Saturday

Not So Classy

I used to work for Giuliani--and continue to have deep respect for him--but this is a disrespectful use of taxpayers' money, especially in a city in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

Tuesday

Loooong Delay

Apologies to my reader for my hiatus.

Here's something that just occurred to me:

Nobody better let A Bug's Life fall into the hands of Islamists, because they'll interpret it as a parable calling them to rise up against Israeli and American domination. And what a powerful piece of propaganda it would be.

ants = Muslims

rag tag gang of bugs = Al Qaeda

grasshoppers = Americans

food = oil

fake bird = airplane

fighting back = terrorism

Watch it again, if you haven't recently, and you may unfortunately agree.

Sunday

Van Pigment Profiling

All throughout the Washington metro area, people are being subjected to humiliating searches just because of the color of the vehicle they drive.

Tuesday

Unclear

The most forceful point in the President's speech: he'll get nuclear soon, and we can't wait. Why, then, does the word "nuclear" not manage to appear until the ninth paragraph of the New York Times account? USA Today, appropriately, puts it in the lead.

Thursday

The What Ifs

The What Ifs aren't in and of themselves arguments against war in Iraq -- as Rumsfeld says better than anybody, the risks of inaction are also great -- but those who dismiss the potential problems out of hand are dead wrong. Aggressive chemotherapy isn't always the best way to treat a cancer, and in this case aggressive military action may not be the best way to eradicate the threat post by this tyrant -- especially given the damage it may do to the rest of our war against terrorism. Joe Klein, in this refreshingly contrarian take on the Gore's crass but important speech, largely sees things my way.

I have been particularly concerned about this scenario he describes: "Furthermore, as the American military pieces are slowly wheeled into place for the campaign, Saddam's chemical and biological labs are likely to be shut down, the germs and gases that are transportable put in suitcases -- and then sold or given away to the very people we fear." And in the chaos of war itself, aren't we more likely to lose track of his poisonous materials than we would under the relative order of coercive inspections, which would enable us to dismantle and destroy those weapons systematically? That's my hunch.

Those who support invasion would probably say that leaving Saddam alone will only increase the chances of some insidious chem/bio handoff, and increase the chances of it happening with expertise and/or material for constructing a nuke, to boot. I agree that's the likely consequence of doing nothing -- as, say, most of the world would happily tolerate -- but coercive inspections like those outlined here are much more than nothing. They very forceful and hopefully every bit as effective at disarmament as an invasion. If disarmament is the goal. Is it? We need to decide. In fact, that's the central question: What's the goal? Disarmament or regime change?

Here's the nut of Klein's piece: "The rush to war, the tendency of conservatives (and their propagandists) to go berserk whenever legitimate questions are raised, the giddy moral certainty in the air, the fact that we are not talking about one quick war against an obvious psychopath but about actions--and a fundamental shift in American policy --that may well echo and shape the world for the next 50 years -- all this should cause us to pause, slow down, talk this over." I'm pretty damn conservative on a solid 60 percent of issues these days, but Klein's right. And shame on the Democrats for running away from these issues, not toward them.

Well, maybe they're beginning to walk toward them now. Now that the man they hate, Gore, has made it safe.

Daschell Shocked

Senator Daschle's remarks on the floor yesterday were hyperbolic.

He did seem genuinely upset. (I was actually on the floor when he was talking, and you could feel the tension in the room.) He did quote Bush accurately. And he does have a point. The main problem with the new Bush criticism of the Democrats, which referred to the debate over homeland security, not over Iraq, was its slippage from "more interested in special interests than in the security of the American people" to "more interested in special interests, and not interested in the security of the American people."

But I can't help thinking that the outrage is off point. I mean, what if the Democrats really were putting special interests in front of national security? What if the homeland security bill really was a sop to the unions that tied the President's hands? (I don't share that interpretation, but many do -- and I must say I don't find that to be an outrageous reading of the bill.) If that's the case, don't true believers have a responsibility to call them on it -- and in the process create what they believe is a better and stronger Homeland Security Department -- rather than dancing around the charge?

Wednesday

The War Against the War Against the War

We may have to go to war, but we'd better exhaust some other options (and quickly) first, if only to go through some very valuable motions. We'd better try something like coercive inspections. The worst thing that could happen after Gore's anti-war speech is for all of his (admittedly shrill and unfair) criticisms -- are all be dismissed as petty, partisan, and political. It's ashame that the Democrats have such awful messengers for some pretty important ideas. I'm reminded of Churchill's line: "The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes."

Sunday

The People Versus the Powerful

David Brooks nicely dissects the anti-war left in the new Weekly Standard, cutting to the quick of those who -- like the friend of mine I mentioned a week ago -- call Dick Cheney "terrifying" but prefer not to worry their pretty heads about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

This graph is especially good: "This is the dictionary definition of parochialism -- the inability to consider the larger global threats because one is consumed by one's immediate domestic hatreds. This parochialism takes many forms, but all the branches of the opposition to the war in Iraq have one thing in common: Iraq is never the issue. Something else is always the issue."

But it would be a mistake for people to lump all the war doubters into this camp, and many are doing exactly that. Many skeptics are trying legitimately, it seems to me, to weigh the risks of action against the risks of inaction, and it's unfair to belittle that effort, so long as it is intellectually honest.

The far left has made it clear they will always be suspicious of American power, no matter how it's exercised, and will always manufacture a perverted trust for the underdog -- and that includes anyone who we may ever view as a threat to us, since we're always favored, with points. The fair left -- and, for that matter, many on the right -- trust American power but fear that this war may be a headlong rush that could jeopardize the war against terrorism.

It bothers me that the right is trying to ridicule the entire notion of "making the case." What the hell is wrong with saying that a government that believes we need to go to war against a nation preemptorily, while the country is ostensibly at war against another set of combatants, has some articulating to do? It should go without saying that a case needs to be made.

And while the litany of Iraqi CBRN inspections violations over the last decade is pretty compelling -- a strong presentation of the dangers of inaction -- it doesn't quite do the job. The second thing Bush has to explain is why inspections won't work and will only offer false comfort, giving Saddam more time to scheme and turning much of the world against any decisive action. This shouldn't be that hard to do, but that doesn't mean the President can just skip that step.

I also like this Brooks flourish: "When you get deep enough into the peace camp you find fog about the fog. You find a generation of academic and literary intellectuals who have so devoted themselves to questioning meanings, deconstructing texts, decoding signifiers, and unmasking perspectives, they can't even make an argument anymore."

True. For many artist/intellectuals, reflexive distrust of America has for years replaced real political thought.

But at least somebody on the right should admit that when you get deep enough into the war camp, you find contempt for anyone who might doubt the severity of any proclaimed threat to America, or for anyone who might hestitate on the road to Baghdad -- even if that person is trying honestly to sort through the facts and make a considered judgment. Some conservatives have turned indignation toward left-wing doubters into an art; they're all appeasers, all pollyannas, all against the U.S. and for the World no matter what. No, no, no.

Friday

If and When

Assume the UN inspectors find and dismantle Saddam's chemical, biological, and burgeoning nuclear capabilities. Does that mean they got them all? (No.) What if they don't find materials or evidence? Does that mean they're clean? (No.) Absent military action, which would rest on the not so unfair premise that Saddam is guilty until proven innocent, will this problem be any closer to being solved in a year?

Thursday

Is There a God?

Tough question after September 11th, and for some reason relatively small tragedies like this and this confuse me even more.

Class Action

Call it a lesson in the soft bigotry of low expectations: lawyers for six minority high school seniors in Massachusetts are filing a federal lawsuit, claiming the MCAS exam violates the constitution. You know, the part about how government shall make no law creating standards of success or failure.

Only minorities qualify because this is an equal protection claim. So white kids who are bad test takers will have to wait for the next wave of litigation. But it's likely the teachers' union -- which represents the professionals responsible for raising the kids' scores -- will be supportive then as they are now. "It is a flawed test. It should not be used as a determination for students getting a high school diploma nor be used to make life decisions for high school students," says the union president.

Just wait. The next flawed system to be targeted will be equally arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, and demoralizing: grades.

The Waiting Room Waiting Room

Waiting times for health care in Canada are way up.

Killing Us Softly

Right-wing governments increase suicide rates, say two scientific studies. There are lots of cheap jokes to make here -- both about the apparent bias of the study and about right wing governments themselves. (Apparently in the studies "right-wing" simply means conservative, not oppressive or dictatorial.) But the theory raises interesting questions: does the win-or-lose culture of societies built on personal responsibility rather than entitlement -- societies with fewer social services and smaller safety nets -- lead to defeat and despair? Or is this just a trick of making correlation appear to be causation? Could it be that right wing governments are reacting to errors made by left-wing regimes that made people depressed in the first place? Would some claim this is this survival of the fittest in action? Social science is a bitch.

Tuesday

One Party, Over God?

An intriguing Public Interest essay on the widening gap in party affiliation between religious and secularist Americans.

You Can Have Your Cakewalk

I only saw the first part of the 9/11/02 Clinton Letterman appearance, andone comment bugged me. Letterman -- who is, by the way, a very solid serious interviewer with more passion and edge than, say, Stephanopoulos, asked about taking out Saddam. I can't find the transcript, but Clinton said something like, "I'd be shocked if it took a week." That's irresponsible, isn't it? Is he just chest-beating or setting expectations so high that Bush & co. can't meet them? I think we're going to have to go to war against Saddam, but a week is a ridiculously lowball estimate. Sounds like some brazen Terry Bradshaw Superbowl prediction. Desert Storm took much longer and we were beating back an army in an open space, not trying to eradicate an entrenched government -- and an individual -- from a city. I'll admit that I don't know the first thing about military planning or the propensity of the Iraqi army to defect (many expert types say it's high) and therefore can't predict how long that will take with any confidence. Why don't others show a little humility?

Sunday

Terrifying?

An otherwise smart friend left a message on my machine today to say that he was watching Dick Cheney on Meet the Press, and was "terrified" by the Vice-President. I haven't called him back, but apparently what bothered him was the VP's insistence that we must take Saddam Hussein out of power. I am not gung ho pro-war -- I'd rather exhaust other options first, and quickly -- but it's very difficult to consider myself on the same side of the issue as somebody who can work himself up about a threat he believes our (calm and dispassionate) Vice President poses while conveniently demurring on the danger that may be posed by biological, chemical, and, someday soon, nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Is this what unthinking liberals around the country have been reduced to? This is why I can't talk politics with 70 percent of the people I know anymore: not because I'm brilliant, but because they're, well, not.

Wednesday

Setting the Agenda

Since when is it fair for a newspaper -- even The New York Times -- to let the fact that there were active hecklers at a big speech completely overshadow the speaker's message, not to mention other landmark developments at a major international conference? Since now, I guess. The Times gives the protesters the photo, the whole headline, and the first two paragraphs. And FYI, Powell was both booed and jeered. Does that mean they were nice enough not to hiss?

Tuesday

Schadenfreude

I must admit I was happy to see Andrew Cuomo's campaign fizzle. He always projects himself as entitled, and it's good to see that he lost out to a slow and steady careerist. Now McCall will lose big to Pataki. Cuomo would've lost to Pataki too, but the problem with McCall is he's every bit as passionless as Pataki, and since Pataki essentially is a moderate Democrat, you can't beat him on issues. You have to beat him with charisma. McCall doesn't have it.

Ode to Private Intellectuals

We celebrate public intellectuals (and lament their demise) but forget, says this article in this National Post of Canada commentary, what plain old intellectuals are good for. Sometimes it's only by withdrawing into the dreaded ivory tower, into the fine print of a discipline, that someone can make their most meaningful contributions to the world. Particularly for the many smart people who aren't good at appearing on tv, being charismatic, sounding persuasive, and otherwise making themselves relevant and accessible. Granted there's a difference between a logician or physicist who has no interest in engaging with the world out there and an isolationist political scientist--the former disciplines can live on logic and controlled evidence alone, the latter cannot. Still, the Canadian's point is well taken.

Has It Come to This?

Tonight on Donahue, Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon "speaks out on" the state of our public schools.

Monday

Applebee's Has Riblets

They do.

Sunday

Birthright?

Is Walmart discriminating against women by not providing insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives to its female employees? A class action lawsuit will settle it.

Saturday

22

Terrence Tootoo (two two), the first Inuit professional hockey player and by all accounts a very good person, killed himself Wednesday morning, a day after police charged him with drunk driving. He was 22. He wore number 22. He shot himself with a 12-gauge shotgun, not a .22.

About Not Forgetting

An interesting piece of commentary in The Independent on the Armenian genocide, the British mandate over Palestine, and The New York Times then and now.

Hemisfears

A report released at the Johannesburg summit says that climate change will help North America by increasing our (and Russia's) food production but killing food production in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent (and hurting Britain, Ireland, and Spain).

Junk science? Perhaps. Regardless, just another reason for Bush to get serious about the problem--to shut up the idiots who are no doubt beginning to weave elaborate conspiracy theories. Maybe I'm being too cynical.

Right Before, Right Again

I pray for the success of this new secularist crusade by the guy who made the Pledge of Allegiance ruling possible. Why do we have taxpayer-funded chaplains in Congress, anyway? Isn't it one step away from having a taxpayer built church, synagogue, and mosque? Yes, religion deserves a place at the table; I'm for charitable choice. But official state chaplains have more than a place at the table. They have keys to the kitchen.

Yellow Card

A friend is bothered by my criticism of Fantasy Soccer: "So are you like a total America first right winger now? You're even dissing soccer lovers now?"

It's Uneven, Like Television

But there's some very funny stuff in this Modern Humorist Fall TV Preview. I've already set the TiVo to tape "John Edward is Just Fucking with You" on SCI-FI.

Well, Fair

The indomitable Mickey Kaus and other neolibs may appreciate this reasonably balanced New York Times story on welfare caseloads declining in New York and other big cities despite the sluggish economy. Take Nina Bernstein off the story, and poof! Clinical despair and chronic distortion disappear!

Whittling Away

Daniel Gross writes a smart piece in Slate on how the overhead of being a big time, publicly listed company (and a not-so-well-managed one at that) has chipped away at Edison Schools' bottom line--putting them in fiscal trouble even though they may be educating kids better and more efficiently in the classroom.

I'm now pretty pessimistic about Edison's future. Since the company had the slimmest of margins to begin with, it has always been banking on high volume to make money. With its ongoing financial troubles, its long-anticipated Philadelphia deal already downsized, fiscal equity lawsuits bumping up funding in some cities (giving more hope to the public schools), and vouchers bound to pop up in others (moving more kids into private schools), I give them a few years. I'm already recoiling from the flood of "I told you so" coverage on how we should have known all along that dirty capitalism and pure public education wouldn't, couldn't mix.

Friday

When Bad Press Releases Happen to Good Candidates

"Our Teachers Shape Our Future Leaders," says former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. That's the headline. The lead? "'Our teachers shape our future leaders,' [said] U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk today as he visited Waco High School."

And if you were wondering who Phi Slamma Jamma alumnus Clyde Drexler supports, it's Kirk's opponent John Cornyn. The Glide even "threw his arms around" him. I never saw him treat Jerome Kersey or Kiki Vandeweghe that weghe. In fact, it's probably a flagrant foul.

The more pressing question on Planet Houston: who will kneel before Zod, and will he deliver the Phantom Zone vote?

The New Isolationists

Many of the people who called for active military intervention during the Clinton Administration, including (rightfully) trying to fix the awful tribal bloodshed in Somalia, have decided we should certainly mind our own business in Iraq, where our national security is at stake. And there are good arguments for figuring out what will follow Saddam, getting allies on board, and exhausting other options before barrelling toward Baghdad.

But this little Flash movie, which is making the email rounds, is infuriating. How many people nod their heads when they watch this shit? I hate to even link to something so immature and aggravating, but too late.

Revisions of Johannesburg

The Bush administration should have made more than a half-hearted attempt to contribute to the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development. But now that it may be tanking, let's see who gets blamed. Is it our fault or the fault of the countries who were actively engaged? Or is it (sigh) more complicated than that?

Doesn't Add Up

If, as some suggest, soccer's such a beautiful, balletic game that can't be distilled for the simplistic American mind, which prefers high scores and statistics, how the hell can a soccer fan enjoy fantasy soccer, which distills everything into numbers?

Thursday

What's Wrong With Not Forgetting?

I like Instapundit, but today he praises Jeremy Lott for suggesting that "We shall never forget" is an un-American slogan. That might sound good, but it's wrong. Even though we have bad individual historical memories as citizens, we've got a decent collective memory (thanks to the media), and we have never forgotten Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Vietnam, slavery, etc. (some people have such a hard time forgetting, in fact, they are actively pressing for reparations for a practice that ended well over a century ago).

Have we always learned the right lessons? No--but we haven't forgotten, and there's nothing un-American about that. I disagree that "The American way is to stomp hell out of people who do us ill, then forget all about it within a decade or two." The fact that we don't wallow in our past is actually refreshing.

And don't forget--people are already forgetting September 11, already lulling themselves into complacency. Not forgetting is strategic. If we fail to not forget now, we'll someday be forced to not forget a day that's even worse.

Wednesday

Bar None

This is a partisan report put out by a left wing think tank that I'm sure is omitting some important contextual data, but no matter how you couch it, it's depressing that the number of black men in jail or prison has grown fivefold in the past 20 years, to the point that more black men are now behind bars than are enrolled in colleges or universities. This is not a "total corrections population" figure that includes parole and probation, like the Bureau of Justice Statistics released on Monday. It's strictly who's in lockup.

Is this the apocalypse for black America? No. When you look at teen pregnancy rates, income levels, welfare trends, etc., the good news still far outweighs the bad. And as The New York Times points out in the article, "Some criminal justice experts said it was misleading to compare the two categories because the number in jail and prison includes all adult black men 17 years or older, while the number in institutions of higher learning is confined to a narrower student-age population in their late teens and early twenties." Fair enough. And knowing the equivalent figures for other races would be helpful; in fact, it's irresponsible for the reporter not to include them.

Still, the totality of the evidence here is sad, especially the reported fact that "the number of black men in jail or prison grew three times as fast from 1980 to 2000 as the rise in the number of black men in colleges and universities." And the numbers doubly trouble me when I think of how Sharptonaderites will abuse them to suggest that we live in an endemically racist nation.

Sharpening the Sporks

Here goes the press basically salivating at the possibility Republicans will lose big in the midterms. First sentence: "President Bush's vigorous campaigning to elect Republicans in November could make the elections a referendum on his presidency." It's a weird piece to come at the end of the summer, especially since the general consensus right now, which could easily change (with the help of a few more articles like this, among other things), is that it's going to be a tight in both houses--something that would seem to be neither pro- or anti- Bush, unless you stretch to find a hidden message. Whether this is media bias or just a desperate yearning for drama is hard to say. Probably the latter. But still, silly lede. The midterm election could be a referendum on his presidency. Um, okay. Tomorrow's update: it could not be one.

It's Pronounced "Seen"

For the record, Sean Hannity is not the second coming of Rush Limbaugh. I'm no fan of either one, but everybody knows Limbaugh is brilliant and brazen in his demagoguery. Hannity rarely makes a good argument or reams a foe as, say, O'Reilly or Matthews can. He's little more than Jim Bohannon to Limbaugh's Larry King.

This doesn't mean Hannity can't get into politics if he decides to, as some are now suggesting. In fact, he's better suited for public office than somebody smarter and bolder like Limbaugh--nicer and far better looking, especially when next to Colmes. Plus he's got a big following. And there are no Republican stars currently in New York politics besides Giuliani. So Hannity will get bigger. But as his book rises on the bestseller list and he starts to ascend to a place in the Fox News holy trinity alongside Hume and O'Reilly, I hope he's kept in context.

Log Cabins

Write your own joke about this, but it seems smart. And it's a better idea than this.

Seebee Ahren

Okay, though I've been told by informed people to be annoyed by the personal publishing revolution, I've gone and gotten a blog. And it's astoundingly easy so far. So on to a question I had today regarding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (he calls himself the President of the Republic of Iraq (he's also Prime Minister (and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (and possibly Iraqi Commissioner of Baseball (they don't have many work stoppages))))): of course we should shudder at the thought that he might soon get nuclear weapons, but what about chemical and biological and radiological?

Not all CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) are equal--and, in fact, some must be relatively minor, as weapons of war go. CBRN has become the more descriptive replacement for WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction), but the two terms really aren't interchangeable. As bad as a mass attack of smallpox or botulin toxin could be, there are many CBRN that aren't WMD--including the first iteration of anthrax through the mail, which was no more harmful in the end than the unabomber's spree (not to belittle either, just to put them in perspective). And there are some WMD that aren't CBRN. Shouldn’t we have gotten concerned, or weren't we concerned, just when Hussein had access to REALLY BIG BOMBS, say, that could kill en masse--major explosive devices that didn't happen to be weaponized with chemical or biological crap attached to them? It seems to me that, as harrowing as the image may be (and it's actually growing a bit tired, or I'm getting desensitized to it) of Saddam using chemical weapons on his own people, it would have been just as bad if had bombed a half dozen Kurdish towns to smithereens the old-fashioned way. Which, for all I know, he did. So why do we focus on the chemical?

I guess the two qualities CBRN share that make them a family of weapons are their relative novelty and their insidiousness. C, B and R are harder to spot than nuclear and conventional weapons--and all four types are, in theory, transportable in a way that conventional weapons are not. They can sometimes be unfastened from militaries and the regimes that control them, and can therefore become tools of terrorism. And of course they cause panic in the populace and often have some lingering health effects. But the implication that they're always scarier than all other kinds of weapons is wrong--and something that somebody ought to make clear.

Not every post, by the way, will contain this many parentheticals as this one (unless they're called for).