Sunday, January 29, 2006

Posting Light.

Not much activity the last few days, and it'll be another few more as I travel without good internet access. Sorry to disappoint -- come back soon.

Michael Chabon's Berkeley.

[T]his town drives me crazy. Nowhere else in America are so many people obliged to suffer more inconvenience for the common good. Nowhere else is the individual encumbered with a greater burden of shame and communal disapproval for having intruded, however innocently, on the sensibilities of another. Berkeley's streets, though a rational nineteenth-century grid underlies them, are a speed-busting tangle of artificial dead ends, obligatory left turns and deliberately tortuous obstacle-course barriers known as chicanes, put in place to protect children -- who are never (God forbid!) sent to play outside. Municipal ordinances intended to protect the nobility of labor in Berkeley's attractive old industrial district steadfastly prevent new-economy businesses from taking over the aging brick-and-steel structures -- leaving them empty cenotaphs to the vanished noble laborer of other days. People in the grocery store, meanwhile, have the full weight of Berkeley society behind them as they take it upon themselves to scold you for exposing your child to known allergens or imposing on her your own indisputably negative view of the universe. Passersby feel empowered -- indeed, they feel duty-bound -- to criticize your parking technique, your failure to sort your recycling into brown paper and white, your resource-hogging four-wheel-drive vehicle, your use of a pinch -collar to keep your dog from straining at the leash.

When Berkeley does not feel like some kind of vast exercise in collective dystopia -- a kind of left-wing Plymouth Plantation in which a man may been pilloried for over-illuminating his house at Christmastime -- then paradoxically it often feels like a place filled with people incapable of feeling or acting in concert with each other. It is a city of potterers and amateur divines, of people so intent on cultivating their own gardens, researching their own theories, following their own bliss, marching to their own drummers and dancing to the tinkling of their own finger-cymbals that they take no notice of one another at all, or would certainly prefer not to, if it could somehow be arranged. People keep chickens, in Berkeley -- there are two very loud henhouses within a block of my house. There may be no act more essentially Berkeley than deciding that the rich flavor and healthfulness, the simple, forgotten pleasure, of fresh eggs in the morning outweighs the unreasonable attachment of one's immediate neighbors to getting a good night's sleep.
Michael Chabon, "Berkeley," in Donna Wares, ed., My California 106-08 (Angel City Press, 2004).

Ah yes, the chickens.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Steve Clemons has a long, terrific post on Iran's nuclear program and the U.S. response.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I would shrug too.

Now I don't need to read Atlas Shrugged.

Lost in translation.

Beth recounts:
[A]t a bar on the beach, a young American guy responded to a bartender’s inquiry in Spanish by saying, in very confident tones, that he didn’t speak Spanish. Except he really doesn’t speak Spanish, so what he actually did was inform the bartender that the bartender did not speak Spanish.

The derivation of dodo.

Further to this post about the Portuguese roots of words, Pynchonoid says:
The dodo was mocked by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists for its size and apparent lack of fear of armed, hungry hunters. It took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool", and was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.

A little murky to me.

Murky Thoughts posts about nascent Muslim superheroes and intellectual property rights.

Required reading.

Glenn Greenwald's post on FISA and the DeWine amendment is a must-read. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Try blaming this on Jamie Gorelick.

Larry Johnson:

[T]he bureaucratic walls that separated the law enforcement and intelligence communities prior to 9-11 are back up and higher than ever. I was given this bad news two weeks ago by an old friend who has worked at the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Council during the last three years. He said, "the the window of cooperation that opened in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 has been slammed shut." Apparently we have learned nothing from the debacle of 9-11.

The only way to break through the log jam of bureaucratic politics and stovepiping is for the President or Vice President to make forging interagency cooperation a priority. President Bush and Vice President Cheney talk a good game, but they are not paying attention to the details. Fixing this mess requires their personal involvement on a daily basis. If they fail to act and the old status quo, which has reemerged with a vengeance, remains in place then Bin Laden will eventually succeed. With patience and planning he will breach our security and will kill thousands of Americans.

So which one is Deborah Howell?

Dan Froomkin,'s uberblogger and recent target of Deborah Howell's attentions, is back from a brief paternity leave with a new White House Briefing. Discussing Scott McClellan's efforts to parry questions about the as-yet-unreleased pictures of Bush and Abramoff, Froomkin notes:
"McClellan's continued attempt to portray the Abramoff scandal as bipartisan doesn't exactly help his credibility.... His assertion flies in the face of the facts and is a Republican talking point espoused only by the most partisan or most credulous."

Not that I'm a HRC fan.

But I think Josh Marshall is confusing causation and correlation. I don't like dynasticism either, but for all of Senator Clinton's other shortcomings, it's not like she would make the problem worse. It's a symptom of something deeper.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Congress could stop spending money on domestic wiretapping.

As we all know now, Congress enacted FISA in the 1970s to constrain the Executive Branch. FISA arguably makes domestic wiretapping without a warrant illegal under all but limited circumstances. The Executive Branch nows takes the position that Congress lacks the power to tell the President that he cannot tap (certain) wires.

Marty Lederman asks:
So the battle lines are drawn. What's the next move for those, especially in Congress, who think the NSA program is unlawful? ... Even if Congress kicks and screams during next month's hearings -- even if it passes another statute saying "FISA -- WE MEAN IT!" -- the President will continue with business as usual.
Looking foremost to Youngstown Steel, some people have been considering how the courts might get to the claim that FISA is unconstitutional, at least as applied to what the NSA has been doing. But as Lederman implies, waiting for the courts to resolve a dispute between the Executive and Legislative Branches does not seem like a good thing. (Not least, it seems to me that as the stakes of the dispute increase, the pressure on the courts mounts to declare the issue a political question, and thereby to leave it to the other two branches to resolve.)

So what about the Spending Power? Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution provides: " No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law." In recent years, Congress has given considerable latitude to the Executive Branch in appropriating funds -- the proverbial blank check. But this was a choice. A Congress with the willing to stand on the plain language of FISA's terms could up the ante by appropriating money to the NSA only subject to the proviso that it not be spent on activities inconsistent with FISA's terms.

The advantage of this approach is that it recasts Congress's role in the dispute as active rather than passive. It takes the emphasis away from Congress's decision in the 1970s to block executive actions, and shifts it to Congress's essential role under Article I to decide how public funds are spent. Surely this is more favorable terrain for a battle over the scope of Article II powers. I confess that I'm not particularly familiar with the arguments made lately by the likes of John Yoo for expansive readings of the President's powers under Article II, but I have a hard time imagining a court ruling that if the President asserts a national security interest then he is entitled to redirect funds over the express will of Congress as set forth when the funds were appropriated.

Although this Republican Congress has not been inclined to pick fights with President Bush over the assertion of broad executive powers, this is the sort of congressional power -- limiting spending -- that true conservatives should be able to get behind. Consider this 2004 statement from the website of Rep. John Hostetter (R. - Ind.), asserting congressional power vis-a-vis the Judiciary:
The second constitutional power denied the courts is the legislative spending power granted exclusively to Congress in Article 1, section 9. Simply put, if Congress does not fund a thing, that thing does not happen.

So if a federal court opines that the Constitution grants homosexuals the right to have their Massachusetts’ marriage license recognized in Indiana, Congress can simply deny the funds to enforce that decision. The House did this very thing last year when it overwhelmingly passed amendments I offered denying funds to enforce court decisions banning the Pledge of Allegiance and the public depiction of the Ten Commandments.
"Simply put, if Congress does not fund a thing, that thing does not happen."

A few weeks ago, I thought the best possible resolution would be if a few Republican Senators with some gravitas persuaded the White House to back away from the constitutional confrontation and seek legislative authorization to continue the NSA's activities in some form. The New York Times' recent story questioning the program's efficacy led me to hope that the Administration would be willing to deal. With the President and the Vice President publicly digging in of late, this has seemed less likely. But if Republican elders are making their way from Capitol Hill to the White House to seek some sort of compromise, then perhaps the threat of action authorized by Section I, Section 9, will get them the leverage they need.

Murakami's Underground.

Belle Waring posts some thoughts about Haruki Murakami's Underground, a work of non-fiction about the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway by members of a Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo. When I read most of Murakami's translated work last year, I usually posted about it, but I don't seem to have posted about Underground.

Waring notes: "The most striking thing to me was the long time that passed between when passengers exposed to sarin started to cough, notice a strange smell, experience burning eyes and dimming vision, and even vomit, and the time at which someone first spoke up to say, 'something is very wrong here, and we must get off the train.' ... Even when the subway workers announced that there had been a release of poison gas, there was no general panic, and many people seem to have been thinking much more about getting to work rather than feeling shock or worry about their personal safety."

Says Waring, this "really made me feel that I was reading about a culture very different from my own." For me, though, this brings back the morning of September 11, 2001, and the shock of non-recognition and realization. My actual memories of that morning are very different from what the day later came to signify. Obviously, it was different for those of us on the West Coast who heard the news early; I did not go to the office that day, and maybe that has something to do with why I recall calm instead of general panic. There is such a gulf, though, between what I remember and what I know think of when someone says "9/11" or "terrorist attack."

Scalia's principles.

In my post about Justice Scalia's results-oriented jurisprudence last week, I somehow missed this decision applying the Commerce Clause, which fits what I was saying rather nicely.

Reason No. 1,146 Not To Watch Sunday Morning TV.

Q. What do Barack Obama and Colin Powell have in common?

A. Tim Russert thinks they have some particular expertise about Harry Belafonte.

The Google subpoena.

(I revised and added to this post, so I've reposted it.)

Lots of folks (e.g., Jacob Morse) are up in arms about the federal government's subpoena of Google search records and the threat to privacy it purportedly represents. If you look at the government expert's explanation of why the data is sought, paragraph 9, you'll see that he says, "Other vendors have been able to produce samples of queries with all information that might identify a user removed." If the government is willing to accept stripped data, what's the issue? I'm all for privacy, but this would seem to be a case where critics are assuming the worst.

Maybe Google has some reason to fear for the privacy of its users. According to the Financial Times, Google says "that acceding to the request 'would suggest that it is willing to reveal information about those who use its service'." But the article continues to suggest that privacy is not the real issue:
In its correspondence with the DoJ, Google did not cite privacy as the primary reason for refusing to comply. Instead, the company is most vigorously objecting to the government’s attempt to use its “highly proprietary” search database as a “free resource” to access and use to defend its position in court.

Yahoo, another search engine, acknowledged on Thursday that it was one of the companies that complied with the government’s demand, and said the DoJ’s subpoena did not represent a “privacy issue”. The company said it was a “rigorous defender” of its users’ privacy and that it had only complied with the request on a “limited basis”.

Unclear what kind of information the government would get from Google Robots.

Backbone worth $3 billion?

The Financial Times reports that Japan again has banned U.S. beef after the discovery of a shipment that did not comply with regulations aimed at protecting against "mad cow" disease:

Japan’s renewed ban on US beef imports is likely to remain for a long time, according to Japanese ministers, who said they were angry at the apparent lax inspection of US abattoirs.

On Friday, Tokyo reimposed a ban after the discovery of a beef shipment containing part of a backbone, a clear violation of Japanese import regulations.

Only six weeks ago, Tokyo lifted the ban imposed in December 2003 for fear of importing meat infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease, which can be fatal in humans.

The ban, which cost US meat producers an estimated $3bn (€2.5bn, £1.7bn), was lifted on condition that only cattle less than two years old were imported and that potentially dangerous parts, including backbone, be removed.

Taro Aso, foreign minister, said at the weekend: “There will not be any talk of resuming imports before hearing how the US will cope with the matter. Obviously, the responsibility of the exporting side has to be questioned.” ....

The breaking of Tokyo’s import regulations by Atlantic Veal and Lamb, the New York-based company that shipped the meat to Japan, will add to a sense that US abattoirs are insensitive to the requirements of Japanese consumers. Japanese politicians and consumer groups said the discovery also suggested that US inspection of abattoirs was unreliable.

Atlantic Veal and Lamb described its failure to remove backbone as “an honest mistake” resulting from a misunderstanding of Japan’s requirements.

It said that from a scientific point of view it was not necessary to remove backbone to render the meat in question safe, since it had come from cattle under six months old, too young to be at risk of BSE.

Privately, some US officials accuse the Japanese government of bowing to irrational consumer fears and imposing restrictions that are scientifically unnecessary. ....

Yoshinoya, a beef bowl restaurant, whose best-known menu item is a cheap-and-cheerful offering of US meat, said it would have to suspend the planned February 11 relaunch of its signature dish. The ban on beef imports severely damaged Yoshinoya’s business, forcing it to switch to less popular pork.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bremer's year of living dangerously.

Echoing what I was just saying about the man, George Packer reviews My Year in Iraq, Paul Bremer's memoir about running the Coalition Provisional Authority in the Washington Post, and finds Bremer and his book strangely disengaged from what has happened in Iraq and what it means:
His new memoir, apparently drawn from late-night e-mails to his wife, Francie, back in Washington, is a day-to-day account of Bremer's 14 months in Baghdad -- in a job of impossible demands, during a period of nonstop crisis, in which he seldom had the luxury to look more than a few days ahead and never back. But even now, with retrospection and 400 pages at his disposal, Bremer seems uninterested in, and perhaps incapable of, thinking it all over. My Year in Iraq (the title feels like an afterthought) will not survive alongside the diplomatic memoirs of George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson and Richard Holbrooke, as either literature or history. Rushed, self-confident and essentially superficial, the book is of a piece with the war that produced it.
I recently read Packer's book, The Assassin's Gate, and it is excellent. If you've been thinking of picking it up, do.

On a hot day in Australia.

Ben Barren has ten random blog posts from Oz.

Network neutrality.

Further to what Tyler Cowen was discussing the other day, the issue of network neutrality hits the Washington Post's op-ed page today. Christopher Stern writes:
In a November Business Week story, AT&T Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr. complained that Internet content providers were getting a free ride: "They don't have any fiber out there. They don't have any wires. . . . They use my lines for free -- and that's bull," he said. "For a Google or a Yahoo or a Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!''

It was a stunner. Whitacre had apparently declared that AT&T planned to unilaterally abandon its role as a neutral carrier.

Whether or not you agree with Whitacre, you can understand his frustration. Companies like Google and Yahoo pay some fees to connect to their servers to the Internet, but AT&T will collect little if any additional revenue when Yahoo starts offering new features that take up lots of bandwidth on the Internet. When Yahoo's millions of customers download huge blocks of video or play complex video games, AT&T ends up carrying that increased digital traffic without additional financial compensation.

The piece continues to discuss the political impact of these and other statements.

I don't understand this, except in the sense that Whitacre, like a good trial lawyer, sees some deep pockets out there and wants to get his hands in them. Companies like Google and Yahoo are suppliers. They connect their servers to the Internet because millions of consumers like me are connected too. I pay a considerable sum of money to my ISP every month to be able to download those huge blocks of video or complex video games. If AT&T ends up carrying increased digital traffic without receiving additional compensation, that's only because it has decided as a business matter to give its customers unlimited access for a flat rate. If I understand Stern correctly, Whitacre's frustration is that he can't charge both sides for the same transaction.

Am I missing something?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Howell: It's a Republican scandal.

Here's the new column.

This is progress:
"It's not a bipartisan scandal; it's a Republican scandal...."
This is not progress:
"[T]here is no doubt about the campaign contributions that were directed to lawmakers of both parties. Records from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff's Indian clients contributed money to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats between 1999 and 2004. The Post also has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with his personal directions on which members were to receive what amounts.

Michael Crowley of the New Republic said in his blog that "while for all practical purposes this is indisputably a Republican scandal, the narrow liberal-blogger definition of whether any Democrats took money 'from Abramoff' -- which neatly excludes contributions he directed his clients to make -- amounts to foolish semantics.''

Why is it so hard for Howell (or Crowley) to grasp that Abramoff's Indian clients were donating money to Republicans and Democrats before they retained Abramoff? If you want to identify "Abramoff-tainted" money -- that's Howell's phrase -- then you have to make some sort of effort to sort out what he told his clients to do, what they did, and what they had would have in any event.

I'll ask again: When Howell decides to attribute Abramoff's clients' donations to Abramoff, why does she refer only to his "Indian clients?" It's not an Indian scandal. Abramoff had other clients. Were they all savvy enough to resist his direction? It's hard to dispel the sense that there's some unthinking contempt for these Indians at work here. The only other thing I can think of is that the Post is so intent on showing that Abramoff was bipartisanly corrupt that they keep pointing to the subset of his clients most likely to donate to Democrats.

Watch: I hereby direct Deborah Howell to make pointless references to the First Amendment (no one in the government is censoring anything here) and to proclaim that she will not be intimidated.
There is no more fervent believer in the First Amendment than I am, and I will fight for those e-mailers' right to call me a liar and Republican shill with salt for brains. ...

To all of those who wanted me fired, I'm afraid you're out of luck. I have a contract. For the next two years, I will continue to speak my mind.
For my next trick, I'm directing the weather in Washington D.C. on Monday to be mostly cloudy, with periods of rain, and highs in the 40s. Like a good lobbyist, I plan to take full credit if this comes to pass.

More on Howell.

Mark Schmitt compares the Coushatta tribe's actual giving to the fragment of the list cited by Deborah Howell. "The Center for Responsive Politics list shows the Coushattas giving $500 to Cleland and $5,500 to his opponent, Saxby Chambliss. Likewise, the fragment suggests $2,000 to Jean Carnahan; in reality, neither the Coushattas nor any other Abramoff client gave to Carnahan but both Abramoff and his clients gave $3,000 to her opponent, Jim Talent. Senator Daschle, whose name appears on the fragment of a list with an illegible amount, did not receive any money from the Coushattas...." Those were the only three Democrats on Howell's first graphic.

Adjust the numbers on her first graphic and now you have $155,000 to Republicans and $500 to Democrats: a ratio of 310:1.

(I posted the following as a comment on Semi-Daily Journal, but it fits here, too:)

I've been thinking about why it is that Deborah Howell and her colleagues are more interesting in printing what their sources are telling them than it what they think their readers should hear.

Rather than assume that journalists are acting irrationally or maliciously, we should assume that they are rationally responding to the incentives they understand. I think the answer is that they do not spend much time thinking of themselves as operating in a market in which they sell reporting to consumers. (Witness the attitude on display here.) They're not identifying with their employer, which is worrying about how to get people to buy newsprint when they can pay nothing for pixels -- they're thinking about their own career, in which success (apparently) is a function of their access to the utterances of important individuals. They see themselves competing as buyers in a market of on- and off-the-record statements and other information, and they worry that if they do not regurgitate the GOP's talking point that Abramoff was donating to Republicans and Democrats alike, they will not have access tomorrow.

The problem for newspapers is, how to compete with other sources of information if their reporters are more interested in preserving access than providing reportage worth paying for. The Washington Post ought to be rethinking its reporters' incentives.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Nice house, though.

Susan Orlean has lost her mind.

Deborah Howell is still at it.

In her column last Sunday, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell touched off an internet feeding frenzy by stating that Jack "Abramoff . . . had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," and that "a number of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), have gotten Abramoff campaign money."

As many people have pointed out, this is not true. Abramoff, who is about as Republican as they come, never donated any money to Democrats, including Reid and Dorgan.

Having heard from many angry readers, Howell now says: "A better way to have said it would be that Abramoff 'directed' contributions to both parties." You might expect that an ombudsman would admit a mistake, but you would be wrong. It's not a question of "better" and "worse," but of correct and incorrect.

Actually, it's not clear to me that Howell's response is much better. She continues:
Lobbyists, seeking influence in Congress, often advise clients on campaign contributions. While Abramoff, a Republican, gave personal contributions only to Republicans, he directed his Indian tribal clients to make millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.

Records from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff’s Indian clients contributed between 1999 and 2004 to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats. The Post has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with specific directions on what members of Congress were to receive specific amounts.

One of those lists can be viewed in this online graphic, while a graphical summary of giving by Abramoff, his tribal clients and associated lobbyists can be viewed here. The latest developments in the Abramoff investigation are available in this Special Report.
But take a look at her evidence. That "online graphic" is a short excerpt (apparently only the Bu - Da portion of an alphabetically organized list) of entities to whom Abramoff told the Louisiana Coushatta tribe to give money in 2002. I count 3 Democrats on the list, and 9 GOP/conservatives. Abramoff apparently recommended contributions of $2000 each to 2 of the Democrats (if you can read the figure for Sen. Daschle, you have a better computer than mine). For the GOP/conservatives, I see $155,000 in suggested contributions.

That Howell could look at the gigantic disparity in the recommended contributions on this graphic and think that it supports some sort of claim of equivalence is astounding. On one side is a mountain, and on the other a molehill. Equating the two is possible only out of some sort of a priori commitment to evenhandedness regardless of what the actual facts are. But the prevalence of thinking of this sort at places like The Washington Post may have been why Abramoff advised the Coushatta tribe to make token contributions to a few Democrats.

Nor does this graphic establish Howell's claim that Abramoff "directed" contributions to both parties, unless you assume that the Coushatta tribe was simply an unwitting pawn, incapable of acting on its own in ways like, oh, donating money to politicians. (Would journalists be so quick to ignore the client's agency here if it were not an Indian tribe? I wonder.)

No, to show Abramoff's hand here, you need to establish two more things: first, that the tribe acted on his advice -- something not shown here but that I assume the Post's reporters have tracked down -- and, second, that in doing so it wasn't doing what it would have done anyway. Indian tribes donated money to Washington politicians before Jack Abramoff was on the scene, and they will keep doing so after he is a guest of the federal correctional system. To claim that Abramoff "directed" these contributions, you need to show that the Coushatta tribe would not have otherwise donated, e.g., a few thousand dollars to a few Democratic politicans. It's not at all clear to me that the Washington Post has thought about this problem, or wants to think of it, but it's not that hard. The information is out there for those who care to look for it.

No, if you take a look at the second graphic which Howell cites in her own defense, you see the Post again obfuscate the difference between Abramoff's activies and those of his clients -- ironic, really, when the failure to distinguish between them is what got people so ticked at Howell in the first place. Read the fine print, and you'll see that the graphic simply aggregates "1999-2004 contributions by Abramoff, his tribal clients, and the lobbyists that make up Team Abramoff." There's not even a pretense to try to figure out which tribal contributions might have been "directed" by Abramoff. And yet Howell seems to think that this backs her up.

All of it just goes to show that it takes an awful lot of work to sustain the illusion that Abramoff was corrupt in a bipartisan sort of way, but that Deborah Howell and The Washington Post are up to the challenge.

To see what better reporting might look like, consider this Bloomberg article posted by Brad DeLong (comments at the top are DeLong's; Bloomberg's article follows):

A Good Story on Abramoff from Bloomberg

There are three money flows here. First, there is Abramoff's $130,000 of direct campaign contributions.

Second, there is the money given as campaign contributions by Abramoff's clients--some of which were expenditures directed by Abramoff, and some of which were expenditures that the clients would have made in any case. For example, the Saginaw Chippewa gave $279,000 to Democrats over 1997-2000, and $277,000 over 2001-2004, after they had gotten into bed with Abramoff. It is a safe bet that *none* of those contributions to Democrats were "directed" by Abramoff. The Saginaw Chippewa gave $158,000 to Republicans in 1997-2000, and $500,000 to Republicans in 2001-2004, after they had gotten into bed with Abramoff. It is a safe bet that $340,000 of those contributions to Republicans were "directed" by Abramoff.

The third money flow is the $80 million or so that was paid to Abramoff and company for access to Republicans leaders--$25,000 for setting up a meeting with George W. Bush, et cetera. Some portion of that money flow (the guesses I am hearing is about a quarter) flowed through to politicians (and overwhelmingly Republican politicians) as "lifestyle enhancements"--luxury vacation trips paid for by Abramoff's credit card, and so forth.

All this is by way leading up to this story from Bloomberg News. This is how a story on Abramoff-connected money should be written. Organizations like the Washington Post now have negative credibility as objective news reporters. But--as there ability to report stories honestly indicates--for organizations like Bloomberg, there is still a presumption that their word is good: Abramoff's `Equal Money' Went Mostly to Republicans (Update1) Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President George W. Bush calls indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff ``an equal money dispenser'' who helped politicians of both parties. Campaign donation records show Republicans were a lot more equal than Democrats.

Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats.... [H]is Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats.... Larry Noble... who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics [says]. ``It is somewhat unusual in that most lobbyists try to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but we're already seeing that Jack Abramoff doesn't seem to be a usual lobbyist,'' Noble said. Abramoff, 46, is under investigation....
Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff joined with his former partner, Michael Scanlon, and tribal clients to give money to a third of the members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, according to records of the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service. At least 171 lawmakers got $1.4 million in campaign donations from the group. Republicans took in most of the money, with 110 lawmakers getting $942,275, or 66 percent of the total. Of the top 10 political donors among Indian tribes... three are former clients of Abramoff and Scanlon.... All three gave most of their donations to Republicans -- by margins of 30 percentage points or more -- while the rest favored Democrats....

WWJAD (What would Justice Alito do)?

Some provocative thoughts about Alito from Computer Bruce.

Me, I find the idea of Presidential signing statements odd, and have a hard time believing that many courts would give them much credence. But maybe I'm being naive.

The Administration's brief.

As Orin Kerr explains, the Department of Justice has published a 42-page brief defending whatever it is that the NSA has been doing. Kerr summarizes the government's position:

First, the President has inherent constitutional authority to order foreign intelligence surveillance monitoring. The President's core job is to protect the country against foreign attack. The 9/11 attacks made this interest particularly strong: Al Qaeda is a clandestine enemy, and we need to gather intelligence to stop them. The Authorization to Use Military Force further emphasized this power: it brought foreign intelligence surveillance from Steel Seizures Category II to a Steel Seizures Category I, in which the President's authority is at a maximum. The AUMF confirms and bolsters the President's authority; under the test announced in Justice O'Connor's concurrence in Hamdi, foreign intelligence surveillance is a classic "fundamental incident of war" that the AUMF authorizes. The combination of the President's Commander-in-Chief power and Congress's explicit authoritization in the AUMF gives the President full authority to conduct this monitoring.

Further, the monitoring doesn't violate FISA and also complies with the Fourth Amendment. FISA itself is on fragile constitutional ground, and in any event the AUMF is a "statute" that authorizes the monitoring. Further, the so-called exclusivity provision of the wiretap act, 18 U.S.C. 2511(2)(f), doesn't trump this commonsense result. The legislative history of the section was focused on the notion of Congressional authorization, which the AUMF provided, and a contrary reading would create serious constitutional questions. The canon of constitutional avoidance requires construing the statutes to allow this sort of surveillance: the constitutionality of a statutory prohibition on such monitoring presents very difficult questions, as the NSA activities lie at the core of the Commander in Chief power. There are few guideposts here, and courts should construe the statute in a way to avoid having to reach these difficult constitutional questions. FISA is unconstitutional to the extent it directly interferes with the President's constitutional duty, and it would be prudent to construe the statute in a way that avoids these constitutional questions.

Finally, the monitoring program fits within the Fourth Amendment "special needs" exception. The rule here is reasonableness, which requires a balancing of governmental and privacy interests. The program is reasonable: the government's interest in thwarting a future attack is overwhelming, and the monitoring itself has been tailored and subject to considerable internal review.

I wish I had the time to stop what I'm doing and read the brief, but for now I'll have to rely on folks like Kerr. Ah, the life of the professor.

More tea garden.

An update on yesterday's story about the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park:
Recreation and Park Department staff who reviewed the competing bids recommended that the commission authorize them to negotiate a new lease with Murata, thereby changing operators.

Instead, the commission voted 7-0 to reject both and go through another round of bidding in which the department would revise direction given to bidders about what changes are sought by city officials in how the tea garden concession is operated.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dr. Who?

He'll be back in March.

For Sudoku fans.

Friend Atticus Grinch calls this article to my attention. Enjoy.

Bubble Dept.

As part of this blog's on-going fascination with the housing bubble, here are some blogs devoted to the subject (including several courtesy of Volokh Conspirator David Bernstein and commenters at Marginal Revolution): (DC-area) (inactive lately)

Unrest at the tea garden.

The San Francisco Chronicle describes dissatisfaction among Japanese-Americans at how the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is run. Part of the unhappiness is with tourist schlock, but it seems that the deeper frustration is specifically with "Chinese-themed" items -- although, curiously, not the fortune cookies. "The tea garden is the reputed birthplace of what has become known as the "Chinese fortune cookie," an American invention ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants in the United States but not commonly found in China." The concession was run by the Hagiwara family until they were interned in 1942. Fred Lo's Chinatown Fashion House Inc. has had the concession for the last 14 years; now Carol Murata, who is active in Japantown, is bidding to take it over.

Another day of exile for the Constitution, alas.

It's nice to see conservatives acknowledging that Justice Scalia's jurisprudence is, shall we say, results-oriented. Here, Professor Bainbridge:
Scalia ... is not purely an originalist. Instead, Scalia's jurisprudence has elements of originalism and textualism, but also of traditionalism. The latter looks at how the Constitution has been interpreted over time, such that well-established traditions become entrenched. The real problem with Scalia is that he doesn;t seem to have a hierarchy for choosing between the three. As David Zlotnick observes:

Heterarchy, not hierarchy, could be the battle cry of those critics who focus on the interplay of Scalia's methods rather than on the individual components. Led by Jeffrey Rosen, this group alleges that, even if Scalia's methodology is hierarchical in theory, his opinions reflect a more opportunistic picking and choosing of the method that leads to his preferred result. Rosen's contention is that "in case after case, Scalia chooses among mutually inconsistent interpretive principles - textualism, originalism, traditionalism - in order to reach results that he finds politically congenial." For example, Rosen challenges Scalia's claim that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment should be read to refer only to procedural rights. He argues that a historical understanding reveals a "substantial overlap ... between notions of due process of law and notions of equal protection of the law," as well as a "view [of] the due process clause as a mandate that judges should protect certain fundamental economic rights."

A number of scholars have come to similar conclusions in other areas. In his examination of Scalia's takings jurisprudence, William Fisher found that in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, Scalia devised a precedent-based clear rule for takings without first exploring the Framers' understanding of the Takings Clause. If he had, Fisher contends, he would have discovered that the original understanding of this clause "proscribed only formal expropriations of private property," not the effects of regulations on property value that Scalia's rule encompassed....

Normally, Scalia evades these contradictions by resorting to overly confident textualist assertions or by abdicating his commitment to conduct historical research. Once in a while, however, Scalia comes close to admitting that he does not always follow a strictly hierarchical approach beginning with
text and proceeding to history and clear rules. For example, in Waters v. Churchill, he acceded to a judicially created First Amendment doctrine (a clear rule) but admitted that he had not "inquired into the historical justification" of that rule. Rather than that of a systemic ideologue with a hierarchy of methods, Scalia's constitutional practice better resembles that of a practical handyman who reaches into his workbox to select the tool best suited to accomplish a particular job. The question that remains, however, is how often his political values influence his methodological choices.

There is much to be admired about Scalia. It no longer seems possible, however, to believe that he is developing a coherent conservative jurisprudence. Nor, insofar as results are concerned, that he can be expected to bring back the Constitution from the exile to which Wickard assigned it.

If you could overlook the ascension of Roberts and Alito to the Court, you might even feel sorry for the Constitution-in-exile folks. But neither Zlotnick nor Bainbridge seem willing to quite fess up to what they're both saying: If Scalia is a "handyman" who uses jurisprudential doctrine as a "tool" to "accomplish a particular job" -- a euphemism for "reaching a preferred outcome in a given case" -- surely there is more you can say about the judge than that he is not "developing a coherent consevative jurisprudence." What else do could be affecting his selection of "tools" apart from his political values? This is Antonin Scalia we're talking about here, not Sandra Day O'Connor.

eta: William Saletan also wrote today about Scalia's shifting principles.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Young Republicans and dwarf bowling.

"The history of the two [Young Republican] clubs [in New York City] reads like Hitchcock on acid, complete with an attempted frame-up for murder, a private detective, an episode on Phil Donahue’s talk show and even a bit of … dwarf bowling." Jessica Bruder explains.

N.B. -- The story may disappear beyond the Observer's wall of secrecy after January 25.

Here's a thought.

Maybe Caitlin Flanagan is just the person to review Fred Barnes' new book?

More Chin Music.

Long-time readers may recall that I recommended a book called Kuhaku, the first offering from Chin Music Press. Over at Albatross Smile (coincidentally, a blog with impeccable taste), Aaron points out that Chin Music Press is launching a Voices of New Orleans blog in conjunction with their second publication, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans. Aaron adds that Kuhaku, which I should be rendering with a little line over the first "u" (like this: Kūhaku), "is more fun to read than a game of lazer-tag, on drugs, with candy." And as this suggests, it's a beautiful book. (Buy it through this link to support this blog.)

Fun with letters.

This is a pretty cool tool.

Florentine S.PeLLIt\ITPus\fLone letter iRed Oval BarrierKBackward R

Thanks to Eszter at Crooked Timber for the tip.

Even the dolphin probably has figured this out.

Sounds like they need better beer in Cumbria.

Another view from the ground.

For disturbing echoes of Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster's views, check out this piece by Sargeant Chris Bray, a historian serving in Kuwait. And here is a glimpse of what Donald Rumsfeld has been focused on instead of the war in Iraq.

Is the balance shifting?

Some conservatives I know acknowledge how poorly things have gone in Iraq, but insist that now the balance has shifted. Larry Johnson suggests where they're coming from, and why we may not have reached that elusive tipping point:

Although our troops and intelligence operatives are killing scores of insurgents (my friend estimated the kill rate at 160 enemy per each friendly) the insurgents keep coming. As Sy Hersh predicted in last month's New Yorker, the military commanders decided to shift from ground confrontations to high altitude airstrikes. According to press reports on Wednesday, for example, the United States carried out 53 strikes inside Iraq. One of these, the mistaken bombing of a civilian home north of Baghdad, was condemend by Iraqi officials.

There should be no doubt our tactics have changed. The United States is relying more on aerial bombing, most of it high altitude or stand off, rather than close air support for troops on the ground engaged in a fight. Despite the promise of "precision" bombing, aerial strikes are anything but precise. They are very lethal and very powerful. On that front, a lot of insurgents, mostly Iraqis, are dying. But a bombing campaign, short of nuclear strikes that vaporize the whole country, cannot defeat an insurgency. We do not have enough planes or pilots, not to mention bombs.

Most U.S. military officers on the ground sincerely believe that we have reached a tipping point where we are killing enough insurgents that their will to fight is being sapped. But the death toll from insurgent strikes during the last two days calls into question that confidence. It is worth recalling that in Vietnam we killed close to 1 million North Vietnamese while we suffered 57,000 fatalities. That was a kill ratio of roughly 20 to 1. Unfortunately, we do not know where this magical tipping point is.

The alternative argument is that imprecision of the U.S. strikes is likely to generate more insurgents than are killed. Within the ethos of the tribal culture in Iraq, seeking revenge on those who have wronged you or your family is a mission that can span centuries. The folks we are fighting have a much longer attention span than we do.

More pans for Bremer.

If my post wasn't enough for the Bremer-haters out there, try this take-down from Larry Johnson. "Although Jerry is a brilliant, capable man, he was unwilling to listen to others or accept facts that contradicted the Administration’s conventional wisdom. Jerry’s arrogance in Iraq was symptomatic of the entire Bush Administration’s approach to policy and accounts in large measure for the mess we now face." Oh, and there's more.

How to make the web more corporate.

Interesting, troubling stuff from Tyler Cowen. I prefer the Ramsey pricing model we have now, even though I might be less elastic than many in my demand. Surely Google's popularity will be worth something in this fight, though.

The occasional explosion brings you back to reality.

Iraqi blogger Riverbend remembers her friend Alan, who was translating for Jill Carroll and who was murdered when she was kidnapped.

Everyone knew him as simply 'Alan', or "Elin" as it is pronounced in Iraqi Arabic. Prior to the war, he owned a music shop in the best area in Baghdad, A'arasat. He sold some Arabic music and instrumental music, but he had his regular customers -- those westernized Iraqis who craved foreign music. For those of us who listened to rock, adult alternative, jazz, etc. he had very few rivals.

He sold bootleg CDs, tapes and DVDs. His shop wasn't just a music shop -- it was a haven. Some of my happiest moments were while I was walking out of that shop carrying CDs and tapes, full of anticipation for the escape the music provided. He had just about everything from Abba to Marilyn Manson. He could provide anything. All you had to do was go to him with the words,"Alan -- I heard a great song on the radio... you have to find it!" And he'd sit there, patiently, asking who sang it? You don't know? Ok -- was it a man or a woman? Fine. Do you remember any of the words? Chances were that he'd already heard it and even knew some of the lyrics.

During the sanctions, Iraq was virtually cut off from the outside world.We had maybe four or five local tv stations and it was only during the later years that the internet became more popular. Alan was one of those links with the outside world. Walking into Alan's shop was like walking into a sort of transitional other world. Whenever you walked into the store, great music would be blaring from his speakers and he and Mohammed, the guy who worked in his shop, would be arguing over who was better, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.

He would have the latest Billboard hits posted on a sheet of paper near the door and he'd have compiled a few of his own favorites on a 'collection' CD. He also went out of his way to get recordings of the latest award shows -- Grammys, AMAs, Oscars, etc. You could visit him twice and know that by the third time, he'd have memorized your favorites and found music you might be interested in.

He was an electrical engineer -- but his passion was music. His dream was to be a music producer. He was always full of scorn for the usual boy bands -- N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc. -- but he was always trying to promote an Iraqi boy band he claimed he'd discovered,"Unknown to No One". "They're great- wallah they have potential." He'd say. E. would answer, "Alan, they're terrible." And Alan, with his usual Iraqi pride would lecture about how they were great, simply because they were Iraqi.

He was a Christian from Basrah and he had a lovely wife who adored him -- F. We would tease him about how once he was married and had a family, he'd lose interest in music. It didn't happen. Conversations with Alan continued to revolve around Pink Floyd, Jimmy Hendrix, but they began to include F. his wife, M. his daughter and his little boy. My heart aches for his family -- his wife and children...

You could walk into the shop and find no one behind the counter -- everyone was in the other room, playing one version or another of FIFA soccer on the Play Station. He collected those old records, or 'vinyls'. The older they were, the better. While he promoted new musical technology, he always said that nothing could beat the soundof a vintage vinyl.

We went to Alan not just to buy music. It always turned into a social visit. He'd make you sit down, listen to his latest favorite CD and drink something. Then he'd tell you the latest gossip -- he knew it all. He knew where all the parties were, who the best DJs were and who was getting married or divorced. He knew the local gossip and the international gossip, but it was never malicious with Alan. It was always the funny sort.

The most important thing about Alan was that he never let you down. Never. Whatever it was that you wanted, he'd try his hardest to get it. If you became his friend, that didn't just include music -- he was ready to lend a helping hand to those in need, whether it was just to give advice, or listen after a complicated, difficult week.

After the war, the area he had his shop in deteriorated. There were car bombs and shootings and the Badir people took over some of the houses there. People went to A'arasat less and less because it was too dangerous. His shop was closed up more than it was open. He shut it up permanently after getting death threats and a hand grenade through his shop window. His car was carjacked at some point and he was shot at so he started driving around in his fathers beaten-up old Toyota Cressida with a picture of Sistani on his back window, "To ward off the fanatics..." He winked and grinned.

E. and I would stop by his shop sometimes after the war, before he shut it down. We went in once and found that there was no electricity,and no generator. The shop was dimly lit with some sort of fuel lamp and Alan was sitting behind the counter, sorting through CDs. He was ecstatic to see us. There was no way we could listen to music so he and E. sang through some of their favorite songs, stumbling upon the lyrics and making things up along the way. Then we started listening to various ring tones and swapping the latest jokes of the day. Before we knew it, two hours had slipped by and the world outside was forgotten, an occasional explosion bringing us back to reality.

Good news, and about time.

The Financial Times reports:

The US on Tuesday launched a drive to encourage foreign visitors, announcing measures aimed at further reducing the delays that plagued many travellers after the September 11 2001 attacks.

In a presentation to business, university and travel groups on Tuesday, Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said the goal was “to achieve a faster, more secure and more respectful process of welcoming foreign visitors to the US”.

The US has already moved significantly to cut waiting times for visa processing, which ballooned for students and business travellers when new security screening requirements were set up after September 11. The administration continues to face strong pressure from Congress to strengthen border security.

But the administration of President George W. Bush has become increasingly concerned that talented students and entrepreneurs are going to other countries because of the difficulty in coming to live and work temporarily in the US.

In other State Department news, the FT reports that the U.S. will shift 100 diplomats from Europe to Asia and Africa, including China, India, Nigeria and Lebanon.

Our Eliza-based foreign policy.

This is great. (Thanks for the tip, M.)

No A's for effort.

I heard Ambassador Bremer on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday, doing an interview as part of the publicity campaign for his new book, and I was amazed: He just doesn't get it.

The issue is not whether Bremer and his cohorts in the CPA meant well, or worked hard. Of course they did. Those are table stakes. What matters is the results, or lack thereof.

Asked about Baghdad's electricity, for example, Bremer explained that Hussein had been keeping the provinces dark to ensure that the lights stayed on in Baghdad, a decision he reversed, and then described all the hard work on the CPA's part, work that resulted in a 6% increase in electricity supply over the pre-war state of affairs. (But, he allowed, all the booming economic activity drove demand up even more.)

That's great, except that it wasn't. For your average Baghdadi, there was less electricity than before the war.

I thought Bremer was supposed to be one of the competent ones.

Bubble Update Dept.

This just in, from The San Francisco Chronicle:

The three major cities in the Bay Area, as well as eight other of the nation's largest real estate markets, face a 50 percent or greater chance of home price declines in the next two years, according to a study by a mortgage insurer.

However, the quarterly report by Walnut Creek's PMI Mortgage Insurance Co. suggests a soft landing for the nation as a whole, rather than a sharp downturn.
One of the other eight large markets is San Diego, but The Chronicle doesn't identify the others. The safest markets were Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Memphis and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, David Bernstein points to anecdotal evidence that the housing bubble is a credit bubble. "Unless maintenance men and cleaning ladies get paid much better in San Diego than anywhere else I've ever lived, $475K at $3,600 a month is a heck of lot to lend [to a 30-year-old maintenance worker and his 25-year-old wife], especially since they've shown no previous ability to save (no money down)."

Is it the roads, stupid?

Does everyone in Virginia think that "the state's No. 1 problem [is] its sclerotic road system," or is that more the concern of the residents of the suburbs of Washington, D.C. (who presumably are well represented in the pages of The Washington Post)?

The author allows that "the transportation crisis ... cuts deeply in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater, [but] is a tougher sell in the state's rural areas." I imagine that transportation spending would be a very tough sell in rural areas. Those folks aren't sitting in rush-hour traffic.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A big wedge but a tiny chip off the block.

Writing about the Supreme Court's decision this morning in the Death-With-Dignity case out of Oregon, and specifically about the dissents from Justices Scalia, Roberts and Thomas, E.J. Graff writes:

The administration's divebombing of Oregon's assisted suicide law, and the Scalia-Thomas (and-now-Roberts) determination to impose a conservative Catholic theology on all, exposes the cracks between the religious wing and the libertarian wing of the conservative movement. Just another reminder that that coalition can be split.
Great news! But where are both of those libertarian voters going to go?

The libertarians are noisy on the web, and in some elitist circles. But there don't seem to be any of them voting, and the ones I ever talk to are willing to stick with the Republican Party through thick and thin, and whatever trampling on states' rights may ensue, out of some inchoate fear that surely the Democrats would be even worse.

Eating my hat, Frey-style.

A few days ago, I opined that the prospect of a class action accusing Random House of consumer fraud for publishing A Million Little Pieces as memoir instead of fiction was not only not "inevitable" but "absurd." In the comments to that post, Walter Olson points out that I was wrong almost as soon as I posted:

Saying they were acting on behalf of Pilar More, a mother of two, who felt cheated by the revelations about the truthfulness of "A Million Little Pieces," the Chicago law firm Dale and Pakenas filed suit in a Cook County, Illinois, court against the book‘s publishers, alleging consumer fraud.

The suit seeks status as a class-action lawsuit and lawyer Thomas Pakenas said it might take up to 60 days to get a decision. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

He added, "If somebody sells you a cashmere jacket and it turns out to be polyester, you would feel cheated, right? And even if the collar and lapels were cashmere, it still would be consumer fraud. To defend the book as telling the quote ‘emotional truth‘ is just crap."

Filing is easy; getting a court to agree that there's a case here is another thing altogether. My first thought was that the suit was filed to generate publicity for the law firm involved. A quick web search doesn't turn up any overt signs that these lawyers are shamelessly seeking publicity, though. Nevertheless, like James Frey, I continue to insist that my original post, while now proven wrong, contains some germ of revealed truth.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Create your own myth.

It's not hard to find a conservative who says s/he "watch[ed] the wife of the nominee break down into tears yesterday evening at the treatment being given to her husband by Senate Democrats." (S/he wasn't "watching" too hard, since the tears came in response to a question from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. James Wolcott has the goods.) But can you find a conservative who has corrected this mistake? The myth is more rewarding.

Rats -- I already broke my resolution to ignore those who complain about "how partisan and out of control the whole process has become" and then talk only about Democrats.

Web tricks.

What do you do if you can't figure out how to spell a word, and you've got to use the web to find the answer? (Hypothetically, you're on a desert island with nothing but DSL access, or your dictionaries have all been lent out, etc.) What I just did was to think of a song using the word -- in this case, Husker Du's "Dead Set On Destruction" -- and search for the lyrics. Maybe there's an even better way to do this -- e.g., one with fewer pop-ups.


While we're talking about Heller and Pynchon, then there's Neil Stephenson. I get the people who compare him to those worthies, and I enjoyed Cryptonomicon as much as the next guy, but I don't understand how his publishers could have looked at that book and decided that the Baroque Cycle needed even less editing.

The toll from the other war.

Freeway Blogger covers the toll of the War on Christmas.

(Also, it's good to know that the Halliburton Obsessives can be funny.)


Expat asks, what is Pynchon talking about when he refers to the "preterite?" Let me take a hasty stab at an answer.

As I recall, the Calvinists thought that there were three kinds of people: the elect, the preterite, and the damned. The elect are going to heaven. The damned very clearly are not. The preterite can't be sure, so they do their very best to act like elect, since if they act like the damned they won't be happy in the end.

Having said that, I see a couple of sources on the web suggesting that there are only two sorts of people, the elect and the preterite. Presumably then the preterite act like elect in the hopes that they actually are elect. (But . . . .)

Here's one view -- (one's willingness to get through the following probably parallels one's appreciation for Pynchon):

Perhaps one of the most thoroughly developed themes, and certainly one that Pynchon has explored before, is that of the struggle between the "preterite" and the "elect," or the traditional dichotomy between the "common" classes and the "anointed" classes. (The former terms hail from his family's Puritan background.) As Pynchon himself puts it, the preterite, while "in theory capable of idiocy, are much more apt to display competence, courage, humanity, wisdom, and other virtues associated, by the educated classes, with themselves." This class distinction acts as a tangible dehumanizing force, permitting us to see each other as objects to be hated, feared, scorned, demonized, exploited, or manipulated. And it's not just his characters who embody these roles -- the whole novel seems to be impregnated with a sinister force, a Presence that hovers between the two classes like a malignant angel (or a malevolent version of Maxwell's Demon?) carefully at work maintaining the illusionary divisions between one human and another. This sense of sentient division is not just reserved for the traditional targets (organized religion, the military, corporate entities, intelligence and security agencies, various racist groups, u.s.w.) but, through the hypnotic power of Pynchon's prose, is extended to include speculations that our whole material world is somehow involved in the conspiracy. Falling rockets, the growth patterns of cities, and even the forces that govern the laws of molecular bonding are all subjected to the manipulations of this force. Linked with the actions and inactions of the characters -- each with their own personal agendas, delusions of control, and hidden networks -- this pervasive sense of paranoia gives rise very quickly to a clear distinction between Us and Them. "Us," or "We," are the preterite, the common, the vulgar: possessed with a certain Foolishness, for sure, but also endowed with the ability -- if We want to -- to see through Their systems of death and decay, Their artificial distinctions and forces of normalization, vectors that force Us into the compromise of a thousand little deaths. . . . When organized (and that itself is always risky, ephemeral) We can form a potent Counterforce. But that takes a very intricate knowledge of control, of hope, of love, and of laughter -- the ability to cry out Joyce's most emphatic yes! to counterbalance the Burroughsian schlupp! of vampiric absorption. "They" are the classic Masters, hung up on control systems, worshipers of the Northern Death Cults -- from SS officers to mad Pavlovians, believers in the Granfalloon, inhabitants of corporations and governments, rendered faceless by the sheer multiplicity and interchangeability of Their bland servants. . . . They are, as Burroughs might have it, running the Mayan scheme, the classic Mind Control Game. And the most frightening thing of all is not that They can control Us; but that it's so very easy for Us to simply -- and slowly, one decision at a time -- become Them. In Something Wicked this Way Comes, Ray Bradbury asks of evil: "What will they look like? How will we know them?" Looking nervously at each other, his characters suddenly apprehend the answer: "Maybe, said their eyes, they're already here."

Corrections and amplifications gladly noted.

So here's my question for Expat@Large: What's the low-down on the The Bottoms Up Club?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Which book are you?

You're Catch-22!

Incredibly witty and funny, you have a taste for irony in all that you see. It seems that life has put you in perpetually untenable situations, and your sense of humor is all that gets you through them. These experiences have also made you an ardent pacifist, though you present your message with tongue sewn into cheek. You could coin a phrase that replaces the word "paradox" for millions of people.
One of my favorite books many years ago, though I'm not sure about this here paragraph.

You too can take the Book Quiz.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world.

Here is Ordinary Gweilo, a blog I just came across from Hong Kong, written by a British expat living in the New Territories. The blogroll will point you to a number of other Hong Kong blogs.

No refunds for Frey readers?

Never mind this -- Larry King says there will be no refunds for buyers of A Million Little Pieces, so it must be true.

Lest you wonder what the NSA has been up to.

Stuff like this.

The toll.

One estimate: 175,000 Iraqis dead since the invasion.

A New Year's Resolution (a little late) (Alito Dept.).

I hereby resolve not to pay any attention to those who criticize the conduct of the Democratic Senators questioning Judge Alito at his confirmation hearings unless they also have something to say about the conduct of the Republican Senators. The Republicans, a majority on the committee, plainly had decided both to confirm Judge Alito before they heard him, and to abdicate their institutional interests by declining to oblige him to include substance in his answers. Faced with a nominee who will not answer questions, Democrats have spent too much time tarring him in a personal way. I do not like this, but I understand why they are doing it, and if you are going to spend much time criticizing them for playing the hand they have been dealt, you ought to spend some time criticizing the dealer.

Out of the Freying pan.

The real story behind James Frey's tatoo.

Friday, January 13, 2006

That must have been something.

I don't know how I missed Ahmad Chalabi on Charlie Rose.

Know Your Enemy -- Federalists.

A gem, from Dahlia Lithwick (who has a fan site).

Hitchcock was onto something with The Birds.

DeLong has the explanation: Birds hunted our ancestors.

Speaking of fiction.

Apropos of the James Frey kerfuffle, the smart people at the American Enterprise Institute say that a class action accusing the publisher of consumer fraud is "inevitable." This strikes me as absurd, but I would be delighted to post more if someone wants to point out that I'm wrong. The nice thing about shilling for a worthy cause like tort reform is that apparently you don't need facts -- hypothesizing events consistent with your world view will do the trick too.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Supersized houses.

Here's a nice essay/slideshow by Witold Rybczynski about the design of McMansions and other large houses.

Sad news from the world of defense contracting.

Hand-held lasers are still a ways off.

That would be a governmental market actor?

Here's the headline in the Financial Times:

Mayor urged to let market reshape New Orleans
Here's the first paragraph:

A New Orleans commission on Wednesday unveiled the first part of a $17bn rebuilding plan for the devastated city following Hurricane Katrina, and recommended the creation of a powerful new public agency to buy up condemned properties.
The thing that first caught my attention here was the contradiction between the headline and the first paragraph. But now I'm trying to understand why this makes sense from a public policy perspective.

The proposal involves buying out property owners in neighborhoods where insufficient numbers of people choose to return -- in other words, government subsidies. Not that I have a problem with this, per se. But rather than use government money to channel development in a particular way, it sounds like the majority of the government funds -- $12 billion out of the $17 billion cost of this commission's spending, according to the article -- will be spent to cushion the blow of the hurricane for people who decide that they want to opt out of the rebuilding of New Orleans. What am I missing? It sounds like an opportunity missed for better rebuilding.

Now a Fiction best-seller.

Never mind Random House's refund offer -- at this hour, A Million Little Pieces is the best-selling book at (It's also #47.)

Meanwhile, Seth Mnookin makes me glad I've never picked the book up.

A view from the ground.

Here's a very interesting article from Military Affairs by a British general who served in Iraq, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, about the U.S. Army's approach to counterinsurgency operations. Aylwin-Foster suggests, inter alia, that the U.S. Army is too "kinetic" -- too ready to prefer offensive operations -- and too focused on the destruction of the enemy on military terms, rather than the subordination of military objectives to broader political goals. (As Clausewitz famously said, "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means.") But that's not a summary, merely a hint of what he has to say.

eta: Coverage of Aylwin-Foster's article in the Guardian and in TAPPED.

eta: After reading Aylwin-Foster's suggestion that the Army is too focused on winning conventional wars -- notwithstanding that there are now few militaries with which to have such a war -- I see that the Air Force is proposing to cut back on various existing capabilities (including half of our fleet of B-52s, and all of our U-2s and F-117s) to increase spending on the F-22 Raptor, a next-generation fighter designed to win the skies from a Soviet Air Force that no long exists. In the same vein, note the comment about the Air Force's efforts to mothball the A-10 Warthog, a fabulously effective ground-support aircraft.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Never mind all that stuff about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

According to the Vice President, we don't torture. Never have.

Kind of makes you wonder why he was so intent on stopping the McCain Amendment.

Refund? Refund?

Hot upon the revelation that his life story is fictive, Bookslut says Random House is giving money back to anyone who bought James Frey's memoir. OK, that's just whacked. (Before you get your hopes up, the offer only goes for people who bought A Million Little Pieces direct from the publisher, which is, like, what? three people?)

Like 1996 all over again?

Anne Applebaum is encouraging, comparing the state of Britain's Tories in 1996-97 with what is happening to the Republicans these days. But where is our Blair?

There is no American Blair at the moment, no Democrat prepared to attack the Republicans from the right, or to blast the Republican Congress for wasteful spending or insufficiently vigorous foreign policy, or even just to change the style of the political debate so rapidly that nobody in either party understands what's happened until it's too late. But there could be. Everyone's forgotten this now, but Blair himself was a fluke, becoming Labor leader after his immediate predecessor, John Smith, had a heart attack. And should a similar deus ex machina take place in the United States -- then, perhaps, we'll learn how head-swirlingly fast an apparently invincible political party can unravel here too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wiretapping journalists and politicians?

A few days ago, I noted plausible suggestions that the Bush Administration has been listening to the communications of journalists and politicians. Now there's more. As described by John Aravosis, Andrea Mitchell apparently has reason to believe that the government was listening in on Christiane Amanpour. Aravosis explains where that could lead:

[C]onsider the implications of tapping Christiane Amanpour's phones:

1. Such a wiretap would likely include her home, office, and cell phones, and email correspondence, at the very least.

2. That means anyone Christiane has conversed with in the past four years, at least by phone or email, could have had their conversation taped by the US government.

3. That also means that anyone who uses any of Christiane's telephones or computers (work or home) could also have had their conversation bugged.

4. This includes Christiane's husband, former Clinton administration senior official Jamie Rubin, who was spokesman for the State Department.

5. Jamie Rubin was also chief foreign policy adviser to General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, and then worked as a senior national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

6. Did Jamie Rubin ever use his home phone, his wife's work phone, his wife's cell phone, her home computer or her work computer to communicate with John Kerry or Wesley Clark? If so, those conversations would have been bugged if Bush was tapping Amanpour.

7. Did Jamie Rubin ever in the past four years communicate with any elected officials in Washington, DC - any Senators or members of the US House? Any senior members of the Democratic party?

8. Has Rubin spoken with Bill Clinton, his former boss, in the past 4 years?

Now you understand how potentially broad a violation of privacy the Bush doctrine on illegal domestic spying really is. Everyone who's anyone is a degree or two of separation away from a terrorist.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

When economists cook.

More cinnamon!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Not that I watch Chris Matthews.

From uggabugga, via Digby.

Wire-tapping whom?

Wire-tapping politicians and journalists?

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