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Thursday, January 09, 2003
Or maybe not
I'm flattered by Partha's faith in me, but blogging will be spotty at best this weekend, as my Powerbook isn't cooperating. When it comes back from the home for sick little Powerbooks, then I'll be back (to coin a phrase).

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

I'm off for India in a few hours (my plane leaves in 5.5, I'll be leaving for the airport in 2). I'll be back in less than a month -- but I should be able to post a updates once I find a computer over there (and it shouldn't be hard to find a computer in India). Never fear; this page, of course, will be updated without me. David is on the case, so keep coming back.

Simply unacceptable
After reading various news stories about President Bush's stimulus plan, I see one glaring omission: No Nieporent Tax Elimination. My father pays taxes. Do we really need double taxation of Nieporents? I think not.

On a slightly less important note, is anybody else annoyed at phrases like "10-year, $674 billion plan"? For one thing, there's no such thing as a "10-year plan." Over the next ten years, we could have up to three other presidents besides W. At a minimum, we'll have one other president. Those presidents are going to have tax plans of their own. No president can plan more than four years ahead. For another, nobody has the foggiest idea what economic conditions will be like in a decade. The value of the cut is completely fictional, based on guesses about what the economy might do. We could be at war in ten years. We could have invaded France and seized all their oilcheese, giving us a world monopoly on Brie and bringing in massive tax revenues. Who knows? Nobody. So why pretend that the number $674 million is meaningful? (And you have to love the phony precision. Not $675 million. $674 million. Does anybody think they chose the latter number just because it looks slightly less made up than the former one? $675 million seems like an estimate someone pulled out of a hat. $674 million looks like a number someone took great pains to calculate.)

And for those people who don't understand what it means to say that the media is liberally biased, consider the following quote:
The administration proposes spending $364 billion over 10 years to end dividend taxation, $64 billion to accelerate the cuts in income tax rates, $58 billion to speed up the removal of the "marriage penalty," $91 billion to hasten an increase in the child tax credit, $48 billion to accelerate the shifting of lower income taxpayers to the 10 percent bracket, $29 billion to prevent more people from facing the alternative minimum tax, and $16 billion in incentives for small-business purchases.
What the Post describes as "spending" is actually lower taxes. The numbers which the paper reports are almost certainly accurate (at least as far as they go, as I discuss above), but the framing of the story is biased. Tax cuts are not "spending." If you're calculating the budget deficit (or god forbid, surplus), then cuts and increased spending may have the same net first-order effect. But they're very different.

If only similar penalties applied to lying politicians
The schmuck who lied to the police about being a witness during the sniper shootings last fall pleaded no contest to the resulting charges and has been sentenced to six months in jail. Although he was inside the Home Depot at the time of the shooting and didn't actually see anything he claimed to have seen, and even though everything he claimed to have seen turned out to be a lie, his defense was that he didn't make it up personally.
His attorney, Thaddeus Furlong, said that Dowdy did not see the shooting but that he did not make up the story. Furlong said Dowdy was simply relaying information he heard from a homeless friend named Linda who told him she witnessed the killing but was afraid to go to police.

"He did not seek fame; he did not seek money. . . . He was trying to help," Furlong said outside the courtroom.
Yes, and upon hearing the explanation, O.J. Simpson immediately contacted Dowdy to ask for assistance in his hunt for the real killers of Nicole and Ron.

By the way, do many homeless women shop at Home Depot?

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
What's the term again?

Andrew Sullivan again jumps on his I-Hate-Al-Gore theme, applauding Richard Cohen's latest column which Sullivan characterizes as "disgraceful acquiescence in race-baiting in the last campaign" which caused Sullivan to go "from feeling queasy about Gore to being outright hostile."

But when one reads Cohen's column, it seems that Gore's main sin last campaign was that he didn't denounce a woman who wanted more action taken after her father had been murdered. For shame, Al! Cohen and Sullivan are correct -- you should have taken her out to the woodshed. That's what Cohen and Sullivan would have done.

And, that's it from last campaign. That's what made Sullivan outrightly hostile towards Gore. That's what Cohen uses to compare Gore to Trent Lott. Can the term moral equivalence be used here? I think it can.

The Year in movies

Harvey Kloman begins his review of 2002 cinema with the standard "movies these days stink and I know that because I'm artsie" qualification: "Please don’t go leaping to any conclusions: Just because I’m going to name 17 movies that you might want to think about renting doesn’t mean 2002 has been a 'great year for movies.' First, this list has an offbeat number of entries because I’ve eschewed the conventional roundness of the 'Top 10' for years. (The very alliteration of it makes my skin crawl, not to mention its visual corpulence.) Second, you’ll find no four-star masterpieces on the list -- no pantheon cinema or best-of-the-decade sure things (although maybe a few contenders). And third, just as we live in postmodern times, I think we live in post-cinema times as well: Except for technology, there’s nothing out there left to innovate in the medium -- no New Waves, no neo-Realisms, no Cinemas of Loneliness waiting to be discovered and devoured. The best of recent cinema is all a variation on themes and movements and blended genres, with a pleasure here, a delight there: good movies steeped in enough intelligence, humanity and conscience to serve as a tonic to mainstream banality."

Tonic to mainstream banality? What's he talking about? This year, in the movie theater down the street, I could see: Talk to Her, The Fast Runner, Adaptation, Far From Heaven, The Pianist, Spirited Away, Storytelling, Gangs of New York, Lovely & Amazing, Punch-Drunk Love, 25th Hour, Minority Report, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Signs, Rabbit-Proof Fence, About Schmidt, One Hour Photo, About a Boy, City of God, 13 Conversations About One Thing, Invincible, All or Nothing, Bowling for Columbine, The Quiet American, The Hours, Catch Me If You Can, Diamond Men, The Grey Zone, The Man From Elysian Fields, and 24 Hour Party People, among many others. All these movies listed were original, well acted, well directed, taken seriously by its makers, quite different from each other, and hardly banal. They come from famous directors (Polanski, Speilberg, Scorsese) and not yet famous ones. They come from big studios and from independents and from Canada, Mexico, and Europe. It was, in fact, a great year for movies.

I'm not going to make a Top Ten list. What's my recommendation? Go out and catch a movie this weekend. You'll be glad you did.

They didn't do it

It turns out that the nationwide search for Abid Noraiz Ali, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Adil Pervez, and Akbar Jamal has been called off, because, well, the tip alerting the government that they illegally entered the USA and were up to no good was bogus.

Instead of wondering how many such tips are bogus, I'm comforted by the knowledge, as Amitava Mazumdar has pointed out, that even if they were up to no good, we had little to fear from these five. According to the Ashcroft plan, since they were Pakistani, they would have just registered themselves and we would have found them that way.

Yeah, it's a cheap shot
The New York Times is doing some shuffling of its editors, bringing in a new Op-Ed page editor:
Mr. Shipley, 39, succeeds Terry Tang, who is joining the paper's news department, where she will have "significant new responsibilities," according to the announcement.
So Ms. Tang is moving from the Op/Ed page to the Times' news department? All together now: "What's the difference?"

We've switched this newspaper with Folger's Crystals
There's a rumor going around the blogosphere that the New York Times is preparing a hatchet piece on Glenn Reynolds. They needn't bother; Ken Layne has written the definitive parody of what such a piece would look like. Ken's headline:
A Web Pundit's Success Raises Troubling Concerns
Perfectly pompous, Times-style, isn't it?

Government should do something about it
Cliches are good. They help us communicate certain ideas quickly and easily. Cliches are also bad. They allow us to communicate without actually thinking about what we're saying. If we're trying to rally soldiers in battle, the good outweighs the bad. But if we're trying to formulate public policy, then we should eschew them whenever possible.

What prompts these rather banal musings is that I've heard the phrase "We need to do something immediately! It's a crisis! Health care costs are rising," one too many times. (Okay, about 1,000 too many times, but that's beside the point.) I'm sure everyone in the country knows, by now, that "health care costs are rising." But what does that expression mean? Think about all the things it could mean. It could mean that:
  1. Doctors are charging more for their services than they formerly did.
  2. Doctors are charging the same amount, but individuals are using more of their services.
  3. Pharmaceutical companies are raising prices on their existing drugs.
  4. Pharmaceutical companies are introducing new drugs which cost more than the old ones.
  5. Individuals are using more drugs than in the past, as new diseases become treatable.
  6. We're collectively living longer, so we're getting older and collectively using more health care services.
Or any combination of the above. All of those could explain the observation about costs -- and several of them do. My point here is not health care policy, though. My point here is the discussion of that policy. Each of the issues above suggests different solutions. How is the public to understand and participate in the debate, even in the broadest terms, if the issue is portrayed to them, by the media and by politicians, so vaguely?

Monday, January 06, 2003
Orwell would be proud
The New York Times reports on a program that offers drug addicts $200 if they agree to get sterilized or use long-term birth control. It seems like a completely unobjectionable program: it's a private program, and hence completely voluntary. And, assuming the program is effective at all -- because if it isn't, why worry about it -- it reduces the number of babies born to drug-addicted parents. Win-win. The recipients benefit, and society benefits.

And yet, the predictable crowd is unhappy with it:
"The program is fundamentally incompatible with a health care policy that respects a woman's right to choose," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It certainly raises policy concerns for government entities to be providing referrals to this program or endorsing it in any way."
That's such doublespeak that I don't even know where to begin. Offering people a choice is incompatible with the "right to choose?" Huh? There's only one way to interpret that: when she talks about "respecting" a woman's right to choose, she means exactly the opposite: that she has no respect whatsoever for women being able to make choices, and assumes that they'll make the wrong ones if given the opportunity.

And you've got to love the gratuitous invocation of Godwin's law, by the way:
"What she's doing is suggesting there are certain neighborhoods where it is dangerous for some people to be reproducing," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "It suggests they are not worthy of reproducing. It is very much like the eugenics history in America. The Nazis said if you just sterilized the sick people and Jews you would improve the economy."
Uh, I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall that the Nazis started a world war and used poison gas as their preferred method of birth control. They didn't pay volunteers $200.

And it may be politically incorrect to say so, but what exactly is wrong with suggesting that drug addicts who are willing to get sterilized for $200 aren't worthy of reproducing? Do we really have to pretend that all people, no matter how irresponsible, make equally good parents? If a woman recognizes that she is not in position to raise a child, and chooses to ensure that this won't happen (and make some money at the same time), is that really something to be upset about?

Slightly out of touch?
I don't know what kind of news sources they have down in Washington, but apparently William Raspberry doesn't read any of them. He just discovered that under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war. Then he expresses puzzlement that nobody else has noticed this, and desperation that Congress isn't asserting itself. Apparently he was asleep in October, or he would have heard that Congress already authorized war with Iraq.

Didion on post-9/11

Simply summarized, Didion's thesis of Joan Didion's most recent New York Review of Books piece is that, right after 9/11/2001, there was an incredible opportunity for this country to explore its foreign policy shortcomings, but this opportunity was lost in a parade of patriotism and stifiling of open debate. The meat of Joan Didion's argument is found in the following paragraphs:

"California Monthly,... published in its November 2002 issue an interview with... Steven Weber..... It so happened that Mr. Weber was in New York on September 11, 2001, and for the week that followed. 'I spent a lot of time talking to people, watching what they were doing, and listening to what they were saying to each other,' he told the interviewer:

'The first thing you noticed was in the bookstores. On September 12, the shelves were emptied of books on Islam, on American foreign policy, on Iraq, on Afghanistan. There was a substantive discussion about what it is about the nature of the American presence in the world that created a situation in which movements like al-Qaeda can thrive and prosper. I thought that was a very promising sign.

But that discussion got short-circuited. Sometime in late October, early November 2001, the tone of that discussion switched, and it became: What's wrong with the Islamic world that it failed to produce democracy, science, education, its own enlightenment, and created societies that breed terror?'

The interviewer asked him what he thought had changed the discussion. 'I don't know,' he said, 'but I will say that it's a long-term failure of the political leadership, the intelligentsia, and the media in this country that we didn't take the discussion that was forming in late September and try to move it forward in a constructive way.'

I was struck by this, since it so coincided with my own impression. Most of us saw that discussion short-circuited, and most of us have some sense of how and why it became a discussion with nowhere to go"

Didion and Weber, however, miss an obvious possibility. Perhaps, on September 12th, people were reading books on Islam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (3 of the 4 subjects mentioned) not because they wanted to learn about American presence in the world, but because they wanted to learn about Islam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and figure out how they created the situation in which movements like al-Qaeda thrived and prospered. (Of course, Americans also were reading about our foreign policy; there is no requirement that only one avenue of thought and research be persued. This investigation was multivariate.) From this mid- and late-September reading and analysis, America's public debate developed into more detailed investigations on how societies that bred terror have been created.

Perhaps, the discussion did not short-circuit. Perhaps there was no failure of the political leadership or the intelligentsia (whoever they are) or the media. Perhaps the discussion actually did move forward in a constuctive way. In a quite logical progession, actually.

It's not that the discussion ended or was fruitless or has been a failure. It's just that the discussion did not go to where Didion wanted it to go. Instead of understanding this, or engaging in the discussion to move it to where she believes it should be, she castigates the entire conversation. Her article is worth a read, but it's too bad, really, that she doesn't have more faith in the intelligence and agency of the American people.

The forest for the trees

Let's see a show of hands over the blogsphere.

Who thinks that the United States will be a safer place... who thinks the objectives of the war on terrorism will be furthered... if Orhan Ozkan's visa is not renewed and he is forced to leave the country?