Saturday, December 31, 2005

A FAQ For All Intensive Purposes.

"All Intensive Purposes" -- You know that's not correct, right?

Thanks for your concern. That was the point.

So is it's an intentional malapropism?

Or a mondegreen, although I think that word really refers only to song lyrics.

Where did you come up with the name, "Tyrone Slothrop?"

Slothrop is a character in Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow. For more, look here. It has been pointed out that the name is an anagram for "sloth or entropy."

Have you read Professor Irwin Corey's speech accepting the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow in 1974?

It's wonderful, isn't it?

Are these your lists?

No. Different Tyrone Slothrop. Apparently the web is lousy with them. Perhaps I could have been more original. I started posting on the internet under that name several years ago.

Why don't you post under your real name?

In my work, I often speak on behalf of other individuals and entities, and I would prefer that there be no intersection between what I say here and what I say at work.

This is awful.

Did Dick Clark's battery run out before midnight? And did they ever show him on the screen?

Very creepy.

OK, now he's on the screen, but he's animatronic.

How to pick a bespoke tailor.

Thomas McMahon explains. And here he explains how to use a thimble.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A top-ten list.

Via Apostropher, here are National Geographic's Top Ten News Photos of 2005. I'm not sure what makes them "news" photos, but they're worth a look.

More phony WMD?

For the rest of the story, see The Occupation of Latveria.

What they've been up to.

Reading The New York Times closely, suggests what the NSA has been doing, and why it would be difficult to get a warrant. Not exactly your old-skool wiretap.

The new pit bulls?

A pack of angry Chihuahuas attacked a police officer today in Fremont, California. The officer was treated at a hospital for "minor injuries, including bites to his ankles."

Many candles.

Happy Birthday to Lucille Meyer, who turns 109 today. She was nine years old when San Francisco burned down after the earthquake:

She was Lucille Kilhofer then, staying with family friends on Easter vacation in San Mateo, in the country. Just before dawn, she and the other little girls were awakened by the great earthquake, knocked out of bed. "I could see the swinging of the lamps, back and forth,'' she said.

It was clear, even to a young girl, that something terrible was happening, and later in the day, the people in San Mateo saw San Francisco burning. "You could see all the smoke from the city,'' she said, "You could see bits of ashes coming down from the sky.''

Her parents were at the family home at Seventh and Mission streets in the city, and one of her brothers was in Alameda staying with friends. "I didn't know if my folks were alive or dead,'' she said. There was no way of knowing, either. Not long afterward, her father showed up at the door to bring her back to the city; she was a San Franciscan, after all, and they had a place to stay.

Though the family home had burned to the ground, a friend owned a vacant house on Precita Avenue, near Bernal Heights, outside the zone burned by the fire. The family -- father, mother, Lucille and four brothers -- moved in.

It wasn't bad. Others had to live in Precita Park in tents and later in tiny houses provided by the city.

But San Francisco was a mess, and she remembers it clearly, even after nearly a century. "Everything was flattened from the Ferry Building to 20th Street,'' she said, shaking her head. "I don't want to see that again.''

"Every time we get a little quake,'' she said, "I get shaky.''

Article II.

Down in the comments, Murky Thoughts and I have been kicking around the question of whether the President's powers under Article II of the Constitution permit the NSA's disputed activities of late, even if one assumes that they are barred by FISA. Orin Kerr has another lucid post on this subject, and Cass Sunstein has been blogging about it also. While Sunstein is a little more sympathetic to the Article II argument, Kerr tentatively concludes:

[I]f the issue is how the Supreme Court would rule, I don't think there is much doubt as to what the Supreme Court would do with the Article II argument. I think you would probably get an 8-1 vote against an expansive reading of Article II powers, and it's really hard to see where the Administration could get 5 votes for the claim. That's my ballpark guess, at least. We may find out as early as this summer, too; if the Court grants cert in Padilla, which it probably will, there may be some interesting opportunities for opinions that shed more light on these issues.

To be clear, I think the legality of the NSA surveillance program is a very difficult question, and it depends on details we mostly don't yet know. But in constrast to the difficult issues involving FISA and the AUMF, I don't see the Article II claim as a close one based on existing law.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Nice work, if you can get it.

According to the Houston Press, the new Republican in the race to unseat Tom DeLay is a lawyer with a pretty sweet gig:
He has since entered private practice as a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, inducing oil and mining companies to rebuild natural habitats harmed by their activities.
Sweet! I'd love to bill hundreds of dollars an hour for that work.

Sentence of the night.

I'm not sure what it means, but maybe I agree:
[I]t's not clear to me that if we don't treat each overreach as a portent of the fall of the Republic, that's not precisely what it will be.

Worth checking out.

Nothing in particular, but firedoglake has been lighting it up lately.

Fraudster confesses copies were originals.

Seems like an appropriate headline for that Korean cloning scandal. Or not.

FISA is pretty clear, actually.

Why do people want to see Cass Sunstein as a defender of the President? Jason Zengerle (it's his day here, I guess) writes: "Cass Sunstein, as honest a broker as you're likely to find among law professors, thinks that Bush may well have been within his legal rights."

As a statutory matter, not exactly. Follow the link, and you'll see that Sunstein has posted "an exceedingly tentative analysis, with the purposes of disaggregating the issues and of suggesting that there are several unresolved questions here." Specifically on the question of whether the President's actions violated FISA, he says:

On (3), the question is how to square the AUMF with FISI. It isn't unreasonable to say that the more specific statute, FISA, trumps the more general, so that the wiretapping issue is effectively governed by FISI. But if surveillance is taken to be an ordinary incident of war, and if the President has a plausible claim to inherent authority, this argument is substantially weakened. Note that the President isn't forbidden, by the precedents, from arguing that FISI is unconstitututional insofar as it forbids him from engaging in the relevant activity (item (4) in my catalogue). I am not sure how strong this argument is; if it is pretty strong, there is good reason to read the AUMF to allow the President to wiretap, and not to read FISI so as to forbid wiretapping, simply to avoid the hard constitutional question.
With respect to Sunstein, I think he has aggregated his disaggregated issues here. As he suggests, it appears that what the President has done violates the plain language of FISA, and that as a matter of statutory construction the specific language in FISA speaks more clearly than the (much more general) authorization for the use of military force (the "AUMF").

I can see why Sunstein, as a constitutional scholar, would be interested in the separation-of-powers issues here, moreso than the questions of statutory interpretation. A Youngstown Steel doesn't come along that often. But the question of FISA's application just isn't that hard.

To quarrel with Sunstein for a moment, it's not like the President was "arguing that FISI is unconstitututional." He kept quiet about it for four years. If he thought that there was a constitutional problem, let's just say there were ways to address the situation that would have shown a little more respect for the rule of law.

What we need is a separate newspaper, written by ombudsmen.

Jay Rosen has an extensive plan for The New York Times to cover itself covering major events. You'd get two stories at once -- the story, and the story of the story. Jason Zengerle points out some obvious problems with this scheme, but he misses the bigger issue of the incentives. We only care about the story behind the story when the Times screws up, as with Jason Blair, and Judith Miller, and (maybe) the decision to sit on the story about what the NSA was doing for more than a year. But the whole point of transparency is that it makes institutions function better. It's not like Rosen has hatched a clever scheme to sell more newspapers -- if people really wanted these stories, an invisible hand (Sulzberger's?) would have already made it so, right? You adopt Rosen's scheme, and then we have to read all these meta-stories, and the Times stops screwing up so much, and the meta-stories aren't even all that interesting anymore, and their rationale is gone.

Getting rid of errors can be expensive. Maybe the Times has found the right balance, economically speaking, between what it takes to publish a newspaper and what it takes to avoid poor coverage.

And if you don't like it, then maybe the problem is that free markets give us the media we pay for, not the media we think we deserve.

Found in translation.

The Portuguese left their mark all over East Asia, influencing what we think of as indigenous cultures:

The Japanese, who had no indigenous word for "thank you," adopted the Portuguese obrigado, rendering it as arigato. The Javanese and Malays picked up hundreds of Portuguese terms and made them their own: armada for "fleet," roda for "wheel," tempo for "time," bola for "ball."

The two-story, balconied shops that lined Asian main streets from the mouth of the Yangtze to the Indonesian Archipelago were of a recognizably Portuguese design. In the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, Chinese merchants covered the facades of their houses with Portuguese colored tiles and protected their roofs with red terra-cotta in the fashion of Portuguese Algarve.

The Portuguese carried the chili pepper from Brazil to Thailand and Sichuan. They taught the Tamils to mix the chilies with vinegar and garlic in vindaloo, which is based on the Portuguese expression vinho e alho, "wine and garlic." They introduced deep-fat frying to Japan, where it took on a Portuguese name, tempero, used for a dish that now passes as the most characteristically Japanese item in Japanese cooking.

Frank Viviano, "The Bones of Saint Francis" in James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger & Sean O'Reilly, eds., Travelers' Tales: Hong Kong 87 (San Francisco, 1998).

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do we need a new Fourth Amendment?

Matt Yglesias's musings have me thinking about problems applying the Fourth Amendment in a new day and age. Suppose that the government develops a robot designed to enter houses, independently, and search for signs that the inhabitants are terrorists. Suppose that there aren't that many terrorists out there, but that the robot is very, very good at identifying them, and very, very good at not identifying non-terrorists. This smells like a Fourth Amendment violation: The police are't allowed to randomly search through houses to find criminals, and the robot surely is violating the rights of all those whose homes are searched to be free of such searches.

But suppose that the robot is designed to search houses without anyone realizing it's there. And suppose that it searches data -- fax transmissions, or e-mail, or telephone calls -- instead of homes. And suppose that the robot does not understand, transmit, or remember what it sees. Are these searches so unreasonable then?

I would speculate that the NSA has been doing something more analogous to this, rather than simply executing traditional searches without a warrant. Setting aside a potential national-security exception to the Fourth Amendment's requirement of a warrant -- should these searches be barred by the Constitution?

I really don't know the answer. I find it hard to believe no one has thought about this before, but it's not my area.

One year later.

This and other haunting photos are at Slate.

Legal education ain't what it used to be.

While I was looking at Hugh Hewitt transcripts -- not a place I usually find myself, let's say -- I noticed this show in which law professors Erwin Chemerinsky (Duke) and John Eastman (Chapman) talk about the decision in the ID trial out of Pennsylvania. At one point, Hewitt asks Eastman whether the trial judge "is asserting that any theistic point of view presented in public schools ... is unconstitutional." (The transcript is unclear -- the elided text may have been a suggested that such a point of view might be valid.)

Eastman responded:

Well, he is. But he's also wrong about the evidence in the case. I mean, there were a number of witnesses in that case that offered non-revealed theistic explanations. The whole point of intelligent design is applying the traditional methods...scientific methods that Darwin himself applied...that they think that the best hypothesis is that there has to be some intelligent moving force in the universe that has created life, that it couldn't have originated out of nothing. And they do this down at the sub-molecular level, looking at the design of components of the neutrons of life, and see the uncanny resemblance that it bears to Bill Gates' design of a silicon chip. And this repeats itself over and over and over in nature. And Darwin's theories end up with such significant gaps that they, at the end of the day, don't make an explanation of this, that the best scientific conclusion is there must be an intelligent designer behind this.

For starters, you have to admire the hubris of a professor who can sit in Orange County, on the other side of the country, and opine that a federal trial judge in Pennsylvania was "wrong about the evidence" presented in the courtroom in front of him. I have a hard time imagining that Eastman spent a twentieth of the time that Judge Jones spent reviewing that evidence.

But more fundamentally, there's the whopper that Intelligent Design applies "traditional, scientific methods." Um, no. Anyone who says that "the best scientific conclusion is [that] there must be an intelligent designer" is either exceptionally ignorant -- and recklessly so, to be sharing that ignorance on a radio show -- or propagandizing. From what I've seen of Professor Eastman, I do not believe that he is an ignorant fellow. Either way, I'm glad I'm not investing my money in a law degree from Chapman.

(Chemerinsky doesn't seem to have corrected this; nevertheless, he's no wanker.)

Strange bedfellows.

Two people whose views I usually respect are Atrios and Cass Sunstein, so when one calls the other a wanker, it's worth a longer look. (If you're not sure who was doing the name calling, you don't know either one well enough.)

Atrios linked to this post by Armando at Kos, which accuses Sunstein -- in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt's radio show" of "virtually ignor[ing] the central issue here -- the Congressional prohibition against that which the President has done and is doing," and of "smear[ing] and distort[ing] those who disagree with him." According to Armando, Sunstein "utterly ignores FISA's prohibition on the actions taken by the President." For his part, Atrios simply links to Armando's post instead of the transcript of the radio show.

In thinking about the legal issues raised by whatever the NSA has been doing, there are (at least) three big legal questions: (1) Does the NSA program violate the Constitution; (2) Does the NSA program violate FISA; and (3) if FISA purports to bar the NSA program, is it within Congress's power to restrict the President's Article II powers in that way. Armando (and Atrios, apparently relying on him) unfairly accuses Sunstein of ignoring (2); in fact, Armando ignores (3).

Most of Hewitt's interview with Sunstein focused on the first constitutional question above, (1). (Note, however, that the transcript may not be complete, as discussed below.) Notwithstanding Armando's characterization of the interview, Hewitt and Sunstein did turn to the possibility that FISA prohibits what the NSA did, with Sunstein speaking in general terms (out of a stated concern that it's not clear exactly what the facts are). Hewitt asks Sunstein to assume (2), and proceeds to (3):

[Hewitt]: So if we assume, and I do, that FISA is Constitutional, if it puts into place an arguably exclusive means of obtaining warrants for surveillance of al Qaeda and their agents in the United States, does the president's avoidance of that necessarily make him a law breaker? Or does it make the FISA ineffective insofar as it would attempt to restrict the president's power?

[Sunstein]: Yeah. I guess I'd say there are a couple of possibilities. One is that we should interpret FISA conformably with the president's Constitutional authority. So if FISA is ambiguous, or its applicability is in question, the prudent thing to do, as the first President Bush liked to say, is to interpret it so that FISA doesn't compromise the president's Constitutional power. And that's very reasonable, given the fact that there's an authorization to wage war, and you cannot wage war without engaging in surveillance. If FISA is interpreted as preventing the president from doing what he did here, then the president does have an argument that the FISA so interpreted is unconstitutional. So I don't think any president would relinquish the argument that the Congress lacks the authority to prevent him from acting in a way that protects national security, by engaging in foreign surveillance under the specific circumstances of post-9/11.

This pretty clearly demonstrates that Armando is simply wrong when he states that Sunstein "utterly ignores FISA's prohibition on the actions taken by the President." (Armando adds some other thoughts that are less pleasant.)

A sharp interviewer advancing a particular viewpoint -- and we all know that Hewitt fits this bill -- will use the Socratic method to make a point, asking some questions and leaving others alone. We all like this game when we agree with the questioner. Hewitt decided not to ask Sunstein questions about how to interpret and apply FISA -- perhaps because reasonable people -- and even unreasonable people -- seem to agree that this is where the Administration is on the shakiest ground. Hewitt jumped from (1) to (3), asking Sunstein to assume that the NSA was violating FISA -- hell, perhaps even Hewitt is willing to concede that the Administration has a problem here, although I'd rather not research that one.

Perhaps one can fault Sunstein for failing to push the interview back to (2), when Hewitt apparently preferred to discuss the constitutional issues. But Sunstein is a polite fellow, a guest on Hewitt's show, a professor, and an expert on constitutional law, not FISA. All of this suggests why he might have simply answered the questions he was asked.

Moreover, it appears to me that Hewitt's transcript may have excised a portion of the interview immediately following the question and answer quoted above. The text includes a symbol ("---") suggesting as much, and then it jumps to the discussion of the media coverage. Anyone who actually listened to the show would be in a better position to say what else Sunstein may have added.

Many people around the country are justifiably troubled by the Administration's apparent propensity to find lawyers who will construct arguments seemingly designed to vault any limits on executive power. Legal reasoning should matter; it should not be a tool to an ideologically determined end. In excoriating Professor Sunstein, it seems to me that Armando is doing much the same thing, as is Atrios. If they disagrees with Sunstein's analysis of constitutional law, they should explain why. But it looks to me like they object mostly to some of his conclusions.

Truer than fiction.

Mark Bowden:

Here’s an important rule about journalism: Reporters do not make things up because they have done too much work..., but because they have done too little.

Truth is never less interesting than fiction, and is usually more so. All of us go through life with a general idea about people, places and events that we’ve never seen. That general idea is based on guesswork and is tainted by presupposition, bias, received wisdom, etc., etc. Real reporting replaces such guesswork with a solid, firsthand account, and in my experience nearly always demonstrates that what we thought was true was wrong, in ways large and small. Our world and the people who populate it are infinitely various and complex and are always changing, so a truthful account of anything ought to be, by definition, surprising. That’s why reporting has inherent value: There are things fiction can do that journalism cannot, but truthfulness is the thing journalism has over fiction. A made-up general or prostitute can offer me many things in the hands of a great writer, but it cannot replace the intrinsic value of a well-drawn portrait of the real thing. When a writer embellishes reporting with his imagination, whether by creating composites, rearranging the sequence of events or inventing dialogue, he creates something that is not just a fraud, but which is less than either fiction or fact.
From a review of The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion and the New Journalism Revolution, by Marc Weingarten, in the December 26 edition of the The New York Observer. (That link won't be good for long.)

It's not dying, just moving to ESPN.

Bob Ryan remembers when Monday-night football truly was Monday Night Football.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

And a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Reading Charles Krauthammer today is actually worth it, but only because you then get to appreciate Brad DeLong.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fashion Update (U.S. Senate Dept.).

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens likes to wear an Incredible Hulk tie when he steps out onto the Senate floor. "'When I see the Hulk tie on Ted Stevens, I know he's pumped up,' said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist . . . . With the bulging green man-monster displayed down his shirtfront, Stevens yells at colleagues who block oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Are you better off than you were six years ago?

Matt Yglesias notes that in 1998, median household income in the U.S. was $45,003; last year, it was only $44,389.

Talking ID.

Discussing the recent decision by a federal district court in Pennsylvania holding that the teaching of intelligent design in public schools violates the Establishment Clause, William Saletan suggests that such judicial rulings will not make ID go away:

As Jones makes clear, the Dover case is lousy with evidence of explicit religious motivation on the part of local ID proponents. But is ID, by virtue of being unscientific, wholly and inherently religious—or is there, contrary to the judge's dualism, a third category? The answer is inadvertently sprinkled throughout his opinion. Statements by ID leaders "reveal ID's religious, philosophical, and cultural content," he writes. A strategy document developed by the "Center for Renewal of Science and Culture" is full of "cultural and religious goals, as opposed to scientific ones." Proponents of ID fear "evolution's threat to culture and society," and the Dover board's collaborators have "demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions." Cultural, cultural, cultural. Not scientific, not necessarily religious, but cultural.

Is the pseudo-science of creationism ultimately being driven by religion? Or is this brand of religion, in turn, being driven by cultural anxieties? Is it possible to open a conversation with these folks and their kids, not in biology class but in, say, social studies?
ID doubtless is a symptom of very interesting and important cultural forces, and it would be terrific to have conversations about them in high school social studies classes. Hell, [Heck, -- ed.] I could learn something from that conversation, and am keeping my eyes open for the book or magazine that can explain to me a little better where these people are coming from.

But I don't think they'd stand for it. Talking about ID -- analyzing it as cultural content -- kills it. These folks don't want their beliefs discussed, they want their gospel preached.

Something I don't understand.

To fight the war on terror, conservatives say believe that democracy and the rule of law are essential in Iraq, but a hindrance in America.

Why do they think this country is so weak? We are strong, so strong.

A constitutional crisis.

There's a lot of good commentary out there about the recent revelations about the NSA and FISA, but three posts that particularly stand out are this survey of the legal terrain, and this follow-up, by Orin Kerr, and this explanation of the separation-of-powers issues, by Marty Lederman.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Roll On, Colombia.

Apparently those Colombians drew their inspiration from the French Riviera, circa 1925.


Judge Luttig of the Fourth Circuit, a finalist for the Supreme Court seat for which Bush nominated Roberts, really let the federal government have it today. Quite a rebuke, really.

Colombia's Navy could not be reached for comment.

In Bogota, a land-locked city a mile and a half above sea level, police found a partially constructed submarine in a warehouse. The vessel was 100 feet long, and would have been able to transport as many as 200 tons of cocaine.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On das road.

For a family vacation, the German ambassador decided to drive an RV 2,800 miles across New York, New England and Canada. His wife, Jutta Falke-Ischinger, describes the trip in The Washington Post.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gathering news must be easy.

Mickey Kaus says:

The NBC Nightly News netcast (available from this page) is a huge convenience. It's the same show that they broadcast. They better hope this doesn't catch on too rapidly--after all, what if everyone got their news this way? Wouldn't NBC be in trouble? It's not that I wouldn't pay money for their product. But they've been protected by their position as holder of scarce broadcast frequencies. Once the Nightly News is just another Webcast, competition will be fierce--barriers to entry in the Webcasting business, it seems, are close to zero. There will be 50 or 500 competing Webcasts, not two. Advantage: Pajamas! I suppose I'm the last guy to have figured this out.
Sure, if you ignore all the costs of, you know, gathering and reporting the news. Surely NBC enjoys a protected position from being able to broadcast, but cable television has been around for quite a while now, and there are only so many CNNs willing to make those investments. This is like saying, if Blogger lets just anyone post on the web, wouldn't Mickey Kaus be in trouble? The thing is, perhaps he brings something to the table before he starts typing.

When democracies fight!

Some very interesting stuff, boding very poorly for our current foreign policy:

A new book, Electing To Fight, by two political scientists—Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Jack Snyder of Columbia—reinforces this pessimism. The book argues that, while mature democracies do tend to be more peaceful and almost never go to war with one another, emerging democracies tend to be more violent and aggressive than any other type of regime—and are more likely to erupt in civil war or revert to autocratic rule.

...Mansfield and Snyder outline the conditions for a successful democratization, among them: a literate populace; a fairly prosperous and diverse economy; and a set of democratic institutions, not least a state apparatus capable of mediating and administering disputes among competing social and political groups....

Successful democratization, they write (in both the book and the article), depends not just on some critical mass of conditions but also on the sequence in which these conditions develop. When popular elections occur before democratic institutions take hold, they find, the chances of an enduring democracy are especially dim. "Out-of-sequence, incomplete democratizations," they write in the journal piece, "often create an enduring template for illiberal, populist politics." This is especially true in countries sharply divided along ethnic or religious lines. In such countries, elections have been "an ethnic census, not a deliberation about public issues." They create a politics that hardens these divisions. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, for political actors to forge new ties across those divides; the necessary institutions (trade unions, secular parties, or other interest groups) either don't exist or lack sufficient power.
The article mentioned in the first line of the second paragraph will appear in the Winter 2005/06 of the National Interest next week, and apply this work specifically to Iraq. As Fred Kaplan says in Slate, it doesn't look good.

Michael J. Fox will pop up any moment, I'm sure.

Typepad seems to have some problem today that has turned the clock back to December 10 on a variety of blogs, including The Austrian Economists (the link to a specific post below does not work), DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal, and Marginal Revolution.

Or maybe it's just economics blogs?

Customs and Mores of the Supreme Court (Holidays Edition).

Thurgood Marshall declined to attend the Supreme Court's annual Christmas party:

[T]he late Chief Justice William Rehnquist almost defiantly insisted on describing the Court's annual holiday gathering as a Christmas party.

In 1988, as revealed by a file in the papers of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, a group of law clerks petitioned Rehnquist citing their "concern about the Court's celebration of Christmas."

The clerks objected to the Christmas tree itself, as well as the Christmas party where Christmas carols are sung. Noting that "some of us do not object at all to these observances," the clerks said that "all of us are concerned that members of the public, as well as Court employees, may be offended by them." The clerks requested a meeting with Rehnquist to discuss the matter.

Marshall's papers indicated no reply from Rehnquist, but the party proceeded as it has every year since. As he apparently did every year, Marshall sent a note to Rehnquist declining the invitation: "As usual, I will not participate. I still prefer to keep church and state apart."
From, which reports that Chief Justice Roberts has continued Rehnquist's tradition.

Customs and Mores of the White House.

NBC's Brian Williams, quoted by, via the lately beleaguered White House Briefing:

When I was a White House intern in '79, I loved how the White House staff mirrored the boss. Everybody who worked for President Carter wore his or her watches crystal down because he did. The boss always has a quirk that the staff mirrors, whether they do it consciously or not. In the Bush White House, everybody uses a Sharpie because that's Bush's pen of choice. They are all over the place. Sharpie now makes one for them. It bears a replica of the president's signature on the barrel of the pen. That I noticed by just looking at his inbox in the Oval Office.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Geeks on the Metro.

Want to convert your Metro SmarTrip card into, well, something else? Look no more.

Credit to the monasteries?

Pete Boettke, at The Austrian Economists, says:

David Brooks in his review of Rodney Stark's book I mentioned earlier in today's NYT he writes that the truly innovative aspect of Stark's work is that capitalism developed in the middle-ages and that the Catholic Church nurtured economic and scientific ideas. Whereas traditional accounts refer to the "Prision of Chrisitian Dogma" to describe the middle-ages, Stark demonstrates that many of the developments we attribute to the Renaissance actually find their origin hundreds of years before with the Scholastics and in Catholic monasteries. The Catholic Church rather than the cause of economic backwardness was responsible for the development of the ideas that led to one of the most impressive economic take-offs in human history.
But did the Catholic Church disseminate the ideas attributed to the Renaissance? I recently re-read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and with that account (fictional, 't'is true) in mind, it is easy to see that while new ideas may have originated in medieval Catholic monasteries, that does not mean that the monasteries and the church were responsible for disseminating those ideas. Back then, information did not want to be free. There is a technological explanation: Before Gutenberg, copies transcripts was a laborious process, and one requiring an education that few had. This made books incredibly valuable, to be protected and guarded, with access to them limited. In addition to this, let us say that the Catholic Church was not exactly committed to the open exchange of information. The language of the Church was one not spoken or read by most of its congregants. And the Church's internal divisions, easy to forget about a millenium and a half later, were surely an impediment to the exchange of learning. So, I find it easy to believe that medieval monasteries anticipated many of the advances of the Renaissance (which were, of course, in many cases the rediscovery of ancient learning), but it took developments in technology and changes in learned society for these advances to be realized.

Doubtless medieval historians will find much to quibble with here: fire away. Indeed, as a non-subscriber to Times Select, I haven't even read Brooks' column of today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A unified theory of the last five years.

This figures:
WASHINGTON, DC—Telephone logs recorded by the National Security Agency and obtained by Congress as part of an ongoing investigation suggest that the vice president may have used the Oval Office intercom system to address President Bush at crucial moments, giving categorical directives in a voice the president believed to be that of God.

While journalists and presidential historians had long noted Bush's deep faith and Cheney's powerful influence in the White House, few had drawn a direct correlation between the two until Tuesday, when transcripts of meetings that took place in March and April of 2002 became available.
More details follow.

What's right with Kansas?

Katrina vanden Heuvel says that What's The Matter With Kansas? is a terrific book, except that it's wrong.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Plamegate speculation.

A lot of people have wondered what Vivica Novak's testimony could possibly do to inform the Plame investigation -- i.e., what could she possibly say about her conversation(s) with Karl Rove's attorney, Donald Luskin, that would be relevant? Is it possible that Rove's story now is that he forget earlier conversations, and that he has waived the attorney-client privilege to permit Luskin to testify that Rove had no recollection when they talked? If so, perhaps Luskin thought that Novak's testimony would corroborate his own.

The notion of such a waiver sounds pretty loopy, but maybe Rove is pulling out all the stops, on the thought that he would have to step down from his current position running the country if he were indicted.

Masonic secrets revealed.

The San Francisco Chronicle (it's like I don't read anything else) interviews a 26-year-old graduate student and Freemason.

The most important revelation:
Is it true that you have a secret handshake?

There are a few handshakes.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The man behind Topolobampo.

One of the best meals in my life was at the Frontera Grill in Chicago. The San Francisco Chronicle talks to its owner, Rick Bayless. This surprised me:
"People in California don't particularly like hot food. Chicagoans love hot food," he says. "If there is any criticism of our restaurant, it's that we make our food too authentically, and therefore it is not hot enough. The hottest chile known is the habañero. We have to keep habañero salsa in our fridge all the time, because it is the only sauce that will satisfy our guests."
I saw a book once about the kitchens of various chefs, and Bayless's kitchen left a real impression. Among other things, he had wonderful soapstone counters; since then, I dream of soapstone counters. Here is another glimpse (perhaps a little fawning) of that kitchen, a few years back:
Scene change to the Bayless kitchen, a warm, functional, comfortable arrangement of soapstone, knotty pine, and the stainless steel of a commercial-grade stove. Ibrahim Ferrer, the Cuban musician, croons “Dos Gardenias” on the stereo, his airy voice floating up to the tops of cabinets where a profusion of pottery adds color to the picture. Down below on the kitchen island, a lacquered wood tray from the Mexican state of Guerrero holds salt cellar, olive oil, pepper grinder. A traditional Mexican chocolate-beater, carved of wood, is a sculpture in a bouquet of paddles, spoons, and whisks standing in a crock.
Anyway, more about soapstone counters here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

An "apologist."

Is calling C.S. Lewis a "devout Christian apologist" to suggest that he or his Christian beliefs have something to apologize for? As a question of usage, I would think so, but I do not think that is what Meghan O'Rourke means to say.

That's a nice rate of return.

Rep. Bob Ney (R.- Ohio) reportedly "parlayed a $100 bet into [$34,000] on two hands of a three-card game of chance." (Says The Columbus Dispatch, by way of TPM.)

All those who raised (legitimate) heck about Sen. Clinton's foray in the futures market will be just as critical of Ney's gambling ("gambling"), I'm sure.

100 wines.

The San Francisco Chronicle has put out its annual list of the top 100 wines.

Their ten favorites (with suggested food pairings):
  • 1999 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut ($21)
  • 2004 Geyser Peak River Ranch Road Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($21)
  • 2003 Truchard Carneros Chardonnay ($30)
  • 2003 JanKris Paso Robles Zinfandel ($10)
  • 2002 Lewis Napa Valley Syrah ($50)
  • 2003 August West Rosella's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($42)
  • 2003 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42)
  • 2003 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot ($50)
  • 2003 Decoy Napa Valley Red Wine ($28)
  • 2001 Shafer Hillside Select Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($175)
I don't see as many less expensives wines (or "cheaper," as my mother tells me not to say) (which is to say, under $20) as I have in past years. The JanKris zin is an exception. I've had it and liked it, though it's not the most common thing to see in the store. If you find yourself in Kensington, stop at the wine shop there and pick some up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Excellent phishing.

I got the following e-mail today, complete with some nifty, authentic-looking HTML graphics not reproduced here:

From: RBC Support Group
To: [tyslothrop]
Subject: Security Tip: Prevent unautorized access to your account!
Date: Dec 8, 2005 3:21 AM

Dear Sir/Madam,

RBC Financial Group always looks forward for the high security of our clients. Some customers have been receiving an email claiming to be from RBC Financial Group advising them to follow a link to what appear to be a RBC Financial Group web site, where they are prompted to enter their personal Online Banking details. RBC Financial Group is in no way involved with this email and the web site does not belong to us. RBC Financial Group is proud to announce about their new updated secure system. We updated our new SSL servers to give our customers a better, fast and secure online banking service. Due to the recent update of the servers, you are requested to please update your account info at the following link.

RBC Financial GroupSecurity AdvisorRBC Financial Group

This web site is operated by Royal Bank of Canada
Privacy Legal Trade-marks & Copyrights Online Banking Security
© Royal Bank of Canada 1996, 2002

The audacity of warning people about the con before unveiling the con is fantastic. Fantastic! One only wishes the proofreading was a little better, and that some of (the first sentence, say) didn't sounds like it was translated into English. Also, would real bankers be sending e-mail at 3:21 a.m.?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

News from the wide, wide world of sports.

Here is a new sport I would have two ways to lose in: chess boxing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Then they get holes that need darning.

Bad things happen to people who sock when Tim Lambert's around.


You'll have to wait 'til tomorrow to check this out.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Staging redux.

I previously posted about "staging," a peculiar feature of the Bay Area's real estate market (and one not much seen in other markets, if my limited experience with photos on MLS sites is any indication) which involves removing a property owner's furniture, furnishings and other possessions, and filling the house (or "staging" it) with furniture and furnishings -- but please, nothing that would look like the possessions of actual people, since that would inhibit potential buyers' propensity to picture themselves living in the space. Done well, staging creates the illusion of more space and the suggestion of a sort of anodyne luxury. Jon Carroll has more to say about it.

Y'all do know about house staging, yes? Maybe not everyone. For the uninitiated, just before a house goes on the market, busy people in jumpsuits come in, take away every stick of furniture and replace it with selected furniture that screams "Buy this house, buy this house." The homeowner has no say in the furniture. If the homeowner is still living in the house, the homeowner must be very careful not to interfere with the stage set. Much better if the homeowner is not living at home, or in the country, or at all.

When the guy next door sold his house, the stager deemed his big television to be inappropriate, so he had to spend two weeks squinting at a small black and white model perched precariously on the end of his bed. He also couldn't cook anything that might have an aroma. Aromas bad! Signs of actual habitation bad! Must have phoniness. Phoniness sells.

Like, for instance, when the gay guys across the street moved out, the real estate agent decided that the house should appeal to a more "open demographic." So the spare bedroom upstairs became a nursery, with the cutest little crib and bunny rabbits and everything. God forbid there should be something gay in there. Of course, many gay partners have adopted babies, but none of them that I know would have stood for such a dreadful nursery. No, wooden bunny rabbits on the wall: definitely heterosexual.

So what is this staging, the staging that adds the bucks to the bottom line? One word: throws. There are bloody throws everywhere. There must be huge throw warehouse somewhere; truckloads must disappear into the real estate universe every week. Are they reusable? Oh no, there are hygiene issues. They are sealed in plastic and sent to tsunami victims, who still don't have enough throws. I made all that up.

No books are permitted in a staged house, except tasteful coffee-table volumes on Impressionist painters or architects of the early 20th century. And the books are rarely placed on a bookshelf. In the house across the street, one set was put on an ottoman -- and then partially covered with a throw!

On the wall, travel posters, because who can object to a picture of Italy in winter? And on the beds: tea trays, complete with cups and saucers. I know I'm a freak, but tea trays on beds make me anxious. Once false bounce, and the whole thing would flip onto the floor, perhaps scalding innocent cats. The whole time I was in the bedroom, I couldn't take my eyes off the tea tray. Tracy said it had an attractive breakfast-in-bed quality, but I mostly saw the disaster-in-bed quality.

I'm sure there's some marketing wisdom about the tea tray as a totemic object for upward mobility. I'm sure every piece of furniture has deep marketing wisdom behind it. I'm sure ... I just got goose bumps. Maybe someone is walking on my grave. Or someone is whispering, "It's all show business; flee flee."

The market has determined that Jon Carroll is not your typical buyer.

Is widespread staging a peculiar function of the Bay Area's until-recently-overheated real estate market, or do selling agents in other markets keep stagers busy as well?


Why is David Corn getting so much flak (see the comments). Weird. This seems to be what they're all agitated about, but I don't get it. People must not like the company he keeps.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

There's Noel in "Economist."

Tim Harford, whom I don't know but who is evidently full of holiday cheer, has done some economic analysis and would do away with Christmas cards:
Christmas cards are given and received in a parody of a market - one that involves interpersonal exchange but no prices. That matters because it means our cards are sent out into an informational void. Is it appropriate to send a card to one’s teacher? To one’s boss? To close colleagues? Distant ones? We can look at the cards we receive and try to extrapolate, but this only goes so far. A student does not know what cards a teacher receives because she is not a teacher; but she knows she doesn’t want to be the only student who didn’t bother.

We receive too little feedback and it arrives too late. In a conversation with a friend we quickly and continuously read each other’s moods - but was last year’s card from your former neighbours a genuine attempt to keep in touch, or a dutiful reciprocation of your card from the year before? (Always assuming you have your list from two years ago to check.) Or did it simply reflect the fact that they had sent you cards for years and were concerned that breaking off the correspondence would send an unwelcome message, even though the correspondence itself sends no message at all? One thing is certain: they will not send you a clarifying cover note.

* * * * *

This Christmas, as we go through the routine of regretting the predominance of markets in our lives, we might remind ourselves that while markets may not be perfect, they sometimes beat the alternatives.
Maybe someone got a lump of coal in last year's stocking?

This December, the Saga Of The Burnt Motherboard may prevent me from sending cards. Rest assured that any such failure on my part will have little or nothing to do with the views expressed above.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Bill Simmons at
[D]id you ever wonder what's said when two NFL players are woofing at one another? NFL Films caught a great exchange before the Indy-Pittsburgh game between Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans. Here's the actual transcript:

-- Haggans: "I guarantee you better not catch a hitch! You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "You know where I'm at!"
-- Haggans: "You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "You know where I'm at!"
-- Haggans: "You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "Whatcha gonna do?"

(Wait, wasn't that how the Lincoln-Douglass debate started?)

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

Franklin Foer takes The Plank to The Wall Street Journal:
This morning's Wall Street Journal editorial page zings James Fallows's recent Atlantic Monthly cover story on the training of the Iraqi army. According to the Journal, "Mr. Fallows not only didn't visit [the office charged with training the Iraqi army] but he didn't even contact them while reporting the article or at anytime during at least the past nine months." The Corner ran with the Journal's allegation. But, as Atlantic editor Cullen Murphy points out in a letter to NRO, this allegation is dead wrong. "Mr. Fallows had extensive email correspondence, starting last August, with the Public Affairs Officer for that organization, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Wellman, who arranged an interview with its commander, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus, in September. Mr. Fallows spoke with General Petraeus by phone for more than an hour, and checked quotes from that interview via Lt. Col. Wellman before using them in his article." It's bad enough that the Journal printed a slanderous falsehood. Murphy deadpans the perfectly ironic kicker: "At no point before printing this false statement did you contact Mr. Fallows or me to determine whether what you intended to publish was true." Only a few times in your life do you get set up so perfectly.
eta: James Wolcott has the full text of Murphy's letter.

Money, talking.

Michael Kinsley writes today on corruption in Washington:
Perhaps conceding more than he intended, former Democratic senator John Breaux, now on K Street, told the New York Times that a member of Congress will be swayed more by 2,000 letters from constituents on some issue than by anything a lobbyist can offer. I guess if it's a lobbyist vs. 1,900 constituents, it's too bad for the constituents. That seems fair.
(An easy target, true.)

eta this cartoon from Tom Toles:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A pox on both houses.

Zbigniew Brezinski:
Q: Do you think the Iraqi army is going to be ready soon?

I think our course with the Iraqi forces verges on the absurd: It is all about us training them. The question arises: Training them to do what? If it is a matter of knowing how to use a Kalishnikov in order to kill other people, I think most military-aged Iraqis don't need our training. If it is a question of training Iraqis so they behave and act like American soldiers, that's well and good. Except that is not what is needed in the circumstances we will be bequeathing them. What is needed is motivation based on loyalty to the powers that be. That will mean loyalty to various Shiite militias with a clerical connotation and loyalty to the two major Kurdish formations. Plus, perhaps eventually, loyalty to some Sunni militias based on a tribal allegiance. The motivation is not going to be created by American sergeants who are -- quote, unquote -- "training" them how to behave like American soldiers.

* * * * *

Q: Some Democrats, such as Senator Joseph Biden, say they regret their decision to support the Iraq war. What do you think Democrats overall should be saying and doing?

The Democrats have a responsibility vis à vis the American people: to act as an alternative and to provide a vision of a strategy that avoids the pitfalls of what the Bush administration has created. The fact of the matter is that Democrats failed to do that during the grand debate over whether or not to go to war in Iraq. To be sure, some Democrats can rationalize their decisions by saying they gave the president contingent authority, and he pushed much further and acted unilaterally. Nonetheless, the fact is Democrats, tacitly at the very least, and explicitly in some cases, went along with a presidential decision based on a case that was dubious at best and mendacious at worst. Some leading Democrats have even acted as if they wanted to be part of the Bush cabinet, helping him prosecute the war in Iraq. L'outrance, as the French would say.

From The American Prospect, via Kos.

How 'bout a fresco?

Fans of Fra Angelico, click here.

Spike Lee on the state of the movie business.

In an interview with Slate:

Lee: [F]ilms aren't connecting with the audience. I mean, look. March of the Penguins. How much did that movie make?

Slate: A fortune.

Lee: I'm telling you, it's my belief that people went to see that film because there was nothing else to see. If there were good movies in the theater, they're not going to see a documentary about penguins.

Needed: Big defense contractors who care about counter-insurgency.

Matt Yglesias offers some well-reasoned conjecture about why the military hasn't had the right incentives to take counter-insurgency seriously enough.

Ten years of Salon.

Despite all the rumors that it was on its death bed, Salon turns ten years old this week. Together with the much-missed, Salon shaped my earliest sense of internet culture. (Thanks to whomever is paying to keep old Suck on-line.) Those were the heady days when the cover of Wired was devoted to people who were interesting for what they were thinking and creating, not for how much money they were making. With a core of ex-staffers from the San Francisco Examiner, Salon had an unmistakably Bay Area flavor, and, more than anything else, was responsible for the sense I got that something interesting and different was happening there with this high-tech stuff. Within a few years, people were getting rich, and now it's hard to remember a time when internet culture wasn't wrapped up in stock options and reat estate speculation, but back before that, Salon was there. I won't quite say that Salon is the reason I moved there, but I didn't know a lot else about the area.

I haven't read Salon regularly for a few years now, but maybe I should, and I'm glad it's still around.

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