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Tilting at Windmills

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February 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TOM DELAY MEETS THE WIZARD OF OZ....Ted Barlow relays the latest example of Tom DeLay's thuggish worldview and comments:

No particular commentary, except to say that Tom DeLay would surely melt if Dorothy threw a bucket of water on him.

That's why I like Ted so much. Too bad he doesn't work on weekends.

Kevin Drum 7:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL HAWKS....Lee Bockhorn at The Weekly Standard is annoyed at pro-war liberals:

What's grating about these neo-hawk liberals is the great measures of contempt they still express for the president, his advisers (except for Colin Powell, more about which anon), and conservatives in general. They may have rethought their position on Iraq, but they refuse to reconsider their disdain toward President Bush and those wacky neoconservatives--"imperialists" like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle....

I don't wish to be an ingrate in times like these, when what matters is not so much who saw the truth first, but rather that people see it, period. Better late than never, and all that. So, to our neo-hawk liberal friends: Welcome to the club; we're happy to have you along. But remember that the objects of your scorn--even that notoriously "flighty thinker," George W. Bush--were right about Iraq months or even years before you saw the light. So please, check your smugness and condescension at the door.

Well, I plan to keep my smugness and condescension right here next to my computer where it's most likely to come in handy, thank you very much.

As I recall, Republicans mostly spent their time muttering conspiratorially during the 1990s whenever Bill Clinton suggested taking a harder line against Iraq, and we all know that Rumsfeld and Cheney were busy buying and selling vast quantities of goods and services to Iraq during that period. Nor were Republicans exactly at the front of the parade when NATO finally took action in Kosovo. So I'm not quite sure how it is that these were the guys who saw the light before all the rest of us on the subject of using American military power for the greater good of humanity.

And just for the record, my complaint with Bush is primarily that he has prosecuted this war so cynically and incompetently. He blatantly timed his Iraq campaign for electioneering purposes, thus destroying any hope of getting a true bipartisan consensus on the matter; his disdainful treatment of Europe destroyed any chance of support from the populations of those countries; his complete indifference toward the Israel-Palestine problem destroyed any hope of getting support from the Arab world; and his unwillingness for six straight months to commit himself to a multilateral post-war rebuilding effort has made the entire world believe that we are intent on building a latter-day Roman empire a laughable idea that either of our previous two presidents could have put to rest with a single speech.

Even in the best case it would have been hard to organize worldwide support for this war, but Bush's contemptuous tone toward enemies and allies alike and his unwillingness to engage in anything resembling true coalition-building has made it far harder. This war may be something that needs to be done, but we will be paying the price for George Bush's incompetent handling of it for years to come.

Kevin Drum 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN MCENROE UPDATE....Unfortunately, I missed John McEnroe filling in for David Letterman last night, but Ken Layne has the scoop.

As an aside for anyone who wonders why us tennis fans love McEnroe even though he is, was, and probably always will be an asshole well, it's all about the tennis. Even that's hard to explain, but he really did do stuff with a racket that no one has ever done before or since. He might not have been the best tennis player ever, but in some cosmic sense he was the most magical. I wish I could do a better job of explaining it.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GET OVER YOURSELVES, OK?....Can we all please stop this nonsense of reading something in a big-time pundit's column that sounds vaguely like something we ourselves wrote last week and asking, "Hey, has X been reading little old me!?!" And that goes for all of you, not just the guys I happen to making fun of at the moment.

But hey, speaking of the post I linked to just there, Krauthammer really does sound a lot like Stephen Green, doesn't he? Of course, that speaks badly for both of them, who seem to think (a) Italy and Spain will be our buddies forever even when their respective governments are eventually taken over by more liberal parties, (b) Germany will remain a hated foe even when its government is eventually taken over by a more conservative party, and (c) India India! would like to join a military alliance with us (and Italy, Spain, Lithuania, and Israel). Nuclear-armed Pakistan would certainly be excited by such an alliance, wouldn't they?

I'll give Stephen a break since he's been swilling Benadryl for the past few days although he probably wasn't when he originally wrote that fantasy but Krauthammer, as usual, has no excuse at all. Well, maybe a small IQ and an inability to see two inches beyond his own nose, but no other excuse....

UPDATE: It turns out that Krauthammer's column is actually devoted primarily to the fact that Guinea is not a very important country:

For unfathomable reasons it matters to many, both at home and around the world, that the United States should have the permission of Guinea to risk the lives of American soldiers to rid the world -- and the long-suffering Iraqi people -- of a particularly vicious and dangerous tyrant.

Does it occur to Krauthammer that America's crusade against Iraq might actually affect people other than Americans and Iraqis?

Kevin Drum 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR GEORGE WILL SPEAKS....Are filibusters faithful to the spirit of the constitution or not? George Will seems to want it both ways. Atrios has the "then and now" comparison.

In a more serious vein and I hope this won't sound too childishly naive why is it that the Senate can't simply agree on rules for judicial confirmations and stick to them? I'm perfectly OK with the idea that nominees ought to get hearings within a certain amount of time and that courtesy procedures like the blue slip process should remain consistent. Neither side seems especially interested in this, and Orrin Hatch's cynical change to the blue slip procedure might well have been the straw that broke the camel's back and got the Democrats mad enough to filibuster Estrada in the first place.

The Senate is supposed to be a famously collegial place. Why is it that they can't agree on the basic procedures for this stuff and then stick to it?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR UPDATE....Let's summarize, shall we?

  • The White House refuses to estimate how much war with Iraq will cost. The number used to be $50 billion, now it's $100 billion. And despite the fact that even that number is obviously a lowball figure, Paul Wolfowitz refuses to speculate further. "There will be an appropriate moment," he said, when the Pentagon would provide Congress with cost ranges. "We're not in a position to do that right now." Huh? We've been planning this war for at least six months and the last I heard, we were planning to invade in about three weeks. Why are they not yet in a position to say what it will cost? My boss generally expected a little better out of me.

  • Pentagon generals think the post-war occupation will require "several hundred thousand" troops, but the White House says that's "wildly off the mark." No more than 100,000, tops.

  • Saddam Hussein has apparently agreed to destroy his banned missiles. This provides some evidence that he's not suicidally crazy and helps the cause of those who say that he can be successfully contained or deterred.

  • Russian officials after meeting with Chinese officials say Russia will veto a UN resolution that authorizes force. The Russia-France-China axis is showing suprising strength.

  • This is bad news for Tony Blair, who barely headed off a revolt of his own party two days ago, when 121 Labour MPs defied party discipline to vote for an amendment that said "the case for military action against Iraq [is] as yet unproven." Blair really needs a UN resolution, and it's looking more and more like he won't get it.

  • Bush gave a nice speech at the AEI on Wednesday saying that we're dedicated to bringing democracy to the Middle East, but the administration's apparent sellout of the Kurds doesn't give Bush's words much credibility, does it? And if he's as dedicated to solving the Israel-Palestine crisis as he said, why has he completely ignored it for the past two years? And why did he flatly turn down Tony Blair's pleading to start up new peace talks last December?

That's it for this morning. Doesn't sound very hopeful, does it?

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LYING....South Knox Bubba thinks he can tell when Bush is lying and no, it's not what you think. He even has his very own armchair pseudo-Freudian explanation for it!

Next up: SKB figures out how to tell when Saddam Hussein is lying.

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UM, HOW MANY DIMENSIONS WAS THAT?....Today in The Corner, John Derbyshire asks, "How do you fit the Empire State Building into a 1-inch cube?" The answer, although not very practical, goes like this:

The fact, by the way, that there is a figure equivalent to the cube i.e. a sort of super-cube in any number of dimensions, provides the answer to the question in my subject line. A 1-inch square (i.e. every one of its sides is just 1 inch long) has a longest diagonal whose length is the square root of 2. A 1-inch cube (every edge 1 inch long) has a longest diagonal whose length is the square root of 3. A 1-inch 4-dimensional hypercube has a longest diagonal whose length is the square root of 4. And so on. This is a general rule: A 1-inch n-dimensional super-duper-hypercube has a longest diagonal whose length is the square root of n. The Empire State Building is around 15,000 inches high, and that is the square root of 225,000,000. So if you construct a 1-inch cube-equivalent in a space of 225 million dimensions, the ESB will fit into it very nicely.

If Derb would just stick with math he'd be pretty readable.

Kevin Drum 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SORRY, MAX, WE'RE IN A HURRY HERE....Max Sawicky thinks that before we invade Iraq we should actually declare war on them. You know, like the constitution says.

Where do liberals get these wacky ideas?

Kevin Drum 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HANS BLIX CAN'T MAKE UP HIS MIND....OR CAN HE?....When I come down and park myself in front of the computer every morning, the first thing I do is a quick check on CNN. You know, to make sure that skyscrapers aren't falling down and space shuttles aren't disintegrating, that kind of thing.

Today I got the following two headlines one right on top of the other:

Well, which is it? It's not like these are competing interpretations from two different newspapers, this is the same site at the exact same time, for God's sake.

But I guess it's not really their fault. The first story, filed at 4:11 am, says:

"The results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far," the draft report says. CNN obtained a draft copy of the report, which is due Saturday but will be distributed to council members Friday night.

...."The destruction of missiles requested has not yet begun. Iraq could have made full use of the declaration which was submitted on 7 December. It is hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken, could not have been initiated earlier. If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit by now," Blix writes in the draft.

The second story, filed seven hours later, says:

Iraq is expected to begin the process of destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles on Saturday, as demanded, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said.

Iraq agreed in principle to destroy the missiles in a letter Baghdad sent to U.N. weapons inspectors Thursday, but said it does not know how to destroy the weapons and wanted a U.N. technical mission to discuss the details.

...."There are very many of these missiles and a lot of items that pertain to them, which we had enumerated in our letter," Blix said. "It is a very significant piece of real disarmament."

Iraq says it doesn't know how to destroy the missiles? So how did it destroy all that other stuff they say has been destroyed? These guys aren't any better at lying than George Bush is.

Kevin Drum 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THAT STATEMENT IS NOW INOPERATIVE....Chad Orzel says:

If I had a billion dollars....well, I'd probably squander it on sports teams, or tropical islands, or buying my own college. But if I had two billion dollars, I'd use some of the money to run for President on the "That's a Damn Lie" ticket. I wouldn't have any particular platform, I'd just buy tv ads pointing out every time one of the major-party candidates lied. Or, more practically, I'd hire the guys from Spinsanity to do it, as they could probably manage the job without saying "fuck" quite so often.

My kind of rant.

Kevin Drum 5:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"NO PERSON SHALL BE....DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY, OR PROPERTY, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW"....Nathan Newman reports today that the Justice Department has gotten permission to seize websites allegedly set up to sell illegal "drug paraphernalia." That is, they can seize them before a trial takes place. Barry Deutsch agrees with Nathan's outrage over this and adds his own catchy headline that we can all appreciate.

What makes this worse is that it's not really related to either the war on drugs or to John Ashcroft's unfortunate lack of appreciation for civil rights at least, not directly. Rather, it's simply another case of civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to confiscate the belongings of people who are merely accused of crimes. As this article tells you, even if you're found innocent, you frequently have to sue the government to get your property back.

Congress has "reformed" the civil asset forfeiture laws a couple of times in the past decade, but even a reformed version seems like such a prima facie violation of the Fifth Amendment that I have always been bewildered that the Supreme Court allows it to stand. What possible constitutional principle is there that allows the government to seize property merely on the suspicion of illegal activity?

Glenn, Eugene, Jeff, Dwight, Sam, or any of the other law bloggers out there: can you provide an explanation of this? What's the relevant case law and what's the theoretical justification?

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DEMOCRATIC HORSE RACE....Dan Drezner says that if you're handicapping the Democratic presidential field, you should pay attention to which candidates get support from the heavyweight foreign policy gurus:

Why these people? Because foreign policy analysts might care about a candidate's philosophy of governance, but they care about being Secretary of State more. Therefore, unless their foreign policy views are sharply in contrast with the candidate's ideology (no pro-war analysts would work for Howard Dean, for example), these people will pick the candidate most likely to win.

Now this begs the question of whether these folks have a better record of picking winners than other kinds of advisors not to mention the unspoken assumption that domestic advisors aren't equally interested in cabinet posts but it's an interesting take on things nonetheless. Click here if you want to see the list of heavyweights he thinks we should keep an eye on.

Personally, I've always had a hard time getting into the whole handicapping thing this early. I'm not activist enough to work on campaigns, a lot can happen in a year, and California has such a late primary that I can't remember the last time my vote actually meant anything. However, for those who do like this kind of thing, it's becoming more interesting all the time as Bush's poll numbers sink lower and lower and lower....

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TELEMARKETING 101....One of the interesting things about blogging is that sometimes subjects of idle curiosity get answered. Yesterday I asked aloud:

Sarcasm aside, why do they want to defeat devices like the TeleZapper? Surely anyone willing to spend $40 and expend the effort to install such a thing is pissed off enough about telemarketing calls that they are genuinely unlikely to respond to a call. Why would you want to contact such a person?

Alan Locklear writes to offer the following explanation:

This, I think, has to do with an old door-to-door salesman's rule of thumb, namely, that the best doors to knock on were those where there were signs saying "No Solicitors." These signs were mostly (at least in the salesmen's worldview) put up by people whose "sales resistance" was nil, people who knew (or whose spouse, perhaps, knew) that any salesman who got them to open the door was pretty well guaranteed a sale. People who could easily growl, "get lost" to a salesman didn't need "No Solicitors" signs. So, anyone who goes to the trouble and expense of buying and installing a Telezapper is quite likely someone who has little to no sales resistance and is probably a pretty good mark.

And Barry Deutsch over at the consistently stimulating Alas, A Blog suggests something similar: TeleZappers are sold disproportionately to the elderly, who are unusually receptive to telemarketing scams.

In other words, telemarketers are even scummier than we thought. All the more reason to call your congressman and urge them to vote in favor of a national "do not call" registry with teeth.

Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WATCHING TV BACKWARDS....John Quiggin has an idea for the next level in reality TV.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ORANGE TINTED GLASSES....Mary Lynn F. Jones writes today at TAP Online about the government's color coded alert system:

By maintaining the same high alert level for three straight weeks, the government has effectively boxed itself into a situation where we may be stuck at orange forever. As a result, it's time to color the terror alert system useless, once and for all.

It seems likely that we will never go to green, or "low risk," because after September 11, the government will never again be able to essentially guarantee that we're free from the risk of an attack. Same goes for blue, or "guarded." Government officials appear worried that if we return to yellow, or "elevated," something bad will happen and they'll get blamed for telling us to relax a bit....All of which is to say that we are now looking at spending the majority of our lives at orange.

Jeez, was that bad timing or what? Too bad there wasn't some kind of editorial screwup that delayed her story for a day....

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I THOUGHT WE WERE BOYCOTTING GERMANY?....The winner in the competition to rebuild the World Trade Center site is a Berlin-based design studio. That ought to get the warbloggers slathering today.

Good choice, though. I wasn't blown away by any of the submissions, but I thought this was the best of the bunch, and I like the symbolism of the 1,776 foot tower.

Kevin Drum 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

A GRAPHICAL LOOK AT WAR....The Agonist is your go-to site for war graphics:

The entire Agonist Annex is here. Check it out if you like imbibing your information in graphical format.

Kevin Drum 8:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SCRABBLE UPDATE....I scored 451 points in Scrabble tonight, my highest score ever. Yippee! Maybe someday I'll break 500.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE WONDERS OF THE INTERNET....I was rummaging around some old boxes the other day and found a bunch of the old aluminum thingies (that's a technical term) shown at right. They are inscribed "Utah Sales Tax Token" and, judging from the age of the other stuff in the box, they date from around the 1930s or so.

In days past I would have idly wondered what these were and never worked up the energy to find out, but today all I have to do is Google on "Utah Sales Tax Token" and I instantly come up with this, which tells me that these are indeed tokens for paying sales tax. Starting in 1933 the sales tax rate in Utah was 2% and each token was worth one mill, or a tenth of a cent. Thus, a one mill token was the exact sales tax on a purchase of a nickel. Aluminum was in short supply during World War II, so they were replaced by plastic tokens, and then finally discarded in 1951.

Isn't the internet remarkable?

Kevin Drum 7:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SMACKDOWN IN TEXAS....Out in Texas the tort reform folks have a problem: the anti-abortion crowd is afraid that by lowering potential liability it would increase the number of doctors willing to perform abortions. Isn't that a shame? Charles Kuffner has the details.

And while you're there, read this post about a company that has figured out a way for telemarketers to defeat privacy tools like the TeleZapper. As Charles says, remember this the next time the telemarketing folks solemnly swear that they don't want to call people who don't want to hear from them.

(Sarcasm aside, why do they want to defeat devices like the TeleZapper? Surely anyone willing to spend $40 and expend the effort to install such a thing is pissed off enough about telemarketing calls that they are genuinely unlikely to respond to a call. Why would you want to contact such a person?)

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TIPS FOR ASPIRING BUSKERS....Via AtlanticBlog comes this very funny article in the Guardian about busking. Apparently Badly Drawn Boy, a British pop star, spent 90 minutes playing his music in front of a tube station and was able to collect only 1.60. The Guardian thought it could do better, so they sent seven of their reporters out to try their hand at it. The bongo player seemed to have the hardest time:

It's hard to pinpoint the lowest moment of my busking experience. It may have been when a kindly, gold-toothed man selling the Big Issue looked down, threw me fivepence, smiled, and said: "What happened?" Otherwise it was probably when a passer-by asked, "Do you do requests?" Grateful for a modicum of interest, I agreed. "How about Fuck Off?" he said.

The most lucrative instrument was the harp, which brought in 17.73 for its owner not bad! The worst off was the singer backed up by the harmonica player at 1.73, though they lost by only a hair to the euphonium player.

If you need a brief respite from all the serious (and mostly bad) news these days, click on over and check it out.

Kevin Drum 3:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CRUISE MISSILES AREN'T THE ONLY WAY TO KILL 10,000 PEOPLE A YEAR....Enough of all this war talk. Let's talk about SUVs instead.

Apparently SUVs really are killing machines. We've known for a long time that SUVs are unusually effective at killing people in other cars something their owners and makers have long shown little concern about but now the automakers themselves have finally admitted that, in fact, they are dangerous to their occupants as well:

Until now, auto companies have carefully cited statistics to suggest that SUVs are safer than cars. But in a briefing for reporters, the alliance released numbers showing that the death rate in accidents was 3.5% higher for people in SUVs than for those in passenger cars. The numbers were for 2001, the most recent year available.

And the response of our Republican Congress? Why, to call the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the carpet to explain his statement last month that he wouldn't buy his children an SUV that has been determined to be a rollover risk "if it was the last one on Earth":

"My answer was never about SUVs generally,'' [Dr. Jeffrey] Runge said. "We believe it is never appropriate to characterize a class of vehicles generally."

Way to make him back down, guys. Can't let these safety Nazis get out of hand, can we?

In fairness, after that show of alpha male domination John McCain did go on to admit that automakers have, um, a less than sterling reputation for voluntarily improving the safety of their vehicles:

McCain said it took government demands to make automakers include air bags and safety belts in their vehicles.

"You judge people by their history,'' McCain said. "Where is their credibility in establishing these voluntary vehicle standards?''

I eagerly await the Republican party's latest proposal for letting the unfettered free market take care of this.

Kevin Drum 3:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT IS MCCARTHYISM?....Jonah Goldberg has a long column in National Review Online today that he obviously means to be provocative, so I guess I'll take the bait. The subject is "McCarthyism":

What makes McCarthyism so hard to discuss is that McCarthy behaved like a jerk, but he was also right.

....Senator Joe McCarthy was a lout, generally speaking. But he was on the right side of history and, in a broad sense, of morality as well. If, in some sort of parallel-universe exercise, the same number of (now proven) Soviet-Communist spies, collaborators, sympathizers, and the like were somehow switched to Nazis, and McCarthy went after them with the same vehemence as he went after Reds, Joe McCarthy might well have universities and foundations named after him today.

Goldberg uses about a thousand words to say, basically, "McCarthyism was really not that bad because, after all, there really were a lot of Communists around back then." This is essentially the same argument that Glenn Reynolds has made in the past (though it usually takes him only a sentence or two), and I can't tell if they are being deliberately dishonest or if they really don't get it.

I can't pretend to speak for the entire liberal community, and certainly not for liberals of a generation before me, but I'm not sure anyone really denies that there were indeed communist spies in the United States back in the 50s. The problem with McCarthy and McCarthyism wasn't that he uncovered lots of communist spies, but that he didn't uncover many communist spies. While other, more careful investigators had some success, McCarthy himself was extraordinarily unproductive.

What McCarthy did do was accuse everyone under the sun of being a communist. If you had belonged to the communist party as a student in the 30s, you were a communist. If you belonged to the ACLU, you were a communist. If, like Fred Fischer, you belonged to the Lawyer's Guild for a few months after you graduated from law school, you were tarred as a communist on national TV.

It's not McCarthyism to accuse a communist of being a communist. It is McCarthyism to accuse someone of being a communist who has only a vague association with communist friends, groups, or ideas.

Why is this so hard to understand? Goldberg himself says:

Now, I have no problem with Muslims denouncing McCarthyism if, by McCarthyism, you mean unfairly accusing someone of wrongdoing either through guilt-by-association or through simple prejudice. But that's not what those throwing around the "McCarthyite" smear are up to. When they denounce McCarythism, they are working on the clear assumption that McCarthyism victimized only innocent people.

No, not "only" innocent people, but that's a pretty low bar, isn't it? Shouldn't we aim a little higher?

What we're afraid of is a repeat of the climate of hysteria McCarthy created, where far more innocent people had their careers ruined than were ever actually convicted of any treasonous behavior, where the old saying was turned on its head and ten innocent people were ruined for every guilty person who was sent to prison. I hope this doesn't happen today, but it's right to be on guard against it. I don't know why Goldberg feels the need to disagree.

UPDATE: Just a quick note. Goldberg's basic case is that he's upset with liberals who denounce everything in sight as "McCarthyism." Now, he could certainly argue that we are nowhere near the level of hysteria McCarthy caused in the 50s, so this kind of talk is over the top. That would be defensible. But why on earth would he also spend over a thousand words actually defending McCarthy himself, a man who accomplished nothing concrete in the fight against communism and whose demagoguery and serial smearing of innocents caused a backlash that, if anything, set back the cause of anti-communism? It's inexplicable that any truly anti-communist conservative would offer even a half-hearted defense of the man.

UPDATE 2: Tapped points to this 1999 piece by Josh Marshall in which he addresses the whole phenomenon of McCarthy revisionism. It's an interesting read and ends with this reminder:

One of the great ironies of the McCarthy period, now conveniently forgotten, is that those who were most hysterical about the communist menace were those who opposed almost every policy that actually helped to contain it.

As Josh points out, there's a big difference both then and now between liberal Democrats and extreme lefties. Conservatives frequently try to make it look as if the extreme left is actually a fair representation of mainstream liberalism, and it's an argument we shouldn't let them get away with.

UPDATE 3: Jonah Goldberg responds here.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ROUGH AND TUMBLE POLITICS....Hey, Josh, it's kind of hard to keep a secret in these days of instant Google searches....

So are we saying that Dennis Kucinich panders to bigots? I don't know a thing about the guy and couldn't begin to guess, so when you say "more soon" I sure hope you mean sooner than Part 2 of that Pollack interview!

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RETURN OF BILL?....Via South Knox Bubba, here's a report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review suggesting the Kofi Annan will step down as UN Secretary General this fall and will be replaced by....

Bill Clinton.

Oh, it's a thought to die for. I don't even care if the idea is nonsense, it's just so delicious that I want to savor it for a while. Can't you imagine the reaction down at Rush Limbaugh HQ, sending Rush's blood pressure through the roof and causing him to splutter incoherently into the microphone for an entire show? It's a delightful image, isn't it?

But why Bill? Why not Jimmy Carter? He's got a Nobel Prize, after all! (Just kidding, Megan....)

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT'S ONE OF THOSE ARI MOMENTS....Via BuzzFlash, here's the video of Ari Fleischer's White House briefing yesterday: http://video.c-span.org:8080/ramgen/edrive/iraq022503_whpb.rm

Ari is getting some questions about American vote buying in the Security Council, and at about the 30 minute mark he says:

Youre saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable, and that is not an acceptable proposition.

The whole press corps busts up laughing at that point and keeps laughing as Ari purses his lips and stalks out of the room. I wonder who writes his lines?

You know, we've already gotten to the point where the president himself never holds press conferences, and now the daily briefings are just jokes. I wonder how long before they just close down the press room in the White House entirely and skip the whole thing?

NOTE: The transcript of the briefing is here if you want to read the whole thing. No mention of raucous laughter from the press corps.

UPDATE: Apparently the transcript has been updated to indicate the laughter. Either that or I missed it the first time around.

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TURNING FRIENDS INTO ENEMIES....This story in the Washington Post probably should have gotten more attention:

The United States wants to partition Iraq, he argues in slow, deliberate tones, and covets the world's second-largest oil reserves. An invasion, he says, serves only Israel and a clique within the Bush administration "whose ignorance is matched only by their greed." A preemptive war, whose very premise he believes defies international law, signals the rebirth of colonialism and imperialism that seemed finished generations ago.

"I feel we have been deceived about the nature and character of the United States of America," he said.

Remarkably, these are the words of a friend....

The gist of the piece is that moderate Arabs who have supported the United States in the past are losing faith in us, and at the same time they are losing the ability to restrain the increasing militancy of young Arabs who are convinced that the U.S. plans to have a colonial presence in the Mideast.

The whole story is worth reading.

Kevin Drum 10:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BYZANTINE NATURE OF WASHINGTON POLITICS....Brad DeLong says that America is like the Ottoman Empire and the White House is like the Topkapi Palace. Or something.

Actually, I'm not quite sure what he's saying, but he definitely thinks we ought to figure out a way to elect someone other than an unknown governor as president. That's always seemed like a reasonable goal to me, but on the other hand I've also wondered whether we really do any worse than all those parliamentary systems in Europe where the prime minister is necessarily someone with loads of previous central government experience.

I really don't know the answer to that. But for what it's worth, here's one piece of data: the consensus best presidents of the 20th century were probably Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan and Truman was the only one of the bunch with any real previous Washington experience. The consensus worst are probably Harding, Hoover, Nixon, and Carter, and three out of four of them had considerable Washington experience. So it's a tricky question, isn't it?

UPDATE: Several readers have written to point out that both Roosevelts had Washington experience as assistant secretary of the Navy, and Eisenhower, while he had no political experience, did have lots of international experience (the whole D-Day thing) and was well acquainted with Washington politics from his military experience. I was primarily thinking of direct, high level political experience (mainly Congress or a cabinet position), but these are fair comments. I wasn't trying to pigeonhole people to make a point, so y'all can make up your own minds on the question of what counts as national experience.

As for the rankings of the presidents, they obviously don't reflect my own preferences (Reagan?!), but I think they're a pretty fair summary of consensus opinion. For further discussion of presidential rankings, here's an interesting document that shows various rankings over the years by different groups, and concludes that rankings have been remarkably stable. The least stable, of course, are recent presidents.

Kevin Drum 8:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEOCONSERVATISM EXPLAINED....Reader Josip Dasovic, noticing my confusion about what a neocon is, pointed me toward a discussion site where I found a review of The Rise of Neoconservatism, a 1995 book by John Ehrman. It's a decent potted summary, so for everyone who like me has always been a little fuzzy on the subsects of American politics, here's a few paragraphs from the review:

The twin pillars of the liberal position, expansion of democracy at home and resistance to communism abroad, were together known as the "vital center."....The vital center gave coherence to American foreign and domestic policies until it crumbled in the late 1960s....As American casualties in the war in Indochina escalated, Americans increasingly questioned the morality and wisdom of their nation's anti-Communist crusade. On the domestic front, the rise of the New Left and black and student militancy what Ehrman calls "radicalism run amok" challenged the values and institutions of liberal democracy.

The collapse of the vital center pushed neoconservatives and the Democratic Party leadership in opposite directions. Party leaders reacted to the Indochina debacle by abandoning the vital center's foreign policy pillar of aggressive anti-communism. To neoconservatives, in contrast, the U.S. defeat in Indochina signaled rising Soviet power and thus demanded a stronger U.S. anti-Communist commitment. In domestic policy the Democrats continued to back large-scale federal programs to combat poverty and other social ills. Again in contrast, neoconservatives, horrified at the militancy of American leftists and increasingly skeptical of federal social programs, drifted rightward on domestic issues through the 1970s.

The break came during the Carter administration. Jimmy Carter's fuzzy moralism and his coolness toward Israel (many neoconservatives were Jewish and strong supporters of Israel) convinced the bulk of neoconservatives that the Democratic Party was beyond salvation. In 1980 they voted Republican, contributing to Ronald Reagan's victory.

You can read the whole thing here, or even buy the book, but here's one more excerpt that shows remarkable prescience on the part of the reviewer:

Ehrman predicts "a renewal of neoconservative foreign policy thinking in the mid-1990s." But if that thinking is just selective interventionism based on the principles of realism, there's nothing inherently neoconservative about it. (Another, scary possibility is a new ideological crusade, with Islam replacing communism as America's worldwide enemy.)

The entire discussion thread is here if you want to read more about neoconservatism. As for me, I'm quite satisfied now and will delve into it no further.

Kevin Drum 4:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHINA AND NORTH KOREA....Haesook Chae has an interesting op-ed in the LA Times today saying that we're all misreading China's motives when they insist on staying aloof in the North Korean crisis:

The key to understanding China's behavior is realizing that exclusively bilateral talks [between the U.S. and North Korea] could produce what China secretly craves: the removal of the U.S. military presence from the Korean peninsula.

....Ejection of the U.S. military presence is an essential first step toward China's ultimate long-term goals: reunification with Taiwan and reassertion as the dominant regional power.

And a story in the Washington Post seems to back this up:

Chinese officials complained today to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that the United States is not giving China enough credit for supporting President Bush's positions on Iraq and North Korea, Chinese sources said.

...."We have gone out of our way to cooperate and coordinate, at least privately, with the United States on Iraq and North Korea," said Wang Jisi, a leading expert on U.S.-China relations who is familiar with government views on the issue, "but what have we gotten in return?"

Specifically, he said China was looking for some U.S. movement on Taiwan involving decreased arms sales or at least a willingness to take China's security interests into account.

Bush would certainly not abandon Taiwan, but Rumsfeld has publicly talked about reducing or removing our troops in South Korea and Powell has resumed food aid to North Korea, which helps to stem the problem of refugees swarming across the border into China. If we're willing to do this much for China, it's not inconceivable that we might work some modest deal on arms sales to Taiwan as well.

JFK ended the Cuban Missile Crisis by secretly agreeing to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviet Union removing its missiles from Cuba. I wonder if the same thing is happening here, and six months after the problem is resolved we'll decide "based on independent review" to remove our troops from South Korea and modify our current arms agreement with Taiwan?

Whatever else is going on behind the scenes, it sure looks like China knows how to drive a hard bargain.

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WILL IRAQ DESTROY ITS MISSILES?....Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein and asked him about those missiles the UN has told him to destroy:

Saddam's response: "We do not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range." He thereby strongly indicated Iraq would resist efforts to begin the destruction of the missiles.

The Agonist is reading Stratfor, which says just the opposite:

Stratfor says 'reliable sources' in the Russian "government say Hussein indeed has promised to cooperate with the inspectors' demands -- including that Baghdad scrap its al Samoud 2 missile program by March 1, an announcement that sources expect to be forthcoming within days."

That makes everything clearer, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEMS....I meant to blog about this yesterday, but better late than never....

The LA Times reports that the 2004 budget includes some fine print that exempts missile defense systems from "operational testing." These systems, you may recall, are the very ones that barely seem to function at all, let alone operate as planned. Thus, doing away with operational testing is the only way to actually get them deployed on the schedule George Bush would like:

The latest proposal from the Pentagon would exempt the missile defense deployment from a law that requires the Defense Department to certify that appropriate operational testing has been completed before putting systems into production.

The Bush administration announced in December a goal of having a limited ground-based system operational in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by Oct. 1, 2004.

Hmmm, October 2004. That date sounds familiar. Don't we have some big election or something coming up right around then?

Unlike some critics, I'm in favor of developing missile defense systems because, you know, if they worked they'd prevent people from firing nuclear missiles at our cities. But while the Bush administration has shown an airy contempt for scientific evidence in the past whenever it's suited them, isn't this a little cynical even for Bush's conservative supporters? No, they probably won't do any good, but a photo op at Vandenberg in October will look might fine, mighty fine!

If the Bush administration wants more money to speed up development, I'm open to persuasion although keep in mind that we've been at this for 20 years now with little to show for it. But the only reason to be afraid of testing a system is if you're pretty sure it will fail, so if they're asking me to contribute my tax dollars to a system so bad they're afraid to even put it through public trials, count me out. I've spent way too much time in the software industry to fall for that particular song and dance.

Kevin Drum 10:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRENCH BASHING GOING OUT OF STYLE?....Patrick Ruffini is persuaded that we should give up all the French-bashing and act like adults:

Giving up on all the hilarity of our Chirac-bashing would be a magnanimous gesture of the best kind, namely the meaningless kind, the kind that does not force us to forego the substance of our argument against Franco-German appeasement. It would show that there's only one side of the argument that's using child-like invective to make its point and it's not the United States. It would show up the editors of Liberation and Le Monde, who have yet to make a single concession to President Bush although the high-minded anti-anti-French should feel free to enlighten me otherwise on this score.

Good for him.

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POST-WAR IRAQ....OxBlog has a good post up about post-war Iraq and support for democracy. As David says, the conservatives are in charge right now, so there's no chance for democratic reform unless it's supported by the right. I hope conservative commentators and bloggers will keep up the pressure for genuine reform in Iraq instead of simply accepting a more friendly dictator in Baghdad.

It's your ball, guys, run with it.

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February 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TONY BLAIR ON TERRORISM, POVERTY, AND GLOBAL WARMING....Carla Passino of The International Sentinal links today to a speech by Tony Blair that's mostly about global warming. But not entirely:

On the one hand there are the very clear and dangerous threats of unstable states developing or proliferating weapons of mass destruction and the evil of terrorism exemplified by September 11th. These are the issues, if you like, of immediate security. They are a threat we can see confronting us directly and now.

On the other hand, there are the issues that affect us over time. They are just as devastating in their potential impact, some more so, but they require reflection and strategy geared to the long-term, often straddling many years and many Governments. Within this category are the issues of global poverty, relations between the Moslem world and the West, environmental degradation, most particularly climate change.

....The only answer is to construct a common agenda that recognises both sets of issues have to be confronted for the worlds security and prosperity to be guaranteed. There will be no lasting peace whilst there is appalling injustice and poverty. There will be no genuine security if the planet is ravaged by climate change. Yet we know we cannot wait to tackle terrorism and WMD. They are affecting us now and have to be dealt with now.

I have absolutely no idea whether Blair will actually act on these sentiments or if they're just nice words, but I'm so starved for nice words that I'll take what I can get.

Read the whole speech. It's intelligent, it combines an appreciation of both short term and long term actions, and it makes a good case that we can fight global warming without bankrupting ourselves:

Are these solutions expensive? Not against the scale of the problem. And it is a myth that reducing emissions makes us poorer. The UKs economy has grown by nearly 17% since 1997 in that time, emissions have fallen by 5%.

That boy is sure a smooth talker, that's for sure.

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A DEFENSE OF UNILATERALISM....Steven den Beste says:

The only way someone can say "No" is if we bother asking them in the first place.

That's an admirably straighforward endorsement of unilateralism, I guess. Of course, it's also the reason that virtually no one in the rest of the world trusts us these days and a significant number hate our guts but I guess Steven and his pals think our military might is now so hyper-puissant that this really doesn't matter anymore.

I wonder just how many simultaneous wars Steven thinks we can fight?

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NAME CALLING....I was curious about, um, pro-war memes, so I just checked and found that in the past four weeks InstaPundit has posted 14 times about "Old Europe" and 15 times about the "Axis of Weasels" eight of the posts specifically about how cool it is that the phrase is spreading.

Sheesh. When these warhawks find a childish piece of invective that tickles their fancy, they just can't let go, can they? Kinda reminds me of a pack of five year olds.

And by the way, Glenn, can you make up your mind whether it's "Axis of Weasels" or "Axis or Weasel"? It would make it a lot easier to search your site. Thanks.

UPDATE: Oops, make that 15 for "Old Europe." It's hard to keep up.

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AN AIR FORCE GENERAL TALKS ABOUT THE WAR....Zizka points us to this interview in The Oregonian with Tony McPeak, chief of staff of the Air Force during the Gulf War:

And yet McPeak will tell you, before the next coffee refill, that President Bush has botched the crucial process of building a coalition, of enlisting the United Nations and of rebuilding Afghanistan as a model of reconstruction. McPeak, who served four years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff advising Bush's father and then President Clinton, says the younger Bush should publicly admit personal failure and start the diplomacy over.

"The world would breathe a sigh of relief, and we'd go back and do it right," says McPeak, 67, brown eyes flickering from a weathered face. "I mean, the world would fall in love with this guy. It's not that hard to fix."

....He says the test in Iraq will be whether, the day after a U.S. victory, the United States is more secure than it was before. He's not convinced it will be.

....McPeak and some other retired generals caused controversy by abandoning their officers-corps' neutrality during the last presidential campaign and supporting Bush, an endorsement he regrets. Aside from Powell, whom he still respects, McPeak dismisses members of the current administration as ideologues who favor big business over the middle class, boost the federal deficit and damage the environment.

I wonder how much of the current military brass feels the same way? We know there's at least one....

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By: Kevin Drum

1970 WASN'T REALLY THAT LONG AGO, EITHER....This Just In, the Bob Schieffer memoir I'm reading, is pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but it's fun and readable and an interesting personal reminder of some of the events of the recent past.

One of the things he mentions that is indeed hard to believe for someone my age is how open things were up until the 70s or so:

These days, friends are never really sure I'm serious when I tell them that the Pentagon, like most of official Washington, was still open to the public in the 1970s....No one was required to show identification to enter the building, nor were security passes required....During the time that Jim Schlesinger was secretary of defense, I would sometimes drop by on a Saturday morning, and if his door was open, I would stick my head in and ask if anything was going on.

On a similar subject, he talks about how it was that Jack Ruby managed to kill Lee Harvey Oswald in the middle of a police station:

How could it happen? I have been asked that question many times, and when I explain that it was a different time, the answer seldom seems to suffice. But those were the days before metal detectors, identification cards and concrete barriers all the security precautions that we have come to accept as a part of modern life....In those days, if you looked as if you belonged, you could usually get in most places....Ruby had been a hanger-on at the police station. Because he looked as if he belonged there, no one had questioned his presence.

That's a different world, all right.

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By: Kevin Drum

DRIVING ON THE LEFT....It's Monday evening in London, so how are things going with the congestion charging experiment now that the school holidays are over and traffic is back up to its usual levels? Quite nicely, it turns out:

Opponents of the scheme were waiting to see if it would struggle to cope after a smooth first week of operation with the return of the school run on Monday. But traffic reports suggest vehicle numbers are up from last week but still 20% down on normal levels.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics has been the go-to site for congestion news, but there are no reports yet from today. Maybe Dan will have some personal commentary for us later.

On the other hand, yesterday he reported that the system is working so well that there's already talk about the next step:

The system would charge motorists between 3p [$0.05] a mile on quiet roads to 1.30 [$2.05] a mile in city centers. The system would work thus: "Cars will be fitted with tagging devices and their journeys followed by roadside detectors with a bill automatically dispensed to drivers."

$2.05 a mile in city centers sounds a mite....steep, doesn't it? I wonder if taxis would have to pay it too?

Anyway, now that the technology seems to be working pretty well to my surprise the next question is how well the congestion charge will work in the long run. These kinds of things frequently have a short term effect just out of shock value, but then traffic creeps back up and a year later it's back to its old level. Then what? Just keep raising prices, I suppose.

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAWKS VS. HAWKS....I agree with Tapped: this column by Ronald Brownstein is a pretty good primer on the ideological battle between the neocons and the "tough doves":

The neo-cons want to frighten the bad guys in rogue states by demonstrating U.S. power and resolve. The tough doves want to unify the civilized world against emerging dangers by demonstrating the value of what Blair has memorably called "a new doctrine of international community." The two camps are marching into battle together, but their own conflicts have just begun.

For some reason, Brownstein didn't want to use the phrase "liberal internationalists," and I assume he had good reason, but there's got to be a better term than "tough doves." At any rate, since that's the camp I seem to be in, I'd sure like to see a better name for it.

You know, I've read a bunch of columns by Brownstein lately and they've all been pretty good. He seems like a sharp guy.

POSTSCRIPT: Another Matt Yglesias comment. He likes Brownstein's column too but complains that:

...."neoconservative" carries heavy connotations of "Jewish," as evidenced by the fact that Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz are constantly cited as leading neocons while goyische Senator John McCain who seems to share their foreign policy views is not.

I dunno. The best known self-described neocons really are Jewish, aren't they? so I'm not sure how you get away from this connotation. Does John McCain describe himself as a neocon? I really need to read up on this whole neocon thing and find who they really are and what they really think.

UPDATE: The Daily Review has some thoughts about this too, although in fairness I don't think Matt suggested that the term "neocon" shouldn't be used. He just....well, I'm not sure what he suggested, actually. Maybe he's taking innuendo lessons from InstaPundit!

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THE WORST ARGUMENT EVER....So I'm noodling around over at Atrios' site and come across this: "The Worst Argument Ever." Sounds juicy, so I click the link and am whisked to the estimable Charles Dodgson's site where he quotes someone saying:

As much as I'm unhappy about how the Bush administration has mishandled everything, backing out now could have disastrous consequences. And so we liberal hawks hold our noses and hope for the best.

But....that sounds oddly familiar. Yes, hold on, it's coming back to me now: it sounds familiar because I said it.

And it's the worst argument ever! I should be pleased, I suppose. Unfortunately, this weekend I committed the heresy of suggesting that The Bell Curve was racist nonsense but that the concept of intelligence itself was nonetheless an important one and got clobbered for it. Now this. I'm beginning to fear that I'm in danger of being tossed out of the liberal club.

Which would be a shame, since I sure as hell don't have anywhere else to go. What's more, I'm really, really tired of George Bush, the war, the French, and everything associated with it. But let's see if I can put my fingers to the keyboard for just a bit more about it.

Honest, though, just a bit. Here's my problem: my sense from reading the anti-war left is that they don't really take the danger of terrorism and unstable states seriously. I do, however, and I think the evidence indicates that humanitarian policies alone won't solve the problem. In the case of Iraq, the history of the past decade pretty clearly shows that the world doesn't have the stomach to keep up containment for long an option that strikes me as vaguely immoral anyway so if we back off now Saddam will be back in business within a couple of years. My guess is that this could be pretty dangerous.

On the other hand, my sense from reading the pro-war right is that they have a fantasy that all our problems can be solved via military force. In fact, the very idea of investigating root causes is tantamount to an indictment of terminal naivet from the likes of Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Reynolds. Overall, it's pretty obvious that the majority of the hawks have no serious interest in the long, tortuous, and multilateral job of promoting democracy and tolerance in the Middle East, and it's not clear that the American public does either.

So what to do? There seem to be damn few people in the middle ground, who agree that Saddam needs to be taken care of but are also in favor of sticking around and truly working in a humanitarian way to improve life in the Middle East.

As for me, I just don't know anymore. I'm hardly in favor of the horrible and incompetent war that George Bush seems to have in mind, but, frankly, I think that simply pulling out would also be disastrous. Basically, the whole mess is terminally depressing and my Prozac prescription seems to have run out, so I think maybe I'll take the afternoon off and go see a movie. Perhaps The Quiet American would be appropriate.

UPDATE: Thanks, Matt. As he says, there's at least one other argument for war that's worse than mine.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ALAN GREENSPAN'S SLOW DEATH....According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, George Bush is peeved that Alan Greenspan actually testified truthfully to Congress a couple of weeks ago:

When he publicly undercut President Bush's proposals to stimulate the economy, Alan Greenspan opened the door to widespread speculation that his career as chairman of the Federal Reserve may be drawing to a close.

The Fed chief angered the White House and many Republicans on Capitol Hill when he testified recently that Bush's proposed tax cuts were premature and that they should be offset by tax increases or spending reductions to keep the deficit under control.

Greenspan's term is up in June 2004, and the Tribune quotes several analysts who suggest that Bush won't reappoint him. Given W's penchant for demanding absolute loyalty, I'd say that's a good bet.

But then the Tribune goes on to say:

There are no obvious replacements to Greenspan....Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein and Treasury officials John Taylor and Peter Fisher are among frequently mentioned candidates, but none has the stature of a Greenspan.

I just love that. Every single Fed chairman for, oh, at least the last 50 years has taken over from someone who was regarded in Washington as a god. And every single time, the new guy becomes a god within a few years and everyone starts worrying that the economy will collapse when he retires because there's no one in the entire country who can take his place. This goes back all the way to the legendary William McChesney Martin, and the only exception was G. William Miller, who was Fed chairman for about a year and didn't quite have time to fully assume the financial divinity these guys usually get.

So I have no fears that the country will be left rudderless if Greenspan steps down. In fact, the Tribune quotes one guy who thinks that Bush will ask Greenspan to stay on through the election and then name a replacement. I hope he does, because after all, Bush might lose and then a Democrat could replace him. Anyone up for Paul Krugman as Fed chairman?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong has more.

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FRENCH-BASHING....Former CIA director James Woolsey has a good column in the Wall Street Journal today about French-bashing:

Although we have a serious dispute with their governments, we should not forget all we have been through together with the French and German people over the years--in the case of France, over the centuries.

....To take only one case, Internet messages mocking French courage and denying that the French have ever successfully defended Paris not only should be beneath us but are quite false--the drafters of this nonsense should consult, among other things, the history of the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. Gen. Gallieni's mobilization of the taxis of Paris to rush reinforcements to the front and save the city is as famous in France as Washington's crossing the Delaware is to Americans. We diminish ourselves and our arguments by denying the noble side of these nations' history and slandering their national honor. Yes, the Germans had the Nazis and the French the Reign of Terror and Vichy. And we had slavery. We have both had our villains and our heroes--we have had our Audie Murphys, they their Ewald von Kleists and Jeannie Clarenses.

Quite so. It is one thing to disagree on policy, it is quite another to whip ourselves into a frenzy that turns them into the enemy of the day. Save that for Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TIME TO TALK, GEORGE....Australia, which has been nearly as strongly in our corner as Britain when it comes to Iraq, says we need to start talking to North Korea:

[Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander] Downer told Channel Nine: "I think we have to face the reality whether the Americans like it or not that there has to be bilateral negotiation. This is a crisis which has really been alight since October of last year....

Is there anyone left in the entire world who doesn't think we should be talking to North Korea? Three weeks ago even Richard Armitage admitted that direct talks were inevitable, but for some reason George "Weeks Not Months" Bush doesn't think there's any rush.

Sometimes he seems like a kid who insists on doing the opposite of what everyone wants him to do just because....everyone wants him to do it. That may be a decent strategy for a 3-year-old trying to outwit his mother, but in the president of the United States it's just scary.

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PAPAL FALLIBILITY....Andrew Stuttaford says in The Corner:

Blair and Bush should relax. Its a pretty good rule that, when it comes to geopolitics, the best advice is to listen to clergymen with respect, attention and ostentatious displays of humility.

And then do the opposite of what they advise.

It's funny, I'll bet he wasn't saying that back in the days when a Polish cardinal was elected pope and became one of the leading supporters of the Solidarity trade union movement and one of the leading critics of communism.

Of course, that was back when the pope was saying something he agreed with....

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JIMMY CARTER FOR PRESIDENT!....OF IRAQ!....Matt Yglesias is worried that the post-war reconstruction of Iraq will go badly even with the best of intentions because:

....both sides are going to be so focused on trying to pin the blame on the other side if things go wrong that they're going to neglect actually getting the job done and that in a flurry of self-fulfilling expectations, things will go wrong.

Matt thinks Bush should have appointed a bipartisan commission on post-war reconstruction in order to gain the trust of at least the hawkish segment of the Democratic party.

I'll go further: Bush's plan is to have military control of Iraq for a certain (undefined) period, followed by a civilian administrator. I think he should try to convince Jimmy Carter to be that civilian leader.

Sure, conservatives hate him, but consider: he was president of the United States for four years and knows a bit about running a country. He's a prominent dove and would be trusted by lots of people who otherwise wouldn't give Bush the time of day. He's rather famously sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, which means he'd be trusted by the Arabs. And he's a humanitarian, which means he'd be genuinely motivated to help Iraq and the Iraqi people.

This is a fantasy, of course, since Bush has shown over and over that he simply doesn't care about trying to persuade his opponents of anything, but he ought to do it anyway for purely selfish reasons. It would allow him to get on with other tasks without having to constantly respond to criticisms of his Iraq policy and it would lend tremendous credibility to the U.S. reconstruction efforts.

But I wonder: suppose (in some alternate universe) that Bush did this. Would Carter accept? I'm sure he'd hate to lend his credibility to Bush's war, but on the other hand he's pretty famous for his ego in matters like this. I'll bet it would be quite an interior struggle for him to decide what to do.

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THE CARE AND FEEDING OF INTROVERTS....Via Electrolite comes a pretty good Atlantic column, "Caring for Your Introvert." My favorite line:

When you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

On a more serious note, the section of the article about arrogance describes a genuine problem for us introverts. I can't tell you the number of times people have assumed I was aloof or arrogant when, in fact, I just didn't have anything to say or was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of people around. So the next time you decide that someone is arrogant not because of something they said, but because of something they didn't, give 'em a break, OK?

Interesting addendum: many years ago I figured out the exact number of people that constitutes a "crowd" for me: six. I'm usually OK with five, but start to shut down with six. On the other hand, I love public speaking.

Kevin Drum 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MUSIC BLOGGING....Jim Capozzola tried to go to a concert tonight. Unfortunately, blogging got in the way.

Still, he does at least answer all your questions about oboes.

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IT'S ALL BILL CLINTON'S FAULT....Ex-Clinton deputy chief of staff Steve Ricchetti has a good op-ed in the Washington Post today taking apart a typically whiny and dishonest Charles Krauthammer piece that surprise! blames all the world's woes on Bill Clinton.

You know, one of these days Republicans are going to have to start taking responsibility for things instead of just irritably carping about how everything is the fault of either Bill Clinton or the French. They are the party of responsibility, aren't they? It's time to start acting like it.

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IT'S GONE BY SO FAST....IT SEEMS LIKE IT'S ONLY BEEN FIVE MONTHS....I've been blogging for six months today. Here's part of the second post I ever wrote:

Tony [Blair] might have trouble bringing his party around, but he will. His position on Saddam is grounded in genuine conviction, and he'll stay on board unless the Bushies' treatment of him deteriorates so far that he finally gets pissed off and tells them to bugger off just out of sheer frustration.

That stands up pretty well, don't you think? Blair hasn't exactly brought Labor around, but so far he's prevented a full-scale revolt anyway, which means that I was closer to the mark than John Derbyshire.

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TWIN BLOGGING....Justene Adamec's 11-year-old twin daughters have a blog, The Twins Tell The Truth. Here's a post from last night:

I did a poll on a message board about Harry Potter books:
THE RESULTS

book 1: 2 people
book 2: 1 person
book 3: 2 people
book 4: 1 person

Book 1 and 3 won in a tie!
Ok, so it wasn't a very big poll, but a poll is a poll.

Hey, these kids could teach John Lott a thing or two about surveys!

Anyway, Maddy is pro-war, pro-France, and broke her arm a few days ago by slipping on some Cheetos during PE. Go pay Maddy and her sister a visit and give 'em some well deserved traffic.

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By: Kevin Drum

IS TIME RUNNING OUT?....Colin Powell is in Asia and says we need to be patient with North Korea:

We're not going to let time become a weapon to be used against us, essentially saying, "You must respond to what North Korea is asking because of time or because of what might happen tomorrow."

But back home in the UN time is of the essence:

The United States and Britain plan to offer a resolution on disarming Iraq at the U.N. Security Council on Monday that will be accompanied by a demand for a vote within three weeks, diplomatic sources said Friday.

So which is it? Is time a weapon or not?

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February 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BLACK BOX VOTING....If you're interested in the whole subject of computerized vote counting, apparently there's a book and a whole website devoted to the subject: www.blackboxvoting.com. Check it out.

For what it's worth, I'm skeptical of the conspiracy theories regarding these machines, but I also don't like them much. Even if it's not deliberate, software goes bad all the time and it seems like a bad idea not to have a backup. My favorite system (although I'm open to argument on the issue) is mark sense balloting, which has been in use for a long time and is generally quite accurate. I'm not quite sure why it's necessary to reinvent the wheel here.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Randy Paul reports that Brazil has been using electronic voting for years without problem. Of course, the doubters would ask how you'd ever know if there were problems....

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NEOCON HAWKS AND POST-WAR IRAQ....Several people have emailed to tell me that it's not neocon hawks who are ignoring the democratic rebuilding of a post-war Iraq, as I have implied once or twice recently. In fact, it's the neocons who are most strongly in favor of democracy building, as you can see in this article by Ian Buruma in the Guardian last month.

I stand corrected. And since I wrote about the Bush administration's seeming unwillingness to produce a decent plan for post-war Iraq a couple of days ago, I also want to point to this article in the Washington Post today. It summarizes a U.S. blueprint that while not ideal is not too bad. At any rate, it's better than the rumors buzzing around Washington lead me to believe.

There will probably be a lot of discussion of this article over the next few days, but here are a couple of quick thoughts:

  • It's pretty fuzzy on the idea of democracy. I fully understand that introducing democratic institutions will be a slow process at best, but I sure wish it was at least an explicit goal.

  • The plan calls for a civilian administrator, which is good, but it's a U.S. administrator, which I think is bad. It's unfortunate that the Bush administration is so suspicious of the value of the UN, because this is a case where UN support would be valuable to us (and, in turn, why UN support for the war would also be valuable). While it's true that the U.S. is the only country with the military muscle to invade Iraq, the UN is probably a better choice for long term post-war reconstruction because (a) it commits them to helping pay for it, (b) they have more experience at it than we do, and (c) the rest of the Arab world is more likely to cooperate with the UN than with an American administrator that they distrust.

  • It's not very transparent about producing all those WMDs for world inspection. I think this is critical to maintaining our credibility, but the report says that outside inspectors would be allowed in only "at an appropriate time." I would like to see them working side by side with us, so the world can see absolutely convincing proof that Saddam really has all those hidden weapons that we say he has.

That's all for now, but I'll probably comment further about this as more details trickle out.

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By: Kevin Drum

INTELLIGENCE....Liberals rightly castigate conservatives for denying the mounting evidence in favor of global warming. The problem, of course, is that conservatives are unhappy with the idea of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, so for ideological reasons they are forced to deny the science itself. They are like tobacco company executives denying that smoking causes cancer.

But conservatives are not the only ones who fight passionately against science they find distasteful. As Charles Murtaugh pointed out yesterday, among liberals it's almost impossible to discuss the question of human intelligence a reasonable area of scientific study without being accused fairly quickly of racism. As Charlie points out, there is good reason for this: studies of intelligence invariably conclude that it is partly a result of genetic factors, and there's an unfortunately large and unsavory group of people who have dedicated their lives to insisting that this means that blacks, who score lower than whites on IQ tests, are genetically less intelligent than whites. This case has been made most recently in a long and execrable book called The Bell Curve, a collection of pages that probably set back research into intelligence by a decade.

But we shouldn't let these people drive the discussion or drive us away from it. Instead, we should talk about the science, we should talk about the results, and then we should talk about where it leads us. So let's do that.


Liberal disgust with racist misuse of research into intelligence is understandable especially given its long and miserable history but in fighting it we have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In particular, liberals are forced to make the following arguments:

  • Intelligence isn't really a meaningful trait.

  • And even if it is meaningful, IQ tests don't measure it well. They are culturally and racially biased.

  • And even if intelligence is measurable, it doesn't have a significant genetic component. It's mostly based on environment and upbringing.

Well, is intelligence real? After all, there's no specific point in the brain we can point to and say, "That's where intelligence lies."

But, like athletic ability, intelligence is a useful, everyday umbrella term that has genuine meaning. It is, roughly, the ability to deal with analytic complexity, and let's face it: we all know it when we see it. When we say "she's a smart cookie" we generally agree that this mean she catches on quickly, she predicts the consequences of actions well, she can juggle a lot of balls at once, she can put two and two together, and so forth.

Technical discussions of intelligence often revolve around whether there is a mental trait called "g" (for "general intelligence") that underlies all the factors that make up intelligence. The current consensus is that g does exist, but for our purposes it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that from a practical perspective, whether g exists or not, the term "intelligence" has a useful meaning and describes something that's important. In fact, the main reason that intelligence is such a hot button is that it so obviously is important. In a complex society, high intelligence is an extremely valuable commodity, and this makes the politics of intelligence both contentious and ideological.

Still, "I know it when I see it" isn't good enough for scientific study: we need to measure intelligence, and the preferred method is via an IQ test. This forms the second line of liberal defense: IQ tests are no good. But once again, the evidence says otherwise. Most professionals in the field agree that IQ (and related) tests do exhibit some level of group bias, but the bias is quite modest on modern instruments. If you score low on an IQ test, the odds are very high that you are, in fact, not very intelligent.

The same is true of heritability. Evidence that intelligence is party heritable has been accumulating for years, and today it is a veritable mountain. There's still plenty to argue about, but the consensus opinion is that intelligence is approximately 50% heritable and 50% learned. In other words, about half of the variation in human intelligence is based on your genes.


There's really no reason that what I've said so far should be very controversial. But it is, and primarily for one reason: race. A regrettably large group of intelligence researchers have extended the results above to argue that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.

The best and most well-known recent example of this kind of tendentious reasoning can be found in The Bell Curve, a 500-page tome that is basically broken into three parts. In the first part the authors argue that intelligence is real, g exists, and that both are partly heritable. There are things to argue with, but it's a reasonable synopsis of current thinking.

Part 2 uses lengthy statistical analysis to argue that intelligence is correlated with lots of positive social values. Smart people make more money, commit fewer crimes, have fewer out of wedlock children, etc. There's more to argue with here since the authors overstate their statistical conclusions, but there's still nothing all that objectionable. After all, detailed statistics aside, I think we'd all be surprised if this weren't true. Our society values intelligence highly, and it's only reasonable that intelligent people do better in a society that values them.

Then there's Part 3, in which the authors argue that the 15-point IQ difference between blacks and whites is primarily caused by genetic differences. And suddenly the quality of their arguments falls off a cliff. They report tentative results as positive, they ignore most of the contrary evidence, and, like so many likeminded researchers, they vastly underestimate the power of environmental factors. Sure, intelligence is 50% hereditary, but that means it's also 50% environmental. And that 50% is more than enough to account for a 15-point difference but only if you take seriously the wretched conditions that blacks at all socioeconomic levels face in this country.

The problem is that human beings are not like stalks of corn planted in poor soil. You can replant seed corn in good soil and the resulting plants will be beautiful. But humans are cultural animals, and the effects of poor environment don't disappear overnight. It takes generations, and in our case it's been barely one generation or maybe none since we have started to treat blacks fairly.


None of this might matter too much if it weren't for the fact that ignoring the value of intelligence hurts one of liberalism's most cherished goals: equality of the races. But in our efforts to discredit the scientific racists, that's exactly what we've done.

Although the origins and effects of racism are long and complex, there's little question that lower average intelligence is one of the big reasons that blacks do poorly in American society. The fact is that the black-white gap does exist, and it's not merely a cultural artifact or the result of bias on standardized tests. It's a very real thing and it needs to be attacked head on.

This is the reason that I feel so strongly about primary education: it's our best hope for erasing the test score difference and truly bringing an end to racism. It's also the reason that I believe these efforts should be primarily aimed at blacks, not at poor people in general: while better education helps everyone, that 15-point gap indicates that it's blacks as a group who suffer the most and need the most help.

Intelligence is not a synonym for social worth, nor is it the only mental trait that's important. But denying that global warming exists or that smoking causes cancer does not make those problems any less real, and the same is true of research on intelligence. In an increasingly complex world, intelligence is increasingly important and increasingly valuable, and denying this does no one any good.

Nor does it do any good to scratch our heads and cast about for another line of defense: intelligence may be real, but race isn't and therefore it makes no sense to talk about racial differences in intelligence. In the real world, however, race, like intelligence, is a fuzzy but still useful concept, and this argument becomes little more than yet another transparent excuse to avoid distasteful truths.

What should be important to liberals is not the results of intelligence research themselves, but what we do with them. If we face the truth squarely, we are in a better position to argue for social programs that have a realistic chance of accomplishing what we want. That's what we should focus on, not on the remote and dwindling hope that the scientific community is wrong. It's a bad bet.

UPDATE: If you want to read more (much more!) about this, Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips wrote a 1998 book on the subject called The Black-White Test Score Gap. It is available online from the Brookings Institution here. They summarized their argument in The American Prospect in this article, and responses were published here.

UPDATE II: More comments from:

DeLong in particular is useful because he reprints this Thomas Sowell column (indirectly linked in my original post) that although more sympathetic to The Bell Curve than I am very clearly makes the point that intelligence is mutable and can be significantly changed via education and other environmental factors.

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CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY....Ford decided yesterday to settle a lawsuit related to a van rollover after a judge warned that their behavior "borders on criminal." Goodness. All they did was deny that their van had ever rolled over in tests, when in fact it turned out that one of their test drivers had done just that. Or had he?

On Thursday, [Ford spokeswoman Kathleen] Vokes said "the confusion" involved whether the term 'rollover' covers a van merely tipping on its side.

This, of course, came after the judge had already promised to sanction Ford for its prior attempts to hide data on the stability of its vans.

And in related news of corporate responsiblity, Disney has lost an appeal in a long running case involving the rights to market Winnie the Pooh merchandise. After it was revealed that they had destroyed dozens of boxes of evidence, they claimed it didn't really matter because the documents were all irrelevant: "They were tossed during a housecleaning after the executive's death, the company said."

For some reason the appellate court didn't agree.

It's certainly good to see corporate America showing such respect for our legal system, don't you think? Why, if only those rapacious trial lawyers could be brought to heel, life would be such smooth sailing for them and luckily, George Bush and the Republican party seem to agree. I'll bet that Michael Eisner is a big fan of tort reform right about now.

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WILL IRAQ DESTROY ITS MISSILES?....UN inspectors have decided to demand that Iraq destroy missiles that exceed allowed limits:

"The letter should be going out today," said Ewen Buchanen, a spokesman for the inspectors. Before now, the inspectors had declared the missiles to be illegal but had not said what they intended to do about that.

We are getting very close to the end here. It seems unlikely that Iraq will agree to destroy the missiles, but this refusal would surely be enough to convince even the Security Council holdouts that inspections are not working.

Or so it seems. It's getting harder every day to penetrate the boxes within boxes of diplomatic maneuvering that's going on at the UN. More to come, I'm sure.

UPDATE: John Quiggin has a different view, and he may be right. The problem is that Saddam is caught in a trap: if he's convinced the U.S. will attack anyway, why would he give up his missiles? But if he doesn't give up the missiles, then we'll attack. It's a serious dilemma for him.

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WE'LL BE HAVING A TEST NEXT FRIDAY....Sometimes you have to go to the Drudge Report to find links to the news that's truly, um, stimulating:

A GOVERNMENT-backed course is encouraging pupils under 16 to experiment with oral sex, as part of a drive to cut rates of teenage pregnancy.

....It aims to reduce promiscuity by encouraging pupils to discover levels of intimacy, including oral sex, instead of full sexual intercourse

But there's bad news for American teenagers: this is a British program. Better luck next time, kids.

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OUR UNWRITTEN CONSTITUTION....Josh Chafetz at OxBlog is studying the British constitution and remarked a few days ago that he gets tired of the predictable jokes about his chosen field. The Brits, you see, have a constitution, but it isn't written down. Ho ho ho.

I believe that I myself might have made just such a snarky comment at one point or another, and I hereby apologize. What brings this to mind is that Glenn Reynolds is blogging from the Marbury vs. Madison symposium today, which reminds me that people in glass houses should be careful about their pre-emptive strikes.

Marbury vs. Madison is an 1803 Supreme Court case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Supreme Court is allowed to toss out laws that the Supreme Court thinks are unconstitutional. Got that? And in case you think this is a gross oversimplification, it's not, really. Basically, the Supreme Court gets to decide on the constitutionality of laws because it says it can and no one ever really challenged them on it.

Judicial review is one of the cornerstones of the American constitutional system, but it's not written down anywhere. You won't find it in the text of the constitution and you won't find any congressional act that authorizes it. But, like that unwritten British constitution, it's nonetheless as real and as important as any piece of parchment.

The constitution is a marvelous document, but it's not really the basis of American government. After all, the old Soviet constitution sounded pretty good on paper too. Rather, the real basis is the collective acceptance of the constitution's principles by the American people even when the chips are down and our willingness to constantly reinterpret it to fit our needs. That's what makes it worth the paper it's printed on.

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CHECK IT OUT....Ted Barlow is good today....

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GOING TO THE MOVIES....Charles Kuffner reports today that the Loews Cineplex theater chain is being sued for showing too many ads before the movies start. Let me just say that while this suit is probably completely groundless, and a prima facie case for tort reform, etc. etc., I heartily approve anyway. If this is a signal of the impending end of Western Civilization, well, so be it. All I can say is that we're not the ones who fired the first shot.

By the way, Charles notes that European theater listings print two times: when the ads start and when the movie starts. Not only do American theaters not do this, but my local chain (Regal Cinema) actually seems to have a policy of choosing random times to begin the movie. Most of the time the movie doesn't start until about 20 minutes after the listed time, but sometimes it starts 10 minutes after and on rare occasions it starts right on time. So you have to show up on time or you risk missing part of the movie.

Bastards. And they wonder why movies increasingly don't appeal to people over 25.

Kevin Drum 9:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAR WITH IRAQ....Josh Marshall finally has Part 2 of his interview with Ken Pollack posted, and it's a good read. Like Josh, I think that Pollack's comments do a good job of capturing "the mix of resolution, ambivalence and anger I feel about the situation we're currently in with Iraq." As much as I'm unhappy about how the Bush administration has mishandled everything, backing out now could have disastrous consequences. And so we liberal hawks hold our noses and hope for the best.

It's a good interview although I wish there had been time for the obvious follow-up to the question about what things the administration has handled well. Go read it.

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ATHLETIC ABILITY....Here's a question for you: what are the various factors that combine to create the thing that we call "athletic ability"? Here are a few:

  • Strength

  • Speed

  • Reflexes

  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Balance

  • Body control

You can probably think of others, but these will do for now. My next question is: does the term "athletic ability" have any meaning? Or should we discard it and force ourselves to talk only about these other factors that underlie it?

That would be clumsy, wouldn't it? "Athletic ability" may be a bit fuzzy, but it's still a pretty useful concept and we'd hate to have to give it up.

With me so far? Good. Final question: do you think these underlying factors have any genetic component, or are they solely the result of coaching and training? And as a corollary, does that mean that the overall trait called "athletic ability" is also partly determined by genetics?

There will be a test on this later. In the meantime, go read this post by Charles Murtaugh.

More tomorrow.

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AIRPORT SECURITY....I don't know what this is all about, but apparently two out of four entrances to our local airport have been "closed indefinitely because of increased security measures." We're now being advised to allow 2 1/2 hours for parking, check-in, etc.

WTF? Is this happening anywhere else?

Kevin Drum 9:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW LOOK....Well whaddayaknow, I come home and CalPundit is magically ad-free! It turns out this kindness is the work of Jim Capozzola of Rittenhouse Review, who contributed a year's worth of ad-free-ness in my name to the good folks at Blogger. As the folks at Blogger put it, my site is now "ad-neutered." Thanks Jim!

To show your appreciation, go read this post of Jim's and do what he tells you. And don't worry, I'm sure his definition of "civic organization" is broad enough to encompass just about any good deed you have in mind. Just do it, OK?

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AT LEAST THEY DIDN'T MAKE HIM DRINK IT....Look, I know "better safe than sorry" is good advice when it comes to security, but isn't this story from Reuters a little much?

An innocent spray of cologne from a Saudi Arabian college student caused authorities in Philadelphia to quarantine a hospital emergency room, a doughnut shop and a drug store on Wednesday, officials said.

If you read the whole thing it doesn't get any better. In fact, it gets worse.

You know, stuff like this would just seem silly if it weren't for the fact that we're spending billions of dollars to fund this kind of hypersensitivity while virtually ignoring enormous security holes in other areas. I wish we could get our priorities straight on this stuff.

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IN PRAISE OF BLOGGING....I'm reading Bob Schieffer's book This Just In right now, and for some reason a paragraph in the first chapter got me thinking. He's talking about the TV coverage of JFK's assassination and says:

For the first time, Americans were seeing what the reporters saw; no longer would they have to wait to read what the reporters had written about it. From then on, they would compare their own observations to those of the reporters.

I've also read a lot of old small-town newspapers over the past year as part of my genealogy hobby, and one of the things you immediately notice about them is how raw and unedited they were. It was basically just the editor who was also publisher, circulation manager, and typesetter talking to his audience. Television news in 1963 was probably pretty similar: just a camera and a reporter talking about what they saw.

And it occurs to me that this explains some of the popularity of blogs too: the very fact that they aren't professional attracts us. Television, of course, passed the ultra-professional-highly-filtered-snazzy-graphics threshold years ago, and for that reason probably leaves many of us unsatisfied. Not because we think they're deliberately lying to us, but because we instinctively know that their very professionalism gets in the way of just telling us what's happening. When every story consists of a fancy graphic and a 45-second spot edited to within an inch of its life, you know that what you're seeing bears the same resemblance to real life that a Playboy centerfold does to the girl next door.

Blogs, of course, don't provide much in the way of original reporting, but they do provide us what those old small-town newspapers did before they grew up: a quick and conversational combination of news, opinion, gossip, and weird personal idiosyncrasies. It may not be pretty, but at least it's real.

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FRANCE....After I wrote yesterday's post about getting rid of all my Franco-Germanic possessions, I got a couple of emails from people assuming I was serious. I quickly added a note making it clear that I was joking.

Now, I take full blame for not being Neal Pollack-ish enough to pull off this kind of satire, but it's disturbing that we live in an environment where it's reasonable to think I might actually do something like this. As one of my readers put it, "At least one good thing has come of this: I am largely cured of my Europhobia. The anti-European screeds have so deeply offended my sense of fairness and good taste I doubt I'll ever lapse."

I agree. I think there's a lot to criticize in French foreign policy, but instead we get shrill outbursts like this from InstaPundit:

Yes, the French military defeat [in WWII] was -- like so many of the disasters of the 20th Century -- not the fault of circumstances so much as it was the result of the arrogant ineptitude and shortsightedness of French leaders.

So now the French are responsible for "many of the disasters of the 20th century" too? Before long Glenn is going to start blaming them for flouridating our water supply. How can anyone take this kind of stuff seriously?

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AN "ALIEN-SNAKE HYBRID"?....C'MON, KEN, TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK....Ken Layne pretty much sums up my opinion of the campaign to recall Gray Davis and much more entertainingly than I could. I guess I don't dislike 'ol Gray quite as much as Ken does, but he gets bonus points for both poetic license and for paying more attention to California politics than I do.

Plus he gets credit for coming up with the right answer even though he loathes the guy. If we weren't celebrating my sister's birthday on Saturday I might even go to that blog event in LA he's hyping and try to meet the guy. Maybe next time.

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February 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

OURS NOT TO REASON WHY....It's possible that the justification for this holds water in some theoretical way, but the timing sure sucks:

As thousands of sailors and Marines are sent abroad for a possible war with Iraq, the Bush administration is proposing to cut education funding for many children of military families.

The president's plan would eliminate funding for military students who live in apartments or homes off base, a proposal that has incensed educators who say the timing couldn't be worse.

Kevin and Jeanne are right: this is an indefensible way to save a lousy $125 million while troops are being sent overseas. Bush's treatment of both veterans and active duty soldiers has been appalling since his first day in office and I'm surprised the Democrats haven't made a bigger issue of it. Someone should, that's for sure.

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FOREIGN REACTION TO 9/11....Yesterday I wrote a short post about a French radio host who claimed that most of his callers after 9/11 thought that the terrorist attacks "served us right." I got a few responses and thought I would share them:

From an Australian:
I have to say that I found much the same sentiments expressed here in Australia, although I didn't ever hear anyone at all say it was "well done". In fact everyone I know was absolutely horrified, but the next comment was always "they brought it on themselves, didn't they?" However, official comment by Government, radio, television and print never once made that suggestion. Anti-Ameican feeling seems to be rising rapidly here at present, but it is directed at American policy and the Bush administration rather than against the Americans as people.

From a New Yorker who travels to Europe a lot:
I never heard any anti-American comments. I never heard anything but sympathy for the Sept. 11 attacks. All the people I met, from cab drivers to business colleagues, seemed fully capable of distinguishing between the American people, which they seemed to like, and the Bush administration, which they either hated or thought was insane, or both.

From a resident of Germany:
I drove down to southern France for a family event prior to September 11 2001. On the way back I kept listening to the car radio, changing stations during the day (it's a long drive). It was all talks about 9/11 and lots of people called in. Most of the calls were live and the comments spontaneous (or so it seemed to me). The feelings expressed towards the US unanimously were sympathy and solidarity. The same I could say of anybody I talked to during the family event. I certainly had a very different impression than what Christophe Hondelatte describes in the LA Times article. What he says seems incredible to me, I don't know how to interpret his comment.

From Digby:
I don't know much about this Hondelatte fellow, but I checked the polls from 9/11 in France and I don't think his remarks are indicative of a broad feeling. They do indicate that the French thought (and think) that American foreign policy is partly to blame, but that is certainly not the same as saying the Americans deserved it.

No conclusions, I just wanted to share some other thoughts on the matter. Make of it what you will.

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AN OP-ED WHERE?...."Rightwing commentator" Glenn Reynolds has an op-ed in the The Guardian about the blog phenomenon. It's pretty good.

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AFTER THE WAR....The news on the war front is not good. I suspect that many reluctant hawks like me have held their noses and supported the war because of the possibility that, aside from ridding the world of a dangerous and unstable dictator, we might also make Iraq and eventually the rest of the Middle East into a better place.

But the downsides seem to be piling up. Transatlantic relations are strained almost to breaking, and Donald Rumsfeld has already declared his eagerness to punish allies who don't support us. We're in the process of paying out a $32 billion (or so) bribe to the Turks. We seem to be abandoning the Kurds. The planned "Shock and Awe" bombing of Baghdad sounds dangerously close to being a war crime. Some factions in the Bush administration talk about appropriating Iraqi oil funds as "spoils of war," and the latest word from Washington and London is that we aren't planning to help fund any reconstruction efforts in Iraq and probably aren't going to promote democratic institutions there either. It might upset Saudi Arabia, after all.

Now, let's take it as given that one result of the war will be a relatively swift regime change in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants either captured or killed. As nice as that might be, however, I think there's a bipartisan consensus that there are several other outcomes we would also like to see. For example:

  • Introduction, to at least some extent, of democratic institutions in Iraq.

  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.

  • A clear demonstration to the world that Iraq did indeed have the hidden WMDs that we said they had.

  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • At some level, evidence that Western values introduced in Iraq are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.

And then there are the possible disasters that a war might bring:

  • A serious uprising of the "Arab street" that ends up promoting increased terrorist activity.

  • Additional wars in the Middle East, whether they involve us or not.

  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria, which don't currently have them.

  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.

  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply, either via embargo or war, that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.

So I have this question: if you're in favor of war, is anything more than regime change needed for you to consider it a success? And would any of the disasters on the bottom list convince you that it was, in the end, a failure?

For anti-war partisans, the question is the opposite. How many of the items on the top list would have to happen to convince you that the war, in fact, turned out to be a positive development?

To put it more simply, what are the criteria for success? Does moral clarity begin and end with forcibly removing Saddam Hussein from power, or is there more to it?

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NORTH KOREA AND THE UN....What happens if the UN refuses to approve military action against Iraq and we invade anyway? Does that prove irrevocably that the UN is indeed irrelevant, as George Bush keeps saying?

And if it does, what happens in North Korea? Iraq, for some reason, is a matter of "weeks, not months," while North Korea is a matter of slow and careful consultation with allies and the seeking of UN resolutions and sanctions. But if the UN eventually proves itself to be officially irrelevant, what happens next?

Will we continue to work with them on North Korea? Or not?

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DINI UPDATE....Mark at Minute Particulars updates us on the Michael Dini evolution controversy. Dini's old website said this:

I will ask you "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.

He's now changed it to say this:

I will ask you: "How do you account for the scientific origin of the human species?" If you will not give a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation.

Mark thinks Dini is still missing the point, but I disagree. My guess is that Dini is specifically interested in flushing out creationists, and asking about the origins of humans as a species is critical to that. What's more, I think he's quite right and quite justified in doing this.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A CLEAN BREAK....It was a difficult choice, but after considerable prayer and soul searching Marian and I finally decided last night that we could no longer continue living a lie. So we're making a clean break and disposing of all Franco-German products in our house. Here's the complete inventory:

  • An douard Boubat print of a tabby cat hanging above our fireplace. Too bad, I like it a lot, but we have other less treacherous artwork that can take its place.

  • Some miscellaneous German cutlery. Good for backstabbing, I suppose, but otherwise it won't be missed.

  • A Cuisinart. No, wait, Marian says that only sounds French. It stays.

  • A bunch of Deutsche Grammophon CDs. Some of them are even of German and French composers!

  • A Braun shaver. No, two Braun shavers. No loss, though: the screens are always wearing out anyway and I'm tired of replacing them. I bet Norelco shavers last forever.

  • Some Limoges serving platters. We have too much china anyway. Too bad about the wedding presents, but these Limoges guys actually seem proud of being French!

  • A German car. Ouch. That's gonna hurt. But a Corvette is faster anyway.

  • Many yards of French lace. I imagine Venetian lace should do just as well, shouldn't it? And we've put all that Anzio unpleasantness behind us, haven't we?

  • A Langenscheidt German-English dictionary.

  • A bottle of Mot champagne. Down the drain with it.

  • A miniature Eiffel Tower or La Tour Eiffel, as the French arrogantly insist on calling it from a trip to Paris in 1967. Hmmm. Maybe I can just put it in a box and shove it in the garage out of sight.

  • A considerable collection of German-made thread. That's Marian's problem. Australia is the world center of sewing and crafts, so we should be able to get some good thread from them. And they support us.

  • Some books by Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Do those count? And do I have to give back those tickets to Les Misrables we just bought?

  • A poster in our bedroom from the "Impressionism and the French Landscape" exhibition at the LA County Museum of Art in 1984. I sure don't want to wake up every morning looking at that.

I think that's it. It's going to be hard, and we'll need to watch our shopping in the future, but I think we'll be the better for it.

But I sure hope the Chinese and Japanese don't go wobbly on us.

UPDATE: Y'all do realize I'm joking, don't you? After all, you can't seriously think I'd consider driving a Corvette?

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I WAS AFRAID THIS MIGHT HAPPEN....Uh oh, looks like D is going native (scroll to "Coffee-break length Steven den Beste"). We might need an intervention here, folks.

And a note to Blogspot users: check the permalink for your most recent post if you have any hopes of other people linking to it. If it doesn't work an all too frequent occurrence wait a few minutes, then write a blank post above it, publish it, then delete it and republish. This usually works, though no guarantees.

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WAR AND INTELLIGENCE....Have you noticed how the war with Iraq has a magical effect on IQ and leadership abilities? Tony Blair, who is somewhere to the left of Bill Clinton and a bit shifty besides, is suddenly hailed as a hero and rock solid ally by conservatives who would have derided him as a weak, pitiful, grasping lefty just a couple of years ago. The transformation has been magical.

And those Hollywood actors well, it's sad to see gruff, smart Lou Grant morph into dimwitted patsy Ed Asner, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOW! YOU'VE WRITTEN FOR THE WASHINGTON TIMES?!?....Ampersand's cartoon is good today. But I wasn't the inspiration, although I wish I could take credit for it.

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OH, AND WE DIDN'T REALLY INTERN ALL THAT MANY JAPANESE DURING WORLD WAR II, EITHER....Ted Barlow puts this weekend's anti-war marches into perspective.

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WHERE ARE THOSE GROWNUPS WE KEEP HEARING ABOUT?....Daniel Drezner quoting Fareed Zakaria about Donald Rumsfeld:

Most of Rumsfelds tart observations are true. In fact theyre often dead-on. But he is not a columnist, hes a statesman (thankfully, since hed drive many of us out of the business). To much of the world his jabs convey an arrogance that speaks not of leadership but domination. Every time Rumsfeld opens his mouth, I think, 'There goes another ally!'

When is the Bush administration going to learn this? They are statesmen, not bloggers, and cute quips aren't going to get the job done. They need to learn that patience, tact, diplomacy, and consultation are all good things in the long run.

Kevin Drum 9:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE CASE FOR CALM....Since there was much talk in the blogosphere today about anger and its proper expression, tonight's bedtime story is about rage and redemption. If you don't like stories, of course, feel free to skip it.


They are looking for me. I can't see them yet, but they are around here somewhere, with their flashlights and two-way radios and heavy black shoes, talking to each other, and they are closing in. One of them is close to me now. I can feel his mind and his intent is written all over it: he is determined to hunt me down like an animal and kill me.

It is dark and cold in this alley and the young one is around the corner, his heavy black shoes moving slowly, very slowly, toward me. A moment later he turns the corner and works his flashlight across the alley, but finds nothing except old trash, fat brown rats, and puddles of urine.

Then, just as he steps past a garbage bin, he sees me, and at once he understands. He is quicker than I expect, however, for just as I am about to put him into a deep sleep he pulls out his gun and points it at me.

He has left me no time for subtleties. I scream pain and terror into his mind and in an instant he is unconscious. I recoil at the pain I have caused, but he will recover soon and I know that I had no choice. I know this as surely as I know he would have killed me had I given him the slightest chance.

Quickly I strip him of his clothes and put them on. I have done this before and I know just what to do. His radio is a common model and I work the controls easily. There is no one here, I say, I am coming back in. The tinny quality of the radio masks the awkward throatiness of my voice.

Unhurriedly I step out of the alley and into the street. The other policemen are on the other side. I wave to them and continue on my way. Five minutes later I am ten blocks away, safe once again. I have gained two hundred dollars and made a clean escape this evening. I have also nearly killed a man. It has not been a good night.


I have been in this city too long. It is my home town and I have allowed that to keep me here, even though I know better. In the last three weeks I have been caught twice, and both times, through my own carelessness, I have nearly killed a policeman. This is a frightening sign perhaps I am losing control? and also a source of danger. There are a great many policemen and they pose a very real threat to me when they act together.

So I will stay one more night and then leave. Perhaps I will find a smaller town this time, one more peaceful and less painful. The large cities, with their millions of minds, all loud and selfish and undisciplined, put me on edge, make me nervous. But at the same time they are more satisfying: there are more of them around, the people who want to kill me. It is difficult for me to leave them behind.


The next day I sleep through most of the daylight hours and wake only when darkness has fully come. The streetlights on the corner I have chosen are all either dim or burnt out completely and it is easy to hide. Several people walk by, but none of them is right. None is the right game.

The prey I am hunting is them: the vicious young thugs who inhabit all cities, the muggers of old ladies, extortionists of small shopkeepers, murderers of the innocent, the ones who have never in their miserable lives given a moment's thought to anything beyond their own pitiful needs. It is ironic that the police hunt me down, unaware that we have the same goal: protecting the world from them. The only difference lies in our methods of accomplishing it.

When I find one of them, I don't arrest him and I don't kill him. Instead I change him permanently. I show him what he has done to his victims, the ones who are afraid to open their doors to strangers or buy food unattended or take a simple subway trip. I show him, quite simply, the hard, unyielding face of fear.

I am in a poor section of town and it is mostly old people who walk by, in a hurry to get home and scared to be out this late at night. I have no quarrel with them and I leave them alone. Their minds are mostly closed to me anyway and I catch only fleeting glimpses of them, just enough to make me feel sorry for them.

Soon, however, a familiar sensation crosses my mind and I reach out. It is there. One of them. I look around; he is across the street, so I start walking behind him. I am studying him as I walk, touching his mind. I reach more and more deeply until...

Them!

Not just a pale imitation like the others I have hunted, but one of the ones who was there, at the scene, all those years ago.

I quicken my pace and cross the street. Naturally I do not recognize him by sight: I was only eight when I last saw him, and unclearly even then. But I recognize his mind, swaggering down the street with the confidence of a small-time hood who owns the local police force.

My body shudders as I close in on him. I want to stop; reason tells me to follow him, find out where he is going, but suddenly reason is no longer in control of me. Within seconds I am there, and in a blind fury my mind leaps out, tearing at the man, twisting his brain into senselessness, searing his mind with thoughts of revenge.

He does not know who I am and that is unacceptable to me, so I tell him. He recoils in fear he thought me dead and with the pent up wrath of ten years I burrow into him, concentrating on making him feel the blind, helpless terror he once instilled in me. I am assaulting him savagely now, and I know that if I don't stop I will kill him. I have become one of the animals I hate, but I cannot stop myself.

Suddenly, there is someone behind me. I whirl around but it is too late: I feel a sharp crack on the back of my head. As I fall to the ground I see the person who has hit me. It is a policeman, an old one, old enough that his mind was able to creep up behind mine undetected while I was busy killing my enemy. As I crumble to the ground I extend my consciousness and find that I have one solace: I have killed him.


I am awake now. They have put me in a small cell, by myself. I don't know what it is, but I know what it is not. It is not a jail. It does not have bars across one side, only a rather ordinary door. It is not cold, and barren, and concrete. In fact, it is rather comfortable. I open my eyes further: there is a camera in one corner. Someone is watching me.

I have not moved yet and I close my eyes again. Two people are approaching the door and they are talking about me. I cannot hear what they say, but their meaning is clear.

There is something strange about him, one of them says. No, the other replies, he is just mentally disturbed. They are using psychiatric terms, of course, ones I could not understand if I could hear them.

I can, however, feel what they are saying and this is much more useful to me. They both agree that I am dangerous, and one of them, the one in charge, has medication of some sort, a tranquilizer. They have already given it to me once, but it is wearing off.

Since I have kept my eyes closed I do not notice it when they open the door. I only notice that their minds are coming much closer. I wait for the one-in-charge to pull out his hypodermic needle and lean over me. My mind is very sensitive now, and just when he is about to thrust it into my veins I tap his mind gently and he is asleep.

I knock out the second one quickly, relieve him of his key, and walk out into the corridor. Of course, there is a camera there too. I hope whoever is on the other end has chosen this moment to be asleep; I do not wish to deal with him too.

I walk quickly down the long, tiled corridor before I come to another locked door. Through the window I see a single guard. After trying several keys I come across the proper one, open the door, and leave him lying on the floor. They are such easy targets here.

As I reach the front door an alarm goes off. Someone has finally looked on the TV monitor and seen the two doctors lying in a heap in the middle of my cell. It is of no matter, however. I am far more experienced at evading guards than they are at catching inmates, and within ten minutes, despite a splitting headache and a lot of huffing and puffing, I am more than two miles away. Once again I am free.


Until the night my family was murdered I had no peculiar powers of mind. I was awakened that night by the shouting in the living room. I heard my mother's muffled, dying scream, and I was able to hide under my bed before the murderers came into my room, searching for anyone else in the house who might be a witness to their crime. They found both my seven-year-old brother and my five-year-old sister and slit their throats.

I was paralyzed with fear the whole time, unable to move a muscle even if there had been anything I could have done. When they quit the room they left the door open and I could see them dimly: three young, shabbily dressed, well built men with ignorant, bigoted hatred written on their faces.

One of them said something then. I didn't hear it, but I saw him turn around and come back toward my bedroom. Did he know there was someone else in there or was he just coming back to make sure his friends had done their job properly?

It didn't matter, for I was convinced he was coming back for me. Blind, horrible terror filled my heart and in a paroxysm of fear I lashed out.

At first it was utterly in self-defense that I did it. But when my mind made contact with his, the emotion turned to rage, both at him and at myself for thinking that there was anything this mindless scum could do to hurt me. I discovered in that instant that no matter what his physical attributes, he was no match for me.

It was all over in a second. Fear once again washed over me and I pushed myself out from under the bed and ran for the window. Moments later I was fleeing down the street. It was my first of many flights from them, and the only time until now I killed a man. If such a brute can be called a man.


It was not for some time that I discovered that I had lost the use of my hearing. At first this alarmed me, but soon I found that I could hear with my mind better than I ever had with my ears. With your ears you can hear only what people say; with your mind you can hear what they mean.

At first I could hear only dimly, sensing no more than the surface emotions that make up the ragged edges of people's thoughts. Even this quickly became too intense for me to bear, however, and I made up my mind that I could never again join the company of men.

It was simple, even then, to remain hidden. I knew which places were empty of people and chose those places to hide. I could sense when people were approaching and it was easy to escape. And, when I was taken by surprise, I could disable my pursuer with a flick of my mind.

It was easy to harness this rudimentary power, for it uses as fuel nothing but raw, primitive fear. As time passed, however, my powers developed further. I found that I could sense more than just a person's presence. Increasingly, I could discover what he was thinking, not just what he was feeling. I could sense images in his brain and I could anticipate what he would do next.

I can do that now. And my senses extend much further than they first did. It is this that will allow me to find the men who killed my family. Back on the dimly lit corner last night I found an image in the mind of the man I killed, an image of my parents buried deeply within him.

It is my image now, and I hold onto it tightly and jealously. I am going to use it as a beacon, to search out the other one who is still alive. His mind will have the same image buried within it, and all I have to do is look for it. I know I will find it, too, because the dead man told me so. He is still there, he said, waiting for you.

His wait will soon be over.


It is dusk now, time to begin. The street corner is as dim and cold as it was last night, but there is a difference: two policemen are there, rubbing their hands against the chill and cursing their luck at having drawn this assignment.

Obviously someone thinks I am stupid enough to show myself there again. Carefully I step into a sidestreet and make my way around one of the shabby, broken down buildings that make up this section of the city. I reappear a block farther down; the policemen are still on their corner, shuffling around, looking bored, waiting for their shift to end.

I am ready to start. All I need to do is go from building to building, looking for the image of my dead mother. It is around here somewhere; I can feel it.

I move in and out of buildings quickly. Nobody bothers me: this is not the sort of area where people inquire about your actions. They have business of their own and they go about it with their eyes on the ground, avoiding contact, wishing only to be left alone.

For two hours I search for the image. The man did not live far from here, but there are hundreds of buildings within half a mile of the street corner. Unfortunately, I did not start my search with a plan, so I find myself coming back to the same buildings once more, the same small, filthy lobbies with their identical rows of battered metal mailboxes.

I curse myself for my stupidity. I start again, but this time I search methodically. Up one street, down another, up, down, up, down. In a few minutes I have covered an entire block and go on to the next. In half an hour I am five blocks away and I have searched every building within two hundred yards of the street.

Another half hour and it is time to cross the street and make my way back. Up, down, up, down....

Them!

I can feel the ugly, repulsive mind, just as I did last night. I step into the lobby and look around. There is no one there except a small boy, who scurries up the stairs when he sees me.

I look at the mailboxes, running my finger over their rough surfaces, feeling for something. My eyes light on one of them: there are two occupants there, both sharing the same last name.

Of course! They are brothers. Suddenly, memories come flooding back and everything becomes clear: two of the three men who murdered by family were brothers. Last night I killed one of them and the other one is here, his brother's name still on the mailbox.

I fly up the stairs without another thought, holding in my mind only the idea of his death. The stench of his mind is everywhere now, overwhelming me, sending me into a killing frenzy. Savagely I kick at the flimsy door and it splinters open. Inside is the man I am seeking.

He looks startled and gets up slowly from the kitchen chair he is sitting in. There is a woman in there also, feeding a small baby no more than a year old.

He moves toward me, yelling something that I can't hear but can certainly understand. They are both radiating panic, but the woman does not have the sense to run across the hall for help.

I unleash a blast from my mind and he drops in his tracks. I am bringing up from his memory the image of my parents as he last saw them, letting him feel the fear and pleading they felt before he cut their throats. He writhes on the ground, trying to say something. But, as with all the others, nothing comes out.

I poke around in his mind savagely, looking for agony of any sort. When I find it I set it loose, but with far more intensity than it ever had the first time around. He is utterly under my control now, and I am surrounding him from all sides with pain and the memory of pain.

His past is an endless well of brutality. His father beat him when he was a small child, his teachers despised him for his dullness, his friends avoided him for his short temper. Unskilled and unfit, he has never been more than a step away from the unemployment line. He cannot support his wife, he cannot afford his only child, and he knows there is no hope that he ever will.

All at once: this is why he murdered my parents. His mind screams at me: people like you have taken away my livelihood, my money, my self respect. He hates me and everyone like me with a hatred nurtured from childhood.

I let up for a moment and he gasps for breath. Instantly I bore in once again, this time filling him with my own pain, a thousand times sharper than anything he has felt himself: the panic-stricken fear of a child watching his parents die, the crushing feelings of helplessness and guilt that come from being unable to stop it, the loneliness of being isolated from human companionship in a way no ordinary man can comprehend.

For a moment I hesitate, but I cannot wait. A shriek of fury looses itself from my mind and tears into his. His body jerks upright, nearly snapping his neck, and he falls.

Then, just as I am about to administer the final killing blow, something stops me something behind me. I turn toward the woman, but she has made no motion save a protective squeeze to bring her baby closer to her breast. I sense that she feels no fear of me, and this surprises me. I feel compelled to find out why, so I reach out and touch the outer fabric of her mind.

She has given up completely. She has tried for years to forge a decent life with him, to make him give up his bitterness, but it did not work. Bad luck was followed by worse and now he is about to die, killed by a force incomprehensible to her.

She feels pity for me and love for her child. It washes over me and makes me feel limp. I have felt nothing like this since my parents died.

But why does she pity me? Somehow....she knows who I am, why I am here. I reach deeper into her mind.

She knows her husband's past she knows that he was weaned on violence and hate. And she has known for years that someday he would get into trouble that he could not get out of and that it has finally happened. She knows what motivates me. She can feel the razor-sharp force of revenge burning within me. And she knows, in some primal way, that I am alone in the world and her husband is to blame for that.

I look at her. She has a gentle face and understanding eyes. She understands, she knows. I feel her mind reach out to mine. I reel at the sensation but slowly come back. The press of her thoughts is warm and comforting.

I can feel revenge fading from my mind, but it is kicking and clawing desperately as it goes until, finally, I am near collapse. I slump heavily to the floor and stare at her. After a few moments she gets up and comes toward me. She holds out her child to me and I look at it dimly, finally taking it into my arms.

She sits on the floor next to me and holds me. Our minds meet. It is like a dream: she has gained the same control over her mind that I acquired all those years ago.

It was rage and hatred that sparked my mind out of its stupor then, but those are not the only emotions that can unlock the powers within us. Now, sitting on a cheap tiled floor with my mother's murderer ten feet from me, I remember what I forgot so violently on that dark night ten years ago.

There is still love in the world.

Kevin Drum 11:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT'S NEXT FOR LIBERALS?....Two days ago Matt Yglesias asked:

The question "what's next for anti-war movement?" still remains and I'd still be curious to know. The war is going to happen, demonstration or no, and then what do people plan to do?

Today he said this:

Clearly it's going to take some real pressure from the public to get the administration to stick to its original promises [about promoting democracy in Iraq]. Pressure I wish liberals were more interested in organizing....

I think Matt has answered his own question. Liberals have mostly been too busy protesting the war itself to spend any time pressuring the administration about post-war Iraq, and while this is understandable it also leaves a clear field for the neocon hawks in the administration to set any post-war policy they like.

But if there's a post-war agenda for liberals, promotion of democracy and human rights ought to be it. George Bush has repeatedly shown himself unwilling to take electoral risks this is the big difference between him and Tony Blair so it's up to the Democrats to make this issue their own. It's the right thing to do both morally and practically, and we should be willing to fight for it.

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YEAH, A RECALL CAMPAIGN SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD IDEA. LET'S DO IT!....The California Republican party, in an apparent effort to make Britain's Conservatives look like like a lean, mean, disciplined machine, has decided to launch a recall campaign against Gray Davis 15 weeks after he was re-elected. But they admit there could be problems:

Recall organizers agree their effort could be doomed if voters see it as a Republican assault on Davis.

And what, exactly, is the alternative vision they have for their campaign? That it's an altruistic bipartisan effort?

Are these guys complete idiots or what? Or is the party secretly run by Democrats who are giggling hilariously as they instigate one hopeless fight after another while they cruise through every election essentially unopposed?

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SLIPPERY EDITING AT THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.... CenterLine is a proposed light rail system for Orange County that's been in the planning stages pretty much forever. Here is today's headline about the project in the print edition of the LA Times:

Inflation Does Number
On CenterLine Costs

The 11-mile light rail system is now estimated at more than $1.5 billion with only half the ridership originally projected, new figures show.

Imagine my surprise. This could be a permanent headline for this project.

But what is surprising is that the headline is completely different in the online edition:

Fewer Riders Expected
For Rail Project

The scaled-back Orange County CenterLine will have half the users originally projected, officials say. Estimated cost hits $1.5 billion.

I checked all the other headlines from the front page of the Orange County section of the paper and there were virtually no changes at all. The changes that were there were obviously due to column width restrictions in the print edition and had no effect on the meaning of the headline. Only this one was completely rewritten.

And even stranger is this: the CenterLine story was the top story of the day in the local Orange County section. But on the LA Times website it's nowhere to be found, either in the Orange County section or the generic California section. Every other front page story is prominently displayed. I had to do a keyword search to find it.

This is the second time I've noticed some slippery editing regarding CenterLine at the Times. What the heck is going on?

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANTI-AMERICANISM....I've been a strong proponent of the view that anti-Americanism in Europe is not as pronounced as American conservatives make it out to be, so in the spirit of not ignoring evidence I don't like, here's a passage from the Los Angeles Times today:

In the days just after Sept. 11, 80% of the callers to one of France's top call-in radio shows declared that the attacks "were well done, it served the Americans right," said Christophe Hondelatte, the host of the show on the RTL network. Hondelatte said he decided not to broadcast the calls because he thought they were offensive and inappropriate.

I don't know anything about Hondelatte or the show he hosts, and there's no way of knowing for sure if he's characterizing his callers correctly, but even so this is pretty depressing news.

UPDATE: More here.

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BUSH VS. GREENSPAN....Irwin Stelzer has an interesting article in the Weekly Standard today about Bush, Greenspan, and free trade:

Greenspan's position infuriates the supply-siders on the Bush team. To them, the deficit is more than a mere tabulation of revenues and outlays--it is a stick with which to beat free-spending Democrats.

....The White House team is saying that the Fed chairman has lost sight of the broader thrust of the president's tax proposals....They say that these are the first steps on what will be a long road. As the Financial Times perceptively notes, "Little by little, [the administration] has headed towards the distant dream of some Republicans: a tax system based on consumption."

And on a related note, is it just my imagination or is the Standard really a more interesting, more unpredictable, and basically more honest conservative magazine than National Review? It seems that way to me.

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BRITAIN'S ANSWER TO A.N.S.W.E.R....David Adesnik of OxBlog posts today on catfights between the socialists and the anarchists over responsibility for Saturday's anti-war protest in London. That sounds like a pretty good fight to me. I hope they both lose.

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LOOKS LIKE THE KURDS ARE GETTING SCREWED AGAIN....The Goblin Queen directs our attention to this article in the Independent:

The US is abandoning plans to introduce democracy in Iraq after a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, according to Kurdish leaders who recently met American officials. The Kurds say the decision resulted from pressure from US allies in the Middle East who fear a war will lead to radical political change in the region.

....Mr Abdul-Rahman said the US had reneged on earlier promises to promote democratic change in Iraq. "It is very disappointing," he said. "In every Iraqi ministry they are just going to remove one or two officials and replace them with American military officers."

Kurdish officials strongly believe the new US policy is the result of pressure from regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US appears to be quietly abandoning earlier declarations that it would make Iraq a model democracy in the Middle East. In Iraq, free elections would lead to revolutionary change because although the Shia Muslims and Kurds constitute three-quarters of the population, they are excluded from power in Baghdad by the Sunni Muslim establishment.

It's always a little hard to know what to make of stories like this, which are sourced solely by people on one side of an issue who have a very large axe to grind, but it's pretty disturbing nonetheless. As the Goblin Queen says, if it's a choice between war and democracy, apparently war is the winner. It certainly hurts the credibility of all the hawks who claimed that one of the reasons to invade Iraq was that this time we were going to do it right and clean up all those messes we'd made in the past.

Meet your new foreign policy, same as the old foreign policy.

UPDATE: Nathan Newman has more. Apparently Tony Blair is doing the same flip-flop.

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DAREDEVIL....I saw Daredevil this evening, and it turned out to be fairly decent. It gets a B+ grade assuming, of course, that this kind of thing appeals to you in the first place.

Comic book movies are pretty hit-and-miss affairs, so most of the time you go in with no idea at all of whether it will be terrific or pure dreck. In addition, this one had an added level of mystery for me: as a long-time (but mostly former) comic book guy, I usually go into these shows curious about how the movie folks will treat the sacred comic book canon. But I've never read the Daredevil comic book and know almost nothing about him, so it was pretty much just a pure movie to me. I have no idea how faithful it was to the original source material.

Anyway, it was one of the better ones. Maybe not as good as the first Batman movie, but in the same league. Worth a look if you like this kind of thing.

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By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL DEBATE....I already wrote once about this subject, and figured I would let it go at that, but Mark Kleiman has a post up today with some more details about the "Jane Galt goon squad," and it's worth reading.

I don't have much more to add except that I agree entirely with Mark: we all have a responsibility for what we say in public and what effect it might have, and several hundred pieces of hate mail is several hundred too many. I hope that none of my readers sent any of them, but if you did you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Kevin Drum 9:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION....Brian Weatherson and Matt Yglesias have read the Hall and Paul preemption paper and have some comments. So do I. Specifically, I have a question about the third sentence of the paper:

But as is typical in philosophy, deep intuitive familiarity has not led to any philosophical account of causation that is at once clean, precise, and widely agreed upon.

My question is this: is it safe to say that there is a clean, precise, and widely agreed upon belief that there is no subject in the philosophical world on which there is a clean, precise, and widely agreed upon belief? Or not?

And how, exactly, do Hall and Paul define "clean," "precise," and "widely agreed upon"? Until I get answers to these questions, I'm afraid I won't be able to read any further in the paper.

UPDATE: I thought I was just making a lame joke here about a well known paradox in set theory, but Brian Weatherson actually has a serious point to make about all this.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LONDON CONGESTION CHARGES....Well, what do you know? It looks like London's congestion charge experiment has gotten off to a smooth start:

It was like a Ken Livingstone utopia not even a pigeon in sight.

....London was like a ghost town and possessed an eerie beauty.

Further ahead there was another reminder of Ken Livingstone's radical transport policy, with Trafalgar Square undergoing pedestrianisation. Parking spaces were, unsurprisingly, in abundance and I pulled up a stone's throw from Oxford Street in no time.

Today is a school holiday, so traffic was lighter than usual anyway, but even so the whole thing is apparently working pretty well. People know how to pay, the call center is up and running, and the first 80 fines for nonpayment are scheduled to go out tomorrow.

If it continues to go smoothly, I guess the next question is what they're going to do with the estimated 130 million per year that they get from the charge. If Livingstone is able to genuinely improve public transport with it, the whole thing might become fairly popular. If not, well....

Kevin Drum 4:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEMORY....I found out this morning that Elizabeth Loftus, one of the leading experts in memory and the tricks it can play on us, is now at UC Irvine. She presented her latest research on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, including the following:

In one study, undertaken with one of her researchers, interviewers in Russia were able to convince 12.5% of their subjects that they had seen a wounded animal in media coverage of two terrorist bombings in Moscow that killed 233 people in September 1999.

The people were first interviewed in March 2002. They were interviewed again six months later and told that they had mentioned a wounded animal in their first interview. They were asked to describe it.

One person described a parrot in a cage. Another described a dog barking and racing around police officers. Another talked of a bleeding cat lying on a desk.

One problem: They all made it up. No wounded animals were shown on TV or in newspaper or magazine coverage of the incident.

We all are convinced that our memories are perfect, but the evidence is sadly against us and this is one reason why eyewitness testimony in court cases even from witnesses who are absolutely positive about what they saw should be taken with a grain of salt. It's also why questioning of witnesses and suspects should always be captured on videotape. If this ever becomes common practice, I think we will all be shocked at the difference between what witnesses say on the stand and what they said when they were first interviewed. It's not a pretty sight.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOCAL TV NEWS....A few weeks ago Matt Yglesias commented that his local TV news was really, really bad, and suggested that it must be even worse in small markets where news budgets are correspondingly smaller. This prompted a bit of discussion, but no resolution.

Well, today resolution comes. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has spent the past five years studying local TV news, grading 172 stations according to criteria set by a panel of journalists, and recently decided to break down their rankings by market size. Their conclusion is that smaller stations actually produce higher quality news than bigger ones. Unfortunately, they don't know why:

The data show stations owned by big companies were capable of high quality. However, for reasons that are impossible to determine from the numbers, these stations didn't tend to produce high quality when most viewers were watching.

Rankings for all the newscasts they studied are here, including these assessments of news broadcasts in Los Angeles:

  • KCBS: Best in LA is faint praise. Gets both sides of story. But four in ten stories crime related.

  • KABC: Below national average in every category. Real lack of connection to community.

  • KNBC: Station reneges on "police chase ban." Few issues. Sends cameras without reporters.

Sheesh. But surprising news for Matt: despite your complaining, the best quality news in the entire country is in....Boston. And be sure not to move to Albuquerque after you graduate or else you'll find out what bad local news is really like.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSUMPTION TAXES....Just a quick note about the idea of a "consumption tax" replacing our current income tax.

There are lots of different kinds of consumption taxes. The most obvious one is a sales tax, and 20 years ago there were some conservative fans of consumption taxes who promoted this idea. As it turns out, however, it's a crank idea on the same level as returning to the gold standard and it never got much real support. Ideology aside, the biggest knock against it is that it just wouldn't work. A national sales tax would have to be in the range of 20-30% (or higher) to replace the income tax, and all sorts of previous experience has shown that sales taxes above 10% just don't work. There's too much incentive to cheat and the system eventually breaks down completely.

A different type of consumption tax is a Value Added Tax, which resolves the cheating problem by giving both the buyer and seller in each transaction an incentive to make sure the other is paying their taxes. It works OK on a practical level, but it's always been a little "too European" to get any traction in America.

That brings us to the third type: an income tax that doesn't tax savings, investments, or corporate profits. For all practical purposes, the income that's left over is all the money that's spent buying goods and services, so this amounts to a sales tax.

Why bring this all up? Just to make the point that consumption taxes can indeed be progressive. In fact, the third type of consumption tax, which is the direction the Bush administration seems to be heading, can be made progressive the same way as an income tax: by having higher rates for higher incomes. Since rich people don't spend all their income, it would be less progressive than the current system unless the marginal rates at the high end were increased, but in principle it could be made pretty progressive.

There are plenty of other good reasons to oppose the elimination of taxes on savings and investments, but I'm not sure the progressivity argument is a very good one. I have a feeling it doesn't really hold up under much scrutiny.

Hopefully a tax guy like Max will weigh in on this at some point.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LET'S MAKE A DEAL....Sam Heldman shows why he'll never be a politician. No, not because he was infuriated by Bill Clinton's compromising over judiciary nominations, but because he apparently thinks Bush might be willing to do the same thing.

Sam, Sam, Sam....

Kevin Drum 9:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL TALK RADIO....A group of wealthy Democratic donors wants to create a slate of liberal talk radio shows that would be syndicated across the country and compete with Rush Limbaugh. Hesiod doesn't like the idea:

I like Al Franken as much as the next guy. But he belongs on TV.

And, I'd prefer it if they spent their money supporting alternative NEWS sources. Not talk radio.

Sigh.

I couldn't disagree more. The media may not be as liberal as conservatives like to paint it, but, truly, getting access to basic news is not a big problem. Rather, the problem is popularizing our ideas. As radio executive Kraig Kitchin said:

Though Mr. Kitchin said he was a conservative, he also said he would have pursued liberal programs had he thought there was money in them. He ascribes to the popular view in the industry that liberal hosts present issues in too much complexity to be very entertaining while addressing a diffuse audience that has varying views.

Simplifying things doesn't necessarily mean adopting the belligerent demagoguery of Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and the rest of the conservative mafia, but it does mean, well, simplifying. If humor can help get our points across, and if guys like Al Franken can help us do it, I'm all in favor of giving it a try.

UPDATE: Rush Limbaugh's reaction: "I didn't know there was such a thing as rich Democrats."

Kevin Drum 9:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CONGESTION CHARGES IN LONDON....Starting Monday morning, you'll have to 5 if you want to drive into London. Mayor Ken Livingstone predicts a "very bad two or three days."

Oh yeah. Aside from the peculiar spectacle of a former communist known as "Red Ken" introducing a measure that would be applauded by Milton Friedman, I gather that the technology for the whole thing is just a bit dodgy. The kind of thing that happens when marketing guys decided to ship some software before the engineering guys say it's ready.

I can't wait to hear how it goes.

Kevin Drum 9:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT THE WORLD THINKS OF WAR....So what does the rest of the world think of our little war? Thankfully, there's no need to guess any longer because eRiposte in its typical chart-happy style has laid it all out for us: opinion polls about the war from France to Albania to India and beyond.

The most hawkish country, of course, is the United States, but the second most supportive of unilateral action by the U.S. is, oddly, Uganda. And the most dovish country is....

Nah, I don't want to give everything away. Click the link if you want to find out more.

Kevin Drum 9:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RICE VS. RUMSFELD....On Meet the Press this morning, Condoleezza Rice had this to say:

We dont need to allow this to become a street fight between the United States and France and the United States and Germany.

But according to The Observer Donald Rumsfeld feels rather differently:

[After] weeks of increasingly angry exchanges between Rumsfeld and Germany.... Rumsfeld has decided to go further by unilaterally imposing the Pentagon's sanctions on a country already in the throes of economic problems.

'We are doing this for one reason only: to harm the German economy,' one source told The Observer last week.

....Another Pentagon source said: 'The aim is to hit German trade and commerce. It is not just about taking out the troops and equipment; it is also about cancelling commercial contracts and defence-related arrangements.'

....Under these plans, the US would move its troops in Europe eastwards to countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, all of which have strongly supported America's line against Saddam Hussein. It is likely that the overall size of the deployment would be reduced, as the US military changes its priorities for a long-term and disparate engagement with international terrorism.

So which is it? And when are those famous grownups we've heard so much about going to be put in charge?

Kevin Drum 9:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PHILOSOPHICAL....Kieran Healy is a funny guy. I predict either (a) a long, happy, and stimulating marriage or (b) a swift, certain, and untimely demise. There is no excluded middle.

Kevin Drum 9:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

QUIP OF THE DAY....Via Punditwatch, here is Al Hunt on Miguel Estrada's refusal to respond to questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee:

He's a guy who wouldn't even express the view of any Supreme Court decision. I mean, at least he could say Dred Scott was a bad, bad decision, it seems to me.

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"PEACE IN OUR TIME"....Here's something I'm curious about. This Reuters picture has been posted a bunch of places in the blogosphere, always with the implication that the kids holding this poster must be really stupid. Don't they know that "Peace in our time" has been considered the ultimate expression of appeasement in the face of evil ever since World War II? It's hardly a slogan likely to make their point that we should leave Saddam alone.

What I'm curious about is this. It doesn't seem likely that the slogan is an accident: "Peace in our time" is a peculiar grammatical construction and it's unlikely that some protester just accidentally stumbled across it. On the other hand, given that the placard-writer did know where the quote came from, why paint it on the sign? Overall, I can think of four possibilities:

  • It's just a coincidence; the placard writer didn't realize where the slogan came from.

  • The slogan writer knew the origin of the quote, but is too historically illiterate to realize its meaning.

  • The slogan writer knew the origin of the quote, but thinks that using it makes some subtle and (to us) inexplicable point.

  • The placard is actually being held by a pro-war demonstrator trying to make a sarcastic point about the anti-war folks, but the Reuters editor was too dim to realize it.

Any other ideas?

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By: Kevin Drum

NEWS FROM SPAIN....Jose of News from Spain a really terrific looking blog that I, unfortunately, can't read a word of writes to comment on the crowd count from Madrid and Barcelona:

Madrid had a turnout of 1.700.000-2.000.000 people. Why the difference from the "official" 600.000 and Barcelona's 1.300.000? The comment author at Atrios' page didn't realize that Madrid's count came from central government sources (conservative, pro-Bush), whilst Barcelona's came from the city council (socialist). In fact, Madrid's underground and train stations collapsed.

Most media here take the 1.7 million and 1.3 million counts as the most reliable. Really, these were the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Spanish democracy history. Even bigger than the ones taken after 1981-Feb-23 coup d'etat and after the 1997-July-2 Basque councillor kidnapping and shooting.

In my opinion, the Rome, London and Madrid protests were even more crowded than in Paris or Berlin because their/our government's position is near Bush's ones. About 75% of their citizenship is opposed to the conflict and so were pretty encouraged to shout against Berlusconi, Blair and Aznar.

Crowd counting is notoriously subjective, but even so I thought this was an interesting comment. And considering that the population of Spain is around 40 million, this means that about 10% of the country turned out to protest the war.

Now that's impressive.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOOGLE BUYS BLOGGER....So Google is buying Pyra Labs, hosts of the fine blog you're reading right now. Pyra owner Evan Williams had this to say on his personal weblog:

Holy crap. Note to self: When you get off this panel, you should probably comment on this.

"This panel" refers to an LA blog event held in Chinatown last night. There's nothing more about this on the Pyra site, but BoingBoing has a couple of posts ruminating over what it all means.

The thing I'm curious about is whether Google will set up a genuine premium service. Speaking for myself, I find the Blogger interface to be adequate, so it's only the unreliability and frequent outages that bother me (in fact, Blogger is up and down like a yo-yo as I'm typing this). Most bloggers who get serious about blogging eventually solve this problem by switching to Movable Type and signing up for their own domain, but so far I've been too lazy to do that.

On the other hand, if Pyra offered a service that was genuinely fast and reliable, I'd sign up just because it would be easy. A few more built-in features in the interface would be nice too, but I'd sign up even without them.

Of course, this might turn out to make no sense from a business model point of view, the sad fate of so many things that "seem like a good idea." Maybe there just aren't many people like me who would pay for such a service, and the serious folks are all going to switch to Movable Type anyway. But it seems like it would be worth a try, and since Pyra knows exactly which bloggers have been blogging for a while, how often they post, and what kind of traffic they get well, they know the target market for this service perfectly. Seems like it would be worth a try.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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U.S. UNILATERALISM....As a followup to the previous post, Matt Yglesias remarks today on just one of the potential problems of U.S. unilateralism. Responding to Condoleezza Rice's assertion that other countries should be helping out more with North Korea, he says:

It's worth noting that this sort of free rider problem is the flipside of American unilateralism. When other countries know that whatever the problem, America will solve it in America's preferred way, with or without the help of others, no one really has a reason to offer their help. At some point the US is going to have to decide whether the sort of unconstrained freedom we currently enjoy is worth constantly being left to stand alone.

This is a good point. When we repeatedly tell the UN that it is irrelevant unless it rubber stamps our goals, we send a clear message that advice and help from the rest of the world is unneeded and unwanted. But unfortunately, that's not a message we can turn on and off at will.

The difference between Iraq and North Korea is pretty obvious: we can handle Iraq on our own but we can't do the same with North Korea. So the lesson to our allies is this: if it's an easy problem you should all step aside and let us handle it however we want. But if it's a hard problem, we should all join together and figure out what to do.

Nice work if you can get it. But I suspect that Bush's hawks will eventually learn that in the real world even the United States needs willing allies, not merely sullen layabouts who are occasionally bribed to support us or bullied into standing aside. The only question is, how long will it take them?

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATIONS....All mockery and sarcasm and horn-tooting from both camps aside, yesterday's anti-war demonstrations were really impressive. Jeanne d'Arc has a great roundup of the crowd count around the world, but the count from the big cities alone gives you a taste for just how big this was:

  • London: 1 million

  • Rome: 2 million

  • New York: 500,000

  • Barcelona: 1.3 million

  • Berlin: 500,000

I think what's most impressive about this is that these people are protesting a war against Iraq. Vietnam-era protests were driven at least partly by the draft and partly by sympathy for the communist cause represented by North Vietnam, but neither of these dynamics is at work this time: there's no draft this time around and no one has a kind word for Saddam Hussein. Yet still they came.

Nick Denton has a smart comment about why things have come to this:

It's conventional wisdom that ordinary Americans respond well to the folksy language and moral clarity of George Bush, even if he revolts the coastal and foreign sophisticates. But that misses the point. Bush appeals to people who typically support the government, and military action. He's wasting his breath. There is, however, a huge middle swathe of opinion, not reflexively militarist, but entirely persuadable. They tend to respond better to the liberal argument for war: reform of the Middle East, eradication of tyranny, the strategic imperative of economic progress around the world. Bush makes no effort to speak their language. And so they're out on the streets today, with all the wackos.

I'd go further: not only does Bush make no effort to persuade the folks on the fence, he actually goes out of his way whether deliberately or not I don't know to alienate them. A lot of protesters, both in the U.S. and abroad, are reacting more to Bush himself than they are to deposing Saddam Hussein.

I don't think any of this will cause America's security alliances to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke, but there are surely going to be some long term consequences. And despite what the neocon hawks surrounding Bush think, this isn't a good thing for the United States. Or the world.

UPDATE: Madrid apparently had a huge turnout too. See above.

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SHORTER STEVEN DEN BESTE....WEST COAST EDITION....Apparently D insists on taking weekends off lazy sod so can I take a crack at one?

A Coast Guard ship with cool machine guns is in the Gulf and that means we're reallyreallyreally close to war!

Hey, that was fun! And note that I included a permalink so you can figure which one of SdB's posts I'm referring to.

Hint, hint.

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MORE ON THE ANTI-WAR PROTESTS....And speaking of conservo-libertarian-warhawkish responses to the anti-war protests, here is Megan McArdle with a different view:

Anti-war protesters are great. I disagree with them, and I really, really disagree with letting ANSWER organize their rallies, but I think having people who are willing to stand out in the cold to show their feelings about something as important as war is vital to the health of our nation.

Good for her. Megan was responding to the grief she's gotten for a comment she made a couple of days ago regarding violent anti-war protesters and New Yorkers with two-by-fours, which she explains thusly:

Some of the confusion may be my fault, because until a friend emailed me, I didn't know exactly how large a two-by-four was. That's a native New Yorker for you.

Now, Megan's comment was slightly intemperate, although in fairness she did make it clear that she was referring to violent protesters. But even so I'm glad to see that she has confirmed that she is not "advocating that they be torn apart by a mob of angry New Yorkers," and I trust that we can all remain friends now that this has been cleared up.

And just a general note on this subject: on both the right and the left there's a tendency to jump all over people who make joking or sarcastic references wishing harm toward other people. I agree that this kind of thing is inappropriate, but on the other hand we are talking about blogs here, not the op-ed page of the New York Times. We should probably try to keep the outrage dialed down just a bit.

Kevin Drum 4:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANTI-WAR PROTESTS....The warhawks are in full-court mockery mode over the anti-war protests. As Tom Spencer puts it:

You sure can tell the pro-war folks are getting a bit desperate, aren't they?

And Kieran Healy suggests that conservatives ought to be a little more trusting of all those people who, under other circumstances, make the free market tick:

But this hasn't been their reaction. Instead, it's made many of them retreat into a more atavistic, essentially pre-modern form of conservativism. The kind that regards the people as ignorant dupes who don't know what's good for them. The kind that's contemptuous of the masses and snickers at their poorly-articulated convictions. The kind that, when faced with popular dissent, assumes that the dissenters must ipso facto not truly be Of The People. The kind, in other words, usually associated with the dogmatic worst of the Left they claim to reject.

Atrios has this report from Philly:

Despite all the attempts at mischaracterization, the crowd was a pretty representative cross-section of the public. Some union groups, some church groups - catholics, quakers, unitarians, some college students, some little old ladies, a small number of trustifarian types, and a lot of middle aged couples. Black, White, people of Asian descent, Latinos, the whole shebang. The signs were almost entirely on message - I saw almost no one trying to use the march for the usual assortment of lefty causes. Police seemed cooperative and everything was quite peaceful.

And I for one would like to thank the protesters. Even though I support the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein, this kind of thing should never be done without plenty of protest. It will probably still happen, but before it does the Bush administration should know that they've been in a dogfight with the UN, NATO, "old Europe," the voters of the United States, and anyone else who loves democracy but nonetheless has a bone to pick with our foreign policy.

Maybe we need to do it, but it shouldn't be easy.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THOSE EURO-LOVING BUSHIES....I've been meaning to congratulate Windy City bloggers Jacob Levy and Dan Drezner for landing monthly columns at The New Republic Online, so let me take the opportunity right now. It's good to see smart bloggers get recognized, although I hope this doesn't mean that we will be losing Dan to the insidious clutches of the Volokh Conspiracy anytime soon.

Of course, it also doesn't mean they should expect to be treated with, you know, any more respect than in the past. Take Dan's inaugural column, for example. He has taken on the contrarian task of trying to show that the Bush administration is really a pretty friendly, multilateral group. They've just gotten a bum rap.

Sure, they trashed Kyoto, and they bad-mouthed the International Criminal Court even after the Europeans made Herculean efforts to accomodate our concerns, and of course there was the whole deal with unilaterally pulling out of the ABM treaty. Oh, and they never bother consulting with our allies either. "What more evidence does the world need of the administration's disregard for it?" Dan asks.

But maybe things look better if we show all the good stuff the Bush administration has done. Like invading Afghanistan but without complaint from anyone else! And setting up steel and agricultural tariffs but only as a crass political maneuver so we could do all sorts of good stuff, um, later. And writing documents that say we love our allies. And ignoring areas like the Balkans that we don't care about and letting the Europeans take the lead there. And, as Dan himself puts it, "threatening to act in a unilateral manner if it doesn't get most of what it wants through multilateral institutions."

Sorry, what was that argument again?

Call me unconvinced. It's true that we haven't abrogated every single treaty we're part of, but the fact that an alcoholic drives drunk only a few times a years and drives sober the rest of the time doesn't make him any less a drunk driver or one to be feared. At the risk of stating the obvious, acting multilaterally when it works in our favor and refusing to when it doesn't well, that doesn't really count as multilateral, does it?

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GARY HART AND "HOMELAND LOYALTIES"....I don't get it. Both Jacob Jevy and Matt Yglesias are unhappy with Gary Hart's statement from last week:

We must not let our role in the world be dictated by ideologues with their special biases and agendas, by militarists who long for the clarity of Cold War confrontation, by think-tank theorists who grind their academic axes, or by Americans who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests.

Most of the criticism of Hart has centered on whether his last phrase is a cryptic reference to Jews who put Israel's wellbeing above America's, but that's not really what Matt and Jacob object to. As Jacob puts it:

But there are lots of special interests. From the perspective of Hart's civic republicanism, our foreign policy also shouldn't be dictated by partial economic interests (labor, agriculture, textile, steel, whoever); by pacifists who nurse the grudges of Vietnam too long; by utopian internationalists willing to sacrifice national security for global dreams....

But isn't that exactly what Hart said? He didn't single out only "homeland loyalties," he also mentioned ideologues, militarists, and think-tank theorists. He obviously had a fairly broad range of special interests in mind when he said this. (Although I note that Jacob apparently thinks that "think-tankers, ideologues, and militarists" is also code for Jews....)

So here's my question for Matt and Jacob: both of you clearly state your opinion that Hart's concern is a legitimate one and that it isn't necessarily a sign of anti-semitism. So what's your real beef? That he didn't delve into it even further and in more detail?

Or is it just the way he said it? If Hart really was referring to Jews who are loyal to Israel, and if it really is a legitimate concern, how should he have talked about it?

Kevin Drum 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARE WE FEELING A LITTLE RUSHED THESE DAYS?....Josh Marshall says:

When the budgeteers on the Hill started working their way through the president's new budget they discovered there was no money, not even a line item, for humanitarian or reconstruction funds for Afghanistan.

In other words, the 2004 budget contained nothing for Afghanistan.

Josh Clayborn responded by quoting the USAID website:

"Since October 1, 2001, the U.S. has committed $840 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid to help the people of Afghanistan with the U.S. fulfilling 95 percent of the $297 million pledged at the Tokyo Conference in January 2002."

In other words, past budgets have contained money for Afghanistan. Both Joshes are right!

So what does Glenn Reynolds say? This:

JOSH CLAYBOURN writes that charges by that other Josh (Marshall) that Bush is ignoring Afghanistan are, well, wrong.

Glenn, do you even read these posts before you link to them?

Kevin Drum 9:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES....You ever wonder what those "faith-based initiatives" that George Bush keeps praising are like? You ever wonder if, just maybe, there's a risk that they could end up mixing government money with religious proselytizing?

Well, wonder no more. One of the most popular of these faith-based programs is Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries, which runs InnerChange, a program designed to "create and maintain a prison environment that fosters respect for God's law." In fact, according to the InnerChange website it's one of George Bush's personal favorites:

At the request of the State of Texas, we launched the first-ever, 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week Christian prison program at the Carol Vance Unit near Houston, TX.

Now, Colson seems to do genuinely good work, but today Brian Montopoli points to a Washington Post story reporting that InnerChange is the subject of a pair of lawsuits in Iowa:

According to the suits, about 200 Iowa prisoners pray and memorize Bible verses under the guidance of Christian staff in prison rooms lined with displays of scripture passages. In return, they live in an "honor" unit where they are housed two to a cell, permitted to leave their cells at night and granted many other privileges [including keys to their cell doors, private bathrooms, free phone calls -- even access to big-screen TVs].

Of course, that's just what the suit says. Maybe they're exaggerating?

Nope. Eugene Volokh got this confirmation from Chip Lupu, a "leading religion-and-the-law scholar at George Washington University who's probably best described as mildly-liberal-to-moderate":

Barbara Bradley Hagerty of NPR....said that she had been to the prison to do a story on this program last year. She admired its results, but she said the facts as she observed them are very close to what is alleged in the complaint....

So, the bottom line is this: the Iowa program gives prisoners special privileges as long as they agree to become Christians.

And that's not a violation of the First Amendment? That's not using coerceive government power to promote one religion over another?

And if it isn't, what is?

Kevin Drum 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BLIX REPORT....The UN news was pretty anticlimactic. Hans Blix said this:

Earlier this week UNMOVIC missile experts met for two days with experts from a number of member states to discuss these items. The experts concluded unanimously that based on the data provided by Iraq, the two declared variants of the Al-Samoud 2 missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range. This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq, pursuant to Resolution 687 and the monitoring plan adopted by Resolution 715.

And then Colin Powell, who's been so hawkish recently, replied this way:

Mr. Powell stopped short of definitively declaring Iraq in breach of United Nations disarmament mandates, and he did not comment on a much-discussed Iraqi missile program that could have been fodder for an argument that Baghdad is in breach.

Isn't that odd? Since Blix's team definitively concluded that the missiles are proscribed, you'd think that Powell would at least ask the Security Council to call on Iraq to destroy them. I wonder why he didn't?

Wheels within wheels....

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPUBLICAN MONEY....DEMOCRATIC MONEY....Daily KOS reports the grim news that Republicans are expected to raise 5x more in "hard money" funds than the Democrats for the 2004 race. On the other hand, he also thinks things might not be quite as bad as they seem on the surface. I hope he's right.

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GENETIC TAILORING REDUX....Both Ampersand and Very Very Happy have responded to my post about genetic tailoring yesterday. Ampersand also has a lively discussion going on in the comments section, so check it out.

This is a big subject and there's a lot to talk about, but I think a large part of the reason I have a relaxed attitude toward the concept of genetic tailoring is that I don't really think there's a big distinction between natural genes and artificial ones. Artificial genes will still get passed down the same way as natural ones, recombining with other genes to produce random results, and environmental factors will continue to play a huge role in how those genes are expressed.

I think there's also an unfortunate tendency on the left to shy away from the subject because of its past. The eugenics movement of the early part of the 20th century is scary stuff, and conservative attempts to portray blacks as genetically inferior have made liberals suspicious of any talk about genetic components of personality characteristics.

This reaction is understandable, but I think it's misplaced. Rather than opposing the technology along with its potential benefits it simply means we need to be careful how it's used. In its early stages, when gene therapy will be expensive, its use will probably be too limited to have widespread societal effects. Later, when it's cheaper, I imagine it will be available to a large enough segment of the population that it might well act to break down barriers of class and race, not strengthen them. And keep in mind that if we oppose things simply because they are not initially available to the poor, then we might as well oppose pretty much all new inventions.

One more thing: I'd be careful about drawing conclusions about which personality characteristics have genetic components and which ones don't. The evidence isn't all in yet, and there's no question that environmental cues will always play a big role, but I think we're going to be surprised at just how many subtle personality traits end up having some genetic component. It's probably best not to be too dogmatic about the subject at the moment.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE REAL GEORGE W. BUSH....I just saw Bush's speech to a group of FBI agents on CNN and it highlights the personal aversion that I have to the man. Just as he did in the State of the Union speech, he made smirking references to the fact that thousands of al-Qaeda members "would no longer bother us" taking a sort of sophomoric pleasure in the fact. He acts like a ten-year-old who thinks he's cleverly gotten away with saying something rude at the dinner table.

In fact, that was the only point in the speech where he seemed to really get animated. He practically started giggling in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way when he said this, and that kind of thing just sets my teeth on edge. In war people get killed, but it's not something to take pleasure in. I wish he'd show a little more respect and seriousness when he talks about killing thousands of people, even if some of them are terrorists.

I can only imagine how non-Americans react to this kind of juvenile spectacle.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE V-DAY LEVITY....Single guy Matt Yglesias says:

Valentine's Day was always a very high-pressure occassion gifts to buy, romantic plans to make, etc. that didn't feel like much fun. That, combined with the intolerable cold, has always made me feel like Eliot had it wrong and February is the cruelest month, which would also explain why they made it so short.

Kevin Drum 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THAT DROLL BRITISH SENSE OF HUMOR....Jack Straw, Great Britain's foreign secretary, just opened his speech at the UN like this:

I speak on behalf of a very old country founded in 1066....by the French.

Even in times like this, a little levity is a good thing. Thanks, Jack.

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT'S A "LIKUDNIK"?....From InstaPundit today:

IF GARY HART'S REMARKS were regarded by some as crypto-anti-semitism, then what about this comment reported in the Washington Post that the "Likudniks" in the Administration are running American foreign policy?

This appears to be a slap at Hart, but apparently that's just the result of some hasty wording. Hart is never mentioned in the Post article, which, after a long lead-in, quotes a "senior government official" saying that "The Likudniks are really in charge now." The speaker is referring to Elliot Abrams and mentions that Abrams' hawkish views are shared by Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld.

Using "Likudnik" as slightly acerbic shorthand for "someone who is hawkish on Israel and strongly supports Ariel Sharon" the head of the Likud party seems pretty reasonable, perhaps the rough equivalent of saying "the Bushies are in charge" referring to Tony Blair's government. I'm not really sure why Glenn would even bring this up, but perhaps he'll explain what he meant sometime later today.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, a couple of readers have written to say that the "nik" suffix is commonly used in Israel and is roughly equivalent to "ite" in English. So calling someone a Likudnik would be about as anti-semitic as calling someone a Clintonite would be anti-Democrat.

Kevin Drum 8:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE V-DAY GREETINGS....Archpundit points us to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch admitting that while "true romance is rare in these cynical times," it's not entirely dead. In fact, Mary Rosh seems to have found her soulmate....

Kevin Drum 8:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY V-DAY!....Kieran Healy, blogging from the future again, wishes all bloggers a happy Valentine's Day. Hey, we love you too, man.

And now, having successfully avoided blogging about the war for a full day, I'm off to bed. Good night.

Kevin Drum 11:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUST SAY NO....I'd like to join Atrios in applauding the imminent passage of a bill to implement a national do-not-call registry. Put your name on the registry and telemarketers are no longer allowed to call you. Charities, surveyers, and, of course, political organizations, are exempt.

This is one of those things where I don't even care what moral principles are involved. I just want the calls to stop.

Kevin Drum 11:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FUN WITH LICENSE PLATES....Jim Capozzola of the Rittenhouse Review, proving that he has too much time on his hands, points me toward this nifty little website that says:

Pretend you're in prison and make a license!

You can make license plates from all 50 states plus Washington DC and the various Canadian provinces, and you can make a current plate or pick a classic model. For California, you have a choice of 1915, 1939, 1945, 1956, 1963, 1969, 1984, 1987, 1993, and 1998.

As Jim says, insomnia can do weird things to people. Indeed it can, and insomnia is one malady for which the internet seems tailor made.

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TALKLEFT TALKS TO HART....Hey, this business of bloggers doing interviews with people seems to be spreading. Jeralyn Merritt talked to Gary Hart for half an hour today and confirms that there was nothing anti-semitic in his much-blogged speech about foreign policy a couple of days ago. Check it out.

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BUSH AND HIS DEFICITS....I'm trying hard not to blog about the war today not an easy task with CNN's "all war all the time" broadcasts going on in the background but I'm going to keep at it because, well, I'm just tired and depressed about the whole thing. Besides, tomorrow looks to be a big war news day, so I'm going to hold off until then.

In the meantime, let's take a look at a perennial favorite: the laughable lengths that conservatives will go to in order to prove that Bill Clinton was a horrible president. Jerry Bowyer argues today in NRO that, hey, the Bush deficit for 2004 isn't so bad. In fact, it's not even as bad as Clinton's deficits.

This seems....what? Dubious, perhaps? But Bowyer has a table chock full of figures to prove it, and figures don't lie, do they? Why, if you take a look at the table below you'll see that Bush's deficit ranks only 12th in the pantheon of American deficits, and a miniscule 21st as a percent of GDP! The guy's a miser! So, Bowyer asks, "From whence has arisen the myth of Clinton the deficit hawk and Bush the king of red ink?"

Whence indeed? The real question, however, is, can't these guys even be bothered to pretend to tell the truth anymore? Look what Bowyer had to do to get his figures:

  • First, the only Clinton budget on his list is from 1993. But the budget for FY1993 was prepared by the GHW Bush administration. We were a third of the way through FY1993 by the time Clinton was inaugurated.

That's enough, really, to show that Bowyer simply doesn't care about making things up if that's what it takes to make his point, but, incredibly, there's more:

  • He claims that Clinton's deficits were larger "on average" than Bush's, ignoring the fact that Clinton inherited a deficit from GHW Bush and steadily decreased it, while GW Bush inherited a surplus from Clinton and has steadily squandered it.

  • Next he pretends that Bush's deficit is reasonable because "Nations at war borrow money." But the cost of the Iraq war isn't even in the budget yet and the cost of the war on terrorism is small compared to the size of the deficit.

  • And finally, he gripes that everyone is focusing obsessively on the 2004 budget, which is patently false. As he himself notes, it's the vast and growing long-term deficits that everyone is really complaining about.

And don't you like the fact that he goes all the way back to 1940 so that he can include all those nice World War II deficits? If you take those off the list, and correctly ascribe the 1993 budget to GHW Bush, you find that every single deficit on his greatest hits list is from a Republican president.

And who is Jerry Bowyer? He's the "chairman of Bowyer Media, a company specializing in radio and television production, print and internet publishing and economic analysis." I guess they couldn't dig up a single actual economist even a conservative one to put his name to this shameless piece of deceit. I'm not surprised.

UPDATE: TBOGG takes a closer look at Bowyer and sees the heavy hand of Richard Mellon Scaife behind him. What a surprise.

Kevin Drum 4:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OUR GENETIC FUTURE....In the Los Angeles Times today, Caroline S. Wagner writes about genetic tailoring:

Many loving parents, desiring only the best for their children, will want to use genetic manipulation to make them smarter, more creative, more attractive or more athletic.

Hmmm, that doesn't sound too horrifying, does it? But there's more:

The option to alter the genes that enhance desirable characteristics will almost surely be available, at least initially, only to the wealthy, creating what [Princeton biologist Lee] Silver calls the "GenRich." They will use technology to ensure that their children have significantly more advantages than the random mix of the gene pool, widening the gap between rich and poor.

What then becomes of the notion that we are all created equal? The temptation of the genetically enhanced to anoint themselves leaders and protectors of their "less equal" fellow citizens could prove to be overwhelming.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of moving deliberately and carefully on this kind of thing. Dangers abound, and we should be cautious and honest in dealing with them.

But when we get past the technical hurdles and move on to the fundamental moral and societal issues, I just don't understand the objections. We are "all created equal"? Nature has already seen to it that this isn't true even today. Gene therapy will be initially available "only to the wealthy"? Maybe, but if the next Einstein or Shakespeare is born to wealthy parents, that's OK with me we'll all benefit. It might be abused by some future Saddam Hussein to create an army of people who are "especially aggressive and warlike"? Sure, and airplanes can be flown into buildings.

There are dangers involved in genetic tailoring, and the technology is still decades away, but it strikes me that the potential for good vastly outweighs the potential for misuse. After all, what's the real objection to giving birth to children who are smarter, more compassionate, or better problem solvers? Since most of human progress has come from exactly those kinds of people, I'd think the more the better.

And from a practical point of view, if the technology really can be used for vile ends, shouldn't we be moving full steam ahead with research? After all, given that someone is bound to do it, wouldn't you feel better if the United States were the world leader in this technology, not Osama bin Laden?

UPDATE: Very Very Happy disagrees, suggesting that genetic tailoring will create a permanent group of genetic haves and have nots. I don't think this is necessarily the case, but it's certainly a valid concern.

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CELL PHONE UPDATE....Hey, New York City has banned cell phone use at "public performances, including plays, movies and concerts, and in galleries and museums." Is this sort of trivial? Is it unenforcable? Maybe even a little silly?

Sure, but good for them anyway. Even if it's just a PR effort, it's about time someone stood up and officially told these all-too-numerous yo-yos that in the adult world there's a time and a place for everything. Movie theaters and cell phones just don't mix.

And in other cell phone news, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is moving out of his house because his cell phone doesn't work there. Really.

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IT'S FILIBUSTER TIME!....Jay Caruso thinks that "Democrats are going to shoot themselves in the foot by filibustering the nomination of Miguel Estrada."

I think not, Jay. The Democrats have finally learned that compromising with George W. Bush gets them nothing. Bush plays an unusually mean game of hardball, and even if you work with him, even if you refrain from harsh criticism of him, even if you vote for his programs even then, he is a partisan animal who does everything in his power to screw you and backs down only in the face of overwhelming force. The 2002 elections removed any lingering doubts on that score.

But hey, that's OK! Just don't go complaining when the Dems finally figure it out and decide to play hardball back. Estrada himself is probably not all that important, but the fact that the Senate Democrats have finally developed some backbone is.

So sit back and enjoy the ride. But fasten your seat belt, because it might start to get a little bumpy.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ADVISE AND CONSENT....Matt Yglesias points to a document from Pat Leahy's office that lays out the raw number of judicial confirmations by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here's a good excerpt, simple enough even for Rush Limbaugh to understand:

YEAR-TO-YEAR COMPARISONS:

Republican Control, 1995-2000:

1995: 56 confirmed (45 district, 11 circuit)
1996: 17 (17 district, 0 circuit)
1997: 36 (29 district, 7 circuit)
1998: 64 (51 district, 13 circuit)
1999: 33 (26 district, 7 circuit)
2000: 39 (31 district, 8 circuit)

Democratic Control: (half of 2001, all of 2002)

2001 (July-Dec.): 28 (23 district, 5 circuit)
2002: 72 (60 district, 12 circuit)

Yep, those Democrats sure were obstructionist, weren't they?

And of course, let's not forget all that principled conservative fiddling around with the blue slip process, either....

Kevin Drum 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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C.P. SNOW LIVES!....Ah, memories.....

Jeanne d'Arc links today to a Los Angeles Times feature story about the dreaded humanities requirement at Caltech, ground zero for geekdom here in sunny Southern California. As you can see from the fine sample of student journalism reproduced at the right, the Humanities Division (no "colleges" at Caltech!) has long occupied a sort of no man's land at Caltech, striving for respect but, as I wrote 26 years ago, always in fear that it will be reduced to "that most dreaded of entities: the service department."

Now, I never minded the humanities requirement myself, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who reads the copious output of this blog, but even back in 1977, when the male-female ratio was more like 10:1 (the Times says it's now about 2:1, which is actually pretty impressive progress) I don't recall that it was the subject of all that much complaining. That "20%" number the Times mentions amounts to a requirement that you take one humanities class per term, which most of us thought was not really all that onerous.

As Jeanne notes, her interest in this subject was piqued by a "dumb post insulting engineers" from last September. It wasn't dumb, in fact, but it was the post that first got me reading her blog and I wrote her an email agreeing that "An awful lot of engineers think that the hyper-rationality that works in science can also solve problems outside of science."

However, I then immediately took her to task for one-sidedness, and I stand by that. Grumble though they might, most Caltech students recognize the value of humanities classes, but the same cannot be said for their opposite numbers. In fact, I'd venture to say that most English Lit majors, for example, take the bare minimum number of math and science classes mandated by their university's breadth requirements usually not more than two or three "physics for poets" style classes and never set foot in a technically oriented class again. In an increasingly technical world, I think this is every bit as myopic and misguided as a belief that iambic pentameter is "useless" and therefore not worth studying.

Of course, we're not exactly breaking new ground with this discussion. After all, 1959 was 44 years ago, and how many of you reading this can describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Better get cracking!

POSTSCRIPT: And for those interested in geek terminology, a quick lesson:

  • As mentioned already, there are no "colleges" at Caltech, just "divisions."

  • No "dorms" either; they're called "houses." I was in Ruddock House (i.e., I was a "Rudd").

  • The salisbury steak patties served in the cafeteria are called "hockey pucks."

  • The famous Caltech pranks are called "RFs," short for "room fuck." The LA Times is too sensitive to tell you stuff like that.

  • It's "Caltech," not "Cal Tech."

  • As the Times correctly notes, students refer to themselves at "Techers," not "Techies."

UPDATE: On the other hand, Chad Orzel reminds us that there's also "Poetry for Physicists"....

Kevin Drum 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TV RECOMMENDATIONS....Don't forget, the first episode of Survivor Amazon is on tonight! They're promising a battle royal of the sexes this time around.

You are all going to be watching, aren't you?

Kevin Drum 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY SHOULD BE INTERESTING....Hans Blix's folks have confirmed that missiles currently in Iraq's arsenal exceed UN limits (they have a range of 114 miles instead of the allowed 90 miles). In the great scheme of things this probably wouldn't matter much except for this:

Council diplomats said Mr. Blix seemed to be moving toward demanding that Iraq turn over the missiles to the inspectors for destruction, a concession many diplomats expect that Mr. Hussein will be unwilling to make as the prospect of an American-led attack grows imminent.

A small material breach is one thing, and probably wouldn't change anyone's opinions. But if Saddam refuses to turn them over, then what? It hardly seems likely that even the French could defend the inspections regime at that point.

UPDATE: Kevin Batcho asks the equally interesting but opposite question: what if the Iraqis agree to destroy the missiles? After all, they did declare them voluntarily. Can Bush and Blair still justify an attack?

Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GENEALOGY UPDATE....One of the great services that the Mormon church provides to the world is its enormous collection of genealogical information. They have been collecting and microfilming anything they can get their hands on for over a century, and they are a tremendous resource for researchers.

That's where I was this afternoon: at my local LDS Family History Center looking through old English parish records with my mother. Mostly it was a bust, and we turned up virtually nothing new. But not completely a bust: we did find the original marriage record for my great-great-great-great-grandparents, Joseph Membry and Mary Ann Lavinder, in Bath Abbey on September 11, 1814. Pretty exciting, eh?

But jeez, they sure did pick a bad day to get married on, didn't they? It reminds me of a guy I read about who was born on September 11 as about 1 million Americans are who complained that he would never again be able to celebrate his birthday on its real day. Some people just have no foresight, do they?

Kevin Drum 10:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RIGHT WING....Patrick Ruffini thinks there ought to be a conservative version of The West Wing and has posted a bunch of episode summaries at his site. It's pretty amusing, but this episode caught my eye:

1.05. No Private Company. [President] Prescott travels to Chicago for a HUD event and is confronted by angry public housing residents. Despite the protestations of the local Congressman, the President asks to be shown the rat-infested areas residents are complaining about. He later yells at his Chief of Staff, No private company could ever get away with this! and, in his best muckraking pen, drafts a speech calling for the privatization of HUD.

Huh? No private individual would ever run a rat-infested slum? You, uh, don't get out much, do you Patrick?

But I admit that this one is pretty funny, in an inside-bloggerish kind of way:

1.13. Blood on His Hands. The President confronts Robert Fisk at a reception for foreign journalists.

Newly engaged as you are, though, you are planning to hold on to your day job, aren't you....?

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ET TU, COLIN?....Mark Kleiman notes that we now know Colin Powell was, um, stretching the truth when he claimed that Osama bin Laden said he was "in partnership with Iraq" in his taped message. His comment:

A note to the warhawks: This sort of stuff makes it really, really hard for those of us who are trying our best to support your cause but who don't like being bullshat.

That's a very pithy way of putting it. And I'd like to say that, quite aside from endorsing Mark's enchanting use of the past tense here, I completely agree with his post. Like him, I'm also having a very hard time staying on board given the Bush administration's escalating (!) fondness for (a) lying and (b) striving with almost lunatic intensity to destroy every international alliance we have.

As Mark said, it's getting really, really, hard.

UPDATE: On a similar note, Josh Marshall has a very good post up today that says this about Bush's attempts at working with the rest of the world:

It's always someone else's fault. The South Koreans are lame. The Europeans are lame. Our Arab allies are lame. Everybody is lame. We're given excuse after excuse. But at the end of the day the result seems to be our historic alliances, if not in shambles, then at least thoroughly beat-up.

Kevin Drum 6:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STEPHEN GREEN HATES GERMANY TOO....ARE THERE ANY EUROPEANS LEFT THAT HE DOES LIKE?....Stephen Green says:

Coming of political age during the 80s, I loved and respected Germany. Id read of Konrad Adenauer and his successful efforts to integrate West Germany fully into western Europe, creating a peaceful state that was nevertheless willing to defend itself against Soviet Russia. I watched on the news as Helmut Kohl stared down his own countrys pacifists to help the US in the post-dtente era. I wept tears of joy and shock when the Wall came down, and I wept again tears of pure joy when the Two Germanies were finally reunified. At last, I thought, a good people are whole again, and wholly part of this glorious thing we call the Western World.

But now Im beginning to think that Adenauer and Kohl were aberrations leaders who not only remembered firsthand the horror and fear of Hitlers Germany, but were brought up under Americas tutelage. Lessons, I might add, taught at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives. Is what were seeing now simply Germany going back to being, well, goddamn German?

Let me translate: I really liked Germany when they did everything we wanted them to, but now that they don't, "There is something sick and wrong and not-so-buried at the heart of the German culture." At least we're clear about what it takes to be considered a proper country.

And on another subject: how many people believe that Stephen really "wept tears of pure joy" when Germany was reunited?

Kevin Drum 5:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WARTIME LOYALTIES....Chris Bertram has a terrific post today about wartime loyalties. The bottom line? During the Falklands War America's support was tepid at best, while in many ways "Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies."

Our petulant demands that everyone support our wars wholeheartedly would be a little more credible if we were willing to do the same for our allies. But we aren't, are we?

Kevin Drum 5:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Here's an interesting pair of articles. First, the director of the CIA testified today that, yes, North Korea has missiles that could reach the U.S. This was the reaction from the White House:

[Intelligence] officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Tenet's and Jacoby's statements were based on the same information that led U.S. intelligence to conclude in 2001 that North Korea was close to being able to flight-test a three-stage Taepo Dong 2.

....White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also sought to downplay the statements on the missiles, saying they were reflecting old intelligence. He said, "This old news is why it's important to proceed with deployment of missile defense and also why the President is focused on multi-lateral diplomatic talks to deal with North Korea.''

Yes, indeed, let's downplay this. Then there's this story that seems to have been ignored by just about everyone except the Los Angeles Times:

The Pentagon is considering a major redeployment of U.S. troops out of South Korea and Germany, two Cold War hot spots, as it tries to realign the American military structure around the world, senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

....Pentagon officials took care to present the possible moves as far from certain and unrelated to current tensions in both regions. And no precise time frame has been specified.

Redeployment of U.S. troops is something that's been on the table for years, and it seems odd that the Bush administration would pick now of all times to start talking about it publicly. Of course, everyone's immediate thought was that this is some kind of punishment for Germany's opposition to the Iraq war, so the proposal to reduce our troop presence in South Korea slid by with barely a mention.

Somehow this doesn't strike me as just a coincidence. Rather, someone decided that the current NATO spat was a great cover for a decision to reduce troop presence in South Korea without looking like we were appeasing the North Koreans. If you do it real smooth, they figured, no one will even notice.

And apparently no one has. But I'll bet there's more to this than meets the eye.

Kevin Drum 4:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TIA IS DEAD....OR AT LEAST SERIOUSLY ILL....Patrick Nielsen Hayden reports the welcome news that Congress is on the verge of killing the "Total Information Awareness" program or at least severely restricting it. And a big part of the reason is that they don't trust the head of the project, Iran-Contra liar-in-chief John Poindexter.

Good for them. About time Congress started showing a little backbone.

Kevin Drum 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A LOOK AT THE BIG BANG....This is cool: the first comprehensive map of the early universe from MAP, the Microwave Anisotropy Probe. It pins down the age of the universe as 13.7 billion years old and confirms that ordinary matter makes up only 4% of the mass of universe.

What's even cooler, I think, is that it solves a long dispute about the shape of the universe: is it open, closed, or flat? In cosmological terms, is the value of Omega equal to 1 or to something other than 1?

We've known for a long time that the value of Omega is pretty close to 1, and for that reason I've always suspected that the universe must be flat. It seemed an unlikely coincidence that out of all the possible values of Omega, it should be so close to 1 unless it really was 1 for fundamental reasons of some kind.

And so it is. MAP confirms that the universe is flat and is full of some kind of mysterious "dark energy" that acts as a sort of anti-gravity, pushing the universe apart. The universe is expanding, and it's expanding at an ever increasing rate.

In other words, much like President Bush's deficit....

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POST-WAR IRAQ....Yesterday I complained about the Bush administration's inability (or unwillingness) to articulate their goals for a post-Saddam Iraq. Since suspicion of our motives is a big reason for European resistance, this silence seemed to be yet another example of the contempt for allies and world opinion that's characterized Bush's administration since its first day.

Well, it turns out that the administration has finally laid out what they want to do in Iraq, and by coincidence they did it just a few hours before I wrote my post. And the picture that was laid out by Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was mighty pretty. As Tim Dunlop says:

He doesn't actually mention that they'll cure cancer, but everything else should be taken care of. No, I'm not being cynical--I truly hope this wish list comes to pass, just as he describes it--but well, you tell me.

Feith testified that "war for oil" is a "false and malign" slogan and we will administer Iraq's oil wealth "transparently and honestly." We will not "leave a mess behind for the Iraqi people to clean up without a helping hand," but at the same time we have a "commitment to leave as soon as possible, for Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people."

There's more. The United States "aspires to liberate, not occupy or control them or their economic resources." We will "safeguard the territorial unity of Iraq." And we love multilateralism: "U.S. post-war responsibilities will not be easy to fulfill and the United States by no means wishes to tackle them alone. We shall encourage contributions and participation from coalition partners, non-governmental organizations, the UN and other international organizations and others."

I join Tim in hoping that this indeed all comes to pass. But I have a few questions:

  • This statement was very general and could have been made at any time. Why wasn't it made six months ago?

  • Why is the administration seemingly afraid to put some meat on the bones of this plan? To this date, not even an estimated budget for either the war or the post-war reconstruction have been given to Congress.

  • Bush is good at giving vigorous speeches about why we have to go to war. Why hasn't he given a vigorous speech about this post-war plan?

The difference between congressional testimony from an undersecretary of defense and a major speech by the president of the United States is incalculable. The New York Times and Washington Post covered Feith's testimony barely and the Los Angeles Times ignored it, but neither they nor the European press would ignore a major speech by Bush himself along these lines.

Even at this late date a speech from Bush himself could have a significant impact on world opinion. So why won't he do it? Even if the Bushies are as contemptuous of world opinion as they seem to be, you'd think they would want allied support as a purely practical matter. So why not take the high road and do your best to earn the support and sympathy of the world?

It's all very peculiar.

Kevin Drum 8:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RON ZIEGLER....The Luckenbachs eulogize Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler:

Ron Ziegler's death now makes Ari Fleischer the most mendacious press secretary alive.

Yep, Ron was the prototype, all right.

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WAR AND SACRIFICE....And speaking of the Bush administration's delicate tap dance about the war, Paul Krugman notes today that Bush is apparently afraid that public opinion would collapse if he so much as breathed a word about sacrifice in the cause of war. For evidence of this, look no further than budget director Mitch Daniels on CNN last week:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Daniels, if it doesn't include the war and it's still a $300 some-odd billion deficit, how much does a war add to that?

MITCH DANIELS: Judy, first of all, let's all hope earnestly there won't be a war. Saddam Hussein can prevent one any day he chooses just by complying with the requests the world has made of him now for 11 years.

If there should be some decision by the president, we could move fairly quickly after he and our military leaders had told us what to expect in terms of the nature and duration of the conflict. We would then go to Congress quickly with a good faith estimate.

WOODRUFF: So you don't even have a ballpark figure that you're working with?

DANIELS: Well, we have a very wide range and that would depend, as I say, on decisions not yet made and decisions that we still hope won't have to be made.

Sacrifice, hell, they're afraid even to mention that a war might cost some money. Let's hear it for moral clarity.

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ISN'T IT TIME FOR GEORGE BUSH TO SHOW SOME LEADERSHIP?....It's not clear especially at this point whether anything would budge European opinion about invading Iraq, but surely a number of their objections could be dealt with fairly easily:

  • It's all about oil. Why doesn't George Bush clearly and forthrightly promise to put Iraq's oil production under some kind of third-party control (UN, EU, whatever)? In fact, simply for its PR value, I'd suggest a promise that no American companies will even be allowed to bid on oil contracts in post-war Iraq.

  • America merely wants a docile client state in place of Saddam's Iraq. Why is there not a plan in place even a general one stating our intentions for a post-war Iraqi government? Are we interested in planting the seeds of representative government in Iraq or not?

  • America will lose interest and leave as soon as the war is over. That's pretty much what's happened in Afghanistan, so why not declare our commitment to funding a long-term multilateral presence in Iraq?

Unfortunately, Europeans have every reason to be suspicious of Bush's intentions given his continuing silence on these three points. I figure that the reason he hasn't spoken about them is either (a) the Europeans are right or (b) he's afraid that speaking honestly about a post-war program would damage public opinion in the U.S. and hurt him politically.

Assuming (charitably, perhaps) that the answer is (b), it highlights the enormous difference between Bush and Tony Blair. Blair believes in this cause strongly enough that he's willing to take an enormous political risk to make it happen, literally betting his prime ministership on the outcome. George Bush, on the other hand, isn't even willing to put the cost of the war into his 2004 budget. Isn't it about time that he put his money and his political credibility on the line at least as much as his junior partner is willing to?

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CATCHING CROOKS VIA MINDREADING....TalkLeft has a story today about a guy who has a technique for peering into someone's thoughts to find out if they've committed a crime:

A technique called "brain fingerprinting," which seeks to probe whether a suspect has specific knowledge of a crime, could become a powerful weapon in national security, its inventor believes.

As it turns out, it's unlikely his invention actually works, but what if it did? Would it be a good idea?

Here's a thought experiment: suppose this guy actually had a foolproof, nonintrusive way of determining if a suspect in a crime were telling the truth:

  • What restrictions would need to be placed on its use?

  • Would we need courts and juries (as we know them) any longer?

  • How could it be abused?

  • Is there a downside to a 100% reliable way of catching criminals?

The reason these questions are interesting is that it wouldn't surprise me if such a technique genuinely reliable and easy to use were developed sometime in the next few decades. If it is, should we use it?

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URL UPDATE....Jeff Cooper has a new address and a new look:

http://www.jeffcoop.com/blog/

Adjust your bookmarks.

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SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS....This is ridiculous. Apparently there's going to be a movie out this summer called Pirates of the Caribbean and another one called Haunted Mansion.

Are they just going to go through the whole list of rides at Disneyland? What's next, Autopia: The Movie?

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OSAMA BIN LADEN STILL ALIVE?....According to an AP dispatch, Osama bin Laden is alive and talking:

The Al Jazeera Arab satellite station confirmed it received an audio statement from Osama bin Laden which it said will air later Tuesday. Chief editor Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press the 16-minute tape was a message to Iraqis to remain steadfast in the face of a potential American attack.

....A headline at the bottom of the screen during regular programming Tuesday night read, "Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden calls on all Muslims to unite to defend the Iraqi people, in an audio message Al-Jazeera will broadcast later."

(The story is developing, so the excerpt above will probably be replaced by other text as the day goes on.)

Only time will tell if this message is genuine, but if it is well, it's a powerful weapon in the campaign to truly galvanize American opinion to invade Iraq. Thanks, Osama.

UPDATE: Here's a BBC translation of the entire message.

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BUSH AND EUROPE....Turkey has asked NATO to provide help in case it is attacked in a war with Iraq. France, Belgium and Germany have vetoed the request. George Bush is incredulous:

I don't understand that decision. I am disappointed that France would block NATO from helping a country like Turkey prepare.

Those perfidious French, preventing poor little Turkey from defending itself against the depradations of Saddam Hussein. How could they?

This is absurd. Why would NATO agree to assist in planning for a war it hasn't agreed to wage? George Bush now appears willing to bust up an alliance that's of tremendous benefit to the U.S. over a war that he seems to think has been ordained by God.

Well, it hasn't been. I'm personally persuaded that the only way Saddam Hussein will ever be reined in is by use of force. But the UN isn't persuaded yet, NATO isn't persuaded yet, the American public doesn't seem to be truly persuaded yet, and the unsettling fact is that the fault for this lies directly with George W. Bush. If he had half the diplomatic skill and common sense of his father, he wouldn't be in this mess.

There's nothing wrong with Bush pushing hard for an agenda he believes in, but in the end, if he fails to persuade our friends, our allies, and the world, he should back off. I don't mind making an enemy of Saddam Hussein, but I do care about making an enemy of half the world. George Bush should care too.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ALAN GREENSPAN DISAPPOINTS THE REPUBLICANS....Paul Krugman wondered aloud last week if Alan Greenspan would keep a bit of dignity when he testified before congress today, or whether he would simply confirm that he's nothing but a shill for the Republican party. Apparently, he decided he's had enough and rubbished the Bushies' claim that economic growth would wipe out the deficit all on its own:

Greenspan dealt a blow to Republican hopes by apparently challenging this assessment, saying, "Faster economic growth, doubtless, would make deficits far easier to contain. But faster economic growth alone is not likely to be the full solution to currently projected long-term deficits."

....Greenspan was unequivocal in his support of Bush's plan to eliminate dividend taxes, saying it was "a sensible long-term program." However, he also said such a plan should be "revenue neutral," meaning Congress should find a way to make up the revenue lost by eliminating the tax.

Greenspan also disagreed with the notion, offered lately by some Republicans and economists in support of the President's tax plan, that deficits can rise without having an impact on long-term interest rates.

"There's no question that when deficits go up, contrary to what some have said, it does affect long-term interest rates, it does affect the economy," he said.

Let's summarize his testimony in normal English, shall we?

  • The war with Iraq is bad for the economy.

  • The proposed deficit is too large, and it's bad for the economy too.

  • A big part of the deficit is caused by Republican tax cut proposals. Economic growth alone won't get rid of the deficit, no matter how often they say it will.

  • Thus, taxes should not be cut right now. Eliminating the dividend tax is "a sensible long term program," but only if other taxes are raised to make up for it.

In other words, virtually every single thing the Republicans are doing is bad for the economy. Not bad! The old guy still has a little bit of spine left in him.

Unfortunately, there was this too: "He also said he was not overly concerned with the risk of a decline in the price of housing...." So even after the stock market bubble of the 90s, Greenspan still doesn't seem to be concerned about asset inflation, this time in the form of a housing bubble. Will he never learn?

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EYE OF THE BEHOLDER AND ALL THAT....Jesse thinks the Republicans have had a bad week. I dunno, seemed pretty normal to me....

Kevin Drum 10:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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V-DAY....I always knew an MBA had to be good for something. Thanks Megan!

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HEALTH INSURANCE AND GENETIC SCREENING....I've mentioned before my belief that universal single-payer healthcare like it or not is inevitable due to advances in genetic screening. Basically, the argument is that if people are screened for risk and the results are kept secret from insurance companies, then only the highest risk people will buy insurance and the insurance companies will go out of business. Conversely, if the information is shared, a large number of people will be completely shut out of the insurance market.

Today, Daniel Davies tells us that it might actually be worse: due to some intricacies in the way insurance companies work, even healthy people might not be able to get insurance.

I'm surprised this issue doesn't get more attention in the U.S. The issues are pretty well known and, honestly, I don't think it can be more than 10 or 20 years before genetic screening gets to the point that it essentially causes the collapse of the private health insurance market. As usual, I suppose, we'll do nothing about it until it becomes a crisis.

Oh well, as long as you're over at D-squared you can check up on the latest Den Beste mockery too. Scroll down to February 8th and you'll see that he's really feeling the pressure, yes he is.....

UPDATE: Nicholas Kristof has a column in the New York Times today on this subject. Check it out.

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ERIC ALTERMAN AND WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?....I guess it's interview month at CalPundit. The interview with Josh Marshall last week was fun, so after I finished reading Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? I emailed to ask him if he'd do an interview too. He agreed probably as compensation for doing some gratis proofreading of his book and we spent half an hour on the phone Sunday evening.

Alterman has been a media critic for over a decade, writing a regular media column for The Nation and a 1992 book, Sound & Fury, about the rise of the Washington "punditocracy" and its corrosive effect on political discourse in America. What Liberal Media? goes a step further and talks about day-to-day coverage of political issues and Alterman's belief that not only is the media not friendly to liberals, it's downright hostile.

Alterman doesn't hold out much hope that conservatives will change their tune the charge of media bias is too important a part of their broad strategy but he's optimistic that his book might put some backbone into reporters who have been cowed by relentless charges of bias for the past three decades: "Im hoping theres this strata of the media, people like Peter Jennings or Tom Rosenstiel, who will read my book and see that the evidence is really compelling on the other side." I hope so too.

My review of What Liberal Media? is here.

The website for the book is here and the first chapter (in PDF format) is here. For those of you without PDF viewers, the folks at Cursor have posted the first chapter in ordinary HTML format here.

Eric Alterman's daily blog on MSNBC is here.

A Nation cover story adapted from the book is here.

You can buy the book from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Alibris, Powell's, or Buy.com.

And now the interview:


Your book seems to imply that, say, 30 years ago, conservatives had a legitimate point about liberal media bias. Do you think they did?

Yeah, I think thats probably true. It depends on how you define liberal, but I think Barry Goldwater had a problem, thats true.

You have to go that far back?

I think in 1964, 1968, 1972, yes. Id say the turning point was probably 1978, midway through the Carter administration. Thats when conservatives got the upper hand in both politics and media.

What caused that? Why 1978?

A couple of things caused it. One is that the conservatives invested an enormous amount of money in an infrastructure of ideas beginning in 1964, when Richard Mellon Scaife figured out that they couldnt win just by putting up a candidate. I think that investment in the intellectual superstructure started to pay off 14 years later.

I also think the world became more conservative. Vietnam was a catastrophe and it was a liberal catastrophe, and the war on poverty was a catastrophe, and that was a liberal catastrophe, and even though its kind of unfair to blame liberals in both cases, everybody did.

And then the Soviets got much more adventurous around that time, and the whole civil rights movement, the whole We Shall Overcome period in American history became transformed into the black power moment of history, and that black power moment of history didnt really work for anyone, particularly liberals. So liberalism was kind of exhausted by that period, it didnt have any answers, and the conservatives were ascendant and self confident, and journalism just picked up on it.

You spent a hundred pages or so at the beginning of the book talking about opinion leaders the punditocracy in the press and TV, and yet Ive always thought that what conservatives were really complaining about was ordinary newsroom reporters and their biases....

You know, I just did this really unbelievably stupid show on MSNBC today and I got in a big fight with them. They had three conservatives on plus me, and they wouldnt shut up about Dan Rather. For some reason they have an almost sexual obsession with Dan Rather.

So no, I dont think its about everyday reporters. I think they have this idea that these elite reporters look down on them, and Rathers a symbol of that. Its all these guys who live in New York and Washington, make a lot of money, and have contempt for the values of everyday people, the elite of the elite.

I mean, on this stupid show, this guy Joe Scarborough would say, Oh I love you elites, youre so....amusing. I mean, Im just some guy there, but Im the elite and that makes me the enemy.

Well, when I say newsroom reporters, Im thinking of reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and so forth, and in your chapter on social bias you as much as said that, yeah, they are biased....

Look, the truth is, I dont know anybody except Christopher Hitchens, maybe George Stephanopoulos, whos anti-abortion. I dont know a single person in my life whos anti-gay rights. In the media world in which I live, everybody has basically the same views on social issues, everybody supports gay marriage, everybody supports abortion rights, everybody I know supports gun control.

So I think theyre right that in the liberal elites everybody basically has these views on social issues. But I think that because theyve been beating up the liberal elites for so long, the media have grown particularly cowardly on these issues and have bent over backwards to try and give the conservatives what they want, so that it no longer matters that much that they happen to be right about journalists views on these social issues. I think that the journalists views arent very important in terms of how the news is reported.

Do you think there are any social issues where theres a conservative bias?

No, although I do think there are examples of journalists who are liberal on social issues bending over backwards to be sympathetic to conservatives. Theres this whole indulgence of Pat Robertson, who is insane, hes crazy, but hes treated as a serious commentator.

You know, Pat Robertson is right next to Jerry Falwell agreeing with him when he said that God was punishing America and thats why we had 9/11. And yet, when George Bush announced that ridiculous Middle East policy of his, the very first commentator that CNN went to was Pat Robertson, who knows nothing about the Middle East except that its supposed to cause Armageddon and the coming of the Messiah, or something like that. So theres an indulgence of people like Falwell and Robertson, who have no expertise on anything except their own particular niches in American politics, and theyre treated respectfully when they say the most ridiculous things.

Why do you think that is? People like Falwell, Robertson, and Ann Coulter arent even taken very seriously by conservatives, and yet they end up on TV. How does that happen?

Well, I spent a lot of time in the book on Coulter. I used to work with her and I dont like her. We were both hired to be pundits on MSNBC when it first began. We were both there the very first day it was on the air, and the stuff that was coming out of her mouth, I couldnt believe my ears.

But MSNBC kept her back then, simply because she was good looking, and she was a woman, and she was conservative, and they loved the idea that a woman was conservative, just like they love the idea that they had all these black conservatives. I used to joke back then that Id heard that Quincy Jones had married Peggy Lipton, you know, from Mod Squad, and I said if they had a daughter who was conservative shed get a lifetime contract on MSNBC because shed be a black blonde conservative.

Do ordinary reporters still believe all this stuff? You say theyre cowed by charges of liberal bias, but do they still believe it, do they react to it, or do you think theyre catching on?

Do they believe it? Yeah, they believe it because they dont think about it. The conservatives have invested so much money in this notion of liberal bias in the media that they buy into it even though theres very little evidence to support it.

They keep waving that one goddamn study from 1992, which turns out to disintegrate when you look at it carefully. But most journalists believe it. If you read the stories about that study, youll find people like Howie Kurtz, even Tom Rosenstiel, who I respect, all buying into it. Peter Jennings.

They all buy into this notion, even though the evidence just doesnt support it. But Im hoping theres this strata of the media, people like Peter Jennings or Tom Rosenstiel, who will read my book and see that the evidence is really compelling on the other side. I dont see how you can read the chapters that I wrote on Florida, or the Gore campaign, and say that the Democrats had an advantage with the media. I just dont see it.

Some people think that we should just give up on the whole idea of an objective media, go to the European model....

Yeah, I said that in Sound & Fury. I still believe that. I dont even really believe in the idea of facts or opinions. I believe in context. I believe there are certain things you need to know to understand the story, and theyre not necessarily factual and theyre not necessarily opinion, but they could be either one.

To tell you the truth, I think Fox does a better job of covering the news than CNN or MSNBC, because they have a context, its understandable, it makes some sense, whereas at MSNBC and CNN the news just comes at you as if from outer space, its news from nowhere. I dont watch cable news, but if I did I would watch Fox. Assuming there was nobody with a context that I share.

Who do you think are the best liberals out there writing or talking on TV today?

Well, the problem is that most of them are my friends. One who is not my friend, who I dont know at all, but I think does a great job, is Paul Krugman, whos amazing because hes just not playing the game. Hes doing what he thinks is right and doesnt begin from any of the premises that the official Washington punditocracy discourse begins from. So Im very impressed by that. Plus he knows economics, thats his armor, thats how he protects himself from conventional wisdom.

I very much admire the prose styles of both Frank Rich and Rick Hertzberg. I think E.J. Dionne and Richard Cohen are both very effective columnists, theyre both really good at the form, and theyre both unpredictable, which is a good thing in a columnist.

How about on TV?

Theres only two people I can really stand to watch on TV at all. One is Bill Moyers and the other is Ted Koppel.

Thats it?

Well, I cant think of anyone else. I hate television journalism. I can stand to watch Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw, they dont personally anger me, but the news is so dumbed down on television that it ends up being false, and it infuriates me. Everything is so simplified, its written for people who know nothing, and it ends up being so overly simplified that it becomes false.

Begala does a very good job defending the liberal side on Crossfire. I never watch it, but I sometimes see transcripts on Media Whores and I like his energy, hes very quick on his feet. But I do think that its really hard to be a liberal on television, I just think the liberal case is too complicated.

Why is it so hard to get good combative liberals on TV?

I think that if youre going to be a liberal today, its a really complicated case to make, and you have to respect that complexity. And TV just has no use for complexity. Theres just no way to do it.

I mean, here I was on Crossfire the other night and Tucker Carlson quoted something I said about myself on Altercation, and he asked, do you really think its a conspiracy against you? I mean, fucking Tucker, I have a PhD in American history, I know how complicated it is, I was just making a point that one person, Ann Coulter, had written a totally useless, dishonest book, whereas Ive written a serious book that has 40 or 50 pages of footnotes, and one of us gets booked on television, on the Today show, and one of us doesnt. Im not saying its a conspiracy, but Im raising the issue: is this about journalistic self flagellation or is it about the fact that shes blond and has good legs? But Im not drawing any conclusions based on my own example.

Anyway, here I was in the position of being accused of being overly simplistic by Tucker Carlson, which strikes me as ridiculous. But thats how you win on television, you take something out of context and you beat it into the ground. If any of the members of my dissertation committee had heard me on Crossfire theyd be ashamed to have approved my doctorate.

Do you think the internet is any different?

The internet is just a medium. Are you asking me about weblogs, are you asking about Slate and Salon and The Nation on the net, including my Nation column along with my weblog? What.?

OK, how about weblogs?

I feel a little bad about the fact that the Lott story broke immediately after I closed the book, because the book does end up shortshrifting the influence of weblogs. They have shown they can have an influence.

But if you take a look at that case as your paradigm, you have to say theres basically two people who drove that case, and thats Josh and whoever Atrios is. Josh is a journalist, hes got a journalists reputation. Before I was ever involved in the internet, before I even understood what a weblog was, I would check up on Josh, I would check up on Mickey, I would check up on Andy, because of their journalistic reputation. And so, these are journalists with weblogs and thats kind of a different case than the blogging phenomenon, right?

Now, Atrios would be the counterexample, because he really did play a big role in the Lott controversy, and well see how that plays out, well see if that happens more and more. I will say that the fact that I was #33 on Amazon last Friday is entirely due to weblogs, so Im enormously grateful for that, and I do think that they can have an impact, but we dont really know what its going to be yet.

Josh seemed to feel that blogdom as a whole could help drive stories and drive opinions. Do you think thats true?

I think thats true, yeah. Blogdom can drive a story because a lot of journalists read blogs. But very few blogs can do independent research, and without independent research youre just a chorus, and that can have its value, but its by definition limited.

You talked in the book about funding of think tanks and how important thats become for conservatives. Is there any hope at all for getting that on the liberal side? Why arent there any rich liberal cranks like Scaife willing to fund liberal think tanks?

There are some good liberal funders, but its a very complicated question. The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew. What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, lets see what grows, whereas liberals are much more focused on programmatic money. They dont fund things that might turn into something useful that you cant predict.

You have to able to fund things where you cant predict how theyre going to work, and liberals dont do that. They want control, they want reports; they dont fund basic research, they dont fund operating expenses. All of the liberal organizations are always begging to keep going, they dont pay their people very well, and so theyre never going to let a thousand flowers bloom and see which of them is the prettiest.

Thats admirable that the money is going to programs as opposed to propaganda, but do you think that realistically....

No, I dont think it is honorable. I think its about control, and I think liberal funders have to be willing to give up control.

I also think liberal funders have to admit theyre liberals. Most of the large foundations, like Ford and Rockefeller and MacArthur, they wont say that theyre liberal, and they fund conservative stuff. Theyre not engaged in the same kind of practice that the right wing is.

Theres a quote in the book from the president of the Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner, saying that this is not about PhD research, this is about giving our side the information they need to win arguments. I mean, they hand out index cards to people who are going on Crossfire so that they can make pithy points. Theres no such thing as a liberal foundation doing that, but it has to be done, because the battle just isnt being joined. The first thing liberals have to do is wake up to the fact that theyre in a battle.

Kevin Drum 12:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

COMPARING THE NEWS....It's interesting to see how different newspapers treat the same news. Here's how the Washington Post reported yesterday's negotiations between Iraq and the UN team:

The top U.N. arms experts said tonight that they were unable to reach agreement with Saddam Hussein's government on several key issues they had traveled here to resolve in a bid to build support for continuing weapons inspections.

And here's the Los Angeles Times:

The top two U.N. weapons inspectors came to this capital over the weekend wanting something spectacular from Iraqi authorities to prevent a war. After two days of intense and arduous meetings, they announced Sunday night that what they got was not bad.

And the differences are even more pronounced if you read the full text of each article. It's kind of hard to believe that both papers are actually reporting the same meeting.

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MORE INTERVIEWS!....Eric Alterman links to my interview with Josh Marshall today and has this to say:

Some might say that a blogger interviewing a blogger about blogging is a bit on the masturbatory side. Some might be right.

Heh heh. Of course, this is coming from a media guy who interviews other media guys about the media and then writes a book about it, so....

And speaking of Alterman, I did a phone interview with him last night about this new book of his (you've heard about it, right? What Liberal Media?). I'll post it tomorrow.

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WAR ON DRUGS....Sam Heldman tells the story of an 18-year-old high school student who has been sentenced to 26 years in prison for selling four ounces of marijuana out of his house.

Surely even drug war hawks can agree that this is simply ridiculous?

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FRANCE, FRANCE, FRANCE....Not surprisingly, I got lots of mail about France and the war today. However, it's only coincidence that I had several posts about France this weekend, and while I find their latest plan unworkable I certainly respect their right to oppose a war they don't like. In fact, I think Matt Yglesias has a pretty good analogy:

The French are probably exactly where the Americans were in 1938 as Hitler threatened Czechoslovakia, in 1939 when he invaded Poland (and France fought to stop him), in 1940 when his armies overran France and most of Scandinavia, and all throughout 1941 when England stood alone namely, not interested in taking risks when it looks like someone else might solve the problem.

This is a worthwhile point. In the end, the United States did do the right thing in World War II, but it took an attack on our own soil to convince us. Saddam Hussein's actions have obviously been way less offensive than Hitler's circa 1940, so it's perhaps not surprising that France is at least as ambivalent toward him as we were toward Hitler before Pearl Harbor.

Of course, the other point of view is that the world should have learned something from our reluctance to get involved in WWII. Maybe if we'd joined the Allies earlier the war would have been shorter and less bloody.

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February 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM HUSSEIN....Up until recently, Saddam Hussein was always referred to in the press as "Saddam." And Ken Pollack's book says this is correct: his full name means "Saddam, son of Hussein."

But just recently I've noticed that most of the press reports have started referring to him as "Hussein." What's up with that?

UPDATE: Michael Davies passes along this article from Canada's CTV that explains it all. The short answer, apparently, is "it depends."

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GUN CONTROL, MEDIA BIAS, AND ANTI-MISSILE DEFENSE....Glenn Reynolds posted this approximately two minutes after 60 Minutes aired this evening:

JUST SAW AN ENORMOUSLY DISHONEST "60 MINUTES" PIECE on ballistic fingerprinting. It somehow neglected this report indicating that the technology isn't good enough even to satisfy anti-gun California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Instead, it made it appear as if a few mere technical quibbles on the part of the NRA were the problem, though in fact this report, dated last week, precisely echoes what the NRA representative was saying on "Sixty Minutes."

Pathetic.

Here on the Pacific coast I just got finished watching the 60 Minutes segment he's talking about, and it just goes to show that bias is in the eye of the beholder. I'd already read Glenn's post when the segment came on, so I was on the watch for bias, but you know, I didn't really see any. They quoted the NRA at length, they showed that the system could be defeated, they reported that a New York database had failed to help solve a single crime so far, they talked about difficulties scaling a system to the national level, and they mentioned California's experience with ballistic fingerprinting.

Of course, they did interview a number of people on the other side of the issue too, and it's true that they didn't mention the report Glenn points to. But since the report said "current technological obstacles will be overcome before long" and urged the federal government to "make more research into ballistic identification systems a top priority," I'm not quite sure how that would have helped Glenn's side anyway.

And now you're probably wondering just how this relates to anti-missile defense. Well, as I was watching it occurred to me that opponents of ballistic fingerprinting were insisting that the technology wasn't perfect and it was just stupid to spend another dime on it. And yet, that's what foes of anti-missile defense have been saying for the past two decades. I wonder how many opponents of ballistic fingerprinting think it's just fine to keep pouring money into anti-missile defense?

Kevin Drum 7:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR WITH IRAQ....I've gotten a lot of email critical of my post on Thursday suggesting that Colin Powell had indeed made a strong case in his UN speech. This administration has lied about everything, they ask, so how can you be so credulous as to believe their latest dog and pony show?

I'd like to explain myself, but I'm afraid this is going to be a bit long and rambling, which, I admit, is not exactly a crowd pleaser and in any case if you wanted long, rambling posts you could just click over to Steven den Beste's site and get two or three of them a day. But this is really intended more as therapy for myself than anything else, so with that in mind, either read on or perhaps the better alternative turn off the computer and go spend the rest of your weekend doing something more productive instead.


First, a little background. I grew up in the 70s, and like many children of that decade I never took the threat of the Soviet Union very seriously. Oh, sure, it was a nasty dictatorship, but it was also a big, established country ruled by conservative old men who were mostly interested in stability and control. They were unlikely to ever risk a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Small rogue states, on the other hand, did seem like a threat. The development of nuclear and biological weapons was bound to become easier over time, and in the hands of a reckless dictator willing to take chances it seemed entirely likely that we could eventually find ourselves on the receiving end of a major attack. Not immediately, certainly not in 1980, or maybe even in 1990, but someday.

That day has obviously come. Both North Korea and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and both are unstable enough that there's a chance they might use them. Effective biological weapons are still difficult to develop, but it's getting easier all the time, and the widespread proliferation of legitimate "dual-use" technology makes it almost impossible to control.

I take WMDs in the hands of small, unstable states seriously, and I have my doubts that these countries can be deterred from using them the way big, established countries can even horrible dictatorships like China. If you don't buy this, then the rest of this essay won't make any sense. But if you do, then read on.


There are lots of nasty dictators. Why focus obsessively on Saddam Hussein?

It's a fair question, but the fact is that there are some good answers. Partly it's because even among nasty dictators, Saddam is in a class by himself: a ruthless, brutal thug who routinely employs the kinds of torture that simply make you ill to read about. Partly it's because unlike even an unstable neurotic like Kim Jong-il, he's started two unprovoked wars against his neighbors in the past 20 years. Partly it's because there is strong evidence that he has spent the past ten years building or trying to build WMDs of all sorts. (In a sense, Powell's UN speech was meaningless since, as Ken Pollack says, "In truth, all council members already know that Iraq retains weapons of mass destruction and is deceiving the inspectors.") And finally, yes, partly it's because we have strong economic interests in the Middle East and we don't want Saddam in a position where he can threaten or control the Persian Gulf oil supply.

But there's another reason. To a large extent, Kim Jong-il is an aberration. He's undoubtedly dangerous, but the Far East as a whole is relatively stable. North Korea is the only serious trouble spot there.

Ditto for Pakistan and India. Both of them have the potential to pose serious dangers to each other, but the region as a whole is not a powderkeg.

I don't minimize the danger these countries pose, but there's simply no comparison, I think, between that danger and the danger posed by the Middle East. Democracy in India, for example, is fragile, but in the Middle East it is simply nonexistent. The entire area is under the control of medieval theocracies, and what's worse is that they don't seem to be getting any better as time passes.

In fact, if anything, they seem to be getting worse. Their populations are rising and their oil income is dropping, unemployment is rampant, and both the churches and the schools blame their problems on Israel, the United States, and the decadent West in general. They are virtual factories for producing the kinds of young men who become terrorists, and the danger they pose is real and growing.

But what to do? Certainly the United States (and other countries) have done nothing to improve the situation. Our one-sided support of Israel has inflamed the Arab world, and our support for one bloody dicator after another as long as they were useful to us for a few moments has bred contempt and cynicism for our role in the world. All that is true.

But still, what to do?


We may not be innocent bystanders, but neither does our past mean that we now have to stand aside and simply hang our heads in shame. It's vitally important, I think, given the powderkeg nature of the Arab world and the increasing worldwide availability of horrifying weapons, that we do something to clean up a mess that we ourselves have had a hand in creating.

To do this requires both long term and short term actions. In the long term, we need to genuinely promote the values of tolerance, human rights, and democratic self-government that the United States is quite rightly proud of.

Unfortunately, we also have to do something about the immediate threat. And it's also likely that simply "promoting" tolerance and human rights probably won't get the job done. The sad fact is that in addition to promoting these things, we also need to show that we're willing to back up our words with force. And while I realize how much of a cliche it is to say that "force is the only language they understand," there's a kernel of truth in it too.

For a variety of reasons, Saddam Hussein is the best target for that force. An invasion of Iraq will surely kill thousands of Iraqis and the proposed "shock and awe" carpet bombing of Baghdad is horrifying but I suspect that in the long run it will save more lives than it takes. And that's why I support the war.


There are, of course, lots of good reasons to oppose a war with Iraq, and prime among them must be the question of those "long term" actions I mentioned above. There is obviously no chance of simply transplanting American-style democracy to Iraq, but for this war to mean anything we have to genuinely try to make things at least incrementally better there instead of simply installing a friendlier dictator once Saddam is gone.

What else do we have to do?

  • We have to take the Israeli-Palestinian problem more seriously and show ourselves willing to press hard on both sides. We have considerable pressure that we could bring to bear on the Israelis, and we shouldn't be afraid to use it.

  • We have to stop cozying up to regional dictators just because they are (temporarily) friendly to us. We need to demand genuine progress in the region, and we need to show ourselves willing to help generously those who truly show a commitment to engage in reform.

  • We should rededicate ourselves to working with our allies and the rest of the world more respectfully and constructively. Bush has been simply appalling and inept in this regard, almost certainly making this task far harder than it needed to be, and the horrified reaction from the rest of the world toward both his rhetoric and his actions is fully justified.

Will we do these things? I am sympathetic to the idea that George Bush has shown himself to be so hamhanded in foreign affairs that there's little likelihood of success as long as he's in power. And yet, what's the alternative? We need to try, and I'm inclined barely to give him a chance. Something has to kick start the Middle East into the 21st century, and I don't see anyone else willing or able to do it.

I realize, of course, that this is exactly the kind of talk that anti-war opponents, especially in Europe, find most disturbing. Will a successful war bring on a succession of such wars, turning America into an imperial, colonizing power? The question is legitimate, but to believe this is to judge all past U.S. actions in the worst possible light, something that's just as indefensible as the superpatriots' constant invocation of anti-Americanism anytime American policy is questioned.

Consider: in Saddam Hussein the Bush administration has a genuinely hideous tyrant; it has a decade of defiance to UN mandates; and it has the steadfast support of Great Britain, a country most Americans respect and admire. But even so public opinion is only barely in favor of military action. Even if the war goes well, it defies belief to think that the American public would put up with a long succession of such wars, and in a democracy that's the final control. If Bush goes too far, he will be voted out of office.


So that's it. I have tremendous misgivings about this war especially under the aegis of this administration and I respect the views of those who oppose it. But rogue states and terrorists are a genuine threat, the Middle East is the world's biggest breeding ground for both, and gentle prodding seems unlikely to change either of these things.

Does this mean that we are practicing cultural imperialism? Perhaps, and if this amounts to nothing more than creating some docile new client states we will have failed. But at the same time there are some aspects of western culture are worth exporting: religious tolerance, democratic institutions, civil liberties, and respect for women among them.

It is right to criticize the U.S. for its shortcomings, but it's also right to remember that on the big issues of the past century World War I, World War II, the rebuilding of Japan and Germany, the fight against Communism America has largely been on the right side. Our record isn't perfect, but neither is it contemptible, and for all that's gone wrong, I imagine that life in Kosovo and Afghanistan is at least a little bit better than it was before our involvement there.

In a sense, I envy the people on both sides of this debate who have strong and unwavering opinions. And yet I can't help but think that anyone who enters this debate with no doubts in their mind is simply not taking the whole thing seriously. Committed doves, I suspect, aren't facing up to the very real dangers of rogue states with WMDs, while committed hawks refuse to acknowledge the dangers of a doctrine of pre-emptive war.

That said, and with misgivings, I find myself on the side of war. Yes, there are enormous risks in this approach, and it could all go horribly wrong. I hope it doesn't.

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FRANCE AND THE WAR....The latest French-German idea for avoiding war with Iraq is to send in lots of UN troops:

The plan, which is expected to be formally introduced as soon as Thursday, calls for the open-ended deployment of U.S. troops outside Iraq to maintain pressure on the regime, but it would otherwise take control of the showdown with Hussein away from Washington by introducing a permanent U.N. coordinator for disarmament in Iraq and a U.N. court to deal with infractions and human rights abuses, French sources said.

Blue-helmeted U.N. troops -- "a couple of thousand," according to one official -- would provide muscle behind the inspection teams inside Iraq.

The initiative also would make all of Iraq a "no-fly" zone, extending the northern and southern areas now patrolled by U.S. and British warplanes. Permanent surveillance would monitor Iraqi activities by air, French sources added.

This just gets weirder and weirder. Isn't this basically a military occupation that's completely open ended? And didn't we try this in Yugoslavia for several years with an utter lack of success?

This is why I think the French are acting strangely. Opposition to war is understandable, but this hardly seems like a practical alternative. I mean, thousands of UN troops permanently stationed in Iraq and thousands more U.S. troops stationed permanently on their border? All the while knowing that Saddam will be doing his best to evade inspections? I just can't make any sense out of this.

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IS THE MEDIA LIBERAL?....OR JUST CONFUSED?....Newspaper stories about poll results are always great fodder for people looking for media bias. After all, every poll has dozens of questions, but the headline usually has room to highlight only one. So which will it be?

Well, the Los Angeles Times conducted a follow-up poll last week after Colin Powell's UN speech, calling the same people from a previous poll to see if opinion had shifted regarding war with Iraq. Here's the headline:

Many Desire U.N. Backing for War on Iraq

Most Americans believe Colin L. Powell was persuasive, but support for action falls from 62% with Security Council backing to 55% without.

I have to say that I found this choice odd. The whole point of the poll was to find out if opinion had changed, and as the Times states in the body of the story, they found "a slight increase in support for unilateral military action."

What's more, the story goes on to say, "But there remains a deep desire to avoid war," while later admitting that 55% of respondents "support a military action with some allied backing, but without U.N. concurrence." Since this is, in fact, the current situation, it's a little hard to figure out where they managed to come up with this "deep desire to avoid war."

And on another front, compare these two questions:

Q: The United States should take military action against Iraq only it has the support of the U.N. Security Council? 62% agreed.

Q: If the Security Council does not approve military action against Iraq, but the U.S. has the support of some allies, such as Britain, would you support or oppose taking military action? 42% opposed.

Aren't these pretty much the same question (no UN approval = no military action)? Considering the rather small difference in wording, doesn't a 20% gap in the responses seem a bit odd?

The full poll results are here.

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FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN NEW YORK....This editorial in the New York Sun has already gotten a lot of attention, but you know what? It can't get too much. The Sun apparently thinks thinks that free speech should stop where anti-war sentiment begins:

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing the people of New York and the people of Iraq a great service by delaying and obstructing the anti-war protest planned for February 15. The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized, and the smaller the crowd is likely to be.

....The protesters probably do have a claim under the right to free speech. Never mind that its not the speech that the city is objecting to its the marching in the streets, blocking traffic, and requiring massive police protection.

So long as the protesters are invoking the Constitution, they might have a look at Article III. That says, Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

....To those concerned about civil liberties, wed [say] that the more successful the protesters are in making their case in New York, the less chance theyll have the precious constitutional freedom to protest here the next time around.

The demonstrators "probably" have a claim to free speech? Protesting the war is "treason"? And all wrapped up with a sneering reference to "precious constitutional freedom"?

This is roughly the kind of editorial I would have expected from a Hearst dishrag in the 1950s or Pravda circa 1980, not from a supposedly respectable American newspaper in 2003. I hope the Sun is equally happy with this kind of banana republic patriotism after the Patriot IV act is passed and the police commissioner decides they're the ones who need a little light harrassment you know, just to remind them of what's respectable in New York, and what's not.

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THE VALUE OF INTELLIGENCE....Was Colin Powell's testimony before the UN last Wednesday believable? Or was he just waving around bogus but unverifiable data in an attempt to stampede the UN into action? William Arkin writes in the LA Times today that he thinks Powell was being truthful:

Among the pieces of evidence Powell used to buttress his case that Iraq was flouting U.N. resolution was a photograph he said showed a "poison and explosives factory" at Khurmal in northeastern Iraq. I've had too much experience with U.S. intelligence to believe that Powell's photo was fabricated or doctored. Neither was the secretary deliberately misrepresenting evidence. His own integrity is a sufficient safeguard against that.

But there's a lot more to the story than just this, and the lessons are valuable for both sides in the war debate. Click the link to read the whole thing.

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WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?....Eric Alterman's latest book, as if you didn't know already, is called What Liberal Media?, but I have a feeling a better title might have been Enough Already, OK? His basic case, it seems, is that sure, maybe conservatives had a point when they first started complaining about liberal media bias 30 years ago, but they won that war a long time ago and should now declare victory and just shut the hell up about it. But they won't do it because it's become an indispensable part of their media toolkit:

Rich Bond, then the chair of the Republican Party, complained during the 1992 election, "I think we know who the media want to win this election and I don't think it's George Bush. The very same Rich Bond also noted during the very same election, however, "There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media]....If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one."

What Liberal Media? is basically broken into two parts. The first part is very specifically about bias in the media, and Alterman methodically works his way through television, print, radio, and think tanks. The second part, which is actually the more entertaining of the two, is a series of case studies: the Clinton administration, the 2000 election, the Florida recount debacle, etc.

In the first few chapters Alterman makes a pretty convincing case that liberal bias doesn't exist among the "punditocracy" either on TV or in print, and definitely not on radio or among the think tanks. Op-ed pages are full of right wing voices, most of them dedicated movement conservatives, and the same is true of TV, where, like Noah's ark, liberals are allowed to appear only when paired up with conservatives, never on their own. Talk radio, of course, is an open and shut case for conservative hegemony, and thanks to a larger funding base, conservative think tanks the intellectual backbone of the punditry have grown like weeds over the past two decades.

Now, this is important stuff, but there's another side too, and it's the one in my experience, anyway that forms the real core of the conservative complaint: the biases of ordinary beat reporters on hot button social issues such as gun control, abortion, gay rights, and so forth. Here, Alterman confesses, "Though the evidence is sketchy, I tend to believe that on many social issues, conservatives have a case."

Alterman then goes on to admit that when it comes to reporting on religion, conservatives have a "strong case." In the case of abortion, bias is arguably "pervasive" but has gotten better since 1990. In the case of the death penalty and gun control, "a fair minded observer might point to a pervasive liberal bias." What's more, he says, "I concur that the overall flavor of the elite media reporting favors gun control, campaign finance reform, gay rights, and the environmental movement...."

I'm not quite sure why Alterman takes this tack, but on this issue arguably the most important one the best he can do is to suggest that while liberal bias on social issues might exist, it's not quite as bad as conservatives make it out to be:

I do not find this bias as overwhelming as some conservative critics do....The mere fact of paying more attention to a story than an audience would likely choose as clearly seems to be the case with both campaign finance reform and the death penalty is hardly evidence of bias on one side of the issue or another.

This is hardly a ringing defense of the media's coverage of social issues, and I found it a little disappointing that he didn't choose to make a stronger case. It is unlikely that a similar book by a conservative author would have cut so much slack for an opposing point of view.

When it comes to political reporting, however, things are quite different, and here Alterman makes a pretty good case that reporters' biases don't affect their actual coverage very much. The media savaged Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, hated Al Gore with a passion, and has generally treated George W. Bush very leniently, even before 9/11. The reason, he says, is twofold: reporters react more strongly to scandal and the chance of a fat byline than they do to anything else, and in any case they have been so cowed by accusations of liberal bias that much of the time they bend over backwards to avoid it.

What Liberal Media? is a well documented and entertainingly written book, well worth a read for anyone interested in liberal causes. Although Alterman inexplicably writes a chapter on social issues that could appear almost intact in National Review, the rest of the book provides plenty of evidence that conservative charges of pervasive media bias are mostly myths. Conservatives control think tanks and talk radio and have at least equal access to newspaper op-ed pages and television talk shows. On economic issues most reporters favor conservative positions, and time and again they have shown themselves willing to savage liberal politicians either out of personal pique or simply because it will advance their careers. And even on social issues, what bias there is tends to be pretty spotty.

Overall, conservatives no longer have much of substance to complain about when they make charges of liberal bias, and this book gives you the ammunition to tell them so. And if it manages to embarrass a few principled conservatives into toning down their rhetoric, and puts a bit of backbone into a few national reporters, it will have done its job.

The website for What Liberal Media? is here. The first chapter of the book in PDF format is here. For those of you without PDF viewers, the folks at Cursor have posted the first chapter in ordinary HTML format here.

Eric Alterman's daily blog on MSNBC is here.

A Nation cover story adapted from the book is here.

You can buy the book from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Alibris, Powell's, or Buy.com. Or you can just get off your lazy ass and drive over to your local bookstore and buy it right now.

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February 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

URL UPDATE....Kieran Healy has a new address:

http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/

Adjust your bookmarks.

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JOHN LOTT UPDATE....Mary Rosh has just become a TV star! On Capitol Gang tonight, Al Hunt's "Outrage of the Week" was John Lott's use of his Mary Rosh sock puppet to defend himself on the internet.

This story has now been in the Washington Times, Washington Post, US News & World Report, and Capitol Gang, and there's just gotta be some hungry young investigative reporter out there who can pick this up and start some serious digging into the 1997 survey business. As a public service, just in case any enterprising reporters are reading this, here's a recap:

  • Lott claimed that 98% of defensive gun uses involved merely brandishing the gun, not firing it. His source was a survey done by Gary Kleck.

  • When it was pointed out that he had misread Kleck's survey, he changed the second edition of his book to claim that the 98% figure came from a survey he himself had done.

  • Last year somebody finally thought to ask Lott for some details about this survey. He said all the data had been lost in a hard disk crash.

  • Oh, and all the hard copy had also been lost, he didn't remember the names of any of the students who had done the phone work, and there are no funding records because he paid for the whole thing out of his own pocket.

  • Not enough? It turns out that his sample size was 25 people. How do you get 98% out of a sample of 25?

So does the 1997 survey exist or not? It's time for someone out there to do what the press is supposed to do: hold people accountable. A serious investigation into John Lott would be a good place to start.

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HUMANS IN SPACE....The New York Times editorializes today (tomorrow, actually) that although focusing on space stations in low earth orbit is misguided, we should keep the manned space program anyway:

It is important to maintain the human spaceflight program, but it should be focused more sharply on the ultimate if distant goal: human exploration of far-off worlds.

....We don't pretend that there are any economic or military gains to be had on distant planets, or that it is important to beat, say, the Chinese, should they become a spacefaring power. The overarching reason to venture out beyond this planet is to see what it is like out there, to satisfy our curiosity, to engage in the sheer thrill of exploration and new discoveries. The task ahead is to find a way to keep the flame of exploration alive at a time when the space program has been rocked by tragedy and when huge deficits make it hard to find financing for grand ventures whose payoff lies decades in the future.

I'm still not sure I buy this at least for now but at least it's an honest reason. The problem is that even in 1970, with the moon landing fresh in our memories, no one was able to get the country interested in a mission to Mars, and nothing has changed in 30 years. It may be an honest argument, but I doubt that it's a persuasive one.

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INDIA VS. FRANCE....Thomas Friedman thinks India should replace France as a permanent member of the Security Council:

Why replace France with India? Because India is the world's biggest democracy, the world's largest Hindu nation and the world's second-largest Muslim nation, and, quite frankly, India is just so much more serious than France these days. France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important, it's become silly. India has grown out of that game. India may be ambivalent about war in Iraq, but it comes to its ambivalence honestly. Also, France can't see how the world has changed since the end of the cold war. India can.

There's some truth to this, and while I dislike the French-bashing temper tantrums that are regular features of the warhawk community, Friedman is right that it's becoming increasingly hard to view France's actions as motivated by rational thought or even enlightened self-interest.

A little later in the column Friedman makes a good point about the post-Cold War world too:

Today's world is also divided, but it is increasingly divided between the "World of Order" anchored by America, the E.U., Russia, India, China and Japan, and joined by scores of smaller nations and the "World of Disorder." The World of Disorder is dominated by rogue regimes like Iraq's and North Korea's and the various global terrorist networks that feed off the troubled string of states stretching from the Middle East to Indonesia.

More on this later.

UPDATE: Zack Ajmal writes to say that India actually has the world's third largest Muslim population, not the second, behind both Indonesia and Pakistan. Others have emailed to take me (or, rather, Friedman) to task for proposing that India should get a permanent seat on the Security Council, suggesting that their human rights record and violation of nuclear arms agreements make them unfit for a permanent seat. Since I don't know squat about India I will remain agnostic on this question, especially since I think Friedman's bigger point was that France doesn't deserve a permanent seat given its current status in the world, its increasingly erratic foreign policy, and the fact that Europe is overrepresented in the current setup.

I'm not altogether convinced by this, but I do think that France's current behavior is peculiar. My preferred solution would be to expand the permanent seats on the Security Council considerably but to remove the veto power. This, of course, will happen when pigs land on Mars.

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INTERNET PATENTS....Part 2 of the LA Times story about patents is up today. The subject is the internet, specifically Lawrence Lockwood, who claims a patent that applies to essentially all e-commerce.

One of the problems with the whole internet patent mess is that patent holders have a habit of attacking small companies who don't have the money to fight back. Then, after they've bagged a few dozen settlements, they can start in on the big companies backed up by a bunch of newspaper clippings that make them look like they're for real. Or, they can just send letters to small companies forever, collecting settlements from people who can't afford to go to court and never realize that they are part of a larger group that could fight back if they banded together. As Lockwood says:

If I win, I have a patent that has been validated by the court system. It will be a very powerful weapon. And if they win, they get nothing. Absolutely nothing.

In Lockwood's case, one of the little guys did decide fight back and managed to locate a bunch of other little guys to join him. It's an interesting story.

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February 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL LIBERTIES ALERT....Via Atrios, the Center for Public Integrity reports on sweeping new "Patriot II" legislation that is currently being drafted by the Department of Justice. It's just chock full of new restrictions on civil liberties, but my favorite is this:

Section 501, Expatriation of Terrorists: This provision, the drafters say, would establish that an American citizen could be expatriated if, with the intent to relinquish his nationality, he becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a terrorist organization. But whereas a citizen formerly had to state his intent to relinquish his citizenship, the new law affirms that his intent can be inferred from conduct. Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a terrorist organization by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.

So if you belong to an organization maybe A.N.S.W.E.R.? that John Ashcroft decides is a terrorist group, you can be stripped of your citizenship and (presumably) deported somewhere. Lovely.

DOJ, of course, says they're just brainstorming things, and we shouldn't be worried. Uh huh.

I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about this.

UPDATE: TalkLeft has more.

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TERROR ALERT....Here's the latest from CNN: a permanent little bug in the bottom right of the screen reminding everyone that our current terror alert level is now ORANGE (or HIGH). Yecch.

But what to do? The talking head on Crossfire is saying, well, we should be careful, but on the other hand, if we actually do anything then the terrorists have won. So which is it? And what's the point of all this nonsense if we're not actually supposed to react in any way?

Plus: Moneyline wants to know which you think is more important: the increased terror level or the possibility of rain this weekend? Be sure to vote!

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CHESS FINALE....Man vs. machine is over: Garry Kasparov offered a draw after the 28th move and it was accepted by the Deep Junior team. The final match score is 3-3.

The ESPN2 commentators were surprised, even shocked and "dissatisfied," suggesting that Kasparov's position was promising and he might have been able to eke out a win if he'd played it out. Their conclusion is that he was "spooked" by the computer and was just happy to get out alive.

There have been three world-class man vs. machine matches since 1997 and there have now been two ties and one win for the computer. What's worse is that Deep Junior used no special hardware: it was a standard piece of software running on an Intel box, and it will only get better over time. At this point, no grandmaster has beaten the top-ranked computer program in the past six years, and my guess is that even a draw will become a thing of the past very soon.

POSTSCRIPT: Kasparov is being interviewed now and has basically admitted that the pressure of the previous five games was on his mind, as well as memories of his infamous meltdown in 1997 against Deep Blue. It was "more important not to lose" than it was to win, he said, and he has declared himself satisfied with the conclusion of the match.

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SOME MINOR KVETCHING....Can I just take a moment to complain about something trivial? Thanks.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through What Liberal Media? and I've already counted an even dozen proofreading errors and that's generous since I'm counting repeatedly misspelled names as only a single mistake. I might be wrong about this, but I could swear that 20 years ago I rarely found proofreading errors in books, while today it's a common occurrence. Is this because (a) people are sloppier today than before, (b) publishers' budgets have gone down and proofreading has suffered, or (c) I just notice it more than I used to?

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who should know, writes to say, "I've been working in book publishing for two decades, and hanging around writers and editors even longer, and for as long as I can remember, everyone has claimed that books didn't used to have lots of typos the way they do now. And yet, when I go back and look at routine trade hardcovers from thirty or forty years ago, what I find are: typos." And reader Diana Waggoner agrees: "The answers to your question today about proofreading are (a), (b), AND (probably) (c)." So there you go.

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ANOTHER HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST....TBOGG has a list of all the Hollywood celebrities that are currently being boycotted by the good folks at FreeRepublic.com. They just added Dustin Hoffman and the list now includes 89 celebrities.

No, that's not a misprint. 89.

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CHESS UPDATE....LIVE!....Heh. ESPN2 is televising the sixth and final game of the Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Junior chess match. Right now the announcers are comparing Kasparov to Michael Jordan....

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BUSH AND HOMELAND SECURITY....One of the things that Democrats could do a better job of is criticizing President Bush's lame efforts to increase domestic security. Today Alex Gourevitch, writing in The American Prospect, tries to make that point:

Bush's problem is not that he's doing too little for national security but that he's doing it incorrectly, frittering away precious resources on ill-conceived programs of nightmarishly large bureaucratic proportions but little security benefit. Rather than call for more money to be spent on homeland security, Democrats should be taking a hard look at how Bush is spending the money he already has. And if they did, they would find ample grounds on which to criticize the president.

Unfortunately, the entire article focuses on immigration problems, an issue that's already a Democratic hobbyhorse and, I think, is unlikely to persuade people that the Bush administration is acting clumsily.

Unfortunately, this is the problem with so much writing on the left: it's just too damn mushy and unpersuasive. If this were a conservative issue, a dozen think tanks would already have written detailed position papers, carefully poll tested and wordsmithed, and sent them off to hundreds of newspapers and congress members. Index cards with talking points would be distributed by the thousands. Op-eds would be flying out of their word processors.

We just don't have this kind of organization, and we need it desperately. There are loads of areas where Bush can be attacked on his homeland security policies, but to do a good job requires a lot of dedicated research and a well-funded organization that can get it out to the world.

How come there aren't any ultra-rich liberal cranks willing to bankroll this kind of thing?

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SELLING OUT THE KURDS?....American foreign policy has a long history of creating long term problems in return for short term gains. Exhibits A and B (this year, anyway) are the aid that we gave to both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. To some extent these tradeoffs are inevitable in an imperfect world, of course, but you'd still like to think we could learn from our mistakes.

But probably not. Nathan Newman points to a New York Times article today indicating that in order to get Turkish support for the war with Iraq we are getting ready to sell out the Kurds. Of course, this has always been the price of Turkish support, but it's still sad to see us playing this horrible game.

The warbloggers keep telling us that we don't need any allies to win this war. If that's the case, why are we making deals concerning the Kurds in order to get basing rights in Turkey?

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COOKING THE BOOKS....The Bush budget is so bad that I literally haven't had the heart to dig into it and blog about it. It's just a nightmare, and one that's difficult to explain even with the most cynical possible view of both human nature and the Bush administration in general.

The worst part of the budget, of course, is the enormous long-term deficits that it envisions. But the most cynical part of the budget is this:

The president's new savings tax breaks would actually make money for Washington during the next five years, as Americans agree to pay more taxes up front to get bigger breaks later on. Of course, once taxpayers start to take full advantage of the breaks, the government would begin losing money -- fistfuls of it, according to some analysts. But those losses would show up only a decade or more from now, out of the budget window.

Read that paragraph closely: Bush's $670 billion tax-cut plan was announced with great fanfare, but it makes near-term deficits look awfully bad. So in order to make them look less frightening the savings plan surreptitiously increases taxes over the next few years, at the cost of creating huge tax windfalls in the out years, beyond the five-year window of the budget projection.

Since I've already used the word "cynical" twice in this post, I'm casting around for another word to adequately describe what they're up to, but I'm having trouble. I guess "contemptuous" is the best I can come up with. The administration is simply hellbent on making the short term look rosy plenty of tax breaks, plenty of spending, but a deficit that's not too big while showing utter disdain for what happens after that. November 2004 is the only date they care about.

I have a feeling this might be the reason that O'Neill and Lindsey were fired last year. Karl Rove demanded a deeply gimmicky but ultimately destructive budget for 2004 and both men balked at the lengths he wanted to go to. But we probably won't know until it's too late.

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HARD-CORE CREATIONISM....Chris Mooney points to a post today by Brian Montopoli about the Michael Dini evolution case (no permalinks, scroll to "Dini does it"). Brian reports, not surprisingly, that the whole thing is a put-up job and Micah Spradling is little more than a pawn in a bigger game:

Liberty Legal, the religious legal group [told Spradling] that they needed a reason to make this into a case, and convinced the student to be the center of the controversy. Spradling is a hard-core creationistI asked him if there was room for both evolution and creationism, and he said, basically, hell nobut, clearly, he is being used for political purposes. As he told me, hed rather be studying than dealing with all this nonsense

A big part of the discussion surrounding this case has revolved around what Dini really meant when he said he would give recommendations only to students who can "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of human origins. My guess all along has been that his only real concern is hard-core creationism masquerading as science, not any special concern about religious views in general. Spradling's statements seem to support this.

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CAN YOU PATENT A RESTROOM QUEUE?....The LA Times has a genuinely interesting long feature story today about the Patent Office and its problems. Their hook is a fight between two makers of crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The problem, says the Times, is that the standards for approving patents have gotten so relaxed over the years that practically anything qualifies:

Last year, the appeals court said the patent office had incorrectly rejected two applications for "obviousness." If an examiner rejects an application using "general knowledge," the court said, that knowledge "must be articulated and placed on the record."

In other words, said deputy commissioner Kepplinger, "we can't reject something just because it's stupid."

The article discusses the whole issue of patenting "business processes," and tomorrow, in part 2, they'll take on the internet. It's good reading.

(As a personal aside, when I was in the document imaging industry some of the biggest users of our software were the patent offices in various countries. Their efforts to "go paperless" were always enormous and virtually always went really, really badly. I'm not sure what that means, but there you have it.)

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BLOGGING AND JOURNALISM....What's the difference between a blogger and a journalist? Well, bloggers are typically hobbyists who specialize in comment and opinion, while journalists are professionals in print and on TV who do original reporting, have big audiences, and the ability to influence public debate. Of the few who occupy both worlds comfortably, one of the best known is Joshua Micah Marshall, a D.C. area reporter since 1997 who is also the author of Talking Points Memo, a respected and widely read blog that attracts upwards of 12,000 visitors daily. In fact, you all read him every day already, don't you?

Marshall has been writing TPM since shortly after the Florida election fiasco began, making him not just a popular blogger but one of the longest established as well. Writing from a moderate left perspective, he devotes his blog almost entirely to politics and foreign affairs, and last December was one of the first to break the Trent Lott story, following it up with a blizzard of original reporting and sharp commentary until Lott finally called it quits just before Christmas.

At the same time, his print career has also blossomed. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, appearing there most recently with a devastating critique of Dick Cheney's competence, and two weeks ago began a stint as columnist for The Hill, a weekly newspaper dedicated to the inner workings of Congress.

So what's it like being both a blogger and a mainstream journalist? Do most mainstream journalists even know the blogosphere exists?

I decided to ask, and Marshall says there's good news for bloggers everywhere: more and more mainstream journalists are paying attention to what we write: "Those folks read blogs. And they'd also like to imitate them. There's a lot of crossover." The entire interview is below.


CALPUNDIT: You're a professional journalist: you write pieces for a lot of different outlets and they pay you for them. Conversely, blogging pays nothing. So what was the initial motivation to start blogging?

JOSHUA MICAH MARSHALL: I think I had several initial motivations for starting my site, but none of them were all that thought out, or directed to any particular end. When I was in graduate school in the 1990s I had done work in web design. So I had some knowledge of how to run a website and just an interest in having one. I was also a fan of Mickey Kaus's site. And to a great extent, when I created my site I was imitating him.

The other motivation was a bit more complicated. At the time, I was working for a magazine. And I felt very constrained not really free to write what I actually thought, largely constrained along ideological lines. So part of what I was doing was finding an outlet where I could speak my mind. So where I was working at the time had something to do with it.

But to be fair, when you're writing for a magazine you never have complete carte blanche to say whatever you want. So, wherever I'd been working, the prospect of untrammeled freedom to air my thoughts probably would have been attractive. At that magazine, though, I was rather trammeled.

So I launched into it at the beginning of the 2000 election recount and it caught on rather quickly and I found I really enjoyed doing it.

Now, not long after I started the site I quit my job and started freelancing. And it immediately occurred to me, or rather I worried, that TPM was going to cannibalize my freelance writing. Obviously, you only have so many ideas and so many words in you a week. And how was I going to support myself if I was writing a lot of them on my site and not getting paid for it?

The truth was that I found that I really enjoyed doing TPM, even though it was very hard to justify in financial terms, and at least difficult at first to justify in professional terms. So the rationale followed the fact that I liked doing the site and probably wasn't going to stop, not vice versa.

What I decided was that TPM was a loss-leader for my professional writing career. I wouldn't make any money off it directly, but it would allow me to improve and expand my skills as a writer, attract attention to my writing, and eventually get seen by editors and other folks who would offer me paying gigs. That was the rationale that I came up with to justify to myself why I was doing this, and why I was sinking so much time into it. And to a great degree it turned out to be true.

So in the end, has TPM helped your career acting as a "loss leader" or have you found that it cannibalizes stuff that you might otherwise sell to paying markets? Take the Trent Lott affair, for example: did it attract editors who wanted you to write about it for them, or did it turn them off since all your best stuff was already on the Web for free?

It's sometimes difficult, often impossible, to tell just what prompts an editor's or someone else's interest in your work. On balance, however, I think there's no question TPM has functioned as a loss leader for my journalism career. To some degree it does cannibalize my work. Often, once I have written a lot about a given topic on TPM, editors aren't as interested in my writing up the same ideas or points for them. Understandably so, I suppose, and increasingly so as TPM's audience has grown.

Back in the days when the readership was really small this wasn't a problem since so few people read. (That really varies from editor to editor. And it has a lot to do with the sort of publication it is, audience overlap and so forth.) In the case of Lott I did write at least one paid piece on the subject (I think that's all a column in the Financial Times.)

But it's not that direct usually. TPM has increased my name recognition as a writer. And over time that leads to more work. To the best of my knowledge, the editors I'm now doing the most work for both first became familiar with my writing from reading TPM.

Does the blog ever help you directly? That is, do readers ever see something on your blog and then send you material that turns into something you can use in your outside work?

I certainly get a lot of ideas and tips from readers. Some of them extremely valuable. One of the stories I "broke" about the Trent Lott situation came directly from a tip from a reader, which I then confirmed through traditional reporting means.

I'm not sure though that there's ever been something I've turned around and used in a non-blog piece. Certainly, there may have been. I just don't specifically remember. To a great degree, looking back, the two things are very difficult for me to disentangle, since my blog and non-blog work tend to be combined in my mind.

How plugged in to the rest of the blogosphere are you? Do you read a lot of other blogs? Which ones?

Probably not nearly so much as I should be. I know about and visit the most-trafficked ones: andrewsullivan.com, kausfiles.com, instapundit.com, atrios, altercation calpundit, of course. And I stop by pretty frequently. And I've visited and read many others. But I have a pretty hard time keeping up. I'm probably less well-blog-read than a lot of folks who have blogs or just read blogs.

And unlike most blogs, you have almost no permanent links to other sites only three in fact. And you rarely link to other blogs in your text. Any particular reason for that?

Well, there's two questions I guess. There's a very short list of blogs I have links to. There used to be one more, The Bull Moose, run by Marshall Wittman, who had to shut his site down to become John McCain's Communications Director.

Basically that very short link section just started for links to publications I write for frequently, almost as a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing, and then for a couple blogs of folks who were good friends and/or had been generous with advice in my career. So basically there's no real rhyme or reason to why that list is so short. It started short and basically stayed short.

As to linking to other blogs, it's not a matter of any conscious choice. The links are just driven by the posts, i.e., what seems to make sense to link to in a given case. A lot of the posts that I do are either based on my own reporting or work from stories that are coming out in the daily newspaper press. So my links tend to be to big national newspapers like the Times and the Post and other similar outlets, and then the websites of the cable news nets. I suppose the difference is that there are some blogs that do a lot of inter-blog debates. And I tend not to do that much of that. And thus, I guess, fewer links.

The other day, out of the blue, I got a call from a Washington Post reporter, asking about something he had seen on my site. Do you get the sense that more mainstream reporters are starting to pay attention to blogs, if only to keep up with what people are chattering about?

Absolutely. I think there's no question. It's been building slowly for more than a year. But I think that in the last four or five months it's really gained momentum. There are a lot of journalists who've read a number of the DC-based sites for some time. But there was always a big generational tilt to who read. Now I think it's broader. The whole Lott debacle got the blogging community a lot of attention.

But in a lot of ways I think it just brought into the open what was already happening, that blogs had become a real part of the larger news and commentary ecosystem. And that they can drive debate. I think it's a bit like talk radio was a dozen years ago. It evolved as a significant force for some time before it was finally recognized as such.

A lot of reporters have for a long time read blogs often ones run by their friends as a sort of guilty pleasure. But I think just recently there's a new sense that news is being made there; opinions are being formed; stories are being broken that you don't hear about in other places. And so even your more buttoned-down reporters have started to take notice.

Talk radio has an audience in the tens of millions; Rush Limbaugh claims 20 million all by himself. What's your sense of how big blogging could get? What's been the growth rate of traffic at TPM over the past couple of years?

How big it could get I really don't know. The rate of growth for my site in recent months has been pretty rapid. But in absolute terms it's still quite small compared to any of the even somewhat popular talk radio shows.

You know a lot of journalists and reporters in the DC area. Do you think more of them will follow the lead of people like you and Sullivan and start their own blogs? And if they do, how do you think their employers will react? Would the New York Times, for example, even allow one of their reporters to operate a political blog?

Good question. And like most good questions, I don't have a good answer. Clearly, a number of journos are starting weblogs. Sometimes they're not updated that frequently and thus lack the critical mass or critical frequency that makes a weblog a weblog. What I do see happening is this: many bloggers imagine a very binary or oppositional relationship between themselves and the "big media." Not true. Those folks read blogs. And they'd also like to imitate them. There's a lot of crossover.

What I think will happen is that you'll see a lot of newspapers and news networks incorporating blog-like things into their sites. So for instance I could certainly imagine the Times setting up one of their political correspondents with a blog. I know another big paper has considered bringing a blogger onto their website. I imagine that would be something like the set up Alterman has with MSNBC.

A blog operating under the aegis of a media company would have to operate a bit differently. Corporations need copy-editors to go over copy, editors to sign off on posts, lawyers to vet things. So my question is how much these "blogs" will be like the blogs we think of now. I think we're most likely to see the form blogs evolving in a number of different directions. Independent blogs, blogs run by media companies, blogs that are really vehicles for advertising a particular product or company, etc.

Kevin Drum 12:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ALAN GREENSPAN'S PLACE IN HISTORY....Paul Krugman wonders what Alan Greenspan is going to say about the 2004 budget when he testifies before Congress next week:

Mr. Greenspan must know that many people, whatever they say in public, now regard him as a partisan hack. That very much includes Republicans, who assume that he will support anything Mr. Bush proposes. What he does next week will determine whether that perception sticks.

He has certainly run out of excuses. As a famous fiscal scold, he can't adopt the administration's "deficits, schmeficits" approach. And he can't make the supply-side claim that tax cuts actually increase revenues, when just two years ago he argued for a tax cut to reduce the surplus.

If Mr. Greenspan nonetheless finds ways to rationalize Mr. Bush's irresponsibility, or if he takes refuge in Delphic utterances that could mean anything or nothing, history will remember him as a man who urged hard choices on others, but refused to make hard choices himself.

This may be Alan Greenspan's last chance to save his reputation and the country's solvency.

Greenspan's policy U-turns have indeed damaged his reputation. I wonder if in the end history will simply judge him as the person lucky enough to be the Fed chief during the boom of the 90s, not as a person who had anything to do with it.

And while this is controversial, I have long thought that he was wrong back in 1996-97 not to try to prick the stock market bubble. The Fed is supposed to control inflation, and in my view asset inflation is every bit as nasty as the normal kind. His "irrational exuberance" comments showed that he was well aware that stock prices were artificially inflated, but he did nothing about it. We are all paying the price now.

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BLAIR AND BUSH....Atrios points to this transcript of a TV appearance by Tony Blair, where he's questioned unmercifully by a BBC interviewer named Jeremy Paxman.

Whether Blair made his case or not I couldn't say. But there he is on a TV news show facing a hostile, well-prepared interviewer, and taking questions from the crowd. Can you even imagine George Bush doing this? I mean, he doesn't even give press conferences, let alone allow himself to be interviewed on live TV.

Bush has gone a step beyond the Imperial Presidency and is now conducting something like a Papal Presidency: he does nothing in public except make speeches ex cathedra and then wait for his friends in the press to fawn over his commanding presence. Doubts had been swirling around, but when Bush finally spoke, all those doubts were erased. It was a riveting performance.

It would be nice to live once again in a real democracy, one where our leaders did not feel like they had to hide from their own constituents.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy, who has much more intimate experience with British politics, is amused at my amazement. As well he should be....

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PLAGIARISTS FOR LIBERATION....Apparently the British dossier that Colin Powell waved around at the UN yesterday was actually cribbed (without attribution) from three public sources, including an article written by a grad student. This accusation first floated around the ether yesterday, and today Channel 4 confirmed it.

This doesn't really matter in any substantive way, but it does make you shake your head (Brad DeLong bangs his head against a wall, I just shake mine). What the hell are these guys thinking?

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MORE GUN CONTROL NUMBERS....Question: What do 75% and 98% have in common?

Answer: Both are disputed numbers in recent gun control debates.

Assuming I've been able to keep the whole thing straight, here's the nickel version of what's going on. Dave Kopel originally argued that 75% of all BATF gun prosecutions were constitutionally improper, citing a 1982 congressional report. Tapped questioned the validity of the number. Kopel basically responded that, well, it was in a congressional report. Tapped said sure, we knew that, but what's behind the number? Kopel then wrote a piece for NRO saying, well, it was in a congressional report. Tapped responds today with a post suggesting that aside from the sheer majesty of appearing in a congressional report, there's not much substance to the 75% number. After reading the whole exchange, it seems like Tapped has the better of the argument, at least on this point.

What's ironic is that the whole thing was started by an article in Washington Monthly claiming that regulation of gun stores was really lax and something should be done about it. Whether "something" should be done by BATF or some other agency, I don't know, but, honestly, isn't it a little hard to argue that we shouldn't be vigorously enforcing the laws we currently have on the books? Especially since pro-gun advocates keep claiming that's what we should be doing?

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IRAQ AND ITS WEAPONRY....Ignore everything Colin Powell said yesterday about mobile weapons labs, al-Qaeda connections, and satellite photos. Instead, consider only the following intercepted telephone call between two commanders in Iraq's 2nd Republican Guard Corps:

Col: Captain Ibrahim?
Capt: I am with you, sir.
Col: Remove.
Capt: Remove.
Col: The expression.
Capt: The expression. I got it.
Col: Nerve agents.
Capt: Nerve agents.
Col: Wherever it comes up.
Capt: Got it. Wherever it comes up.

Here's the problem: we don't live in a James Bond novel, and this intercept seems to indicate as clearly as any real-world intelligence could that the Iraqis are hiding biological weapons from the UN inspectors. And yet apparently it's not good enough: Eric Alterman, for example, doesn't believe it. In fact, he says, "the men and women who run this administration are not honest and therefore not to be trusted on this most crucial of questions." In other words, nothing they say could convince him.

I am sympathetic to the notion that administrations lie a lot on the subject of war, and I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that this particular administration routinely lies about anything they think they can get away with. And yet....that leaves us with a problem, doesn't it? If, a priori, nothing the administration says is believable, then opposition to war simply becomes a religious doctrine. After all, no one else is going to try and make the case.

But I think Alterman is wrong. Unlike, say, during the Tonkin Gulf incident, this administration is under intense scrutiny. There's enormous distrust of what they say, and they know it. They won't get the free pass that LBJ did.

What's more, they know that everything they say is easily verifiable once the war starts. No one ever pressed LBJ for proof of what happened in the Tonkin Gulf, but there will be dozens of countries and dozens more NGOs who will be looking very closely at what we find in Iraq after ground forces move in. It will hardly be possible to fake vast numbers of mobile weapons labs, swimming pools of anthrax, ballistic missiles, and the like, and if those things aren't found in substantial and convincing quantities George Bush will be lucky to escape impeachment, let alone win reelection.

If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly.

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LANGUAGE POLICE....National Review Online has apparently decided to act more like a liberal publication and sponsor occasional "debates" on some of the most common liberal-conservative tropes. This week it's Alterman and Bozell squaring off on whether the media is liberal.

No, sorry, that's whether the media are liberal. I think NRO is bucking for this year's New Yorker award for quaint adherence to outdated usage of the English language. Buckley's influence must still run deep.

(By the way, Alterman, I think wisely, takes a light attitude toward the debate:

I will admit I don't have great hopes for convincing NRO readers to see the error of their ways. After all, this is only 500 words. You people are too smart to change your minds about a bedrock belief over just 500 words.

Bozell doesn't take the bait, responding with a typically tendentious argument. Despite this, Alterman comes back for more and once again tries humor in today's installment, but to no avail. Bozell just isn't biting.

But you shouldn't waste your time with the debate anyway. Just go buy the book already.)

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PLACE YOUR BETS....The OxBlog guys are running a pool on when the bombing starts in Iraq, but I have a more interesting bet: how long will Daniel Davies keep up his intention to mock and summarize every post that Steven Den Beste writes? Keep in mind that he has to actually read them in order to do this.

I give him a couple of weeks. I believe he has seriously overestimated his own stamina and underestimated Den Beste's. But it should be fun while it lasts.

UPDATE: Apparently Den Beste is now linking back to DD's mocking commentaries. I can't quite tell if this indicates a hitherto obscured sense of humor, or a desire to get his entire fan base to flood DD with ranting emails. There will be more to this, I'm sure.

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February 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT'S ON TV....Given that Matt Yglesias and I agree so often, I guess it's no surprise that we also watch the same TV shows. Or at least one of them: 24.

Now, I don't know why Matt likes it, but my main interest is finding out what's going to happen to Kim Bauer each week.

See, here's the deal: Jack Bauer, a counterterrorism agent, is the star of the show, and his daughter Kim is basically the absolute center of the universe for enormous shitstorms of bad luck. She has been kidnapped by terrorists, lost her memory, been beaten up, shot at, imprisoned, and watched her mother get murdered, all the while demonstrating mind-bogglingly bad judgment in practically every situation she's ever found herself in. Dad's tough good sense definitely does not run in the family.

So what happened this week? Well, see, she got arrested after a police car pulled her over and the officer found a dead body in the trunk of her car (don't ask), and last week she was being driven back to central booking in Los Angeles, which is bad because terrorists are planning to set off a nuke there in a few hours.

So anyway, she and her boyfriend started a fire in the police car (again, don't ask) and Kim made her getaway when the police officer panicked and drove his car off the road. This is good, except there's a mountain lion in the hills! And it looks hungry!

But wait! There's more. As Kim is running away from the lion, she steps into a snare and gets stuck! And it's wire cable too, so she can't just twist it off. But that lion is obviously eyeing her.....

What's next? A flock of flying monkeys, perhaps? Or maybe her little section of California will fall into the sea.

You see why I like this show?

UPDATE: Also typically, I suppose, we learn this fact about Matt's TV-watching habits in the middle of some mind bendingly complex philosophical argument about the nature of disagreement vs. subjectivity, or some such thing. Crikey, analytical philosophers are a pain.

UPDATE II: A couple of readers have pointed out that I wasn't paying very close attention last season: Kim Bauer didn't lose her memory, her mother did, nor did she see her mother murdered, she saw her get raped. On the other hand, she did get caught in a drug bust and then waded into a prison fight.

This correction, by the way, comes from a reader who says "Personally, we were yelling encouragement to the cougar." Tough crowd....

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THE 2004 BUDGET....The Los Angeles Times gets it pretty much right in its lead editorial today about President Bush's 2004 budget:

A flat-out retreat from the idea that the Internal Revenue Service should take from the rich at a higher rate than from the poor, the budget contains a two-pronged attack on the progressive tax code that would basically end taxation on investment income. For starters, it would let individuals off the hook for taxes on corporate dividend income.

In addition, Bush has floated the idea of creating "lifetime savings accounts." A family of four could stash up to $30,000 a year in the accounts, plus $15,000 more in new tax-free retirement savings.

....As the proposal stands, a corporate attorney could dip into her lifetime savings account to, say, add a sauna to her weight room and still not need to worry about retirement funds. However, a custodian might well deplete his meager savings each time he had to replace a dead refrigerator or the head gasket on his Chevy and could wind up broke at 65.

....Tightening the money spent on a handful of important programs isn't going to keep the country from plummeting into trillion-dollar deficits. To avoid the economic abyss, Washington must resist the urge to pass a raft of tax cuts that would further enrich the wealthy while starving the government.

There have been a long succession of "boy genius" political advisors to presidents, and most of them don't last more than two or three years. I think Karl Rove has finally overreached, and this budget may be his Waterloo. Let's hope so, anyway.

Kevin Drum 8:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BARBECUE....Every few months I get a craving for my favorite barbecue, so I hop in the car and drive up to the Farmers Market in Los Angeles and order a pork sandwich at Bryan's Pit Barbecue. I've been going there for as long as I can remember, and my parents and grandparents have been going there since before I was born.

The Farmers Market is at Third & Fairfax, and at the IRS-approved rate for mileage I figure the total cost of a Bryan's lunch at about $45, not to mention the three hours of time driving up and back in unpredictable traffic.

But it's worth it. Although the Farmers Market has been around since the 30s, the owners recently added on a big, open-air mall at one end with a Nordstroms, a big movie theater, a Barne & Noble, etc. etc. To their credit, they haven't touched the original Farmers Market itself, and they claim it will "always be around," but I'm not so sure. I always drive up there in fear that Bryan's, at least, will have finally bitten the dust and last month's pork sandwich will have been my last.

But not this time. It's still there and going strong. Pay them a visit the next time you're in LA. And if you're still around at dinnertime, head over to Beverly and Rampart and have a chili burger at Tommy's. By the end of the day, you'll be about ready to convert to vegetarianism.

Kevin Drum 8:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TRUE CONFESSIONS....I think the picture I have up now will be the final one, if for no other reason than the fact that I'm tired of taking pictures of myself.

However, just so I don't get caught in a John Lott/Mary Rosh type of embarrassment in the future, I'll fess up now to an artificial digital enhancement: my weight swings up and down over the years, and right now is at its high end. But that was no problem: I just used Photoshop to squeeze the entire image a bit so that my face looks a little less puffy than it really is.

Digital photography is truly a marvelous medium....

Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHESS UPDATE....The fifth game of the match between Garry Kasparov and Deep Junior ended in a draw. Kasparov was playing white but couldn't pull out a win.

The match score is now tied 2.5-2.5 and Deep Junior will be playing white in the final game. The last time this happened (against Deep Blue in 1997), Kasparov melted down and lost the match in spectacular fashion. It's not likely he'll repeat that performance, but it's also unlikely he'll win. Best bet: the match ends up tied 3-3, with a small likelihood (30%?) that Kasparov caves in under pressure and allows Deep Junior to pull out a victory.

Game 6 is on Friday.

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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D-SQUARED IS BACK....I'd gotten a little tired of clicking over to D-squared Digest for the past month wondering if anything new would ever appear, but yesterday Daniel finally promised "More soon," so today I checked back.

I don't want to say the wait was worth it, since that might provoke him to take long hiatuses (hiati?) again, but, well, it was worth it. He's got three (!) posts up today, including perhaps the final word on the Michael Dini evolution controversy and a bit about the war.

But the best news is this:

As part of my New Year's Resolution to pick a really nasty fight with someone, and as a potential supply of more regular updates, I've decided to become a "watcher". I believe that this was all the rage in weblog circles about a year ago.

Anyway, I want to do it, and nobody convinced me that there were better targets for a jihad than Stephen den Beste, so I picked him. It also helps that, as far as I can tell, he's incredibly thin-skinned (see my comments board somewhere for proof).

So what's he going to do about Mr. Den Beste? Click here and find out.

As near as I can tell, Daniel's opinion of Den Beste is eerily identical to mine, but he is not restrained by any sense of politeness from expressing it in public. Thank God for people like him.

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MIGUEL ESTRADA....STEALTH CANDIDATE?....Kathryn Jean Lopez writes in The Corner:

Nick Schulz, honorary Cornerite sends this: Wow, I see Tom Daschle come on the TV screen live, so I turn up my volume wanting to know how the Democrats' Leader in the Senate reacted to the Powell speech, the most significant issue before the country today... only to find that he's playing the race card, blasting Miguel Estrada with several Hispanic "leaders" behind him as a nice backdrop. Tom Daschle, all class, 24/7.

Were they assuming that just because the administration has something new to say about the war that Senate Democrats should let Estrada slide through without a fight?

Of course, the main attraction of the war to the Bush administration does seem to be as a distraction from a domestic agenda that is either (a) nonexistent or (b) pretty unpopular once people figure out what it's really about, so that probably was what Nick was thinking.

And speaking of a domestic agenda, does anyone else think that a successful Democratic candidate for, say, the presidency, could basically pin his entire campaign on two things:

  • Deficits, deficits, deficits. Americans, especially moderate swing voters, don't like deficits.

  • Pounding on Bush for being unserious about "homeland security." There's just a ton of stuff to criticize on this front.

I know it's not like us liberals to pound on simplistic hobbyhorses for months on end, but it's probably time to start. Bush is pretty vulnerable on both these fronts, and I think they're proven vote getters.

Kevin Drum 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INVADING IRAQ....The latest Gallup poll shows that Americans trust Colin Powell over George Bush by more than 2 to 1 when it comes to Iraq. What a surprise.

Post SOTU, the poll also shows that the public's trust in the Bush administration has increased and faith in the UN has dropped. A week ago 47% of the public trusted the UN more than Bush, while this week only 39% do.

In a different poll, Gallup found that over 90% of Americans believe Iraq is probably obstructing UN inspectors, has biological and chemical weapons, has facilities to manufacture WMDs, and has ties to al-Qaeda, and 79% think Iraq probably has nuclear weapons. Despite this, 38% are opposed to invading Iraq and two-thirds oppose invasion unless the UN approves. It's obvious that the American public is still deeply conflicted about the entire question.

UPDATE: The second paragraph has been completely changed. I read the poll numbers wrong the first time around. Thanks to Adam Sandler (no, not that one) for pointing it out.

UPDATE II: David Adesnik at OxBlog thinks the poll numbers show a more consistent public view of Iraq than I give them credit for.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE LOTT....Brian Linse is finally back from some sort of non-blogging nonsense in England and has a post up about John Lott. He thinks we shouldn't let the Mary Rosh/1997 survey business distract us from the bigger question of whether Lott's main point is valid.

Well, sure, but the Mary Rosh stuff is a lot more fun. And I have to say that the question of whether Lott is willing to flat out lie (as opposed to spin statistics) is a pretty important one. If he lied about the survey, it throws all his research into serious doubt since there's no telling whether he's made up any other stuff.

Michelle Malkin, who might normally be thought sympathetic to Lott, seems to agree.

Kevin Drum 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POWELL AT THE UN....Colin Powell's presentation to the UN seems to have been pretty impressive. The French ambassador then followed Powell with a pre-written speech that probably doesn't mean much, but listening to it sure taught me one thing: those UN translators are really good. Wow.

My guess is that the French and Russians will posture a little bit more and then throw in their lot with the U.S. Whether that's for political reasons or because the new evidence truly convinces them, I don't know, but I don't think they'll hold out too much longer.

Kevin Drum 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IDIOTS....Yesterday a deputy secretary of state, under pressure from a Senate panel, admitted the obvious about North Korea:

"Of course we're going to have direct talks with the North Koreans. There's no question about it," [Richard] Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Pyongyang has pressed for one-on-one talks, but the United States had insisted that the regime must first abandon its nuclear ambitions.

So all of Bush's posturing and bluffing has come down to this. By denying the obvious, he's now forced to weakly cave in instead of simply opening talks in the first place. He's also wasted at least two months, during which the crisis has gotten worse.

These guys are incompetent. Why are we stuck with them?

Kevin Drum 9:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE 2004 BUDGET....Brad DeLong has the last word on the 2004 budget, along with a truly eye popping chart. Go read it.

I'm with Brad on this. I simply can't comprehend why any administration would want to do this or why anyone would let them get away with it. It's criminal negligence on an epic scale.

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE PHOTO FUN....Matt Yglesias has decided to follow my lead and post a picture of himself on his site. Hurry over before he takes it down.

I have a new picture too, and as soon as my idiot ISP manages to get my personal web space back on the air, I'll post it. It's a bright and smiley Kevin Drum, just like the old picture except that it's not ten years old and I don't look quite so much like a charter member of the local Young Republicans club.

UPDATE: It's up now. Hopefully my ISP can keep it there.

Kevin Drum 8:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIBERAL SHMIBERAL....Suppose the American media were absolutely neutral, favoring neither left nor right. Every single article and every single op-ed split the difference perfectly. What would happen?

Well, liberals would think the media was conservative and conservatives would think it was liberal. And, um....that's actually about what happens in the real world, isn't it? Does that mean nah, couldn't be. A neutral media? Too boring.

But I suppose I'll find out. I just went out and bought Eric Alterman's new book, What Liberal Media?, which Atrios says I don't even need to read now that I have it in the house. Apparently, buying it is actually just a (rather inefficient) way of contributing some money to Eric Alterman while also promoting the cause of liberal books possibly to soften up the market for a future book by Atrios himself? Maybe....

But I'll read it anyway and report back when I'm done. No point in wasting 25 bucks, after all.

(And a note to Eric: I dropped by my local Barnes & Noble to find a copy you know, big chain, carries every book in the galaxy? They didn't have it. So I drove over to the big Barnes & Noble, and after 10 minutes of searching the clerk finally found a copy, one of three in the store. So not only is your promo tour going badly, but your publisher doesn't even seem able to get the book stocked. This doesn't bode well. Maybe you should shave your legs and start wearing miniskirts?)

(Oh, and another note: how come Glenn Reynolds gets an advance copy but not Atrios? What's up with that?)

(And one more: could I really have gotten a free review copy just because I'm an important blogger? Would that be cool or what?)

Kevin Drum 7:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FISH TO ACADEMY: DROP DEAD....Stanley Fish thinks that university professors should quit jawboning about political issues and stick to their academic knitting:

My assertion is that it is immoral for academics or for academic institutions to proclaim moral views.

....Of course [universities] can and should take collective (and individual) action on those issues relevant to the educational mission -- the integrity of scholarship, the evil of plagiarism, the value of a liberal education. Indeed, failure to pronounce early and often on these matters would constitute a dereliction of duty.

Now, ever since Aristotle leveraged his position as head of the Lyceum to become an unofficial advisor to Alexander the Great, academics have placed themselves squarely in the middle of the issues of the day. So this is not exactly a new problem.

But never mind that. What I'm curious about is the reaction of Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds: they both think Fish is onto something, Eugene going so far as to say "I almost entirely agree" with Fish's article. (Glenn, needless to say, merely links in a vaguely approving manner without actually coming right out and saying he approves.)

I don't get it. Both of them have dedicated considerable amounts of their professional lives to speaking out on public affairs much of it on university time and taking advantage of their authority as university professors. Hell, they both run popular blogs in which they mouth off on subjects far and wide on a daily basis, just like the rest of us. So why would they claim that professors should limit themselves to the merely pedagogical?

Am I missing something here?

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman writes to say that he thinks Fish is speaking strictly about classroom advocacy. After reading the article again, he might be right, although there are a number of passages that seem to indicate otherwise. If that really is what Fish meant, then it's a pretty muddled piece. He should have made his point a lot clearer.

Kevin Drum 7:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANTI-CANADIANISM?....Jane Finch at the Daily Rant reports that an anti-gang organization in Chicago has decided not to allow Canadian children to participate in its poster contest. Why?

"It's subject to change if your leaders stop hedging. Germany's in the same boat," George Knox, director of the centre, told the Winnipeg Free Press. "This is a time in history when we need to be together."

Attaboy, George, that's the way to win friends and influence people. It's always good to see my fellow Americans treating our neighbors and friends like deadly enemies whenever they disagree with us.

The full story in the National Post is here.

Kevin Drum 5:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A GENERAL'S LOOK AT BUSH, RUMSFELD, AND THE WORLD....Sean-Paul Kelley of The Agonist has a family friend who's a general in the Air Force, and he persuaded him to do a short (anonymous) interview for his blog. Here's what he has to say about the Bush administration's treatment of the military:

Sean-Paul Kelley: "Ok, so in summary what you are telling me is that the brass doesn't like Rumsfeld and the idea behind Iraq, that you guys feel Korea is much more urgent from a proliferation standpoint and that life in the Pentagon isn't real rosy under an Administration that was supposed to be 'military' friendly? Does that sum it up about right?"

General Officer: "Sure does. Military friendly? That's a joke. Look at how they are treating our veterans. This makes me sick. It's galling. It's unconscionable. But the grunts think these guys are the greatest. The politicians see us as a means to an end. Of course, that is their prerogative. We ARE a means to an end, in a certain twisted sense. That's the role I've chosen for my life. I just think this 'end' isn't so important when there is another huge problem out there. We should be much more concerned about Asia. Much. They are proliferating. They are doing all those things we say we fear Hussein is doing. And we still have time to remedy the situation in Asia."

SPK: "Wow. You sound angry."

GO: "I am angry. The whole veterans thing is a slap in the face to us. And frankly I can't understand why they weren't called to account for it. I won't tell you what I think of their foreign policy. But you can imagine for yourself."

The entire interview is an interesting perspective from a senior officer. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

Kevin Drum 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REFLECTIONS ON SPACE FLIGHT....Not surprisingly, I've been getting a lot of flack for my skeptical attitude toward manned space flight. I've been thinking some more about it, mostly while I was driving up and back from Los Angeles this afternoon, and I've got a few miscellaneous ideas about the whole thing.

One common thread from the space enthusiasts is that if we want to get better at manned space flight someday, we've got to keep at it. As Stephen Green put it, in a sharp attack on Paul Krugman's latest column:

You do not discover new methods of doing things by not doing them. You do not discover safer ways to send humans into harsh environments without sending humans. You do not gain valuable experience by shunning experience. You do not discover cheaper methods without investing time and money. You do not -- get this, Paul? -- get space colonies without spacemen.

And you certainly don't encourage dreams of flight by grounding the flyers.

But that's not necessarily right. When Charles Babbage invented his difference engine, he was laughed at. But there was good reason: there was no future in mechanical computers, and further research wouldn't have helped. It wasn't until the vacuum tube and the transistor were invented that true computers became feasible. We may be in the same position today: space colonization just isn't feasible with the current (or foreseeable) state of the art, and maybe we just need to wait until some quantum leap in technology comes along before we start sending people to Mars to start the terraforming projects.

I have a feeling there may be a generational thing at work here as well. People who came of age in the 50s, 60s, and 70s dreamed of colonies in the sky, mining the asteroids, and putting men on Mars. But while this generation has clung to its old dream even as space flight has become increasingly prosaic, a younger generation has invented its own dreams, and space is not high on their list. Putting two guys in a bucket and spending a couple of years going to Mars so that they can plant a flag and then come home just doesn't quicken their pulse.

But perhaps other things do. How about microchips implanted in your brain? That's also science fiction, but the thought of it sure quickens my pulse. It would be way cool, far more so than a straggling band of astronauts living on the Moon and accomplishing little of interest.

There are reasons to send humans into space. As one of my readers pointed out, it was astronauts who fixed the Hubble telescope. But there's not much reason to do it frequently, and there's not much reason to dream of government sponsored space stations or moon colonies either.

We need new dreams, not the tired dreams of our parents' generation. Let's let the kids figure out what to do next.

Kevin Drum 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HUMANS IN SPACE....You know, I really really, really, like the idea of manned space flight. Exploring the cosmos. Colonizing planets. Taming the void. And yesterday I was hoping that somewhere I would read something that convinced me we should be doing this. So I scanned all the Columbia-related opinion pieces I could find, and did the same today.

Nada. Typical was this piece by Rand Simberg in NRO:

There are some space missions that will just never be jobs for robots. Building an orbital infrastructure that can both mine useful asteroids and comets, and deflect errant ones about to wipe out civilization, is unlikely to be done with robots. Building orbital laboratories in which biochemical and nanotechnological research can be carried out safely is unlikely to be practically done with robots. A new leisure industry, with resorts in orbit or on the moon, would be pointless, and find few customers, if we weren't sending up people. Establishing off-world settlements to get at least some of humanity's eggs out of the current single fragile physical and political basket is not exactly a job for a robot.

That's it? Mining the asteroids? The long-promised pharmaceutical revolution in zero-g? Sex in space?

But the worst part is the final sentence, which I've seen repeated over and over: we need to colonize Mars (or whatever) so that humanity will live on in case we blow ourselves to smithereens here on Earth.

There's really no polite way to put this, but the notion is simply nonsensical. Do space enthusiasts keep writing this stuff because their neurons stop firing before they put finger to keyboard, or is it just that they've been saying it for so long that it's become a habit? Do they have any idea how dumb the proposition really is?

I'd love to be convinced that a manned mission to Mars is a good idea. But a combination of mundane commercial exploitation, shaking our fist at the cosmos, and weary science fiction tropes isn't going to get the job done. If you want to spend $50 billion of my money, at least do me the courtesy of advancing ideas that aren't laughable on their face.

POSTSCRIPT: There seems to be an odd kind of left-right divide here too. Back in the 60s many liberals did indeed argue that the NASA budget would be better spent on earthbound problems, but that's not an argument I've read recently. Rather, conservatives seem to be arguing that we need a huge NASA budget because space flight is, you know, really cool, while liberals are arguing that we should evaluate the actual benefits before committing big buckets of taxpayer dollars. What's wrong with this picture?

Kevin Drum 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AMTRAK BUDGET CUTS....Reuters reports that Bush's budget plan proposes cutting some of Amtrak's long-haul passenger routes, and I hope this is one program cut they can make stick. Subsidizing money losing trains from Los Angeles to Orlando is just nuts. Unfortunately, there's this:

Some routes have political strings attached, with key members of Congress favoring the jobs and service the trains provide to constituents. Many lawmakers whose districts or states have no Amtrak service resent any subsidies.

The total number of jobs that Amtrak's long haul routes provides just has to be microscopic in the great scheme of things. Are congress critters really so slavishly devoted to pork that they can't even give up this miniscule make-work program?

This is just a rhetorical question, of course. I already know the answer.

Kevin Drum 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GUNS AND MORE GUNS....Is it really true that 75% of all BATF gun prosecutions are constitutionally improper? Dave Kopel says so, Tapped says he's wrong, and now Kopel responds.

But, as Tapped notes, Kopel is pretty obviously avoiding the substance of their question. Just another example of why you can't trust anyone on either side of the gun debate. Is there a single person anywhere who studies gun policy who isn't just a shill for one side or the other?

Kevin Drum 10:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YOU CAN ALL GO TO HELL, OK?....Is Christopher Hitchens bitter or what? The interview is here.

Kevin Drum 11:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA....Great story over at TalkLeft tonight. Ed Rosenthal was convicted of marijuana cultivation charges last week, but today the jurors say they wish they could do it over:

I feel like I made the biggest mistake in my life," said juror Marney Craig, a 58-year-old Novato property manager. "We convicted a man who is not a criminal. We unfortunately had no idea of who he was or what he did."

Another juror: "Some of us jurors are upset about the way the trial was conducted in that we feel Mr. Rosenthal didn't have a chance and therefore neither did state's rights or patient's rights. I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to decide with all the evidence."

The other jurors agreed--and they are all going to write Ed an apology.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

The jury was not told that Rosenthal was acting as an agent of the city of Oakland's medical marijuana program, which was an outgrowth of a 1996 medical marijuana initiative approved by California's voters.

"I really feel manipulated in a way. I feel the jury was railroaded into making this decision," said juror Pam Klarkowsky, a 50-year-old Petaluma nurse. "Had I known that information, there is no way I could have found that man guilty."

I'm sure John Ashcroft is proud of this stunning victory. I know I feel safer. Don't you?

Kevin Drum 10:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW ABOUT AN INTERNATIONAL DNA DATABASE?....Via Rachel Lucas comes a story in the Independent about James Watson's proposal that a massive DNA database be set up that could identify every man, woman, and child in America and Europe.

The weird thing is that despite my fairly paranoid attitude toward this kind of thing, I'm not entirely sure it would be a bad idea. As Watson says:

"The sacrifice of this particular form of anonymity does not seem an unreasonable price to pay, provided the laws see to a strict and judicious control over access to public data," he said. "It would be harder to be a crook. If you want to make the criminal justice system more fair, what's wrong with it?"

To be sure, that "strict and judicious control" is the potential deal breaker, but suppose that it could be implemented to our satisfaction. Then what?

It's likely that biometrics will become rather common in the future as a way of identifying people, which means that identifying characteristics will be in databases all over the place anyway. In a way, I'd be a lot happier with a centralized database with strict controls than the chaos of commercial databases with this kind of information available to anyone willing to pay for it. And Watson is right: it would help prevent the criminal justice system from harrassing or imprisoning a lot of innocent people.

Still, I dunno. My gut tells me it's a bad idea.

There is, of course, some irony in this proposal too. Watson and his partner Francis Crick deduced the structure of DNA in 1953 partly by filching X-ray diffraction photographs from Rosalind Franklin, something they could hardly have gotten away with if their DNA had been stored in some massive British database at the time. Beware what you wish for.

Kevin Drum 10:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE PHOTO FUN....Yes, yet another new picture is now up, this time with one of my cats. I'm just having so much fun with my camera that I can't stop.

Jeralyn thinks I should try again and smile for the birdie. Already done, Jeralyn! I'll post it sometime tomorrow.

I do amuse myself sometimes, yes I do.

Kevin Drum 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND BLAIR....The Los Angeles Times ran a story today with this headline:

U.S.-British Strategy Puts 6-Week Time Limit on Iraq

I keep reading stories likes these implying that the 6-week deadline is some kind of strategic compromise forged by George and Tony. But I've also been reading for the past couple of weeks that the military deployment won't be ready until mid-March. That's six weeks.

So why do the media play along with this game, when it's clear where the 6-week number is really coming from? What's the deal?

Meanwhile, Ronald Brownstein reports from elsewhere on the transatlantic front that Blair is getting diddly from his pal George despite being by far his most committed and unwavering partner:

That steadfast support has exposed Blair to increasing dissent from within his own Labor Party and contributed to a precipitous fall in his poll numbers from a British public skeptical of war. Blair has climbed out on a limb as far as one head of state ever does for another.

....Yet Bush, at the leaders' joint press conference Friday, made only the most grudging of concessions to Blair's political needs. Arriving in Washington, Blair's top priority was to win Bush's commitment to pursue a second resolution at the United Nations authorizing an invasion if Saddam Hussein doesn't imminently disarm -- a step Blair believes is essential to both broadening international support and tolerance in England for an attack.

....Once the process starts rolling, U.S. diplomats may join the British in pushing a second resolution. But Bush could not have been much more contemptuous of the idea -- Blair's top priority -- if he had held up a sign that said: "Who cares?"

Many moderate Democrats learned last year that voting for Bush's programs earned them nothing except contempt and an all-out effort to unseat them in November. Blair is learning that even being "Bush's poodle" isn't enough to win any loyalty from him. A couple of months ago Bush casually rubbished Blair's desire to restart the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations, and now there's this.

Tony Blair's sincere belief that Saddam Hussein is a menace is palpable. But considering the way Bush has treated him, I wonder how long he'll put up with this shabby, small-minded treatment once the war is over? Probably not very long.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EVOLUTION AND THE ESTABLISHMENT....One of my frustrations with the whole Michael Dini evolution dust-up is that I've discovered that even people who are sympathetic to the cause often don't seem to realize just how strong the case for evolution is. Hey, sometimes the scientific establishment really is hostile to new ideas. Maybe this is one of those times. Perhaps creationism or its modern incarnation as Intelligent Design ought to be given a hearing.

I would like to persuade you that history doesn't back up this view. Yes, the scientific establishment can sometimes be hostile to new ideas, as they should be if someone is proposing to overturn a well established and highly successful theory. Meticulous evidence ought to be required.

But the real story isn't that the scientific establishment sometimes rejects good ideas, it's just the opposite: what's really remarkable is the speed with which even the most harebrained idea can become widely accepted:

  • Max Planck started the quantum mechanics revolution in 1900. New results came fast and furious, were debated and quickly accepted, and by 1930 the entire edifice was completely orthodox. This is despite the fact that quantum mechanics produces results so strange and nonintuitive that even Richard Feynman thought it was impossible to truly understand.

  • Albert Einstein published his first paper on relativity in 1905. It was quickly accepted and by 1908 Minkowski had developed the mathematical expression of special relativity that is still used today. General relativity was introduced in 1915 and was universally accepted by 1920 even though it overturned a system of Newtonian mechanics that had been fabulously successful for over two centuries.

  • How about Alfred Wegener and continental drift, probably the canonical story of establishment myopia? In fact, Wegener was wrong about a number of things and geologists had good reason to be skeptical. But even here, in one of the most cited cases of the lonely outsider who's eventually vindicated, it took less than 50 years for Wegener's ideas to find wide acceptance.

  • The most recent example of establishment shortsightedness is the story of Luis Alvarez, a physicist who claimed that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a collision with a meteor. He was indeed met with wide disbelief, but in the end it took less than 15 years for his ideas to become orthodox.

Virtually every crank with a peculiar idea invokes the romantic image of the lonely outsider shunned by a scientific establishment unwilling to listen to unconventional new ideas. But it's mostly a myth. Genuinely good ideas spread through the scientific establishment amazingly quickly. After all, for a truly revolutionary discovery 20 or 30 years is not really all that long.

Creationism, of course, has been around essentially forever. It is evolution that was the bright new idea in 1859, and like most bright new ideas it received wide acceptance among the professional establishment fairly quickly within a few decades. Intelligent Design, which is simply creationism with a new mask, is not a brilliant outsider fighting an ossified establishment, it's an old, old idea that has been universally rejected because it's been replaced by a much better one.

To a large extent, this is what the Dini controversy is about. Creationists play for sympathy by claiming that evolution is a shaky theory protected by a jealous scientific elite. But nothing could be further from the truth. The scientific establishment is constantly adding new members, and if there was even a shred of evidence for creationism there would be legions of bright young grad students latching onto it, hoping to make a name for themselves.

No such thing has happened. Not in 10 years, not in 50 years, not for over a century. The closest we've come has been Lysenkoism, which set back Russian biology by decades.

Why? Because there's nothing there. There is plenty of activity in the field of evolution and bits and pieces of it will no doubt continue changing for a long time. But creationism? It's like suggesting that geologists ought to pay serious attention to people who claim the earth is flat.

Creationism is as demonstrably false as it's possible for a theory to be. For Dini to recommend a student who believes it is to countenance someone who may someday make claims for creationism perhaps in a classroom, perhaps on a congressional panel that are credible partly by virtue of the authority that Dini bestowed. The result might be anything from ignorant students to public policy based on superstition. Is it any wonder that Dini wants no part of this?

UPDATE: Chris Mooney has a good column about the Dini affair over at CSICOP.

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By: Kevin Drum

SNEAKY PREVIEWING....Apparently some of the stars of Chicago are upset over Miramax's marketing of the movie. The dust-up, which involves "sneak previews" of the movie, seems to be just another example of the tedious financial chicanery common in Hollywood, but this sentence in the LA Times caught my eye:

Miramax, however, caused a storm in Hollywood by sneaking "Chicago" for two successive weekends and by running the sneaks for the last three nights, rather than limiting them to the usual one. Also, "Chicago" already had opened in some of the cities where it was "previewed."

It hardly seems like a "sneak preview" if the movie has already opened, does it now? Perhaps we need a whole new word for this kind of thing.

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHESS UPDATE....The fourth game of the Kasparov-Deep Junior match ended in a draw Sunday. The match score is now 2-2 and game five looks to be the key game of the match: Kasparov will be playing white, and it's probably his last chance for a win. If he plays agressively and wins the game, the final match score will probably end up 3.5-2.5. But if he's just trying to avoid a loss, he'll play carefully and end up with a couple of draws, for a final match score of 3-3.

The mental gymnastics of playing a computer were evident in this game. Kasparov's 8th move was an odd one, and after the match he admitted, "Okay it's a lousy move but it got the computer out of book." In other words, instead of simply playing straight-up chess, he's trying to figure out how to outwit the programming. I have a feeling that the twin stresses of playing a world class machine and trying to second guess the programming just makes the whole match even more of an emotional stretch than it would be otherwise.

Game five is on Wednesday.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DREAM OF SPACE....William Burrows has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today in which he talks about our destiny in space:

If anything good is to come out of the cause for which the Columbia astronauts died, it should be a resolve that it is humanity's destiny to inhabit Earth orbit, the moon and beyond.

But turn that around and see how this sounds instead:

If anything good is to come out of the cause for which the Titanic passengers died, it should be a resolve that it is humanity's destiny to inhabit not just the surface of the seas, but the ocean's depths, its sea floor, and beyond.

Domed colonies on the floor of the sea were a science fiction staple of Jules Verne's time, but today it sounds quaint and old fashioned. Why would we bother?

That's the problem with manned space flight. I'm not opposed to it because it's dangerous, or because the government shouldn't be in the business of basic research, or because we should be spending the money fighting poverty instead. I'm opposed because some dreams just don't pan out as well as others. Manned space flight today is like the domed sea colonies of 1900: cool sounding, but ultimately not very interesting.

Unmanned probes are a great use of government money. Aspects of biotech, nanotech, AI, and other frontiers of science that are too risky or far out for the private sector might be too. But manned space flight is ultimately a dream about human progress, and in the past 50 years it's been superseded by newer, shinier miracles. Frankly, space is no longer the final frontier. We should move on.

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRANCE VS. THE WORLD....Francophobe Jonah Goldberg writes in the Corner today:

I have no problem with the assertion that the French are "boldly" acting on their self-interests. Indeed, I have no problem with self-interestedness in general. But I am appalled at those who look to the French including, of course, the French themselves, as a moral authority or arbiter of America's foreign policy. America has done more for human rights, more to relieve man's estate, and much more to preserve and foster liberty and prosperity in the world than the French ever dreamed. France can claim to be or aspire to be a check on America in the world. Bully for them. But that makes them a problem in my book. They're not enemies and they're not evil. But they're not part of the solution either.

All right, I'll buy that. It's a start.

Thrashing the French for hypocrisy, or because you disagree with their substantive position, is fine. But, as Goldberg says, always keep in mind that "They're not enemies and they're not evil."

Kevin Drum 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OPEN MINDED BLOGGERS....Chris Mooney, creator of Tapped, has a column in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about blogging. One of his coments is this:

Blogging has the following virtues: ....intellectual honesty (in the sense of confessing immediately and openly to mistakes)....

Glenn Reynolds said the same thing on a segment of PBS' Media Matters dedicated to blogging a few weeks ago. It puzzled me then and it still puzzles me.

Blogging has a number of virtues, but confessing "immediately and openly to mistakes" sure doesn't seem to be one of them. On the contrary, with the exception of fairly mundane factual errors ("Megan McArdle reminds me that Keynes died in 1946, not 1945....") I'd venture to say that bloggers are about as likely to admit error as a 6-beer drunk in a barroom argument.

Am I missing something here?

Kevin Drum 8:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GARY HART AT OXFORD....Gary Hart spoke at Oxford on Friday and Josh Chafetz was there. Conclusion: he's pretty knowlegable, has a good sense of humor, but overall is a disappointment. Politicians usually use speeches like this to express their general principles, not provide white paper level detail, so I suspect Josh was hoping for a little too much from Hart, who made some arguments Josh doesn't like and didn't defend them adequately. Still, it's an interesting firsthand look.

Josh puts the odds at a bit over 50% that Hart will run for president.

UPDATE: Jeralyn over at TalkLeft heard Hart's speech too, and her opinion was quite a bit more positive.

Kevin Drum 8:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PHOTO FUN....Reaction to my new photo has been, as they say in diplomatic circles, frank and candid. I'll leave it up for a bit so everyone can giggle about it, and then put up a new one Monday night. And I'll keep putting up new ones until I find one everybody likes.

I finally figured out how to use the self-timer on my camera on Saturday, and by God, I'm going to get my money's worth from it....

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MATT YGLESIAS HAS YOUR MARCHING ORDERS FOR YOU....Is it ANWR or is it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Apparently it depends on whether you're a liberal or a conservative.

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SPACE FLIGHT AND BALLET....I just saw NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe on 60 Minutes tonight, and I have to give him a mixed review. At first he compared manned space flight to the early days of commercial aviation:

What was aviation like after its first 113 flights? How many crashes did they have? And yet today we have a thriving airline industry. And I think we'll have the same thing in the future in space: people will go back and forth to space stations as easily as we fly to another city today.

(That's an approximate quote. I was eating dinner, not taking notes.)

And he almost had me going. Yeah, it's like the early days of aviation. Yeah!

Unfortunately, we've been flying humans into space for 40 years now, and space flight is nowhere near where commercial aviation was 40 years after the Wright brothers. Then, to make it worse, O'Keefe started talking about symphonies and ballets:

These are things that perhaps people think aren't absolutely necessary, but we fund them anyway.

(Again very approximate quote.)

Unfortunately, most Americans just don't have much interest in government funding of symphonies and ballets. For good or ill, this is not a great way to sell the American public on the idea of manned space flight.

I love the idea of manned space flight myself. If my income tax form had a box that allowed me to contribute an extra $100 to a government program to colonize space, I'd probably check it off. Unfortunately, though, I suspect the "symphonies and ballets" analogy is a pretty good one. And like the civic arts, manned space flight probably ought to be consigned primarily to the private sector, where it will be funded by enthusiasts and rich philanthropists. Maybe Bill Gates would contribute a couple billion dollars.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POETIC JUSTICE....Dwight Meredith thinks that Texas Tech biology professor Michael Dini should write recommendations for all his good students, even if they do believe in creationism. And since Dwight is a lawyer, he's even drafted an appropriate letter for him....

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MANNED SPACE FLIGHT....Josh Marshall points to a couple of good articles by Gregg Easterbrook about the space shuttle today: this one written in 1980 and this one written for Time today. In the Time article Easterbrook says:

The space station was conceived mainly to give the shuttle a destination, and the shuttle has been kept flying mainly to keep the space station serviced.

This may seem like a cheap shot, but unfortunately it isn't. As much as I dearly love the dream of manned space flight and the colonization of other planets, the sad truth is that there's simply no compelling reason to send humans into space on a regular basis.

  • To perform scientific experiments? Nope. It turns out that there is virtually no scientific research that requires human handholding except the study of human adaptation to space itself. So the only reason to send humans into orbit is....to see how well humans hold up in orbit.

  • To explore Mars? Ditto. It can be done by unmanned probes just as well.

  • To set up space factories? Unfortunately, nobody is much interested in commercial uses of space. Adequate vacuums can be set up on Earth quite nicely, thank you very much, and weightlessness turns out to have very few commercial possibilities.

  • To colonize other planets? Why? In case we bomb each other into the stone age here on Earth? How long would a moon colony last if it didn't get regular supply visits from Earth?

  • Space tourism? Maybe, but if this is the only reason, then NASA needs to get out of it. Let the private sector do the job.

Yes, manned space flight is romantic, and yes, man is the measure of all things. But the reality is that NASA holds onto manned space flight primarily for PR reasons: they're afraid that without it the public would lose interest in supporting their scientific mission.

Aside from Cold War "space race" considerations, the original Apollo missions had at least one grand purpose: to see if we could do it. But no one other than a hobbyist would bother flying a small prop plane across the Atlantic today, and likewise there's not much point in trucking humans back and forth into low earth orbit now that we know we can do that too.

The Columbia disaster is not a good reason to shelve human exploration of space, but there are plenty of others and they have been depressingly obvious for a long time. There are many new, far more interesting frontiers we could be exploring with the money that NASA seemingly spends simply out of habit. It's time to start exploring them.

Kevin Drum 5:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FARM TRADE....Farm subsidies are the Achilles heel of rich country protectionism. Who's worse, the EU or America? Probably the EU, but it's sort of like arguing about whether Hitler was worse than Stalin. It's hard to find anything good on either side.

Still, at least there's irony and humor to be had. Here is what the Economist says about the U.S. position on reducing farm tariffs:

America wants countries with high levels of support (such as those in Europe) to liberalise relatively more than others. The EU wants equal reductions by all.

Heh. Wasn't that exactly the deal breaker when it came to Kyoto? Except then it was the U.S. insisting on equal reductions from everyone, while the EU demanded that the U.S. accept higher reductions because our output of greenhouse gases was far higher than theirs.

For Euro-bashers, the story also contains some good fodder:

[Franz] Fischler himself says that, if the EU fails to come up with a plan for agricultural trade liberalisation, it deserves to be called a political dwarf.

The odds of winning agreement for any kind of serious agricultural trade liberalization are probably nil, so Europhobes will have a nice juicy quote to throw back in Europe's face when the inevitable failure occurs.

I should add that, as usual, it is France blocking progress in this area, and this is one of the reasons that American impatience with France is actually sort of amusing. The other EU countries have to deal with French intransigence at least a hundred time more often than we do, but somehow they manage to make do. If they can keep from exploding, so can we.

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SADDAM'S SECRET WEAPONS....Via Instapundit comes this story in Australia's Herald Sun, which says that Saddam Hussein's chief bodyguard has fled to Israel and is providing information about the whereabouts of Saddam's weapons facilities, including:

AN underground chemical weapons facility at the southern end of the Jadray Peninsula in Baghdad;

A SCUD assembly area near Ramadi. The missiles come from North Korea;

TWO underground bunkers in Iraq's Western Desert. These contain biological weapons.

The source for this story is embittered former weapons inspector William Tierney, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. The Herald Sun says:

Tierney, who has high-level contacts in Washington that go to the White House, said the information we publish today on Mahmoud's revelations "checks out, absolutely checks out".

This kind of bragadoccio doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. What's more, aside from the fact that Tierney is unreliable and the Herald Sun is not really my idea of a serious source, this simply doesn't make sense. Why would Saddam's bodyguard flee to Israel, of all places? And why would the Israelis leak this information? And why would Tierney then repeat it before inspectors had a chance to visit these sites? It does nothing except give the Iraqis plenty of warning that they'd better move all this stuff posthaste.

This strikes me as bogus, but you never know. Maybe tomorrow morning Hans Blix's men will conduct a lightning raid on the Jadray Peninsula and discover a swimming pool full of anthrax. We'll see.

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD....A lot of bloggers and mainstream columnists take pleasure in mocking the rest of the world for the sin of being insufficiently enthusiastic supporters of U.S. policy. Each new uproarious jibe is an occasion for much back slapping and high fiving, accompanied in more sober moments by a claim that, in any case, the rest of the world doesn't matter anyway. We are the world's sole superpower, they intone, we don't need anyone's help anymore.

Glenn Reynolds is a prime exponent of this kind of snide and dismissive attitude toward any country that doesn't support our war with Iraq, but yesterday was not a good day for his write-first-then-think brand of foreigner-bashing. First he wrote that a Canadian television interviewer "has blamed 'American Arrogance' for the crash," but today the interviewee wrote to say that the TV anchor was obviously flustered and "didn't mean to be offensive."

Then it was the French: their TV stations weren't giving the Columbia disaster enough coverage. "That's representative," he sniffed, but minutes later was forced to report that "LCI TV (owned by TF1)....has covered this non-stop since the story broke."

(And of course the Columbia tragedy was also good for some cheap shots at liberals: "lately 'left-wing' seems to have become a synonym, in some quarters, for 'opposing everything.'")

Why do I care about this? Aside from the poor taste in using yesterday's tragedy as an excuse to engage in petulant name calling, we are the world's sole superpower. What use do we have for the rest of the world?

But disasters like yesterday's should make us think twice about this. The space shuttle is our primary vehicle for boosting both civilian and military payloads into orbit. Suppose just suppose that sometime in the future we find ourselves temporarily unable to launch a surveillance satellite that's an important part of our campaign against terrorism. And suppose again that the only realistic alternative is the European Arianne launcher. Wouldn't it be nice to be on their good side?

Or how about this from today's Los Angeles Times:

More than 50% of our doctoral engineering students are foreign nationals -- fully 43% come from Asia -- and increasingly these students are choosing to return to their home countries after graduation.

What if they decide to stop coming altogether?

There's more: the United States runs an annual trade deficit of $400 billion that's 4% of GDP. If sentiment in the rest of the world turns against us, and foreign consumers spurn American goods, it could send the U.S. economy into a long and deep recession.

The U.S. dollar is also the reserve currency of the world. It is, for example, the primary currency for all oil transactions in the Middle East. But there is no law that says it has to stay that way, and if the dollar were to lose its position in world markets, the U.S. would lose a considerable amount of influence over the world economy.

Isolationism is no longer a feasible foreign policy, and the United States, powerful as it is, is not big enough to run the world without help. Even a cursory look at the globe should be enough to convince the Europhobes of this.

We can acccomplish our goals a lot more easily within a web of friendships than we can if the world is arrayed against us because it fears U.S. military hegemony. Yes, building and maintaining those friendships takes more time and a greater level of maturity, but in the end it's the only way for us to win the security we seek. It is time to put away our childish things and engage the world as friends and equals once again.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN LOTT UPDATE....The Washington Post wrote a story about the John Lott/Mary Rosh fiasco yesterday:

Lott said he initially used his own name in online debates with critics. "But you just get into really emotional things with people. You also run into other problems." So he started using the name Mary Rosh. "I should not have done it, there is no doubt. But it was a way to get information into the debate."

As it turns out, the Post went pretty easy on Lott, accepting without comment his claim that the "Mary Rosh" review of his book on Amazon was actually written by his 13-year-old son. The article also failed to excerpt some of Mary Rosh's most embarrassing quotes, but blog readers who want the straight dope can find a complete list here.

Unfortunately, all this attention means that my own chances of interviewing Lott have apparently been seriously compromised. Lott wrote to me last night:

The end of the week I had interviews with the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and one other place. More than a few hours were spent on this. I have only done a tiny fraction of what I have to do for the paper that I told you about before. When I get done with the paper, which now may not be before the end of the week, we can talk, but I have to tell you that at this point I feel interviewed out. I also have a hard time believing that there were any questions that you were interested in that weren't already covered.

Well, he's definitely wrong about that last sentence, but it doesn't look like I'll ever get the chance to prove it. Hopefully somebody with more clout than me will manage to pin him down on the mysteriously vanished 1997 survey some day.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SECURITY COUNCIL PREVIEW....Bruce also points out this interesting story in Newsweek previewing the evidence from NSA intercepts of Iraqi conversations that Colin Powell has promised to present to the Security Council on Wednesday:

Hold onto your hat. Weve got it, said one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the evidence gathered by the NSA.

....Theyre saying things like, Move that, Dont be reporting that and Ha! Can you believe they missed that, the official said. Its that kind of stuff.

....One official who had reviewed a transcript of the conversations disputed suggestions that the Iraqis were joking about deceiving the inspectors, describing them as straightforward discussions that nonetheless clearly showed concealment by the Iraqis in their dealings with the inspectors. A White House aide said the electronic intercepts were only one part of a much broader picture that would include satellite photos and other evidence showing Iraqi noncompliance. There wont be a smoking gun, but when people hear it all youll see a burning forest, said one senior administration official.

The story claims that NSA intercepts are so sensitive that it's "stunning" that the administration would decide to use them publicly, even in a case like this. But apparently one argument for disclosing them is that compromising sources "may not matter if the U.S. military is about to invade anyway."

That makes sense.

Kevin Drum 9:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM....Well, it looks like Josh Marshall was right: Bush has known about North Korea's uranium enrichment program for more than a year. Bruce Moomaw emails to point out this story in yesterday's Washington Post:

In November 2001, when the Bush administration was absorbed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, intelligence analysts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed a highly classified report and sent it to Washington. The report concluded that North Korea had begun construction of a plant to enrich uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons, according to administration and congressional sources.

....The findings of the Livermore report were confirmed in a June 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a major assessment by the CIA and all other intelligence agencies. These reports are part of a complex and hidden trail of intelligence about the North Korean effort that has raised questions about why the Bush administration waited until early October 2002 to confront officials in the capital, Pyongyang, with the intelligence -- and to go public several weeks later -- when details had been accumulating for more than two years.

The Bushies no doubt have some good reasons for treating North Korea differently than Iraq, but this is one they'd probably rather keep quiet about. After all, how can you demand immediate action on the peninsula when this is a problem you've known about for a year and done nothing about?

This also puts the lie to is the administration's continual insistence that they can handle multiple things at once. Don't worry, we can invade Iraq and keep fighting al-Qaeda full tilt at the same time. We're big boys.

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein may be the right thing to do, but it's not without costs. Paying too little attention to problems elsewhere in the world may be one of them.

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHERE WERE YOU?....When Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, I heard about it in Provo, Utah, where I was attending a conference for high school newspaper editors.

When Reagan was shot in 1981, I heard about it in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, where I was working as an intern for a semester.

When Challenger exploded in 1986, I heard about it at work, where I was a technical writer. The only TV we had was over in the marketing department, so that's where we all went.

When the OJ verdict was announced in 1995, I was again at work, this time as VP of marketing. The nearest TV was in our training room, and about half the company crowded in, waiting breathlessly for the jury's decision.

When terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001, I was at home in bed. My sister-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV.

Today, when Columbia disintegrated on landing, I first heard about it from Matt Yglesias' blog. After a double take, I realized what he meant and turned on CNN.

Somehow it doesn't seem right that it's mostly bad news and disasters that stick so vividly in our memories. Where was I when I heard the Berlin Wall had fallen? Or the hostages had been released from Tehran? Or Princess Di got married? I don't remember. I know where I was when Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon (at the dinner table, in a rare relaxation of the rule against TV during dinner), but that's about it.

It doesn't seem right, but for better or worse, this is the way we humans seem to operate, retaining a vivid memory of disasters while turning the good times into a homogeneous fog. It's a pity that we're built that way.

Kevin Drum 10:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IMPERIAL AMERICA?....Pat Buchanan says:

Though Iraq does not threaten us, has not attacked us, cannot defeat us, and does not want war with us, the United States is about to invade and occupy that country. If we do, it will be the first purely imperial war in our history, a war launched to reshape the domestic politics and foreign policy of another nation to conform to our own.

What is he talking about? Vietnam did not attack us. Chile did not attack us. Grenada did not attack us. And neither did Nicaragua, Panama, or Kosovo.

Japan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the past century to have attacked us on our soil. The rest of them either attacked people we were friendly with or simply had the wrong ideology for our taste.

The United States has a long history of fighting people who pose only a distant threat or who simply annoy us. On the other hand, we also have a long history of sticking around for a few years and then pulling out, hardly the mark of an empire builder.

So, first imperial war? Hardly. It's neither the first nor, probably, imperial. On the other hand, it is inarguably a war. I guess one out of three isn't bad if you're Pat Buchanan....

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SHUTTLE NEWS....FoxNews has a nice set of bios of the Columbia crew.

Seth Johnson has good ongoing coverage of the tragedy. But watch the timestamps if you want to read them in order. Basically, morning coverage is here and afternoon coverage is in a separate post that's currently at the top of the page.

Space.com has a lot of good coverage, including photos.

The official NASA site for the Columbia flight is here.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on the international implications of the disaster: "When the Challenger was destroyed in 1986, the US operated its space program on its own. But over the past decade, nations that had been interested in running their own space programs - Canada, Japan, and several European nations - had decided to abandon their own efforts and join with the US's manned space flight efforts. The question that will be faced in the coming weeks is how this tragedy will effect the global manned space program."

Time has some speculation on what caused the disaster. Most likely is "an aerodynamic structural breakup of the shuttle caused by it rolling at the wrong angle." An Italian astronaut, Umberto Guidoni, who has been on two previous shuttle missions, apparently agrees: "The angle of penetration should be at 40 degrees to the horizon....The margin of error is at most three or four degrees. Beyond that range the shuttle becomes uncontrollable."

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RESPECT....I'd like to second Kieran Healy's comment today about Glenn Reynolds: is everything now an excuse for more sermonizing about America after 9/11, a bit of casual French bashing, and some complaints about Canadian television? Is nothing worth a few moments of simple, quiet respect anymore?

Please, Glenn, give it a rest just for a few hours.

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEATH AND RECOVERY....The space shuttle is an enormously complex and in many ways fragile vehicle. And over the years there have been a number of people who have claimed not only that the entire shuttle concept was flawed from the start, but that since then it's been underfunded, mismanaged, and oversold.

Perhaps. But the U.S. conducted 28 manned space missions as part of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs and suffered one catastrophic failure in flight (Apollo 13) and one more on the ground (Apollo 1). The space shuttle has flown 113 times so far and has had two catastrophic failures. Unmanned launches have also had their share of failures.

The complexity of space vehicles makes them inherently dangerous, and the evidence suggests that, given the state of the art in engineering, we have to accept the likelihood of one failure every 50 flights or so. But as with the Challenger disaster, while there will no doubt be a sustained effort to find not just the cause of this latest accident, but someone to blame for it, the real story is probably simpler: the shuttle is built and run by human beings, and human beings are not perfect.

We learn from our mistakes, but we should never allow fear of failure to keep us from pushing the boundaries of what we can accomplish. Death and recovery from death are a fundamental part of the human condition, a lesson that we are re-learning rather more often than we'd like in the first few years of the 21st century.

Kevin Drum 10:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TRAGEDY....The space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas on its way to a landing in Florida today. The seven crew members were Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

This is just horrible news.

Kevin Drum 8:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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