the Republican challenger, Arne Carlson. The truth got out, the Republican won and the public was served. If Extreme bloggers, who know nothing that happened before last Tuesday, had the same commitment to serving the public, I wouldn't have a problem. But like talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards."

My question (and, I think, Maloney's): Wouldn't "professional standards," which Mr. Coleman seems to claim to adhere to, call for some evidence that the PowerLine people are indeed "mak[ing] fun of the poor and the disadvantaged"? I mean, if you're a journalist — even an opinion journalist — and you're making factual accusations about supposedly bad conduct by someone, shouldn't you back them up? No such evidence appears in the column.

There's so much more to criticize, but let me close with two particularly striking items:

1) "It's totally unexpected," Johnson, the banker, told the newspaper after Powerline won "Blog of the Year."

But the Aw Shucks Act doesn't fly. Powerline campaigned shamelessly for awards, winning an online "Best Blog of 2004" a week before the Time honor. That online award was a bloggers' poll, and Powerline linked its readers to the award site 10 times during the balloting, shilling for votes.

Wow, they won an online poll! And they wanted to win it, and tried to get their readers to vote for them. Therefore, they're lying when they say that they didn't expect being named Blog of the Year by Time Magazine. The penetrating logic astounds me. And finally, this:

2) "We keep it very much separate from our day jobs," said Hinderaker, meaning the boys don't blog at work.

But they do. Johnson recently had time at his bank job to post a despicable item sliming Sen. Mark Dayton. . . .

Here's the quote that I suspect Mr. Coleman was alluding to, since it's the only such quote I could find on LEXIS, and it appeared in the Star-Tribune itself: "Despite the honor, the trio have no plans to leave their day jobs, Hinderaker said. The economics of the Internet don't make it worthwhile, though they have begun running ads that bring in a few thousand dollars a month. 'It's like being a golfer,' Hinderaker said. 'We keep it very much separate from our day jobs.'"

Where exactly in this quote do they say that they "don't blog at work"? (The analogy to golf, it seems to me, is simply an indication that blogging, like golf, is a hobby; in any event, it surely isn't something that can be fairly characterized as "meaning the boys don't blog at work," especially given that many professionals' work time is seen as at least somewhat available for occasional personal activities, so long as they get their work done.) Where are those professional standards when you need them?

Surprising Link Between Two of the Posts Below:

A while back, a coworker of mine who had been stationed in Guam while in the Air Force told me a surprising fact -- the name of the island Guam is not, as one would expect, a Chamorro word. (Chamorro is an indigenous language of Guam.) Rather, it turns out, that it's an acronym, for "Give Us American Money."

OK, I'm sure that's unfair in all sorts of ways, but I couldn't help myself. By the way, did you know that Iacocca isn't Lee Iacocca's real name? It actually stands for "I Am Chairman Of the Chrysler Corporation of America." True fact!

Guam:

Spent a day on Guam during my honeymoon, wish it was more. Guam is an absolutely beautiful island, and within a few-hour flight of Tokyo and other Japanese cities (from where it gets most of its tourists), Cairns, and Manila. It's much nicer, though much further away, than Oahu. If I were a real estate speculator, I'd consider buying land on Guam; many areas with incredible views are occupied by cheap shacks, and I don't know of anywhere else where one can be in the United States of America and buy beachfront land so inexpensively. On the other hand, Guam is subject to Typhoons, the most recent of which devastated the island in 2002.

Collateral: Brief Movie Review:

Getting settled back in after a whirlwhind two-week honeymoon to Hawaii, Guam, Australia (Great Barrier Reef area) and Tokyo. Watched many movies on the long plane ride, most of them bad. The worst of the lot, and one of the worst movies I've ever seen, was Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. While I'm generally willing to suspend disbelief, the entire premise of the movie is so implausible, so insipid (ruthless killer hires hapless taxi driver to drive him to various murder locales, often leaving hapless taxi driver, who is aware of what ruthless killer is doing, alone in the cab for many minutes while committing the murders), and the plot flaws so obvious, that I watched it with my jaw consistently dropped, not believing it could get any worse, but consistently being proven wrong. For some reason, the movie was a critical favorite, as I learned when I checked RottenTomatoes.com when I returned home. Go figure.

Foreign Aid and "Generosity":

I've often heard the U.S. faulted for contributing less to Third World countries than other developed countries do. Of course, the U.S. is larger and richer, so it contributes more total dollars, but the charge is that we don't contribute as much as a percentage of our GNP. One standard response is that we do contribute more than other countries as a percentage of our GNP when you add private contributions.

Can anyone give me a URL for any authoritative figures that provide data on this? I'm looking for real data from reliable sources. This page which I've found, which seems to take seriously private giving, gives data that puts us near the bottom middle of the pack, if you exclude personal remittances from U.S. residents to their family members. The U.S. government aid, according to it, is at 0.14% of U.S. GNP; if one adds a wide range of private giving ($34 billion on top of the government $16 billion), that gets to roughly 0.45%; if one adds prviate giving minus remittances, that gets to roughly 0.28%. By way of comparison, Norway gives 0.92%, France 0.41%, the UK 0.34%, Germany 0.28%, and Canada 0.26%, though that doesn't include any private giving or remittances for those countries. Nonetheless, I have no way of gauging the author's credibility.

(I'm not sure whether remittances should be included, because while they are a measure of the degree to which America actually helps foreign countries, they probably aren't a good measure of American "generosity" generally, since spending money on one's family members -- and especially children -- tends to be seen as at least a different kind of generosity than spending money on relative strangers.)

Of course, one could still argue (1) that we have no particular obligation to be generous to other countries, either through our government or directly; (2) much aid is wasted and even counterproductive; and (3) the better measure of our helpfulness to the rest of the world, or our generosity to it, must include trade, security support, and so on. Any or all of these points may be quite valid. Still, since so much discussion has focused on whether we are in fact more or less generous than most other countries in terms of aid alone, with people making claims for both the "more generous" and "less generous" numbers given that metric, I'd love to see some solid data on this.

Is "The Constitution in Exile" A Myth?: In a book review in the latest issue of The New Republic, Cass Sunstein renews his claims that "[t]here is increasing talk [among conservatives] of what is being called the Constitution in Exile — the Constitution of 1932, Herbert Hoover's Constitution before Roosevelt's New Deal." Sunstein has suggested this a number of times before (see, e.g., here and here), and the claim has been repeated recently by The New York Times and by my colleague Jeffrey Rosen. The suggestion is that influential conservative lawyers express their goal for the courts as being the restoration of "the Constitution in Exile."

  The odd thing is, I can't recall ever hearing a conservative use the phrase "the Constitution in Exile." I asked a couple of prominent conservatives if they had ever heard the phrase, and they had the same reaction: they had never heard the phrase used by anyone except Cass Sunstein and those discussing Sunstein's claims.

  As best I can tell, the phrase "Constitution in Exile" originally appeared in a book review by D.C. Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg in 1995 in the course of discussing the nondelegation doctrine in the journal Regulation. As you can see from the article itself, the use of the phrase is not exactly prominent: it appears once, near the end of the introduction. In any event, the use of the phrase in Ginsburg's review inspired lots of critical commentary from legal academics, including its own symposium in the Duke Law Journal (you can read the Foreward to the symposium issue here). But my initial google and Westlaw research failed to uncover direct evidence — beyond the initial book review, which I just read today — that conservatives or libertarians have used this phrase to describe their goals.

  Why does it matter, you wonder? After all, some on the right do want the Supreme Court to bolster some constitutional doctrines that the Court deeemphasized in the post-New Deal era. Critics could decide that they think this agenda should be described as amounting to a wish to restore the Constitution in Exile. But if I understand it correctly, Sunstein's claim is different: the claim is that conservatives themselves use the phrase — "right-wing activists . . . talk about restoration of the 'Constitution in Exile'." The difference matters, I think, because describing something as being "in exile" suggests recognition of a revolutionary agenda. If a government is overthrown and the old leaders flee but remain intact, referring to the old leaders as "the government in exile" suggests that the old government is just biding its time before it can launch a counterrevolution. The rhetorical power of Sunstein's claim lies in its suggestion that conservatives see their own goals as truly revolutionary. If the phrase is not actually used by conservatives, but rather is a characterization by their critics, I think that makes a notable difference.

  I have enabled comments. I am particularly interested in uses of the phrase "Constitution in Exile" by conservatives that I may have missed. (This isn't my specialty area, so it's quite possible that it is in fact used and I just missed it.) Also, if the comment function isn't working, try leaving a comment here.

  UPDATE: Steve Bainbridge offers commentary here.
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TOM WOLFE, I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS:

I just got back in town after a week-long vacation in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. I received Tom Wolfe's new book as a Christmas present to take with me on vacation. For those who still have some down time to do some reading over the holidays, let me strongly recommend this book to you. I'm still digging out of my backlog of everything, so I won't post much on it now, and will do so when I get more time to collect my thoughts. But I wanted to pass along the strong recommendation to anyone who was wondering whether to get ahold of it or move it up your reading list (which I'm sure is extensive like mine). This is definitely Tom Wolfe's deepest and most interesting book, but still has much of the Tom Wolfe sense of style and satire. It hits on many of the same themes as his other novels, especially A Man in Full, but does so in a more interesting and less heavy-handed way than in the past.

The only problem for me was that I read this book at the beginning of my vaction and it was so good that it drained all of the fun out of all the other books I read the rest of the week.

Also, in terms of natural beauty, St. Lucia may be the most beautiful place I have ever been. Absolutely spectacular. Takes awhile to get there, but it is worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Not Helping Anyone:
MAN ADMITS HATE CRIME ATTACK WAS FALSE
  INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Police said a 22-year-old man was charged with filing a false report about a hate crime.
  Floyd Elliott, of Independence, told police that on Dec. 14, two subjects attacked him in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He said the attackers cut him in the stomach, branded him with a hot knife, and attempted to carve the word "Fag" on his forehead.
  Investigators were suspicious about the report because the head carving was backwards, as if done while looking into a mirror.
  Later, Elliott admitted to police that the injuries were self-inflicted. He said he falsely reported the attack to increase the police presence in his neighborhood.
Hat tip: Powerline.
Juan Cole on Bin Laden's Latest Broadcast: An excerpt:
  It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.

  . . . The narrow, sectarian and politically unskilfull character of this speech is the most hopeful sign I have seen in some time that al-Qaeda is a doomed political force, a mere Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction with greater geographical reach.
Let's hope.
Earthquake Death Tolls and the Blogosphere: Estimates of the number of dead from the enormous earthquake in Asia have reached 44,000 this afternoon, and continue to climb. The scope of the tragedy is simply unbelievable. You can donate money to help relief efforts here.

  Meanwhile, the New York Times finds a connection to the blogosphere (part of a trend I noted here) with this piece on blogs that offer first-hand coverage of the tragedy.

  UPDATE: You can find a more complete list of charities that are helping with disaster relief in Asia here. Please consider making a donation.
More on the Iraq-Vietnam Casualty Comparison: Phil Carter and Owen West offer their take on Iraq/Vietnam casualty comparisons in Slate. Their conclusion:
After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Of course, this isn't exactly the issue that I looked into yesterday, but is somewhat related (and pretty interesting on its own, too).

Proximity Searches:

AltaVista, I recall, let you search for a word or phrase near another word or phrase -- but now that feature is gone. Can anyone recommend some search engines that have this useful feature, and that don't have huge countervailing handicaps?

If you have a specific (and verified) suggestion, please respond in the comments to this post. Thanks!

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