Friday, February 24, 2012

Something about Newt

I turned on the TV the other day and Groundhog Day was playing (isn’t it always). It was the part where Bill Murray’s character is sitting in the diner stuffing his face with sweets and Andie MacDowell disgustedly quotes Scott at him:

The wretch, concentred all in self, 
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down 
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

After watching this my first thought was “Newt Gingrich”. He’s a silver-tongued wretch who has lived life as if there are no consequences for his actions. Decade after decade he’s betrayed and disappointed those who’ve trusted and depended on him most (not just his families) and now some Republican voters are ready to believe based on his own heartfelt testimony that he’s really sorry for his previous life, really a changed man. Maybe he is. This description of his conversion to Catholicism sounds pretty sincere:

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in April of 2008 was a turning point for me. The Holy Father presided over solemn vespers with the U.S. bishops in the Crypt Church at the basilica in Washington. Callista’s choir was asked to sing for Pope Benedict at vespers, and as a spouse, I had the unique opportunity to attend the papal visit and was deeply moved by the occasion.

Catching a glimpse of Pope Benedict that day, I was struck by the happiness and peacefulness he exuded. The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things I had been thinking and experiencing for several years.

That evening I told Msgr. Rossi I wanted to be received into the Catholic Church, and he agreed to join Callista as my sponsor. Under his tutelage, I studied the Catechism of the Church over the next year and was received into the Church in March of 2009 in a beautiful Mass at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill.

So he married his second(?) mistress who happened to be Catholic, naturally started thinking about becoming Catholic himself, and decided to convert after feeling warm and fuzzy when he met the Pope. This is all fine. The problem is that Gingrich is a public figure most of us can only know through his public actions. And he has a long, long history of public actions and words indicating he’s a wretch to the core. Not only that, but he’s demonstrated through life a world-class talent for convincing other people of things that aren’t true. If Gingrich were to win the Presidency we’d have to update the “anyone can be President” speech for future children to something like this:

Yes little Johnny it really is true. In America, anyone can be President, no matter where they’ve come from or what kind of life they’ve lived. For a long time, because the American people valued the ideal of public virtue, really bad men who became President had to hide their immoral actions or people wouldn’t vote for them. But around the end of the 20th century that changed.

Now becoming President works just like sports. If you can run fast, jump high, or throw far you can do just about anything and people will love you because you win for their team. You can take drugs, beat your girlfriend, have sex with all the women you want, abandon your children, commit crimes, and people won’t care as long as you win.

Today if people believe you can win for their political team you can do anything and still be President. People stopped caring in the Democratic party first, but pretty soon it didn’t matter to Republicans either. Now you can do drugs, have lots of affairs, do all kinds of other bad stuff and it just doesn’t matter. You can even be feted in churches and endorsed by ministers as long as you just say “Oops, I didn’t really mean to do all that bad stuff before running for President.”

Of course, some people say that loss of the ideal of virtue is the very reason we live in the dark-future America predicted by many science fiction writers of the 20th century, but I’m not so sure of that myself.

Perhaps this entertaining video says it best:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Clear Choice

In 1864, as America trod the bloody fields of fratricide and Abraham Lincoln staidly bore the rhetorical slings and arrows of Democratic opponents who accused him of mismanaging the Union's four-year war against the outmanned and outgunned armies of the Confederacy, a wholly different type of war raged in British Naval circles. Air Force One over Mount Vernon.

For several years, the Jacks of the Royal Navy had struggled through a painful transition from muzzle-loading to breech-loading cannons. The disadvantages of muzzle-loading cannons were obvious. Each cannon on a man-of-war required a highly coordinated crew of six to eight sailors to run in, load, run out, and fire the several-thousand pound weapon. Simply running the guns in and out was fairly dangerous business when done at full speed; indeed it is possible that more sailors' limbs have been lost to wayward gun carriages than to cutlasses.

Breech-loading cannons, on the other hand, remained fixed in one position, which allowed increased rates of fire with smaller, more easily trained gun crews. But despite these advantages, after a brief flirtation, the British abandoned breech-loading cannons and returned to their old muzzle-loaders for another 15 years. I'll explain why in a moment.

Reagan-05 In recent days and weeks, I've run across an extraordinary phenomenon: formerly Republican voters who claim they will vote for Senator Barrack Obama next Tuesday. We've seen this among public figures such as Christopher Buckley, and I've seen it among several acquaintances and family members. Last spring when the slate of Presidential candidates was finally set and we knew Senator McCain and Obama would face off in November, I remarked to my wife that McCain would lose because his disadvantages in campaign funds and volunteers combined with media complicity on behalf of Obama would prevent him from exposing Obama as the radical leftist politician he is. The hour is getting late for McCain, and I fear I'll yet be proven right in my prediction.

Reagan-01But what is the sine qua non of Republican support for Obama? I still don't know. I haven't yet heard it explained in a coherent, logical fashion that can reconcile what is known about Obama with these voters' moderate to conservative values. He is "authentic". They "like his economic policies". He has a "first class temperament", says Christopher Buckley. He is "intelligent", a "graduate of Harvard". He "transcends race". He'll "change the failed policies of Bush".

But the questions remain: Which economic policies? The economic policies he's espoused for a mainstream Presidential campaign audience or those of the Democratic Socialists of America? Which temperament? The one we see now or the one that led him to rest comfortably in the pews of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ for twenty years? Or the one that led him to associate with radicals and terrorists through his career to date? Or the one that led him to work for and fund the ACORN voter fraud factory? Or the one that led him to challenge every signature on the ballot petitions filed by opponents in his first Illinois state senate race?

Minimize these relationships all you want, but the fact remains that if the media applied the same standards to Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers as they would a Republican associated with an abortion clinic bomber, Obama would never have reached the national political stage, let alone be poised to become President.

Reagan-02 You want concrete policy criticisms? Obama stands firmly in support of several that should be deal-breakers for any moderate or conservative even considering supporting him. Obama is a co-sponsor of card-check legislation that removes the requirement for union organization through a secret ballot election process--which is an open invitation for a rebirth of union thuggery and coercion. Obama was instrumental in blocking passage of an Illinois bill identical to the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which passed 98-0 in the United States Senate. Obama opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed 64-43 by the United States Senate in 2003.

Have you given up on capitalism lately? Feeling a bit of European style social-welfare is just the thing to perk up the American economy? Are you liking the idea that Obama will sock it to the rich and greedy fat cats at the top of corporate America? Well, you've probably heard the case that redistributionist government policies aren't exactly good for prosperity. You may know that after 50 years of communism North Korea's GDP is roughly 1/40th that of South Korea, and that per capita GDP for the countries of Western Europe is 25 percent lower than in the United States (an average standard of living equivalent to Mississippi, America's poorest state). You may believe a little slower growth is worth the inherently greater justice and virtue of wealth redistribution, but there is no personal virtue in voting to give away other people's money. And there's certainly no virtue in redistributionist policies when you realize they negatively impact everyone on the income ladder proportionately. In other words, when government destruction of wealth reduces the after-tax income of all households, the ones at the bottom are hurt much worse than the ones at the top. Or to put it another way, you won't find many doctors, lawyers, engineers, or corporate managers sneaking across our southern border from Mexico!

Reagan-03Are you voting for Obama because you don't like Bush's aggressive prosecution of war against Islamofascists in Iraq and around the world? Or because you think Bush mismanaged the war or made a bad decision to fight in Iraq in the first place? I certainly hope not, because wishing and hoping for change won't make America's enemies go away, and voting for Obama because you think his election will suddenly make the world a nicer, friendlier place where diplomacy's, mellifluous tones will soothe the savage Shiites of Iran is just about the most foolishly irresponsible reason to vote for him of all.

I'm not particularly fond of McCain as a Presidential candidate myself. He's mostly pointed in the right direction, but he'll sometimes latch onto and stubbornly drive forward bad policies like campaign finance reform; or he'll accept a foolish compromise in the spirit of bi-partisanship (which always seems to mean giving Democrats what they want). On the other hand, I can see him digging in his heels against a Democratic Congress and vetoing just about every bill containing an earmark, even to the extent of shutting down the government, which I wouldn't consider a bad thing.

The danger with McCain is that he could be a loose cannon as President. A loose cannon can be dangerous. It may fire in the wrong direction. It may roll around and break things you don't want broken, but at least you can see it coming and get out of the way.

Obama is something else. Remember those breech-loading cannons the British Navy discarded in favor of their tried and tested muzzle-loaders? Just when you thought you had them loaded, buttoned-up, and pointed in the right direction they had a bad habit of blowing up in your face. Take another hard look at Obama before you light that fuse America. He's not aimed where you think he is.

The photos of President Reagan and Air Force One over Mount Vernon are from prints given to my parents in  the 80s by their friend, Don Dean, a former White House photographer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spies I Have Known

I've sometimes thought it might be entertaining to join an organization espousing political views completely different from mine. The idea would be to attend enough meetings to start fitting in and then begin "innocently" provoking other members; the challenge would be to provoke as much conflict as possible without getting kicked out.

So I really had to laugh when I read Mother Jone's recent expose of Mary McFate, the anti-gun activist who was actually a paid spy for the NRA: 

This is the story of two Marys. Both are in their early 60s, heavyset, with curly reddish hair. But for years they have worked on opposite ends of the same issues. Mary McFate is an advocate of environmental causes and a prominent activist within the gun control movement. For more than a decade, she volunteered for various gun violence prevention organizations, serving on the boards of anti-gun outfits, helping state groups coordinate their activities, lobbying in Washington for gun control legislation, and regularly attending strategy and organizing meetings.

Mary Lou Sapone, by contrast, is a self-described "research consultant," who for decades has covertly infiltrated citizens groups for private security firms hired by corporations that are targeted by activist campaigns. For some time, Sapone also worked for the National Rifle Association.

But these two Marys share a lot in common—a Mother Jones investigation has found that McFate and Sapone are, in fact, the same person. And this discovery has caused the leaders of gun violence prevention organizations to conclude that for years they have been penetrated—at the highest levels—by the NRA or other pro-gun parties. "It raises the question," says Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, "of what did she find out and what did they want her to find out."

But here's what interested me most: In 1993 or 1994 Mary showed up in several of my political science and history classes at Grove City College. She also joined our chapter of Pi Gamma Mu (the social science honor society), of which I was local treasurer. It's tough to miss a nearly 50 year old woman in a class full of undergrads--especially one who answers all the questions and regularly contradicts the professors. Nevertheless, I'm not sure I would have remembered her name after so many years except for this description of her other underground activities:

She infiltrated an animal-rights group in the late 1980s at the request of U.S. Surgical, and befriended an activist who was later convicted in a pipe bomb attack against the medical-supply business, U.S. Surgical acknowledged in news reports at the time. U.S. Surgical had come under fire for using dogs for research and training.

As I remember it, she claimed to have infiltrated eco-terrorist and animal-rights groups for the Federal government as well. Her stories of last minute excuses and ankle "sprains" to avoid actually breaking the law with the eco-terrorists were especially interesting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 Bad Technology, Worse Customer Service

We just returned from a fantastic 5,000 mile family vacation across the southern and southwestern US. The trip included visits with extended family members we rarely see plus planned and unplanned detours to explore whatever we found interesting (map thumbnails courtesy of my wife--who now has enough pictures to supply her photo-a-day blog for about a decade!).


Most nights we stayed with family. On days when we found no welcoming hearth to rest our travel-weary bones, I used Hotwire to book last-minute accomodations. I've used both Priceline and Hotwire in the past with mostly good results. However, after my last experience with Hotwire, I think I'll stick with Priceline. A bug in Hotwire's site caused me to accidentally book a hotel in the wrong city, and Hotwire refused to take any responsibility for the issue. I usually refrain from complaining about incompetent companies on this blog because such writing is often tedious and boring to read. But I'm making an exception in this case because software quality and usability are topics near and dear to my heart. Plus I've recommended Hotwire to dozens of friends and relatives in the past, and I want to very visibly retract my recommendation.

Here's what happened: At one point we were unsure whether to stay in Austin or San Antonio. So I opened up two Firefox browser windows to search Hotwire for hotel availability in both cities. In the first browser window I searched for hotels in Austin. Below is the hotel search screen. Clicking "Find a hotel" displays the search results for your selected city:


Below are the search results for Austin. As you can see the city is clearly labeled. Clicking "Continue" on a hotel listing displays the details for that hotel:


In the screen below, I've selected a 3-star hotel in Austin priced at $79 per night:


Clicking "Continue" again on the hotel details page (above) displays a screen to select the primary hotel guest (below). Note that the below screen still indicates I'm booking an Austin hotel. At this point I switched to the second Firefox window (not pictured), searched for hotels in San Antonio, and viewed the details for a specific San Antonio hotel. I then returned to the first Firefox window (below) to finish booking an Austin hotel:


Clicking "Continue" on the above screen displays the final confirmation screen (below). Notice anything strange about this confirmation screen? I've circled the important bits in red as they are otherwise easy to miss:


Give up? The price of the "Austin" hotel has changed from $79 to $73 per night. It's hard to tell for sure that this is an Austin hotel because Hotwire doesn't bother to list the city of the hotel on the final confirmation screen after showing it on most other screens. The final confirmation screen shows only the city-area name--using a normal, unbolded font no less. These design issues are bad enough, but there's a worse problem: the hotel is described as a "3-star hotel in Riverwalk South and Market Square Area". Eh? Do both Austin and San Antonio have riverwalks, you ask? Well, sort of, but Austin's is more plan than reality at this point. The real problem is that my Austin hotel was quietly replaced with the San Antonio hotel I had viewed in a different browser window! I didn't catch this error before booking the trip and so purchased a hotel in the wrong city!

I immediately contacted Hotwire customer support via their web site to explain the issue and request a cancellation (at that point it was nearly midnight). At 2 AM Hotwire responded with an email asking me to call customer support and be prepared to answer specific questions about my operating system, browser, ISP, etc.--in other words, typical bug report stuff. The next day I dashed off another response answering their technical questions, describing the bug in greater detail, and reiterating that the hotel booking should be canceled. Being in the midst of a busy vacation, I dropped the issue at that point and did not contact Hotwire again until I returned from vacation two weeks later.

When I finally spoke with a Hotwire support rep (name unknown) and her supervisor, Chad, their response could be summed up as:

  1. The erroneous booking was completely my fault--no acknowledgement of the Hotwire application bug that changed my selected hotel.
  2. They might have refunded my credit card charges if I had called them right away to cancel the booking--the two requests for cancellation submitted via their Web site didn't count.
  3. They definitely would not refund any portion of my charges because Hotwire had already paid the hotel vender--even though they could and did verify that I never actually stayed at the San Antonio hotel.

I'm a software developer myself, so I can appreciate that bugs will unavoidably slip through testing and into production applications. But there are some warning signs here that Hotwire is not a first-class organization. First, without getting into the technical details, this bug appears to be the result of a deep design flaw in the application. I doubt Hotwire is unaware of the issue (unless they are completely incompetent on the technical side) and the fact that they haven't yet fixed it indicates unwillingness to put application quality on a par with new-feature development (the site has, after all been around for eight years). This does not bode well for their future success. Second, they were unwilling to acknowledge the correctness of a detailed bug report from a customer who understands the technology involved. I'm not sure that the front-line support folks even understood that I was reporting a bug--and I was never connected with a technical support person who could make such a determination, despite contacting Hotwire three separate times about the issue.

UPDATE: I emailed Hotwire customer support a link to this post and Judith B responded with the following:

I understand that your booking was for the wrong city due to your having
two browser windows up at the time of booking and choosing the wrong
You having two browser windows up would not be a bug on Hotwire's

Just in case there is any doubt after reading this post, I did not accidentally choose the wrong browser window when making my reservation. I replicated the described session-corruption bug at least half-a-dozen times while capturing screenshots for this post.

UPDATE II: Mastercard apparently found my arguments here more convincing than Hotwire. They've refunded all charges related to this disputed booking, and the waiting period has now passed without Hotwire reposting the charges. Nice job, Hotwire: Your arrogant and obtuse customer no-service is documented here for posterity, and you still had to give the money back anyway!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

CNN Also Mistakes Victory for Violence

NRO's Stephen Spruiell recently noted the Washington Post's use of passively constructed leads to turn major Talibani defeats into lamentable generic violence. CNN joins in with today's story titled "Afghan fighting: Another 29 killed":
At least 29 people have been killed in the latest bloodshed in the escalating conflict in southern Afghanistan, according to the U.S.-led coalition. The coalition command in Kabul said Wednesday that 24 insurgents, four Afghan National Army soldiers and one Afghan National Police officer were killed late Tuesday in the Tarin Kowt District of Uruzgan province. This six-hour fight began "when a joint combat patrol of Afghan and coalition forces returned fire against several enemy fighters who were hiding in a compound shooting at them." The troops responded "with heavy machine gun fire and forced the attackers to retreat. Enemy fighters then attempted to reinforce with additional militants from two nearby compounds." Six Afghan soldiers and three Afghan police were wounded. Heavy fighting between troops and Taliban-aligned fighters has claimed dozens of lives in recent weeks.
In case you missed it, the real story is that a patrol of Afghan soldiers was attacked by Taliban terrorists and the Talibanis were slaughtered with minimal losses to our allies. The final highlighted paragraph refers to another battle where most of the "dozens of lives" were also our enemies. UPDATE: Spruiell compares CNN's Afghan "reporting" with the more informative style of StrategyPage (Thanks for the link).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Your Data or Your Cash!

Early last month, in keeping with my recent habit of occasional repartee with leftish bloggers, I took Can't Take it Any More to task for his hyperventilation over President Bush's so-called leak of classified information. The entire "leak" presscapade was so singularly silly I didn't comment beyond one short and sarcastic post. But my conversation with CTAM left me somewhat disturbed because he managed to both accuse President Bush and Vice President Cheney of frequently lying and abdicate responsibility for demonstrating a single instance of their prevarication:

And my apologies if I intimated that GW has lied in the past. I meant to state it clearly: GW has lied often to the American public; Dick Cheney has lied more often and more baldly; and they both continue to do so.


Two things I definitely do not plan to do as a blogger is 1) to engage in endless circular arguments about with fellow bloggers; and 2) to conduct endless research to back up my arguments.

Today the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson promises to resolve CTAM's dilemma with "An Easy Call: Lying", concerning the NSA's data-mining of telephone records. As James Taranto points out, this story was reported by the New York Times back in December. There's no reason to re-break the story except to once more undermine the Bush Administration, no matter the cost to national security.

To judge how thoroughly the media has confounded this issue I asked my wife, who normally does not pay close attention to politics, to summarize in one sentence her impression of today's media coverage of the NSA story. Her answer was that "the NSA is recording the conversations of American citizens", and that is exactly Robinson's conflation when he accuses the administration of having lied by denying listening to domestic telephone conversations.

So why does the NSA need this database? Phone calls within a terrorist network may exhibit distinctive pattern characteristics (or they may not, but you can't know that ahead of time). The patterns could involve duration, location, chaining, etc., and the NSA needs this data to search for them.

Pattern searches typically take one of two approaches. The first involves searching for specific patterns known in advance. For example, a grocery store chain might mine sales data to discover how often people buy milk and eggs when they also buy wine. The NSA, on the other hand, is likely searching for unknown patterns. This involves using phone records from known terrorist rings to "train" a complex computer program. The program then searches for similar sets of records in NSA's giant database. A side advantage of the database is that pre-assembling these records will speed the process of rolling up any new terrorists networks discovered in the future.

As to why the NSA's anonymous database should concern us, there are two arguments. The first is the implication of illegality on the part of the administration. Most news sources have been careful not to claim this explicitly because the NSA's actions are simply not illegal. (UPDATE: John Hindraker of Powerline discusses the legality of the NSA's program in more detail. He doesn't reach a firm conclusion that would apply in all circumstances, but summarizes the relevant statutes.) The second point of concern is that the government can easily circumvent the current anonymity of the phone records it maintains. As Robinson says, "No names are attached to the numbers. But a snoopy civilian with Internet access can match a name with a phone number, so imagine what the government can do." Or as the Post's William Arkin says:

Although there is no evidence that the harvesting programs have been involved in illegal activity or have been abused to reach into the lives of innocent Americans, their sheer scope, the number of "transactions" being tracked, raises questions as to whether an all-seeing domestic surveillance system isn't slowly being established, one that in just a few years time will be able to reveal the interactions of any targeted individual in near real time.

But these concerns amount to little more than paranoid presuppositions of government malice. Consider Robinson's worry that the NSA could easily re-link the anonymous phone numbers with names and addresses. Well, so what? If the concern is that a rogue NSA employee might do this and somehow misuse the information, then why is this more likely than a rogue phone company employee doing the same thing? If the concern is that the NSA itself might use these records in an authorized investigation, then is there any doubt the NSA could easily obtain the same information and more by other means? If Robinson is concerned this data might be used in illegal investigations without proper court orders, then our concern should be the fact of the illegal investigations, not the particular data used!

Arkin's concern seems to be the speed with which the NSA can investigate targeted individuals. But why is investigative speed a problem? If the target is innocent we would rationally want their innocence speedily determined. If the target is guilty we would rationally want them swiftly apprehended. It seems the non-anonymous income, employment, and address information we send the government each April should be far more worrisome in this respect than anonymous telephone billing records.

Another possible worry is that the NSA's pattern-matching software might wrongly spotlight, say, football-team phone-trees rather than terrorist cells. But anyone who denounces the program for this reason must also demonstrate why other such imprecise suspect searches used in law enforcement, such as those based on physical characteristics or vehicle descriptions are not similarly problematic.

If data-mining bothers you: get over it. Every major company you do business with "mines" your records to improve sales and profit margins; it's ridiculous to rule the same useful techniques out of bounds for intelligence agencies. I note with interest that many of today's hand wringers are liberals who believe we should raise taxes! To that I say--take my data, I'll keep my cash!

Related Washington Post stories: Phone Calls Are Just the Start; NSA Program Further Blurs Line on Privacy; Lawyer: Ex-Qwest Exec Ignored NSA Request; GOP Duo Back Hayden for CIA; Is Bush Overreaching?; Bush Defends Scope of Domestic Spying; The Right Call on Phone Records

Saturday, May 06, 2006

None of the [Incumbents]

Brewster's Millions is one of those silly, B-comedies you must learn to love young, or not at all. Still, there's some ageless charm in the tale: it's been remade at least five times since young Cecil B. DeMille's original 1914 encelluloidation. In the 1985 version, "Monty" Brewster (Richard Pryor) is a minor-league baseball pitcher who discovers he's sole heir to a long-lost (white) uncle's $300 million fortune. But there's a catch: Brewster must blow $30 million in 30 days, with no tangible assets to show for the money, to inherit the full fortune.

Brewster finds some clever ways to waste the money, such as buying a rare stamp for several millions and using it for postage. But my favorite gag is when Brewster declares himself a last-minute candidate for mayor of New York City, runs television commercials around the clock in every state declaring his opponents foolish and corrupt, and adopts the campaign slogan "Vote None of the Above".

Until the United States Congress adopts term-limits, I plan to follow a slightly modified strategy and vote "None of the Incumbents". I've almost written this post a half-dozen times over the past couple of years as I've grown more and more frustrated with the legislative fecklessness of Republicans. I won't rehash their foolishness here. If you're conservative you've heard the litany; if you aren't they'd be meaningless anyway. But from steel tariffs to Medicaid to Social Security reform to agricultural subsidies to overall spending Republicans have utterly abandoned conservatism.

I was a college senior in 1994 when Republicans wrested control of the House and Senate from Democrats, and the wise words of my faculty adviser, Dr. Marvin Folkertsma, have returned to me many times since. He agreed the Republican takeover was one of the most remarkable and unexpected political events of his lifetime, but cautioned that it wouldn't change much about how Washington works. He was dead right.

I believe that time spent in Congress is in it's own way just as perceptually corrupting as being a famous actor, athlete, televangelist, or any other of the perputually dysfunctional celebrities among us. That's why I think it's a disgrace that the Republican congressman for whom I was an intern, Frank R. Wolf, recently celebrated his silver anniversary in Congress and is now the senior member of Virginia's delegation. I'd like all congressmen limited to a single term and their staffs, perquisites, and pay cut in half. Serving should constitute a huge sacrifice with no incentive for careerism at that level. Not only would this reduce the direct attraction of public office to candidates motivated by self-interest, it would reduce the value of ex-congressmen to lobbyists (there'd be a lot more ex's with a lot fewer connections) and thus the indirect attractions of public office as well.

What finally brought me to this point? The oil price gouging legislation and demagoguery were the last straw. Republican leaders are spouting rhetoric that undermines the very foundation of American prosperity and fosters economic ignorance--already an overly plentiful commodity. All that distinguishes our economic policies from those of the degenerating powers of Europe are a few population points of economic simpletons; cultivate a few million more such larcenists and we'll slip to the level of a South American banana republic like Bolivia or Venezuela.

Each previous time I've begun this post Democratic leaders immediately did or said something so childish and irresponsible that I changed my mind and decided voting against Republicans wasn't worth the chance of Democratic rule. Not this time. I've now realize it's time to "reload" and try again with a new Republican majority a few terms down the road. That's why I'll be doing my best to see that Republicans lose both houses of Congress in 2006. That's why I'll no longer financially support the Republican party, and why I'll only support Republican challengers, not incumbents in congressional elections.

Friday, April 28, 2006

More Votes Cast Against Democratic Senators Than For Them

Sometimes I wonder why liberals care so much that Gore won the popular vote in 2000, or that the populations of states represented by Democratic senators are larger than those represented by Republicans. Do they feel more emotionally secure believing the majority of Americans really do agree with them, despite losing elections? Or do they simply enjoy dreaming that a few rejiggered Constitutional clauses would return them control of American government? (Conservatives fall prey to a similar fallacy when they count Presidential acreage instead of votes, but that doesn't seem quite so prevalent or vehement.) Someone's even created a blog named Democratic Senators Represent More Americans. (Or "savedemocracy" if you go by the link--as though democracy is suddenly in danger because the Federal election system, humming along the same way for decades, has recently spit out a few results they don't like.) The proprietor counts half of a state's population for each party in mixed states (one senator from each party) and counts the full population for the party with both Senators in non-mixed states. He links to a chart showing that nearly 9.4 million more Americans are represented by Democratic senators than Republican ones. But that's not a very refined way to count representation because to be consistent--horror of horrors--you'd need to put the full U.S. population in the Republican column since we're all represented by President Bush. And liberals are quite fond of telling us Bush doesn't represent them. Here's another demonstration of the silliness of this method of counting support: if the three biggest states--California, New York, and Texas--changed to mixed states, Republicans would pick up just one additional Senate seat but 15 million new represented voters and a 21 million voter lead over Democrats. A more equitable solution is to count the number of votes cast for each senatorial candidate in 2000, 2002, and 2004. And with this a slightly different picture emerges: 4,058,810 more votes were cast against Democratic candidates than for them. True, Democrats had a slight edge in vote totals over Republicans, but nearly six million votes for independant candidates swing the majority decisively against the Democrats. Ahhhh. I feel secure again.
Total All YearsPercent
Total All Parties204,465,516100.0%
U.S. Senatorial Election Vote Totals (Compiled from - 2004, 2002, 2000)
UPDATE: DSRMA responds--I think. He mentions "some right wing bloggers" but doesn't name or link anyone:

It seems like some right wing bloggers are saying that if you didn't vote for Bush you don't have to pay taxes. They are taking issue with my finding that Democratic Senators Represent More Americans. They say that those people who didn't vote for a Democratic Senator, don't have to be counted as being represented by them. In that case president Bush doesn't represent me. He's not my Head of State. It sure sounds like the bloggers are saying I don't have to pay taxes because I didn't vote for the guy running this country. I mean are we supposed to be one country or two? I could have counted every person in a state as being represented by each Senator. The percentages would have come out the same. But if the right wingers want to break up the country, who am I to stop them? So much for unity. And, BTW, if I didn't vote for my Congressman, does that mean I don't have to obey laws?
He's trying a neat little trick: implying he really just meant more Americans are legally represented by Democratic senators, not that Democrats represent the political viewpoints of most Americans. But that's not what the left means when it drags out this claim to justify filibustering judicial nominees, as done by the reliably fuzzy-headed E.J. Dijonnaise and others last year. It's a claim of moral authority, a cry for Liberté, égalité, fraternité, a claim they've been cheated of their rightful majoritarian primacy. To claim otherwise is to relegate the title "Democratic Senators Represent More Americans" to a mere truism--like "Most Chinese Live in China".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Neil Young Forgot

My wife wanted me to blog on Neil Young's new "Impeach the President" song. Yawn. What a rebel. I have no idea what the music sounds like, but he could have assembled the lyrics by copying and pasting randomly from any one of a million angry-lefty blogs. Poetic and subtle they aren't. Well, put him ahead of that ex-ER actor for next year's Heroic Hollywood Dissident Award anyway.

UPDATE: Ok, on second thought I do have a few more things to say about this. Politically strident art is an incredible waste of time. Art delivers moral messages effectively through subtle emotional engagement. The entertainment industry has failed miserably at that over the past few years, especially when it tries to directly confront conservatism (or what it perceives as conservatism). Having lost control of American government over the past decade (Congress, the Presidency, state governorships, state legislatures, etc.), leftist artists seem to think elevated intensity will make their messages more convincing. They may feel better after producing songs and movies that are political primal screams, and their efforts may be appreciated by other leftists, but they aren't very effective or entertaining.

Each year I rank the top-100 highest user-rated movies in the Internet Movie Database and add any good ones I've missed to my DVD rental list. I've done year-by-year searches all the way back to 1970 or so, and in the past few years I've noticed a definite increase in the number of highly-rated, yet mediocre and politically tendentious films. These films have C-shaped rating graphs--meaning everyone who agreed with the film's "message" rated it a ten and everyone who disagreed rated it a one. I find that highly annoying.

Related Washington Post stories: Young's Protest Album Heads to Internet; Young's Anti-War Album

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Abortion Law Confusion Quantified

Several pundits on the right and left believe overturning Roe v Wade would prove politically disastrous for Republicans, principally by mobilizing a great army of heretofore silent pro-choicers and secondarily by demotivating pro-life conservatives. Ramesh Ponnuru argues that this view is completely wrong because the public is not nearly so pro-choice as the left wishes. He theorizes in a related article that Roe enjoys majority support only because the public misapprehends the breadth of the ruling.

Ponnuru doesn't offer any data to quantify the size of this ignorance distortion, but I recently stumbled across a rarely asked poll question that starkly illuminates the scope of public confusion. This 2005 Harris poll asks "In general, do you think that abortion should be legal or illegal during the following stages of pregnancy?" Respondents could answer "legal" or "illegal" for each trimester of preganancy, described as "the first three months of pregnancy", "the second three months of pregnancy", and "the third three months of preganancy". A full 86 percent of those polled said abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy, while 72 and 38 percent said abortion should be illegal in the second and first trimesters, respectively.

In the same poll, 52 percent of respondents favored Roe (the poll explains that Roe overturned state laws outlawing abortions in the first three months of pregancy). Juxtaposing this number with the 86 percent who would make abortion "generally illegal" in the third trimester shows that 73 percent of those who support Roe (38 of the 52 percent) would make third-trimester abortions illegal. These folks don't understand that the inextricably linked rulings of Roe and Doe v Bolton effectively eliminated all abortion restrictions through the ninth month of pregancy. (To calculate that number I'm simply extracting the overlap of the 86 and 52 percent--or those who selected two mutually exclusive answers: 86 + 52 - 100 = 38)

A similiar comparison shows how flexibly some label themselves "pro-choice". Fifty-one percent of respondents identified themselves as pro-choice while 44 percent called themselves pro-life. Thus over 72 percent of self-identified pro-choice respondents would outlaw third-trimester abortions (37 of the 51 percent) and 45 percent would also ban second-trimester abortions (23 of the 51 percent). On the flip side, just nine percent of pro-lifers would allow even first-trimester abortions (4 of the 44 percent). (Again this is calculated by overlapping the 60 percent of respondents who prefer abortion to be "generally legal" in the first trimester with the 44 percent who call themselves pro-life.)

UPDATE: James Taranto reports a fortuitously timed poll that roughly corresponds with my conclusions. The poll asked respondents to choose which of three answers best decribes the impact of Roe on abortion law. Seventy-one percent chose an incorrect answer or said they didn't know--almost exactly same percentage of Roe supporters I said misunderstood the ruling's impact in the 2005 Harris abortion poll. Note that the 71 percent who misunderstood Roe in this new poll were from the entire population of respondents, not just Roe supporters. However, it's not unreasonable to assume similar numbers of Roe opponents also underestimate the breadth of the ruling, and simply oppose abortion in nearly all circumstances. That fits well with my other conclusion that a very small percentage of pro-lifers would allow even first-trimester abortions.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Impeach the Leaker (Again!)

So the media now has angst in it's pants over President Bush's release of classified intelligence information to counter the false information Joseph Wilson was spreading about Iraq's attempts to purchase enriched uranium. That's bad you see because the public has no right to know the truth--unless it sells newspapers! And it's bad because it was political! Verrry baaaad! It's only good to illegally release classified information for political purposes!

I think I understand now. Governor pardons prisoner: bad; prison guard helps prisoner escape: good. Getting a bonus from your boss: bad; stealing from your company: good. A slight inversion of perspective clarifies the matter greatly!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I Alone Escaped McNulty's Clutches

In the summer of 1994, before my final semester at Grove City College, I served as a congressional intern for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). The internship program included a weekly public policy seminar with GCC alumnus Paul McNulty, then counsel for D.C. law firm Shaw, Pittman, Potts, and Trowbridge and previously spokesman for the Bush (senior) Justice Department.

At the time Paul was mulling a 1995 run for the Virginia House of Delegates. As the two of us got on reasonably well, and as I had worked on a winning 1993 campaign, and as I happened to be the only GCC intern from the Northern Virginia area, he asked if I might be interested in managing his campaign. Then came Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, and the GOP tide which rolled over all of Washington in early 1995. Paul moved on to become chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, and I went in another direction entirely.

I watched with interest as Paul moved on to become the U.S. Attorney prosecuting John Walker Lindh, Zacharias Moussaoui, and other high-profile terror suspects. But I completely missed his rise to Deputy Attorney General until reading about the Moussaoui death penalty decision today. So on the one-in-a-million chance that you read this while googling yourself, congratulations, Paul.

You know you've arrived when you're important enough to be gratuitously villified by the looney leftists at the Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and others. They were certain back in October that Paul "The Grinch" McNulty was a Bush loyalist being installed to axe independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald; and they seem genuinely upset about his bang-up job of prosecuting terrorists! The left's paranoid demonization of the Justice Department seems foolish enough most of the time; it's yet more poignant when you know and respect the target personally.

Keep giving the terrorists hell, Paul. Oh, and how about a tip for an old acquaintance just before you impose the police state?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Krauthammer Smartest Man Ever?

While browsing through the footnotes of Charles Murray's latest Commentary magazine essay on race and IQ differences I ran across an interesting bit of trivia on Charles Krauthammer: Murray mentions that one of the highest scores he's ever observed on the "backward digit span" component of the Weschler IQ test was 12 by Krauthammer (and under less than perfect conditions).

A quick search turned up this scoresheet and percentile distribution (PDF) for the digits-forward and backward tests, which involve reciting strings of random single-digit numbers back to the examiner. The scoring system requires adding forwards and backwards scores together, but helpfully notes that the average person can recite about two more digits forwards than backwards. To roughly extrapolate Krauthammer's full score we must multiply his digits-backwards score by two and add his estimated digits-fowards score times two (12 x 2 + 14 x 2), which equals 52.

Krauthammer's raw score equates to a standard score (one component of Weschler IQ) of....well the scale stops at 164 for a raw score of 36! The standard score increments a steady 3.5 points for every additional point of raw score so we can extrapolate a raw score of 52 to a Weschler deviation IQ of about 220! However, this would place Krauthammer at eight standard deviations above the mean (rarer than one in 100 billion), so I think we can safely conclude that A) Krauthammer is a very bright guy; and B) that either this test is not well-calibrated for extremes or that Krauthammer's every political opination is nothing less than a scurrilous defrauding of all mankind.

UPDATE: Oops! The scoring starts at two digits rather than one, so Krauthammer's extrapolated raw score would be 48 (11 x 2 + 13 x 2) and his standard score 206, which is "only" seven standard deviations above the mean.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

State of Fear Still has Liberals Thrashing

Last night I became suddenly curious about the fate of Michael Crichton's last book, State of Fear . In case you aren't familiar with it, Crichton makes an unusual direct plea to his readers, through an author's note and scientific journal citations embedded in the text of his fictional story, that we resist global warming alarmism.

It's been more fun to read the hysterical liberal comments on Amazon (approaching 900 now) than it was to read the book. And I couldn't help but wonder: Would liberal anger at Crichton's apostasy keep this book from reaching the silver screen as his offerings so frequently do? I searched Publisher's Weekly and the Web for any mention of the sale of the movie rights, but found none.

I did, however, run across this fun diatribe against Crichton and State of Fear. The writer, Marc McDonald, manages to crank out 850 words, without even attempting to refute a single specific citation in the book. Instead, he points to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and another fictional Crichton book, Rising Sun, to show why alarmism is good, and Crichton is wrong.

McDonald's use of Rising Sun to criticize Crichton's track record is especially inapposite. He says Crichton's now clearly inaccurate portrait of a looming Japanese economic threat leaves him no credibility on global warming predictions. But Rising Sun makes predictions only through its characters. There is no direct statement of Crichton's opinion; nor are there footnoted citations as in State of Fear. Crichton typically prods both sides when treating any sensitive issue; it's not clear what he really believed about Japan.

If Crichton did fear the Japanese, his opinions squared with the alarmist popular wisdom of the time. And perhaps he learned from that to consider more carefully and investigate more deeply before taking the popular, alarmist position again.

UPDATE: Marc McDonald responds in the comments below and gets his facts wrong again. He says:

I wasn't primarily interested in going after Crichton's citations. I'm fully willing to admit that citations exist that support both sides. Instead I was more interested in challenging Crichton's central premise in the book: that global warming simply doesn't exist. One can argue about the extent of global warming---but it is positively ignorant to claim that it doesn't exist. The vast majority of the world's scientists believe that global warming is real. A small minority disagrees. If casting my lot with the majority of the world's scientists makes me an "alarmist" then so be it.

Actually, Crichton doesn't at all deny the existence of global warming. His author's message includes the following personal conclusions:
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
  • We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the "Little Ice Age".
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made. Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows...I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributable to human activity. I suspect that the principal human effect will come from land use, and that the amospheric component will be minor...Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better....
  • There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers...
(If you care to read the whole thing, go to the Amazon listing for State of Fear and search inside the book for "authors message".)

Crichton has also posted the text of two entertaining speeches that give further insight into his thinking: Environmentalism as Religion and Aliens Cause Global Warming. He has quite low regard for those who determine the correctness of scientific theories by voting:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.
He proceeds with a litany of historical cases where scientific evidence was ignored in favor of consensus, sometimes resulting in thousands of preventable deaths. And let's not forget, while treating McDonald's argument from authority, that the "majority of scientists" who sign vague statements of concern about global warming are often not themselves climatologists; Nor are they risking professional credibility or academic standing as they would by submitting a shoddy journal article or peer review. We don't judge professional advice received at cocktail parties by the same standard as that given in the office of our doctor or lawyer for good reason. It's the same difference.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Coleman Still Guilty

DNA tests last week proved again that Roger Keith Coleman was guilty of raping and slitting the throat of his sister-in-law. I used the Coleman case as an example of the extreme gullibility of death-penalty opponents in my Deadly Innocence article. How long before the first Coleman apologist insists the test results were faked as they did in the case of James Hanratty in Great Britain?

Not surprisingly, the Associated Press article reporting the test results looks as though it was written with the opposite outcome in mind, leading with a reminder that DNA testing has freed many prisoners and focusing on demands by death penalty opponents for retesting in other cases:

DNA has the power to cut short nightmares. It can save an innocent man from the horror of life behind bars for a crime someone else committed. It can ease the public's fear of a murderer walking free and looking to kill again.

In the past 16 years, DNA testing has freed scores of prisoners found to be wrongfully convicted, resolved old mysteries including murders and rapes, and transformed the debate over the death penalty. It has shaken the foundations of the criminal justice system itself.


Advocates for reform remain convinced that there are other executions that need to be retested, sure that an innocent person somewhere along the way has been executed--even as prosecutors and courts have been hesitant to go back and revisit cases that juries and courts have deemed closed.

Death penalty opponents are desperate for hard proof that one innocent person has been executed. But they aren't likely to find any.