Wednesday, March 31, 2004

We never had this during the Clinton administration: First, the Department of Homeland Security got involved in tracking down Texas Democrats who left the state in a gambit designed to prevent a quorum in the legislature; and now it turns out that the Treasury Department has been analyzing Kerry's tax plan -- at the behest of Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay who wants to use the data for political purposes. Clinton never politicized federal agencies this way.

Where's the outrage?

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

My homestate of Georgia seems to be leading the nation in idiocy. First, there was the attempt to make it a misdemeanor for a restaurant to serve iced tea but not sweet tea.

Misdemeanors can carry a sentence of up to 12 months in jail.

[State Representative] Noel got the idea when he wasn't able to order sweet tea at a restaurant in Chicago. It wasn't on the menu.

Then, there was the attempt to set the ratio of toilets for women to toilets for men at 2:1.

"It's not good for the females that they can't go to the bathroom," [State Representative Smith] added. "And it's not good for the men because we have to wait on 'em to get out."

Naturally, Smith has three female co-sponsors for his toilet bill..."This is serious, a serious problem," he said. "If you talk to any woman, she'll tell you it's a serious problem."

Finally, now, the Georgia house has passed a ban of genital piercings for women.

Amendment sponsor Rep. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, was slack-jawed when told after the vote that some adults seek the piercings.

"What? I've never seen such a thing," Heath said. "I, uh, I wouldn't approve of anyone doing it. I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be doing."

Memo to Bill Heath: do a search for "genital piercings" on google images and you might actually learn something. That is, if you know what google is.

Update: The Atlanta newspaper Creative Loafing has offered Bill Heath a free piercing of his own genitalia. Can't beat a deal like that.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Let's be logical about this: Condoleeza Rice has refused to testify under oath before the 9/11 commission.

The Bush administration claims that this is because presidential aides, like the National Security Advisor, do not testify before Congress.

This is blatantly untrue; Clinton National Security Advsior Sandy Berger testified before Congress under oath a few times. The principle to which Rice is appealing does not exist.

It must be, therefore, that Rice does not want to testify under oath because she has something to hide.
Something that the administration does not want the public to know. Something Rice could plausibly be asked about at the hearing.

What other explanation is there?

Update: After a week of negative publicity, Rice has given in. Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt the reason for the week-long refusal to testify was based on principle.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

According to English law, it takes four social workers to change a light bulb.

Dick Clarke made a difference -- at least in the short term. Polls show that Bush's re-election numbers dropped by 6% since the Clarke story hit the news.

Clarke's book seems to be selling pretty well -- my local Barnes & Noble is out of copies.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

This is what I call a "really, really stupid statement:" Senator Zell Miller had this to say about the 9/11 commission:

"I think our enemies, our terrorist enemies, look at what is happening here and they see all this bickering, all this divisiveness," Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat who has endorsed Bush for re-election, told CNN. "They see this disunity, and they will interpret it as weakness and instability and encourage them."

Riiight. Criticism of the president helps the terrorists! Way to go, Zell, for tellin' it like it is.

Dick Clarke made a number of factual claims about the Bush administration pre-9/11 handling of terrorism:

1. Soon after Bush was elected, Clarke sought to have a principals meeting on the topic of terrorism (a principals meeting is a meeting that involves the senior officials: Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury, the National Security Advisor, Attorney General, CIA chief). Such meetings had been routinely held in the Clinton administration. Clarke had a list of anti-terrorism measures that he felt ought to be implemented quickly. Clarke sent a memo to Rice asking for such a meeting. Rice replied that in the Bush administration a principals meeting is inappropriate; Clark should instead go through depuites meeting on the topic first (a deputies meeting is one where the second-in-commands from each agency are present).

It took eight months of wrangling with the deputies to get something up to the principals meeting. The principals finally convened on Sept 4, 2001, a week before 9/11. Bush never saw the recommendations made until after 9/11, when they were finally implemented.

2. Clarke wanted a terrorism policy passed to the CIA that called for "eliminating" al Qaeda. His language was eliminated from the drafts, which went around various agencies for months and months. "Eliminating" was replaced with "significantly erode." After 9/11, the languages was changed back to Clarke's "eliminate."

3. Clarke wrote to Rice & others in the executive branch seeking to brief the President on counter-terrorism. He hoped that if the President were more interested in the topic, it would be given higher priority by all and speed up the process. His request was denied.

This insousiant attitude about terorrism, Clark maintains, is unusual because George Tenet was telling Bush every day in his intelligence briefing about the urgency of the terrorist threat. And yet the White House simply didn't see terrorism as all that urgent. At least, not enough to expedite the lengthy inter-agency bureaucratic process.

These claims rest on facts that can be easily checked. None of them depend on Clarke's credibility. The White House has not rebutted them. It hasn't even tried. No, instead, it launched a vicious personal attack on Clarke.

George Bush ran promising to improve the tone in Washington. It seems that he's discovered that personal attacks are the easiest way out of public scrutiny. The "politics of personal destruction," to use Dick Gephardts term, is alive and well in the Bush administration.

By the way: Stuart Benjamin makes a similar point at the Volokh Conspiracy.

I started reading blogs after 9/11. I found myself increasily agreeing with conservatives -- a strange position for someone who had always vilified the Republican party. Yet, it seemed liberals were out of touch, absolutely crazy in their obsession with peace. I saw the people I had always agreed with lapse into incoherence. Examples:

A couple of days after the twin tower attacks, the local chapter of Amnesty International held a peace vigil. About 15 people showed up. Five people showed up to protest the vigil; they stood in the back holding up "America Is At War"signs. I was passsing by on my way to class and stopped to have a look. "We believe that bombing Afghanistan would not be what the American people want," I heard the speaker read from cards to mild applause. Who are you to be a spokesman for the American people? I thought. In fact, the American people did support overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Look around you and see that your opinion isnt representative of everyone else.

The event had a surreal quality to me. Imagine a peace vigil the day after Pearl Harbor. When you are attacked, the first thing on your mind should be finding out who attacked you and making sure it never happens again. These people would have opposed fighting Nazi Germany in the name of "peace." I saw their attitudes in an especially ironic light; in the months below 9/11, a few people have sent e-petitions for me to sign which condemned the Taliban's treatment of women. I refused to sign these things because it was an inherently pointless exercise; do they really think that the Taliban is going to change because of their petition? There is only one way of getting rid of a brutal regime that oppresses its citizens and inflicts violence on other nations, and it involves force.

Village Voice solicited a number of novelists and essayists for short statements on 9/11 shortly thereafter. I read with disbelief Alice Walker's statement: "But what would happen to [Osama Bin Laden's] cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done? Further, what would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love." I didn't even know Osama had a cool armor. Chomsky replied with something incoherent about Nicaragua. Naomi Klein blamed globalization.

Many respondents to the Village Voice tended to blame global poverty for terrorism, a point that does not stand up to scrutiny. Saudi Arabia, for example, is a pretty rich country: every adult male is guaranteed a job. Jordan, on the other hand, has very little oil and tends to be much poorer. Yet its share of the terrorism pie is very, very small -- especially so considering its proximity to Palestine and the natural affinity with the Palestinian cause.

Anyway, poverty was stressed; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, wrote: "I don't know how you wage war against one person; it doesn't make sense. I can imagine a commando-type raid to capture Bin Laden, then a trial, with evidence, before the world court. But that would not address the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is ultimately rooted. What is so heartbreaking to me as a feminist is that the strongest response to corporate globalization and U.S. military domination is based on such a violent and misogynist ideology."

Call me crazy, but with the memory of the twin towers still fresh in memory, this sounded just plain idiotic. She doesn't like the fact that the suicide bombers are misogynistic??? Scratch that; its still idiotic, three years down the line.

I started reading blogs, mostly those with a conservative slant; Instapundit, Volokh Conspiracy, James Taranto's Best of the Web, Jane Galt, then later Andrew Sullivan and OxBlog. I especially liked Taranto, with his obsessive documentation of the various idiocies the anti-war activists were spouting during the Afghanistan conflict.

Lots of things happenned since then. We went to war with Iraq -- which I supported at the time -- and then we didn't find weapons of mass destruction there. Worse, it seems certain that Bush and company overhyped their intelligence. How can we expect other countries to trust America in the future if we mislead them? I've always been one for a hawkish foreign policy, but lying? We managed to turn a huge surplus into a large defecit. Goverment spending has increased at a record rate (so much for Republicans liking small goverment). And Bush has been deceitful on a number of issues, like the cost of his tax cut, the cost of his medicare bill, and so on.

So you could say I've had a fallout with conservatives.

When I go back and read my old blogs now -- ugh. Volokh Conspiracy is still great. Its the only one I still like. Best of The Web is nothing more than a Republican attack machine. Instapundit is just stupid. Today, I decided to take a look at Instapundit; the last time I read him was over 6 months ago. Here is the entry I stumbled onto that prompted this monologue. Its about Dick Clarke's appearance before the press 3 years ago when he was working for Bush; in that appereance he praised Bush's record on terrorism. Clarke, of course, has recently come out with a book thats very critical of the administration's terrorism record.

Clarke's current explanation -- he was lying then, not now:

"When you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice," he said.

One "choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did."

This guy's working for Rove. By the time he's done imploding, Bush will have discredited the media and all his critics. It's the only thing that makes sense.

The other possibility is that Clarke held an important national security job for years while being dumb as a post, so dumb that he would write a book making explosive accusations against the White House while knowing -- or forgetting? -- that all sorts of contradictory evidence was on the record and bound to come out. Otherwise, wouldn't he at least have tried to explain this stuff up front?

Posts like this make me wonder how I ever enjoyed reading this man. There is nothing thats difficult to grasp here; Clarke was working for Bush and was asked to put the positive spin on something. He presented an optimistic view of the facts to the press. This isn't unethical; its what you do when you work in the White House. Now that he isn't working for anyone, Clarke comes out with his own perspective. Will it be easier if I diagram this for him?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

From a TV commercial I was just watching sponsored by

[middle aged, balding man standing with his wife in front of the camera, speaking]

I went from a full-time investment analyst to first a part-time and then full-time alpaca farmer...

Yeeaaah. Who do these people think they're fooling?

Israel stops a suicide bombing: an account from the Associated Press reports,

.... confrontation began about 4 p.m. when soldiers at the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus received intelligence a bomber was there. They shut down the crossing and began searching hundreds of people there, the military said.

Suddenly [a teenager], wearing an oversized red jersey, approached [soldiers at an Israeli checkpoint].

"We saw that he had something under his shirt," said Lt. Tamir Milrad. The soldiers took cover behind concrete barricades, pointed their guns at the teenager and ordered him to stop.

On their orders, he took off his jersey, revealing a bulky gray bomb vest.

"He told us he didn't want to die. He didn't want to blow up," Milrad said.

The soldiers sent a small robot to hand [the teenager] scissors to cut off the vest, an incident captured in exclusive Associated Press Television News footage.

The teenager cut off part of the vest and struggled with the rest. "I don't how to get this off," he said in frustration before successfully removing it.

Soldiers ordered him to take off his undershirt and pull down his jeans to make sure he had no other weapons. Then they arrested him.

Sappers blew up the vest, which the army said was an 18-pound bomb...

The family of the teenager, identified as Hussam Abdo, said he was gullible and easily manipulated.

"He doesn't know anything, and he has the intelligence of a 12 year old," said his brother, Hosni.

Incidents like this support the rationale for assasinating Sheikh Yassin I cited a few posts ago: while the supply of confused teenagers may be endless, the real guilty party is the bureacracy of clerics and terrorists which trains and equips them. Israel is right to target members of this bureaucracy in its attemts to fight terrorism.

Update: I like this quote from Haaretz, also cited by David Bernstein at the Volokh Conpsiracy: "Abdu told soldiers of his dream of receiving 70 virgins in heaven, which his dispatchers had promised him, and said that he had been tempted by the promise of sexual relations with the virgins. He said that he had been bullied at school for his poor academic performance and that he had wanted "to be a hero."

The New York Times reports that Howard Dean (who is no longer the governor of Vermont) is trying to make a role for himself in national politics by starting a new organization:

The new group plans to use its interactive Web site (not the Cadillac model his campaign had, Dr. Dean warned) to recruit 1,000 candidates for local office, train staff to support them and raise money for Mr. Kerry and for others, like the House members who had backed Dr. Dean's bid.

The man is living in la-la land. Dean is a product of unique circumstances -- disputed 2000 election, Democratic anger over Bush's handling of 9/11 and the Iraqi war -- that are not going to persist in the future. His strongly liberal constituency is a minority force, even in the Democratic primaries. The article mentions that the budget of the organization is $2 million. He plans to recruit a thousand candidates (where exactly are these candidates going to run? the only places they'd fit would be ultra liberal strongholds like San Francisco). Thats what, $2000 per candidate? If it were that easy, I would recruit a candidate myself.

After the White House unleashed a flurry of ads attacking Kerry's votes in the Senate, Kerry responded in his sharp and ferocious manner by ... oh wait a second. Kerry, it seems, has decided to take a break on the ski slopes right at the beginning of the campaign. The Bush ads have received no response. And not all Democrats are happy, it seems; from a New York Times article:

... as Mr. Kerry disappeared to regroup on the slopes of Sun Valley this weekend, he left Democrats recoiling at the disparity between his campaign in the works and that of the White House, which has devoted six months to preparing for this moment.

I was especially amused to read the following exchange in a Associated Press report:

Hitting the slopes for the final time on his ski vacation, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry on Tuesday ducked a dispute over what some Democrats are calling a White House effort to discredit former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke.

"I don't know anything about it," said Kerry, questioned by reporters as he arrived at the ski slopes. "It's my last hours, my last hours."

Dude: you are the Democratic presidential nominee. If you don't know anything about the recent terrorism spat, perhaps its time to pick up a newspaper and learn about it. I'm sorry the media won't let you ski in peace, but perhaps you can go skiing after you lose to Bush in November.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Asassinating Sheikh Yassin was justified, even if he himself did not personally kill Israelis:

Via Anne Cunnigham and Oliver Kamm, I came across the following paragraph in an essay by terrorism expert Walter Laqueur which sums it up nicely:

The suicide terrorist is only the last link in a chain. There is no spontaneous suicide terrorism. The candidates are chosen by those in charge of the organization. The suicide terrorists are indoctrinated and trained - receiving intelligence information to guide them - and eventually are given the arms and explosives to carry out their mission. The people who guide suicide terrorists have their political agenda. They organize the missions not as a purposeless manifestation of despair but to attain a certain political aim. While the suicide terrorist may be unstoppable, those behind him are certainly not; they can be deterred by inflicting unacceptable damage on them. Thus the leadership of the Lebanese Hizbullah after years of suicide terrorism [a tactic that it initiated in the early 1980s] discontinued these operations realizing that they were no longer very effective.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Bias and the media: Deutsche Welle reports,

Researchers from the Washington-based Pew Research Center surveyed a cross-section of the population in the United States, eight European countries and lands in the Islamic world about various issues surrounding the Iraq War. The results showed that particularly in the Islamic world, contempt for the U.S. is growing.

I have seen the story reported in many other media outlets -- USA today, for example, noted

Resentment and opposition toward the United States have intensified in Europe and the Muslim world...

Which is why I was astonished to learn, in a post by Greg Djerejian, that this isn't what the Pew Report says. In fact, the picture the Poll presents on attitudes in the Muslim world is precisely the opposite. I quote from the Pew study:

In the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, anger toward the United States remains pervasive, although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up.

The study provides the following numbers.

Percent of people who have an unfavorable opinion of the United States:

Turkey, May 2003: 68
Turkey, May 2004: 45

Pakistan, May 2003: 71
Pakistan, May 2004: 50

Jordan, May 2003: 83
Jordan, May 2004: 67

Morocco, May 2003: 53
Morocco, May 2003: 47

It seems like over the past year, there has been a significant decline in anti-American opinion in the Muslim world. It is not, in fact, growing; did the reporters from Deutsche Well and USA Today even read the numbers?

The reports in the New York Times and BBC are especially significant. If Deutsche Well and USA Today are simply ignorant about the results of the Pew Study, the New York Times tries to spin it a different way. In an article entitled "Negative Views of U.S. Are Increasing in Europe, Poll Finds," the Times reports only on the increase of anti-American sentiment in Europe and mentions nothing about the significant decrease in the Muslim world. In a similar vein, the BBC briefly mentions the decrease in the Muslim world, and immediately follows it up with no less than ten paragraphs describing the high absolute levels of anti-American sentiment.

Yet the fact remains: in the aftermath of the Iraq war, anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world dropped sharply. This is a rather big elephant in the closet to ignore.

If this isn't bias, what is?

This Slate piece contains a long list of graffiti transcriptions found on Bagdad walls. The transcriptions are an interesting mix, containing a number of anti-American slogans but also a suprising number of pro-American ones. My favorite one is:


I gotta get me one of them certificates.

What Al Franken looked like in the 70s

Pictures from a brawl in the South Korean parliament

One man got so angry he decided to smash a podium

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The academic world is full of minorities-only scholarships. Some of the ones I came across that only consider applications from certain ethnic groups are AT&T Labs Fellowship, the Graduate Scholars Program for Students of Historically Black Universities by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Physical Science Consortium, the Bell Labs Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the GEM Fellowship, and the Ford fellowship.

Now there is one more. The College Republicans in Roger Williams University in Rhode Island have created a Whites-Only Scholarship.
From a Reuters report:

The $250 award — which required an essay on "why you are proud of your white heritage" and a recent picture to "confirm whiteness" — has invited the wrath of everyone from minority groups and school officials to the chairman of the Republican National Committee himself...

I think its a nice way of illustrating the double-standards that pervade pro-affirmative action thinking. If its OK to have a scholarship for minorities, why isn't it OK to have a scholarship for white people?

The responses to this cited in the article are incoherent and ridiculous:

Some minorities on campus, like Maria Ahmed, a 20-year-old junior from Providence, felt targeted.

"At first it was about the newspaper, just about every issue they were bashing some small minority group," said Ahmed, whose parents were born in Nigeria. "It's hard being a minority on campus, and it felt like (they) were directly talking about you."

This scholarship makes it hard to be a minority on campus? This is silly; do minority scholarships make it hard for white people to exist on campus?

This response is especially disturbing because it reflects a growing trend Erin O'Connor has extensively documented on her website: the conflation of conservative rhetoric with harassment. The scholarship in question -- and the Republican newsletter Maria Ahmed refers to -- did not target anyone, except in Ms. Ahmed's imagination. This tendency to view the world through a polarized lens -- where someone is either an affirmative action supporter or a racist targeting you -- typically results in attempts to supress conservative views. Affirmative action proponents should re-examine their beliefs and figure out why exactly a scholarship that benefits a specific ethinc group (like white people) is not OK.

Thanks for your input, man: Yasser Arafat weights in on The Passion controversy:

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat watched Mel Gibsons's controversial "Passion of the Christ" at a private screening on Saturday and said it was not anti-Semitic, officials said.

Friday, March 19, 2004

In defense of Antonin Scalia: soon after Bush became president in 2000, he established an "energy task force" headed by Dick Cheney. The task force returned with recommendations for the nations energy policy, which Bush made into a bill, which in turn passed Congress and was signed into law. The bill contained, among other things, massive subsidies for energy companies. The Republicans' distaste of welfare does not extend to coporate welfare it seems.

When the Democrats took control of Congress following a defection, they demanded that the composition of Cheney's task force be made known. Who cares? you might ask. The bill is already law -- why does it matter who was influential in creating it?

Its widely known that energy executives were de facto members of this task force. The Democrats hope that someone from Enron met with Cheney regularly and that this can be used to embarass Bush. Clever political move.

The Democrats filed a suit demanding that Cheney turn over the records. He refused. The suit was dismissed. The Democrats appealled. They lost the appeal. Then, they appealled to the Supreme Court. And this is how we arrived at the latest twist in this drama: it turns out that before the appeal to the Supreme Court was filed, Justice Antonin Scalia went duck hunting with Cheney. The Democrats now demand that Scalia recuse himself.

They're wrong. To the extent that the hunting trip occurred before any appeal to the Supreme Court was filed, Scalia's behavior was not inappropriate. As for Scalia and Cheney being friends: is it really realistic to expect that Supreme Court justices recuse themselves whenever court cases touch on their friends? After all, the way you get a seat on the court is by having connections in Washington. Hundreds of suits against the goverment come before the court every year; these suits nominally name some federal official as a defendant. If justices were forced to recuse when the named officials were their friends, the court would hear most cases against the goverment half-empty.

And this is not a suit against Cheney personally. This is a suit against the executive branch which names Cheney only in his capacity as head of the taskforce and current holder of the documents in dispute.

Anyway, this theoretical rule about recusal in cases of friendship with a nominally named official is not currently enforced on the court. So it makes no sense to argue for applying it in this case.

Scalia spells out the details of this in a memorandum explaining his refusal to recuse.

One more deception by the Bush administration: a New York Times article depicts how the cost of Bush's Medicare bill was understated.

[Medicare's chief actuary], Richard S. Foster, had concluded the legislation would be far more expensive than Congress's $400 billion estimate — and had kept quiet while lawmakers voted on the bill and President Bush signed it into law.

[Democratic congresswoman] Ms. Bjorklund had been pressing Mr. Foster for his numbers since June. When he refused, telling her he could be fired, she said, she confronted his boss, Thomas A. Scully, then the Medicare administrator. "If Rick Foster gives that to you," Ms. Bjorklund remembered Mr. Scully telling her, "I'll fire him so fast his head will spin." Mr. Scully denies making such threats...

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat and a leading critic of the Medicare bill, put the issue in stark, Watergate-era terms, saying, "What did the president know; when did he know it?"

Those questions have not been answered. But interviews with federal officials, including Mr. Foster and Mr. Scully, make clear that the actuary's numbers were circulating within the administration, and possibly on Capitol Hill, throughout the second half of last year, as Congress voted on the prescription drug bill, first in June and again in November.

But the figures were either discounted or ignored, as lawmakers and the White House grappled with the political imperative to pass the legislation.

From a Slate article touching on Colin Powell's testimony this week to the House Internatiional Affairs Committee:

There [Colin Powell] sat, recounting for the umpety-umpth time why, back in February 2003, he believed the pessimistic estimates about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. "I went and lived at the CIA for about four days," he began, "to make sure that nothing was—" Suddenly, he stopped and glared at a Democratic committee staffer who was smirking and shaking his head. "Are you shaking your head for something, young man back there?" Powell grumbled. "Are you part of the proceedings?"

Rep. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, objected, "Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of a question."

Powell muttered back, "I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you, giving editorial comment by head shakes."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

One of Mike Luckovich's cartoons for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From an associated press report:

Federal regulators opened a new front in their crackdown on offensive broadcasts Thursday, saying that almost any use of the F-word on over-the-air radio and television would be considered indecent.

Well, fuck that.

Reading various conservative responses to the gay marriage question, I am reminded of what Giralamo Cardano, a 16th century mathematician, wrote about why it is unwise to try to solve quartic polynomial equations:

As the first power refers to a line, the square to a surface, and the cube to a solid body, it would be very foolish of us to go beyond this point. Nature does not permit it...

From David Brooks' latest New York Times column:

I am trying not to think harshly of the Spanish. They have suffered a grievous blow, and it was crazy to go ahead with an election a mere three days after the Madrid massacre. Nonetheless, here is what seems to have happened:

The Spanish government was conducting policies in Afghanistan and Iraq that Al Qaeda found objectionable. A group linked to Al Qaeda murdered 200 Spaniards, claiming that the bombing was punishment for those policies. Some significant percentage of the Spanish electorate was mobilized after the massacre to shift the course of the campaign, throw out the old government and replace it with one whose policies are more to Al Qaeda's liking.

What is the Spanish word for appeasement?

Onn the other hand, a New York Times article written on the same day reports:

...terror struck. With Madrid under siege, voters were expected to rally around the flag and stick with the party that had talked the toughest against terrorism, at least initially. Even the Socialists braced themselves for that outcome, said two senior party officials.

But interviews with scores of Spaniards of both parties indicated that a number of things happened after the attacks that shifted the balance to the Socialists. Voters flooded the polls on Sunday in record numbers, especially young people who had not planned to vote. In interviews, they said they did so not so much out of fear of terror as out of anger against a government they saw as increasingly authoritarian, arrogant and stubborn. The government, they said, mishandled the crisis in the emotional days after the attacks.

Voters said they were enraged not only by the government's insistence that the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, but they also resented its clumsy attempts to quell antigovernment sentiment.

For example, the main television channel TVE, which is state-owned, showed scant and selective scenes of antigovernment demonstrations on Saturday night, just as it ran very little coverage of the large demonstrations against the war in Iraq last year. It also suddenly changed its regular programming to air a documentary on the horrors of ETA.

That was the last straw for some Spaniards, who said it evoked the nightmare of censorship during the Franco dictatorship little more than a quarter of a century ago.

Prime Minister José María Aznar personally called the top editors of Spain's major dailies twice on the day of the attacks. In the first round of calls, Mr. Aznar said he was convinced that ETA was responsible.

"He said, `It was ETA, Antonio, don't doubt it in the least,' " said Antonio Franco, editor in chief of the Barcelona-based El Periódico de Catalunya, in an interview.

Its problematic to try to piece together a coherent story of the Spanish election. What was the main cause of the Socialist victory: the desire to appease Al Qaeda or anger at the goverments' handling of the crisis? There is really no way to know for certain. The whole thing reminds me of literary interpretation: given that there are a number of ways to read a certain text, can there really be a "right" reading?

Regardless, the election has been, and will be, interpreted as a victory for the terrorists. I'd bet there will be an attempt on Al Qaeda's part to replicate this: I think there will be a large scale terrorist act in the US before November.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

An article in the Guardian catalogues the aftereffects of the Jackson-Timberlake Superbowl incident:

CBS has removed a shot of a naked man from its crime series, Without A Trace, while NBC deleted a two-second shot of an elderly woman's breast from ER.

I must say, I'm a little bit grateful.

Since I've criticized Paul Krugman on more than one occasion, I want to take this opportunity and say something good about the man. Krugman's March 12 column is a good critique of the administrations economic policy that does what Krugman was hired at the New York Times for: explain economics to laymen. Krugman writes,

But wait — hasn't the unemployment rate fallen since last summer? Yes, but that's entirely the result of people dropping out of the labor force. Even if you're out of work, you're not counted as unemployed unless you're actively looking for a job.

We don't know why so many people have stopped looking for jobs, but it probably has something to do with the fact that jobs are so hard to find: 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work more than 15 weeks, a 20-year record. In any case, the administration should feel grateful that so many people have dropped out. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, if they hadn't dropped out, the official unemployment rate would be an eye-popping 7.4 percent, not a politically spinnable 5.6 percent.

In short, things aren't as bad as they seem; they're worse. But should we blame the Bush administration? Yes — because it refuses to learn from experience.

Franklin Roosevelt, in his efforts to combat economic woes, was famously willing to try anything until he found something that worked. George Bush, by contrast, seems determined to try the same thing, over and over again.

In 2001 the administration rammed through long-term tax cuts, heavily tilted toward the affluent. But employment didn't turn around, and by late 2002 many economists — including supporters of the original tax cut — were urging it to try something different...

..the administration rejected all such proposals. Instead, it went for a clone of the 2001 tax cut — another big break mainly for those at the top. And once again this failed to deliver the promised jobs.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has mortgaged the nation's future. If all of his tax cuts are made permanent, they'll reduce revenue by at least three times the amount that would be needed to secure Social Security benefits at current levels for the next 75 years.

No sensible person blames Mr. Bush for the onset of the recession in 2001. But he does deserve blame for the fact that all he has to show for three years of supposed job-creation policies is a mountain of debt.

Yet more anti-liberal commentary: what about the claim that the war on Iraq is distracting the US from the war on terror?

I'm not convinced. Most resources that are used in Iraq are not the kind that would be useful in the war on terror: tanks, artillery, large numbers of ground troops. The war on terror is not a conventional war and has to be fought primarily with intelligence. Freeing up the tanks and troops currently used in Iraq is unlikely to help much.

I'd like to see some hard evidence that the war on terror has been seriously hurt by commitments in Iraq. Krugman's latest column, which I criticized in the previous post, cites a flurry of recent news stories reporting that the US might be close to capturing Osama as evidence. Krugman refers to the vague reports of a new US offensive to capture Osama in these stories and maintains that had we not gone to war in Iraq, this offensive would have began long ago.

It is not difficult to see the flaw in this logic. There can be a multitude of reasons why an offensive may have just became possible: say, new intelligence, new information from captured Islamic militants, and so on. Krugman is just making unfounded accusations.

As I said, I'd like to see some hard evidence.

More anti-liberal commentary: Paul Kruman's latest column is wacko. Among other unfounded accusations, it contains the following:

After 9/11, terrorism could no longer be ignored, and the military conducted a successful campaign against Al Qaeda's Taliban hosts. But the failure to commit sufficient U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden to escape.

Krugman intimates that this is part of a larger reluctance by the Bush administration to fight terrorism.

Is there any real evidence at all that the reason Osama escaped is because there weren't enough troops on the ground in Afghanistan? And that Bush could have easily committed more troops and chose not to?

One liberal habit that annoys me: the tendency to claim that whenever conservatives criticize liberals as weak on defense, they are "impugning their patriotism."

A version of this can be seen in Dana Milbank's article in today's Washington Post. Discussing the reaction to Kerry's comment that his candidacy is supported by many foreign leaders, Milbank writes:

Vice President Cheney, at a fundraiser yesterday, hinted that Kerry's claim was disloyal. "We are the ones who get to determine the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders," he said.

Disloyal? How exactly does Cheney's statement amount to an accusation of disloyalty?

Its not difficult to tie the tenor of mainstream political reporting to the finacial and social status of most journalists. Last week's issue of The New Republic contains an article pointing out that although most newspapers characterized Bush's anti-gay marriage gambit as a pander to his conservative base, solid majorities around the country oppose gay marriage. Over 60% of Americans say they support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage if the question does not mention an alternative of leaving the matter to the states; if that possibility is mentioned, the ban-gay-marriage position still garners a majority of a few percent.

Its more likely that Bush is trying to catch moderates with this tactic than pander to his base.

But because most reporters tend to be financially conservative and socially liberal, Bush is painted as out of the mainstream on gay marriage while being largely given a break for his tax cuts.

I couldn't help thinking about this as I read the following in an Associated Press report:

A huge car bomb destroyed a five-story hotel in central Baghdad on Wednesday night, killing at least 10 people, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers said...

The blast shook the nearby Palestine Hotel, where many foreign contractors and journalists are based.

Well, I'm sorry the journalists had to watch their balance for a second there, but how exactly is this Palestine Hotel stuff newsworthy?

Ralph Nader is an egomaniacal bastard: from Tuesday's New York Times,

With Mr. Nader in the race, Mr. Bush leads Mr. Kerry by 46 percent to 38 percent, with Mr. Nader drawing 7 percent of the votes. In a sign of the polarized electorate Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are facing, three-quarters of supporters of each candidate asserted they would not change their mind before the election.

I remember seeing Ralph Nader polling 7% at the beginning of the 2000 race. His support dropped to about 2% by election day, and we all know how that election went.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I noticed the following bit in a Reuters story about Al Sharpton's endorsement of Kerry:

Sharpton, a Pentecostal preacher best known for his fiery rhetoric and confrontational style, was a big hit in the joint debates among Democratic candidates but made little impact at the ballot box.

Isn't this a bit self-contradictory? Whether Sharpton was a hit at the debates depends largely on whether people voted for him as a result of the debates. And they didn't.

Sharpton was loud, I'll grant you that. But that doesn't mean he was a hit.

And by the way -- as Peter Beinart pointed out in The New Republic last week -- Sharpton lost the black vote to Kerry by large margins, as high as 50% in some states. Sharpton's styled himself as a spokesman for black people in this race; but his histrionics did not even translate into a win among black voters.

We need a new national anthem. There is a simple problem with the Star-Sprangled Banner: it's boring. Really, it is. Think about it: how would you feel with playing the whole thing at ballgames rather than just the first stanza? It would quadruple the length, you know. If you're not so hot on this idea, it might be because its time for a new anthem.

My personal suggestion: The Sopranos theme song. Its consistent with our foreign policy:

Woke up this morning,
Got yourself a gun

and our national vision in the post-9/11 world:

Mama always said you'd be
The Chosen One.

She said: You're one in a million
You've got to burn to shine,
But you were born under a bad sign,
With a blue moon in your eyes.

You woke up this morning
All the love has gone,
Your Papa never told you
About right and wrong.

But you're looking good, baby,
I believe you're feeling fine,
Born under a bad sign
With a blue moon in your eyes.

You woke up this morning
The world turned upside down,
Thing's ain't been the same
Since the Blues walked into town.

But you're one in a million
You've got that shotgun shine.

I am a better student than I thought: Flaubert's description of Leon's studies as a clerk is telling.

He was a model student: he wrote his hair neither too long nor too short, he did not spend in one day the money that was supposed to last him for an entire quarter...

Friday, March 12, 2004

I just can't understand the Democrats' reflexive knee-jerk urge to oppose weapons systems. Its a stance that would make sense coming from a pacifist. This NYT article documents the criticisms Democrats are levelling at missile defense at the moment. None of them stand up to scrutiny:

Bush is insisting on implementing a national defense system for election-year reasons. This ignores the fact that Bush called for a functional missile defense system by 2004 back in '99 on the campaign trail. Guess what? Its 2004.

There is no imminent threat we need to protect against immediately. The whole point of a missile defense system is that if terrorists manage to get ahold of a nuclear bomb + a means to launch it, we will have a means of defense. Just because no terrorists have a nuclear bomb at the moment does not mean that we are safe. Oh, and by the way, North Korea is in the process of developing a missile that can reach the American mainland.

Missile defense costs money. 10 billion dollars per year out of 2.4 trillion dollar budget. Not terribly much. Kerry, for example, is proposing to roll back the Bush tax cut to the tune of 900 billion dollars over the next decade or so. Clearly, missile defense is nothing we can't afford.

If we implement the system now, it won't work perfectly. So what? We can add more interceptors and improve the probability of a hit as we go along. There's no reason why we can't implement a less-than-perfect system now which would provide some measure of protection, and improve it once its built.

Update: More on the missile-defense-by-2004 issue -- an op-ed written in '99 by the defense officials from the Carter/Clinton administrations in Foreign Policy suggests:

As soon as possible, forward-deploy current systems that are configured to provide some capability against North Korean ballistic missiles. Deployment of an aegis cruiser equipped with an existing missile and aerodynamic kill vehicle off the coast of North Korea can provide modest capability for a boost-phase intercept of the Taepo-Dong missile. This capability could be available well before the initial operational capability of the NMD system in 2005.

Another update: This article, written in '99, details some of the North Korean efforts to develop ICBM's. I haven't read anything about North Korean misiles lately so its difficult to estimate that how much progress has been made in the last 5 years. Incidentally, Kim Jong Il is quoted in this piece as saying: If we can develop this we have nothing to fear. Even the American Bastards won't be able to bother us. Whether we live or die, we must quickly develop the Hwasong 6. Hwasong-6 is the name of one of the missiles under developement.

Final update: On the other hand, a recent Slate piece by Fred Kaplan argues that the sucessful missile defense tests were practically rigged.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

My parents, whom I am currently visiting, had CNN turned on the other day in the background. There was a discussion of a Bush campaign stop in Ohio, and I've heard it said that no Republican in the last --- years has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and therefore Ohio is a crucial state for Bush.

How useful are these past trends anyway?

In 2000, I remember hearing a lot about California: nobody had won the presidency without winning California since Carter in '76. This comment was followed up with an assesement of how crucial Bush's efforts in California were. And yet Bush somehow managed to win the presidency without winning California after all.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I have always been fascinated by the various cult-like charismatic groups that have set up churches all over the US. I've spent a lot of time with these people in college, going to the their churches, revivals, and other events. One feature always stands out in my eyes: the way stories of miracles are told and accepted without question, again and again. I can't even count how many times I've heard of the woman with cancer who prayed and made a miracle recovery, or, the man who prayed for the salvation of his family only to have happen in a flash one day.

It remains me of some things Michel de Montaigne wrote in his book of essays in a section entitled On the Power of the Imagination:

Although it be no new thing to see horns grown in a night on the forehead of one that had none when he went to bed, notwithstanding, what befell Cippus, king of Italy, is memorable; who having one day been a very delighted spectator of a bull-fight, and having all the night dreamed that he had horns on his head, did, by the force of imagination, really cause them to grow there....

Myself passing by Vitry le Francois, saw a man the bishop of Soissons had, in confirmation, called Germain, whom all the inhabitants of the place had known to be a girl till two-and-twenty years of age, called Mary. He was, at the time of my being there, very full of beard, old, and not married. He told us, that by straining himself in a leap his male instruments came out; and the girls of that place have, to this day, a song, wherein they advise one another not to take too great strides, for fear of being turned into men, as Mary Germain was. It is no wonder if this sort of accident frequently happen; for if imagination have any power in such things, it is so continually and vigorously bent upon this subject, that to the end it may not so often relapse into the same thought and violence of desire, it were better, once for all, to give these young wenches the things they long for.

The Malleus Maleficarum is a witch hunters guidebook written in 1486 by a pair of German inquisitors with considerable expertise in the matter. It contains concise instructions on the handling of witches and detailed description of their power. Most interesting (at least to me) is the section entitled Whether Witches can Hebetate the Powers of Generation or Obstruct the Venereal Act. An excerpt below:

Now the fact that adulterous drabs and whores are chiefly given to witchcraft is substantiated by the spells which are cast by witches upon the act of generation...[T]hey can take away the male organ, not indeed by actually despoiling the human body of it, but by concealing it with some glamour...[I]t must in no way be beleived that such members are really torn right away from the body, but that they are hidden by the devil through some prestidigitatory art so that they can be neither seen nor felt. And this is proven by the authorities and by argument...

And what, then, is to be thought of those witches who in this way sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird's nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many and is a matter of common report? It is to be said that it is all done by devil's work and illusion, for the senses of those who see them are deluded in the way we have said. For a certain man tells that, when he had lost his member, he approached a known witch to ask her to restore it to him. She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and that he might take which he liked out of a nest in which there were several members. And when he tried to take a big one, the witch said: You must not take that one; adding that it belonged to a parish priest.

These parish priests sure think the world of themselves.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Geek Alert: Am I the only one who, upon seeing an ad for Girl, Interrupted wondered whether the movie had anything to do with interrupt requests in computer science?

Who knew that Shakepseare understood how we mathematicians feel every day?

Oh dear Ophelia!
I am ill at these numbers:
I have not art to reckon my groans

--Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

More from Madame Bovary: the following is from a description of a romantic walk Emma takes with Leon; the excerpt occurs in the middle of a narrative depicting how the two fall in love.

She noticed his fingernails, which were quite a bit longer than those of most people in Yonville. Taking care of them was one of his major occupations: he kept a special penknife in his desk for the purpose...

Mmmm, sexy.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

A brilliant idea: why not take all the indicators of the end of the world -- crime rate, moral standards, apostasy, floods, earthquakes -- and combine them into one easy numerical index? Lo and behold, the folks at Rapture Ready have beaten me to it.

Taking a long trip? Afraid that the end of the world will spoil your vacation plans? No fear -- you can consult the Rapture Index every morning -- preferably right as your computer boots up. Should the rapture occur in mid-day, you won't waste the afternoon working.

On a more serious note: is there anything else which illustrates the madness of this short-attention span, information hungry, stock-market-ticker-tape age we live in?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Abortion decision down — L.B.J. dies.
--From the diary Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe vs. Wade. Blackmun kept a journal in
which he recorded personal and political events. The quote comes from a profile of Blackmun in the NY Times.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

From Madame Bovary, a description of Emma's dissatisfaction with Charles:

He did not know how to swim, fence or shoot a pistol, and one day he was unable to tell her the meaning of a riding term she had come across in a novel.

But shouldn't a man know everything, excel in all sorts of activities, initiate you into the turbulence of passion, the refinements and mysteries of life?

Wow. I can't fence or shoot pistols either. Perhaps I ought to brush up on riding terms.

Monday, March 01, 2004

I am glad to report that however destructive he might have been as a thinker, he appeared ... to have been a model tenant.
-- C.D. Broad, Bertrand Russel's landlord, on Russel, 1946

The mathematicians are revolting! Scientific presses charge university libraries exorbitant fees for subscriptions to peer-reviwed journals. The journals published by the nonprofit Association of Computing Machinery, the American Mathematical Society, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics cost 20-30 cents per page. By contrast, Elsevier, Academic Press, Kluwer, and other commercial publishers will often charge over a dollar a page. Thats quite a nice profit margin. And the charges faced by university libraries are so severe that many are cutting back substantially on their subscriptions.

But there is a limit to what univeristy libraries can do. Elsevier, for example, bundles up hundreds of its journals in the form of Elsevier Science Direct. Universities cannot possibly refuse a subscription to Science Direct -- they might feel OK with not subscribing to this or that prominent journal but they cannot afford to leave out so many of them. As a result, Elsevier manages to charge a lot more for Science Direct than it would earn if it sold each journal in the package individually.

What is so frustrating about this is that, really, the community of mathematicians does not need commercial publishers. We don't get paid for the editorial work we do for the journals. The crucial element of these journals is peer-review -- and reviewers don't get paid. There is no reason why the math community cannot simply establish a host of online peer-reviewed journals which would be available to everyone free of charge.

However, online journals have not taken off. Sure, there's a bunch of them around; but they don't seem to garner as much respect as is accorded to the traditional paper-based journals. They're not prestigious. You would not submit your best paper to an online journal. Why not? I haven't the slightest idea. And it doesn't help if the online journal has an impressive editorial board.

Online journals are not prestigious because everyone believes that online journals are not prestigious and, as a consequence, no one submits their best papers to them. Its purely a state of mind -- and one that doesn't seem to be going away.

The whole thing seemed hopeless until recently when the entire editorial board of the Journal of Algorithms resigned over the high cost of the journal and unanimously agreed to start a new journal, the Transactions on Algorithms, to be published by the Association for Computing Machinery, a non-profit society.

(Actually, this is not the first time something like this has happenned -- part of the editorial board of a machine learning journal resigned a couple of years ago -- as well as the entire board of a logic journal. But the Journal of Algorithms is pretty prestigious so this is a milestone).

I hope this is the first step to a revolt of the mathematicians.

What are big girls made of?
by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.

Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in '68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse's mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?