Archive for July, 2004

I was working on hauling the trash out when a young man rang my doorbell. He introduced himself by saying “Hi, I’m from the Democratic National Committee and we’re working to get George Bush out of the White House.”

I was taken a bit off-balance (I was hoping for the FedEx delivery guy), so I just said “I don’t think you should be talking to me, then.” He politely wished me a nice day and moved off. In retrospect, though, I missed an opportunity. If another one comes around I think I’ll ask him for his pitch; it’ll be interesting to see what the answer is. Technically at the moment I’m a Bush-leaning Democrat, which I guess makes me a swing voter, so I should give the DNC a chance to state their case. Also, I’m curious as to why DNC operatives are working my neighborhood in California. This should be a pretty safe state for Kerry, so why spend the resources?

(It might have been more interesting had he come around tomorrow. Given the state of my “to wear” clothing pile, I’d give about 50% odds that I would have been wearing a T-shirt with this on the front. That would have made for an interesting reaction, methinks.)

Orrin Hatch is at it again, and LawMeme is on the case. I’m still mystified why Republicans are interested in helping the RIAA and similar industry groups further the cause of “copyright protection”, aka “making it impossible for people to listen to legally purchased CDs in their car”.

Hatch has introduced a new bit of legislation called the IICA (Inducing Infringment of Copyrights Act), formerly the INDUCE Act. The IICA would basically make it illegal for anyone to make a device that could be construed as encouraging people to violate copyrights.

Take note that such a law, even moderately interpreted, would outlaw the following sorts of devices:

Photocopiers (and conceivably related things like carbon paper)
PDAs and related devices like the iPod
Arcade game emulators
WiFi car stereo
AM/FM transmitters
Any sort of CD burner
VCRs and Tivo devices

Notice that I don’t mean that the use of such devices to violate copyrights would be outlawed. That’s already illegal. The IICA is talking about actually making it illegal to manufacture a device or product that can even be possibly used for same. That means, for example, that photocopiers would not exist. They would vanish from the retail world.

Anyone care to speculate on the havoc that this would wreak upon modern society? Xerox machines disappearing from public libraries and workplaces? No CD writing capability? No PDAs?

Personally I think being forced to listen to Clearchannel as the only radio alternative is torture in itself.

You could, potentially, use the principle of such a law to outlaw paper.

Does this sort of crap even require a rebuttal during argumentation? It should be self-evidently in nobody’s best interest, and idiotic besides. Does the RIAA and the rest of the industry responsible for this movement really understand the depth and intensity of the enemies they are making? I haven’t bought a retail mainstream CD in months, because I’m increasingly uncertain if they will even work on my equipment. I have a couple of new ones that will not play in my car because my car CD changer is not an approved device. Forget playing them on the computer. That stopped working a long time ago.

I have a screen cap of this I will post later just to prove it’s real, but today I see a Fox News sidebar headline with a small lede that reads as follows:

Arafat Denies Gaza Crisis
Palestinian leader says Gaza in control; militants burn police station

Is this one of those matter/antimatter annihilation things you hear about on Star Trek? I wonder how long it will be before the left faces up to the fact that the Palestinian Civil War has begun.

Kyle adds: I’m not sure how you transition from a headline on Fox News to left-wing denial of the Palentinian Civil War. I agree that the left seems to be in denial, I just don’t see the Fox connection.

More seriously, though, if you think it’s bad there now wait until Arafat dies. Even now it’s still possible to maintain the fiction that Arafat has some legitimacy as the Palentinian leader. Once he’s gone, that goes out the window. The current conflict will likely escalate to a full-scale war of succession between the different factions, and there won’t be anybody with an even vaguely plausible claim to legitimacy until one group manages to decisively crush its rivals. It’s going to be bloody, and messy.

Kerry went to Detroit on a campaign stop this week to speak about the plight of the American worker. Sounds okay, right? Just the sort of topic a candidate like Kerry needs to talk about to reach middle America?

It would be, if the press pass his campaign issued for the event didn’t look like this:

That’s right. A Rolls Royce. A German car (now that BMW has taken over the marque). For an event in Detroit.

A Rolls Royce 100EX to be exact. It’s an experimental model that will not enter production (this is something Rolls Royce does to test new features and designs), but currently has teak and mahogany wood on the interior, Dark Curzon leather, and cashmere lining under the hood.

One could estimate the price of such a vehicle, were it in production, at about $400,000. It’s an attractive car on its own merits (to me anyway). But I suspect that it isn’t a good choice to put on a press pass to a Detroit event focused on middle-class, blue collar American auto workers.

I thought the purpose of campaign managers was to think about issues like this. I can certainly believe that Kerry himself would never for a moment consider this to be a strange contrast, much less that it’s deeply insulting. But what is he paying his campaign folks for if they can’t even get a clue about stuff like this?

Kyle adds: Kerry’s campaign really seems to have a tin ear when it comes to honest-to-god working-class Americans. I’m reminded of the time during the primaries when he was in Philadelphia and ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with Swiss cheese, and then ate it with a napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt. Soon after that happened, I asked my bosses bosses boss at work (who was from Philadelphia, and a Democrat) what would happen to someone who did that and his instant response was “he’d get his ass kicked.” An utter failure to connect, there.

It seems like Kerry is so rich that he genuinely doesn’t grasp the kinds of concerns that animate people who actually have to work for a living. (Kerry himself has only bothered to show up for his own actual job a small fraction of the time over the past year. I wish I could make a six figure income with a 90% absentee rate. I guess I’m just not nuanced enough, or something.)

This is too goddamn funny. The UN has condemned the security fence that Israel is building, and Israel of course has told them to fuck off. But the EU (in both cases read “France”) just can’t stand it.

“The European Union is a very important international power and is going to play a role here, whether you like it or not,” European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday.

A general rule of thumb: If you have to point out that you are important, you’re not. I’m sure Israel is quaking in their boots. What’s the UN gonna do? Pass another resolution? Oh no, anything but that!

And what does the EU imagine its “role” to be here? Whinging? Flailing uselessly in an attempt to make the UN and the World Court look like they actually have any significance or power? There’s talk of “sanctions” against Israel to “force” them to comply with the UN directive to remove the fence.

Sorry to inform you folks at the UN, but America voted against your stupid little resolution and is Israel’s primary supporter. That in mind, I can’t imagine that any sort of boycott by the rest of the UN and/or European Union is really going to make any difference.

But go ahead. I have a comfortable chair and some popcorn. It’s entertaining.

Kyle adds: Like Anne, I’m doubtful that the EU will actually manage to come up with any serious sanctions to back their words against Israel. But if they do, it will be revealing in a different way. When it comes to dealing with things like the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda in the 1990s, or the current genocide in the Sudan, or nuclear seeking theocrats in Iran, or murderous dictators in Iraq, the EU never managed to pull their thumb out of their collective ass. Those situations apparently weren’t (or aren’t) major enough to spur them to the needed effort. But perhaps the EU views a bunch of Jews building a wall for self-defense as a significant enough threat to world peace that they’ll move beyond words into action.

There’s a concept in economics called “revealed preference”. The basic idea is that the true values of a person or organization are better reflected through actions than through words. It’s easy to say something that doesn’t reflect what you really think. But your actions reveal your true desires. If the EU manages to act against Israel, that would reveal something about their values and preferences, and it wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

(Revealed preference is also behind one of the two funny economics jokes I know: Two economists are looking in the window of a car dealership. One economist says “I really want that car.” The other economist replies “Obviously not.” If you understand why that’s funny, you understand the concept of revealed preference.)

Ok, in the interests of fairness in political satire, I offer the following short film that a friend linked me to today. It is truly funny, and takes shots at both sides.

This Land Is Your Land

One of the memes introduced by Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 is that because Bush waited seven minutes after learning of the first WTC plane impact before leaving the Florida school where he was reading to children, he cannot be considered a strong or decisive leader. A liberal commenter in a thread on PoliPundit expressed the view that (paraphrasing) “strong leaders act instinctively, but Bush had to think about it, therefore Bush isn’t a strong leader.”

I think there’s something deeply wrong here. For starters, human being don’t really have instincts, at least not in the sense the commenter intends. When we say that someone acted “instinctively”, what we usually mean is that the action was rapid and driven primarily by an emotional response. Emotions, though, are not psychological primaries. They are products of subconscious evaluation by reference to previously internalized values. Put another way, emotions are a product of prior thinking.

When someone has previously thought about something, emotional reactions based on that prior thought can be valuable guides to action in similar contexts. But they are only guides, and when the context has changed they can easily point in the wrong direction. New contexts call for new thinking.

Bringing this back to specifics, my instinctive reaction on learning of the 9/11 attacks was to turn Tehran into a radioactive pane of glass. Had I been President, I would hope that I would have had the strength of character to think before responding rather than going with that first emotional response. As a citizen, I’m very glad that Bush thought about his response (even though I don’t fully agree with his conclusions).

The idea that, when faced with a radical new threat, thinking about it is a sign of weakness rather than strength is pretty scary. The strategy and tactics of fighting this war could do with a lot more thinking and a lot less “instinct”.

Ok, this is weird. From the preliminary facts released it strikes me as more of an oversight on Berger’s part than a deliberate theft, but it’s unsettling to me that someone that senior, with that much experience, would make that kind of error. I feel sorry for the man, actually. He made a bad mistake, at exactly the wrong time, and now he’s going to go a turn in the media meat grinder with both sides of a nasty electoral campaign cranking the spin machine as hard as they can. He may well wind up doing jail time as well, for all I know.

On a lighter note, given the way some of the documents left the National Archives, am I the only “Harvey Birdman: Attorny At Law” fan who keeps hearing Phil LaMarr’s Black Vulcan SuperVolt line “Pure electricity… in my pants” in response?

Update: The more I read more about this, the less sorry I feel for Berger. The seemingly universal reaction from people with actual experience handling classified documents is that the “inadvertant” removal of material as claimed by Berger is just not possible. The fact that Berger apparently removed documents on multiple occasions is particularly damning — if I made a critical error like that once and was informed of it, I’d be very careful not to do it again. Berger apparently wasn’t.

Nevertheless, we must be careful not to go overboard. Some of the more egregious elements in the initial reports, such as the removal of documents in socks, are now in question, and the image of Berger ‘stuffing’ documents into his trousers Fawn Hall-style is gradually morphing into a picture of putting documents in pants pockets. Still a crime, but these minor adjustments should serve as a reminder that the facts on the ground are still in flux at least in the details.

I also note at least one thing that Hugh Hewitt said that doesn’t seem quite right to me. Hewitt wrote:

“Al Felzenberg, a spokesman for the Sept. 11 commission, said the panel had been given access to all copies of drafts that were missing, and thought that the integrity of its work had not been compromised. ‘We had access to copies of everything we are reading about,’ he said.”

Given that every story includes the crucial detail that Berger lost or destroyed some of the documents he took home, this cannot be true. The Commission is so desperate to maintain the illusion that it’s conclusions can be trusted that it is denying the parrot is dead. The report cannot be certain of its conclusions since Berger lost or destroyed some of the material he took. Saying otherwise is akin to a Nixon defender saying Ms. Woods’ 18 minute gap didn’t matter.

The fact that Berger destroyed some of the documents he took home does not mean that he destroyed all existing copies of those documents. It’s quite possible that the Commission saw copies that Berger did not destroy. It’s also possible that they didn’t. We don’t know. We need to find out, but jumping to conclusions doesn’t help.

Speaking as a gun owner, this guy is a total idiot. Guns, drink and anger don’t mix.

Speaking as a man, all I can say is <ouch>.