Monday, January 31, 2005

Head Them Off At The Legal Impasse!

Replacement players for the NHL? An idea whose time has come? Kara Yorio at the Sporting News thinks maybe. Desperately seeking skating subs

Let's pretend the league is putting itself on a track to have a lawful impasse declared that would, in turn, allow the NHL to implement its economic system. So here we are — impasse declared, cap implemented, players on strike and owners bringing in replacement players.

And that brings us to the fans. You remember the fans. What would the fans do? What would you do?

As I've stated before, I sure support replacement players. A comedian (Jerry Seinfeld?) once remarked that fans really seem to be cheering for the uniforms rather than the players, and, in this era of free agency, I think that is just about right.

It also seems that I'm not alone in supporting replacements. Yorio even claims that some NHL fans see this as an opprotunity to get rid of some dead wood.

One of the best e-mails came from a 13-year old looking for clarification on replacement players, asking if only the old players would be replaced. Now that's an idea. How about replacing the old players and those whose only skills are dumping the puck and hitting from behind? No such luck. All union skates would be emptied, no matter the age or ability.

Of course, for way too many people, the issue of replacement players is irrelevant. Plenty of Blackhawks fans wrote to say they wouldn't know the difference.

Who could argue against that?

Evidently You Cannot Be Both A Methodist AND A Republican

Just when you thought you'd seen everything, some Methodists are attempting to kick George Bush and Dick Cheney out of their church. Their crimes? Well the war in Iraq, obviously, and their blantant Republicanism.

Such as:

From pushing for drilling in ANWAR to deregulating polluting industries and cutting funding for toxic waste cleanup, the Bush administration has consistently been an anti-environment administration. These policies show their level of care for God's creation.


I) Population. ...People have the duty to consider the impact on the total world community of their decisions regarding childbearing and should have access to information and appropriate means to limit their fertility, including voluntary sterilization.

George W. Bush has vetoed Federal funding directed toward family planning in third world countries, saying that the funding is used to support the killing of infants in China. His claim is false.


Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have cut funding for social programs that guarantee these rights and diverted it toward war and huge tax cuts for corporations and the super-wealthy.


The Bush administration, through the Patriot Act, has violated the constitutional freedoms of persons residing in the U.S., making it easier for the government to spy on and intimidate any opponents of this administration and its policies. Furthermore, the Bush administration has encouraged a climate in which any rightful opponents to their illegal and heinous actions are labeled as "unpatriotic" or "anti-American". This climate has also lead to the harassment and torture of prisoners of war, sometimes consisting of physical and sexual abuse.


Bush and Cheney, when campaigning for office, claimed that they would support education, but while they have been in office, funding for education has declined as a direct result of their irresponsible tax cuts for the super-wealthy, making it much more difficult for poorer people to receive quality educations. They also support the use of education vouchers, which The United Methodist Church is against.

Isn't it amazing how the most valued tenets of Methodism conform EXACTLY with the Democratic Party platform?! What an amazing coincidence! How lucky "real" Methodists are to have a political party that perfectly encapusaltes their religious priciples!! Additionally, how lucky they are that the opposition party's platform is exactly contradictory to Christ in every particular! No need to spend time thinking!! Just call them the Methocrats!

Oh, as well we are informed by these good people that,

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, except those used by the United States.

So see?!? Bush and Cheney have been using biological and chemical weapons against the people of Iraq. The Monsters! We know its true because these Methocrats said so!! Are we so sure that Bush and Cheney are not feasting on the flesh of babies as well???

(If you will forgive me a little blasphemy.) Jesus Christ! What a load of crapola!

You know, there was a lot of media coverage about some Catholic Bishops having a beef with John Kerry over his many un-Catholic political positions, and a lot of condemnation came down on the Bishop's head for getting involved in politics. (Although, to be fair, the question of wether Kerry should have been recieving communion or not is a matter for the Catholic Church and not the Democratic party or Republican party or the media.) To my knowledge no Bishop came out and said John Kerry should be excommunicated.

Here we have a clear-cut case of someone wanting to remove the President and Vice-President from their church because they do not like their politics. (How liberal!) I'm certain that this attempt to impose a Methodist Sharia law will go relatively unnoticed.

Well, at least they have no shame.

How Is This For Wishy-Washy?

Whose opinion am I about to riducule for being completely weak-kneed and timid? Why my own of course.

In the newspaper rundown on the Iraqi election I came upon the following in a piece by John Podhoretz in the New York Post, Vindicated. In it he takes Fareed Zakaria to task for his out of control ego.

In another jaw-dropping display, Fareed Zakaria soberly informs us in this week's issue that Iraq's democratic evolution is probably doomed because — get this — it isn't proceeding according to a plan he outlined in a book he published two years ago.

No, I'm not kidding.

"No matter how the voting turns out," Zakaria wrote, "the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim . . . In April 2003, around the time Baghdad fell, I published a book that described the path to liberal democracy . . . In Newsweek that month, I outlined the three conditions Iraq had to fulfill to avoid this fate. It is currently doing badly at all three."

Whoa, better stop the vote counting, Omar! You Iraqis aren't following the Zakaria Plan! Tell you what — I'll go to my dentist's office and send you an old copy of Newsweek from his coffee table so that you can get yourself right with Zakaria.

But if you go and look at Zakaria's piece, Elections Are Not Democracy, you can see that he makes some valid points. What he fears for Iraq is that after the political formation process has ended Iraqi democracy will look more like a Russian or Nigerian "democracy" than a democracy that doesn't need to be put in quotation marks.

At the same time, I still think Zakaria's categorical statements about the still unfolding process in Iraq leave him somewhat open to the charge of egotism leveled by Podhoretz.

I wouldn't feel so stupidly wishy-washy if I could just label one of them a complete jerk and end it there.

Thanks a lot guys.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqi Elections

Anybody who has been reading this blog will notice that I've said nary a word about the elections in Iraq. There didn't seem to be much point. There was so much being written about this vote when there was in reality very little to say.

Election day has come and gone. Now there is something to say.

Good for the Iraqis.

It seems pretty clear that the vote in Iraq was at least a qualified success. (Read AP story here. Reuters here.) Given the circumstances that's all it needed to be. People who are hell bent on making Iraq a failure will continue to wring their hands and wail about Arab Sunni participation, no matter what level they actually voted at. But at this point, such complainers are merely making themselves irrelevant. The reality on the ground is that this election has started a democratic process will have a good (maybe not great) level of legitimacy.

The hope now is that this process will generate some momentum and a more stable democratic Iraq will take root. Iraq has its chance. Good luck to them.

And for all of those who deep down want the Iraqis to fail and fall into bloody civil war so that you can turn to President Bush and the Republicans and scream "I told you so!", all I have to say is, what the hell is wrong with you?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Yet Another Reason To Hate Academia

From The Rocky Mountain News: CU prof's essay sparks dispute: Ward Churchill says 9/11 victims were not innocent people

Ward is that bastard, sorry "Scholar", who insisted that everyone in the World Trade Center on 9/11 was asking for it anyway. Apparently this is good enough scholarly activity for a full professor at the University of Colorado. Ward (M.A. Sangaman State--yep, he didn't need no stinkin' Ph.D, at least for tenure in Ethnic studies at Colorado), is just one of the latest examples of the degredation of the term "scholar" in academia today. For example, one sub-text to the recent Larry Summers scandal at Harvard was the "disgust" that was generated when Summers refused to agree to tenure for a "Hip-Hop Scholar" (a term so silly that it doesn't even rise to the level of oxymoronic.)

Sheesh, I've got a couple of M.A. degrees and a several hundred Cd's. In fact you could call me (or I could at least call myself) a "Power-Pop Scholar." Now, please give me a job for life!

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to do some research....that is drink a cup of tea and listen to "A Hard Days Night."

The Western Europeans Can't Help It

Vaclav Havel wonders what's up with the EU and dictators: EU and Cuba: Freedom vs. appeasement

One of the strongest and most powerful democratic institutions in the world -- the European Union -- has no qualms in making a public promise to the Cuban dictatorship that it will re-institute diplomatic Apartheid. The EU's embassies in Havana will now craft their guest lists in accordance with the Cuban government's wishes. The shortsightedness of socialist Prime Minister José Zapatero of Spain has prevailed.

Try to imagine what will happen: At each European embassy, someone will be appointed to screen the list, name by name, and assess whether and to what extent the persons in question behave freely or speak out freely in public, to what extent they criticize the regime, or even whether they are former political prisoners. Lists will be shortened and deletions made, and this will frequently entail eliminating even good personal friends of the diplomats in charge of the screening, people whom they have given various forms of intellectual, political or material assistance. It will be even worse if the EU countries try to mask their screening activities by inviting only diplomats to embassy celebrations in Cuba.

I can hardly think of a better way for the EU to dishonor the noble ideals of freedom, equality and human rights that the Union espouses -- indeed, principles that it reiterates in its constitutional agreement. To protect European corporations' profits from their Havana hotels, the Union will cease inviting open-minded people to EU embassies, and we will deduce who they are from the expression on the face of the dictator and his associates. It is hard to imagine a more shameful deal.

Quite right. But Mr. Havel shouldn't deceive himself. There are many on the left in the United States, particularly in academia, that would love nothing better than to cozy up with Castro and call him their daddy.

Its disturbing that Havel's, and other Eastern Europeans, commitment to freedom born of personal experience in secret police states and developed in prisons from Estonia to Romania, is somehow viewed by many Western Europeans as "quaint." Western Europe would be much better off paying heed to people who actually know tyranny when they see it.

Does Barbara's Name Get Scratched Off The Hanukkah Card List?

A little follow-up on the Daily Kos' call for Joe Lieberman's head on a platter. Just three posts later Sen. Boxer shows up praising the Daily Kossacks (an approprate name I think) rather immoderately, while at the same time patting herself on the back for a job well... not done exactly.....maybe a job well attempted. The whole things comes off as a rather pathetic exercise in fishing for compliments.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Democratic Cannibalism

Now they've started eating their own kind. The Daily Kos has come out against Sen. Joe Lieberman. CT-Sen: Lieberman gears up for reelection

Republicans love him for the same reason that Democrats love McCain -- because they both spend a great deal of the time beating up publicly on their own party.

But for that reason, especially given our minority status (when the party needs to stick together for survival), Lieberman must go. I don't want another six years of him bashing Democrats on Fox News next to a fawning Sean Hannity.

I suppose, if Howard Dean wins the DNC chair, we can expect the purge to continue well into 2006.

Well, at least the Democrats are consistent in their insanity.

A Little Will Power

I'm not a huge fan of George Will, but I'll have to give him credit for this piece. It cracked me up. An exercise in academic hysterics

Forgive Larry Summers. He did not know where he was.

Addressing a conference on the supposedly insufficient numbers of women in tenured positions in university science departments, he suggested that perhaps part of the explanation might be innate -- genetically based -- gender differences in cognition. He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus.

He was at Harvard, where he is president. Since then he has become a serial apologizer and accomplished groveler. Soon he may be in a Khmer Rouge-style re-education camp somewhere in New England
(ed. That's what *I* said!), relearning this: In today's academy, no social solecism is as unforgivable as the expression of a hypothesis that offends someone's "progressive" sensibilities.

Someone like MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, the hysteric (see above) who, hearing Summers, "felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow." And, "I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill." She said that if she had not bolted from the room, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

Is this the fruit of feminism? A woman at the peak of the academic pyramid becomes theatrically flurried by an unwelcome idea and, like a Victorian maiden exposed to male coarseness, suffers the vapors and collapses on the drawing room carpet in a heap of crinolines until revived by smelling salts and the offending brute's contrition.

"Feed Me Crapola, Seymour!"

While I was watching Seymour Hersh on the Daily Show the other day the thought occured to me, "Is there the slightest reason why I should believe any of his ideological, paranoid, slightly hysterical rants?" The answer comes today via Max Boot at the L.A. Times: No way. Digging Into Seymour Hersh

Hersh doesn't make any bones about his bias. "Bush scares the hell out of me," he said. He told a group in Washington, "I'm a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House," who are "nuts" and "ideologues." In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft "demented." Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a "secret unit" of the U.S. government "has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did." And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Hersh hasn't printed the execution story, which suggests it may not meet even his relaxed reportorial standards, but what he does run is a confusing farrago of fact and fiction. His latest New Yorker article, "The Coming Wars," is a perfect example.

Based almost entirely on anonymous sources ("a Pentagon advisor" is not to be confused with "a Pentagon consultant"), it starts off with the allegation that the United States is planning strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. I hope so. But planning isn't the same thing as doing. Hersh's article offers no reason to think a war really is "coming."

In the rest of the piece, he writes about how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expanding the Pentagon's covert anti-terrorism activities and intelligence-gathering. True enough. According to Bart Gellman of the Washington Post (a real investigative ace), Rumsfeld has created a new spy unit to make up for the CIA's deficiencies. Gellman's Jan. 23 story has all sorts of specifics that the New Yorker piece lacks, including the unit's name (the Strategic Support Branch). Hersh's contribution is to spin this into something nefarious by including anonymous speculation that military operatives might sponsor foreign "execution squads" or even carry out "terrorist activities." Umm, guess we'll have to take your word for it, Sy.

But how good is Hersh's word? His record doesn't inspire confidence. In 1986 he published a book suggesting that the Soviets shot down a South Korean airliner because they mistook it for a U.S. spy plane — a claim debunked by the opening of Soviet archives. In 1997 he published a book full of nasty allegations about John F. Kennedy that was widely panned. As part of that project he tried to peddle a documentary based on forged documents.

Few facts in Hersh's stories are checkable by an outsider, but, of those that are, a number turn out to be false. In November 2001, he claimed that 16 AC-130 gunships participated in a raid (a "near disaster") on Mullah Mohammed Omar's compound in Afghanistan. There were only nine AC-130s in the entire region, and they are never used more than one or two at a time. In a story in October 2001, he claimed that Predator drones cost $40 million; the actual price tag is $2.5 million. In the latest article, he says two Pentagon policy officials would be in the "chain of command" for covert operations; the actual chain of command runs from the secretary of Defense to military commanders in the field.

It seems to me that someone who is doing investigative journalism, a form of journalism which oftens precludes readers from being able to corroborate much of the information presented, has a greater responsibility placed upon them to be even handed than, for instance, someone working on an editorial page or as a columnist. As it stands how can anyone objectively decide where Hersh's grasp of facts end and where his paranoid delusions start? I don't think you can objectively decide. If you find that Seymour Hersh's journalism speaks to you or not, it says more about the mindset you had to begin with. You certainly didn't learn anything new. In many ways you end up less informed then when you started.

That's the very definition of a lousy journalist.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Good Points, Bad Points & No Point

You can see some frustration rising to the surface in a recent piece on the NHL lockout from Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: NHL Takes Fan Abuse To A New Level

This is so typical of the National Hockey League. Not only has the league shut down its business -- due to the collective incompetence of its owners -- it continues to string along its fans. The NHL refuses to cancel the season.

Instead, we get more meetings that go nowhere and more posturing. That's doubly aggravating for those diehards who just want to know, once and for all, whether they should move on with their lives.

Not satisfied to stiff those loyal souls who feed their industry, the NHL owners choose to torture them as well. What a league!

If the owners never intended to settle for anything short of a hard salary cap, then they should have canceled the season weeks ago. If you're going to play hard ball, play it.

Gordon is absolutely right here. All the pussyfooting around is nothing but a PR game, and a PR game for which there is absolutely no logical reason to play.

What the owners need to do is A) Cancel the season, B) Give their "no retreat from" position, C) receive the players notice of rejection, & D) Start hiring new players, those who will sign on to the new rules, for next season. Everyone knows that the NHL wants to bust the players association, and Lord knows they deserved to be busted. Why waste time pretending otherwise?

Total revenue sharing. The owners don't want a free-market system, which is odd. Most of these U.S. owners are Republicans, right?

But it's their business. Since the owners want a collective, then let's form a collective. Every last penny goes into the pot to be shared equally by all the franchises.

This line of thinking is complete garbage. No professional sports league in the United States operates on a free market system. It is a closed cartel of owners, and the players, especially on the top end of the pay scale, benefit mightily from such a system. If, instead of a closed league system where franchises have to be "awarded" by existing owners after a bribe - I mean "franchise fee" - has been paid to the league, you had a system that allowed anyone with the money to start a team, good players would be so spread out that very few would be making anything like the money they have been making. So this "free market" whining from sports writers just won't fly. And it really isn't as if the NHL owners are asking for something that isn't already being done in the NFL or the NBA. When is the last time you heard Gordon, or any other writer, complaining about the "communist" NFL? Never is when.

Where the NHL is different from the NFL or NBA is the lack of large TV revenue, which is exactly why revenue sharing shouldn't exist in the NHL. If you offer a crappy product and nobody comes to the games you will not be bailed out by shared revenue, which in this case would be other teams ticket revenues. And why should you? It may make sense in the NFL, where the Arizona Cardinals can still make money hand over fist with half empty stadiums, but how does it make sense in a league without such TV revenues? The fact is it doesn't make sense.

Gordon falls into the trap of thinking that since the owners have more money than the players, it is the owners who are automatically in the wrong. It just isn't true.

I still miss my hockey though.

"It's The Brain Drain. Their Brains Are Draining."

Iowa Republicans think they have a winner of an idea to keep 20-somethings in Iowa after they graduate from college: No state income tax until you turn 30. From the Des Moines register, Don't Tax Anyone Under 30

Iowans younger than 30 would pay no state income taxes under an economic-growth plan unveiled Tuesday by Senate Republicans - an idea that drew cheers and jeers from young and old."

More than half of our college graduates leave the state after graduation. We want to reverse Iowa's brain drain and make our state a more attractive place for our young people," said Senate Republican Co-President Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny.The average yearly tax savings would run about $600 for taxpayers in their 20s or younger.

"I think it sounds great," said Adam McGinnis, 20, a University of Iowa pharmacy major. "My major allows me to go anywhere, so why not stay in Iowa?"

But Mescha Grammer, 20, a U of I senior who's headed to law school next year, laughed at the idea. "Six hundred dollars a year really isn't that much, especially if you get better job offers," she said.

Where to begin? For starters, the state income tax rate as an actual anxiety for people in their 20's must rank about 533rd on the list, right between the fear of not having enough creamer for the morning coffee and the fear of being eaten by rabid skunks. It just will not be on the average young person's radar.

But it seems to me that the problem wouldn't really lie with the behavior of individual 20-somethings in the first place. Are there really scads of well paying entry level jobs in Iowa that don't get filled because young Iowans move off somewhere else? I doubt it. And if you want to help create more jobs that would appeal to younger workers how exactly is giving them a tax break going to do that? This helps employers how exactly?

Now there may very well be a problem with Iowa's tax structure - it does seem a little severe compared with some neighboring states (See this chart). And if you consider that Chicago must be a big draw for young Iowans, I wonder how this plan could be viewed as an improvement over Illinois' 3% flat state income tax. Young Iowans entering the workforce will know that they will eventually turn 30 and have to pay Iowa's state income tax (which can hit 9%), right?

I really cannot see how this plan would be helpful in any meaningful way. Well, it might allow the Republicans to claim they did something....although nothing effectual.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The University As Whorehouse

I came across an interesting article by Vigan Guroian, from Loyola-Baltimore, covering something of the same ground as Tom Wolfe's new novel I am Charlotte Simmons, Dorm Brothel. The article has a remarkable sense of balance and is very worthwhile reading.

Under such conditions, how could dating and courtship possibly survive? How could traditional marriage survive, in the long term? Courtship and dating require an inviolable private space from which each sex can leave at appointed times to meet in public and enjoy the other. In other words, in a courtship culture it ought to be that two people who are "serious" actually do "go out" together and do not merely cohabit in a closeted dormitory or apartment. Yet over the past 40 years, American colleges have created a brave new unisex world in which distinctions between public and private, formal and familiar, have collapsed. The differences between the sexes are now dangerously minimized or else just plain ignored because to recognize them is not progressive or politically correct. This is manifestly the case with coed dorm floors and shared bathrooms and showers. These give the lie to official college rules against cohabitation. They are the wink and nod our colleges give to fornication and dissipation. Even in 1957, when he was chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, Clark Kerr was almost prophetic when he stated humorously that his job responsibilities were "providing parking for faculty, sex for students, and athletics for the alumni."

Loyola College and a great many other colleges and universities simply do not acknowledge, let alone address, the sexualization of the American college. Rather, they do everything possible to put a smiley face on an unhealthy and morally destructive environment, one that—and this is no small matter—also makes serious academic study next to impossible. Most of the rhetoric one hears incessantly from American colleges about caring for young men and women and respecting their so-called freedom and maturity is disingenuous. Should we really count it to their credit that colleges are spending more and more resources on counseling and therapy when the direct cause of many wounds they seek to heal is the Brave New World that they have engineered, sold as a consumer product, and supervised?

To serve in loco parentis involves caring for the whole student not as an employer or client but as parent. In its statement "Vision and Values: A Guide for the Loyola College Community," Loyola says it holds to "an ideal of personal wholeness and integration." The college aims "to honor, care for, and educate the whole person," enjoining the entire college community "to strive after intellectual, physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health and well-being." The statement correctly associates these goals of education with the Roman Catholic faith and the liberal-arts tradition. Many other colleges and universities issue similar statements of aim and purpose on both religious and secular grounds. Yet the climate at Loyola College—and many, many others—produces the antithesis of these aims. It fosters not growth into wholeness but the dissolution of personality, not the integration of learning and everyday living but their radical bifurcation. It most certainly does not support the church's values of marriage and family.

Gurioan glosses over one of the more important factors, if he even notices that it brought it to light. This is the replacement of one contradiction with another. As he describes it, the sexual mores and societal "duties" placed on young men and women in the 1950's were clearly contradictory. Young men and women were expected to act in a more adult fashion, and at the same time were faced with copious in loco parentis restrictions. Basically you had to break the rules to get yourself into a situation where you even had the chance to act in a responsible and respectable manner. Otherwise the rules would keep you from having to make those sorts of decisions for yourself.

The situation today is reversed and, consequently, just as contradictory. College age men and women are not expected to act like adults, and any limiting parameters have been removed. (The reason you can see campaigns against alcohol use on college campuses is the bad publicity that can result from any alcohol related death. For the modern University, the dead student isn't so much the problem as the bad publicity. These campaigns are not really an effort to re-instate in loco parentis rules, but more of a PR campaign that alumni can get their heads around.)

In a real sense the Universities are not to blame for how college age men and women are treated. The infantilization of 20-somethings is a societal wide phenomena that was not created by or in the Universities, although it is exacerbated by them. Where Universities can be faulted is in not dealing with the realities of what their students are like. If society gives you young people who are actually striving to be responsible citizens, a certain degree of latitude might be in order. When the students you are given lack a sense of responsibility to others or themselves, too much latitude is simple negligence.

You Know Your Sporting Life Stinks When....

...the most exciting thing going on is labor trouble. Ugh.

First there was the NHL lockout destroying the hockey season, the only sport that can guarentee getting me through the winter entertained. I'm not a big NFL guy, I positively hate the NBA, and while I support both the Saint Louis University Billikens and the Missouri Tigers basketball teams, neither are all that easy to keep up on from a distance. Being a fan just isn't the same if you don't get a chance to see any of the games. It's gotten to the point that I almost never turn on ESPN unless they are showing a U.S. National Team soccer game.

And then the U.S. Nats go and have labor trouble of their own. But at least things seem to have settled down on that front for the moment. (See, USA Strike Action Called Off )

Spring training, for Major League Baseball & Major League Soccer, cannot come soon enough for me. I'm not just saying that because I'm freezing my butt off here in west central Minnesota; I really need some sporting events I care about.

I'm not looking forward to two weeks of Super Bowl hype....and then I think about the NHL not coming back next winter can make a grown man weep.

Why Defend Larry If He Won't Defend Himself?

Originally I was going to attempt to offer a spirited defence of Lawrence Summers, who got himself in trouble by postulating possible genetic difference between men and women with regards to mathematic abilities. In one sense there is no need for me to do so, as many others have done so quite forcibly. (See: Steve Chapman's, Staying mute on men vs. women differences & Jacob Sullum's, Brain Storm: Can we talk about sex differences in math and science aptitude without yelling? )

However, another reason is keeping me from offering my full defence of Larry Summers. It is his own craven cowardice in the face of this ideological assault on free inquiry. Summer has crawled on his belly and practically sounds like he's ready to go off to re-education camp.

Summers nonetheless was forced to apologize for uttering forbidden thoughts. He also promised a group of women professors that he would "address diversity issues in the coming days," as a university spokesperson put it. (From Chapman)

Oh joy.

Academia is a lost cause.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Slow News Day (Inaugural Style)

I've never been a big fan of Inauguration Days. By nature, they are so scripted that there is nothing "alive" about them. They are like presidential debates, with the slim chance that something interesting might happen removed. Some folks become teachers of rhetoric for the day and enjoy critiquing the speech, and while I recognize that rhetoric plays an important role in politics, when employed in these inaugural speeches it seems devoid of a real purpose. The last thing we need from George W. Bush is yet another general statement of principles. That is something we know very well already.

Here are a couple interesting takes on George W. Part Two:

By Thomas Friedman: An American in Paris
By Lanny Davis: True Confessions: A Democrat Likes George

From the Friedman article:

Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.

An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Iran, he said, is the ultimate "red state." Go figure.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Defacing the Dictator

More evidence of discontent coming from North Korea. North Korea A Powderkeg; Kim Jong Il Poster Defaced (Gleaned from The Moderate Voice.)

I'd like to think I'd have the guts to stand up against such a regime and risk summary execution. I wouldn't be all that surprised to find out I didn't. For that reason alone I've got to wish these guys all the best.

Location, Location, Location

Like most everyone else in the country, you are probably on pins and needles wondering about the prospects of Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack running for President in 2008. (Wha? You're not?)

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register has an interesting take on Vilsack and the Iowa caucus. Yepsen argues that the prominent early position of the Iowa caucus works against Vilsack today, just as it did with Sen. Tom Harkin's bid in 1992. Vilsack in '08 race? Judge his support for caucus

It's doubtful Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack really wants the 2008 Democratic presidential nominating process to start with the Iowa caucuses. Oh, he may say he does, but deep in his soul he'd love it if the whole thing began someplace else.Reason? He might run for president himself in 2008.
Instead of being a springboard for the hometown boy, Iowa's caucuses could be a deathtrap.

Here's how it works: The conventional wisdom is that if Vilsack ran for president in 2008, he would be an early front-runner in Iowa because it is his home state. Everyone would "expect" him to do well and even win big.

As is often the case, he could be victimized by that expectations game. If he won Iowa by a big margin, many in the political world would only shrug and say it's no big deal. Vilsack would get little bounce out of such a win.

But if he lost, or just won a narrow victory, it would be seen as a huge political defeat because political types would conclude: "Gee, the guy couldn't even do well in his home state."

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin discovered how this worked when he ran for president in 1992. The other candidates bypassed Iowa. But Harkin was still in the position of having to spend time and resources in his home state to win "big." When he did - with something like 77 percent of the vote - nobody cared. It was a hollow victory because no one else ran against him here.

His "bounce" was a "thud": Harkin finished fourth in the New Hampshire primary, and then lost the South Dakota primary to Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Harkin's campaign folded shortly thereafter.

Yepsen is right. Vilsack is pretty much screwed.

I've always thought that having the Iowa caucus and New Hamshire primary isolated out front in the presidential primary selection process was a terrible idea. Either party would be better served by having a first round of primaries that involved 7 or 8 states spread across the country and all voting on the same day. Iowa and New Hampshire could still be a part of that process, though they will lose their "extra special" status. (It amazes me that we have to hold onto this clunky selection process basically because it helps the self-esteem of the folks in Nashua and Iowa City.) Someone tell them to buck up and take one for their country!

But, as a wise man and former roommate said, they probably won't change it just for me.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Cutting Kos Some Slack

I generally do not do much blogging about blogging. It always reminded me of the Simpson's episode where we discover someone (Chief Wiggum?) has a ham radio. The picture focuses in on the radio and you hear a crackling voice speaking in an exotic language saying the only thing ham radio people have to say to one another, "I have a ham radio." In a similar vein writing about blogging is just another way of saying, "I have a blog."

But, the controversy (such as it is) about the Daily Kos taking money from the Dean campaign is a little bit more interesting. You can get a variety of takes from the following links:

From the Daily Kos, their big piece of refutation: Laura Gross from DFA weighs in on Kos/Dean story
From Slate, Chris Sullentrop's take: Blogging for Dollars: Hang Daily Kos, but not for taking money from Howard Dean.
And from Hugh Hewitt: Black Blog Ops

For starters, I'll offer that the purpose of these allegation seems to have been to find a liberal Armstrong Williams. As that this story falls laughably short. The real analogy would be to the bloggers that worked with the Thune Senate campaign out in South Dakota, and while you had a couple liberal blogs go batty over them it was never that big a deal. Furthermore, the charge that Kos should have repeatedly told people about his Dean relationship is downright silly. Was he supposed to change the name of the blog to "The Daily 'I'm Cashing Checks From the Dean Campaign' Kos"? Saying it once where those people who read his blog regularly could see it IS enough. He should not be held accountable for the fact that other, more intermittent, readers might be left in the dark. If it was really that important to them they should read his blog more often.

That being said, there is more than a wiff of "He doth protest too much" over at the Daily Kos right now. If you read their "smoking gun" statements from Laura Gross (late of the Dean campaign) you can see the wheels coming off of their line a bit. She claims at one point,

I said that, as many media outlets noted at the time and a giant disclaimer on their blog said, these guys were hired as technical consultants. Specifically, they helped the Web team pick a technology platform for the blog (Movable Type) and helped manage Internet advertising (banner ads, Google ads, etc.). They weren't paid to write content -- either for the campaign or on their own blogs. And just in case there was any ambiguity, the campaign made sure they had a notice saying "I am a paid consultant for Howard Dean" right smack on the front of their personal blogs.

This comes across as near total BS. Any kid fresh out of an IT program at any junior college could have done what they were supposedly paying Kos for, and probably for a hell of a lot less money. The idea that Kos was not chosen because of the particular audience he had built for the Daily Kos just doesn't pass the smell test. Neither Kos nor anyone in the Dean campaign was that much of a neophyte. C'mon. Now, I don't think there was anything wrong with taking the money for services rendered, including the expectation that the Dean campaign was buying Kos's goodwill in the future. That's politics. Truth be told, it's also journalism. It simply does not make Kos a bad guy, but please don't ask me to believe that Kos is some virginal Snow White either. No one in this situation is that naive.

Kos' best line to his critics would have been to say, "So what?" If you read Hewitt and Sullentrop's pieces they don't really have an answer to that.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Stephen F. Cohen's Yearning for Stalin

For your daily dose of insanity, head on over to The Nation to read Stephen F. Cohen latest descent into madness: The Media's New Cold War

In this piece Cohen castigates nearly every western news outlet for preferring the pro-western faction in the recent political troubles in Ukraine. Russia, so says Cohen, has lots of geopolitical reasons for interfering with the internal workings of Ukraine. The west doesn't. So there. The notion that Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, should be free to sort her own politics out is out of the question for Cohen. Seemingly, Ukraine can only exist by Russia's indulgence. As a result Cohen has no problem with the possibility of Russia being involved in the assassination attempt on Viktor Yushchenko. Hell, the dioxin poisoning is not even mentioned in the lengthy article.

At its heart Cohen's article seems to express a deep and unreserved longing for the Soviet Union. Cohen even claims that half of Ukrainians long for just such a return of communist hegemony over their lives. Cohen thinks that would be just swell. Obviously, the more slave-like Ukrainians need to be told what to do by the more masterly Russians. Maybe if we had a repeat of the Soviets forced "migration" and starvation campaigns against Ukrainians we could reach near unanimity in support for Russia in Ukraine. Why not? What's a genocide between neighbors?

What amazes me is that Cohen so readily buys into the "isolation" fantasy. Russia today sounds a little like Germany pre-WWI, so paranoid that an all out coalitional war was inevitable. But there is one big difference today; no one is competing with Russia as they were with Germany. Russia, if it ever can break free from its phobic paranoia, can just as readily join with the western nations as Ukraine is attempting to, or as places like Poland and the Czech Republic already have. No one is competing with Russia because it represents nothing, unless you think their strange oligarchic anarchy is something anyone would want to emulate. What does Russia have that the EU or the US could possibly want enough to isolate and destroy them for? The answer is of course nothing. The west does not want an isolated Russia, they want a Russia fully integrated and engaged with the west. Yes, the goal is a future where Russia is in NATO, and a part of the economic vitality of Europe.

Russian isolation can only happen through Russian actions. It is just strange to see people like Cohen wanting to help Russia in this self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Memo to Stephen F. Cohen: Uncle Joe is dead and likely to remain so. In case you didn't know, that's a very good thing.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

You Can't Mess with the Constitution, but We Can

One aspect of politics today that I cannot abide by is the rhetoric that gets employed whenever the Republicans begin a drive to amend the Constitution in one way or another. "Oooo," says the nearest available Democrat for comment (statistically speaking, most likely the Rev. Al Sharpton), "You're messing with the Constitution!"

Now in terms of the individual merits of the amendment drives such criticism can be either more or less justified, but what gets me is the Democrats posing as some sort of bastion of protection for the Constitution. Dems are much more likely to advocate blithely changing fundamental aspects of the Constitution to suit their own narrow interests, and often without going through the amendment process at all. One example is the agitation to scrap the Electoral College (which I will get into at a later date.) A newer example is a call to revoke life tenure for Supreme Court justices. (See, Roots grow deeper on the Supreme Court)

Now, you can make the argument for changing life tenure, although I find the arguments presented in the above linked article more than slightly silly, but you cannot then claim that isn't "messing" with the Constitution. And when you read statements like:

Changing the Constitution to limit the tenure of justices - 18 years is a number many scholars advocate - or to establish a mandatory retirement age, will be an uphill battle, though Congress may be able to address the issue through legislation.

Everyone should be glad that the Republicans are at least following the Constitutionally proscribed method for altering the way we run this country, and not just making it up on the fly. That may be small consoloation, but that is a lot better than no consultation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Water Works

Harvard Magazine has a very interesting, and exhaustive, article covering the aftermath of Saddam's campaign against the Marsh Arabs, and water policy more generally throughout the Middle East. It's worthwhile reading.

Paradise Lost? What should--or can--be done about "the environmental crime of the century"?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!

This is a good way to ruin my day. Laws (and wealth) of nations: A controversial theory blames countries' lagging economies on Napoleon

WHY DO SOME countries prosper while others falter? It's one of the world's trillion-dollar questions.

Consider the case of Malaysia and Indonesia. They are adjacent Southeast Asian countries with similar natural resources (and similar vulnerability to natural disasters), and populations that speak similar languages and adhere to similar forms of Islam. But even before the recent tsunami devastated parts of Indonesia, Malaysia's economy has been prospering while Indonesia's has been floundering. Malaysia's stock market is far more vibrant than its neighbor's, and its average resident is three times richer.

Economists might explain the divergence by pointing to the countries' different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in Malaysia's powerful community of Chinese immigrants. Historians might point to Indonesia's bloody struggle for independence.

But another fascinating, and hotly contested, explanation lies in the origins of the countries' legal systems. Malaysia was a British colony and its legal system is based on the common law -- the set of rules, norms, and procedures that has guided the legal system of England and the former British Empire (including the United States) for about nine centuries. Indonesia, on the other hand, was a Dutch colony and its legal system derives from French civil law, a set of statutes and principals written under Napoleon in the early 19th century.

According to research published by a group of economists beginning in 1998, countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently in creating effective financial markets. The theory has jolted the legal academy and turned the authors -- Rafael La Porta of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes of the Yale School of Management, Andrei Shleifer of Harvard's economics department, and Robert Vishny of the University of Chicago's business school -- into the world's most cited academics on business and economics topics over the past decade.

What ticks me off is that a group of friends and I came up with exactly the same idea back in 1991 or 1992, when we were in grad school at Illinois. Granted, we phrased it in terms of political stability not economics, and we had had a few beers at the Illini Inn (aka "Willies"), so I'm sure we were less precise and more "fuzzy." But in outline the theory was the same. The thing is, I don't think any of us treated it as anything particularly novel. It seemed rather commonplace, something that any group of political theory and comparative politics students might use as a jumping off point for a lengthy conversation.

Maybe if we had had fewer beers that night we could have made some careers out of that conversation.

The beer was sure tasty though.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Forgive me my Dorkdom.

As I mentioned before, I got a chance to see the new musical "Spamalot!" in Chicago right after New Year's. I had a blast. I didn't really want to do a review of it because I'm one of the worst people on the planet for that job. It would be wrong to say that "Monty Python & The Holy Grail" encapsulates my sense of humor. It would be more accurate to say that film created my sense of humor. I know it makes me a king sized dork, but when I was nine years old and I saw a rabbit bite off a man's head while King Arthur screams "Jesus Christ!", don't have such pituresque epiphanies every day.

Finally, some reviews are in of "Spamalot!" so you don't have to take my word for it. It's funny.

Is 'Spamalot' digestible?Python fans rejoice: Musical succeeds on sheer comic goodwill

'Spamalot' cans Broadway grail

I agree with the Tribune review above that the song in the witch burning scene is a low point. They should probably just cut the song, but keep the movie bits. The song is really just a less funny version of the "O Lord Please Don't Burn Us" hymn from "Meaning of Life." But part of what made that so funny was the solemn church surroundings. Here, the witch burning song adds nothing of interest. Lose it.

All in all though, it was very enjoyable, especially for Monty Python dorks. You know who you are.

Rossi on the Rocks? Say "Yes!"

Who would have thought that Washington state politics could be so interesting? John Fund at the Wall Street Journal has a good overview of the goings-on in the Washington governor's race. Don't Count Rossi Out: A stolen election in Washington state? Not if bloggers can help it.

Much of the evidence uncovered on King County's flouting of election laws first appeared on, a blog run by computer consultant Stefan Sharkansky. A former liberal who worked for Michael Dukakis in 1988, Mr. Sharkansky calls himself a "9/11 conservative mugged by reality." He uses his knowledge of statistics and probability to illustrate how unlikely some of the reported vote count changes are. He also uncovered the fact that in Precinct 1823 in downtown Seattle, 527, or 70%, of the 763 registered voters used 500 Fourth Avenue--the King County administration building--as their residential address. A full 61% of the precinct's voters only registered in the last year, and nearly all of them "live" at 500 Fourth Avenue. By contrast, only 13% of all of King County voters registered in 2004.

Not all of the voters at the county building are homeless or hard to find. A noted local judge and her husband have been registered at the county building for years. When I called her to ask why, she became flustered and said it was because of security concerns, specifically because "the Mexican mafia are out to get me." When I pointed out that her home address and phone number were easily found on the Internet and in property records, she ended the conversation by refusing to answer a question about whether she had improperly voted for state legislative candidates who would represent the county building but not her residence.

Problems with the Mexican mafia notwithstanding, it whole situation does seem a little ridiculous. It is difficult to call a system that allows for such anomalies "transparent" as such. As it exists today it seems possible to commit massive fraud in Washington with no one being the wiser.

Now, I don't have a dog in this fight, and Lord knows that when Rossi was beating Christine Gregoire you had Dems complaining about irregularities cutting the other direction. So what matter most to me is not the outcome as much as the process that is followed. What gets to me is how many people just shrug their shoulders and say "Well, that's just the way politics happen."

No, it isn't. There is a reason that we establish a set of laws that govern elections. If you follow an established process established before the fact you at least have a chance to minimize all of the shenanigans. Treating every election recount in an ad hoc fashion just encourages every side to do whatever they can get away with. Then you will have one side or the other taking pens to alter ("enhance") ballots, or mixing in unverified provisional ballots, or whatever else comes to mind.

It is the feeblest sort of sophistry to claim that it really doesn't matter since both sides engage in this sort of activity. A plurality of voters in this country do not identify themselves with either of the parties. Their interest as voters is not satisfied by one side or the other "winning" by any means necessary. The only way voting means anything is if the process is open and fair. By that standard, no matter who takes the oath of office not a single voter in Washington cast a meaningful ballot.