Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Horns Should Be Subversive

Ever listened to Morphine's The Night? I don't usually like horns and winds in popular music, because they always sound so positive. "Hey! We're horns! We sound big and brassy! Yippee! We're winds! We're soulful. Like Hootie!"

The Night is different. In The Night, the sax is downright subversive. I almost expect to get caught listening to it and thrown in some weird dungeon.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, if it weren't for Morphine, I probably couldn't join the Big Brass Alliance, just on general principle. But now I see that winds can be subversive, too. And I hope you're waiting for me, cause I can't make it on my own...

So of course the Big Brass Alliance was brought to my attention by Shakespeare's Sister, linked through The Liberal Avenger.

So an assist to both players.

And tell me again how we get there?

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Spurs Are Good

The Spurs are dangerously good. I almost placed a large bet against them earlier in a year with a San Antonio loudmouth online.

I'm glad I held my tongue. They could be the next big thing.

Fourth Quarter Update

Bruce Bowen is a ridiculously smart basketball player. It's possible most NBA players are this smart and it's only obvious to me because his skills are so limited, and that's a floor game I understand implicitly.

But BB just knows his shit. When the Suns set up a play that results in a shot that's a little too wild, he's there for the weakside rebound. When his man strays far from the ball, Bruce gives him a little cushion and eyes the lane. When Tim Duncan is struggling at the line in the fourth, Bruce Waves off a lesser player and feeds Duncan in the post, setting up more trips to the line.

The Suns may get one. It sort of seems like their night. But up 6 with 5 to play is a dangerous place to be on the road.

Professional Basketblogging

It's very common among sports fans, particularly white sports fans, to like basketball but dislike the NBA. Let me say from the outset I see where these folks are coming from. The NBA is very different from other sports, and a lot of those differences don't favor the NBA.

One big problem with the NBA is the number of perennial losers' gyms in operation. At least half the league is simply hopeless. The Golden States and LA Clippers of the world simply aren't going to win the title, ever. These teams are missing pieces that no one is trying to find.

The NBA has a lot of the same problems as Major League Baseball, but in the NBA the effect is greater. In baseball a few teams with massive payrolls dominate year in and year out, but there are always cracks through which a medium-market team can sneak in and win it all. That's why the system in baseball, unfair as it seems, works OK. The Angels (based in Anaheim) or the Pirates (based in Pittsburgh) can occasionally put a great team together.

The reason this works in baseball and not basketball is that baseball is kind of a mystical game, even at the highest level. What exactly makes a championship baseball team? Take a look at ten different championship baseball teams and you'll see ten different ways to win it all. The only thing they will all have in common is that they will all have one of the best starting rotations in the league. But even the correct makeup of a rotation is a bit of a matter of opinion.

In basketball, there are basically three ways to win a championship. The league is divided into the teams that know this and are constantly trying to achieve one of the three formulae, and teams whose owners either don't know the formulae (Mark Cuban of the Mavs) or don't give a shit about winning the championship (Donald Sterling of the Clippers).

The three ways to win an NBA championship, in order of how easy they are to achieve:

1. Solid defense, and an offense that consists of a big post player as the #1 option, a reliable jump shooter as the #2 option, and some B+ player as a #3 option. Examples include teams like the Showtime Lakers (Kareem & Magic) the Bird Celtics (McHale & Bird) and the Shaq Lakers (Shaq & Kobe.)

2. Spectacular defense, including borderline dirty play, especially under the basket, and an adequate offense with at least one elite scorer. The Pistons did this last year, and also during the Isaiah Thomas days.

3. Have Michael Jordan.

On some level I think the newfound existence of option #3 is part of the problem. Michael Jordan created the illusion that there is a third way to win the title (this may have also happened with Clinton and his own famous Third Way.) In reality, there are still only two, unless you have Michael Jordan, which you don't because he's retired.

So this year you have three teams left that can win it. The Heat are going with option #1, as are the Spurs. The Spurs have the better defense (it's probably a notch above solid) while the Heat have better offensive weapons (Shaq/Duncan is a wash, but Wade/Parker is a big advantage Heat). It's a pretty classic matchup, especially since the Heat run the floor better, which will give them a chance to make up for their probable slight disadvantage in the half-court game.

So the question is, how do teams like Phoenix and Dallas happen? You can cut the Suns some slack - they just built this team. Even so, clearly their idea of just adding a true center to the existing mix is not going to work. Where does the D come from? You need defense to win, probably more in basketball than any other sport. I don't know what team was the last team with a bad defense to win the NBA title, but I don't think it was in my lifetime. It was definitely before I started paying attention to basketball.

But somehow, teams like the Mavs do happen. Every year the Mavs have an elite offense and a terrible defense. And every year they go out and tinker with the team a little bit, trying to gain some x-factor or other. Why don't they nuke the team, keep a post player and a jumpshooter, and start over? They're never going to win a championship the way they're going at it.

Long story short, I see what people don't like about the NBA. The same teams seem to rise to the top pretty much every year. A lot of years one conference is without a championship-type team and you wind up with a boring, uncompetitive finals.

Yet something about this actually fulfils a very core piece of what sports fandom is all about to me. I really believe that the modern system of American pro sports, where there are three dozen teams in the league and the idea is that any of them could win it all, is just unnatural. You can't really sustain that. You're always going to have some teams that consistently cannot compete.

In basketball, the long guaranteed contracts and the small roster size basically mean that teams that aren't always striving for a championship simply cannot win one. There can be no Florida Marlins phenomenon, where the team rises from obscurity, wins a title, then gets trashed and rises six years later to win another title. Basically in the NBA you have to be in it to win it every year.

If you don't believe this is the way it is, you probably pull for a team that isn't one of the teams that's consistenly trying to win. In which case what I'm about to show you is probably going to make you a little sick to your stomach.

In the past 20 years, do you know how many different clubs have won NBA titles? Six. Lakers have six, Bulls have six, Pistons have three, Spurs have two, Rockets have two, Celtics have one. And the Celtics don't really count; that title was the tail end of a long, long dynasty that is all but forgotten.

So the bottom line is that there are five modern basketball towns - Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio, and Houston. Those are the cities that have a chance at an NBA title. Now, this year it certainly appears that Miami has possibly been added to that list.

However, I warn you that it is not that rare that a team will appear to have assembled a great group that goes deep into the playoffs for many years but can never get over the hump. As unlikely as that seems with Shaq and Wade, it's a distinct possibility for the Heat.

Anyway, I have no point. I just like the NBA, and you can't stop me.

Friday, May 27, 2005


I'm adding a link to the Favorite Links list - The Slactivist. I think you'll agree that it's a site after my own heart. Funny, incisive, witty... What do you mean, what's the connection?

Anyway, one particular post you should check out is also linked from the Poor Man; Bush's Social Security Self-Bamboozle.


Renaming the DoD

This is nice.

Wasn't it in the 40's they changed the name from "Department of War" to "Department of Defense?" It's time for another switch.

"Department of Irresponsibility?"

Not specific enough.

How about the "Department of Screwing Up Really Bad, But Blaming Someone Else?"

I guess that's too clunky.

OK, I got it. The Department of Rationalization. It's a synonym for "defense," but the connotation is a bit more spot-on:

2: (psychiatry) a defense mechanism by which your true motivation is concealed by explaining your actions and feelings in a way that is not threatening

Yeah, that's the ticket.

The Poor Man at his Very Best

Not sure how I missed this gem.

One of the funniest, most perfect blog posts I've ever read. Wonderful. Just wonderful. And my favorite part:

The government is very powerful, and all power corrupts, yada yada. I’m not going to get all libertarian, but it’s just worth keeping in mind that the government is more powerful, by a significant amount, than any community college professor; or, indeed, than all the college professors in the whole world combined. Hence, I’d be a little bit more concerned when the federal government says something completely nuts than when Professor Beardly McTenure says something nuts, even if it is two, five, or even an incredible one hundred times as nuts as what the federal government says!, because it just doesn’t matter. All his students fall asleep when he talks, and they’re getting graded, not you. Also, the government can take care of itself; worryingly well, in fact. You don’t have to save it.


This Can't Miss

I nominate this for Worst Idea of the Century. Granted, it's a young century. But this one will last a while, I think. At least until someone decides to cast Evander Holyfield in a reality TV-show centered around a dancing competition.

What? Oh, Christ...

Krauthammer Melts Down

There is still a lot of moaning on other lefty blogs about the filibuster compromise. I guess people are entitled to their opinion. But really, if something pisses Krauthammer off this much, can it really be that bad?

I say no. My favorite "Charles Unhinged" paragraph:

The second sure thing is that the seven Republicans who went against their party are the toast of the Washington establishment. On Monday night they came out of the negotiations beaming. And why shouldn't they? They are being hailed as profiles in courage, prepared to put principle ahead of (Republican) party. We will soon see glowing stories in the mainstream press about how they have grown in office. (In Washington parlance, the dictionary definition of "to grow" is "to move left.") After that, the dinner-party circuit, fawning articles about their newfound stature and coveted slots on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Yes, Charles Krauthammer, complaining about the inside-the-beltway, dinner-party, Sunday-morning-talk-show element of DC journalism. Rich like chocolate cheesecake.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Liberal Media Comes Through

This actually isn't as snarky or ironic a post title as it would usually be. There are two Bolton headlines floating around out there, Senator Calls for Delay in Vote on Bolton, and GOP Confident Bolton Will Get UN Post.

It appears from my cursory research that the former headline seems to be dominating most papers. Kudos to the Dem PR people, for once.

Also, kudos to Voinovich, who got this Bolton quote printed in basically every serious English-speaking paper in the world:

'The message will be lost because our enemies will do everything they can to use Mr. Bolton's baggage to drown his words,' Voinovich said. `The issue will be the messenger, not the message.'

It's Godwin's Law in reverse - whoever brings up terrorists first wins. Nice work Senator. Hope to see you on the other side of the aisle soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Correction - Frist stepping down in 06

In an earlier comment I had alleged that Frist's upcoming election bid in 2006 was a factor in his positioning on the Nuclear Option. In fact Frist is stepping down from his seat in 06 to position himself for a presidential run.

The analysis itself holds well enough, since Frist needs a good result for the GOP generally in 2006 to validate his leadership of the Senate Republicans. Regardless, The Ape Man regrets the error.

Nuclear Confusion

There still seems to be a lot of confusion over what actually happened yesterday and what it means. It's fine that a lot of people on the left don't like the compromise - I'll admit when I first heard about it, I thought it sounded shitty. But when I actually looked at the deal, I realized why it's a big win for the Democrats, and even more crucially, a big shitburger for the Republicans to eat.

We are certainly all entitled to our opinions about the value of the compromise. But we should all be able to agree on the basic facts of the deal. Here they are:

The reason there were originally 12 Senators involved is because the Magic Number for the Democrats in this deal was 6. That's the number of Republicans they needed to pick off in order to prevent a 50-50 tie (with Cheney the tiebreaker) on the Nuclear Option. The final two were added, presumably, because there was one extra guy in each party that just really wanted in for his own reasons.

The Republicans needed 5 Democrats to break cloture on the stalled nominees. So with 7 Republicans agreeing not to Nuke the Filibuster, and 7 Democrats agreeing to break cloture on the three nominees covered by the agreement, these 14 Senators now control, for practical purposes, what happens with all future Bush judicial nominees.

Let's look at what happens with the next Bush nomination. There are basically three possibilities.

Possibility 1 - The 7 Democrats decide together that the nominee is not extraordinarily bad. Thus according to the agreement they will sign a cloture petition if the Dem leadership decides to filibuster. Crisis averted.

Possibility 2 - At least 3 of the 7 Democrats decide together that the nominee IS extraordinarily bad, and worth filibustering. Thus they will join a Democratic filibuster and not sign a cloture petition. So the Dems notify the 7 Republicans of this, and the 7 Republicans meet to decide whether, in their view, this constitutes an abuse of the filibuster. They decide it doesn't, and that they will vote against the nuclear option (at least six of the seven have to agree to this.) Crisis averted.

Possibility 3 - The 7 Democrats join a filibuster, and the 7 Republicans decide to vote for the nuclear option.

So you can see now that if Frist wants to bring about the Nuclear Option Showdown, he needs to find a nominee who is bad enough that the 7 Dems will filibuster, but not so bad that the 7 Republicans will vote against going Nuclear.

You'll notice I didn't mention the deal itself, with three judges getting through and two (really seven, since five have already gone down to Dem filibusters) getting deep-sixed. That's because that aspect of the deal is so minor it's hardly worth talking about.

Those on the left dissatisfied with the deal seem to be focusing on two things - the three judges who got through, and the question of "who decides" what constitutes an extraordinary circumstance.

On the first point, folks are welcome to their opinion that these particular three judges pose a big enough threat to the republic that they shouldn't have been let through. On the second, people just don't seem to understand the nature of the deal. The 7 Democrats on the compromise committee decide. Period.

Batting .500

Well, so the whole Iraq thing is a bit of a mess. But at least we won that Afghanistan thing, right? That was a big success. So we're batting .500.

But wait, looks like the official scorer may be about to turn that hit into an error...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Filibuster "Compromise"

There is much relief on the Democratic side and much consternation on the Republican side today after Republican moderates reached a deal with Democrats on two really terrible judges and another sort of medium-terrible one. The other four judges go down.

From a certain point of view, this is a qualified win for the Dems. But taking a longer view, I'm not sure this agreement really has any significance at all. The Dems gave the GOP three judges and a couple of empty promises. Recall that the man theoretically bound by the agreement, Harry Reid, came out immediately after the deal was reached and said that the Democrats were still considering filibustering the very next controversial nominee who comes to the Senate floor, John Bolton.

Frist says in the same article that he thinks that from now on filibusters of Supreme Court nominees would be "almost impossible." However, in my reading the word "extraordinary" is used to imply that on the very most serious questions the Democrats reserve the right to filibuster. There is nothing more serious than an appointment to a lifetime post on the only unchecked body in the U.S. government.

And of course, though it's a little strange how few commentators have mentiontioned this, of course this has been about the Chief Justice all along. The idea was to pave the way for Rehnquist to retire and for some really terrible replacement to be appointed, and Scalia moved to Chief Justice. The smart money is on Ken Starr right now.

If Starr is nominated to the high court, the Dems will be forced to filibuster. And if the Republicans bring this issue to the fore any time after early this winter, they will transform what was almost the most gargantuan political mistake in American history into one of the biggest political mistakes in human history.

The crisis has not been averted. It has merely been put on hold because the Republicans got cold feet at the last minute.

The Filibuster "Compromise"

Monday, May 23, 2005

Nuking the Constitution

Well, it looks like Frist is really going to go forward with the Nuking the Constitution option. Essentially he's about to push through a radical, activist interpretation of a clause in the Constitution that pretty clearly does not say what the GOP is pretending it obviously says.

This is so far out of step with what Republicans claim their values are that it really will be a watershed in politics. Anyone who goes along with this is basically not worth talking to, not worth arguing with. Republicans who support this measure are declaring their devotion to increasing their own power at all costs, with no regard to fairness, democratic principles, or basic ethics.

Both sides appear to be All-In. Let's turn over the cards and see what everybody has.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Ever been in a meeting with upper management and, in a moment of weakness, you use some shopworn cliche' or other that everyone thinks is this great turn of phrase and they all start saying it over and over, and it makes you want to just stop them and say "OK, now we've all said it, and the phrase is officially retired."

Except you can't do that because you're the most junior person at the meeting, so you just have to sit there listening to a roomful of otherwise intelligent adults just happy-assing around saying "Where the rubber meets the road" over and over and over again.

That happened to me today.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Just a Question

Why are Democrats not seizing the golden opportunity presented to us by the Republicans' lexicographic flailings and branding it the "Nuking the Constitution Option?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Media Follies

I've actually had a nice pie-in-the sky idea recently for what can be done about our pathetic media. It's based upon an interpretation of how the media works that it peculiar to me (I think) so I'm going to do an article on it before I get into the nuts and bolts of the fix on here.

But just in case there is anyone reading who is not quite aware of the nature of the beast, here are two good examples.

Rick Santorum compares Democratic judicial filibusters to Hitler's occupation of Paris. What will be the media reaction? We'll see.

Al Franken has an illuminating exchange with two Washington reporters. He shouldn't pick on Senator Allen, though, who has the excuse of being achingly stupid.

Josh Micah Marshall at his best

Josh Micah Marshall is like anybody.

When he talks about things with which he is intimately familiar, on which he has spent a great deal of study and effort, he is extremely eloquent, sometimes even prescient. The resulting posts are what make him and his blog worth reading.

When, on the other hand, he talks about things with which he has little or no specific or comprehensive knowledge, he tends to say things which are more or less unintelligible, sometimes even howlingly stupid. These other posts are what make him and his blog at times maddening.

You can make some version of this statement about basically anybody, or at least anybody who knows anything about anything.

The difference between one individual and another on this score is mostly one of individuality. That is, what really separates one commentator from another is the frequency with which they wander into areas in which they have no specific competence.

On this score Josh Micah Marshall is pretty good. It's something he often gets criticized for, but his blog generally focuses on things that he really understands, and that selectivity is what makes his blog one of the best politics blogs, if not the best politics blog, in Washington.

I have much to learn from this man, on this and probably many other scores. In any case, behold one of his very best posts here.

You can think the filibuster is a terrible idea. And you may think that it should be abolished, as indeed it can be through the rules of the senate. And there are decent arguments to made on that count. But to assert that it is unconstitutional because each judge does not get an up or down vote by the entire senate you have to hold that the United States senate has been in more or less constant violation of the constitution for more than two centuries.

There are many thoughtful people who have supported the Republicans through many unwise and self-contradictory initiatives over the years. I know many of these people. And I believe in my heart that for many of them, this may simply be a bridge too far. Perhaps I am overestimating these people, or underestimating the ability of the Republicans to come up with some flashy rubric, perhaps invoking September 11th (wait for it...) that will give thinking Republicans some ideological cover.

But I feel in my heart that the Republican party is about to make the biggest mistake, politically, that it has ever made.

Let the games begin.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

One More Thing

A link to shed some light on the argument between me and Charles in the "People Like War" comments thread:

This is the 100,000 people gassed thing that Charles was referring to.

NY Times Ed Board Goes Large

This is, I believe, the best editorial I have ever seen the NYT do.

It took Newsweek about two weeks to retract its report. It has been a year since the very real problem behind the article - the systematic abuse and deliberate humiliation of mainly Muslim prisoners - came to light through the Abu Ghraib disaster. And the Bush administration has not come close to either openness or accountability. The White House and the Pentagon have refused to begin any serious examination of the policymaking that led to the abuse, humiliation, torture and even killing of prisoners taken during antiterrorist operations and the invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration has stonewalled outside efforts to accomplish that task. No senior officer or civilian official has been held accountable for policies that put every American soldier at greater risk. The men who wrote the memos on legalized torture and evading the Geneva Conventions have been promoted.

That pretty much sums it up. But the whole thing is worth reading. I'd go so far as to say I agree with every word of it.

Balls of Solid Rock

When Josh Micah Marshall was out recently, he had some neoliberal flack named Ken Baer subbing for him. He went on and on about how this guy was a Saddam-lover and how his victory in his British Parliament race was "a loss for us all."

Well, it's not a loss for me, Ken.

Check out Galloway's Speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where he showed up to defend himself from charges fabricated by Ahmed Chalabi, king of credibility.

I hope John Kerry was watching.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Choose Between Reality and Madness

Uncle Carlos (who is really my uncle, but isn't really Carlos) and I got into a bit of a dustup after I posted some intemperate thoughts in a previous thread about the Iraq war. I was getting ramped up to get good and pissed at him when he crossed me up with a thoughtful changeup of a comment, dealing with the problems inherent in the peculiarly human idea of belief.

There was one part I can't agree with in his post; that's his implication that things are worse in this regard than they were at some time in the past. It's not that I disagree, as such, but I can't agree. I plead Summer Highland Falls: They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known.

Other than that, though, I have to accept his amendment by way of substitution to what I said about people liking war. It's not so much that there isn't some validity to the idea I was advancing - almost no idea is completely without value - but it was a crude way of looking at things. Whether that crudeness rises to the level of malarkey is a judgment call for the reader to make.

The question then arises, why, if I am capable of finer perceptions, do I choose, for emotional reasons, to use cruder ones instead? This is the question I probably should have been posing to the war supporters. Now I am forced to give them a pass and ask that question of myself.

But leaving the navel-gazing aside (it's an activity to be done on our own time, after all) this idea of belief, and the question of what it is, and of its proper role, if any, in human mentation, is a very important one. It may well be the seminal human question of my generation, whatever that is.

Belief, taking one perspective, is basically a set of opinions that have coalesced, hardened in an individual's mind to the point where the coalesced opinions crowd out other types of thought. It is well known among psychologists that people tend to be much more attached to their beliefs than they are to things that they know through experience and study to be true.

It is possible that this problem has advanced in recent years. At the very least, it remains a serious problem, despite the advanced state of what we know about the universe.

We all have beliefs. We cling to them. Do we need them?

I am in a peculiar position because, while I do have a "faith" in a sense, it is one to which belief and the inculcation of belief is not a central part of the doctrine, such as one exists.

Thus I lack the excuse that most non-atheists have for clinging to their beliefs, while at the same time accepting - believing - that there is a dimension to the universe beyond what can be detected with my ordinary perceptions.

What is the point of all this? None, I suppose. I've descended back into navel-gazing. Time for bed.

More Cool Spam

Got a spam email today with the title:

Catnip Witchcraft

Didn't open it. The spam never could have lived up to the title.

Good Headline at Pew (scroll down)

Attentive Americans Oppose Rule Change.


The Newsweek Fiasco

Everyone is blogging this, so I had avoided it. But nowhere have I seen a coherent description of what, apparently, happened in this story, and what the issues are. Olbermann has a pretty good rant at Bloggermann but it doesn't really include a good description of the chain of events, or a timeline.

But actually, there is a very good treatment of the whole situation at, of all places, The Washington Times, or more specifically from UPI, which is the Wash Times' adjunct wire service.

Read the whole article. Quite informative.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Krugman Gets It

What he said.

People who supported the Iraq invasion and are now becoming squeamish are very keen on this idea that "it doesn't matter how we got there, we have to find a way forward, etc."

But it really does matter. If a man attacks someone with a knife on the street, and the two become locked in battle, it is absurd for the man who did the initial stabbing to say "well, now that this fight seems to have evened out a bit, it's cetainly immaterial who attacked whom."

It is not immaterial at all. That should be obvious to anyone with any shred of sense. People who supported the Iraq war based on the idea that Saddam Hussein was ready to acquire a nuclear weapon (the only real Weapon of Mass Destruction, if we're realistic) are probably feeling a little disoriented by the recent effort by the right wing noise machine, led by Little Green Footballs and other bastions of automatized defense of the Bush White House, to claim that the Bush administration never tried to hide the fact that the war was mostly about "spreading democracy."

But in reality, the Little Green Football Folk are right. The effort to sell the war based on any credible threat Saddam posed to America was half-assed at best. Anyone who looked beneath the surface (a group that unfortunately included almost no one in the mainstream media) would have seen that the pronouncements of the various Executive Branch spokespeople leading up to the war painted a very complex, almost inscrutable picture of the reasons for war.

Bush said himself before the war, publicly, that it did not matter if Saddam disarmed completely or even if he suddenly fled the country - the invasion would proceed anyway. This fact was reported by the major newspapers but has remained unremarked-upon for over two years.

To put it quite bluntly, the majority of the U.S. population who supported the Iraq war in March of 2003 may believe they were duped by a duplicitous president (or, for those who still cling to the fading image of a congenitally honest George W. Bush, merely an incompetent one), but the facts show otherwise. Supporters of this disaster of an invasion, which proceeded without Security Council authorization and over the protests off tens of millions of people around the world, supported the invasion because they like war.

This subject is of course quite taboo. Almost no one will admit to liking war as a general rule. But people's actions reveal what they are really like, as opposed to what they claim to be like.

Of course, in a sense we cannot blame these people. In our society the consequences for supporting a war that goes bad are essentially none, while the consequences for supporting a war that merely fails, but does not lead to widespread loss of American life (such as the war in Afghanistan, which has cost "only" a few hundred American soldiers dead and wounded) are severe.

As I've noted before, MoveOn.org and Michael Moore have both gone to great lengths to cover up the fact that they opposed the Afghanistan invasion, presumably due to fears that having opposed a war that remains popular among Americans would result in too much of a drain on "credibility" with the American public.

But somehow the Washington Post doesn't have to pretend it opposed the Iraq war simply because most Americans now believe it was based on lies, and not worth fighting. There is no loss of credibility, apparently, associated with full-throated support of an illegal, foolhardy failure that kills and maims thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

A society with this kind of doctrinal structure is sure to get involved in bad wars, over and over and over again. The first step in preventing the next Iraq is calling the people who got us into this one to account.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Compare and Contrast

The contrast between the two NY Times economics commentators - who go head to head on the Op/Ed Page today - is quite striking.

Thomas Friedman... Wow. What a dumbass.

Freedom on the March!

via Steve Gilliard... This seems a bad sign.

Police in Jalalabad opened fire earlier on Wednesday to break up an enraged mob of several thousand people that torched the governor’s house, the Pakistani consulate and several foreign aid agencies, witnesses said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the riots showed the “inability” of the war-shattered country’s institutions to deal with such situations, but added the demonstrations at least meant democracy was flourishing.

Um.... Uh.... You see, uh...

Oh never mind. Democracy is flourishing, you're right. How silly of me to think that enraged mobs burning down government buildings and chanting "Death to America" might be a sign of something other than a flourishing democracy.

Kudos and Antikudos

Kudos to Walter Pincus for getting this hard-hitting account of the British memo that told the world that the U.S. "fixed the facts around the policy" of toppling the Iraqi government by force as a first resort.

Antikudos to his dickless headline writers, who call the piece "British Intelligence Warned of Iraq War."


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Lampley Goes Large

Via atrios - let me predicate this by saying I have always believed, and continue to believe, that Jim Lampley is kind of an idiot. I have watched many, many HBO fights with Lampley at ringside doing color, and I find him to be at best annoying and at worst a great detriment to my understanding of the fight.

Any serious boxing fan knows that when you watch a fight seriously, in order to determine what you think is the correct scoring, you have to turn the sound off. The reason for that is that no matter how strong-willed you are, the three guys in the booth will bias your interpretation of the fight.

I have watched many Lampley-commented fights in my life both with and without the commentary, and I have to say Lampley skews my viewing of a fight the most of any commentator I've encountered. His problem is one that Bob Costas also has - he has a subconscious need to make every single moment he experiences to seem like the greatest moment in the history of sports.

I say this as a caveat to the post I am about to link to, because I think it's possible that Lampley is overstating the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from the evidence currently available about Election 2004. However, having said all this, I will also say that what I have always liked about Lampley, and what most people like about him I think, is that he is willing to say what he thinks even when it might get him in trouble.

Which this very well might.

The one reason I will always respect Jim Lampley comes to mind here - at the end of Lewis-Holyfield I, a fight in which Lewis dominated and embarrassed Evander over 12 fairly boring (and easy to score) rounds, the judges' decision was announced as a draw. The generally accepted attitude for a sportscaster in that situation is puzzlement, perhaps tinged with skepticism.

Not Jim Lampley. "Lennox Lewis has just been robbed," he said.

Indeed, he was robbed.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Maybe This Idea Is...

Often when a public official starts proposing something new, the discourse immediately rearranges itself to accomodate the framework established by the person who thought it up. Not always, but often, especially certain types of ideas.

What I mean by this is that if I suggest that, say a National ID card is necessary to prevent terrorism, some people will agree, and other people will say no, it's too much encroachment on civil liberties or whatever philosophical objection they might have.

Which is all well and good, but when there is a new idea, more attention sometimes should be paid to a more fundamental question. Namely, "Hey! Maybe this idea is stupid."

I'm not sure if I agree with all of this or not, but I applaud this blogger and the essayists linked for going outside the "National ID Card Will Protect Us" vs. "It's Not Worth It" paradigm and examining the question of whether the whole idea might just be really stupid.

This ties into what I was hoping to make the subject of an article, but which didn't quite pan out. It's an idea from microeconomics that is so obvious that we often forget it, leading to absurd false dilemma fallacies and other fits of illogic.

The name of this principle is the Null Bundle. Most of the time in microeconomics, when a potential actor is faced with a set of choices, we assume that one of this actor's choices is the Null Bundle - he can do nothing.

Yet often, particularly in emotionally charged arenas like fighting terrorism, we explicitly take that option away from the public discourse. We say rhetorically, without analysis, that "we can't just do nothing."

But many years of economics experience teaches us that in fact, the Null Bundle must always be considered. Indeed, often in situations where it seems very unlikely that the Null Bundle would be desirable we find in the final analysis that it is the actor's most rational option.

Iraq is the most obvious example that springs to mind, but Afghanistan is just as good a fit. Almost everyone agreed after September 11th that "we can't just do nothing." However, it's not clear on its face what the consequences of doing nothing would have been. Presumably the results would have been different that the results of two failed wars, which have decimated our uniformed military and turned world public opinion against the United States to a degree that is unprecedented, literally, in all of history.

What would have been the result of "doing nothing?" The reactionary elements in our society (including, it should be noted, many powerful Democratic leaders) did an excellent job convincing us that the very question was irrational. Students of microeconomics know, however, that irrational decisions usually arise from a failure to consider all the available options.

Worth thinking about.

The Poor Man's Crimson

The Poor Man is wonderful today as usual, in part for the pure-D hilarious picture of Putin and Bush in the car (scroll down a bit) and in part because of this very serious article by a business school teacher.

Krugman is Kool

Not much time this afternoon, so here's a self-serving link to one of the only reasons to ever view the NY Times Op/Ed page (Bob Herbert, the other, has a weak column today about the Iraq war) - Paul Krugman.

Krugman points out what I mentioned in the Krauthammer post last week - if the problem with Social Security is that benefits may one day need to be cut, cutting benefits doesn't count as a solution.

A hilarious counterpoint to Krugman's column ran yesterday = David Brooks argues, essentially, that Democrats have no right to complain about President Bush cutting benefits for people making more than $20,000 per year because they didn't like it when Bush gave a massive tax cut to people making over $200,000 a year.

Which makes sense, probably, to whoever traded Shaq. But to me it's a little tough to grasp.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Lakers Are Idiots

Before the Wizards actually won their playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, I was afraid to vocalize this rant for fear of jinxing the quite jinx-prone Washington squad. But now the Wizards are through to the second round to play the Miami Heat, and there is a peculiar aspect of the series that I want to bring to everyone's attention.

If we go through the 8-man rotation for these two teams, it's very interesting. At point, Gilbert Arenas and Dwayne Wade are very similar players, both scoring point guards with elite offensive weapons and middling defensive abilities. I probably give the edge to Wade very slightly, but you could make a case for either guy. A wash.

At the two, there's really no comparison to be made between Larry Hughes, a minor star, and Damon Jones, a three-point specialist role player. Jones is important to his team, but Hughes is a far, far better player. Big advantage Wizards.

At three, Eddie Jones and Antawn Jamison are both kind of the quintessential third-banana type guy, guys who take too many shots but are tolerated because they make just enough of them. Latrell Sprewell is the prototype for this kind of player. I give a slight edge to Jones due to experience, but of course there is a point in one's career where experience becomes just plain old age. Jones is definitely knocking on that door, if he isn't already inside chilling on that couch. Jamison is a lot more athletic at this point, but Jones is the better clutch player. I'll be generous and say slight advantage Heat here.

At four, we have another matchup of similar players in Jared Jefferies and Udonis Haslem, young guys who do some things but haven't fully developed their floor games yet in their young careers. Both have a lot of potential but neither is somebody you count on for consistent production. A wash.

On the bench, the Wizards have Etan Thomas, a bruising rebounder and post defender, Michael Ruffin, another rebounding specialist, and Juan Dixon, a good explosive scorer who can give you some great nights. The Heat actually use a 9-man rotation, which is kind of unusual for an elite team, so their bench is Christian Laettner, a limited hustle player and jump shooter, Alonzo Mourning, a mostly washed-up post defender rebounder, Keyon Dooling, a guard who was a career 40% shooter with the Clippers before landing a job as an energy player with the heat, and Shandon Anderson, who's old and untalented and basically there just to give ball handling minutes. Big advantage Wizards.

So on two key counts, the Wizards are clearly much better, with perhaps a slight Heat advantage on one count and a wash on two other counts. But there's one thing we haven't discussed, and that's Center. The Wizards have Brendan Haywood, a talented seven-footer with good potential who's really had some nice games recently for the Wizards and seems to be coming into his own.

The Heat have Shaq.

And thus, if the Heat don't sweep the Wizards, it will be a mild surprise. If the Wizards somehow find a way to push the series to a game 6 in Washington, it will be a huge upset. All because of Shaq.

The Lakers traded this man.

This was stupid. In fact, it may be the worst move in the history of sports. I know the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth. But at least at the time Ruth was at the beginning of what would only later become a massively awesome career. Shaq was actually in the prime of his massively awesome career when he was traded. And now he's off being massively awesome with some other team while the team he used to play for sits at home with their 34-48 record and their Center-by-committee tandem of Vlade "Methuselah" Divac and Chris "The Secret of" Mihm.

And don't even talk to me about Sam Bowie over Jordan. Nobody knew that was stupid at the time. Everybody knew trading Shaq was stupid except the people who did it, and Kobe.

I don't know what my point is. I don't even like the Lakers. I'm just outraged that someone with so much money could be so dumb as to trade Shaq. A pox on the Lakers, forever and ever.

I'm going to bed.

Nice work, Wizards.

One Last Thing for the Afternoon

Found this at Steve Gilliard's...

In my fantasies, I am more like this guy. He's basically got it right. If all I cared about was politics and I didn't have this deep need to be liked by people, I would be just like this. The fact that I'm not like this is basically the result of cowardice. My favorite quote from the piece:

Did I give a shit? No. If I had a message, it's that the whole thing was a joke--hell, our whole political scene today is a fucking joke. Everyone's out to either pat themselves on the back for being right or whine about how they're being wronged without ever lifting a finger to fight for it.

You may be headed for the comments now. "I'm glad you're not like that." But think about it for a second. That's the point.

Anyway, have a good weekend. DU article Wednesday or I'm a monkey's uncle.

The Iraq War - Two Years Ago

The wife had an old Newsweek out the other day from late April of 2003, and it inspired me to go looking for the silliest bullshit I could find from the "Mission Accomplished" era.

This piece from the DLC website is probably the best one I've seen. I'd like to know how the author feels about all of this now that we know that the "Blair position" on the war was in fact one of capitulation to a war he knew was illegal but he felt that it would be too politically difficult to oppose.


The Howler

One subject that comes up a lot on here is media inadequacies. I say "inadequacies" and not "bias" because in my opinion attitudes about media bias are so ossified on both sides that it's tough to have a decent discussion of the concept.

The other reason I don't go into great detail on this subject is that there is already a left-of-center blog devoted to exposing right-wing media bias - it's called the Daily Howler, and you can find it on the right of this page.

I have a lot of problems with the Howler; Somerby is a Blue Dog type, pretty conservative corporate-money wing Democrat and the aspects of the mainstream media that really need exposing (such as their awful, lazy coverage of foreign policy issues) Somerby doesn't touch. Presumably that's because the illusions that would be dispeled by such an exercise are illusions he himself clings to.

But I digress. The Howler is a good place to find examples of the most egregious media ineptitude, and today's dissection of Krauthammer's awful Social Security article is one of their best in a while.

Krauthammer, I think, is one of the top two (with Tony Blankley) most striking examples of the difference between what is required of liberals and centrists and what is required of conservatives in the mainstream press. Krauthammer was once a useful and independent commentator, about 20 years ago. For the past several years, however, he has written witless regurgitations of various bits of GOP illogic and called them columns, without even the pretense of independence, objectivity, or even accuracy.

Leaving my personal distaste for Krauthammer to one side, though, his hacktacular spinning of the Social Security question actually does a nice job of bringing into sharp focus (for those who can see through the thick fog of distortions with which he tries to obscure it) exactly what is so stupid about Bush's newly unveiled "plan" to "save" Social Security by cutting promised benefits to people who make more than about $20,000/year.

The key is this - the problem with Social Security (inasmuch as one exists) is that because of the way benefits are calculated, the typical retiree will get much more in 2050 than a retiree gets today, even after adjusting for inflation. The result is that after 2041, if you believe the SS trustees, or 2052, if you believe the more historically realistic CBO projections, Social Security won't be able to fully pay promised benefits. Instead, it will be able to pay only a large fraction of those benefits, still more in constant dollars than what is being paid today.

So Bush's proposal is to cut promised benefts, which we are now being told by shamelesss hustlers like Krauthammer are not really cuts because the actual benefits being paid out will still grow. The problem with that reasoning is that if we accept that benefits don't need to grow at the rate at which they are currently projected there is no problem.

Take a breath here and realize what this means. Bush is proposing trimming the rate of growth of promised Social Security benefits in order to make room for a private accounts program that he is billing as an effort to prevent our having to trim the rate of growth of promised Social Security benefits.

See it now? The problem and the solution are the same. It's a piece of political sleight-of-hand that is so obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of the details of the proposals on the table that the only conclusion we can draw about Krauthammer's column is that he is deliberately, directly lying to his readers about the implications of the President's plan.

That's sort of the easy part of discussing media bias. Partisan bag men like Krauthammer do stuff like this because they can get away with it. The more complicated question is why they get away with it, why the E.J. Dionne's and Michael Kinsley's of the world don't take to the Post Op/Ed page and embarrass Krauthammer into at least pretending to be an impartial commentator.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

British-Style Democracy

I love when the Brits have national elections, because they really do it with style. There's a lot of old-school political theater involved that isn't present in the made-for-tv version we have over here in the states. That's not necessarily to say I prefer the British system, but there are some interesting elements.

Our system in the U.S. used to be a lot more like a British parliamentary system. Few people outside of history buffs know this, but the evolution of the system is pretty fascinating.

For the first few elections after the ratification of the U.S. constitution, the President was elected essentially by the state legislatures, who also choose the Senators at the time. The practical effect was somewhat undemocratic, but in my opinion it's a cool concept.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Condumberacy of Fedasses

As you are probably already aware, the Pentagon has released improperly redacted documents relating to the killing of an Italian quasi-civilian.

Redaction is supposed to be used only to protect national security secrets or to protect a person's privacy. So had that actually been the case, it would be a serious mistake worthy of high-level inquiry and severe punishment for whoever is responsible.

However, since apparently most of the redactions in this case were merely to cover up embarrassing negative information about the Iraq war, in this case it seems two wrongs actually make a right. So no harm done! Ha! Ha ha! Hahahahahahaha...ahhh, oh, fuck.

Also, NPR is really taken aback by all of this, with good reason. They have prepared a sobering editorial that I think any concerned American needs to read and digest. It concerns what is obviously the most important aspect of the whole crisis - the dangers of blogging.

I am not making this up. Really, I wish I were. I really, really do. Ohaaggghhhghhghghghhhh....

I just died of consternation. It's been real. See everybody on the flip side.

Monday, May 02, 2005

International Law, Scminternational Law

This story is currently tearing up the media landscape in basically every country except this one. Apparently, Tony Blair has recently been forced to admit that the Iraq war was already planned by July 2002, and that preparations for that war had begun in the U.S. at least as early as the following March.

Furthermore, Blair was warned by multiple advisors that the war was probably illegal under the terms of several international treaties to which the U.S. and the U.K are signatories.

The accepted explanation (explicitly commented upon in the U.K. papers but of course politely ignored by the U.S. press) for the relative dearth of U.S. media attention to such questions as the legality of the Iraq war is that the traditional UK attitude towards international law is that they generally try to follow it, and when someone breaks it, they may be held responsible.

The U.S., in the meantime, is well-known internationally for our indifference to international law. Indeed, if you talk to a movement conservative and bring up international law he will probably scoff and tell you no such thing exists.

That attitude - that international law is a fiction - is common currency in the Republican party. Many GOP leaders, including Tom Delay, Dick Cheney, and John Bolton, to name a few key ones, are on record stating plainly that the U.S. doesn't have to pay attention to international law, often implying that in fact defiance of international law is kind of a civic duty since observing it would undermine the supremacy of the Constitution of the United States.

People who take this viewpoint may be working from an expurgated version of the constitution, because the one I have says the following in Article VI, Clause 2:

Clause 2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

What's disorienting about the attitude of the U.S. population towards international law is that there are basically three types of people - people who know the U.S. ignores international law and are outraged by it (a very small number), people who know the U.S. ignores international law and are glad (a very small number), and people who assume, understandably based on overall media coverage, that the U.S. is generally supportive and respectful of international law as something other than a club with which to beat poor, defenseless countries into submission.

The effect of this is that you can't really have a productive conversation about international law with anyone. You can talk to people who already agree with you, people who aren't going to change their minds, or people who have no background with which to evaluate what you're saying.

The remedy for this, of course, is to have a press that consistently covers stories relating to the U.S. relationship with international law, and does so in a clear and precise manner.

The likelihood of that development is plainly demonstrated by a Google News search on "blair war secret july".

Asleep at the wheel? That's actually the most generous possible explanation for our press' awful conduct. Perhaps later we examine this point in more detail.