Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Deficits Are Coming - Hide the Women and Children

Rudy! Actually, I didn't watch it, but I heard it was goood. Meanwhile the National Press was no doubt repeating ad infinitum that the Republicans are showing their moderate face to the nation as a cynical ruse. Meanwhile, 200,000 members of the Michael Moore contingent of the Democratic party were outside the gates doing their best audition to become carnies; and again, NBC probably found the one who wouldn't qualify as a carnie and pointing to the moderation of the crowd. That same crowd, of course, was in Boston, but you didn't see them, because the Democrats were showing their moderate face to the nation without one second guess from the media. See, you don't have to watch it ... The script is so predictable.

Here is an article, apropos of nothing, regarding the overblown political hype surrounding budget deficits. Snore. First published in a Minneapolis newspaper 3 years ago, here it it:

The vaunted budget surplus is disappearing before our eyes, and we are too bored with thinking about government fiscal matters to care. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently reported that their previous federal budget surplus projection of $5.6 trillion (for fiscal years 2002 through 2011) has fallen to $1.6 trillion. That is $4 trillion lost in the span of one year (and you thought you were getting hit by the downturn in the stock market). The CBO projects slight deficits over the next two years, followed by a return to more modest surpluses. Are you asleep yet? Not if you are a politician.

Why should you care if you are not a politician? What are the potential consequences of a return to deficit financing? If you gauge your understanding of the nature of the consequences by the shrillness of the political debate that surrounds the topic, it is clear that there is much at stake. I can imagine a few issues that elicit similar urgent concern: pestilence, war, and famine being just three. If I knew nothing else about the boring details of the subject, I would think my children's lives were in danger. Fortunately, because of what I know, I don't lose a wink of sleep over the issue, and neither should you. And here is what I know: the deficit is more important as a political debate than it is as a problem to our economy.

A federal budget deficit is a lightning rod for Republicans and Democrats alike because of the veneer of fiscal irresponsibility attached to it, and the consequent pressure to balance the budget. For Republicans in general, the desired response is to cut funding to programs (i.e. those in Democratic districts) that the taxpayers are being pillaged to fund. For Democrats, the desired response is to raise taxes on those who are not paying their fair share (i.e. those in Republican districts) in order to maintain funding of all the wonderful public goods brought to you by our beneficent government.

The debate over these matters is less shrill in times of surplus because each side can get a little of what it desires. Controlling for the effect of the economic downturn on the size of the surplus, the reduced estimates over the next two years is due in roughly equal part to reduced tax revenues and increased discretionary spending. Now that the black turns to red, expect the gloves to come off. The return of the deficit, no matter how modest, brings the debate over how big the federal government should be, and who should pay for its largesse, back into the limelight.

But is there more at stake with budget deficits than creating a battlefield for the opposing desires of our two political parties? Is there a sinister link between budget deficits and a crashing economy? One theory holds that deficits may indeed have a negative effect on the economy through their influence on interest rates. Deficits, under some circumstances, may raise the cost of borrowing money. Remember - pestilence, war, famine, and raising the cost of borrowing money.

The theory goes as follows: when the government increases its demand for borrowed funds, and there is no similar increase in the supply of loanable funds, interest rates rise. As interest rates rise, some private firms that are trying to raise financial capital for investments that will enhance productivity may find that such investments are not worthwhile at the increased borrowing rate. Private investment can therefore be "crowded out" by government deficits. Because private sector investment is one primary driver of productivity growth, and hence improving economic conditions, squeezing it out through deficit financing may reduce long-term growth rates in GDP.

Flash back to the townhall style debate between Clinton and Bush in 1992 - at the height of political concern over budget deficits - when a man who learned all of his economics from the back of a cereal box posed the question to each candidate as to how the deficits affected each personally. Looking at each candidate as a consumer, the question was absurd; neither was concerned about borrowing money because each lived in government owned homes, and each were transported in government owned vehicles. If they were planning on increasing their investment holdings immediately, higher interest rates would be a good thing for them. This is basically what Bush had said to the obvious dissatisfaction of the questioner. Bill Clinton, in contrast, bit his lip and spoke with the requisite empathy that is due to pestilence, war, famine, and rising interest rates, and the rest is history.

But do budget deficits actually lead to increased interest rates? Consider what happens if the government decides to eliminate the deficits by increasing tax rates. The increase in rates will leave you with less post-tax income than otherwise, both because you are taxed at a higher rate and because you may have substituted leisure for work (since the opportunity cost of more leisure is reduced by the increase in tax rates). If you have less money, chances are you are reducing both your savings and your spending. But if everyone reduces the amount that they save, the supply of loanable funds contracts, and interest rates will rise. So, if you are concerned about closing the deficit for the purpose of not increasing interest rates and crowding out investment, raising taxes is not likely to solve the problem - it only changes its cause from an increase in demand caused by government borrowing to a decrease in supply caused by less income in the hands of taxpayers.

There is therefore good reason to believe that the mix of financing (debt versus taxes) for a given level of government expenditures has no real effect on the economy. The same cannot be said, however, in regard to the amount and nature of government spending - both have very real effects on the performance of the economy. If one were narrowly focused upon keeping interest rates low so as to maximize private sector investment, reducing the size of the government budget would always have this affect.

In reducing the size of government, what is lost may be more valuable than what is gained. (By the same logic, it is possible to increase the size of government in a way that confers more benefits than costs.) The cost-benefit assessment depends upon where one proposes to cut spending. If, for example, the plan is to reduce law enforcement resources, the consequent reduction in perceived safety may lead people to purchase private security systems for their home at an expense that exceeds the benefits of reduced interest rates. Or, they may find themselves involuntarily paying high amounts for protection services offered by people who do not take no for an answer. On the other hand, if the budget reduction plan is to cut funding for building the Bill Clinton Presidential Library, I suspect only one person in this economy would regard that as a bad deal.

Because people think that deficits matter, Democrats and Republicans are forced to fight it out over the tax and spending policies of the government. But the truth is that the importance of this fight is largely independent of how the government finances its activity. In times of balanced or even surplus budgets, the size and nature of government spending still implies very real and pervasive effects upon the larger economy, some good and some bad. We would do ourselves a favor if we focused on the value of each dollar spent and the cost of each dollar raised by government rather than upon budget deficits.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Flip Flops and Higher Beings

The last thread of the thingie on my right flip flop gave up the ghost while I was doing light yardwork on Saturday. What is striking about blowing out the flip flop is how utterly functionless the flop becomes once that one feature is rendered useless. As the death of all cherished things does, the broken flop got me thinking about God; this is from the archives:

A high school biology teacher, working in a state whose rural population is conservatively religious, was recently barred from teaching biology simply because he introduced well accepted scientific theories to his students that may have had the effect of undermining their faith in prevailing orthodoxies. At first glance, the situation sounds eerily familiar to that which led to the famous Scopes monkey trial, wherein a high school biology teacher in Tennessee introduced the theory of evolution to his students, only to be forbidden from doing so by a religiously conservative school board. That school board preferred creationism, a set of beliefs concerning the origins of life that invokes the hands on creation of God, to evolution.

The outcome of the Scopes trial is very well known – biology teachers cannot be restricted by district officials from teaching evolution. Though that decision said nothing about the teaching of creationism in public schools, later Supreme Court decisions would expressly forbid doing so as the Court considers creationism an advancement of religion.

So the issue has long been settled for public schools: they are permitted, though not required, to teach evolution, and they absolutely cannot teach creationism. So what is the problem in Minnesota? Surprisingly, the situation there is not the work of creationists disobeying the law and trying to silence the truth of evolution, but is instead the work of evolutionists trying to silence the truth of intelligent design theory, a line of scientific inquiry at the cutting edge of bio-molecular research.

As much as Darwin’s evolution has eliminated any doubt that humans have evolved from apes, intelligent design theory has convincingly demonstrated that this chain of evolution cannot be traced backward from man to lifeless matter. The theory of evolution does very well in explaining small changes that take as their starting point systems that are already extremely complex, but fairs very poorly in explaining how those systems evolved from the primordial soup. Intelligent design theorists, using arguments that appeal only to scientific evidence, have highlighted this failure, and presented evidence that the problem is not just temporarily unresolved, but is instead irresolvable.

The theory of intelligent design has arisen from laboratory observations of biochemists examining the most basic unit of life – the cell. Within the cell they have found many systems that can be compared to little machines, each made up of several inter-working parts. These machines are “irreducibly complex”: irreducible because all of the working parts are required for the machine to perform its function; complex because the interaction of the working parts is clearly geared toward performing a useful function, and cannot be explained as having been randomly compiled.

Consider a machine consisting of four inter-working parts that performs a given function. The removal of any one part would make the machine completely unable to perform its function, implying that favorable random mutations, passed on to succeeding generations through natural selection, could not have added function improving parts sequentially. The machine, therefore, either must have been intelligently designed or randomly compiled. The argument in favor of design over random compilation is qualitative, and relies upon the complexity of the machine being examined. A machine as complex as a watch has obviously been designed – it is extremely improbable that nature would produce materials that would randomly find their way into a physical relationship with each other that exactly mimics the function of a watch. The presence of bio-molecular machines within the cell that are as complex as a watch implies the overwhelming likelihood of intelligent design.

Intelligent design theory is not being well received by the proponents of evolution, as the case of the Minnesota teacher clearly shows. The theory may be a partial scientific vindication for creationists who, while getting many things wrong, may have gotten the central point correct: that an intelligent being created life. And if there is one thing an evolutionist will never admit, it is that the evil creationists were right about anything.

Creationists accept the bible as their source of authority regarding the origins of life, and therefore reject the claims of science when these claims contradict the bible. Creationists do not even attempt to offer scientific proof for their beliefs, but will occasionally highlight scientific evidence that undermines the claims of evolution theorists. Despite this small exception to the general rule, the ideas of creationists concerning life’s origin are overwhelmingly faith based.

And evolutionists do not react well to those who simply refuse to acknowledge the convincing case for their theory. Richard Dawkins, an eminent biologist who has written several books on evolution meant for popular consumption, has written that anyone who denies evolution is either “ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked – but I’d rather not consider that).” Daniel Dennett “compares religious believers to wild animals who may have to be caged, and says parents should be prevented from misinforming their children about the truth of evolution.”

And yet, it cannot be the case that evolutionists really object to people holding ideas based upon faith, and backed with little or no scientific evidence, because evolutionists are guilty of this themselves. Each one of them makes a tremendous leap of faith, while offering not a shred of evidence and no convincing refutation of intelligent design, when he claims that life arose through purely natural processes without the guiding hand of a planner. Their unmitigated scorn for creationists must instead be based upon the particular ideas held by Creationists. Believing that there is a God without offering scientific proof for God’s existence is somehow backward and ignorant (or, according to Dawkins, even possibly wicked), while believing that there is no God without offering scientific proof for God’s non-existence makes one enlightened and intelligent (or, again according to Dawkins, at least non-wicked).

While no scientist denies the ability of evolution to explain the large class of phenomena that it has capably elucidated, many scientists (but not all) are beginning to understand that the hopes for evolution to explain the fundamentals of life are ill-founded. The lens through which scientists examine these fundamental questions has shifted, perhaps irrevocably, from evolution – you might say that science has evolved, and that evolution has not made the cut. The evolution paradigm is being replaced in what amounts to a scientific revolution. And as with political revolutions, the old regime does not go quietly, and can look very silly in clinging to the old ways. Thomas Kuhn wrote in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the proponents of the old regime “will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict.”

In fact, the behavior Kuhn describes will generally be one of the strongest signals from the sceintific community that a theory has exhausted its power. Has this happened with evolution? What type of response would count as an “ad hoc modification” meant to defend evolution from intelligent design theory? Consider one potential example put forth by Francis Crick, a Nobel laureate who collaborated with David Watson in the discovery of the DNA molecule. Crick, in the pages of Science, argued that intelligent beings from another planet traveled to earth and planted certain primitive life forms. These intelligent Martians then promptly left, leaving no trace of having ever been here. From there, evolution took over, and now here we are. And as for how the Martians came to life, surely they must have evolved, but unfortunately we cannot actually prove that they did. Instead, we are to take it on faith. How is that for ad hoc?

Despite what can accurately be described as a crisis of faith among scientists who have long clung to the belief that evolution theory would, in time, provide them their complete victory over the claims of religion, the larger culture has gone almost completely unaware that any controversy exists. The most recent battle over the teaching of evolution has been interpreted narrowly as a step backward from truth toward the camp of superstition. I am referring to the recent decision of the Kansas School Board to reject a proposition that evolution be made a mandatory part of the high school curriculum in all districts. Whatever the motivations of the opposition to that proposal, the rejection of it can rightly be considered the best way to avoid the very real potential that evolution will be improperly taught.

We can easily imagine high school teachers explaining those phenomena that can be easily explained by evolution, and then wave their hands to suggest that the analysis can be carried back to explain the origins of life, but the semester is only so long. Scientists themselves have been guilty of this hand waving, leaving little faith that it would not occur among high school teachers. And, while scientists waved their hands at the same time they tried to bridge the gap, little or no efforts are being done in this direction today, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that doing so would prove fruitless.

The case of the Minnesota teacher shows that even those who are aware and are conscientious enough to present of the latest scientific work concerning life’s origins, will be silenced by administrators who fear the bothersome lawsuits of the ACLU. And the curriculum requirements suggested in Kansas made no provision for the presenting of dissenting views, even those that are entirely science-based.

I confess that I have no clue if considerations of this sort entered into the decision process for members of the Kansas school board, but even if their votes were influenced entirely by Creationist and anti-scientific sympathies, the decision was nevertheless a good one. It was all the better, in my eyes, if the decision was articulated in a way that maximized the fury of those who pretend that their only interest is in properly educating children. Because the sad truth is that there are many who would make evolution the cornerstone of a child’s education for the express purpose of undermining his religious faith.

The passion these people feel for the importance of teaching evolution can only be due to their desire to tear down religion, especially that of fundamentalists living in rural America. And that desire is not simply due to a disagreement over the competing claims of science and religion concerning the origins of life - rural America and the elite sophisticates are on quite opposite sides of the culture war. Darwinists consider the opinions of fundamentalist Christians concerning abortion, pre-marital sex, divorce, crime, and most social issues to be dangerously backward. Seeing their antiquated religious beliefs as the source of the problem, evolution theory serves to attack the root of the problem. As it was put in a recent article, “writers like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Edward O. Wilson, and Daniel Dennett promote atheism in the name of evolutionary science.” Why else would Dawkins introduce the idea that those who deny evolution are possibly evil? Precisely because he believes that the influence of religion is itself evil.

It is more the politics that stem from the religious beliefs of fundamentalists than the beliefs themselves that draw the ire of Darwinists and liberals. Consider the Ahmish – they probably hold the same creationist beliefs as fundamentalist Christians, but because they are completely disengaged from American politics, you do not see anyone storming into Ahmish schools and insisting that evolution be taught. Now consider the Nation of Islam – I don’t know what their attitude is concerning evolution, but I do know that they believe the white race was created by the devil, named Yacub, who was rebelling against Allah, and that these greedy and vicious whites were responsible for destroying the earthly paradise enoyed by Allah’s creations – the black race. And there are private schools that teach this stuff, not to mention Million Man Marches that are organized by the central proponent of this theory. Now this group is undoubtedly enmeshed in politics, but their interests do not necessarily counter the liberal agenda, so we hear no complaints of them. Does the squelching of evolution have a negative impact on society? Alternatively, would the teaching of evolution present any tangible benefit to society? If we answer either in the affirmative, then why should we let the tribes of Africa and South America persist in their mythological views.

It is instructive to note that the same people who laugh at the Kansas School Board for their recent decision probably applauded a judge who ruled (a day prior to the first day of school) that a voucher program established in Cleveland was unconstitutional because it provided public funds for use in attending religious schools. The beneficiaries of that program, which was targeted towards impoverished children, now have the lucky benefit of remaining in failed public schools. If they ever do learn to read, I am sure they will be enthusiastically taught evolution, and all their problems will be solved. Far better this than letting them be explicitly taught right from wrong – what value can that possibly have in this day and age?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Bush Didn't Even Not Serve

Let me get the disclaimer out of the way right away: I'm glad the women's soccer team won the gold. That said, I am more than happy to have missed the Jimmy Roberts segment, which most assuredly must have dealt with the grand social significance of the women's soccer team, with the subtext always being that it is such an injustice that their professional league wasn't viable. Look people, even the ABA went bust - and they had Dr. J with an afro that added about a foot to his height in addition to a red, white, and blue ball.

The women's soccer team has created many young fans of women's sports, most of whom are female, and that fan base will grow in time until there are enough women who will pay to see the pros. It will happen some day, but the fact that it hasn't happened yet is no injustice - it takes time for a business like this to build a demand. But I can hear the Jimmy Roberts Olympic segment background music - heavy on the violins no doubt - as he talks in tones that suggest that prior to the rise to fame of the women's soccer team, women in the US were required to wear burquas and never bear their ankles (which may happen, you know, if Bush gets re-elected).


I have never linked to Mark Steyn before, but he is very conservative and very funny, and he even gets paid to write. Here is a small sample if you don't care to read the whole thing:

"I said a couple of weeks back that John Kerry was too strange to be President, and a week or two earlier that he was too stuck-up to be President. Since I'm on an alliterative roll, let me add that he's too stupid to be President. What sort of idiot would make the centrepiece of his presidential campaign four months of proud service in a war he's best known for opposing?

I wouldn't stand for Parliament on a family values platform because I know someone's bound to bring up the 123 gay porn movies I had a bit part in back in Amsterdam in the 1970s."

I feel compelled to respond to a couple of the comments made by Professor Vic the other day. The first - "Bush, the guy who didn't even not-serve his country very well has now accused, in back-to-back elections, both John McCain and and John Kerry of cowardly actions in their Vietnam service. If Bob Dole (or JFK or Bob Kerrey or DDE) wants to make accusations, fine, but I find Bush's (or more precisely, Karl Rove's) actions pretty disgusting."

I won't even comment on the fact that didn't even not serve means he served - oops, I guess I did comment on that. As to the substance of the statement: Oh really, show me the transcript where Bush accused either of cowardly actions. Or give me the same from Karl Rove. Vic, you are going to be a father in days, and I fear that should I ever come visit you in a couple of years, I'll find you at the bedside of your toddler, going through the nightly ritual of assuring her that Karl Rove is not hiding in the closet.

Second - "it is not unpatriotic to point out that you think your country has made and continues to make serious errors. There were real reasons to believe that Vietnam was unwinnable at reasonable costs in American and Vietnamese lives. Perhaps some of the information upon which Kerry made his judgements later turned out to be untrue or unreliable (of course that has never happened before or since), but it is not unpatriotic to protest U.S. actions."

We clearly differ here - I believe it is unpatriotic to make up information upon which such judgments are made, and there is some evidence that he did just that. But even short of that, a man who has a prediliction for believing what turned out to be gross anti-American propaganda shows a lack of judgment, which might be excused by his youth, but unfortunately he refuses to back away from his ugly testimony, and even says today that people should judge him on his anti-war stance.

If he made a sober argument that the costs in American lives would be too high, I'd agree; but he didn't, instead he parrotted the Communist line that it was a civil war, and that the consequences of our staying there for the people of South Vietnam would be worse than if we left. He accused all levels of military command of condoning war crimes. These are serious charges, and they are ones that he should answer for getting so wrong. But he doesn't. He assumed the worst about US intentions, completely dismissing the possibility that they were noble, much as half of his rabid supporters do so today after we have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq. Since he hasn't shouted down these idiots, my guess is that he still believes the US is a force for evil in the world. That may qualify you to govern an insignificant nation like France, but in my view it disqualifies you here.

Third: Clinton dodging the draft by winning the Rhodes scholarship? Pulese! Click on that dodging link and you'll get the real story.

Per my observations about the anti-Bush slant to today's publishing industry, I pass this along second-hand as the observations of another courageous and obviously very smart American:

"As a small aside, I walked into a local Barnes and Noble to browse a bit. Having been inspired by some of the weekend commentary, I found myself looking at the "Current Events" table near the front of the store, and took in some of the titles, authors, etc...with no particular
purchasing interest. The pattern of the books struck me a bit, so I decided to continue to circle and thought it might be fun to take a sample, and here's what my rough count came up with:
80 books total on the table (Titles, not actual books)
27 outright anti-Bush (no particular policy qualms, just anti "the man", with the requisite "buffoonery" cartoon or photo)
23 anti-war/anti-Bush (anti Bush in a more general "anti war" or "anti administration context)
4 pro Bush (again, not policy specific)
3 pro-war/pro Bush
8 anti "conservative agenda", or "anti-right wing media"
4 anti "liberal agenda", or "anti-left wing media"
The balance of the books did not outwardly appear "political" in nature (Al Quada, Islam, Terrorism, etc..)

But what was also telling was the positioning of the books, with "Anti Bush" works predominantly populating the 2 upper levels of the table, and "Pro Bush" tucked in the shelves in the bottom. Perhaps most telling was that Barnes and Noble's own best seller, "Unfit for Command" (the Swift-boat "Anti-Kerry" book), was tucked obscurely with only a small pile between similiarly paltry Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter piles down below, while the top level had not one but 2 books each from the likes of Michael Moore, Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowd..."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Taking a Deep Breath

OK, maybe it's time for me to take a deep breath, have a beer, and calm down after yesterday's venting. To that end, I'll give you a glimpse into the day of the life of three boys, excerpted from a January entry to the family diary. One of my New Year's resolutions was to make an entry to the diary at least once a week, although I have been derelect, and this blog is partly to blame. But I think I might insert a column of domesticated family guy bliss into each week's blogroll, so any liberals out there can see that I live a full and balanced life, which includes indoctrinating my kids. Besides, Professor Vic and PBryon deserve a day off every once in awhile. So here is one from mid-January:

Last night was another day in the life – dad arrives home around 5:50 pm from a particularly cold bike road home from work, gives mom a kiss, leads the boys upstairs like the pied piper, they jump around on Mom and Dad’s bed while I hop in for a quick shower, Jake gets mad at one of the twins and switches from a sweet and lovable two-year old into a kid bent on vengeance as his only aim in life for at least the next ten minutes. He’ll take a slap at the offending twin; he might even try a pinch, both of which are accompanied by a sternly voiced “No” that is halfway between a yell and a cry. After a little back and forth of this, he moves on to other techniques that are more subtly effective. Of course, this is assuming that the physical violence does not escalate via the offending twin hitting him back. If that occurs, all Hades breaks loose. And that usually does occur but for one accepting circumstance – if there is a cartoon on the TV, be it Sponge Bob or Rugrats or whatever – the offending twin will only brush off Jake and not respond in kind.

When Jake is mad, he wants everyone to be disrupted so that they know the single number one most important kid in the entire world is not at the moment happy, and everyone as a result is expected to alter their behavior accordingly so that the two-year old prince can return to his normally happy self. They say the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and the indifference shown to mad Jake when that TV is on by the offending twin finds Jake at first perplexed. Though the mind of a kid is simple, this is OK, because the world of a kid is simple, and he quickly figures out that the only way to dig himself firmly beneath the skin of the offending twin (and perhaps the other as a pure bonus) is to place himself between the twin and the TV, displacing Sponge Bob and Patrick’s shenanigans with the fine blond hair on his little head. The twins know enough about both Jake and Dad that they do not bother to try to push Jake out of the way, a move that would only double his resolve, and disrupt both visual and auditory components of the show, but rather appeal directly to Dad.

Fresh out of the shower, where he could pretend the rhythmic sound of the water beating down was such that he could not hear the bickering, and anxious to preserve the meditative harmony of a good shower, Dad is met with a drawn out “Dad”, the pronunciation of which is a clear indicator of where the next line is heading. It is the “request” Dad. It starts out as usual, dips and lingers over the “a” as if that letter were itself part of two syllables, one with the first “d” and the second with the last “d”. There is a similar “request” Mom as well. The “request” Dad never accompanies a requested offer to do something for Dad, such as, “Dad, can I get you a beer out of the refrigerator?” Rather, it is always and everywhere used as a prefix to some request that is to the benefit of the requester. “Dad, Jake’s in front of the TV” is an implied request. It is not offered as a tidbit of useless descriptive information, and the only way I know this is the antecedent “request” Dad. I promptly remove Jake, event though I should just turn the TV off.

If I am lucky, Jake is still mad enough about it to give me his trademark stare. Chin drops to chest, eyebrows furrow as much as possible, eyes ridiculously disproportionate to the rest of the head stare up and lock in on yours, and the coup de grace of the stare comes as his upper lip disappears into his lower, which he juts out as far as possible. The stare serves the dual purpose of conveying anger at you and drawing out your deepest sympathies. It is the cutest face in the world – anyone who sees it laughs – but poor Jake mistakenly assumes that no adult would want to make a kid feel sufficiently sad to give the stare, when in fact we find the stare so humorous that, in times of parental mischief, we might even actively try to elicit it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kerry's Lessons from Vietnam

Before I get started, let me just say that my Clockwork Orange torture would be having my eyes pried open with toothpicks and having to watch continuous loops of Jimmy Roberts doing his little “this will really bring in the women viewers” Olympic stories. It seems that my timing on this is impeccable – everytime I sit down to watch, there he is. And then he’s followed by gymnastics exhibitions, where we see people doing the same damn things they’ve done in the prelims of the team competition, the finals of the team competition, the individual all-around, and the individual single competitions. Why doesn’t NBC simply start a cable channel where they show skaters doing triple sowcows all day long and gymnasts doing whatever it is they do? Show me some track and field! There, got that out of my system.

The history of a war, for better or worse, is written by the winners. For the Vietnam war, the history has been written by the American winners - the radical leftwing in America - represented most forcefully by the protest movement. And this is where John Kerry launched his political career, serving as the protest movement’s useful idiot (a phrase first used by Lenin in describing Western intellectuals enamored with communism). Kerry swallowed hook line and sinker the now discredited testimony of the Winter Soldiers Investigation, which he then spit back to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Portions of that testimony are replayed in the next Swift Boat Vets ad due to be launched. Though his testimony has since been proven to be far less than legitimate, he has never backed away from it.

Kerry’s perfidy goes beyond smearing soldiers to accusations that the U.S. was fighting a racist war, along with the suggestion that, because the people of South Vietnam apparently didn’t know the difference between democracy and communism, that the U.S. was intervening in a civil war rather than some “mystical” battle against communism, that the people of South Vietnam would be none the worse should we leave them in the hands of Hanoi, and that our allies “were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.”

“Supposedly” – it’s a nice touch that unfortunately did not withstand the test of time. This is part of the grand distortion of Vietnam war history – that the people of South Vietnam would be better off without the U.S. intervention, and that conditions for them would improve upon our adandoning them. It ignores the aftermath of our abandonment of Indochina, which includes on the balance sheet not only the tragedy that befell South Vietnam, but also the rise of Pol Pot in Cambodia, who is estimated to have killed between 1 and 2 million citizens. The protest movement is viewed by many today as having served the useful function of restoring America to some degree of sanity in its foreign policy, saving it from sacrificing its young men for nothing. But they weren’t sacrificed for nothing, as the predictable results of Communist rule played out in that region after we left clearly showed – there was something grave at stake for the people who fought alongside the US and counted on our support. And it can hardly be said that the protestors were concerned with the soldiers they treated as war criminals. What they sought was a Communist victory, pure and simple, and they got it.

As one columnist put it recently, Kerry effectively “Americanized” Soviet propaganda. Which brings me to another specific charge that emanated and persists from Vietnam: that Nixon illegally (in violation of international law) and secretly bombed Cambodia. It is an interesting story, precisely because of its tie-in to Kerry’s lie that he was in Cambodia on a secret mission in 1968 while President Nixon was telling the American people that we weren’t in Cambodia. This was a watershed moment for Kerry, who has recounted the story over 50 times in public, as evidence that the government can lie to its people. The problem is that Nixon was only President elect at the time, and Kerry now admittedly was nowhere near Cambodia on Christmas Eve. But no matter, as a Senator who was lying and was never called on it for 30 years, he’s proved the larger point – that some in government do lie.

Much of what follows is taken from Henry Kissinger’s memoirs (Years of Renewal) from which I will quote often. Here is Kissinger, speaking of how the North Vietnamese used Cambodia to launch attacks in South Vietnam:

“After killing scores of Americans each month and inflicting casualties and destruction, they would return to Cambodia, brazenly using the neutral status of their unwilling host to legitimize their sanctuaries. A flagrant violation of international law became the cover for invoking international law to protect the bases.

The “secret bombing” was Nixon’s reaction to a North Vietnamese offensive … Many of the attacks – if not the majority – were launched from Cambodian bases. After four weeks of this and over 1,000 American casualties, Nixon retaliated.

In an operation lasting two months, 20,000 tons of Communist weapons, vehicles, ammunition, facilities, and other supplies were destroyed, and the port of Sihanoukville, through which many supplies had reached the sanctuaries, was closed to North Vietnam. In the aftermath, the intensity of the war in the southern half of South Vietnam diminished dramatically; most importantly, American casualties immediately dropped by over 50 percent within two months and continued to decline for the duration of the war.”

Now ask yourself – do you care that we broke an international law that the North Vietnamese were breaking in order to kill Americans? If Nixon was denying that such bombings were occurring to avoid the reflexive anti-Americanism that would assume such bombings were not provoked by a desire to aid our soldiers, and instead were more symptoms of our moral degeneracy as a nation, would you blame him? Kissinger relates that Nixon had briefed many in Congress on both sides of the aisle prior to the bombing, so there was little that was secret only to Nixon. Kissinger goes on to describe how later, such efforts were pointed to by the left as giving rise to Pol Pot:

“…the so-called secret bombing, tacitly endorsed by its government, of an essentially uninhabited territory, and the later effort to buttress the successors to Sihanouk openly, were blamed for all the tragedies that befell Cambodia, including Pol Pot’s genocide. This bizarre expression of self-hatred makes as much sense as blaming Hitler’s Holocaust on the British bombing of Hamburg.”

In the fall of 1974, without the US effectively out of Indochina, “Hanoi … poured in weapons and ammunition” to the Khmer Rouge in its efforts to impose its rule in Cambodia. Kissinger again:

“The smug theme that nothing could be worse for the Cambodian people than a continuation of American military aid was pervasive. That a cutoff of arms aid would end the suffering was treated as self-evident; the administration’s warnings of a possible bloodbath were derided as baseless, insincere, outweighed by the presumed horror of the continuing battles, or rejected as a McCarthyesque ploy to blame Congress for the imminent loss of Indochina.”

Sirik Matak, a former PM of Cambodia, in rejecting the offer from the U.S. ambassador for safe transport out of Cambodia, wrote the following:

“I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you (the Americans).”

Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left without medical attention. It took him three days to die. He was one of the lucky ones. Because of a shortage of ammunition, most of the hundreds of thousands massacred in the aftermath were clubbed to death, hung, or stabbed. Even George McGovern eventually called for a US invasion of Cambodia to stop the genocide; a genocide that would not have occurred had we ignored McGovern in the first place.

This is the legacy of the U.S. in Vietnam – the cause was noble, but we cut and ran to appease an anti-Democratic pro-Communist protest movement in our own country. And that is to our everlasting shame. Kerry can stick to the received wisdom, that our actions while there in Indochina speak to our moral failings as a nation and a people, but the truth is quite the opposite. Kissinger movingly discusses his thoughts as we pulled out of Vietnam:

“Protestors could speak of Vietnam in terms of the excesses of an aberrant society, but when my colleagues and I thought of Vietnam, it was in terms of dedicated men and women – soldiers and Foreign Service officers – who had struggled and suffered there and of our Vietnamese associates now condemned to face an uncertain but surely painful fate. These Americans honestly believed that they were defending the cause of freedom against a brutal enemy. Vilified by the media, assailed in Congress, and ridiculed by the protest movement, they had sustained America’s idealistic tradition, risking their lives and expending their youth on a struggle that American leadership groups had initiated, then abandoned, and finally disdained. It was they and not the few bad apples, their goals and not their ultimate failures, American responsibility for the safety of the free world and not the frustration associated with it that formed my thoughts as I sat at my desk and Vietnam wound down.”

That is more consistent with the truth and how most Americans view their proud history, but some, like Kerry, are more than willing to believe anti-American propaganda, especially when it suits their prejudices.

British journalist William Shawcross, the first to blame the US intervention for the later actions of the Khmer Rouge, had second thoughts in 1994, when he admitted being “too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.” But of course they haven’t, as it otherwise would be inconceivable that John Kerry, who has never expressed regret over his words and actions, would be a viable candidate for President. It is not only the Swift Boat Vets who have reason to see him as unfit for command.

Monday, August 23, 2004

There I was, There I was, There I was ... In the Jungle

I made the mistake of stealing my neighbor's Washington Post again yesterday, and I didn't make it past the first "news" item: "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete: Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry's Version of Vietnam War Episode." Proof once again that even when you ostensibly get away with petty crimes, you nevertheless do not go unpunished. Nothing like getting the facts, and just the facts, in the headline. How is this for straight news, describing the Swift Boat veterans who now stand against Kerry: "When they returned from Vietnam, they say, they were dogged by accusations of atrocities. While Kerry went on to make a prominent political career, they got jobs as teachers, accountants, surveyors and oil field workers." Don't you just love the "they say", just one step up from "alleged", as if it is a myth that the radical left didn't spit and jeer at those they regarded as war criminals (for which they could turn to the testimony of Kerry for support of that prejudice).

And ahh, yes, the subtext is that they are jealous of Kerry, because whereas he managed to marry enough money to ride his backstabbing comments and his defiant tossing of someone else's war medals over the White House fence to a "successful" political career, they merely became teachers. Hardly skid row, but nevertheless being a teacher doesn't much compare to being John Kerry, or being a writer for the Washington Post. And people wonder why there is an entire industry dedicated to critiquing a couple of newspapers and a couple of TV stations, who assume that because they are supposed to use words that are understood by seventh graders that the general public has the critical intelligence of a seventh grader.

The story makes one particular criticism of Kerry the centerpiece of deciding who is lying and who is telling the truth, but the Swift Boat Vets have levelled more than one charge, one of which has already led to a retraction on the part of the Kerry campaign, though not Kerry directly. The story's focus is whether or not Kerry's swiftboat was under fire at the time he received the Bronze Star for pulling another sailor out of the water after he had been thrown in the water by a mine that exploded under his swiftboat. Kerry and the sailor claim there was heavy gunfire from both sides of the river. The Swift Boat vets claim that is not true. Whether or not they claim that Kerry is lying is a different story (I don't know if they do with respect to this issue), because of course both might think they are telling the truth.

Such is the din of battle, readers, that men at the same battle often have a different recollection of the extent of the danger. God knows in the two hours of paintball I once played it was utter confusion. I also know, having once fallen out of the raft while white water rafting, that the rush of adreneline and panic is such that, had I been in a battle zone, I would have been sure that bullets were flying at me from both banks of the river.

So maybe there is an objective way to assess what really happened that day, and the Post could easily sort out the likelihood of the two conflicting scenarios. Turns out there is - one of the many Swift Boats in the area, as it seems, had three bullet holes in its hull, at least one of which the Post says was sustained in an earlier mission. So bullets are flying from both banks of the river at Swift Boats that are stopped dead in the water, not one sailor is shot during the incident, and at most two bullets are documented to have hit one boat, and the Post concludes that Kerry's version of the days events are likely true. So to believe Kerry is telling the truth, you have to believe that all of the Vietcong present couldn't hit the side of a barn. Which is not to say that Kerry is lying, mind you, only that his recollection of events is probably flawed.

The Post instead cites as the main evidence for believing Kerry's version the fact that the award citations for both him and one of his critics says that there was heavy gunfire. The Swift Boat Vets now claim that Kerry was probably the one who wrote the after-action report from which that information was gleaned, a fact which the Post could neither confirm nor deny (perhaps partly because Kerry wouldn't be interviewed).

We also learn in the article that Kerry earned one of his Purple Hearts that day due to injuring his arm when he got knocked against the boat. Without noting what the Bronze Star- worthy action implies about the merit of his Purple heart, the Post notes that Kerry pulled the sailor from the water with his bum arm. Now, anyone who has had one arm put into so much as a half nelson would probably have used their other arm to rescue someone from the water, so it is clear that there cannot be much merit to the Purple Heart, but don't hold your breath waiting for the Post reporter to connect those dots for you.

There is little mention of the lie that has already been exposed - where Kerry claims that he spent Christmas Eve 1968 ferrying a CIA spook up-river into Cambodia. The Hatcher was 5 months old at that time, and it turns out my memory of that time is more reliable than Kerry's (or he was a liar). If his memory was so bad, why does the Post give it credibility versus the memories of men who knew for a fact that he wasn't in Cambodia. Kerry didn't merely claim a vague memory of the day of the mission, he claimed it was "seared" into his memory, as one would imagine it would be if it was a strange one-time only mission taken on Christmas Eve. It no doubt made for a great pick-up story when he returned stateside - "there I was, there I was, there I was - in the jungle," but excuse me if I choose not to go to his room to see his fish tank.

No one, not even the Post or the Kerry campaign, holds to all of the facts of this lie, but they instead offer the lame cover that Kerry was near the Cambodia border during his four months, and such missions may have actually occurred. It follows, of course, that we should believe him.

One can question Kerry's story of events, and should, since it was his decision to make his actions in Vietnam the primary focus of his campaign, which it most certainly has been. It would have been enough for him to let others point out his noble service in Vietnam, but instead he chooses to paint himself as the Horatio Alger of Vietnam. In my mind, it is fair game in understanding his character to assess the circumstances surrounding his actions in Vietnam. Doing less would be a disservice to those who served alongside Kerry.

But to my mind the bigger story from this era that attaches to Kerry is his post-war activities, which were despicably anti-American. Tomorrow, kids, I'll offer a history lesson on Cambodia, where John Kerry had visions of sugar plums that Christmas Eve. Actually, his visions were of a President lying to the American people and extending operations to a neutral country, and his fictitious recollection was used to warn against the same in regard to Cold-War conflicts in Central America during the 1980s. That is the larger story of John Kerry - deeply suspicious of American power, and naive about foreign threats.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Get the Scientist!

Here are a few things that you learn about American business men from watching Hollywood movies:

1) We are clearly a boy's network, sometimes old and sometimes young, but in contrast to the complacent country club life of liesure that the old boy's network conjures up, in truth we are prone to many sinister acts;

2) Our lighter crimes involve the senseless rape of the environment in efforts to garner more profits, but we cleverly mask that goal by providing products that consumers can't seem to get enough of - like gas, wood for building houses, genetically engineered food, etc.;

3) Our most harsh decisions are reserved for the courageous scientist (usually, alas, a gorgeous female scientist) who finds a way to synthetically create oil from water, thus threatening our existing monopoly. Or the courageous scientist who discovers that the cure for cancer is as simple as whipping up a concoction of different readily available herbs, thus threatening our billion dollar research industry. Or the courageous scientist who ... well, you get the picture. Courageous scientists, on the cusp of their major breakthroughs, have ways of disappearing at times that are coincident with us finding out about their research. The average lifespan of courageous scientists in the US is roughly 30 percent shorter than that for courageous scientists in other industrialized nations, which explains part of an earlier query coming from Professor Vic pertaining to the shorter lifespans of Americans;

4) Some of the more ambitous among us are bent on world domination and/or the privatization of weapons of mass destruction. We steal nuclear weapons whenever the chance presents itself, and make sure that accidents befall those who threaten to reveal the fact that we have bought every member of the US government;

5) And the worst among us, in case you thought that there was a little spark of humanity even given what you know from 1-4, are racist and sexist homophobes.

All sympathy is gone, is it not? You might have spared the business man the lash, but for #5 - the straw that broke the camel's back. But what about the underlying causes of our crimes? Alas, none of us grew up poor, we are the children of privilege who walk into our jobs without merit. Perhaps a cold and distant father? Well, yes, of course, in so far as all rich men who have made it in business are cold and heartless, but this hardly lets you off the hook. It seems the only thing you can do to be considered a heroic businessman in today's Hollywood is to have made your fortune building a publishing empire of pornography, a la Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt. The rest of us are condemned to the role of antagonist-supreme in our celluloid depictions.

If only truth mirrored fiction. We are not so far removed from some of the biggest corporate scandals this country has ever seen, and yet, where is the movie portrayal? Flash to Ken Lay in his Enron office discussing the merits of off-balance-sheet financing and the proper disclosure of such hidden debt on Enron's financial statements. Snore. Or let's take a peak at Bernie Ebbers at Worldcom heatedly advocating the capitalization of expenditures that everyone knows are properly expensed, and browbeating his auditors to agree. Snore.

Where are the dead scientists? Can't we at least get a dead accountant? When it comes to the stuff of movies and television, I am afraid we are a long way from Sipowicz bearing his ass on an episode of NYSEC Blue after a hard day of hunting down corporate executives in the shadey world of corporate accounting fraud. But hey, that's probably a good thing, right?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Eat the Academic (not the Rich)

From the archives:

“... unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest.”

Joseph Schumpeter Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

The above quote from Schumpeter highlights the most ironic feature of capitalism: the extension of freedoms necessary for capitalism has led to the creation of an intellectual class who, while well rewarded within capitalism, are nevertheless bent on destroying it. Schumpeter, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy describes entrepreneurs as taking a laissez faire attitude toward their social critics; while most definitely annoyed by them, business leaders make no effort to restrain their critics because doing so may only be accomplished by the removal of more general economic freedoms on which their business success depends.

But is there a ready market for “social unrest,” absent the direct support of the business community, that provides its peddlers a living? Socialist intellectuals, rather than facing reluctant intolerance or outright opposition from the business community, have flourished with the direct support of those they mark for criticism. Some of our most esteemed universities, in which our socialist friends find their haven, came into existence as a direct result of the philanthropy of business moguls, and continue to enjoy their support.

The University of Chicago, for example, was funded entirely by John D. Rockefeller, and counted among its first faculty Thorsten Veblen, who made his academic reputation at Chicago with a stinging criticism of the “leisure class”, among whom he most assuredly placed his employer’s benefactor, and not himself. Great businessmen seem inclined to establish institutions populated by persons who despise them.

One would think that entrepreneurs would reciprocate the general contempt they are held in by many intellectuals, producing a relationship between the two that Wilhelm Ropke described as one of “mutually intensifying resentment.” It is difficult to reconcile that “mutually intensifying resentment,” which does in fact exist, with the soft glove treatment academics receive at the hands of the business community. It is not as if the two groups share a consensus of belief with respect to issues tangential to matters of economic justice - entrepreneurs and statist intellectuals are separated by more than differences in economic philosophy. The contrasting nature of the work each performs quite naturally leads to the self-selection of people into these respective fields who possess very different backgrounds and interests, and who will therefore differ with respect to class origins, religious inclinations, and the type of influence each seeks.

The business leader occupies a world of decisive action. Again taking Rockefeller as an example, a month did not go by when he did not make a decision that affected the entire oil market in the U.S. Until the turn of the century, Standard Oil primarily refined oil into kerosene, whose primary use was as a cheap fuel for lamps. Rockefeller employed thousands of laborers in his refineries, and affected the livelihoods of countless more in the industries that were affected by the oil business. His product provided a cheap source of lighting that was especially beneficial to the poor. His business practices were sometimes benevolent, and other times quite mean, but all were scrutinized by the press and the university because of the influence they wielded. For better or for worse, he changed the world by very simply supplying a product in great demand at a low price.

The intellectual, in contrast to the business leader, occupies a world of critical examination and continual contemplation. Intellectual work is no less demanding than that done by businessmen, but its practitioners are distinguished from the business class by what Joseph Schumpeter called an “absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” In Rockefeller’s work, no decision made was free from having direct consequences for many, and therefore all were wrought with moral implications. The intellectual confronts no analogous responsibilities, and this feature of intellectual work may be one of its primary attractions to its adherents. This is not to say that the intellectual’s criticism of those like Rockefeller is not valuable, but only to point out that such criticism is often made from the sidelines by the intellectual who has inoculated himself from making errors of comparable significance. The sins of commission that the intellectual attributes to the entrepreneur could just as easily be considered his own sin of ommission.

Widespread support by university professors for the minimum wage provides one issue where the interests of businessmen and academics collide. One can easily poll the faculty on a college campus picked at random and find at least 75 percent will favor increasing the minimum wage. Of that 75 percent, most will classify wages beneath that level as exploitation. But few, if any of these people, will invest their own capital and take the risks inherent to running a business so that they may be able to hire someone who would otherwise be “exploited” at a wage well above the minimum. Despite this fact, each is more than happy to be critical of the small businessman, who in many cases may make less than the average college professor. Yet the “exploited” worker owes his bread to the efforts of the businessman, and profits not at all from contact with intellectuals.

Indeed, the intellectual has very little contact with the working classes, while it is not uncommon for successful businessmen to rise out of that class, and to maintain ties to it. At the very least, the businessman, at some level, must deal with the common workers. And to do so in a way that is conducive to his business, he requires knowledge of their concerns that goes beyond the intellectual’s removed speculation of the same. Again, for better or for worse, it is the businessman who influences these working classes in a direct way. And if he is sometimes guilty of base motives and actions in his dealings, he is not naïve about the motives of others, even the poor.

Intellectuals, convinced that the influence of businessmen is malevolent, seek their own influence with these groups through indirect political action. Such a route holds the advantage of not requiring that the intellectual deal with impoverished workers directly. Instead, he acts as a would-be savior to these “oppressed” groups from above. And when his grand poverty schemes fail bitterly, and leave a society racked with illegitimacy and the resultant crime, he absolves himself from responsibility because he knows his motives were pure.

If both groups were to be judged exclusively by what they offer to the poor (which is often how we measure moral worth), not in the way of warm sentiment, but instead in the way of basic necessities, the entrepreneur looks far better. The academic’s resentment for the entrepreneur stems from this central fact – though he places the relief of poverty (if not the welfare of the poor themselves) as a top moral priority, he is largely powerless to affect that goal. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, succeeds where the academic fails in raising the living standards of the poor, whether or not that end is intended as his goal (and it is usually the assumption of the academic that the entrepreneur actually seeks to exploit the poor).

W.H. Mallock describes the resulting resentment the academic holds for the entrepreneur: “They see that a number of men by whom great social results are produced – men who make successful inventions and who found great businesses – are narrow-minded, uncultivated, and contemptible in general conversation, and that a number of other men who produce no such results are scholars, critics, thinkers, keen judges of men and things; and contrasting the brilliancy of those who have produced no great social results with the narrow ideas and dullness of those who have produced many, they proceed to argue that great social results cannot possibly require great men to produce them; or, in other words, that they might be produced by almost anybody.”

Mallock goes on to point out that the academic is not capable of doing the work of the entrepreneur. The successful entrepreneur “would probably devote a large part of his life to the consideration of a particular kind of seemingly sordid detail. To a man of wide culture and imagination, the concentration of his faculties on details such as these would be impossible; and if he wished to produce any of the results in question, he would soon discover that he could not. The men who do produce them are rendered capable of doing so, not by the width of their minds, but by the exceptional narrowness.”

Any economic system that is to achieve real benefits for its most impoverished workers must provide the freedoms that allow the entrepreneur his just rewards for his decisive role, thus providing the proper incentive. Capitalism provides those incentives, and saves the poor man from being left in the hands of intellectuals, in which he would surely starve.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Is Pol Pot Taken?

See - told you. Globetrotters. You thought is was riduculous at first, but would they have lost to Puerto Rico by 19? Which brings up a third back-up idea: isn't Puerto Rico a U.S. territory? What good is imperialism if we can't force the citizens of a territory to play for the U.S. in the Olympics? Have the Dream Team give up their shirts to the Puerto Rico team, and we are as good as gold. While the basketball is no doubt a disappointment, personally I don't think I'll get over the U.S.'s poor performance in synchronized diving. Anyway, on to the usual screed ...

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

I was planning on doing a column on the fact that, on the market today, there seems to be about 150-200 Bush-bashing books. Walk into a Barnes & Noble, or a Borders, and you will see what I mean. It is safe to say that the number far exceeds what we saw at the height of the Clinton scandals, which gives you some indication about the biases of the publishing industry. In any event, the crack young staff at the Hatemonger's Quarterly beat me to it, and dedicated an article to speculating over how one distinguishes their own Bush-bashing book from the herd during the pitch stage. Here is what they had to say:

"Indeed, a clever title for your orgy of Bush-bashing should land you a few readers. Unfortunately, pretty much every catchy title has been explored by the 5,248 authors who penned their scabrous attacks on President Bush before you.

As a result, you, the author of yet another dilapidated I-Hate-Bush screed, are left with only one option: A ridiculously overwrought title. That ought to draw ‘em in. After all, a tepid title like “Boy, George Bush Really Has Me Steamed” is never going to do the trick. In order to help our prospective polemicists, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” recommend the following (free of charge, no less):

“The Hatemonger’s Quarterly” Official List of Overwrought Titles for Bush-Bashing Books:
1. “Worse than Hitler?: A Chronicle of Bush’s Evil”
2. “Worse than Hitler: A Chronicle of Bush’s Evil”
3. “Killing Babies: A Day in the Life of Our Current President”
4. “George Bush: He Has Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds”
5. “George Bush is the Most Odious Dictator of All Times, Even Though Other Odious Dictators Would Never Allow Me to Publish This Book If it Were about Them”
6. “Bush the Jew-Lover: A Moderate Muslim Speaks Out”
7. “Somehow Bush is Worse than Bin Laden, Though I’m Not Sure How This Can Be True”
8. “Bring Peace Unto the World: Kill Bush”

Well, these ought to be useful to those few irate Bush-haters who are literate. If only President Bush were fat—like, say, Michael Moore; then we could have a real field day with him."

And then, reading Lileks recently, I come across this passage:

"The store had many tables of Current Events and Politics, and if I can sum them all up: Bush Needs to Be Dismembered and Fed to Jackals Who Will Barf Up The Chunks For the Maggots To Consume, by Garrison Franken. I’ve never seen anything like it.

SBHFS. Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome.

If the clerk had said “did you find everything you were looking for?” I would have answered “inasmuch as I was seeking a corner of the store uncontaminated by politics, no.” But she didn’t ask."

Can't really top those two, so why not just copy and paste today and be on with my day? I'll just leave you with this - even if all the Hitler titles get taken, if you are interested in getting a book published, there are plenty more historical thugs you could compare Bush to - Stalin, Pol Pot, Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Che Gevara. Oh, wait a minute - that is probably not very good advice, as the population that sucks these books up probably have their walls postered with these guys portrayed in heroic light. Oh well, you'll just have to use another Hitler permutation.

We keep hearing about the creeping fascism and the crushing of dissenting voices from the Bush/Ashcroft juggernaut, and would that it were so. The fact is that nearly one out of every two foaming-at-the-mouth critics not only has a voice, he has a book contract. That fact alone should reduce their book sales to zero, since it disproves a major part of their thesis, except that the half that doesn't currently have a book contract needs to read these books in researching their own proposal to Random House. I am afraid Bush and Ashcroft will be laughing-stocks when they get to hell and have to swap stories with Hitler and Stalin.

For an attempted explanation of the source of Bush hatred, check out this by Victo Davis Hanson. But never try to disabuse a Bush-hater or his hatred; as Jonathon Swift once said, and I paraphrase, "you cannot reason a man out of something he was never reasoned into."

Friday, August 13, 2004

An Inadvertant Victory for the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

A few thoughts on Governor McGreevey:

1) We at the vast right-wing conspiracy thought this guy was totally incorruptible. In our project "A Lewinsky in Every Governor's Mansion" (Legman for short), we sent at least a dozen thong-wearing, beret-donning weight-watchers his way with a pizza to deliver, and nary a one of them required any dry cleaning when they returned to our headquarters. Who knew that we should have been sending him a Stephanopolis?

2) This is actually the one national news story that does not come as a shock to me - it is totally consistent with the story that broke years ago in the Total Soreness Gym, owned and operated by a New Jersey State trooper. The story was relayed to me by my brother Lime, who heard it after throwing up and passing out at the gym. The troopers were responsible for McGreevey's security, which is no easy task for a guy prone to extra-marital homosexual affairs. Did trooper training include learning how to lecture incoming Governors on how to have safe sex? Enquiring minds want to know. And is this the new media feed chain - Total Soreness to Drudge to the blogosphere to Fox and then finally to the majors?

3) "The truth about me is that I am a gay American." Gee, thanks for telling us the truth. I am sure your wife and kids appreciate the timing of your admirable honesty, not to mention the residents of New Jersey. The Human Rights Campaign might consider your admission courageous (they said so), but excuse me if I think otherwise. There will be those who will rush to defend you - oh, what a difficult burden you've lived with (or rather, what a difficult burden that society has forced upon you), but the truth is that you are the least of the victims here. Your wife and kids deserve someone better than you. The voters of New Jersey - at least the majority of them - do deserve you: you are actually a step up from Robert Toricelli on the scandal-meter.

4) But nowadays, regrettably, I fear that being gay will (in the eyes of many) provide this guy some degree of exoneration. Spare me, please. If a straight guy leaves his wife and kids for a hair-dresser, can he have a press conference and announce that the truth about him is that he likes his women younger and more attractive? Maybe I am setting up a straw man here, and no one will really come to his defense - I hope that is the case. But I have reason to doubt that it will be - remember that Episcopal priest who became the first openly gay bishop in that denomination last year? Did you know that he was married at one time and had a couple of kids, and left them because the truth about him was that he was a gay American. One would think such a past of betrayal would be enough to not pick that guy to lead a spiritual flock, but my bet is that you didn't even hear that little tidbit in all the press coverage of that appointment.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Is Stax the Inner Me?

Stax replies:

"Who am I? I am the inner ^&%^ Hatcher coming out of the closet as a libertarian asking all to vote Libertarian or with principle during the next election. Bush and Kerry are the fast food hamburgers of political choice. They are the McPoliticos. Super-sized. I prefer the healthier organic breed of politican. Ones who aren't politicans at all. I want servants of the people as opposed to high cholesterol-mad cow laden-drooling villiage idiots serving as our lordes.

^%@& Hatcher closes with: "In the meantime, I'm voting against John Kerry." He leaves us hanging unknowing whether or not he'll vote for principle.This even though he precedes his closing quote with a great solution: "don't tell us whose running. When we show up in the voting booth, hand us a brochure that has the platform of the previously undisclosed candidates, and let the chips fall where they may."

Wonderful solution. And I in fact won't tell you who Stax is in the same spirit. I'll instead swear that I'm in fact the inner *&#$ Hatcher until he fesses up and indicates why we shouldn't vote Libertarian based on principle versus tribal allegiance."

OK, Stax, international man of mystery and intrigue, you left me hanging until late in the day before commenting obliquely on your identity, so I left you hanging for a day as well. But now I return to your challenge. In my own convoluted way, that last line - that I plan to vote against Kerry - implied that I planned to vote for Bush. To me, a vote for the libertarian would give more benefit to Kerry than the libertarian. So, despite the fact that I might actually prefer the libertarian to Bush, I think that I can still vote for Bush and be consistent with my preferences, if not my principles. And its a principled decision to the extent that my principles include not wanting a gold-digging Massachusetts windbag to be the Commander in Chief.

I'm sure that cleared up nothing. But if Stax is clinging to his comment that he is the inner me, just busting to get out and vote my true conscience, I can tell you confidently that he is not the inner me. I know this for two reasons: 1) the wonderful anti-psychotic drugs I take regularly to suppress the many inner mes that would otherwise post comments to the blog all day long; and 2) if the inner me were posting comments, it would go by the pseudonym MilkShake.

But part of the mystery surrounding Stax has been solved by the Hatcher, allaying the lion-share of my curiosity. Stax, you've outwitted yourself, because I know that you know something about me that you wouldn't know unless you knew me. You used my real name in your comment. A definite no-no, and not quite feasible for a libertarian who doesn't already know me. Sure, anyone who could drool with enough force over the keyboard could probably string together a few personal revelations from the entries and do some supplemental internet research to identify my true identity. But snooping into the background of an anonymous blogger is not exactly the modus operendi of a libertarian. Case solved! You're clever, Stax, but you got cocky.

I've redacted, obducted, and subtracted all reference to my name in your comment. You should have guessed that I am an under-cover operative of the vast right-wing conspiracy, and the release of such information could very well put me in danger. I'll let it slide this time. I still am a bit curious as to your true identity, but now that I know that you are either a direct involuntary subscriber or an affiliate of the same, I'm less intrigued. The remaining curiosity stems from the fact I can't think of one involuntary subscriber who would lean to libertarianism (OK, Bachenson, you accepted). I know some liberals, and some libertines, but not any libertarians.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Dream Team

The Olympics haven't even started yet and I am already not watching them. I probably have never had less interest in the Olympics than I do this year. NBC has finally beaten it into my head that they don't give a rip about actually showing any sporting events; they just want to show footage of some obsessed mother and father waking their anorexic 12 year old daughter up at four in the morning to go to a gymnastics practice run by some Romanian pedophile. That way you can see the human drama of the whole situation. You know what they say - behind every great teen-age athlete there is some truly sick parent who swares up and down on camera that little Suzie-Q insisted on three-a-day practices from the time she was two.

And you can just bet that Bob Costas has his fingers crossed for his Jim McKay moment, when disaster may actually strike the Olympic village. Being the live reporter on such a scene is like a golfer winning the Masters - like Jim McKay, Costas could count on being disconnected from the life support system 4o years down the road to come back for his once-every-four-year retrospective on the tragedy of the 2004 Athens Games, and always with that annoying trumpet music playing in the background. Lacking such drama, Bob Costas will no doubt suffer the fate of Jim Lampley.

Not that the sporting events are that much better. I like the track&field and the swimming, but you just have to cross your fingers that the events you want to watch aren't concurrent with rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming. But the one sport I haven't cared to watch in years is Olympic basketball, at least since 1988, prior to the original Dream Team. Why watch an event where the outcome is predetermined? Oh sure, the argument at the time was that our college guys could no longer compete at the international level, and so to bring the glory of gold back to the USA we needed to send the best. One problem with that strategy - there is no upside - if the Dream Team loses, the loss ranks among the most historic upsets in Sports history, and if it wins, so what? So what if we send a college contingent, we may not win every four years, but when we would win, and we would on occasion, at least there would be some sense of accomplishment.

Look at the USA hockey team of 1980 - obviously the stuff of movies - and ask yourself if that one victory, with a group of college guys, was worth more than all of the Dream Team gold medals combined.

I may just be bitter because the one suggestion I had been making for years to increase interest in Olympic basketball has gone largely ignored. I was all for keeping the Dream Team, with one exception. My idea was to troll the country for a fat sub 5' 6" basketball player with real charisma, a guy who never rose above high school hoops, but remains a gym rat of sorts and lives on a diet of pure junk food. I'd want him to talk an enormous amount of trash loud enough for the camera microphones to pick up, but have no game to back it up at all. Take that guy, give him a uniform, and see that he gets at least ten minutes of playing time per game. And don't put it all at the end, otherwise no one will tune in until the 4th quarter (kind of like with any NBA game).

No way a guy like that would have meant defeat for those early dream teams. The stunt would be highly entertaining, and much in line with the proud tradition of American arrogance - see, we can beat your basketball team with an overfed Spike Lee - now imagine what our military would do to yours.

Sure, I've never written the idea down before, but I have mentioned it to a few people, and by now the US Olympic Committee has no doubt heard some variant of the idea - but still we get fed the same diet of NBA stars, minus those attending to pressing legal matters. The idea has only gotten better with time - today NBC could build a hole reality TV show around the search for the player, kind of like the apprentice, with Larry Brown ending each show saying to one would-be-Olympian - "You're Cut."

Or maybe it hasn't gotten better with time, since now there is a real probability that whatever team we send may still get beat, as hard as that is to imagine. The excuses have already started - the NBA season is so long, these guys don't play together long enough, the lane looks funny, the shot clock is longer in international play, the three-point line is easier, gyros don't sit well with American players, how can NBA players be expected to pass more than once per possession, how can American players defend against teams that pass more than once per possession, etc. etc. Stick my gym rat on that team and they would just point to him as another excuse for losing.

So now I offer my second viewer-friendly idea for the US Olympic Committee. Two words - Harlem Globetrotters. Even if they lose, and they rarely do, at least we know some crappy international referee (perhaps the son of one who gave the '72 Olympic medal to the Russkies) will get a full bucket of water thrown on them. Or maybe it will just be confetti - you never know with the Globetrotters - they keep you is suspense!

You want to talk about passing - these guys have been running the weave for close to a century. These guys rarely lose, and they usually play against teams dominated by white guys (if my memory serves me correctly here), so they are perfect for international competition. A funny looking lane doesn't matter to them. They'll probably wait until during the game to have gyros delivered right to the court. They don't care about the three point line - they've always preferred to take hookshots from half-court anyway. They protect the ball well on offense, using their shirts to great effect. And if the game gets out of hand - one of them usually has a whistle stuffed in his shorts that he can bring out to commence officiating and confuse the opponent.

You think NBA players don't know the international game? They'd be regular Einsteins in comparison to the international players trying to understand the Globetrotter's game.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Who is Stax?

Two comments from Stax, the most recent one exhorting me to check out the libertarian candidate for President, Mike Badnarik. I know a Heavy-T, a Giant, a Boz, a Moshe, a Mog, a Lime, the Cheetah, a T-Bob, a T-Cal, a Dusty Eggs, a G-No-Money, a BFX, and a Head, but I don't think I know a Stax.

Could it be that the Hatcher has attracted a regular reader through the mind-boggling randomness of the internet? Have I managed to snare, and keep caught in my web of unsupported and poorly worded opinions, someone outside the list of involuntary subscribers? Is it possible that there others out there, less willing to out themselves by posting a comment, as voluntray readers of Ideas Hatched ?

Or is it that Stax is a pseudonym for someone on my list? Fess up, Stax. I gots to know. If I don't know you, I must say right off that my opinion of you could not be higher, and I would be more than willing if necessary to even bump off one of my so-called "friends" from the current distribution list to include a person like yourself, who has demonstrated refined taste and sensibility.

Stax, by now I've either scared you away for good, or you are even sicker and more attention starved than me. Perhaps I should seem less desperate for unsolicited readers in the future, and pretend like each is one of many, but for now, I feel like I need to pay careful attention to retaining Stax as a reader. And Stax wants me to consider the libertarain candidate. So I will. Stax, will you stay? Please.

Stax views the choice as one of voting on the basis of principle versus tribal loyalty. Very astute, because there is much to be said for the tribal loyalties held by the partisans of the left and right. Look at the comparative political situations of George Bush and Tony Blair. Blair, a liberal who joined forces with Bush to depose Saddam, faces the "liar liar pants on fire" in its most extreme forms from the British right, whereas Bush clearly faces this from the US left. Why aren't US liberals supporting a policy embraced by their favorite UK prime minister? Why do the conservative Brits suddenly find a recommitment to beneficent imperialism objectionable? Simple - neither is in control in their own country. Their tribal loyalties blind them to the more dangerous foe. This is why the extreme left-wing doesn't blink when they paint a Hitler mustache on Bush, despite the irony that his greatest sin in their eyes is deposing the would-be Hitler Saddam.

It puts me in mind of the Monty Python film the Life of Brian, and a scene wherein various anti-Roman groups had inadvertantly launched a plan to take a strike against the empire on the same night, found that their plots were entangled, and began to fight with each other. Before the fight reached a fevered pitch, one of the participants spoke up loudly to say that the two groups, though they disagreed on much, were united by a larger cause - a common enemy. He didn't name the common enemy, but someone from the opposing group did. Rather than name the Romans, he named another organization that, like these two, was opposed to the Romans. And everyone agreed and decided to work together. The British right and American left are united by the common enemy - the Bush-Blair alliance - not the fight against terrorism.

But I digress. I actually did vote for the libertarian candidate back in 1996 (Harry Brown, I believe). I lived in Minnesota at the time, so a vote cast for Dole wasn't going to do much good. But Stax raises an interesting question that also faces those Dems who prefer Nader to Kerry: does principle require not considering the probable consequences of your vote? OK, the probable consequence of your vote is precisely nil. But assuming that there is some impact, if you knew that a vote cast on principle would lead to the election of the candidate that least conforms to your views, is that the principled vote to make? I guess an argument can be made either way - my guess is that Stax is not indifferent to Bush and Kerry, but thinks that the potential short-term cost would be countered by a long-term benefit.

And certainly there is a troubling self-fulfilling logic to considering the likely consequences of one's vote, as this requires a guess about how other people would vote. The same calculus figures into the money-raising efforts of candidates, so that in the end the parties put forward the candidate that they think other people will vote for (Kerry) rather than the candidate they probably prefer (Dean). Perhaps if people didn't make such calculations, we'd have an exciting four way race with Ralph and Mike Badnarik each having a real shot at winning. Or, even more interesting, people might use the logic that they'd prefer to vote for Bush, but by not voting for Badnarik, they'd be increasing the chances that Ralph got elected, and they'd never to be able to buy a Corvair again!

Here is a solution I think everyone would embrace - don't tell us whose running. When we show up in the voting booth, hand us a brochure that has the platform of the previously undisclosed candidates, and let the chips fall where they may. No boring debates, no freak-show conventions, no TV advertisements, no seemingly endless speculation on current polling data, and no blogs dedicated to politics. Sure, no doubt Congressional Democrats would argue that the need to read the brochure amounts to a poll tax, but maybe we could bring in International observers from the UN (maybe the Chinese contingent, or Saudi Arabia, or Syria, where they know a thing or two about fair elections) to read the brochures aloud.

Under that system, Stax, Badnarik can count on my vote. In the meantime, I'm voting against John Kerry.

Sunrise on Year Eight

(Warning: if there is such a thing, this is clearly a chick blog entry)

My daily commute pleasure involves biking past the front of the Lincoln Memorial, casting a glance up at Abe, and trying to avoid ramming into a photo-snapping Japenese tourist in the process. But in the mornings, it is usually only me, the cops who are stationed by the fences to preclude trucks loaded down with explosives from getting too close to Abe, and the guys who operate the POW/MIA booths 365 days per year. Gazing to my right, I have a view of the Reflecting pool, the new WW II Memorial, and the Washington Monument.

This morning as I biked past Abe, the tip of the Washington Monument was pointing directly at the rising - OK, the risen - sun (I am never headed to work so early as to see the rising sun). The sky was clear blue, and the air was crisp, making it feel more like a September morning than a hot and muggy August one. I was reminded of waking up in Cape May, New Jersey, two blocks from the beach on Jackson Street, five years ago this morning with my wife. Cape May, unlike the majority of the Jersey Coast, faces more to the south than then east, so our sunrise walk had us looking parallel to the beach, with the sun rising half on land and half over sea.

We woke up early to watch the sunrise to mark our two- year Anniversery. That was a feat made easier by the enforced vacation sobriety of her being 6 months pregnant with our first children (twins). At the time, we agreed that waking up to catch the sunrise would be a good way to start each new year of marriage, and thus a tradition was established. The next year the tradition was broken, as all fine traditions eventually are. Once you've had twins, you quickly jettison any tradition that cuts into sleep.

It has now been seven great years since we wed. In those seven years, we have: had three children; moved from Minneapolis to Washington D.C., back again, and back again once more;
sold and purchased three homes; painted and repainted 30 rooms; and changed an estimated 12 thousand diapers. And we did it all as a team (OK, I didn't change more than a quarter of the diapers, but I painted all the rooms). Through it all as a team!

At this rate, we will have at least three more kids, and we will be solely responsible for allowing our realtor to retire early. Don't believe me about the kids? Well, in year eight, specifically no later than March 3rd, we'll have added a fourth to our litter. We have our fingers crossed for a girl. With four boys, I can see it now:

"Dad, we're headed to the golf course, we'll see you later."

"Wait guys, I'll go get my clubs. I think they are down in the basement. Let me go get 'em. Why, I remember when I used to go golfing with my dad ..."

My voice fades as I head down the stairs, while the boys have already started the car and headed for the links. Golf is meant for foursomes. Of course, if we have a girl, she could be the next Anika Sorenstam, and I'll still be stuck looking for my defective clubs in the basement. But either way, our marriage is clearly blessed!

Friday, August 06, 2004

A Real Mountain Biking President

In a southern suburb of Minneapolis, there is a park called Terrace Oaks with a mountain bike trail. A friend and I, mountain bikes in tow, set out for that park to become tried and true mountain bikers. We didn't want to be part of the high percentage of people who purchase mountain bikes but never hit a trail. Now my friend is a top-of-the-line consumer, so his mountain bike came equipped with the clip-in petals, which are sort of like a ski binding in that you have to make an effort to release your foot from the petal. On a mountain bike, once that pedal gets slightly mudded-up, this becomes more difficult.

We were screaming along the path, on a slight down hill. The path was not single trek at this point, so we were side by side with room to spare. But, like all Junes in Minnesota, this one had seen its share of rain, and so it was only a matter of time before our path was obstructed by what looked like a deep mud puddle, stretching across the entire width of our path, and about twenty feet along it. Instinctively, we both stopped as soon as we saw it, and pondered are next move.

My friend clipped into his petals, and tried to proceed slowly through the mud. A slow ride through would minimize the mud kicked into the moving parts of our delicate machines, which can require significant maintenance efforts if not kept clean. Or so we reasoned at the time. But a slow ride also has the drawback of providing rider and bike scant momentum. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a fast body in motion even tends to stay in motion when wheels are peeling through four inches of muddy bog. The same cannot be said for a slow body in motion. He got in about a bike length when his feet came to a slow hault. At that time he had one second when the bike was still balanced upright to kick out one of his feet. He needed two. He fell to his left, mud all over his body and face. And of course I laughed, walked my bike through the mud, and filed the story away in my memory.

Now, there are many things about mountain biking that are completely obvious after you've screwed it up. The after-the-fact obvious strategy would have been to keep our speed and just tear through the mud, and it would have worked. But I don't care how smart you are (and my friend is the smartest guy I know), your instincts tell you to stop the first time you see that obtrusive mud. Anyone who has mountain biked on a trail has probably made a similar stupid mistake.

Another one is locking up your front brake. It's an equation for a one-and-one-half flip with a 180 degree twist, and unless you do it just prior to riding into a pool, it hurts. You only make that mistake once, but you do make it.

Which brings me to the Presidential election, and the tale of two mountain bikers. One - Bush - recently had two mountain biking accidents, the second of which had him doing his Greg Louganis imitation over the handlebars, landing squarely onto his back. Chances are he won't do it again. But the first accident was more in line with the typical hazards of trail riding - it was a fall that anyone could expect to make out on the trail. He may repeat that one on unfamiliar trails, but probably not again on the specific trail he was riding. The local newscaster, in reporting the story, mentioned that the President was riding his new $3100 mountain bike. The relevance of the price of the mountain bike to the story was not explained.

The first fall prompted his opponent to quip that his advisors shouldn't have removed his training wheels. Get it? Bush is dumb and lacks coordination. Isn't that funny? Ha Ha. Kerry has his own mountain bike. In my lifetime, I have only purchased two cars that are more expensive than his $8000 two-wheeler. It has no training wheels, but it has also never seen a trail that wasn't macadam. He's been photographed fully decked out in spandex and acrylic biking gear, taking a treachorous corner of a tarred path, donning an aerodynamic helmet meant to protect that most precious of national assets (take your pick among his hair, his botoxed face, or his nuanced brain) in case the back wheel should catch a spot of goose excrement left unremoved by employees of the National Park Agency. But that will not happen, because John Kerry does not fall, as he was quick to inform agents of the press when, err, he appeared to fall while skiing. But he didn't fall; a secret service agent cut him off, and was berated for it.

And its' a good thing he didn't fall off of his bike, for several reasons. First, if he would have suffered any abrasions, he'd be lobbying to receive his fourth purple heart. Second, the nearest Secret Service agent would have probably been fired. Third, John Edwards would have been hired to sue the National Parks Agency, the maker of the bike, the maker of the helmet, and the family of the Secret Service agent. Why? Because John Kerry doesn't fall, and therefore if he falls, there must have been gross negligence on the part of multiple parties. What did Bush do when he fell? He got up and kept riding. He no doubt was slightly embarressed, but he shook it off.

It's a story of no grand significance, but it illustrates a general character trait of Kerry that is disturbing. I laughed when my friend fell, but it was with the humility borne from the knowledge that, there, but for the grace of God, go I. That knowledge came from my own near and not-so-near misses while mountain biking, and the fact that my friend, who is a good athlete and who is far smarter than Kerry, could still find his left side caked in mud. But John Kerry would never hit the trail, and yet he jokes with the arrogance of someone who is pretending to a status he has not earned. And this, in my opinion, is a metaphor for his life.

Maybe, like Bush (at least in my opinion), he will earn the status he pretends to merit now while in office, but right now his manner suggests that his superior fitness for office is self-evident, not in need of any objective support outside of his own very deep self-regard. Somehow we are expected to believe that his famous nuanced mind will balance in favor of the common good the internal dissonance of being a gold-digging billionaire populist, an ex-war hero pacifist, an ex-war protesting hawk, an SUV-driving private plane flying environmentalist, and a unilateral multilateralist.

Sorry, aint buying it, unless and until the guy takes to the trail, scrapes his botoxed face, and learns a little humility.

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