Friday, 31 January 2003

Jacob T. Levy on the native lands trust scandal

Jacob T. Levy (who incidentally just started a “guest blogging” gig at the Volokh Conspiracy) writes in his inaugrual New Republic online column about major problems in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' treatment of trust funds owed to reservation landowners that have spanned the Clinton and Bush administrations; estimates suggest native American landowners are owed between $10 billion and $100 billion in back-payments for oil and mineral rights. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have a website at

Alabama-Mississippi anti-poverty alliance?

Jason Anderson at the Political State Report passes on word that new Alabama Gov. Bob Riley is proposing a partnership with Mississippi to alleviate poverty in his state's “black belt” (and presumably nearby counties in Mississippi).

While the political logic is sensible — as the Birmingham News points out, getting four U.S. senators on board is better than two — the geographic logic makes less sense, as the nearby parts of Mississippi aren't known for their poverty. The alliance may instead have more to do with Alabama's desire to build a westward extension of Interstate 85 from its current Montgomery terminus to the Alabama/Mississippi line east of Meridian, which would pass through a number of “black belt” counties. Perhaps things will be clearer when Gov. Riley provides more details.

Religious slander

This is simply appalling (seen at InstaPundit). I'm not a conservative, but I'll call it what it is: pathetic religious bigotry of the same order as linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Holocaust. CPAC should have run this vendor out of the building; feel free to voice your displeasure using their contact information.

Bill Quick comments, and asks:

Can somebody tell me why a swastika/Islam bumper sticker is more "pure poison" with the Muslim world than the term "Islamofascist?"

Well, for one, replacing the “s” in “Islam” with a swastika is a smear on the whole religion of Islam, and equates Islam with the beliefs of the National Socialist party, while you could conceivably refer to someone as an “Islamofascist” without necessarily implying all Muslims are fascists (just like the term “ultraconservative” doesn't imply all conservatives are extremists). That being said, I don't think using the term “Islamofascist” is appropriate in responsible discourse, and you won't see it used to refer to individuals or groups here (except when quoting someone else's comments).

Oliver Willis (briefly) comments.

Region Two DVD Player Wanted

You know, until today a regionless player wasn't a big priority for me. Then I discovered Inspector Morse - The Complete Series (33 Disc Box Set). Ah well, maybe a Region One set will come out eventually; a crapload of the individual episodes are listed at the U.S. Amazon site, and I'm not going to order them all individually.

The annoying thing about seeing Morse in the U.S. is that it seems like A&E and BBC America have the rights to one season each, and they just rerun the same ten over and over again... (a few episodes — again, always the same ones — also show up on PBS during pledge drives). It'd be like only seeing the NYPD Blue episodes with John Kelly and Danny Sorensen in reruns.

Seen at Ben Hammersley's blog.

Trackback-ng ideas

Timothy Appnel discusses some ideas for extending the TrackBack specification. There's good stuff there, but backwards-compatibility is a concern; for example, in my trackback implementation for LSblog, the “do I send a trackback ping as a GET or POST” question is basically handled through a hack (does the ping URL use a query string or not). Adding more incompatible changes will increase the complexity of implementations, even if well-intentioned — in particular, moving from RDF to RSS. On the other hand, using the HTTP error handing mechanisms is greatly preferable to the XML-based system that is used now (and which I haven't bothered to implement a SAX parser for yet, because I'm fundamentally lazy).

I also second EngageBrain: if TrackBack is going to be widely adopted, it ought to be written up as an RFC.

Being deliberately offensive

Sean-Paul Kelley likes being called a flaming jackass (even in the transitive sense); I suppose that's his right. I don't know where he's seeing this “celebration among many bloggers about war” that he claims to observe in the comments on Pdawwg. My guess: he expects people who support war to be “bloodthirsty chicken hawks,” so in his mind he projects this onto others. Again, as I said before, it's a mark of unjustified smug moral superiority, or more succinctly the attitude that “I'm better than you.”

On the other hand, Alex Knapp has his head on straight, with the takedown I'd have posted yesterday if I had been (a) entirely conscious and (b) a better writer.

Steven Den Beste has some comments as well, as do Eric E. Coe and Robin Goodfellow.

Also see this post.

Secret Decoder Rings

Glenn Reynolds links to Rand Simberg's inspired glossary for decoding various languages, including the variant of English used on the New York Times op-ed page and in translations of speeches by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder. For example:

"let the inspections continue":

Allow more time for a few dozen people to literally cluelessly wander around a country hundreds of thousands of square miles in area, searching for things that the Iraqi government has no intention of letting them find, and are hidden in private homes, or mosques, or presidential "palaces" (some of which are themselves the size of typical western cities), or in caves that we don't even know exist, or that are moved just prior to the threat of an actual search in any of these areas, in order to continue to delay military action, in the slim hope that some other means of delay can be found while this one continues or that the weather will get too hot, or that W will forget why he's doing this, in order to put off forever the day that we actually remove Saddam Hussein from power.

As a dry run, you can try it out with this article; it'll make it much more coherent.

Being gratuitously offensive

Sean-Paul Kelley is being a flaming jackass:

What I do want to say is that all of you warbloggers out there are [expletive] pathetic. Young American men and women are going to die very soon. And like the poem I quoted in the previous post you are all "smug-faced crowds with kindling eye/Who cheer when soldier lads march by" and you [expletive] better "sneak home and pray you'll never know/The hell where youth and laughter go."

Frankly, I'm not even sure why I'm linking to his offensive rhetoric; it certainly doesn't deserve any publicity. But here's my response.

The use of military force to achieve political goals is rarely justifiable. This, however, is one of those circumstances: it is abundantly clear that the government of Iraq, and in particular its leader Saddam Hussein, have no intention of complying with the express will of the international community, as articulated unanimously in UNSC Resolution 1441. Hussein has for twelve years defied numerous binding UNSC resolutions, violated the cease-fire agreement that concluded the first Gulf War, and engaged in mass murder of his own people. There is considerable evidence that his regime has harbored terrorists in its territory and aided and abetted terrorists in other states. These incontrovertible facts justify the intervention of the United States and other countries, as specifically authorized by UNSC Resolution 1441, to enforce the will of the Security Council and international community through military action.

It is likely that many Americans, Australians, Britons and others will die as a result of this action. Depending on how loyal Iraq's military is to Saddam Hussein, it is possible that many Iraqi civilians and soldiers will die as well. It is entirely possible that Iraq will also attack uninvolved parties, leading to the deaths of Israelis (Arabs and Jews). People die in wars; the best we can hope for is that our leaders will minimize the number of casualties on all sides by neutralizing Iraq's ability to kill our forces, its own people, and those of its neighbors.

I do not relish war. Twelve years ago I watched Americans go to war with Iraq from the military base in Britain where my father was stationed. Before I was born my father helped fight in Southeast Asia as a navigator on AC-130 gunships. Many of my parents' friends similarly served to defend our country, and some of those friends have made the ultimate sacrifice, whether in training or in battle; some of those friends' names appear on the Vietnam Memorial. My grandfather's brother was imprisoned as a POW for several years by the Chinese during the Korean War; he simply disappeared soon after his return after Korea, and we never heard from him again. People I know and respect are almost certainly on the front lines of this war.

Make no mistake. War is no videogame; on this we agree. But it is a slander of the worst order to assume that Andrew Sullivan and other so-called “chicken hawks” do not appreciate the sacrifices of our troops, or the reality of war. There is a right way to support our armed forces — the words of Jay Reding, who Sean-Paul links to, spring to mind — but to insult those who don't make a public display of soul-searching on the war is offensive and reeks of unjustified smug moral superiority.

Mandela goes nuts

As you've probably read by now, ex-political prisoner and former South African president Nelson Mandela has started sounding a bit more like current South African president Thabo Mbeki (and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney):

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who Bush has praised as a hero of human rights, joined the chorus of critics by calling Bush arrogant and implying the president was racist for threatening to bypass the United Nations and attack Iraq.

"Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man? They never did that when secretary-generals were white," Mandela said.

He also repeats the Chomsky-ite critique of U.S. actions in Iraq:

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mandela has repeatedly condemned U.S. behavior toward Iraq in recent months and demanded Bush respect the authority of the United Nations. His comments Thursday, though, were far more critical and his attack on Bush far more personal than in the past.

"Why is the United States behaving so arrogantly?" he asked. "All that (Bush) wants is Iraqi oil," he said.

The blogospheric reaction hasn't been all that positive. Jessie Rosenberg came out of reclusion to state:

Most pronouncements of racism I can at least understand, though usually not accept. This, though, makes very little sense to me. Why did Mandela choose to call Bush racist, instead of one of the many other possible pejoratives which would be at least a bit more relevant to the topic of discussion? I don't agree with most of the criticisms of Bush concerning Iraq, but if people are going to criticize him, I'd think they'd at least choose a criticism about Iraq.

Of course, as the saying goes, if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Meanwhile, OxBlog's David Adesnik suggests that “the real reason is that the US no longer trusts any nation or organization headed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.” Heck, we don't even trust our own ex-presidents who are Nobel Peace Prize winners, or even past secretaries of state, so it's hardly surprising we wouldn't trust anybody else who received that honor.

Emily Jones, on the other hand, is more concerned with taking down Mandela's reputation as a pacifist:

And speaking of the unspeakable, I wonder if Mr. Mandela cares to share his thoughts with us on "necklacing"? Or maybe explain what "One Settler, One Bullet" is supposed to mean? I guess the whole "Kill a Boer, kill a Farmer" was just one huge, misunderstood joke?

I'm not sure how much of the terroristic activity Mandela was really involved with — he was in prison, after all, for most of it — but it doesn't seem particularly germane to his point, which basically seems to be “unilateralism bad, multilateralism good” coupled with the bizarre viewpoint that the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council is securable through anything other than good old-fashioned realpolitik, coming from the same addled parts of the international community that think the International Court of Justice will be an impartial body and who put a great deal of stock in U.N. General Assembly resolutions. The fundamental bottom line is that the UNSC can lead (unlikely, given French and German rhetoric), follow (relatively likely), or get steamrolled (and join the Kellogg-Briand Pact and League of Nations in the dustbin of history), and the sooner Mandela, Chirac, and Schröder realize that the better off everyone will be.

Thursday, 30 January 2003

Weasel/Non-Weasel Scoring

As a service to the Blogosphere, I will keep a tally of declared Weasels and Non-Weasels. Glenn Reynolds adds Albania and Slovakia, two current non-members of the EU, to the list of declared Non-Weasels, and this Radio Free Europe story adds 3 more, which makes the current list as follows:


  • Belgium (vassal Weasel #1)

  • France (or, West Weaseldom)

  • Germany (or, East Weaseldom)

  • Luxembourg (vassal Weasel #2)


  • Albania

  • The Czech Republic

  • Denmark

  • Hungary

  • Italy

  • Latvia

  • Poland

  • Portugal

  • Romania

  • Slovenia

  • Slovakia

  • Spain

  • United Kingdom

For those keeping score at home, that's Weasels 4, Non-Weasels 13. Here's the tale of the tape for the Weasels and Non-Weasels (from the 2002 CIA World Factbook):

  • Population — Weasels: 154 million, Non-Weasels: 268 million.

  • Gross Domestic Product — Weasels: $3.97 trillion, Non-Weasels: $4.84 trillion.

  • Land Area — Weasels: 937,147 sq km, Non-Weasels: 2,070,853 sq km.

  • Military Expenditures — Weasels: $88.5 billion, Non-Weasels: $71.9 billion.

  • EU Council of Ministers Votes — Weasels: 74, Non-Weasels: 104

Now, exactly which countries speak for Europe again? The Non-Weasels out-muscle the Weasels in every major category except miltary spending. (Of course, this begs the question: why are the Weasels so unwilling to use their military power to support their fellow Europeans?)

The bottom line here isn't really about Europe versus America. Rather, as Steven Den Beste points out, the primary difference between “old” Europe and “new” Europe is that the latter has moved beyond the use of knee-jerk anti-Americanism as a substitute for establishing a thoughtful and responsible foreign policy.

Sean-Paul Kelley has a map which distinguishes the “real Weasels” from the temporary ones; if accurate, Jacques “the human weather vane” Chirac and Gerhard Schröder aren't going to be sharing tea and crumpets anytime soon.

I've updated the post to include three additional allies reported by Radio Free Europe.

Glenn Reynolds links to this TechCentralStation piece making a similar argument.

For the peanut gallery

For the poor souls who got this site while searching for “Jennifer Garner lingerie,” presumably due to my Super Bowl commentary, I feel obligated to provide the following links, courtesy of Moxie and Ryan McGee: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Bloggerly” and “Jennifer Garner is not a drag queen.”

I'm providing these links solely as a public service and without further comment.

Two Editorials

From this week's Economist (subscription required):

Going to war this way is far from ideal. If war is necessary, it would be better under explicit UN authority, commanding the sort of legitimacy that only the Security Council can confer. That is why so many voices, not least American ones, are urging Mr Bush to try harder to talk his allies round, give the inspectors more time, or offer Iraq a “final, final” opportunity to disarm. And if it were indeed the case that extra time and effort, or offering Iraq yet another last chance, could produce consensus, Mr Bush would be wise to heed these voices. But it is probably not the case. For, at bottom, if the Security Council splits it will not be because of a lack of time or a failure of diplomacy. It will be because of a difference of opinion. America and Britain say that if Iraq under its present management got hold of a nuclear or biological bomb, this would be so dangerous that it would be worth going to war to prevent it. Many other governments demur. And it is hard to see how extra time will convert them.

... which dovetails nicely with The New Republic's, assailing the New York Times editorial page for “moving the goalposts” over the past four months:

[T]he supposition that any level of Iraqi defiance would spur the Security Council to authorize war is ahistorical. During the 1990s, our non-British allies compiled a record of consistent appeasement. After Iraq whittled away at the prerogatives of weapons inspectors, going so far as to deem areas as large as Washington "presidential palaces" and thus off-limits, China, France, and Russia refused to back even a toothless resolution admonishing Iraq for its lack of cooperation. After Iraq expelled the inspectors, France and Russia opposed pinprick bombing. If they considered bombing too strong a response to massive violations then, why would they support the vastly stronger alternative of full invasion in response to weaker violations now? It may be that our allies' reluctance to enforce Iraqi disarmament stems in part from their distaste for Bush and his cowboy style, disregard for environmental accords, and fondness for protectionism. But the lack of commitment to Iraqi disarmament on the part of France, Germany, and Russia long predates the Bush administration. And yet many American liberals prefer to reside in an alternate universe where the United Nations stands poised to defang Saddam if only the United States would be just a bit more reasonable.

There is one sentence in Tuesday's Times editorial that comes closest to expressing the true sentiments of antiwar liberals: "The world must be reassured that every possibility of a peaceful solution has been fully explored." Consider the implications: The character of the Iraqi crisis is such that there is always the possibility of a peaceful solution. At every point in time, Saddam permits the minimal level of inspections cooperation he can get away with. Whenever he is threatened, he backs down until the crisis subsides, only to ratchet up his defiance later. The only logical end to this cycle is Saddam's successful acquisition of a nuclear weapon, at which point disarmament, forcible or otherwise, will no longer be an option. Indeed, this would be the actual result of the policy favored by antiwar liberals--whether they consciously desire it or not.

Andrew Sullivan also takes down the Times editorial in question.

Expanding Weasels

Charles Johnson (lgf) passes on word that West Weaseldom is coordinating its position at the U.N. with Syria. From there, it's a hop, skip, and jump from weaseldom to evildom; they don't call Syria a “state sponsor of terrorism” for nothing, you know.

Old Cliché Watch

If eight European leaders issue a joint statement in support of the Iraqi war, would that constitute “news” in the New York Times? Apparently not.

So much for the Times being the “newspaper of record.”

Apparently Howell Raines finally figured out how to spin the news:

Assuming a somewhat frayed mantle as global diplomat, Prime Minister Tony Blair set off for the United States tonight to meet with President Bush, bearing an unusual pledge of support on Iraq from eight European leaders but leaving behind a continent ever more divided over the need for war.

LeBron's Hummer

Since the LeBron James/SUV story broke, am I the only one who has experienced several double-takes in response to the oft-repeated phrase "LeBron James received a Hummer from his mom"?

Weasels 2, Non-Weasels 8

(Via Glenn Reynolds and MoronWatch:) The Axis of Non-Weasels has spoken, which the Times of London characterizes as an important show of support for British PM Tony Blair and the United States. Meanwhile, Côte d'Ivoire (the country formerly known as Ivory Coast, one of France's fiefdoms in west Africa) is proving to be a bit too hard for West Weaseldom to handle alone; perhaps the French oppose unilateralism because they know from first-hand experience that it never works. (Unfortunately, they seem to forget the other part of the equation: maybe it never works because it's French unilateralism...)

Wednesday, 29 January 2003

Why we're going to the U.N. on February 5

Steven Den Beste thinks sending Colin Powell to the U.N. on February 5 is a climb-down, while VodkaPundit argues that this is more an ultimatum than a call for a second resolution.

My thought: we're going to the Security Council because UNSC Resolution 1441 calls for “consultation” (but not a second resolution) before Iraq gets its “serious consequences” (i.e. an invasion). Just as 1441 was Iraq's final chance to declare its weapons of mass destruction and delivery mechanisms (which it has clearly failed), February 5th is the Security Council's final chance to declare whether it is relevant to the international order — the General Assembly long ago abdicated any relevance on that point, so the UNSC is basically the only credible U.N. organ left. The Security Council has three basic options:

  1. Rubber stamp the US/UK/Australian/Spanish/Italian/Turkish/Kuwaiti/Qatarian coalition in a second resolution. (Apologies if I left someone important out.)

  2. Not pass a second resolution but concede the US position that one isn't necessary (through a procedural motion not subject to veto, or without a formal vote).

  3. Actively oppose coalition action (i.e. via a French explicit, unilateral veto or through a threat to veto any second resolution — the UNSC equivalent to a Senate “hold”) and be ignored by the multilateral US-led coalition.

As an institutional decision (to reinforce the illusion of the UNSC as arbiter of all international disputes), option one makes the most sense, while as a political decision (to not undercut the UNSC while at the same time leaving France free to rhetorically oppose coalition action in Iraq), option two makes the most sense.

Option three is only a viable option if the French (not the British or the US) have decided that the UNSC, and by extension the UN system as a whole, is no longer an important venue for French political influence over international events. However, such a decision would severely undercut France's efforts to “punch above its weight class” in international affairs, would probably lead to the collapse of NATO and the fragmentation of the European Union, and might lead to active US and British efforts to curtail France's neo-imperialist foreign policy and military intervention in Africa, none of which (obviously) are in France's best interest.

So, the reason Colin Powell will be at the Security Council on the 5th is to pursue option two — Security Council acquiesence. If he gets a second resolution, he'll be happy. If he gets French stonewalling, it won't matter. It moves the timetable back to around February 8 (slightly more than a week from Den Beste's original prediction) for a start of hostilities.

The bigger question is why is President George W. Bush paying any attention to the Security Council? Obviously, the polls have something to do with it (although I'm not convinced that they have much meaning on this issue — when war comes, Bush will get overwhelming support even if every single ally isn't involved). I also think that Bush isn't a unilateralist. This may be surprising to the Europeans in the audience, and the anti-war left, but Bush isn't Pat Buchanan or Jesse Helms. Bush repudiated Kyoto because the U.S. Senate indicated in July 1997 95–0 with five abstensions that it wouldn't ratify the treaty; even if all 5 Senators who abstained were closet Kyoto supporters, another 61 Senators would have to be found to ratify it. The Senate has indicated that it would not ratify the International Court of Justice under any forseeable circumstances, despite the previous administration's signature on the treaty.

On the other hand, Bush has promoted increased international cooperation where he has found Senate support, particularly in the area of trade; for example, in his efforts to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement to cover the entire western hemisphere (excluding Cuba), and his promotion of eliminating all tariffs on manufactured goods and sharply curtailing agricultural subsidies in the Doha round at the World Trade Organization. Even in the preparations for war with Iraq, Bush has sought the cooperation from friendly states, and has received it from a majority of the members of NATO and from a number of states in around the Gulf concerned about Iraq's potential threat to their region. None of these are the actions of a unilateralist president. And since Bush isn't a unilateralist, it's hard to believe he'd deliberately seek to undermine the authority of the United Nations — even though other member states, notably our nominal allies France and Germany, seem to be pursuing that end, by undermining the credibility of UNSC resolutions and the weapons inspections process rather than supporting the need for Iraqi compliance.

Steven Den Beste has had a good night's sleep and some e-mails and is significantly less pessimistic today, while Robert Jones is expecting some sort of procedural resolution from the U.N. that can be spun as a “second resolution” by fence-sitters along the lines of “option two” above.

First-time visitors: feel free to look around and see if there's other stuff you like.

Robert Jones says I misinterpreted what he meant about a second resolution; he says:

I was noodling more along a line of thought in which we present a second resolution which says, in diplomatic terms, "We've had enough. The war begins... now". The French and Germans would likely want to waffle and delay as long as possible, hoping to extend the issue out until the point is moot. However, as there can be no vetoing of procedural votes in the UNSC, we can move to terminate debate (which would be a procedural vote) and call for an immediate vote (of the substantive sort) on our resolution.

I'm not sure such a cloture vote is strictly necessary, although it would be politically unpalatable to start the bombing before the UNSC debate was concluded. That's still somewhere in the realm of “option two,” which is more a bunch of related options that all conclude in no substantive additional UNSC action and are more politically expedient than reinforcing of the UNSC's authority over international conflict under the U.N. Charter (“option one”) or further undermining the authority of the Security Council (”option three”).

After thinking some more, what Robert says is clearer to me: rather than as an end in and of itself, he views a procedural “cloture” vote as a step toward a conclusive vote on the substantive issue of whether or not to attack Iraq (the “second vote” the waverers want). “Option two” doesn't countenance a second vote, however, and I don't think the Bush administration really wants one — indeed, pursuing one would concede the Axis of Weasels position that one is needed. If there's a second resolution, it will be proposed by an Axis of Weasels power (probably Germany) in order to stop the U.S. from appearing to act without their blessing, not because the “coalition of the willing” genuinely cares about getting one.

Tuesday, 28 January 2003

My sole State of the Union thought

Want to establish a better partisanship score for Congress? Here's my methodology: get footage from a wide-angle camera mounted on the ceiling of the House Chamber. At every applause line in the State of the Union, compute an "agreement with the President" score based on: Does X clap? Does X stand? Sum the scores for each Senator and Representative.

$20 says it correlates at .95 or better with DW-NOMINATE Dimension One. And you don't even have to do any icky scaling; just enslave a few grad students to do the math... :-)

An Hour with the BBC World Service

One of the perks of having XM Satellite Radio is that there's a live feed of the BBC World Service (Channel 131, 10 on my preset). As an uncontrolled, non-scientific in any way experiment, I listened to the 0000 GMT broadcast of The World Today, er, today, and came to the following fascinating conclusions:

  • Likud is a "right-wing" political party. The Shinui Party is "centrist." The political leanings of Labour are mysterious, although the WS does helpfully say their platform "called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories" (without mentioning the platform's "separation" plank which would wall much of the territories off from Israel proper). Likud was referred to as "right-wing" four times by BBC announcers; Shinui was "centrist" twice; the Labour platform plank was also described twice.

  • The "third-party" commentators that were interviewed were a PR flak for Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat (name not recalled) and someone from an outfit referred to only as the "Carnegie Endowment" (presumably the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). A Likud strategist was also interviewed (who spoke in English), and a brief segment of Ariel Sharon's victory speech was confusingly translated (I didn't make any sense of it, perhaps because it featured Hebrew idiom that the translator was taking literally).

  • They repeatedly said that Gerhard Schröder had some anti-war position, but weren't particularly clear what that position was: at some points, it was a statement that "a vast majority of the UNSC thinks there needs to be a second resolution" while at others it was "Germany would oppose a second resolution." This was contrasted with the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took the position that Russia might support a U.S.-led attack on Iraq if the regime continued to obstruct UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors.

  • Someone from some Russia-watching think-tank was interviewed (I didn't take notes) and said that Putin's highest foreign policy priority was to maintain good relations with the United States, and he wouldn't let Saddam Hussein or Iraq cause a rift in those relations. He also said that Russia had basically written-off its oil contracts with the Hussein regime and debts owed from the 1970s and 1980s.

  • They interviewed IAEA head Mohammed Al-Faradhi, who contrasted his report with Blix's basically by saying that looking for nukes was a lot easier than looking for biological, chemical, and missile systems and that he was fairly sure that things were mostly accounted for when inspectors left in 1998 (again, unlike the UNMOVIC/UNSCOM situation). While the interview was plugged as stating that Al-Faradhi was calling for "more cooperation from not only Baghdad, but also London and Washington," Al-Faradhi didn't really talk about the U.S. at all and really wouldn't be drawn on any specifics on Britain's cooperation (or lack thereof) in substantiating their claims that Iraq had imported unrefined uranium from Africa. No interview with Blix.

  • The State of the Union address was previewed, with two interviews with people (neither of whom was Megan McArdle, who said earlier today at Assymetrical Information that she was interviewed by the WS but dropped that from the blog at some point).

  • Various other topics were discussed, including business and sports news (concentrating on football and cricket; nary a mention of Yao Ming making the NBA All-Stars, for example) none of which I can recall clearly.

So, in sum, I can't make a strong argument that the BBC World Service is biased from just this one program. The closest would be the discussion of Likud, where the interviewee from Carnegie was highly pessimistic about Ariel Sharon's ability to pursue peace, and with the descriptive "right-wing" being continually attached to it. On the other hand, "Likud" means nothing in English, while "Labour" has a left-wing implication in Anglospheric and European politics, so the "right-wing" appelation may have been appropriate. However, a clearer explanation the differences between the Likud, Labour and Shinui policies toward the occupied territories would have been helpful to the listener (particularly in the case of Shinui, about which I have heard little except at Jacob T. Levy's blog and MyDD).

Perhaps my main quibble would be with their selection of interviewees; a disproportionate number of those given a platform who were not newsmakers themselves were critics of the right (notably, both "outside" Israeli election observers were anti-Sharon), although admittedly from a small sample on a day when most news was made by the right.

LiveBlogging the State of the Union

Tacitus, Kos and Stephen "VodkaPundit" Green will be LiveBlogging the State of the Union Address. In response to the abject failure of my LiveBlogging of the Super Bowl, I will pass on carrying out any live reaction here. (I may also lose consciousness well before it starts, which may be another important factor in this decision.)

A Lott Post Not About Trent

I really don't have a dog in the John Lott controversy, but fellow political scientist Mark A. Kleiman has a round-up of the leftist perspective (and Julan Sanchez has some thoughts too). At the very least, the whole "Mary Rosh" business seems at once both silly and undignified for a scholar. As far as the rest goes, I'm much more interested in arguments over the econometrics and evidence supporting the main argument of the book, rather than ruminations over the 98% figure (98% of "brandishments" did not result in use) which is mostly tangential to the main argument (although I will grant that Lott's defenses of the 98% figure are specious at best). I will say that the "predictive power" test of an econometric model is generally not accepted in the social sciences; rather, we seek to maximize explanatory power. Without having analyzed the data myself, though, I can't state to my satisfaction whether the model is appropriate or not.

Michelle Malkin weighs in, and she's unimpressed with Lott's defense.

French Multi/Unilateralism

Monday, 27 January 2003

Unprecedented Establishment Clause Challenges?

How Appealing looks at a district court decision overturning the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 on the basis that it violates the establishment clause. A Roanoke Times article describes it as an "unprecedented challenge" to religious freedom.

It seems to me that it's very precedented: specifically, the so-called "Peyote Case" (Employment Division v. Smith, 494 US 872, 1990) and the subsquent case overturning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which attempted to elevate religious freedom above other constitutional rights contra Smith (City of Boerne v. Flores, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 1998), both had similar findings, and both rejected the "compelling interest" standard that RLUIPA seems to have articulated.

Apollo 1 Remembered

Rand Simberg looks back at the 36th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster, which claimed the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee, and draws a parallel to the grounding of the Shuttle fleet after the Challenger disaster in 1996:

A key difference between this accident and the Challenger catastrophe was that in Apollo, we had a goal and a schedule. Accordingly, we dusted ourselves off, analyzed the problem, addressed it, and kept to the schedule.

With the Shuttle, the political reality was that there was no particular reason to fly Shuttles--no national commitment would be violated, no vital experiments wouldn't be performed, no objects would fall from the sky on our heads, and no elections would be lost, if the Shuttle didn't fly.

So, two and a half years after the Apollo I fire, we landed men on the Moon. Two and a half years after STS 51-L, the fleet was still grounded. It didn't fly again until two years, nine months later.

What a difference a couple decades make.

Seen at InstaPundit...


The Blix Brigade has made their report to the U.N., and it makes it fairly clear that the Iraqi government isn't cooperating or being at all forthcoming. Paul Miller suggests that the evidence of mustard gas precursors found by the inspectors constitutes a material breach, while Steven Den Beste continues to ask the obvious question: if the inspections haven't worked so far, why does the Axis of Weasels think they ought to continue? OxBlog's David Adesnik argues that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is showing himself to be a statesman, taking up the mantle of Winston Churchill. Finally, Bill Whittle reminds us that we're already at war, even if the Iraqi phase hasn't started yet.

Sunday, 26 January 2003

Penn & Teller's trick

By the way, the Penn and Teller Super Bowl prediction trick came off without a hitch (that didn't stop me from figuring out how they did it though). The drawback to working with a live, unmanaged camera is that it's fairly clear how the trick was done, if you don't pay too much attention to Penn blabbering on and Teller waving around the sledgehammer.

Of course, it didn't help that one of the bystanders was pointing at the "confederate" the entire time she was switching the original paper they stored inside the test tube inside the pipe inside the giant pickle jar with the one prepared after the game was over. Nor was it helpful that she fiddled with it for a good 15-30 seconds in plain view of the camera.

Still, it was a cool trick, and I'm sure millions of people around the world think they did it with holograms or magic paper or an advanced flexible LCD display or camera tricks or something.


Virginia Postrel writes about her Lasik surgery experience today. It's something I've thought about vaguely (but never seriously considered; same with the fun and excitement of liposuction), but ultimately I've concluded that wearing glasses just suits me better than being "two-eyed." Now if they just figured out a way to keep the damn things clean...

As always, other good stuff there too...

Superbowl Thoughts

Rather than spam the blog with entries, I'll just add thoughts here as the game goes on... meanwhile, Oliver Willis has some football blogging of his own.

4:52 CST (Kickoff -0:30)

What's the point of these elaborate pre-game production numbers? I realize they have to kill time in the interminable four-plus hour pre-game show, but sheesh.

Related note: the last 3:45 has only featured two moderately entertaining segments: the front half of a magic trick by Penn & Teller, and Jimmy Kimmel saying "good-bye" to cable.

Another related note: the local ABC station (WPTY) keeps taking the picture down to 3/4 screen to plug its relaunch of its newscast tonight. If they do that during the game, I may hop in the car and kick some butt up in Memphis.

YARN: The Gratuitous T&A Counter is now at 4, after:

  • A preview for some sort of T&A special on ABC next month.

  • A preview for The Practice featuring a spoof of the "Every Guy's Fantasy" Bud Light commercial.

  • A preview of tonight's Alias with Jennifer Garner in both red and black lingerie. (Maybe that should count as 2 instances of Gratuitous T&A.)

  • A preview of Celebrity Mole with a notable jiggle-factor by one of the has-been celebs.

That's Network 4, Advertisers 0.

5:04 CST (Kickoff -0:19)

Oh, how mighty Ahnold has fallen.

Administrative note: the GTAC will not be incremented for gratuitous cheerleader shots. We're still holding at 4 (plus a potential Jennifer Garner bonus).

5:14 CST (Kickoff -0:09)

Someone tell Rich Gannon that “God Bless America” isn't the national anthem. (No cheap shots at Celine here; Mom would kill me.)

5:23 CST (Kickoff -0:02)

Not holding my breath on a 5:25 kickoff. Michele has some poll questions she'd like you to answer. (I'm too busy blogging the Super Bowl.)

5:28 CST (Kickoff +0:03; 13:50 1st)

Ok, so they got the kickoff off in time. Brad Johnson just threw a pick to Charles Woodson.

5:33 CST (Kickoff +0:08; 10:40 1st)

After a 5-yard sack, the Raiders kicked a field goal to go up 3-0. First ad: moderately amusing (“That referee's a jackass.” “No, I think it's a zebra.”). Second ad: Celine is singing about a car or something. Third ad: Quizno's. Still holding at 4 on the GTAC.

5:38 CST (Kickoff +0:13; 10:32 1st)

The Budweiser ad was oddly prescient — we've hit a replay already due to a ruled fumble on the kickoff return.

5:44 CST (7:51 1st)

After a decent drive, the Bucs stall — now 3-3 after the field goal. The Pepsi Twist and FedEx ads were amusing.

5:48 CST (7:51 1st)

GTAC incremented by Bud Light ad: now at 5. Also ads for The Hulk and Dodge trucks, neither of which are worth writing home about.

5:52 CST (6:36 1st)

Robyn is collecting “worst commercials” nominations at her blog. This ad block: Matrix II and III; the Gatorade “3 Mikes”; an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” ad.

5:57 CST (5:46 1st)

Anger Management looks lame. The Willie Nelson H&R Block ad is amusing. The Bud Light "handstand" ad was cringe-worthy.

6:07 CST (1:37 1st)

So far, this is a game for fans of the punt. Neither team seems to know what it's doing.

6:11 CST (End 1st)

Offensive ONDCP ad #1 of the evening: your tax dollars wasted. However, the Visa Yo/Yao/Yogi ad was moderately amusing. GTAC incremented by NHL/Pro Bowl promo to 6 (5 Network, 1 Advertiser).

6:21 CST (11:10 2nd)

The Bucs kick a 43-yarder to go up 6-3. Notable ad: the Bud Light “Dreadlocks” ad. GTAC is now at 7 (6 Network, 1 Advertiser) due to another 30 seconds of Jennifer Garner in lingerie.

7:14 CST (Halftime)

The Bucs scored a couple of times. It's now 20-3. The GTAC has been pretty constant, but Shania Twain has pushed it to 8 (6 Network, 1 Advertiser, 1 Halftime Performer); I expect Gwen Stefani to add another point shortly.

7:25 CST (Halftime)

As expected, Gwen added to the count, as did a Bachelorette promo. So we're now at 10 in the Gratuitous T&A Counter (7/1/2, for those of you keeping score at home).

8:49 CST (6:06 4th)

The game's gotten significantly more interesting; the Raiders have closed within 13, with another replay review on the 2-point try (denied); so, it's 34-21 Bucs. I think the GTAC is up to 11 (8/1/2), due to another promo for ABC's "search for America's hotties" or whatever it's called.

10:47 CST (Jennifer Garner probably in skimpy clothes)

Wow, that experiment worked well... not. But at least my prediction came true, even if the score (48-21 Bucs) was a bit more lopsided than I expected.

Jimmy Kimmel apparently isn't coming on here in the Memphis DMA, at least according to my DirecTV/TiVo APG. Signing off the Superbowl Thoughts...

Those of you looking for “Jennifer Garner lingerie,” please see here. Pervs. :-D

TDOT head to meet with citizens, legislators in W. Tennessee

New Tennessee Department of Transportation head Gerald Nicely (rapidly becoming a frequent subject of posts in this blog) plans to meet with Northwest Tennessee legislators and officials from the I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition in Dyersburg on Tuesday, according to the Dyersburg State Gazette.

He is also making the rounds, meeting with members of the "TDOT Reform Campaign." This new group appears to be organized by the Sierra Club in opposition to projects in the Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville areas. The Memphis meeting is at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 8 at the Shelby Farms Visitors Center; I encourage everyone with an interest in shaping TDOT policies to come and make their opinions known.

Why I can't be a Libertarian any more

I've written some on libertarians (and the Libertarian Party) before in this weblog (see here and in response to John J. Miller's nonsensical "The GOP would win if only libertarians would vote for us" argument here, here and here — to recap, John, in a republican democracy it's the party's responsibility to appeal to potential voters, not the voter's responsibility to vote for the "least bad" option offered by the two major parties). The truth is, however, the LP (despite still being the third-largest political party in the U.S.) isn't going anywhere fast — and electability isn't on the agenda. Libertarian ideas are selling — witness the stunning support for repealing Massachussetts' income tax in 2002 — but libertarian candidates aren't, at least not under the LP label.

Much of the blame for this, of course, can be laid at the feet of rigged electoral and campaign finance laws that entrench the power of the GOP and Democrats. Even in a post-Buckley world (free from the FECA), though, the electoral laws aren't going away. Which, in essence, means that if libertarians want to get elected to office (as opposed to working through the courts via like-minded groups like the Institute for Justice or through think-tanks like CATO), they're going to have to do it through the two existing major parties, using what I'd call the Ron Paul strategy.

The ground conditions for doing this vary from state to state. In most states, it's probably fair to say that the Republicans are rhetorically, if not in fact, closer to libertarian positions than the Democrats; if nothing else, the existence of the Republican Liberty Caucus and the absence of a similar Democratic-leaning organization suggests that Republicans are more willing to embrace libertarian principles, despite the hard-right influences in the party.

Beyond the practical matter of getting elected, however, it seems like the LP's disconnect with geopolitical reality is becoming more and more pronounced in light of the problem of global terrorism. While I respect the principled stand of many LP members and leaders, including 2000 presidential candidate Harry Browne, on foreign policy matters, I find it difficult to believe that the September 11 attacks wouldn't have taken place if the U.S. had pursued a more isolationist foreign policy, nor do I believe that Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il would be less belligerent global actors without the U.S. having a role in Gulf and East Asian politics. As a matter of first principles, avoiding foreign entanglements would be the best policy — unfortunately, we've had foreign entanglements since the XYZ Affair during the Adams administration. Our government can't simply hide under a ballistic missile shield and pretend that the rest of the world doesn't exist.

The Libertarian Party, for better or worse, is a party of principle (or "The Party of Principle," if you prefer). As such, it is inherently unelectable in a two-party system with plurality elections; you can't build a winning coalition on the uncompromising LP platform except if (a) you call yourself a Republican, (b) you do it in a highly-Republican district and (c) somehow win the Republican primary (Ron Paul's technique). Even at the state and local level, running on a party ticket as a Libertarian is not a vote-winner absent incompetent campaigning by the major-party candidates and a strong LP candidate. The LP doesn't have the resources to counter-act this effect (due, in large part, to FECA; McCain-Feingold will only make it worse) by getting an effective message out or electing a critical mass of candidates, and is unlikely to gain those resources — or more favorable rules — in the foreseeable future.

Fundamentally, the purpose of political parties is to win elections (see Why Parties? by John Aldrich — and no, parties are not evil!). The Libertarian Party, as currently constituted and working within the existing rules, can't do that. And since libertarianism can't be effectively advanced by the LP, there's no longer any point in my being a member.

Any implication that this post is the groundwork for me running as a GOP candidate in Mississippi's November elections is probably true.

Obligatory Superbowl Prediction

Tampa Bay 24, Oakland 17. (And I'm not just saying that to stay on Robyn's good side!)

The downside to a Bucs victory, of course, is that Warren Sapp won't shut up for the next twelve months. The upside is that at least he isn't as annoying as Terrell Owens.

Saturday, 25 January 2003

Trackback implemented in LSblog

I have implemented Moveable Type's TrackBack feature in this weblog. This should also make the BlogTrack feature at Janes' Blogosphere work more readily.

Blix's boys: friends to dictators everywhere

Ya know, if you're Hans Blix and you're trying to convince people that you're not just playing Quisling for the Iraqi regime, one of the first things you might want to try is protecting people who want to defect from their government, instead of handing them over to Iraqi security. Dear lord.

Michele, Charles Johnson, Glenn Reynolds, and Half-Bakered also comment.

Friday, 24 January 2003

Bridges in Baghdad, etc. etc.

Light bloggage

Apologies for the light bloggage as of late... a few quick hits for today:

Wednesday, 22 January 2003

It only took three terms

Entering his twelfth year in office, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton (or is it W.W. this week?) has finally proposed something that makes sense: abolishing the Memphis City Schools. Excuse me before I have a heart attack.

Now all they need to do is figure out how to legally bar any of the existing city school board members from ever serving on the county board, and they might be on to something...

Tuesday, 21 January 2003

Half-Bakered is back!

Half-Bakered is “Reading the Memphis papers so you don't have to.” His sacrifice on behalf of us all is duly noted.

Mississippi Justice

The perpetrators of the Kincannon Hall grafitti incident got off with probation, instead of the expulsion that many in the university community, including the student senate, thought was warranted in the case; nor are the perpetrators being identified publically, although it is allegedly common knowledge who they are (shades of a Boalt-style coverup?). Allan Innman's editorial cartoon sums the situation up nicely.

Previous coverage here. (For the record, I am a university employee, so I'm probably bound by the Buckley Amendment in this case — but surely the Daily Mississippian and Oxford Eagle aren't.)

Friday, 17 January 2003

Fisking the defenders of the Southern Strategy

Jacob T. Levy, commenting on a National Review piece by John O'Sullivan, thinks Trent Lott is hardly the racial moderate his defenders make him out to be (presumably in the “party to busy to hate” mold). Jacob's right. There's nothing in the Southern Strategy playbook about “persuad[ing] a resentful region to accept a steady movement toward racial equality,” as O'Sullivan claims; it's all about persuading a resentful region that you're equally resentful and you'll do your best to prevent those damned liberal Yankees and uppity blacks from using the power of the federal government to enforce the 14th Amendment and promote racial equality.

More freaking tax forms

This form was missing from my copy of TaxCut. Can I get a refund from Kiplinger?

Thought of the Day: JLo

Here's a free hint: if you write an autobiographical song about yourself, claiming you're still “Jenny from the Block” and the same girl you were before you became this era's answer to Liz Taylor (at least in the serial matrimony department), you're no longer keeping it real. Instead, you're bordering on self-delusion.

And, if you've already reduced your name to two syllables, you're probably firmly in the self-delusion zone.

Thursday, 16 January 2003

Michele's Required Reading 2002

Michele @ A Small Victory has compiled her 2002 Required Reading list. Needless to say, you're required to read it, and not just because she picked one of my entries (“Mississippians, persecution complexes, and Trent Lott”).

It's gonna snow, so head for the hills

About an inch of snow is expected in the Memphis metropolitan area tonight. For those of you new to the Greater Memphis area, or if you're just curious, here's what to expect:

  1. Breathless TV coverage of “Storm of the Century 2003”. If you thought you were going to watch Friends tonight — tough luck, you're watching Dave Brown instead.

  2. Nobody will know how to drive. Accidents will go through the roof. Free hint: stay off the Nonconnah Parkway (SR 385), since it is (a) mostly elevated and (b) usually the site of a massive pileup.

  3. In accordance with points 1 and 2 above, the entire city will effectively shut down for at least a week. Since there's already a holiday on Monday, don't expect to find anyone at work tomorrow — even if all the snow is gone by 8 a.m.

  4. People will probably raid stores like a hurricane is coming. Do yourself a huge favor and don't bother joining them.

My helpful advice to the Memphis looney weather newbies: stay indoors, hope MLG&W keeps your gas and electricity on, and watch cable for the next few days. The only legitimate reason to wander outside is to pick up some DVDs to watch at Blockbuster.

This concludes this announcement from the emergency broadcast system. BEEEEEP.

Eldred v. Ashcroft

Larry Lessig has a must-read post in his blog about the decision-making in Eldred v. Ashcroft (decided Wednesday, 7-2 in favor of the respondent).

As a good political scientist, I probably should point out that Larry's search for principle on the court is perhaps overly optimistic; the Spaeth attitudinal model suggests that the conservatives on the court would side with big business — and a Republican administration filing a supportive brief — regardless of principle. In terms of attitudinal signals, the plaintiffs' argument was sunk by the predominantly leftist amici. (Of course, being a good law professor, Larry probably doesn't buy the attitudinal model.)

Having said that, like Larry I can't reconcile Eldred with Lopez (a case that I believe was correctly decided on the merits), and I agree that the majority should at least have made an effort to do so; the point of having a “limited” government is that the limits must be meaningful, no matter what enumerated powers we're talking about. On that principle alone, the majority decided Eldred wrongly.

Glenn Reynolds makes much the same point (at least, one similar to mine) in his latest piece for

Lileks takes down Le Carre

In today's Bleat, James Lileks takes on John Le Carre. He also has discovered Safari's apparent ability to take down websites at will (but I think he's joking).

Organizing Resolutions Redux

The New York Times reports that the Senate has finally passed an organizing resolution. You'll be forgiven if you fail to make any sense of this paragraph:

The agreement reached tonight gave the Democrats much of what they requested, allowing them 49 percent of the committee salaries and letting them avoid the need to lay off staff members. But Republicans got extra money to operate the committees, bringing their share of the money to about 60 percent — less than the usual two-thirds, but more than the 51 percent the Democrats had originally proposed.

If you're thinking “the math isn't adding up here,” you're right. By contrast, the Washington Post's report is not only more pithy, it also makes more sense.

The big question is: what are the committees spending money on besides committee staff salaries? I mean, there's only so much you can spend on toner for the laser printer.

Earlier coverage here.

All politics are local — particularly in the CA

The Memphis Commercial Appeal spins the news that George W. Bush will oppose the Michigan admissions quotas with the following headline: “Bush to contest 'quota' program that aided Ford.” Not, mind you, Gerald Ford (who's from Michigan) or Ford Motor Company; instead, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr.

Money quote from the article:

Ford has said in the past that he benefited from affirmative action, but he declined to discuss his LSAT score or grade point average.

Here's a hint: he flunked the bar on his first attempt. Meanwhile, you may want to read about the admissions policy of fellow Big Ten member Indiana University.

The Gulag Peninsula

(Via Instapundit:) MSNBC reports on North Korea's prison camps, estimated to hold at least 200,000 dissidents.

Tuesday, 14 January 2003

Eli chooses... correctly

Our long local nightmare is over; Eli Manning's coming back for his senior season. No word yet on whether David Cutcliffe promised to find something better than the prevent offense in return.

Saturday, 11 January 2003

Democratic race-baiting?

My letter to the Commercial Appeal

On Friday, January 10, the Department of Finance and Administration reported a press release in which it stated that “December revenues were $33.8 million more than the budgeted estimates.” In other words, the state is running a budget surplus, largely due to the sales tax increase approved by the legislature in 2002.

Imagine my surprise the next day when the Commercial Appeal failed to even mention this good news. Of the state's three major newspapers, only the Nashville Tennessean bothered to let the state's taxpayers know that the state's budget crisis is essentially over. Instead, we have been treated to a long line of stories saying that retail sales are down (even though they are, in fact, higher than last year's) and that the state faces massive budget problems (mostly due to spending on the bloated TennCare program and court orders to equalize education funding in rural districts).

I guess printing good news would detract from your paper's mission to impose an income tax with no spending limits similar to California's (a state facing a $36 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months). Your readers deserve an honest reporting of the facts, not suppression of information to further a political agenda.

For more details on this story, see Bill Hobbs' weblog. We'll see if they print my letter; I'm not holding my breath.

Are the Democrats abandoning Mississippi?

Hattiesburg American opinion editor Rich Campbell asks and answers that provocative question in a column in yesterday's paper, in response to the national Democrats' opposition to the Pickering nomination, supported by many Mississippi Democrats (seen at How Appealing).

It's a pretty good question, and one that reveals the friction in the median voter problem: Mississippi Democrats like Mike Moore, Ronnie Musgrove, and Ronnie Shows have very different interests in getting elected than many Democrats in other states, much as Republicans in New England aren't well-served by being associated in their voters' minds with the Christian Coalition wing of the party. In the long term, this may lead to either realignment or the development of regional or state parties; at some point, except in the Delta, no Democratic candidate will be able to appeal to a median voter simply due to the association with the national party — Gene Taylor could conceivably be the last white Democrat the state elects to Congress ever, and at the state level a similar phenomenon could easily emerge.

Rien d'interessant

Today was pretty much a blah day; nothing much to comment on, really. I did go shopping at Wal-Mart (mostly diet soda, milk, and juice, along with the tax program and a couple of sweaters that were on sale; no SimCity 4 yet, natch). I thought about going to see Narc, for which the previews looked moderately interesting. Otherwise, I killed time by riling up some I-69 idiotarians at HoosierTalk, and watched the new Stargate SG-1 episode, “Unnatural Selection” (not really what I expected at all, but it was good nonetheless).

Tomorrow's project will be to try to get the business back on the rails again. I can hardly wait...

Thursday, 9 January 2003

Janes' Blogosphere and GeoURL is now syndicated via Janes' Blogosphere; however, David's code doesn't seem to understand the nuances of my markup. Until LSblog takes over the world by storm (don't hold your breath), don't expect to find the pretty links to stuff I talk about on other peoples' sites. (I tried to figure out what was special about the markup on other sites that helped Janes' pick things out, but gave up. Email me if you know what I need to do.)

Also, is registered at GeoURL, which is generating a fair amount of referral traffic.

Organizing Resolutions

Jacob T. Levy is wondering about the wrangling over the Senate organizing resolution:

In short: at what point could a floor majority ram through an organizing resolution? Is there any such point? What's the longest it's ever taken to get the resolution approved?

I think the issue is that the organizing resolution, like almost everything else in the Senate (except, I believe, conference reports), is subject to filibuster. That means either the Republicans need to get 60 votes (to override a filibuster) or do it by unanimous consent.

My guess is that they only have 52–54 votes for whatever they want to do at the moment; the Dems are holding out for basically the sweetheart deal they got from Lott in 2000 (which they promptly reneged on when Jeffords defected). They may also be tied up over a few other things — like judicial nominations.

So that's why (a) this is taking so long and (b) you'll never see a provision that forbids a change in control of the chamber due to a defection until one party has a wide enough margin. (However, if any party does ever get a 60-vote majority again, which I don't see anytime soon, you'll probably see a permanent rules change that either stops the chamber from being reorganized mid-session or forbids filibusters of organizing resolutions.)

The irony here is that Senate committees are relatively powerless; you can amend to your heart's content on the floor (unlike in the House), so they really only function as gatekeepers due to mandatory referral of legislation. (Hence why I made fun of Trent Lott's new job a few days ago — one he won't have until the organizing resolution is approved.)

I don't know the answer to the last of Jacob's questions; Senate control has gone over a few times in the past fifty years or so, but until the 1980s partisanship in the Senate wasn't very intense. I've certainly never heard of it being a problem in the past.

Two additional points: as far as I can tell, the organizing resolution has historically been adopted by unanimous consent (which suggests it is subject to a filbuster), and there was protracted wrangling over the OR when Jeffords defected in 2001.

Bush out-Clintons Clinton

Glenn Reynolds suggests that the White House was behind the spin on David Frum's Right Hand Man, misleading the media into thinking that the book was critical of the administration's policy (reported by Matt Drudge and others).

I'm reminded of the Bill Clinton videotape deposition during Monicagate — you remember, the one where he allegedly stormed out of the room, according to “highly-placed White House sources.” While the tape was still a major embarassment (nobody could really cover up for stuff like defining the term “is”), he looked positively serene compared to the pre-spun version of the event.

I-69 going through Bloomington

About seven hours ago, Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon announced that the preferred alternative for Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville will pass through Bloomington along the Indiana 37 corridor. For more details, see's sister site

All-in-all, I think it's a good decision for Indiana. But, the fighting isn't over yet; lawsuits (or at least the threat thereof) will likely delay the project through much of the coming year.

Wednesday, 8 January 2003

Hugo Chavez: al-Qaida fan?

Ivan G. Osorio writes on National Review Online that Venezuelan Fujimori-emulator* Hugo Chávez may have funneled money to al-Qaida via the Taliban, disguised as humanitarian aid.

I've blogged before on Hugo Chávez here; link from PejmanPundit.

* = I'm sidestepping the debate about whether or not Chávez is a dictator; he's definitely in the caudillo category, though.


The university computer network seems to be have been suffering from “return of students to their broadband connections”-itis this afternoon. But now, we're back and better than ever!

By the way, the flag at the top of the new title graphic is the Magnolia Flag, which was adopted as the first state flag in 1861, and continued to fly over the state until 1894 (until the current flag was first adopted). For a bit of history on Mississippi flags (up through 2000), see this article by noted Mississippi historian David Sansing.

David Sansing is not to be confused with noted Tennessee blogger Donald Sensing!.

Safari Thoughts

Apple's new web browser, Safari, seems to do a pretty good job rendering websites; without comparing it side-by-side to Konqueror, the rendering seems better, although there are still some buglets in the CSS2 implementation. Notably, P:before renders differently than you'd expect; it treats it as a block-level element instead of inline, and text-transform doesn't seem to work right. However, that's better than IE6 does; it ignores them completely.

This paragraph is rendered with P:before (which I use for updates to existing entries in the blog). If you're using Opera 6 or 7, or any Gecko derivative (Mozilla, Phoenix, Chimera, K-Meleon), you'll see UPDATE: inset in the beginning of the paragraph. Internet Explorer (and the Windows HTML component it is based on) ignores it completely (I'm pretty sure Konqueror 2.2 and 3.0 does too). Safari renders it as a separate, blue paragraph like Update:.

DUI = Drinking Under the Influence

The Washington Post has picked up the story of the Fairfax County bar raids for potential DUI offenders (via Glenn Reynolds). Notable for its absence: any evidence that the reporter contacted MADD for comment on whether they approved of these tactics. You'd think they'd be good for a quote or two; after all, it's their issue.

Meanwhile, Radley Balko decomposes statistics on “alcohol-related deaths” and finds that you're about four times more likely to die of accidental poisoning than be accidentally killed by a drunk driver if you're sober.

Another reason not to ride Amtrak

Fresh on the heels of their fare decrease, Amtrak is apparently having problems with passengers wielding polycarbonate knives. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

Now you know why I'm driving to Charlotte next month.

Tuesday, 7 January 2003

Just look at it as an increase in the per-passenger subsidy

Bitter passes on news that our friends at the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, is cutting fares by up to 25% on certain routes (but not the ones anyone rides). You too can enjoy the pleasure of slowly travelling on someone else's schedule at prices comparable to fares offered by the major airlines. But at least nobody's going to be futzing with your package on the trip (or at least, they won't be TSA employees).

By the way, shouldn't that really be or something?

Pucker Up!

I won! My winning entry:

If women should be admitted as members of Augusta National Golf Club, why shouldn't men be admitted to [preppy New England womens' college]?

However, I can't condone the alcohol consumption associated with the judging. Binge drinking should be reserved for special occasions, like political science conferences and summers in Ann Arbor.

Interesting Grammy Nominations

For a change, this year's Grammy nominations are moderately interesting; certainly there are a few choices to disagree with (for one, I don't see the appeal of Vanessa Carlton), but there's some good stuff nominated this year — 3 Doors Down, Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Bruce Springsteen, and Tonic all received multiple nominations (see the full list). And (perhaps) disturbingly, Eminem is starting to grow on me in small doses.

Statistical noise = fact

Daniel Drezner posts that John Zogby's overhyping his own numbers on the Democratic contenders. Trying to read anything into single questions in a survey with under 500 respondents is problematic at best, and it's downright foolhardy to draw any conclusions out of marginals that show virtually everyone in the poll in a statistical dead heat. Meanwhile, Jacob T. Levy speculates that Richard Gephardt will bomb spectacularly in New Hampshire.

Ah well, at least Atrios isn't yet predicting that we won't have a 2004 election. Maybe next week.

Rhetorical Question

If the National Review polices the conservative movement, as Jonah Goldberg alleges (paraphrased by Jacob T. Levy), does that mean that the anti-immigrant views of Paul Craig Roberts and blatant anti-homosexuality and odd racial views of NRO contributor John Derbyshire fairly represent the modern conservative movement?

Cramer on Bellesiles (updated)

(Via Glenn Reynolds:) Clayton Cramer writes on the problems with Michael Bellesiles' research in Arming America; he concludes that a lack of critical analysis by historians (including poor quantitative reasoning skills) and political diversity within the discipline allowed Bellesiles' work to pass largely uncriticized. While his discussion largely centers around history, there are lessons for other disciplines — including political science.

I find political science to be a more politically diverse discipline than history (and most of the humanities and social sciences, with the exception of economics), perhaps due in part to the strong influence of economists on the quantitative part of the discipline, although the political left is predominant (the “right” of the discipline is mostly libertarian and neo-conservative; I have yet to meet a paleoconservative political scientist). However, there has been a backlash in the form of the “perestroika movement” over the past two years; for a lighthearted look, see “Some Thoughts on Perestroika on Political Science”. (For the record, I'm an empiricist who mostly does quantitative work.)

Glenn Reynolds (Sith Lord) passes on word that Knopf is stopping the print run of Arming America.

Monday, 6 January 2003

Everything's on the table (as long as it's an income tax)

Journalist-turned-blogger Bill Hobbs reports on the pro-income-tax credentials of a number of members of Tennessee's “tax study commission”; the commission is already under fire for its rather white-male-ish complexion — all 14 members selected so far (of an eventual total of 15) are Caucasian men.

NFL refereeing hijinks

You can tell a sport has too many rules when nobody has the faintest clue what rules apply on a botched field goal attempt that turns into an incomplete pass (due to defensive pass interference downfield) although there's an illegal man downfield with time expired. (Got all that?)

I've always thought the ineligible man downfield rule made absolutely no sense, but after this weekend I'm convinced most of the NFL's rulebook is similarly asinine. Terrell Owens is a walking exemplar of “unsportsmanlike conduct,” as he's proved for the past few years, yet he's not ejected while some poor Giants lineman is.

Screw 'em

Steven Den Beste has basically the same reaction I do to the latest Palestinian outrage, as does James Lileks. I have Israeli friends and relatives, and I'm tired of the Palestinians and their continual BS. Indiscriminate murder is not a valid response to any injustice. As of now, I wash my hands of whatever the Israelis decide to do with them; I don't care anymore.

Sunday, 5 January 2003

Nicely making the right noises

Incoming TDOT commissioner Gerald Nicely faces some real challenges in his new job, but he's making the right noises in this interview with the Nashville Tennessean. As I said before, I think TDOT's problems are more perception than reality; however, there are some real issues:

  • The politicization of the project allocation process is unseemly and needs to stop. If Phil Bredesen follows through on his word and concentrates on merit (traffic needs and economic development) in selecting projects, this will be a major improvement.

  • The “Tennessee Rail Plan” is largely dead-on-arrival and needs to be scrapped. It will do virtually nothing to reduce the need for additional capacity on I-40 between Memphis and Knoxville. The only part that makes any sense is the rerouting of rail lines and consolidation of intermodal facilities in Memphis.

  • Delaying or reconsidering the south leg of TN 840 at this point would be counterproductive.

  • Reconsidering the I-475 “Orange Route” selection would be similarly counterproductive; by all measures, it is the best alternative. A route via Pellissippi Parkway (a so-called “Green Route”) would just increase congestion on I-40/75 and would not function as an effective bypass route.

  • Any construction on the north leg of TN 840 should be delayed until after construction of I-475 and I-69 is well underway.

Radley Roundup

Rather than writing several paragraphs to summarize my reaction (which was basically to pump my fist in the air and shout YES!), let me just link you to Radley Balko's take on the Indianapolis Colts, his plug of Penn Jillette's recent airport experience in Las Vegas, and his comments on the ADA's potential impact on the Super Bowl (also mentioned at Hit & Run, or as Radley calls it, “ReasonBlog”).

“Binge” Drinking (updated)

Radley Balko and Jacob Sullum write on the latest study from the neo-Prohibitionists on so-called “binge drinking.” Both point out that the definition is a bit bizarre: five drinks in a single sitting, with no reference to time at all. So, for example, if you start drinking at 6 p.m. and stop at 11 p.m., if you only have one drink in an hour you're “binge drinking”; never mind that if you weigh more than 100 pounds you'd barely even have a buzz at the end of it.

I won't pretend there isn't a problem with alcohol abuse in this country, but this definitional trickery seems to be another in a long line of those perpetrated by MADD (and other public health advocates, who want to make their favored societal problem a “disease” or ”public health threat”) to move the goalposts and demonize behavior that offends their personal sensibilties more than it causes tangible problems in society.

The zone-flooding on this one has started; InstaPundit and Radley have linked to this TechCentralStation column by Iain Murray that argues “The Temperance Movement is Back”. An interpretation that MADD has fallen victim to mission creep (as many groups do once their core goals are accomplished, like the NAACP, the feminist movement, and the Environmental Protection Agency) might be too charitable; MADD is rapidly showing its true colors as a prohibitionist group akin to the Womens' Christian Temperence Union of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Saturday, 4 January 2003

Dan Fouts: “Best Analyst in College Football”

Here's a challenge: read this puff piece on Keith Jackson from the San Diego Union-Tribune without feeling the urge to projectile vomit. No word on whether Keith ever returned all the gifts he got when he “retired” four years ago.

The Economist: Tuned into the blogosphere?

The Economist takes on Josh Marshall's latest, er, talking points on North Korea (subscription required, natch). You don't need a subscription to read their fairly thorough debunking of the anti-Americanism is Bush's fault thesis, however.

For a more sensible take (well, than TPM's, at least) on the North Korea business, see David Adesnik's latest at OxBlog; on Iraq, Adesnik takes down the “Iraq=Oil” theory (”This time, the critical issue is that Saddam has mocked the authority of both the US and the UN for over a decade. We realized on Sept. 11 that this had to end.”) and Steven Den Beste's discussion of strategic versus tactical surprise is worth a read. And, for good measure, Bryan Preston takes down TPM.

Friday, 3 January 2003

It was either a gold watch or a meaningless title...

Trent Lott's new “leadership position”: chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee. (Officially, it is the Committee on Rules and Administration.) As PejmanPundit puts it, “The post is utterly meaningless, for all practical purposes.”

Not only is the post meaningless — one could argue that the job is pointless. While the Senate does have rules, they are nowhere near as elaborately developed as those of the House (for much more on this, see Barbara Sinclair's excellent and accessible Unorthodox Lawmaking). The Senate largely chugs along on unanimous consent agreements (UCAs), which are negotiated between the majority and minority leaders; UCAs function much like House rules, but they break down when someone wants to place a “hold” or carry out a filibuster (the House abolished the filibuster in the 19th century, and over time developed in such a way that for anything of consequence to be considered on the floor it requires a rule).

Coupled with the fact Senate committees are weaker than House committees anyway (again because of the absence of per-bill rules in the Senate — anyone can offer any amendment on the Senate floor), chairing the Senate Rules Committee is a massive white elephant position, devoted to minutae such as deciding committee jurisdictions, determining the elegibility of senators, and overseeing the Architect of the Capitol. In sum, running for governor has probably gotten a lot more tempting in the past day or two.

Annoy liberals, get a kiss

The pseudonymous Bitter has a challenge for the blogosphere: help her rile up fellow students at her womens' college in New England. The deadline is Monday, so put your mind to work and give the girl a hand.

Bowl Season; 2003 SEC Thoughts

Bowl season will be over tonight with the Miami-Ohio State contest in Tempe (my prediction: OSU 27, Miami 24).

A few miscellaneous notes:

  • The SEC goes 3–4. Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia held up their ends of the bargain, at least, while Arkansas showed how thoroughly one-dimensional their offense is (how, again, did they win the SEC West?), Florida and LSU put in respectable showings, and Tennessee, well, played like Tennessee has all season long.

  • Alabama fans are wondering if they can return Mike Price after the 34–14 drubbing that Washington State got at the hands of Oklahoma. (They're probably also wondering how many more years they're going to be on probation.) Price's system would be a move away from the option attack that served Alabama well in 2002, tending more toward the play action style favored by most of the conference (except Arkansas).

  • The SEC's team to watch in 2003 is Kentucky; fresh off sanctions and with a new coach, they're likely to make things interesting in the SEC East. (However, Georgia will repeat as SEC East champion — you read it here first.)

  • The SEC West will be the same clusterf*ck that it was in 2002, although Alabama will not go 4–1 in the division. Mississippi State will remain the “Vandy of the West.”

  • If Eli Manning returns to Ole Miss, the Rebels probably have the inside track to win the SEC West, with a largely favorable schedule (with just Vandy, Florida, Auburn and MSU on the road, along with an early trip to Memphis — where Ole Miss fans will outnumber Memphis fans at the Liberty Bowl). Without Manning, Ole Miss will have to rely on an untested QB: either Micheal Spurlock or Seth Smith.

Finally, my early pick for 2003 National Champion: none other than Georgia.

By the way, what's the over/under on how many times Keith Jackson retires during the game? He and Dan Fouts almost give CBS's SEC crew a run for their money in the “worst booth in college football” sweepstakes.

The Dixiecrats and the Constitution

Eugene Volokh debunks the far-right myth of the Dixiecrats as being either libertarian or constitutionalist:

But then [Paul Craig Roberts] proceeds to defend the Dixiecrats on the merits:

It was left to the libertarian, Llewellyn Rockwell, to point out that, fundamentally, states' rights is about the Tenth Amendment, not segregation. Thurmond's political movement sought a return to the enumerated powers guaranteed by the Constitution to the states. . . .

Lott's tribute to Thurmond is easily defended on principled constitutional grounds. However, to speak against the neoconservative Republican and liberal Democrat ideal of a powerful central government is as impermissible as to utter words deemed to offend the legally privileged.

Interesting, that: Did Thurmond's political movement also seek a return to, say, the Fourteenth Amendment, also part of the same Constitution, which required states to give blacks the "equal protection" of the laws, something that the 1948 South notably neglected to do? What about the Fifteenth Amendment — were the Dixiecrats also enthusiastic about protecting blacks' constitutionally secured rights to vote? In fact, what seems more like a system of entrenched class privilege in which some aristocrats (granted, often a majority, unlike in real feudalism) lord it over the downtrodden commoners — 1948 Dixie (or 1948 America more broadly), or 2002 America, with all its warts?

As I have argued in the past (as anyone who has suffered through my POL 101 will testify), Jim Crow was the very embodiment of the problem of “majority faction” that James Madison warned about in Federalist 10, and one of the few situations that justifies federal interference in state affairs.

Incidentally, those who would defend the GOP as the “Party of Lincoln” should bear in mind that just 21 years after Lincoln's assassination, Republicans abandoned their principles in the “corrupt bargain” of Hayes-Tilden, where the GOP abandonded its responsibility to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments in exchange for the presidency.

Random Thoughts

A few miscellaneous thoughts for today, since I don't have anything in particular to say:

  • I'm going to take a real course (ECON 610: Public Choice) this semester, at 8:00 a.m. no less; we'll see how long that lasts.

  • Only 11 days until SimCity 4!

  • Go check out Kos' Political State Report, particularly if you like “inside baseball” coverage of politics.

  • David Adesnik @ OxBlog has some more interesting North Korea stuff.

Thursday, 2 January 2003

Governor Trent Lott?

Clarion-Ledger political columnist Bill Minor says it's 50–50 that Trent Lott will run for governor of Mississippi in 2003.


Fisking the Tennessean

Bill Hobbs is kind enough to pass along this Fisking of the Nashville Tennessean's lead editorial. Choice quote:

A stab at honesty: “tax reform” = “income tax” in Tennessee media and government language. California’s total 2002 revenues from taxes and licenses were $12.9 billion lower than their revenues for 2001. Personal income tax collections were $11.5 billion lower and corporate income tax collections were $1.4 billion lower, accounting for every bit of the total revenue reduction. Sales tax and other collections were up slightly, offset by those that were down. But the income tax is California’s primary revenue source, accounting for 67% in 2001 and 61% in 2002. Tennessee can equal California’s “performance” with the healthy dose of stupidity required to implement “tax reform”.

Well, in fairness, in Tennessee “tax reform” also means “divert gas tax money to the general fund.” TDOT may not be a paragon of government efficiency, but I don't think there's anyone outside the Sierra Club who thinks Tennessee spends too much on highway construction and maintenance. You can argue with the allocation of those resources — Mississippi has done far better in a similar time frame with less money to build an efficient four-lane network.

More to the point, though, Tennessee's taxpayers don't trust the state government to spend their money wisely or run their affairs properly. The mismanagement of TennCare, blatant legislative gerrymandering in urban areas, and the rank ineffectiveness of the Republican caucus hardly inspire confidence among the electorate.

Tax Cuts Galore

Virginia Postrel writes in Wednesday's New York Times on “Tax Policy as a Tool and a Weapon”; go forth and read it.

She mainly discusses the relative merits of changing the tax treatment of dividends, corporate tax reform, and a payroll tax cut. On the latter, she writes:

Reducing the payroll tax would give every worker an immediate tax break and encourage companies to hire (or retain) employees. It's a winning idea whether you're looking for a Keynesian jolt to consumer spending or a supply-side boost to hiring. And it would particularly benefit low-income workers, who pay little or nothing in federal income taxes but still owe payroll taxes.

However, she notes a low-end payroll tax cut — exempting the first $10,000 of income, for example — could have perverse policy implications, by making it more cost effective for employers to hire two workers on a part-time basis than one full-time worker. A cut in the payroll tax rate, as opposed to an exemption, might therefore be economically preferable.

Of course, cutting the payroll tax has other problems associated with it — either future benefits will have to be cut accordingly, or general taxes will have to be diverted to subsidize social security and Medicare; neither option would be very palatable. A solution some have suggested — taxing high-income workers on their full incomes without a corresponding benefit increase — has some appeal to income redistributors but may not be popular with the electorate (and a tax increase is a tax increase, at least in a 15-second sound bite).

One plausible option (speaking as a “policy wonk” rather than a libertarian) is to have a rate cut in the payroll tax, coupled with a new tax in two years (bringing the total rate back to the old rate) tied to privatized accounts. The holiday would serve a useful short-term goal, while the new financing arrangement would kickstart a move toward privatization of social security.

Wednesday, 1 January 2003

Media Mensch of the Year

InstaPundit and Bryan Preston pass on word that The New York Observer has named David Letterman its Media Mensch of the Year; this part sums up why:

[He] flew to Kandahar for Christmas Eve with cigars, 5,000 T-shirts, Paul Schaffer [sic] and Biff Henderson (and no video cameras!).

Jay Leno, on the other hand, would have asked our troops a bunch of trivia questions and aired the dumbest responses on national television. That's the difference between class and crass.