Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Going Too Far

From The Onion this week:

Weird Al Honors Parents' Memory With 'Tears In Heaven' Parody

FALLBROOK, CA—Zany, mourning entertainer "Weird Al" Yankovic has parodied Eric Clapton's eulogy song "Tears In Heaven" in loving tribute to his parents, who recently died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in their San Diego home, a spokesman for Yankovic said Monday. "Al's hurting deeply right now, and this is his way of honoring Nick and Mary," Karl Tuft said of the song in which a subdued Yankovic sings, "First you lit some flames / Then the smoke stopped your breathin' / Carbon mono's th'way you went... / Up to heaven" over a somber, minor-key accordion melody. Tuft added that the best way for Yankovic to give voice to his pain and loss was by altering the voice of Clapton's pain and loss.

It's rare that a piece of humor hits me as both funny and absolutely appalling, but this did it. I mean, what did Weird Al -- let alone his parents -- ever do to deserve it?

[Going Too Far is the name of Tony Hendra's book on the humor of the 1950s through seventies.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
How to be Wounded in Vietnam, Proper-Like

Kevin Drum points out that part of the GOP's response to Kerry's Purple Heart -- excuse me, Kerry's first Purple Heart -- is "Hmmm, that first injury wasn't very serious." He compares it with their reaction to W's Vietnam-era service (paraphrase of KD's paraphrase: "Shut up".)

I'd also compare it to Ann Coulter's renowed take on Max Cleland:
Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix.
So...Kerry was wounded in battle, but that doesn't count, because he wasn't hurt "so badly". Cleland had 3 limbs blown off, but it doesn't count because he wasn't taking live rounds from the enemy at that moment. I'd say "waddaya hafta do to impress these guys, throw yourself on a grenade?" -- but obviously that's not enough.

Next question: is B.D. a war hero or not?
Monday, April 19, 2004
An Idea I Hope AQ Doesn't Get

Nick Confessore at Tapped reads Rice's worry about terror attacks that are intended to affect our election as a possible attempt to suppress turnout.

"I think we also have to take seriously that they might try during the cycle leading up to the election to do something," she said. "In some ways, it seems like it would be too good to pass up for them, and so we are actively looking at that possibility, actively trying to make certain that we are responding appropriately."

She added: "The hard thing about terrorism is that they only have to be right once, and we have to be right 100 percent of the time. And nobody can be certain there won't be another attack. But, of course, we are concerned about the election cycle."

This comes a little too close to trying to talk down voter turnout for my comfort. I do want the administration -- any administration -- to be vigilant. But rap against the White House regarding the summer 2001 warnings was that they ignored relatively specific, credible intelligence regarding an attack that was imminent. This time around, the Times reports, even the now-very-on-alert CIA says "abroad, like at home, they have heard nothing that suggests an imminent attack."

I think Confessore is misreading Rice here (sorry). She's clearly talking about attacks during the runup to the election, intended -- maybe -- to influence the election, as -- maybe -- happened in Spain. (Never mind which way the influence would go -- we don't want to get back into that they-think-that-we-think-that-they-think stuff again, do we?) Note the words "during the cycle leading up to the election". (It does, however, make me uneasy about attending the Democratic Convention, which I expect to be able to do through my Extensive Media Contacts...but believe me, I thought of that months ago.)

Having said that, what would be really nasty would be for a couple of bombs to go off at polling places early on Election Day...but only in cities, by which I mean predominately Democratic areas...and only in tossup states. If that happened, wouldn't you wonder if someone was very specifically trying to suppress Democratic turnout?
On Voluntary Self-Taxation

Once you start answering Instapundit's links, it gets kind of habit-forming. He links to a New York Post editorial complaining that Kerry didn't pay an optional higher Massachusetts state tax rate. As even the Post makes clear, the optional higher tax rate is a pure stunt meant make a point, and incidentally to potentially embarass anyone who doesn't choose to check it off on their return.

Now, I'll give them this: as a political matter, Kerry is foolish not to have done this. But the whole point of voluntary self-taxation is that it's not what anyone means by "taxes"; a tax is a payment you don't have a choice about. In fact, if you want to, you can donate any amount of money to the US Treasury. I assume the Mass. Department of Revenue also has a way of accepting gratuities. The fact that a liberal politician doesn't just up and give all his money to the government doesn't make him a hypocrite. As Michael Kinsley said once, it's the "I will if you will" factor that makes it democracy.

Actually, if you read the rest of the Post editorial, there's another point: Theresa Heinz Kerry is loaded. Now, this money is of course money she didn't earn, but inherited from her husband the late Senator Heinz (R). The late Senator Heinz (R) also didn't earn those billions of ketchup dollars, but inherited it himself. Do you think the Republicans were pissed off in the least about all that unearned money when it was held by a Republican?

Instapundit argues that Gun Control is Racism

Oh, for Chrissakes:
THE RACIST ROOTS OF GUN CONTROL: If you're interested in these topics, you should read this article by Robert Cottrol and Ray Diamond. Here's the opening quote, on a Florida gun control statute, from a Florida Supreme Court justice in 1941:

I know something of the history of this legislation. The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps.... [T]he Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and saw-mill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population.... [I]t is a safe guess to assume that more than 80% of the white men living in the rural sections of Florida have violated this statute.... [T]here has never been, within my knowledge, any effort to enforce the provisions of this statute as to white people, because it has been generally conceded to be in contravention of the Constitution and non-enforceable if contested.

Look, this is an old, old, anti-gun-control argument, to which the correct answer is "Yeah, so?" The motivation of people in 1893 isn't much of an argument about what our gun policy should be in 2004. Looking at who's against gun control now, and who favors it, should put that to rest.

Reynolds follows that up with a similar link about drug-war policy. It's a more reasonable argument in that case, but because of what's happening now, not 110 years ago. Question: will we next get a link about the eugenicist roots of birth control -- also (partly) true, also a staple of right-wing argument, and also irrelevant -- and will Reynolds insinuate that we should be against birth control or we're all damn racists? Or...not?

On Wanting to Have Been Right

Mark Kleiman is working on an aphorism whose current version is:

Nothing in human affairs is more destructive than the desire to have been right. Neither greed nor hatred can compete with a man's attachment to his old opinions.

It strikes me that this is a part of the advantage of political incumbency. For Kerry to win, in addition to getting new voters on his side, and hoping old Bush voters stay home, he has to convince some number of people that they were wrong last time; under this theory, that's going to be a tough sell. At least it's not a flat-out rematch, which is a rare event, the last one being Ike/Stevenson in 1956. Oh, and look who won that one.

But there's another way around this problem, which is to get people to revise their memory of their old opinions; as in the legend that by 1975 you couldn't find anyone in America who had voted for Nixon. This suggests that the anti-Bush movement could usefully turn their efforts towards something like this: "All of you who were in favor of the war were in fact in favor of a war that would be run like x, y, and z, and a post-war policy of this, that and the other; since that's not what happened, you were right all along, too. Come join us."
Saturday, April 03, 2004
The Ministry of Silly Graphics

Josh Marshall, on his way to establishing that the pre-9/11 Bush administration was obsessed with missile defense, refers us to a Pentagon "threat spectrum" graphic from that era; I've reproduced it below, only slightly deformed by the program I used to pull the graphics out of his pdf:

Now this is a beautiful example of a chart than looks like it means something, but doesn't, because there are either too many axes, or not enough. The x axis is labeled "Drain on Military Capability", and the y axis is labeled "Potential Damage to Vital Interests"; all of the threats mentioned here are arranged in a smoothly increasing diagonal from lower left to top right, and this resulting diagonal is labeled "Threat Continuum/Heightened Military Challenge". This seems to say that the order of the threats along the 2 axes is the same, but that would be quite a coincidence if true, and I don't think it is. For instance, "Terrorist attacks abroad" -- in the middle, yellow zone -- are listed as higher in "Drain on Military Capability" than are "Peacekeeping Operations (22 worldwide in 1998)". This can't be true (unless it means terrorist attacks on our military, but I don't think it does). I'd say the threats are in fact listed in order of "Potential Damage to Vital Interests".

And just when you've got that figured out, here comes the third "axis", which is "Probability of Occurrence". This arrow slopes downwards from left to right. Now we're being told that all those threats are conveniently also arranged in order of decreasing probability; given that the first few are things that are ongoing and/or routine, the line should at least have a plateau on the left.

All of which means that when Marshall points out:
Note how terrorist attacks fall right in the 'sweet spot' where the 'probability of occurrence' and 'threat continuum' lines meet.
--he's analyzing something that doesn't exist. Not his fault; the whole point of the graphic is to make it seem like there's more knowledge in it than there is.

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