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, October 30, 2004
Like TV For the Blind

The Boston Globe online's edition is running frequent updates on the Red Sox parade. Here's the current update:
The duck boats are approaching the Public Garden and Boston Common, where the fans are chanting "Let's Go, Red Sox" as the players pass by. A phalanx of motorcycle police and officers on foot are keeping the delirious crowds on the sidewalk. There are two duck boats for relievers: One is carrying closer Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, and Felix Arroyo; the other contains Lenny DiNardo, Curtis Leskanic, Mike Myers, and Ramiro Mendoza. Derek Lowe is wearing Mardi Gras-style blue beads around his neck, but still has his shirt on.

Presumably shirt statuses will be updated as necessary.

Thursday, October 28, 2004
Well, That Pretty Much Covers It, Doesn't It?

Emphasis mine:
"It's close, it's close, it's close," pollster John Zogby said. "The candidates are locked in a dead heat among Catholics, young voters, voters over 70, men and women, and independents."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Where Do They Get These Crazy Ideas?

The Onion:

MIAMI, FL—With the knowledge that the minority vote will be crucial in the upcoming presidential election, Republican Party officials are urging blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities to make their presence felt at the polls on Wednesday, Nov. 3

The [Scotland] Sunday Herald:

An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) into voter intimidation recounts a catalogue of incidents designed to suppress the black vote.
In Louisiana flyers were distributed in black neighbourhoods telling voters that if it was rainy they could vote the day after the election. In Maryland, flyers went up listing the wrong date for the election.

Saturday, October 23, 2004
Dispatch From Red Sox Nation

3 PM Saturday, inside the Newbury Comics at Fresh Pond, in front of the (now-)prominent display of Red Sox merchandise.

A man and woman enter. The woman picks up a Sox sweatshirt, and says to the man, "Look -- it's back to full price!"

I give her a look. She explains, "When I bought it a week ago, it was half price."

Friday, October 22, 2004
Why Condi Rice is Available for Swing-State Visits [UPDATED]

Josh Marshall was
wondering why Condaleeza Rice has time to campaign for W this week:

I've always suspected that the stories about an al Qaida effort to disrupt the American election were, in a word, bogus. I even suspect that much of the heavily publicized efforts to put beefed up security and police patrols around polling stations has at least in part a political motive.
If this whole 'al Qaida disrupting the democratic process' is on the level then we're entering the red zone right about now. We're ten days out from the election.

So why is the National Security Advisor, Condi Rice, out hitting the campaign trail?

Think about that for a second. Is there any possible good answer? Either all the effort to hype an election day al Qaida threat is just another effort to use the White House's control over the intelligence community as a campaign asset or Rice is shirking her duties at a moment of acute national peril.

Maybe this is a clue, hiding in a "Notebook" item in Time Magazine online:
When Senator Mark Dayton shut down his Washington office last week, ostensibly out of concern for his staff's safety, many on Capitol Hill wondered if the Minnesota Democrat knew something everyone else didn't. The answer, it turns out, is far from it. Dayton last month received the same briefing as his fellow Senators about a CIA worst-case scenario involving simultaneous terrorist attacks across the country. Yet he apparently took the hypothetical threat as an imminent one. "Most people who heard the briefing," sniffs an intelligence official, "understood the context. It was theoretical."

Even stranger, Dayton sent his staff home several days after the CIA toned down the dramatic multiple-attack scenario, which the intelligence community "no longer believed to be valid," says the official. The CIA's initial report conflicted sharply with assessments by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that al-Qaeda is no longer able to mount synchronized spectacular events. In fact, fears of a pre-election attack have eased as an all-out push by law-enforcement and intelligence officers has failed to detect any trace of a terrorist cell operating in the U.S. "It's about as quiet as it can possibly be," says a top counterterrorism official. But he and others remain watchful. It was eerily calm before 9/11 too. Dayton's press secretary says the Senator has had "no second thoughts" about the closing.
I don't know how "It was eerily calm before 9/11 too" squares with all the times we've heard about "the highest level of chatter since just before 9/11", but there you go. Anyway, there must be some non-fear-based-election-campaign reason that we're not hearing more about the fact that "an all-out push...has failed to detect any trace of a terrorist cell operating in the U.S." It must be hard trying to sell both "You're safe with me" and "You're in grave danger" at the same time.

UPDATE: And of course, five seconds after I posted this, the Washington Post runs it on its front page.

Monday, October 18, 2004
An Electoral College Reform Near-Miss: 1969

The Boston Globe reminds us -- well, in my case, tells me for the first time -- that the Electoral College was nearly abolished in 1969. More importantly, it reminds us -- and this I did know -- that in 1968, in the wake of the civil rights movement, which was led by the national -- but not the Southern -- Democratic party, segregationist George Wallace won 5 states with 46 electoral votes. Over the next two decades, what had been the "solid [Democratic] South" became the almost-as-solid Republican South. Hey, where'd all those people go? (No, they're not politically extinct.) Just in case you're confused about American politics.

Sunday, October 17, 2004
Terror and Drugs, Together Again!

For those members of the public who can't decide whether The War On Terror or The War On Drugs best represents the fight against Evil: why choose?
Beslan militants were drug-dependent, forensic study shows

Forensic analysis of the remains of 31 militants who seized the public school in Beslan last month has determined that all of them were dependent on drugs, a senior law enforcement official said in a statement reported by Russian news agencies Sunday.

Nikolai Shepel, the deputy prosecutor general of Russia's southern federal district, also said that blood tests had found very high levels of heroin and morphine among a majority of the attackers who died at the siege, "which indicates that they were long-term drug addicts and had been using drugs permanently while preparing for the terrorist attack," according to the Interfax wire service.

"These conclusions help us look at the Beslan tragedy from a new angle," he said

Government Health Care is for Sissies

Mark Steyn (via Volokhite Jim Lindgren), whom I've read about more than I've read, has what you might call an emotional attachment to non-governmentally-run health care. Under the headline GOVERNMENT HEALTH CARE IS FOR SISSIES (no, really), he argues (to a Canadian readership):

My bet is that, in this long twilight struggle brought into focus by 9/11, the hard cultures will survive and the soft cultures won't. And, because I'd like my country to make it, I tend to look at every issue these days on whether it falls on the "hard" or "soft" side of the ledger. For example, Roy Romanow justifies the state's monopoly on health care on the grounds that "Canadians view Medicare as a moral enterprise, not a business venture." Well, if they do, they're very mistaken. Medicare isn't a moral enterprise: what's moral about removing a citizen's responsibility for his and his dependents' health care and entrusting it to the state? If free citizens of advanced, wealthy economies are not prepared to make provision for their own health care, what other basic responsibilities are they likely to forego? Socialized health care redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state. Even if it worked -- even if it wasn't a decrepit, SARS-spreading sinkhole -- it would still be bad in its softening effect on the citizenry.
Wow. If poor people can get socialized health care, Osama will win/has won! The thing is, there's a lot of non-difference hidden under Steyn's invocation of "removing a citizen's responsibility for his and his dependents' health care and entrusting it to the state". Here in Freedomtown USA, here's I provide for my health care: once a year, I get a form from my employer's Human Resources department. I check off "Yes, I do want health insurance at the group rate you've negotiated". Then I get a Blue Cross/Blue Shield card. From there on, it's pretty much like the socialist hellhole they've got up in Canada; I go to the doctor or hospital, show my card, and that's it. Here's what I do NOT do, in decreasing order of likelihood:

-- I do not self-sufficiently comparison shop among other providers; non-group-rate insurance is prohibitively expensive.

-- I do not do without health insurance -- because, after all, risk-pooling is for "sissies" -- and manfully demand that I pay tens of thousands of dollars if I should have a major injury or severe illness.

-- I do not do without medication, resolving to fight off all those germs ON MY OWN, dammit.

Steyn follows up with some horror stories of Canadians being turned away from hospitals because they don't have their card on them at the moment, to which I can only reply: Yes, that's dumb. We shouldn't do that here. I have no reason to believe that, if we moved from what we have now to a system where everyone is guaranteed to have some insurance, more people will be turned away for not having a card.

Not being a full-time policy wonk, I can't speak to the question of economic efficiency of the various systems. But that's not what Steyn's on about. I do feel qualified to brand this particular rejection of national health insurance as a) macho nonsense, and b) a stalking horse for the real conservative objection, which is to the redistribution of income -- in the form of health benefits -- that a national system implies.

The part that Jim Lindgren quotes is less silly, but I think also deserving of a reply:

When health care is the government’s responsibility, it becomes its principal responsibility. Imagine if we had as many high-profile conferences on national security as we do on health. But we don’t. Because the minute you make government the provider of health care, you ensure that, come election time, the electorate identifies health as its number one concern. Thus, in a democracy, the very fact of socialized health care seduces government away from its prime responsibility – the defence of the realm. In the Canadian cabinet, the Health portfolio is more prestigious than Defence. Think Donald Rumsfeld would regard it as a promotion if he were moved to Health?
Now, the cost in lives of a catastrophic failure of national defense is obviously, in the worst case of a nuke in one of our cities, appallingly high. In the absence of that, though, the benefit of a national health care system -- in terms of people who get health care that they wouldn't otherwise get, rather than in terms of the out-of-pocket cost to the consumer -- could easily dwarf that of any non-WMD defense failure. Consider the flu, since it's on everyone's mind right now. Supposedly, 36,000 people per year die of the flu. If even 10% of these deaths are preventable, we've saved more lives in one year than were lost on 9/11. And that's just the flu; the number of preventable deaths from, well, everything doesn't have to be terribly high to make this a win. This may seem like an apples-and-oranges thing, but I'm not the one who forced the comparison. Oh, and speaking of terrorist attack: in the event of a bioterrorist outbreak, the performance of the current US system with the flu vaccine is not reassuring, is it? Anyway, the fact that being in charge of health care isn't sufficiently testosteriffic for Donald Rumsfeld shouldn't be a factor.

Saturday, October 16, 2004
What Kerry Should Have Said About Mary Cheney, to Live Up To The High Standards of George Bush's Previous Campaigns

Glenn Reynolds has a
round-up of why John Kerry is a bad, bad man for saying that Mary Cheney is a...lesbian (campaign manager) (former corporate gay-outreach director). Typical is this reader's take:

UPDATE: Reader Keith Rempel gets at the heart of what's wrong here, and articulates what I couldn't: "Kerry was using Cheney's daughter to harm her father. How many kids want to be used to harm their parents? Did anyone ask her if she wants to have her sexual practices used in the campaign?"

ANOTHER UPDATE: More thoughts here: "thou shall NOT speak of another's kid in any way that could POSSIBLY be construed as negative."

Rather than refer (relevantly) to Mary Cheney as a lesbian, the classy way for Kerry to use her would have been to call undecided voters and insinuate that Mary was the result of her father's interracial extramarital affair. I mean, if we're going to be held to Bush campaign standards.

It didn't take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.

Anonymous opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain's Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the "pollster" determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.

Thus, the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that's not a minor charge.

(I like how in the Boston Globe you can't call the South "racist", but you can refer to "the conservative, race-conscious South".)

By the way, the linked story informs us that this tactic sometimes went beyond sleazy, into comical:

Some aspects of this smear were hardly so subtle. Bob Jones University professor Richard Hand sent an e-mail to "fellow South Carolinians" stating that McCain had "chosen to sire children without marriage." It didn't take long for mainstream media to carry the charge. CNN interviewed Hand and put him on the spot: "Professor, you say that this man had children out of wedlock. He did not have children out of wedlock." Hand replied, "Wait a minute, that's a universal negative. Can you prove that there aren't any?"
Maybe someone should mention all this to poor Dick:
CHENEY IN FT. MYERS, FL: "You saw a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected. And I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father, but as a citizen."

Friday, October 15, 2004
Conservative Educational Philosophy and Liberal Complicity

Dave Neiwert on Bush on education:

To people like Bush, the value of education lies solely in its ability to provide a steady supply of workers. Education isn't a matter of improving our lives, making us better citizens capable of thinking for themselves, inspiring us to reach the maximum of our human capacities; it's a union card, a system designed to churn out as many trained workers as possible.

This view of education, in fact, is pronounced among conservatives in general. And it's directly reflected in Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program.

True, but it's hardly surprising, and liberalism hasn't exactly fought this philosophy of public schooling either. The basic liberal -- Deweyist, I guess -- take on education is the stuff Neiwert mentions about improving our lives and minds; in addition, most liberals have faith that the more education a person has, all other things being equal, the more like us -- that is, the more liberal -- the populace will be. But the first is, if you don't already believe it, a hand-waving kind of thing to sell to people who want hard justifications for their school bond issues; and the second -- well, that's just for between us, so keep it down, OK?

And so the reductionist sales pitch became the norm: everyone should pay for public schooling, because an uneducated populace won't get good jobs, and then they'll go on welfare and you'll be paying for them anyway. Also -- and stop me if you've ever heard this in a local election -- the better your local school system, the better for your property values. If you sell public education on this basis for a couple of generations, you're going to make it hard to argue against the view of schools as feeders into the employment system, and nothing more.

The rest of Neiwert's piece -- well, I'm neither a school kid nor the parent of one, but Dave's usually right, so NCLB sucks.

Thursday, October 14, 2004
Justice DeLayed, Ha Ha Ha

John Kerry happened to drop Tom DeLay's name at last night's debate, during the question on the assault weapons ban:
If Tom DeLay or someone in the House said to me, Sorry, we don't have the votes, I'd have said, Then we're going to have a fight.
... although, logically, you'd think Kerry would be more likely to mention Bill Frist, the Majority Leader of his own house of Congress. George Bush, on the other hand, mentioned DeLay zero times.

I wonder why that could be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Unintended Consequences of Prohibition

From the story about the teenage girl who survived for over a week in her crashed car after leaving a party:
Laura Hatch had last been seen at a party on Oct. 2. The initial search was slowed because there had been underage drinking at the party, and the young people who attended would not say where it had been held, sheriff’s officials said.

-- that's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that the search was slowed because underage drinking is illegal. The law obviously didn't prevent the drinking, but it caused the partyers to refuse to share vital information with the police.

Saturday, October 09, 2004
Today's Stupidest Headline

Blast Said Not Sign of Attacks in Egypt

(That would be the car bombs that killed at least 33 people Thursday.)

This headline is over an AP story which begins:
The Sinai resort bombings were Egypt's first major terrorist attacks since the 1997 Luxor massacre by radical Islamists, but government officials and analysts said Saturday they probably don't signal a resumption of militant activity in Egypt, which has shown zero tolerance for Muslim extremists.

Egyptian terrorism experts believe Thursday's car bomb attacks on the Taba Hilton and two beachside camps farther south were isolated events carried out by foreign terrorists, most likely linked to al-Qaida.
Of all the headlines you might write to get this across, the one they chose doesn't seem like it did a very good job. And the first paragraph of AP's story doesn't mean what it says, either; they've written "miltant activity in Egypt" where they mean "militant activity by Egyptians in Egypt".
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Wir haben gewisse Mittel, um Sie zum Reden zu bringen

You have to admire the people who put together the Harper-Collins German-English dictionary, if only for one reason: if you want to know the German for "We have ways of making you talk", they've got it on page 791, and it's the title of this posting. (It may be this book, although mine is a hardcover and has more pages than are claimed at that Amazon listing.)

The Nuclear Comma

Check out this sentence from a Boston Globe article on the fear of nuclear terrorism, and note the effect of the second comma, which I'm pretty sure shouldn't be there:

At least twice since the Sept. 11 attacks, US intelligence officials believed, terrorists had smuggled a nuclear device into the United States, once in New York City and later along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. A senior Bush administration official who asked not to be identified said that before the information was determined to be unfounded, he considered calling his wife and telling her to take the children and head for the Virginia mountains.

Talk about the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. Without the comma, on two occasions officials (wrongly) believed there was a loose nuke in the US. With it, at some indeterminate past moment, officials believed that there had been, at different previous times, two loose nukes; and in this alternate reading, they might still believe it. (Hitchens mentioned the second false alarm in a column that can be found here, among other places.)

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