Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Strange Bedfellows Dept.

Keith Lockitch, a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute of Irvine, California, argues that "'intelligent design' is religion masquerading as science."

By the very nature of its approach, "intelligent design" cannot be satisfied with a "designer" who is part of the natural world. Such a "designer" would not answer the basic question its advocates raise: it would not explain biological complexity as such. The only "designer" that would stop their quest for a "design" explanation of complexity is a "designer" about whom one cannot ask any questions or who cannot be subjected to any kind of scientific study--a "designer" that "transcends" nature and its laws--a "designer" not susceptible of rational explanation--in short: a supernatural "designer."
Well put.

From the mouths of babes.

The other morning, on the way to school, the four-year-old said, "I'm feeling sorry for myself this morning."

The Amazing Adventures of Lethem & Chabon.


(Thanks, M.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Japanese manhole covers.

Via Boing Boing, here's a gallery of Japanese manhole covers. Pretty neat. Check out the frogs on #22.


The LA Times notes:

In a May 17 radio broadcast, telephilosopher Bill O'Reilly fantasized . . . that terrorists might "grab" the Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor "out of his little house and . . . cut his head off." O'Reilly went on, "And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.'"
Said editorial and opinion editor is Michael Kinsley, who has history with O'Reilly. Kinsley called O'Reilly on some typical bloviating (pretensions of middle-class ordinariness). "O'Reilly had a cow." It's nice to know that, more than four years later, O'Reilly is daydreaming publicly about Kinsley's decapitation. (Well, not nice, but oddly comforting, in the same way that the sun's appearance every morning is comforting.)

Print it and carry it with you for easy reference.

Scientific American provides "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense."

Deficit spending?

Only days after I pointed out that the Republicans squandered political capital on the filibuster thing, Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei write in the Washington Post that Bush's account has run dry:

Two days after winning reelection last fall, President Bush declared that he had earned plenty of "political capital, and now I intend to spend it." Six months later, according to Republicans and Democrats alike, his bank account has been significantly drained.

In the past week alone, the Republican-led House defied his veto threat and passed legislation promoting stem cell research; Senate Democrats blocked confirmation, at least temporarily, of his choice for U.N. ambassador; and a rump group of GOP senators abandoned the president in his battle to win floor votes for all of his judicial nominees.

With his approval ratings in public opinion polls at the lowest level of his presidency, Bush has been stymied so far in his campaign to restructure Social Security. On the international front, violence has surged again in Iraq in recent weeks, dispelling much of the optimism generated by the purple-stained-finger elections back in January, while allies such as Egypt and Uzbekistan have complicated his campaign to spread democracy.

The series of setbacks on the domestic front could signal that the president has weakened leverage over his party, a situation that could embolden the opposition, according to analysts and politicians from both sides. Bush faces the potential of a summer of discontent when his capacity to muscle political Washington into following his lead seems to have diminished and few easy victories appear on the horizon.

"He has really burned up whatever mandate he had from that last election," said Leon E. Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff during President Bill Clinton's second term. "You can't slam-dunk issues in Washington. You can't just say 'This is what I want done' and by mandate get it done. It's a lesson everybody has to learn, and sometimes you learn it the hard way."
For about four years there, it seemed like a lesson Bush didn't particularly have to learn.

eta: Apparently this story means Bush's mandate is over. Excellent.

X marks the wine.

I've seen some wines from X Winery in the stores, so it's nice to have a little of the back story. I liked their 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured above).

And while I'm mentioning wines I liked recently, Bogle's 2002 Phantom was yummy.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Whose Bible is it?

Dennis Prager in Sunday's LA Times:

I have come to realize that the great divide in values is not between those who believe in God and those who do not but between those who believe in a divine text and those who do not.

This explains in large measure the great culture war in the United States. Americans, of course, are divided not so much by religion as between right and left. Jews and Christians on the left agree with each other on just about every political and social question, and Jews and Christians on the right do the same.

So what distinguishes leftist Jews from rightist Jews and leftist Christians from rightist Christians? It essentially comes down to their belief in the Bible, not their belief in God.

Jews who believe that the Torah is from God agree on almost every important issue of life with Christians who believe that the Torah — and the rest of the Old Testament — is divine. Jews who believe that men (and perhaps women) wrote the Torah agree on virtually every important issue with Christians who also regard the Torah (and the rest of the Bible) as man-made.

For example, as a religious (though non-Orthodox) Jew, I have many differences with Christians' theology. We differ on the Trinity; the divinity of Jesus; the identity of the messiah; the role of Torah, not to mention rabbinic law, on who is and who is not saved; and on such matters as faith versus works. Yet these theological differences cause almost no difference in our social and moral values, which are almost identical. Why?

Because conservative Jews and Christians share the belief that God revealed a text (a text, moreover, that we share). At the same time, liberal Jews and liberal Christians share the belief that this text is man-made.

Jews and Christians who believe that God revealed the Torah, for example, are far more likely to believe that marriage must remain defined as only between a man and woman, and cannot be redefined to include members of the same sex. They believe that people are not basically good, that human life, not animal life, is sacred (because humans, not animals, are created in God's image), and that murderers should be liable to the death penalty (the only law that is in all five books of the Torah is to put murderers to death).

On the other hand, Jews and Christians who believe that people wrote the Torah are far more likely to support a redefinition of marriage, to view human nature as basically good (and therefore more likely to ascribe human evil to outside influences), to be more receptive to seeing human beings as essentially another animal, and to oppose capital punishment for murderers.

After all, what people, not God, wrote thousands of years ago should hardly serve as a guide to life today — especially when one's heart argues against it. The heart feels compassion for gays, for animals and even for murderers facing execution. And the heart wants to believe that human beings are basically good.

But Jews and Christians who believe in a divinely revealed Bible do not trust the heart as a guide to doing the right thing (indeed, that Bible repeatedly warns us not to). That difference — do I listen to my heart or to what I believe is God's word? — explains most of the differences between right and left. Much more than whether one believes in God.

This strikes a chord, but it can't be that simple, can it?

While we're talking about Alan Simpson.

The Casper Star Tribune pretty much has -- or had, a few years ago, anyway -- a policy of running all of the letters to its editor. And Alan Simpson doesn't much like to take criticism laying down. So whenever the Star Tribune ran an article, or an editorial, or a letter that displeased him, he would write a response. (I'm told he did this himself, in longhand.) Eventually, his volume was such that the editors adopted a policy -- unofficially, the Alan Simpson policy -- that a person could only have a letter published once every ten days.

Naturally, Simpson would then write one letter every ten days, responding to all the things published since his last letter which deserved his response.

This anecdote guaranteed true in spirit, if not all the particulars.

Solidarity forever?

'Stina says,

I heard an interview with former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson on NPR's Morning Edition this morning. Simpson was a pro-choice Republican from a fairly conservative state, and he used to buck the party platform all the time. It's sad, I think, that these Senators can't really talk about how they really feel until after they've left the political eye. Dole, Kerrey, Simpson. It'd be awesome if they could actually say what they think while they're still in office.
Hell, the Constitution gives Senators six years before they need to run for re-election, and the Senate's traditions and rules have always given individual Senators plenty of clout, particularly relative to their peers in the House, where the leadership gets to run things. Sen. Frist's problems getting to critical mass last week are the most recent example. But things have changed quite a bit in the last few years. Josh Marshall has called this, somewhat awkwardly, "the parliamentarization of the American government," and it perhaps is the Bush Administration's most profound gift to the domestic political scene. Says Marshall, "the key feature of the Bush presidency is an extremely powerful executive that to a great degree coopts and controls his own congressional majorities."

There is a remarkable solidarity within the conservative movement. Part of its glue was, during Bush's first term, the need to get him re-elected. With that hurdle passed, and Democrats providing very little in the way of effective opposition, the battles now are between moderate and conservative Republicans. With Senator Voinovich's opposition to the nomination of John Bolton, and the deal struck by the fourteen moderate Senators to avoid the "nuclear option," we see stirrings of the centrifugal forces one would naturally expect to pull at party discipline.

The mystery to me is how the executive branch has prevailed upon the legislative branch to surrender its autonomy and power. Someone surely threatened Arlen Specter with the loss of the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but would did the other Republican Senators go along with this, at the cost of their own perogatives? Apparently they cared more for naming a few more true believers to the federal bench than for their own prospects of chairing a committee. Is it that they identify so strongly as conservatives? Do they need the party's help to get re-elected, much moreso than in years past? Or does the party have some sort of big stick to whack the wayward with?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Rape of Europa: a review.

Reading about Bill Reid's career in the art world prompted me to pick up The Rape of Europa, a history of the fate of art in (Europe in) World War II. It's a formidable book, and perhaps I would have had an easer time with it had I been paid more attention in my art-history class in college. The volume of art, and individuals stealing, fencing, trading and chasing it, caught up in World War II is truly overwhelming. The Germans thought hard about what to plunder before the Blitzkreig, and often only the competition between different Germans -- foremost among them buyers for Hitler and Goering -- slowed down the pace of acquisition. When the tide of the war changed, the focus changed to German efforts to move art ahead of the advancing Allied forces, and the Allied efforts to sweep it up. So much art was swept around in these currents that the task of telling its story must have been a daunting one. Just reading Lynn Nicholas's account is exhausting, and terribly sad.

Democrats -- the fiscally responsible party.

True for the last sixteen years: "In every year when a Democrat has controlled the White House, the deficit has gone down (or the surplus has gone up). And in every year when a Republican has controlled the White House, the deficit has gotten worse or we've lost surplus."

Neil the Werewolf, at Ezra Klein's blog.

Newsweek's not looking so bad now.

Andrew Sullivan, on new documents released by the FBI:

FBI documents provide countless claims by inmates that desecration or abuse of the Koran was deployed as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo. For good measure, we even have a toilet story. At this point: Did you really believe otherwise? Yes, these reports are from inmates; and, yes, those inmates are obviously biased, even trained to lie. But the sheer scope and scale of the protests, the credible accounts of hunger-strikes in Afghanistan and Gitmo, and the reference, cited below, of interrogators conceding that they too had heard of such techniques, seems to me to resolve the question. The U.S. has deliberately and consciously had a policy of using religious faith as a lever in interrogation of terror suspects. Is this "torture"? It is certainly part of psychological abuse. It is also beyond stupid. Do you really think that throwing the Koran around is likely to prompt an Islamist fanatic to tell you what he knows? Did anyone ask what the broader consequences might be of such techniques - in polarizing Muslim opinion against the U.S., in providing every left-wing hack rhetorical weapons against the United States, in handing the Islamists a propaganda victory that makes all our effort to spread democracy in that region that much harder? Still, we can be grateful for Scott McClellan for one thing: he dared the press to provide substantiation for the Newsweek claim. We've now got it.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Playing (well) for the other team.

This is a pretty neat article on ESPN.com about Andrew Goldstein. He's an All-American goalie on Dartmouth's lacrosse team, and he's openly gay. Don't miss the goal he scored against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament in 2003.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lard is good.

Belle Waring explains why dim sum is tasty.

Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian: a review.

Reading Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau made me want to get another, more conventional perspective on what we Americans call Northwest Indian art, and happily I found myself at a bookstore with a copy of Maria Tippett's Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian, a recent biography of Bill Reid, whose sculptures can be found in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology, the Vancouver Public Aquarium, and the Vancouver International Airport, and at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C., among other places.

It's hard to read a book about the life of an artist whose work is largely unfamiliar to you, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed Tippett's biography of Reid. Perhaps this is because, as the subtitle suggests, Tippett's interest is more in how Reid constructed his own identity and his public image, and less in the aesthetic character and significance of Reid's work. (Paradoxically, Tippett describes that Reid was an artist with very strong aesthetic beliefs, but one who took much less interest in the cultural significance of Haida art.) Born of an emigre American father and a Haida mother who assimilated into white Vancouver moreso than many, Reid told others that he did not even learn of his native ancestry until he was in his teens, and he never spent much time in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Reid had the benefit of a formal education in art, and viewed Haida traditions in the context of European and other traditions -- as noted, from an aesthetic perspective. He often aspired to be seen as a jeweler, not as a native artist, and yet he kept finding economic success in the latter, rather than the former.

Throughout his life, Reid stood astride two worlds, appearing to whites as a Haida artisan, and appearing to the Haida as someone who had successfully assimilated. As he grew older, Reid cultivated white patrons who could support the sort of works linked above -- a very different idiom from the bracelets and other jewelry with which he started his career. It was this success in assimilating himself into affluent white circles which, in the end, enabled him to become one of Canada's best-known native artists.

I wish Tippett's book had even more pictures of Reid's art, but I understand that Canadian law made this difficult. For someone with an interest in these subjects, the biography is worth reading.

We get it already.

"Niall Ferguson . . . frets that 'too few American liberals seem to grasp how high the price will be' if the Bush administration's policy in Iraq fails. Actually, we do. That is why we thought the policy wrongheaded in the first place. It is the Bush administration, cynically or otherwise, that chooses not to understand."

-- Harry Vonk, of Carlsbad, Cal., writing to the Editor of The New York Times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Passage to Juneau: a review.

I liked Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau so much that I've been putting off blogging about it, waiting to have the time to craft an extra-long post to do justice to what Raban does with this book. Two decades ago, Raban wrote two books I haven't read about boat trips -- one about sailing around England, and one about motoring down the Mississippi. This book, which came out a few years ago, he chronicles a trip in a sailboat up the coast from Seattle, where he now lives, to Juneau. And if Passage to Juneau were nothing more than a fine account of his trip, there would be nothing to complain about. And yet Raban weaves several other strands into his tale, including the journals of Vancouver's exploration of the coast in the 18th century, insight about native myths and art, and Raban's personal life. I finished the book with aitdmiration for the way Raban made it all work together, and yet I didn't see it coming.

There is so much to draw from this book, so I will take one example. Raban's time at sea gives him a perspective on native art that I've never encountered anywhere else. For example, take the ovoid, "the fundamental design unit in the art of all the Northwest coastal tribes is a shape more easily sketched than described." Here are some examples:

Raban sees this shape all around:

In a full-blown composition like a Chilkat blanket, a wall-hanging, or a carved and painted bentwood chest, you can see dozens of these lozenges, sometimes packed as tight as bricks in a wall. They vary in size and shape; they can be stretched out into a long, curvaceous boomerang, or squashed up until they're very nearly square. Often they contain smaller lozenges, just as the ripples I was trying to photograph contained concentric ellipses of light and shade. . . .

I've watched ovoids form, in their millions, in almost-still water, under a breath of wind, or by the fraction of the moving tide. The canoe Indians, living on this water as their primary habitat, saw ovoids in nature every day of their lives; and when they combined them in a design, they made them do exactly what capillary waves do -- reflect the world in smithereens.

* * * * *

The maritime art of these mostly anonymous Kwakiutl, Haida, and Tsimshian craftsmen appeared to me to grow directly from their observation of the play of light on the sea. Trailing through the museums of Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria, then, later, through the Northwest Indian galleries of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Menil Collection in Houston, I saw a water-hauntedness in almost every piece. This was an aspect of the art the descriptive literature ignored. Thousands of pages were given over to discussion of its shamanistic symbolism, and, since Bill Holm's landmark Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form (1965), its abstract design. What I found, touring the museums, was an art in thrall to ripples and reflections.

Passage to Juneau, 203, 205. I'm no expert myself, but I've never seen this connection made before, surely because too few of us spend much time on the water anymore.

Raban is also very good when he discusses native myths, a word I hesitate to use because it connotes a departure from the world around us that Raban suggests had nothing to do with the ways that natives understood their world. Many European and American anthropologists, succumbing to a Victorian morality, cleansed native stories of their raunchiness, turning them into a sort of meaningless pablum and changing their sense and meaning. Turning to Franz Boas, who was relatively alone in preferring to record all of what he heard, Raban finds reconnects the stories to the hard life experienced by natives living in the narrow strip between dark forests and the deep sea.

This is only a small part of Raban has to say. I won't give much more of it away, so read Passage to Juneau. (San Franciscans, take note: You can buy a hardcover copy at Stacey's for about six bucks. Or use the link above to order from Amazon.com.)

Reforming the CIA.

I hesitate to call Judge Posner obtuse, but it seems to me nothing short of obtuse to write an entire column about the CIA's failures vis-a-vis 9/11 and Iraqi WMD without discussing just what it was the White House asked the CIA to do. Unlike Article III judges on the Seventh Circuit, the CIA serves the President. We already know that the Bush Administration was concerned with other things -- missile defense, for example -- besides Al Qaeda in the months before September 11, 2001. We already know that the Bush Administration leaned on the CIA in various ways as it built support for the war it planned with Iraq. So it is, quote simply, obtuse to ignore what the CIA's boss wanted, and how that might have affected what it produced.

Squandering political capital on the filibuster.

A thought I had when I heard about the 14 Senators' filibuster deal was that even if the whole ordeal was a win in some nominal sense for the GOP, they had spent an awful lot of political capital on the issue without much return to show for it. A proper assessment needs to take into account the opportunity cost to Frist and the White House -- i.e., what else could they have spent their time on? Almost certainly, something with more to show. Mark Schmitt links to a conservative, "Trevino," who is thinking along the same lines:

What's bad? What's bad is easy enough to see: the party and the Administration have lost their way in the second term. The pressing issues of the day -- the war, the deficit, the dollar -- have all been ignored in favor of bizarre voluntary fights on Social Security, the filibuster, and the rearguard actions to defend Tom DeLay. It is a stupefying squandering of political capital that speaks ill of the party leadership from the White House to the RNC to the Office of Senator Frist to the offices of activists from Main Street to K Street.
He has lots more to say, too. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bad-ass publishing.

The people who put out the New York Review of Books are doing a good job of re-issuing some really cool looking books which have fallen out of print but which are well worth reading. I wish I had the time to work through their whole catalog.

Two that I'll particularly recommend:

Tete-Michel Kpomassie, An African in Greenland

Mavis Gallant, Paris Stories

Look on my prose, ye Mighty, and despair!


I met a traveller from the New York Times
Who said: ‘Two vast and Lexus legs of stone
Stand in Bangalore. Near their paradigms
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And open Windows, and sneer of the Berlin Wall,
Tell that its sculptor often ate at Pizza Hut
Which yet survive, stamped on this Lilliput,
T.I. that mocked them as ephemeral.
And on the plinth by this Michelangelo—
“My name is Friedmandias, king of the IPO:
Look on my prose, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing coherent stays. Round the decay
Of that steroidal wreck, boundless and bare
The level playing fields stretch far away.’

-- Jonathan Vos Post

From Making Light, via DeLong.

Friedman non-fans will not want to miss this review of his new book by Matt Taibbi. Devastating.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Time to put something positive on the table.

Richard W. Stevenson in tomorrow's New York Times:

Among more moderate Republicans there is some concern that Mr. Bush has so harnessed his presidency to ideological issues that he has lost touch with the issues of most concern to Americans right now, like high gasoline prices.

"The only reason he's still up there in the 40's is that the Democrats are really brain dead and have nothing positive to put on the table," said one veteran Republican who has close ties to the White House, referring to approval ratings in polls that are at or near Mr. Bush's low points.

"What you see is that he's increasingly turning overseas to demonstrate leadership because he's having so much trouble in the molasses of the Beltway," said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to be quoted criticizing the president.
You'll know the President is really having trouble when that last quote is sourced.

It's a big free-fire zone over there.

Steve Gilliard blogs about the military's lack of fire discipline in Iraq.

I don't think the US is murdering reporters as part of a campaign in Iraq. If that were the case, Robert Fisk would have long joined the angels.

What I think no one wants to come to grips with is that the US has a shoot first, ask no questions later. They don't just shoot reporters, they shoot everyone this way, store owners, drivers, kids who look at them funny, families.

There is a great deal of individual discretion, but the crime comes in when commanders want to cover their asses and never investigate incidents which need honest investigation. In a zero-defect military, it can kill careers to admit American soldiers are shooting at anything they can. So they do these perfunctory investigations, maybe charge a few EM's and NCO's, and move on. Because no one is going to risk their career by admitting error.

The fact is that Americans kill with impunity in Iraq. The US doesn't investigate anything where the US will be found at fault. And the commanders clearly have an anti-press message they give to the troops. But what people do not want to believe, even on the left, is that the US military is incredibly sloppy. Giuliana Sgrena wasn't shot in a conspiracy, but by a lone National Guard patrol. Which happens every day. When the US kills the wrong people, they hand out some money and that's the end of it.
Not that I would know, but it rings true, and no one wants to talk about it. This stuff will prevent us from winning over there -- why doesn't our military get this?

Senate moderates reach a deal on the filibuster.

Paging Dr. Freud.

Ezra Klein sez:

From the NY Times article on the efforts of Christian missionaries to bring God back into the Ivy League:

The Christian Union's immediate goal, [Bennett] said, was to recruit campus missionaries. "What is happening now is good," Mr. Bennett said, "but it is like a finger in the dike of keeping back the flood of immorality."
That sorta thing happened all the time at Santa Cruz, but it was never presented as a way to fight immorality...

Turn your back for a minute, and . . . .

"A three-year-old boy became trapped in a toy vending machine, after crawling inside to get a stuffed animal when his mother wasn't looking." BBC, via Steve Gilliard.

Too much of a price to pay.

Discussing Freakonomics, the new book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, John Quiggin repeats their anecdote that:

Parents respond to a small charge for late pickups from a childcare centre by increasing the number of late pickups; apparently, the specification of a monetary price cancelled any feeling of moral obligation.
Clearly, I am wired differently. Or just cheap. The added prospect of having to fork over a relatively nominal amount of money helps ensure that I will not be late.

Day-care providers, take note: G. remarks that the corollary to this finding is that once you establish that there is a price for everything, you need only jack the price to something outrageous (say, $5 for every minute late) to ensure complete compliance with the pickup time.

The best defense is a good offense?

Terry Neal in the Washington Post:

A certain and clear pattern has emerged when a damaging accusation or claim against the Bush administration or the Republican-led Congress is publicized: Bush supporters laser in on a weakness, fallacy or inaccuracy in the story's sourcing while diverting all attention from the issue at hand to the source or the accuser in the story.

Often this tactic involves efforts to delegitimize the entire news media based on the mistakes or sloppy reporting of a few. We saw this with the discrediting of CBS's story on irregularities in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service in the 1970s. Although the CBS "scoop" was based on faked documents, the administration's response and backlash from both conservative and mainstream media essentially relieved Bush of having to deal with the story. In other words, the allegedly "liberal" media dropped the story like a hot rock.

We saw ex-members of the Bush administration -- former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill, former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John M. Shalikashvili and former director of faith-based charities John J. DiIulio Jr. -- similarly attacked by conservative bloggers and columnists. The mainstream media eventually backed away from coverage of their claims as well.

And of course, we saw this most recently with the Newsweek debacle, in which the news magazine repeated an accusation that military interrogators had flushed a Koran down a toilet. The Newsweek report was used by militants in Afghanistan to incite violent protests in which 17 people died. The ensuing backlash among conservative critics has included accusations that the report proves that media hate the military, hate the United States, hate George W. Bush and purposefully lied to hurt all of the above.


I have always suspected that we would be better off forgetting about programs to eradicate poppies in Afghanistan in the name of fighting the war on drugs, all the better to ensure the survival of the Karzai government and to fight the war on terrorism. I don't know what I'm talking about, but Mark Kleiman, who does, agrees.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Maybe we're just too literal.

"How many stories has Newsweek written about the Bush administration allegedly 'skewing intelligence' by relying on raw, insufficiently sourced data? How many times has it lamented that these mistakes have hurt the U.S. abroad? Too many to count." —Rich Lowry, National Review

"No documents were found for your search. Please edit your search and try again." —Nexis results for the phrase "skewing intelligence" in Newsweek over the previous five years.

From Radosh.

Friday, May 20, 2005

How the Senate grew more poisonous.

Mark Schmitt, watching the filibuster debate:

I have been watching the Senate floor with more attention than I paid since I worked there, but haven't really had much to comment that I haven't said already. But Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon (one of our old favoriteshere at The Decembrist) said something interesting:

"I estimate that half of what we do here cannot be filibustered," he said, referring to the vast quantity of legislative work that is driven through the budget reconciliation process, where debate is strictly limited.
That's not a particularly persuasive argument for the raw exercise of power that is the nuclear option, but it does raise an important point that I touched on once before. I believe that one reason -- not the only reason, but an important one -- that this particular fight has become so bitter and so polarizing is exactly that fact, that so much of the Senate's business is now run through the rubber-stamp, party-line process of budget reconciliation. (Including pure policy decisions whose budget impact is incidental, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.) Much of the rest is pushed through using the bizarre technique of rewriting legislation from scratch in small, tightly controlled conference committees, and then forcing the Senate to pass it or not, without amendment.

The result of this trend under which half of the Senate's business is pushed into these rubber-stamp categories is that the small amount of business that remains open to the debate, amendment, and the filibuster -- nominations and a few policy issues -- become more and more bitter. They become the outlet for all the frustrations and resentments of the minority on the other issues. And because most of the business of the Senate is pushed through on party lines, Senators don't develop the habits of forming long-term, cross-party alliances, compromises, friendships, and mutual respect.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Neverwhere: A review.

Having read American Gods a few months back, I recently picked up Neil Gaimen's Neverwhere, the story of a Londoner's descent in a London Below, a mythical realm contiguous with and laid upon the London we all know. Perhaps there are two reasons to read Neverwhere: for the story of the hero's descent and (this is hardly a spoiler) return, and for the long glimpse of this other London. By my lights, the former is nothing special, but the latter is a lot of fun. The former story struck me as rote and predictable; the latter was a hoot, full of telling details and occasional humor. If I knew London better, I'm sure it would have been more fun still.

Keeping the peace and so much more.

This gives me a newfound respect for Norway's military. As if defending the country's outrageously long shoreline and borders and wearing the baby blue UN helmets overseas weren't enough.

We get the media we deserve, part XXXVIII.

A. calls my attention to this speech by Bill Moyers about what ails PBS. Worth reading in its entirety, but particularly apt are these paragraphs about the conventions driving mainstream reporting:

...[M]y colleagues and I at “NOW” didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.

Jonathan Mermin ... quotes David Ignatius of The Washington Post on why the deep interests of the American public are so poorly served by Beltway journalism. “The rules of the game,” says Ignatius, “make it hard for us to tee up on an issue without a news peg.” He offers a case in point: the debacle of America’s occupation of Iraq. “If Senator So-and-so hasn’t criticized postwar planning for Iraq,” says Ignatius, “it’s hard for a reporter to write a story about that.”

Mermin also quotes public television’s Jim Lehrer, whom I greatly respect, acknowledging that unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news. Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? “Because,” says Jim Lehrer, “the word ‘occupation’ was never mentioned in the run up to the war. Washington talked about the war as a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism,” says Lehrer, “never even looked at the issue of occupation.” “In other words,” says Jonathan Mermin, “if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it.” He concludes, “Lehrer’s somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the liberation of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment idea of a press that is independent of government.”

Take the example, also cited by Mermin, of Charles Hanley. Hanley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Associated Press whose 2003 story of the torture of Iraqis in American prisons before a U.S. Army report and photographs documenting the abuse surfaced, was ignored by major American newspapers. Hanley attributes this lack of interest to the fact, (quote), “it was not an officially-sanctioned story that begins with a handout from an official source. Furthermore, Iraqis recounting their own personal experience of Abu Ghraib simply did not have the credibility with Beltway journalists of American officials denying that such things happened.”

Judith Miller of The New York Times, among others, relied on that credibility, relied on that credibility of official but unnamed sources when she served essentially as the government stenographer for claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. So the rules of the game permit Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading.

I decided long ago that this wasn’t healthy for democracy. I came to see that news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity. ... I realized that investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject. Objectivity was not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference. I came to believe that objective journalism means describing the object being reported on, including the little fibs and fantasies, as well as the big lie of people in power.

In no way – in no way does this permit journalists to make accusations and allegations. It means, instead, making sure that your reporting and your conclusions can be nailed to the post with confirming evidence.

This is always hard to do, but it’s never been harder. Without a trace of irony, the powers that be have appropriated the Newspeak vernacular of George Orwell’s 1984. They give us a program vowing no child will be left behind, while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged children; they give us legislation cheerily calling for clear skies and healthy forests that give us neither, while turning over our public lands to the energy industry....

Hear me: an unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Galloway 1, Coleman O.

If there were any justice, Norm Coleman would slink back to St. Paul after this.

Bad news from Iraq, Pt. CCLVII.

Thinking Operation Matador was a small success? Think again.

But it's a matter of principle.

Sen. Frist was for judicial filibusters before he was against them.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On some level, who wouldn't rather see more about the running bride?

For all the conservative complaining about how the good news out of Iraq gets short shrift, it's nice to see someone in the press acknowledge -- even if only in the fine print -- that the bad news there deserves a lot more ink than it gets:
Brides gotta run, planes gotta stray, and cable news networks gotta find a way to fill a lot of programming hours as cheaply as possible.... We say with all the genuine apolitical and non-partisan human concern that we can muster that the death and carnage in Iraq is truly staggering. And/but we are sort of resigned to the Notion that it simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations, or, for the most part, Americans.... What is hands down the biggest story every day in the world will get almost no coverage.
ABC News' The Note, via Sirotablog and Brad DeLong.

In a market, sometimes you get only the news you want.

Fighting evolution in Berkeley.

The Washington Post profiles Phillip Johnson, professor emeritus at Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leading light in the creationist/intelligent design attack on evolution. It's hard to resist the temptation to engage in some dimestore psychoanalysis of this:
In the 1970s, Berkeley was roiling. Johnson opposed the Vietnam War but grew disillusioned and turned right. His wife, an artist, found feminism and wandered another way. Their marriage swept away like flotsam.

"I had been very happy for a long time," he says. "I was shaken to my core."

Johnson's daughter, Emily, remains close with each parent. She recalls a time of upendings. "Men of my father's generation really expected that if they did their job, and provided, how could their marriage fall apart?" she says. "They didn't know what to make of the new questions and new demands."

The night his wife decided to leave in 1977, Johnson attended a church supper with Emily, who was 11. The pastor spoke passionately of Christ and the Gospels. The professor doesn't remember a Lord-sundered-the-heavens moment; he wasn't rending his tweed jacket.

Eventually, says Johnson, he realized "that if the pure Darwinist account was accurate and life is all about an undirected material process, then Christian metaphysics and religious belief are fantasy." Many Christians would disagree. But then this conflict over creation science and evolution really isn't about a tension between Christianity and science -- it's about the tension between different strands of Christianity. But fundamentalist Christians do not about to take the (relativistic) step of acknowledging other Christian views.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Add this to the list of problems with BlackBerrys.

Mark Schmitt says they're a lousy way to run a Senate. (Hi, A.)

More re-alignment to come.

It's going to happen, but it's taking too long. Mark Schmitt:

When I first started following congressional races closely, in 1988 or so, I remember that a good number of the competitve seats were in the Carolinas. But these were districts that had been voting for Reagan, and yet still sent Democrats to Washington. They were becoming Republican districts, and their apparent "competitiveness" reflected a deadlock between the incumbency advantages and moderation of their Democratic rep, and the ideological claims of the Republican challenger. It sometimes took a few tries before the Republican broke through, and the Republican takeover in 1994 was really the sound of the last dominoes falling. Today and in the years ahead, the competitive districts will be those historically Republican Northeast and Midwest districts that have been voting for Democrats for President. For now, Republicans like Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson and Mark Kirk hold on, either they will step aside or they will eventually lose, and at that point, the districts will cease to seem "competitive" but will become the Democratic districts they are meant to be, and the "moderate Republican" will become extinct.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Comma weirdness.

In a couple posts below, like the one immediately before this one, a couple of mystery spaces show up between the title of a book and a comma. When I look at Blogger's "Compose" screen, either in creating or editing a post, I don't see these spaces. But they show up in the published version. Anyone know why this just started happening, or how to make it go away?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Out: A review.

I recently read Natsuo Kirino's Out, a terrific thriller set in blue-collar Japan. I gather that the author has been fairly successful in Japan, but that this is the only of her books to be available in English -- a pity, if Out is typical of her work. The central characters in Out are four lower-middle-class women who work together on the night shift in a factory, making boxed lunches. All of them are living on the verge of financial disaster, in their own way. I don't think I'm giving away too much if I say that relatively early in the book, they find themselves having to dispose of a body, more of a chore than it would otherwise be given their precarious financial circumstances and the fact that when you live in a Japanese city, it's hard to do anything out of the ordinary without the neighbors watching you.

The book is well written, and well translated -- not that I can tell, but that's the point. If you're grinding your teeth at the spoiler above, rest assured that I've given away very little, and that the plot will keep you turning the pages until the end. I have more than a quibble with the sentiments of one of the major characters at the very end of the book, but I dare not say anything more without giving away far too much. If you've read the book and want to discuss, drop me an e-mail and I'll complain to you separately. Nevertheless, a fine book.

Like the bastard offspring of Jared Diamond and Hunter Thompson.

G. points me to this apocalyptic diatribe in Clusterfuck Nation. Well, maybe it's apocalyptic only if you like to drive everywhere. "History doesn't care if we sleepwalk into a clusterfuck. Plenty of other societies have before us." Read it if you liked Jared Diamond's latest, but you didn't think he was sufficiently excitable. More of Kunstler's stuff here, if that moves you.

Blue states, as in the states with green.

Courtesy of TaxProf Blog, these maps reflect that states in which the median income for a family of four exceeds the nation median income (blue in the top map) tended to vote for Kerry in the last election (blue in the bottom map). By my count, only six states were exceptions to this rule: Oregon and Maine voted for Kerry despite having lower median incomes, and Alaska, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia for Bush despite having higher median incomes.

Median incomes (2003 census data):

Electoral college (2004 election):

Hawai'i should be blue on that lower map.

TaxProf Blog links to a bunch of interesting related posts, too. For example, he explains that red states feed at the federal trough, and blue states supply the feed.

Bush wants this man to be his ambassador to the United Nations.

Steve Clemons relates this story:

In the Fall of 2004, John Bolton was given the task of communicating U.S. admninistration policy on Iran -- and commenting on the prospect and process of European negotiations with Iran -- at a Washington meeting of certain G8 principals.

Normally at such U.S.-chaired meetings, there is lots of discussion, lots of investment in concensus-building, back and forth commentary, etc.

At this meeting, however, Bolton simply "quickly stated administration policy and that was it. He stopped. No more discussion. He gave 'one read' of the policy and refused to do more."

In other words -- and I have confirmed this bizarre incident -- John Bolton read the administration's policy from a prepared text, but he refused to distribute that text -- and he refused to read the statement again.

He had read the statement once, fast -- and would not read it again.

And then, as they say, there was silence. . .total dumbfounded silence.

As it turned out, administration policy that Bolton was articulating, reluctantly as he did not support it, is that the administration was communicating to Europe that while it suspected and predicted that the negotiation process between the EU and Iran would fail, the U.S. would not object to what was underway.

The wording of the once-read statement of policy by Bolton was carefully crafted so as to give the Europeans license, from the American point of view, to proceed with Iran -- without formally attaching a positive expectation from the U.S. about the process.

Bolton didn't like the policy, so he wouldn't hand out copies of it. And he would only read the statement once. . .fast.

Why no links?

I was thinking of posting about something that Mickey Kaus said, but he continues his Luddite resistance to letting the rest of us link to posts, so never mind. Instead, I'll just promise that this blog will never succumb to non-Murakami-related O.C.D., at least until I change my mind or become obsessed about something else.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The story isn't clear, but the chicken's owners think it has something to do with the motorcycles.

Where are the missing black women?

Cynthia Tucker, in today's San Francisco Chronicle (on-line at the Atlanta Journal Constitution), and (former Bob Dole press secretary) Douglas MacKinnon, in the Chicago Tribune (by way of Kevin Drum), both point out that the media loves stories involving attactive, middle-class white women in trouble: Jennifer Wilbanks (a/k/a the Runaway Bride), Teri Schiavo, and Laci Peterson come to mind. Writes Tucker:

A year ago yesterday, May 7, Stacy-Ann Sappleton took a taxi to Queens, N.Y., from LaGuardia, bound for the home of her future in-laws. She had flown in from Detroit to complete a few tasks for her planned September wedding.

She never made it. Her fiancé, Damion Blair, his parents and Sappleton's mother spent a frantic weekend searching before they learned of her tragic demise.

Never heard of her? Neither has most of America.

Like runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, Sappleton was missing for three days. Like Wilbanks, Sappleton was young (26), middle class and planning a wedding.

Unlike Wilbanks, Sappleton's disappearance didn't receive 24-hour cable news coverage, complete with breathless speculation by celebrity pundits, or banner newspaper headlines. Unlike Wilbanks, Sappleton was black.

Tucker says, "If Greta and Nancy are interested in justice, and not just ratings, they'd devote some time to Sappleton's story." MacKinnon pursues this thought farther:

The cable networks, which can certainly be considered centers of journalism, are also business centers with a harsh bottom line. The ratings for the cable networks are generally measured in the hundreds of thousands of viewers rather than the millions of viewers the major networks attract. Therefore, cable stations are constantly on the lookout for any story that may spike and then hold the ratings. Stories like those of Wilbanks, Sjodin, Levy or Smart seem to fit those requirements....

I have a number of friends at the cable networks (or at least I did), and I have spoken to some about this very subject. While all professed disgust with the underreporting of missing minority women and young adults, most were very uneasy with the thought of shining a spotlight on their own management to ascertain an answer. "Besides," one of them told me, "you've already figured it out. We showcase missing, young, white, attractive women because our research shows we get more viewers. It's about beating the competition and ad dollars."

Tragically, but not shockingly, in the spring of 2005, it seems the color of one's skin can determine the worth of that individual to some in the media. Journalism, as a profession, must be better than this.
Isn't this a little like saying that an ox does a fine of pulling, but that it doesn't have the personality of a horse? If news gathering and reporting is left to large, for-profit corporations, the profit motive is going to affect what is covered and how it's covered. The way that "Greta and Nancy" feel about all this can only make a little difference at the margin. Tucker and MacKinnon make a good point, but expecting the cable networks to drop what's making them money makes about as much sense as trying to saddle up an ox.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Birthday, Thomas Pynchon.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Crazy talk in Omaha.

"[I]t's an interesting idea that a deficit of $100 billion a year, something, 20 years out, seems to terrify the administration. But the $400 plus billion dollars deficit currently does nothing but draw yawns. I mean the idea that this terrible specter looms over us 20 years out which is a small fraction of the deficit we happily run now seems kind of interesting to me. There is no question that the Bush Administration is ignoring the most serious economic problems facing America and that they are more interested in ideological driven issues. The most serious fiscal issues are: the General Fund deficit, the current account / trade deficit, and health care. Why are we talking about Social Security?"

Warren Buffett on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, via Calculated Risk.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

As schemes go, they have some fun parts.

Matthew Yglesias, donning the TPM mantle, recounts that he was debating Social Security today with the Wall Street Journal's John Fund. Ygleasias opened by observing that conservatives have never liked Social Security, to which Fund responded that he likes "the concept of Social Security" but wants to modernize it. Later, though, he referred to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." Says Yglesias, "Doesn't sound like the sort of thing a person who likes the idea of Social Security would say, does it? Of course not." Don't be so sure, though. I recall that the WSJ was pretty excited about Enron back in the day, and that turned out to be a pretty nifty Ponzi scheme, no?


"This year the combined advertising revenues of Google and Yahoo! will rival the combined prime-time ad revenues of America's three big television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, predicts Advertising Age."

The Economist, via Brad DeLong.

Monday, May 02, 2005

It's funny 'cause it's true!

"George's answer to any problem at the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw. Which I think is why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."

-- Laura Bush, at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner

I'm thinking not many people who live in western Virgina would put together a sentence like this.

"The idealization of rural life, although no less pernicious than the Marxist indictment of the idiocy of rural life, is a well-chronicled malady." Lawrence Kaplan apparently succumbed.

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