|View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Patriot Act Drivel
This Sunday Denver Post column by Diane Carmen illustrates the sort of uninformed, small-minded criticism of a law she clearly hasn't bothered to research or to read. It combines it with the smarmy, if misplaced, confidence in the rightness of her position that so characterizes the ideologue.
Nobody, nobody is going to arrest her, or even be drawn to look at her funny, because she checked out 1984. If she were already under suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack, the FBI could subpeona her library records. With a warrant. They could already do this if she were plotting to, say, rob a bank for the mob. The only thing the Patriot Act does is extend this authority to terror investigations.
Having spent all that time at the library, it's a damn shame she didn't use any of it to actually research the law.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Glad We Cleared That Up
From the New York Times Corrections:
Monday, August 25, 2003
Face of Hate - At Least He's Not Wearing a Bomb Belt
Here's an article from tomorrow morning's Telegraph about Israel's re-opening of the Temple Mount, and the Muslims Who Still Can't Learn to Share, along with a photo of a child who's Being Carefully Taught.
I really expected the Telegraph to do better work than this.
The Denver Post editorialized (while I was gone) about the need to support the State Fair, and its desire to keep from privatizing it. "After all," they say, "the real drain isn't the fair, it's the maintenance of the fairgrounds the rest of the year." So, why don't we do what San Diego has done (until now) with the Boy Scouts, and let them rent the fairgrounds for use, at a discounted rate, if they provide improvements?
Given recent court rulings, one risk might be that the state will become dependent on this sort of deal. That the Boy Scouts will get kicked out, and replaced with gay and atheist groups. And that, as a condition of continuing their "service," they'll make certain unacceptable demands about the fair's content.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
The state corrections department has sent the mentally ill inmate who murdered serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to Colorado in exchange for four inmates who will be moved to Wisconsin. Christopher Scarver will join the prison system's AAA club at Centennial Correctional Institution in Canon City.
The surprise move, coming just before the inter-prison trading deadline, bolsters a Colorado prison system that had been on the decline in recent years. "Ever since we lost Tim McVeigh a few years ago, things have kind of been in a holding pattern. We've still got the Unabomber and the first WTC bomber here, but you never really know how long these guys will stick around," said agency head Kevin Potter. "Here we're getting a guy who we think still has many good years left." Scarver's last major score came in 1994, when he killed Dahmer at the Columbia Correctional Facility.
The four inmates leaving Colorado for Wisconsin include some top prospects, and some hopefuls who don't appear to have been crazy enough to keep around. "Maybe a change of scenery will help them," said Potter.
"We’re concerned that this could be a worse facility," Scarver's agent Ed Garvey, said. "You can practically smell Florence from there, and we're hoping he can move up to join the big club before the rosters expand at the end of August."
Scarver was not available for comment, but said, through a statement, that God told him to accept the trade.
Slow Train to Nowhere
The Denver Post this morning bewails the imminent loss of national rail service in Denver. Evidently, the President has decided that if states want to have a tourist attraction snaking through their states, they should pay for it. So the whole article is about Amtrak's insolvency, and how unfair it is to ask the states to pick up the tab. How this will mean the end of rail travel as we know it.
Look, I love train travel. You get to see the world from a different perspective than you do from the interstates, or even the Blue Highways. When we took the SkiTrain to Winter Park a few years ago, we had a great time. When I travelled on the Canadian 15 years ago, I had a blast. (Funny, though, that even then half the conversations began with somewhat defensive discourses on the virtues of rail travel.) Plus, you can gut up and walk around. You can stop between cars and hang your head over the side. You can stop between cars and get a real rush when you pass a train going the other way. I understand why the hobos use trains.
But for most people, a day trip is about all they want. The old tourist rail lines like the the Georgetown Loop or the narrow guage Durango-Silverton all do a brisk business. But the trains are caught in the middle between efficiency and vacation. If you live in Chicago, and want to go to California for vacation, you may not want to spend the extra day just getting there. And if you see something interesting like Cadillacs stuck in the ground or a Kodak Photo Spot of the mountains, you can't just pull the cord and stop the train to enjoy the view. At least, not more than once.
If we want to understand that any train more than 50 miles from the coast is a tourist attraction, market it that way, and spend a little money to keep it alive, ok. $1B a year from a $1.5T budget might be worth it. But then we need to invest in rails, cars, better food, please better food, and XM radio for the cabins. And understand that it's still just a curiosity out here. That Union Station in DC may hustle and bustle with commuters, but Union Station on 17th Street is always going to be mostly empty.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is quoted: "Either we commit to dramatically improving rail for the entire country or we abandon the pretense of a national system." I think we've already made our choice. We're just waiting for the governments, state and federal, to catch up.
Money to Power
If ever there were evidence that power attracts money from business, this is it. (Scroll down to the bottom.) Gussie Busch III is now backing the President instead of Gephart. This is because the President stands a fine chance of being re-elected, whereas the wheels have fallen off littleDickie's wagon. The fact that it took this long for a major business leader to abandon a moderate-turned-raging-liberal is evidence that 1) business sends money to power, 2) business is no socially conservative in any meaningful way.
Just in case you doubted it.
See, this is the kind of silliness that you get when you let people propose referenda.
The Washington Post published an op-ed by former Clinton Administration official Paul Zimmerman broadening the attack on President Bush about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program. This part of the article is a midly broader rehash of old arguments. If we erred in guessing the state of Iraq's program, so be it. But that's a far cry from proving there was no program. The arguments to the contrary are the Rodney King Video of foreign policy. I don't care how much you zoom in, how many details you call into question. The guy still got one hell of a beating.
At the end of the article, he claims that Bush pere also [sic] took us to war against Iraq under false pretenses, that Iraq never had any intention of invading Saudi Arabia, and that there weren't even that many troops or tanks in Kuwait. Well, no, you don't need that many troops to control a country virtually without armed forces. There were, however, thousands of tanks just on the Iraqi side of the line. Zimmerman's point is that the Iraqis weren't going after Saudi. Does anyone doubt their intention to dominate the region, without attacking Saudi, if possible? What on earth is Zimmerman trying to prove here? Next he'll be claiming that Iraq never really invaded Kuwait at all.
Note to Former Clinton Administration Officials: 1) When you write something, make sure you have something new to say, and 2) Make sure it isn't idiotic.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Dan Weintraub, over at California Insider reports that a group of left-leaning organizations is preparing to launch a campaign arguing that a) the recall is a waste and a bad idea, and b) the "current administration" has been good for the state. Right. That'll work.
If there has ever been any evidence that these groups are caught in the time-warp of their own arguments this is it. The first argument didn't work the first time, so let's try it again. Secondly, isn't it a little silly to think you can make the case for an administration when the leader of said administration is so toxic you're afraid to mention his name? Sure, this'll find some appeal with Democratic voters, but is it really going to motivate them to show up and vote, or just to stay home and stop toying with that knife that says "Gray Davis's Back" on the handle? Now that the thing is on the ballot, people just aren't thinking this way any more. Their eyes have been opened to other possibilities, and no amount of "wouldn't be good, wouldn't be prudent" is going to turn them around.
Also, the Irish betting site Tradesports has opened futures on who will succeed Gray, with one of the options being that the recall fails. (Go to Tradesports and click on Politics.) Arnold is a 3-5 favorite at this point. The futures basically are up-down on each individual candidate, among those of whom anyone outside their immediate family has heard. So this means that people are willing to pay $62 for a chance to win $100 if Arnold wins. He was up $9 today, while the #2 choice, Cruz, fell to less than $20, meaning he pays better than 5-1 if he wins. "Recall Fails" has also fallen to less than $20.
Information futures markets have been used to predict elections for a while. The Iowa Election Futures market has had notable success predicting both the share of the popular vote for presidential candidates, and the party share of the Congressional popular vote. But I'm skeptical of this one primarily because I believe it attracts a larger percentage of uninformed buyers, the kind whose money built replicas of Paris, Venice, and Egypt in that large Information Market in southern Nevada.
Why do I think this? First of all, the Iowa market, with so little money on the line, is going to attract political junkies. The promise of making real dough appeals to a much broader range of people. Also, the Iowa market asks the bettor to bet on percentage of the vote, something that requires more knowledge and thought than a simple "who'll win?" Lastly, most of the Iowa bettors are actually American voters. They know how they'll vote, they have a sense of how their neighbors will vote, and I suspect that these very local biases tend to even themselves out over a large composite like the country.
Uninformed bettors are much more likely to fall prey to trendy reporting, their own name-recognition biases, and rumor. Think about it. In most Arab countries, an information market in the number of unexplained disappearances of Arab children just before Passover would probably produce a nontrival result for a non-zero number. So bets from these parts of the world, assuming that they have both Internet access and the money to bet, should be somewhat discounted.
It'll be interesting to see how well Tradesports performs, but right now, I'm not holding my breath.
More on Iran
How quickly the foreign policy establishment moves to rein in rogue presidents. Barely 7 weeks ago, Lileks wrote this. Now, the administration is letting Iran know that they don't actually have anything to fear from us. I seriously hope this is a) another attempt by the State Department to undermine the administration, or b) brilliant misdirection by the folks who proposed, in Iraq, to fight it out along these lines if it took all summer, which they knew it wouldn't. I've been wrong here before, about Israel, about the administration's commitment to it. It's as though the ship of state is one of those Viking or Greek triremes, with all the strong guys on the left side of the boat. The coxswain can sit there and beat the drum all he wants. But unless there's someone at the back, forcing the rudder full right, the boat's going to drift, even without the strong currents we're facing right now.
Just bomb the damn thing, already. The sword is out. When you see the enemy's metalsmiths working on a sword and armor of his own, you go over, hack off his head, and throw the whole mess into the furnace.
For all you people who've been hitting the site, searching for "Seabiscuit height" from google, it was 15 hands. Red Pollard was about 5'7". And I have no photos of Kathryn Jean Lopez. For all I know, she doesn't even show up on film.
Why There's An Israel
The guys over at Powerline pointed out a Washignton Post article that suggests that Israel may be considering taking matters into its own hands if Iran proceeds much further towards a Bomb. The Administration seems to believe that its diplomatic efforts are making progress, but the article sounds a little like an Administration leak to try to rein in Israel. Of course, the Post reporter repeats the notion that Israeli action to defend itself will create diplomatic hardships for Washington. If they really believe that they have "no attractive military options" vis-a-vis Korea and Iran, they better make some happen, fast. (Frank Gaffney has been saying for years that we were short on manpower, and now, once again too late, we're finding out that the hawks were right.)
Let's really hope it doesn't come to that. Still, virtually every time Israel does anything to defend itself, with rare and brief exceptions, The World screams in imagined pain. They'll do so again. But as long as Israel survives, I personally don't care. The President may have a personal commitment to Israel's survival, but he is constrained by his obligations to his country. As long as the missiles aren't actually being loaded into the launchers, the State Department will seek to make his feel comfortable doing nothing, especially with our forces spread thinly. There's the incipient rebellion in Iran we're all hoping for. There's the reaction of the Russians, the rest of the Muslim world, to consider. No, Mr. President, even if the get the bomb, the Mullahs aren't mad enough to actually use it, and they can be "kept in their box," er, you know what we mean.
If Israel decides it perceives too great a threat to ignore, it should act. Rafsanjani was right when he said that a nuclear exchange between Israel and the Muslims world would be a massive war of attrition, fought in one day, ending badly for the Jews. The deaths of millions of Jews is not acceptable, and its prevention is one reason Israel exists in the first place.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
My tennis shoes have finally exploded, literally coming apart at the seams, the heel padding worn down to the plastic. My dress shoes have worn through the rubber soles so that if I walk through a puddle, my feet get wet. So it's time to get new shoes. I resist getting new shoes because they destroy my feet. Every time I get a new pair of dress shoes, even nicely padded Rockports with rubber soles and air-cushions, they chew up my feet for about a week, threatening to wear right through the Achilles tendon, leaving my foot hanging off my ankle, useless. So even if the shoes look like they were handed out with the soup and bedrolls, I tend to wait. And wait.
But now, the old shoes were turning my feet into hamburger, so there was no point in waiting. And it was off to Famous Footwear. At this point, pretty much the only criterion I have for shoes is that they not be made in China. I need something comfortable for walking, something dressy, and something not made at gunpoint by people whose kids went to the wrong protest. I don't care if the workers are getting 12 cents an hour. That's almost certainly better than the going rate for child prostitutes. When the country can afford to unionize and outlaw child labor, it won't need to.
So I did manage to find a pair of sneakers, or athletic shoes, or whatever they're called these days, that are comfortable and made in Indonesia. So maybe I'm even keeping a future terrorist off the streets. The dress shoes - Italian, which is a nice little market-signal sop to the Only European Politician Worth a Damn, Silvio Berlusconi. And now that I can concentrate again, back to work.
Liberal Talk Radio
KNRC, AM-1150, hosts a series of not-very-bright center-left talk shows throughout the day. Greg Dobbs, a former ABC newsman, leads the pack in the morning, andin the course of a rant about how terrible everything is in Iraq, a daily theme of his show, he tried to sneak in some quote analysis on the President. The way he did so is telling. Dobbs spends a tremendous amount of time on the casualties over there. In order to magnify his claims and to discredit the President, he quotes Bush has having declared "an end to combat," which he didn't. Dobbs then rants on about how "combat is still going on," which nobody, not even the President, disputes.
Following that, he quoted the President's speech about the progress we've made, a speech clearly intended to remind people about why we're over there. Dobbs proceeded to interpret the President as claiming that Iraq is currently democratic and prosperous. "And saying so doesn't make it so," he thundered. In order to discredit the President, he takes misquotes him where convenient, and misinterprets and willfully misunderstands him in another case. Soif you can't answer the case that's actually being made, make up a case and answer that one.
I find this sort of disingenuousness troublesome when it comes from conservatives, too; I hope we're better than that most of the time. Medved does this from time to time, and Mike Gallagher is among the worst offenders. Thanks goodness for the Hugh Hewitts and Dennis Pragers. But it's standard fare for the left, better than much of it now. When Modo makes up quotes and Krugman makes up facts, maybe this is the best we can hope for right now.
Monday, August 11, 2003
Heart and Soul
According to the Jerusalem Post (registration required), the Israeli government has decided that the Temple Mount will be opened to non-Muslims with or without the approval of the Wakf. While most Orthodox Jewish authorities rule that Jews may not visit the site, some, such as the late Rabbi of the IDF ruled that the edges of the Temple Mount are permissible to Jews. But it's of at least historical interest to Christians, too, and in any case, if Jews choose not to visit, that should be their choice, not that of the Wakf.
For years, the Muslims have wantonly violated the status quo, digging up and destroying evidence of the Temples, planting trees with deep roots to break up any relics beneath, excavating a new mosque, and basically doing there what they do everywhere someone else has a holy site they end up in custody of - erasing any evidence of its non-Muslim past. Sadly, the Israeli authorities have acquiesced in this destruction of our heritage, fearful of a reaction should they resist. It's good to see them at least re-asserting a minimal status quo ante to the site.
Somebody needs to teach these people how to share.
Deacon, over at Powerline posits that Arnold is running this year because it's a chance to avoid the long-term scrutiny of a normal election. Although Dave Dryer pointed out on Hugh Hewitt that the campaign really isn't shorter than a normal election cycle, there's no primary, and Gray Davis doesn't have the chance to interfere.
I just think it's a confluence of favorable circumstances. Gray is discredited, looking more and more like a man on the way out. There's no big-name Democrat with statewide presence in the running - does anyone really know anything about Cruz, either? Assume that 5 years ago, Arnold wasn't ready; last year, his friend Richard Riordan was running, and it was probably his last shot at the statehouse. This year, Riordan basically agreed not to run if Arnold did. Last year, Simon hadn't yet lost - this year, Simon could also be yesterday's news. People have forgotten who Uberroth is. There's a left-wing Arianna and a left-wing Green candidate to siphon off Democratic votes, and to help fry Gray.
Now, consider if he waits. If Arnold waits until the next cycle, he risks facing an incumbant Republican Governor, possible Bill Simon. He wouldn't do that. He could be facing an incumbant Democrat who would still have the advantages of incumbancy, and who might get credit for a reviving economy, if he did the right things. The way is clear for Arnold only if Gray survives the recall and is termed out, but if by running you can help prevent that from happening, why wait? You don't know who might be running in 2006, and you might well be facing a stronger field than is out there now.
I've been reading Donald Kagan's one-volume The Peloponnesian War, and for the first time, I feel like I understand what went on back in Greece, oh, about 2400 years ago. Kagan devoted the better part of his academic life to a detailed, 4-volume study of the subject, which is the current standard in the arena. By reducing the war to one volume, he's able to keep it accessible to readers who don't care for the minutiae of hoplite organization. A map is never far away from whatever page you're on, and the text frequently refers you to the one you need just then. Wars combine political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering, and Kagan is able to keep track of the most important of these at any given time, without cluttering up the reader's attention.
One of the reasons that you read history, especially Big History, is to apply those lessons to today. One lesson is the inherent instability of a bipolar system. Athens and Sparta fought a war prior to the one in question, and concluded a treaty which both sides clearly intended to keep to. Still, when a marginal quarrel erupted, in which neither bloc had a horse to start out with, both sides were drawn into it. This happened from time to time during the Cold War, too, but it lends credence to the notion of nuclear deterrence as peace-keepers.
Also, Athens started out with a strategy of deterrence, but one based on so unorthodox a strategy that it failed to convince, and thus, to deter. There was a significant peace party in Sparta, led by the King, but they had lost the vote, and needed the hand to be strengthened by a strong Athenian showing. Instead, Athens failed to prosecute its advantages to the fullest. Many of those advantages were psychological rather than actual, so a prolonged war was liable eventually to expose their weaknesses and inspire their internal and external enemies.
Harvey Keitel, Call Your Agent
It's not every day you see a truck like this. The end of the quarter is coming up, our group project is done, and Wednesday holds a final for which I am woefully underprepared. But none of that can dampen a perfectly beautiful late-summer morning, bright, not too hot (although it will be, later).
Late summer is the top of the roller coaster of the year, things are still slow, building, but you've hit the top, and you're sort of handing there, waiting for the drop. The ride's all ahead of you. The school year, the holidays, Winter in a ski state, and Spring will have you holding on for dear life and screaming, but right now, there's no momentum, just sort of a lazy lull while you relax and look around at the view.
So when you see a truck marked "Crime Scene Cleanup: Homicide -Suicide - Accidental Death; 24 Hour Service," with a helpful website and 800-number, the chain pulling the coaster up jerks to a stop and you check your neck for whiplash.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
The NY Times made a foray into European history last week, and, not surprisingly, now requires the following correction:
OK, maybe it required not this correction, but a different one. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed in 1867, by the division of Hungary and Austria. What had been the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the Emperor of Austria now also being King of Hungary. Hungary got its own parliament and executive structure, but the Times makes it sound more like a merger than a spinoff.
As Far Eastern tensions build up over North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear weapons export market, two articles worth noting. First, the Wall Street Journal has an article by James Woolsey and Thomas McInerney arguing that we need to be willing and able to fight and win a war on the Korean peninsula. They're almost certainly right, if only because the only way to make North Korea take us seriously is to not back down when they start talking war, and to make them believe we're willingto fight one. And you never wave an empty gun around.
All this makes Rumsfeld's resistance to a larger military both perplexing and worrying. Rumsfeld fought hard to get the military to accept news, lighter, more technological ways of fighting a war, and in Iraq, he proved it could work. But just as Iraq wasn't Afghanistan, neither is Korea Iraq. Any number of great powers have cometo grief by not committing overwhelming force when it was available, and by assuming that a war would be quick. Our recent experence is heartening in this regard. But we are close to the point of not having a reserve force available should things go wrong. If North Korea has nukes, they might well use them against us, and if they do, we may not be politically able to respond in kind. Any sort of long-term setback is likely to embolden our remaining enemies, and those in Europe who wish us ill, probably affecting market and economic psychology. If we can avoid it by building up now, we can ill-afford not to do so.
The second is a wire story about the mayor of Hiroshima. Every year, the mayorof Hiroshima comes out and makes some pronouncement about the evils of nuclear weapons. This particular office-holder recognizes the dangers of a potential nuclear war in his neighborhood, and blames - the United States, because of its violations of nuclear non-proliferation. Maybe he had the script upside-down.
Look, I don't doubt the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have strong, deeply-held personal feelings about the local use of nuclear weapons. But Hiroshima, even during WWII, was a small town, unimportant except for its massive military presence. Now, it's just a small, unimportant town with a history. One day a year, the mayor of Hiroshima gets a world-wide public stage to talk about the evils of irradiated cities, granted some moral prerogative to opine about world events. By what right? By the right of being mayor of a town that was on the wrong end of history almost 60 years ago. Giving a local politician, elected more for snow removal and traffic permits than for foreign policy, this kind of license is probably a mistake. But if you've got a platform, make sense! Vladimir's Bomb Factory Consultants are still occupying four of your islands, Hen Ri Ford II is trying to develop an assembly line right across the sea there, and shot a missile over your heads a few years ago, remember? Do you think if you pick on us and duck you'll come out of it all right?
No, I think there's something in the air that makes third-rate politicos think they can score points by blaming speeding tickets on cops. We'll have to ride it out, and maybe it's a price we pay for not being a victim often enough. Personally, for me, not enough is too often. But this guy's ceremonial duties on Red Hot Day, or whatever they call it, should be limited to being wheeled out, striking a bell, saying a few kind words about peace, and rolling back in for some sushi and blowfish.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
Saddam's Daughter Speaks
MSNBC has published a report of an interview with one of Saddam's daughters, Raghad, now living in Jordan. She apparently believes that Saddam was betrayed by those close to him, evidence that even paranoids have enemies. Among the gems:
Uh-Huh. "Betrayal is not a trait of Arabs." So they cheerfully sent their husbands back to a father who would make widows of his daughters.
So no wonder Uday and Qusay turned out the way they did: their father just didn't have the heart to tell them "No."
Futures and More Futures
I'm back from a little hiatus. Between work and school, time gets awfully short.
Apparently, Congressional Democrats (motto: "Often Wrong but Never in Doubt") got themselves into a tizzy over a proposed Information Market in terrorism futures. Never mind that, aside from Hilary, there's not a Democrat on that committee who hasn't distinguished himself by his ignorance of economics and financial markets. This was beyond the pale. By now, we all know that this market was based on, in fact advised by, the wildly successful Iowa Political information market, used to predict president nominees and winners, as well as the composition of Congress. Ron "Beetle" Bailey has published a fine defense of these things in Reason Online. Certainly, there's a large element of game theory here, as well as simple economics, but this was to be an intelligence tool, not just a way of cashing in.
One of the fellows over at Slate suggests that the success of the market would have eventually been its undoing. That if it were used to prevent the very events it was predicting, the market itself would have collapsed in reaction to that knowledge. If the market successfully predicts hijackings, for instance, and law enforcement can use it to prevent those hijackings, then I'll short any hijacking future that seems to be climbing, since I know that law enforcement will also see that "prediction," and respond accordingly.
I think this misunderstands the point of such a market. Information leaks, even under the best of circumstances. The fact is that major operations of any kind require logistical support beyond the principals carrying it out. Only an extremely sophisticated organization could compartmentalize its operations so that none of the ancillary participants could figure out, even in a vague way, what was going down. So far, al-Qaeda hasn't shown that kind of sophistication. I'm not certain that the CIA, or the KGB at it height would have been able to manage it, either. The kind of misdirection necessary to sway a broad-based information market in the wrong direction would also be a significant drain on al-Qaeda's resources, resources they probably can't command any more. Finally, you don't make the questions for bid too specific. You make them general enough to help confirm (or not) pre-existing intelligence. At the least it would have been an interesting experiment.
At least the guys over at Tradesports think so. Go there, and click on "Current Events" to place bets on the length of Saddam's future, or Osama's personal event horizon. Go to "DARPA Contract" to wager on a man's career. I found out about Tradesports on Wall Street Week with Two Terminally Boring People from Fortune, PBS's successor to WSW with Louis Rukeyser.
So, two salient points. First, this stuff is already out there. The genie is out of the bottle. Even if Tradesports doesn't put up specific, or general terrorist events, someone will. Secondly, if the Dems find out about this, what do you think the odds are they'll object? No, I didn't think so, either.