Monday, November 29, 2004

Conversations with Cabbies

"Where you headed?" in a faded east African accent.


A pause for a moment before starting the conversation. It is raining outside, but the window is cracked slightly to cut the stale cab odor that is characteristic of most taxis. Now, to the conversation:

"Where are you from?"

"Trinidad", or Somalia, or Eritrea, or some other country that is geographically large, located in Africa, and has an excellent public school system geared toward sending students to America to drive a cab.

"How long have you been here?" Fifteen years comes the reply, all of it in Queens or the Bronx, or some other geograhically large borough, located in New York, that has housing that is just perfect for an African cabbie.

"Are you married?", and here is where the conversation gets interesting.

"Yes, I have two wives."

"Two wives?" I say with a dash of incredulity and a smudgen of sympathetic admiration.

"Yes, they are both at home on the couch watching TV."

"How about children - do you have any kids."

"Two kids," comes the reply to my great relief - sure he has twice as many wives as me, but I am three months away from having twice as many kids. I am not sure why that is a win for me, exactly, but I'll take what I can get.

"I've got four kids, but only one wife."

"You ought to get another wife," comes the reply, as if it is like ordering a pizza. Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Hey, there is an attractive woman waiting to cross at the light. Would you mind stopping for a minute while I propose? I am still trying to figure how I bamboozled one woman to marry me, and this guy thinks getting another is easy pickins.

"No, if I got another wife, I'd probably end up with eight kids, and I couldn't handle that."

"And if you got a third wife, 12 kids." I let the math stop there, as I don't need to prove my arithmetic skill, and really in the end how would that compare to a man who has two wives?

All of which got me to thinking - in the high fallutin arguments over gay marriage, it is sometimes offered that if marriage is to be defined as a consensual relationship between loving adults, with gender being irrelevant, what bars polygamy from slipping in the same door? The response is usually one of either restricting marriage to two people, which seems to arbitrarily cut the definition of marriage to quell the argument, or that even if logically polygamy cannot be kept from creeping in, in practicality no one is seeking such rights.

But not so fast with the practicality argument - apparently some European countries are already facing a problem, as they have rather sizable Moslem populations that think rather highly of the idea of having two wives on the couch watching TV. As those populations grow, they'll be more vociforous in the demand for polygamy. And why not? They have as much science supporting the notion that men are evolutionarily wired for sex with multiple women as homosexuals do regarding the immutability of their sexual preference. A Moslem man cannot help falling in love with two women!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Radio Host Calls Rice 'Aunt Jemima'

Hmmm, the mayor of the Peoples Republic of Madison called this remark "racially insensitive," as opposed to just flat out racist. What do you have to do, as a member of the left, to be called racist by one of your brethren? And these guys always hind behind the assumption, substantiated by absolutely nothing, that they know that the relationship between Bush and Rice is one of total obsequiousness on the part of Rice. Isn't that assumption itself racist, aside from any Aunt Jemima comments. Yahoo! News - Radio Host Calls Rice 'Aunt Jemima'

Thursday, November 18, 2004


The fourtieth anniversery of Dr. Strangelove is the subject of James Earl Jones' reminiscences in the Wall Street Journal. It is definitely worth a read. Jones' role as part of Slim Pickens' crew responsible for dropping the bomb on the "Ruskies" was his first in the movies. If you haven't seen that movie, you really should - every character is a classic. But of all the characters, no one beats George C. Scott's General Buck Turgidson. His character is hilarious; Jones points out that Kubrick basically tricked Scott into the performance, and Scott swore never to work for Kubrick again.

Two of my favorite scenes with Buck are when he protests that if the President lets the Russian ambassador into the War Room, "he'll see the big board," which is an electronic map of the world. Then, later, when the Ruskie is explaining to the President that the Russians have a doomsday machine that automatically responds to any nuclear bombing with a discharge of all of its nuclear weapons to bring upon out a nuclear holocaust, Turgidson turns to another General and mutters "I wish we had one of those Doomsday machines" in a tone that betrays nothing but admiration for the diabolical planning of the Soviets.

Peter Sellers plays three characters, none of which are the Pink Panther. As Dr. Strangelove, a wheel-chair bound former Nazi nuclear scientist now working for the US, he describes with utter glee the post-Nuclear winter society that will start with the limited number of the privileged who can populate the underground bomb shelter meant for the President. A society where "animals will be bred and slaughtered" and women will have to outnumber men by 8 to 1 as "the monogomous relationship as we know it will be history" in order for the species to survive. The look on George C. Scott's face at the moment Strangelove says this is worth the price of admission alone.

Of course the politics of the movie are a bit tendentious, but it is so funny that you can excuse that. If all peacenick liberals had the same sense of humor, I'd be singing Pete Seeger tunes all the live long day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Unenlightened Jesus Freaks

Garry Wills, in one of the many public displays of blue state animus, speaks of America as being Unenlightened, more willing to believe in the virgin birth than the Darwinian rise of man through evolution. Putting aside the argument over the existence or non-existence of a creator, the smug assumption implicit in such indictments is that an enlightened society, susceptible to the cold logic and reason of science, is somehow a better and more humane society. That implicit assumption enjoys very little historical support.

Consider a few examples of the enlightened scientific view being at odds with a humane view of society.

* A Civic Biology, a state-approved textbook that John Scopes (he of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial) used as a substitute biology teacher, had this to say of epileptics, the mentally ill, and other unwanted types: “If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of … preventing intermarriage and the possibility of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.” Yes, yes - you shouldn't prevent anyone from teaching that truth to your kids! It is not the fault of the enlightened that some might (and did) use similar logic to enslave blacks, kill Jews, and beat homosexuals.

* Justice Holmes, not long after the Scopes trial, would sanction the court-ordered sterilization of “a feeble minded white woman,” explaining that “society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind … Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” In the case of the Kennedy family, I could not agree more. Just look at Patrick Kennedy .

* And from Thomas Sowell's excellent book Knowledge and Decisions we learn that, back in the first half of the American century, "leading IQ experts were also members of eugenics societies devoted to preventing the reproduction of “inferior” stocks. However, the political impossibility “at present” of convincing “society” that low I.Q. groups “should not be allowed to reproduce” made the “experts” predict a “decline in American intelligence “ over time.

As Sowell explains: "These were not views of the village racist. They were the conclusions of the top contemporary authorities in the field, based on masses of statistical data, and virtually unchallenged either intellectually, morally, or politically within the profession at the time. Controversies raged between the “experts” and others – notably Walter Lippman – but such critic’s conclusions were contemptuously dismissed as “sentiment and opinion” as contrasted with the “quantitative methods” of the new science."

Sowell sees the IQ experts affinity for eugenics as representative of a broader pattern: "In many ways this episode illustrates far more general characteristics of the intellectual-political “relevance”: 1) the almost casual ease with which vast expansions of the amount and scope of government power to be used against their fellow citizens and fellow human beings, for the purpose of implementing the intellectuals’ vision, 2) the automatic presumption that differences between the current views of the relevant intellectuals and the views of others reflect only the misguided ignorance of the latter, who are to be either “educated”, dismissed, or discredited, rather than being argued with directly… 3) the implicit faith that the current views of the “experts” represented the objective, inescapable conclusions of scientific evidence and logic, … rather than either the vogues or the professional self-interest of these “experts”..

To be sure, certain religious beliefs are not necessarily conducive to peaceful relations with one's neighbors. In fact, if Wills would open up his eyes, he might see that the unenlightened red-staters voted to stick with a guy who is not naive about the threat we face from people who consider killing an infidel a humane act that saves the said infidel from further ruining his chances to be united with Allah. Of the current conflagarations and wars raging in all of the corners of the world, which by one persons count was near 30 about two years ago, only one did not involve Moslems as at least one of the two combatants.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Boss

One of the positive side-effects of the Bush victory is that I can continue to listen to Bruce Springsteen's 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) without being significantly irked. The song concerns the desire of a testosterone-laden teen to escape the comfortable but dead-end boardwalk life on the Jersey shore with his best gal Sandy; or, short of that, to use the notion that he is leaving to at least get in Sandy's pants. I've always loved the song, but I must say my enjoyment of it was diminished by the knowledge that the "something bigger" life that the Boss sought in escaping the lights and attractions of the boardwalk involved stumping for a mediocre billionaire politician. My bet is that had he divulged that ambition to Sandy, it would have been a deal killer.

Now, I am a bit of a freak, and I admit it. I cannot stand entertainers who are hard-core liberals, and my ability to be entertained by them is contingent upon them being on the losing side in elections. Usually I don't care to know what an entertainers politics are, mostly because I know the probability is not high that I will agree. And some do you the favor of not throwing it in your face. But many obviously do not.

And yet, despite the fact that 51 percent of the voters in the nation, over 60 million people, clearly disagree with the Spicolis of the world, we nevertheless go and see the movies these guys put out and buy their CDs. Now that, my friends, is the model of toleration in politics - separating the personal from the political. An actor's achievements on the big screen are not diminished by an ill-informed political opinion. Most people (not necessarily the Hatcher) have no problems separating the two, and enjoying the movies pumped out by the Commies in Hollywood. The American people reject the frivolent claims made by actors to vaunted status as the political conscious of all right thinking people, yet they reject such claims without malice. The red-staters are much like the patient and wise parents who nod in agreement as their college Freshman comes back home with laundry in tow, and a handful of lectures for his hopelessly naive parents. They still feed him, but they know it is pointless trying to either listen or talk to him.

I submit to you that all of this talk about how divided we are in this country is bunk. Sure, we disagree on some things, but the disputes do not run along the lines of whether or not women should wear burquas in public. But I would also submit to you that to the extent there is a lack of tolerance and downright hostility for those with a different political opinion, it runs from the blue states to the red states. Red-staters may attend the movies of Tim Robbins secure in the knowledge that he finds them beneath contempt. (It makes me want to start a parallel to the Motion Picture Academy that has only red-state Republicans in a postion to vote for Best Actor awards and such. And I mean do it in earnest. The winners of such awards, knowing the composition of the Red-State Motion Picture Academy, will view it as their darkest hour.)

Prior to the election, a writer for Slate who was a Kerry supporter spent a day in a heavy blue county wearing a Bush-Cheny t-shirt, and then did the same in a heavy red county wearing a Kerry-Edwards shirt. The result? He received one insulting remark in the red county, and many in the blue. Consider also that about 5 Republican campaign headquarters were shot at and/or vandalized in the month prior to the election. If entertainers were primarily Bush supporters, they'd have reason to be significantly worried about attendance at their next movie.

But even young people aren't so enamored with the opinions of aging Boomer entertainers. After the Boss's concert in Madison to rock the vote, he was driving through the University of Wisconsin campus, when he came upon a fraternity party with a banner posted that invited him in for a beer. So he did, and while there, queried two young co-eds what their favorite Springsteen songs were. The two young ladies paused, looked at each other, and giggled. They didn't know any.

Friday, November 12, 2004 - Why Does the Government Patronize Us?

The Hatcher Who Was Taught By a Nobel Laureate found this article written by the Nobel Laureate concerning reforming Social - Why Does the Government Patronize Us?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Beautiful People Letter

Tom Wolfe has a new book coming out. Wolfe is by far my favorite author - if you haven't read The Right Stuff or the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, you really should. Here is a passage from the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which chroniclas the true life happenings of the Merry Pranksters, a group of hippies led by the author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) that were among the first in the country to start taking -

"El...Es...Dee... se-cret-ley... Timothy Leary, Alpert, and a few chemists like Al Hubbard and the incognito "Dr. Spaulding" had been pumping LSD out into the hip circuit with a truly messianic conviction. LSD, peyote, mescaline, morning-glory seeds were becoming the secret new thing in the hip life. A lot of kids who were into it were already piled into amputated apartments, as I called them. The seats, the tables, the beds - none of them ever had legs. Communal living on the floor, you might say, although no one used terms like "communal living" or "tribes" or any of that. They had no particular philosophy, just a little leftover Buddhism and Hinduism from the beat period, plus Huxley's theory of opening doors in the mind, no distinct life style, except for the Legless look...they were...well, Beautiful People!- not "students", "clerks", "Salesgirls", "executive trainees" - Christ, don't give me your occupation-game labels! we are Beautiful People, ascendent from your robot junkyard::::: and at thus point they used to sit down and write home the Beautiful People letter. usually the girls wrote these letters to their mothers. Mothers all over California, all over America, I guess, got to know the Beautiful People letter by heart. It went:

Dear Mother,

"I meant to write to you before this and I hope you haven't been worried. I am in [San Francisco, Los Angelos, New York, Arizona, a Hopi Indian Reservation!!! New York, Ajijic, San miguel de Allende, mazatlan, Mexico!!!!] and it is really beautiful here. It is a beautiful scene. We've been here a week. I won't bore you with the whole thing, how it happened, but I really tried, because I know you wanted me to, but it just didn't work out with [school, college, my job, me and Danny] and so I have come here and it is a really beautiful scene. I don't want you to worry about me. I have met some BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE and ..."

... and in the heart of even the most unhip mamma in all the U.S. of A. instinctively goes up the adrenal shriek: beatniks, bums, spades - dope."

I especially love the "don't give me your occupation-game labels," especially since I live in DC where everyone has the same one - lawyer. Like the lawyers, I don't think I'll ever escape from the "robot junkyard." But I appreciate the beautiful people who do.

Academics know that there is an obvious pecking order for the rigors of different academic pursuits, and that mastery of the harder of the two subjects gives one full license to preen about as an expert in the easier field. Such license is a hallowed tradition for intellectuals. Economics is harder than sociology, which means that even if I am a mediocre economist, I am overqualified for sociology. Having thus established myself as an expert in the field of sociology, I can say without qualification that reading the complete works of Tom Wolfe will provide you a better grounding in sociology than would a Ph.D. in the same, and in contrast to getting a Ph.D., you will be laughing the whole time rather than crying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Marine Corps Birthday

Happy Marine Corps Birthday! Are you taking the day off? My dad, an ex-Marine, always did, or at least he always took the afternoon off. He wasn't a big drinker - he'd enjoy an Old Fashioned when he'd get home from work, and on weekends he'd indulge in an occasional beer, always a cheap brand like Pabst or Ortliebs. Anyway, though as a rule he drank in moderation, that rule was usually broken on November 10, when he'd reconnoiter with fellow ex-Marines in the South Jersey suburbs of Philly. They'd usually start with lunch at Chubby's in Camden, which usually stretched from about 12 noon to 7 or 8 pm.

I remember one year he missed dinner, much to my Mom's chagrin; when he came home, she warmed a bowl of soup for him, which he sat down to eat in the dining room. I was on the phone, one of the old style phones that was actually attached to the wall, and as I spoke I watched him fall asleep as he ate. He always used to say that my brother Mog, who is a legendarily accomplished sleeper, would make a great Marine because he could sleep standing up. And there he was - putting that Marine training to use by sleeping in a fully upright position without falling into his soup. Semper Fidelis!

As luck would have it, Dusty Eggs is down in DC from Philly, and looking to have a liquid lunch with the Hatcher. Though I was a never a Marine, I once contemplated running the Marine Corps Marathon, so I'll continue in the tradition of my dad today. I just hope they have Ortliebs on tap.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

2 Years Later -Tenure for Alberto Abadie: DENIED!

Harvard Gazette: Freedom squelches terrorist violence

The "Republicans Are Nazis" Rolledex of Quotes

1) “We see dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the … campaign.”

2) His “election would bring a police state.

3) “… Republicanism is the closest thing in American politics to an equivalent of Russian Stalinism.”

4) His acceptance speech “had the stench of fascism … All we needed to hear was “Heil Hitler”

5) “I would say that I now believe I know how it felt to a Jew in Hitler’s Germany”

6) The Republicans “had Mein Kampf as their political bible.”

7) “the smell of fascism has been in the air at this convention.”

8) The London Observer found “disquieting similarities” between Hitler and the Republican candidate.

9) The Chicago Observer headline: “GOP Convention … Recalls Germany, 1933”

10) The Republican convention gave off “a whiff of moral fascism.”

11) The Republican delegates on the floor of the convention “were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy.” His constituency was “narrow minded, book banning, truth censoring, mean spirited: ungenerous, envious, intolerant, afraid; chicken, bullying; trivially moral, falsely patriotic, family cheapening, flag cheapening, God cheapening; the common man, shallow, small, sanctimonius.

12) Patricia Harris, Carter’s Secretary of Health and Human Services said that when he speaks before the National Urban League, many blacks “will see the specter of a white sheet behind him.”

13) A former aid to Carter said that Republican candidate’s remarks seemed “like a code word to me that it’s going to be all right to kill niggers when he’s president.”

14) On civil rights leader expressed fear that if the Republican candidate gets elected, “we are going to see more of the Ku Klux Klan and a resurgence of the Nazi Party.”

Quotes 1-9 were aimed at Barry Goldwater, and 10-14 at Ronald Reagan. Brace yourself for more “Republicans are Nazis” articles written by our best and brightest now that Bush has won a second term. In fact, in one of the more despicable political ads of all time, the NAACP had run an ad in 2000 with the daughter of the black man (James Byrd?) who had been dragged behind a truck to his death; the women claimed that when Bush vetoed a “hate crimes” bill in Texas, it was as if her father had been brutally murdered all over again. Of course the killers are on death row, but boy would they be sorry if they were also found guilty of a hate crime to boot. Below is a key to the above quotes.

(1. Martin Luther King, 2. Roy Wilkens, 3. Senator William Fulbright, 4. Governor Pat Brown of California, 5. Jackie Robinson, 6. San Fran Mayor John Shelley, 7. Columnist Drew Pearson (no relation to the Cowboy’s great receiver), 10. Columnist Richard Reeves, 11. Henry Fairlie in the Washington Post, 12. Patricia Harris, Carter’s secretary of Health and Human Services, 13. Andrew Young, 14. Coretta Scott King.

Anyway, the rolledex of "Republicans are Nazis" quotes is growing in leaps and bounds, and I am not likely to capture even a fraction of such quotes. By I did come across an article on by one Jane Smiley - here are some quotes and some comments that follow:

“I grew up in Missouri and most of my family voted for Bush, so I am going to be the one to say it: The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. I suppose the good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not. (Well, almost 58 million—my relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.)”

No doubt Ms. Smiley has watched Farenhiet 9-11 on a continuous loop since the summer, which explains her comparative state of enlightenment versus her Missouri relatives. Must not be hard to get a seat next to her at the family reunions. Anyway, good thing that she isn’t as ignorant or as greedy as her extended family – otherwise she might be led to feelings of superiority.

“Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. When the forces of red and blue encountered one another head-on for the first time in Kansas Territory in 1856, the red forces from Missouri, who had been coveting Indian land across the Missouri River since 1820, entered Kansas and stole the territorial election. The red news media of the day made a practice of inflammatory lying—declaring that the blue folks had shot and killed red folks whom everyone knew were walking around. The worst civilian massacre in American history took place in Lawrence, Kan., in 1862—Quantrill's raid. The red forces, known then as the slave-power, pulled 265 unarmed men from their beds on a Sunday morning and slaughtered them in front of their wives and children. The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America.”

Umm, excuse me for one moment there, Miss Smiley, wasn’t the abolitionist movement primarily one fueled by devoutly religious people? No doubt there were religious people on both sides, but why pretend they all stood on the red side? And what the hell are you talking about with red folks declaring that blue folks had shot red folks who were walking around. Did the pharmacy run out of your Prozac?

The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey—workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, but they did it anyway, and we see the outcome now—Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm. They know no boundaries or rules. They are predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant.

Ahh, yes, the big capitalists have no morals – as we know! So some corporate board decided that the best way to sell their product and increase their profits was to enlist the religious right (largely middle class) in their war against the middle class. Mix in a little racism, but not enough to prevent getting 45 percent of the Hispanic vote, and the evil greedy capitalists are certain to maximize their profits. Now they can really prey upon consumers by developing life-saving drugs and the like. Bastards!

Now, you may be saying to yourself, who is Jane Smiley? The name rang a bell with me as well, and then I remembered – my wife has a paperback novel of hers. So what did I do, dear reader? I burned the book, kicked my heels up with a Wagner opera playing in the background, and read a couple chapters from Mein Kampf. As a red-stater, any other actions would only have disappointed Ms. Smiley. Of course, I am more than a little distressed that the Nazi party is now run by a bunch of neo-conservative Jews. First they took over the finances of the world, then Hollywood, now the Nazi party. No one would have guessed the third - you gotta admit those Jews are crafty!

But don’t go away, Ms. Smiley – keep enlightening us with your tolerance and high-mindedness. With enemies like you on the left insulting 59 million people daily, who needs friends?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Do You Really Want to Flee to Canada? / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / No, Canada!

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

Jake knows the cycle of injury, penitence, and forgiveness, mostly through the first two stages. He smacks Billy’s hand with the butt of his light saber, Billy starts to writhe in pain. Jake, wearing the expression of the righteous avenger for some (usually wholly imagined) wrong done against him by Billy, still nevertheless manages to limp into a slightly penitent expression of sorrow, and squeaks out the word “sorry”, with the second syllable drawn out and emphasized. Then there is a pause, during which Billy might still be trying to catch his breath between cries. But pauses will not do, and they only make Jake regret his bowing in sorrow before his brother. He has fulfilled his two parts in the cycle – caning Billy and saying he was sorry – and Billy must grant forgiveness without delay. But he doesn’t.

Jake’s face turns to pure rage, and he moves toward Billy as if to strike him and screams “Sorry” again, only all humility and penitence is gone from his tone of voice; instead, the tone betrays his thinking – “You deserved it you swine – how dare you not grant forgiveness to me the split second I offer my regrets.” Who is Billy to keep Jake waiting for a wholesale forgiveness by simply saying “that’s OK.” Sure, he might be busy trying to make a tunicate out of his t-shirt to stop the bleeding, but that is no excuse. The second scalding “sorry” is followed progressively by more harsh and aggressive apologies, each one of which signals a smaller window of time for Billy to express he bears no grudge. The second followed the first by at least four seconds, but each successive one comes closer in time.

When Jake is the wronged party, he either responds with violence or the pronouncement that he doesn’t like his assailant and that said assailant is “tupid.” Sometimes he’ll just spit. The most comedic circumstance I usually find myself in occurs when taking my three little charges into a public bathroom. Recently, Joey was standing at the one urinal with his back to Jake’s side; he decided that he needed to be sitting rather than standing, quickly abandoned the urinal, and started for the stall in a hurry. On his way, he blind-sides Jake, who falls to the floor; as he is getting up, Billy moves up to Joey’s old urinal. When Jake finally gets to his feet, he naturally looks to find his assaulter at the urinal – and poor innocent Billy is protesting his innocence (while keeping careful aim) as Jake pronounces his dislike for Billy, his assessment of Billy’s general intelligence, and finally adding a little spit for good measure that never goes beyond his own chin. Once I correct Jake, and point out that it was Joey rather than Billy, rather than apologize to Billy, he repeats his routine with Joey.

While we are on the topic of bathroom humor, Mom recently pointed out to Billy, whose daily bathroom routine of late has required more effort than it should, that he needs to be eating more fruits and veggies to ease the strain. Billy is no idiot, so one day later, with voice strained, we hear from the bathroom “Can someone please bring me a vegetable?”

One last story that has absolutely no connection to the above, but proves the inadequacy of fatherly supervision. While in Myrtle Beach, on one of the afternoons after playing golf, I am left to watch the kids in the condo. I put them down for a nap, and head for the balcony overlooking the ocean to read. The twins are in the front room, furthest from where I am, and the entrance to our condo is through their room. Jake is in a different room closer to me, and I close off the door so that the twins, who are just as likely to use the beds as trampolines rather than nap, don’t disturb Jake. I forget to lock the front door to the condo. Tom, one of my playing partners, comes bounding up a stairwell that opens right in front of our condo, and finds Joey holding the small fire extinguisher with hand on trigger, and Billy actively trying to pull out the safety pin. Asked by Tom what the two were doing, both turned, looked at Tom, and responded in sync “nothing.” Me – I was completely oblivious to my two little fire fighters.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Who Will Observe the Observers?

A funny story about following around the international election observers: Who Will Observe the Observers?

Who Will Observe the Observers?

A funny story about following around the international election observers: Who Will Observe the Observers?

Game Theory and Foreign Policy

Consider the following "battle of the sexes" game, one of the only things I remember from my game theory class. A boyfriend and girlfriend are not allowed to communicate, and both face the choice between going to the football game or the movies. When making the choice simultaneously, neither knows what the other is going to do, but each formulates a best response, which is the strategy that maximizes his/her satisfaction given the action that he/she anticipates the other will choose. Now being together at either event is considered by both to be superior to being apart. Thus, if the guy knows that the girl prefers football, and the girl knows that the guy prefers football, naturally each will choose to go to the football game. But if the girlfriend prefers the movies, and the boyfriend the football game, the best response becomes more difficult for each.

Depending upon how you set the "payoffs," the best response for each might be to flip a coin in order to decide, playing what is called a mixed (as opposed to a pure) strategy. In fact, that turns out to be the only Nash equilibrium (named for John Nash of a A Beautiful Mind fame), defined as a vector of strategies for the two players where each individual strategy is a best response to the strategy of the other player. Now here is where it gets interesting: there is a 50 percent chance, not insignificant, that the two show up at different events, and moreover there is a 25 percent chance that the guy shoes up at a chick-flick, while the lady shows up at the football game, an outcome that defines the worst case scenario for both players.

Now the point of this little lesson relates to the situation in Iraq, or at least it might. It is possible that a bad outcome comes from an entirely correct strategy, and even that such a possibility has a fairly high likelihood of occurring. The pre-history of the D-Day invasion, for example, involved every effort of the allies to cloak their true target - Normandy - and feign toward somehwere else in hopes that the key German defenses would prepare in the wrong spot. And that is exactly what happened.

The German's might have had enough intelligence to suggest that there was a 50/50 chance of the Normandy invasion versus what turned out to be the fake alternative. Splitting their forces evenly between the two places may have been a sure-fire losing strategy no matter where the Allies landed. So the Nash equilibrium response for the Germans may have been to flip a coin, and send 75 percent of their troops one place, and the remainder to the other. An unlucky coin flip may have been the determinant of the Allies success. Again, that may have truly been the best strategy, but it obviously turned out badly for the Germans.

But after such a failure, the knowledge of where the Allies actually landed - Normandy - distorts everyone's perception of what the Germans should have done. The German strategy may have been formulated by culling the advice of many in their intelligence operations, each with opinions that no doubt varied as to where the true threat lay. Maybe one such operative thought with certainty that Normandy was the place - and he may have truly been wrong about that (especially if the Allies actually flipped a coin to decide at the last minute). But after the fact, and especially before the Germans had any knowledge of the true strategy of the Allies, it will appear that the decision makers made a mistake in ignoring the advice of the guy who kept screaming about Normandy. If Germany had a 60 Minutes, and a free press that was adversarial to Hitler, you could bet that the guy who was certain about Normandy would be given a platform on the show to spin his newly released book, a la Richard Clarke.

The point is this - to the press, the fact that the girlfriend showed up at the football game becomes, ex post, the only prediction they consider to be reasonable at the time the boyfriend had to make the decision. If the boyfriend was being advised by a bad game theorist, the press has someone there to say that the boyfriend ignored the correct advice. But that, of course, is not true. In this case, it is not true to say that the press is necessarily biased, but their lack of nuance makes them unable to see that a guy who appears to be correct ex post may have been completely wrong ex ante. In more bluntly stupid variations of this "bias", a reporter might suggest that one memo among reams of intelligence data that suggested terrorist flying planes into buildings should have been heeded to the point of providing military protection to obvious targets.

War is filled with strategic decisions made under uncertainty. Like the separate boyfriend and girlfriend, or the Germans stationed at the wrong beach, bad outcomes are not always the result of bad decisions. Assessing decisions made in the course of war is inherently a very speculative venture, and it is compounded by the fact that information that is classified may otherwise exonerate the decision makers as being rational, but they are prevented from using it in their own defense. The set of what is known to the talking heads is usually only a subset, and probably a small one at that, of the information available to the actual decision makers.

This is why people can tell me that Bush screwed up in Iraq until the cows come home, and I just don't buy it. I think Bush has a very talented and intelligent cabinet, and I think the military is led by similarly talented and intelligent people. I trust that, even as I know that others do not. But I recognize, unlike them, that given my knowledge set, I can't really prove my gut. But my inability to prove that a bad result in Iraq is nevertheless a possible outcome of a good decision is no proof that it is necessarily the outcome of a bad decision.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Hillary Investment Strategy

I am now formulating my strategy for buying Hillary futures. Tradesports already has McCain contracts for the Republican nomination trading at close to $28, but I didn't see any for the Dems side. My strategy is to wait, as I think Hillary will initially be overpriced, just as I think McCain is now. Why? Because McCain and Hillary are pretty much the two sure-fire bets for being in the hunt, and with money to spare, and right now who will oppose them is a question mark that I think naturally gets underpriced. It would be like a contract on Tiger in the Masters without knowing who the rest of the field will be - whether or not Vijay is going to play or Mickelson. So I will wait for the entrance of somebody, like Dean, who gets an initial enormous buzz due to their novelty, to drive down the Hillary price, at which time I will buy! buy! buy! The media will create a story of a tight race because it is in their interest to do so - that plays perfectly to my strategy! I'll get so rich off of the next election that in 2012 I will be able to play the George Soros role for the Republicans - and I won't even need to cause an Asian financial crisis to get there. Just another example of the comparative humanity of Republicans.

2008 will be very interesting. The internal fighting among Reps will be inversely proportional to the primacy of the War of Terror and foreign policy. If there are a string of successes, and the issue recedes a bit, other issues where Republicans don't see eye to eye will become more important. Ditto for the economy - if it goes well, as I think it will, again more secondary issues will come to the fore.

Interesting things to look forward to:
1) Will Guiliani take on Hillary in 2006? He might be too "cold" otherwise for the 2008 nomination, and every day without a terrorist attack is a day where his bravery and composure recede into memory. It's a gamble - if he loses to Hillary, he'd probably be done. But if he won, and Republicans think that he could deliver NY in 2008, he could be in prime position to win the nomination. I think everyone in the Rep party respects his leadership, and I say that even though I am against most of his social policies (at least those not related to fighting crime).

2) If not Guiliani, another moderate leaning Republican like McCain could be the guy on the ticket, which will make for interesting dynamics in the Dems race. If the Rep guy is pro-choice (not sure if McCain is pro-life or pro-choice - does anybody know?), how do you diffuse him being viable in places like California or NY? Maybe the Dems need to go to a very conservative Democrat - I am not sure one exists outside of Lieberman to try to swing other states into their column. I think Hillary's only shot would be against a very conservative Republican.

3) Any failures (real or perceived) on the part of the Bush admin over the next four years will not be as pinnable to the Republican nominee, unless the guy has a Senate record of constant agreement with the President, which McCain clearly does not have now. How will this play for Democrats? Will they just try to oppose the President at every turn, or will they play ball, come closer to the center, and try to establish more credibility on national security? I could see them coming to the center, as simple opposition didn't win them anything this time, and they may realize that they have to live with Ralph Nader polling 4 percent and try to make it up by drawing in swing voters.

4) Bush has an historic opportunity - he almost has a free swing at the ball. Will he take on Social Security or Medicare Reform? To me, it's a non-starter if you are running for re-election, or if the legislative branch is run by the opposition - under those circumstances, it would be dead on arrival. But neither of those circumstances apply.

5) The Court - conservatives think that Bush made a deal with the devil - Arlen Specter - thinking that might swing him Pennsylvania. He was in a tough primary battle against a much more conservative Republican, and Bush through his weight behind Specter. Now Specter is the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and in his campaign trumpeted the fact that he would not let any extremist judges (read - any one who cannot infer the many penumbras in the constitution) get through on his watch. Not sure how much that matters, but I suspect it will a lot.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Unmolested at DuPont Circle

So today shortly after lunch I am strolling up to DuPont Circle to buy a bag of pretzels, secure in the knowledge that for the first time in at least six months I will not be caught in the "Do you wanna help defeat George Bush" ambush that involves two young ne'ar do wells that face each other from about 10 yards away so that together they can accost everyone walking by, regardless of direction.

When asked that question, I would think back to Mad Magazine, which used to publish comic books that consisted entirely of stupid answers to stupid questions (I think they may have even called the comic book by that title, and there were also stupid comebacks to stupid answers to stupid questions). And in my mind I would respond: "Sure, I'd like to help defeat George Bush. What cell of Al Queda are you looking to have me sign up with? Will I get to meet Osama? Or are you recruiting insurgents for Fallujah? Man, that would be a nice gig - do I get to wear a hood." But then I would simply incoherently mumble something and move on.

I was right, of course - on the way there I went unmolested by the DNC today - but I am fully expecting to be asked tomorrow whether I want to impeach George Bush. But even today, taking a slightly different route back from CVS, I come across a table manned by Lyndon Larouche-ites, and a guy with a Kerry/Edwards sticker, passing out literature - dealing with what I do not know. But the signs around their table were revealing enough - a "Vote for Bush is a Vote for Hitler." Now there is some nuance for ya!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Evening Ruminations

I just got off the phone with Vegas Heavy-T. He has no money on Kerry, and so if things go sour for us Bushies, we have him to blame. I, on the other hand, have plenty of money on Kerry, and so if things go well for us Bushies, please feel free to send me money to defray my losses. Vegas Heavy-T and I have already made plans, in the event of a Bush win, to start buying Hillary futures contracts for 2008. I am being absolutely serious when I say that I hope to put a couple thousand dollars in a fund each of the next four years, all of which will be bet on Hillary. If she wins, I will still be grossly disappointed, but at least I'll own a boat.

On this night in 2000 - where were you? I remember my whereabouts distinctly. I was painting our dining room in Minneapolis for about the fifth time (it was never quite the right color for certain a asthete that I live with) when Vegas Heavy T (who was only Heavy T at the time, living in Minneapolis - maybe we should have called him Minnesota Thins at the time) called me to ruin my day by telling me the networks had just called Florida for Gore. Game over.

I continued painting in a stupor, when maybe no more than an hour later he calls me back to say that Florida is back in play. Talk about nervous energy. Anyway, it gets to around 11 pm, and there is no way I can sleep, but there is also no way I can watch - so I call up Heavy T and we decide to go for a run. I get to his house at about 11:30 pm, and we go on a four mile jaunt in snow flurries. As I am driving home, the radio guy is pretty much calling Florida for Bush. I wake in the middle of the night - turn on the tube - still no damn resolution. So I hold my breath, and 30 plus days later I am in a hotel room in Dublin (where the Guiness, by the way, tastes much better than it does in the states) with my sleep cycle extremely screwed up watching Gore concede - and then I let that breath go.

For all of you economists out there - don't forget this arbitrage opportunity in the mid-term and next presidential election. The exit polls looked so favorable to Kerry early in the day that he was trading north of $70 (for a contract that pays $100) on tradesports. The Corner at National Review online was talking about how exit polls in 2002 and 2000 were similarly biased, giving specific examples, and expressed confidence that the early exit polls were unreliable. As I write, tradesports has Kerry down close to $50, with Bush there as well up from south of $30.

Anyway, Vegas Heavy-T has agreed to call me later tonight to tell me which law suits are set to determine the outcome of the election by December once that has been determined. So now I'll try to sleep easy.

Not To Be Antimidated

Over an hour and a half in line at the poll in my district - yikes. Fortunately, the first two districts I voted in took less than 15 minutes, so I didn't kill my whole morning. An election official removed a small flier posted by a church on the door to the poll offering a free lunch to anyone who has voted - there was absolutely no political preference expressed on the flier at all. I protested to the official that I now have no idea where to get a free lunch. Apparently there is law about signs within 40 feet of the poll entrances.

But then I remember that as we progressed in line along the side of the school/community center, hanging from within the building is a rainbow colored banner saying "We the People Say No to the Bush Agenda." So when I am still closer to casting my ballot, the election official who denied me my free lunch comes walking by, and I pipe up and tell her about the banner. A cheer goes up from the crowd, the people hoist me on their shoulders, people are throwing flowers at my feet ... it was really quite a scene. Actually, apparently someone else had just complained as well, and she said she was on her way to take care of it and thanked me. Seconds later, I am staring at a ballot initiative on my electronic ballot: "Do you support a bond in the amount of such and such to fund Arlington County schools." Hmmm, thinks the Hatcher, that much money would sure buy a lot of little anti-Bush propaganda to shove on the little kiddies over the next four years. "No" to the funding! Why? Because Hate is Not a Family Value!

Here is one from the archives, lamenting the Motor Voter Bill:

The Motor Voter Bill is the most recent legislation intent upon removing any barriers - including laziness and indifference - from full participation in elections. We’ve come along way from the days when you had to be a landowner to merit the privilege of voting. Poll taxes have been eliminated, woman have gained the right to vote, and barriers keeping minorities from voting have been removed. To that list, the Motor Voter Bill registers anyone who applies for a driver’s license, and so now those who couldn’t justify the half hour of extra time it used to take to become a registered voter no longer have to.

Dead people vote often in national elections, as do people whose citizenship seems dubious - this, all in the name of democracy. The next step is a hard one to predict - my guess is that either prisoners will get the right to vote, or that each person will have someone bring the ballot to their door for them to fill out without leaving the comfort of their couch. Or, possibly, the voting age will be lowered to capture more of the MTV crowd, which itself threatens to become a dominant demographic group as Generation X one-ups the Baby Boomers in vanity and the infinite desire to be seventeen years old forever. The most promising reform of the future comes from the One-Worlders - why limit the vote to US citizens only? A global democracy would be groovy - kind of like all that free love from Woodstock. Before you know it, the ACLU will be filing a suit that allows a Peruvian teenager the luxury of registering and voting from a pornographic Web Site. And the march of technological progress moves on!

As zoologists become more effective in teaching apes sign language, evidence will mount in favor of giving them the same rights to self-governance that we enjoy. What will it get them? Self-governance would seem to imply that we have more control over the everyday decisions that we face, that our government is less authoritarian, that it is flexible in structure, and that it is theoretically responsive right down to the individual citizen. Self-governance surely must give us more freedom - if not, why would we voluntarily choose it ? But a look at the trend of twentieth century policy tells us otherwise - we apparently seek cradle to grave care at the hands of the government, we like to deal with a myriad of federal regulations regarding our businesses, we prefer not to be given the option of providing for our own retirement and health care, and we constantly look to the Federal government to handle local problems. Much to the chagrin of animal rights activists, if we provide some indication of how apes would handle their new found right to vote, it seems apparent that they would vote to keep themselves in zoos. Moreover, they may even argue that apes in the wild of other continents should be corraled and given the same privilege.

To voice a complaint about extending democracy or the vote is to sound, well, undemocratic. It smacks of ingratitude and comes closest to the American secular version of mortal sin, falling short only because sin is considered an outdated concept. In one fell swoop, the mere hint of a suggestion that democracy should have some restraints merits you the tag of being racist, sexist, and xenophobic. Rather than hanging you in effigy ( too violent for peacenicks ), they dress you up in the public square to look like the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a familiar and effective tactic of the left - guilt by association. Of all the people who hold a certain view, take the set with the most offensive motives, and attribute those same motives to everyone who espouses the same view.

Label those who dislike the current rampaging of the majority as you will, but note the irony that as we have found a larger and larger set of people capable and deserving of voting upon the extremely complex issue of the role of government and its relation to man, this extended right to vote seems to return the verdict that these same people are incapable of much more mundane decisions. It is the equivalent of the teenagers in a family outnumbering their parents, demanding the right to vote on all family policies, and then voting for an earlier curfew. We may perhaps contribute the entangling of the people in more and more paternalistic strings to their wisdom. It is often a wise choice to remove certain options from your opportunity set, so as never to be tempted to choose them - much as the dieter tries not to buy cookies when he is grocery shopping. But it would take the wisdom of Solomon to do this in political decisions, especially in the post Enlightenment atmosphere that sees the mere passage of time as progress for humanity. Now we may be prone to accredit our behavior to wisdom, since it is self-flattering, but then we are left trying to explain the utter gulf in wisdom exhibited by the people in those few areas where we are left to decide for ourselves. A cursory examination of afternoon talk shows is enough to make us believe that a truly wise electorate would give itself no autonomy in personal decisions - the will of the majority could hardly do worse.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Good News From Iraq

James S. Robbins on Iraq on National Review Online

Election Day Angst

No doubt that the presidential election is the one day every four years wherein I question my own psychological stability. Some of my self-doubt on that score stems from an awareness of peculiarities in my own behavior that I submit are by no means unique to me, and may be symptoms shared by many conservatives. I know I am not alone in saying that during the events of the 2000 election, I lay awake for at least seven days (intermittently across that tense month) fretting over the possibility of four years of Al Gore. I felt enormous pressure. Granted, I wasn’t so unstable as to put on 50 pounds or to grow a beard, but if he had been elected, I may have. Even today, the mere thought of a Hillary presidency leads me to reach instinctively for a full bottle of Pepto Bismol. (And something tells me that if she is ever elected, the only drug she would not put under a price control would be that little pink bottle of Pepto, just to spite me and all of the other conservatives that will turn to it as our only relief.)

My psychological instability affected my parenting from the get-go. Indeed, my two oldest sons, who are twins, have already been exploited as a result of what may be my psychological problems. In the run-up to the 2000 election, shortly after my boys turned one, I had two white t-shirts embroidered, one with the name of George W. Bush, and the other with Dick Cheney. Joey was the obvious choice for Bush over Billy because he had more hair and a leaner build. These shirts served as Halloween costumes for the boys just months after we had moved to South Minneapolis, which to this day sports more “No War on Iraq” signs on lawns than trees (and there are a lot of trees). Our Christmas card that year sported the boys in costume, each with a small American flag, and the caption: “May All Your Christmas’ Be Republican.” In one small act, I exploited my kids for political purposes and committed blasphemy. Although that act may not be definitive proof of my psychological instability, it is undeniably consistent with that hypothesis.

So where do I find myself just two nights shy of the election of 2004? Ironically, I am on my now second annual quest with my boys to trick-or-treat at Al Gore's house, which is not more than a half a mile from my own. I have my trusty digital camera in hand to snap a shot of Al dropping little environmentally-friendly candies into the bags of my Darth Mull, Annikan Skywalker, and swash-buckling pirate. One sick man taking a picture of another. The myriad of possibilities for potential Christmas card humor that I could spin out of that picture have my mind in an absolute whir - I am unable to think. And then my neighbor informs me as we are heading in tandem towards Gore's house that they apparently sold and moved out. Utter disappointment. Last year he wasn't home - my theory is that he was egging the Vice President's mansion. This year, even if he hadn't moved, he'd probably be in Florida talking wild conspiracy theories with the rest of the looney bin left. Here's a suggested banner for their rallies tomorrow: "Bin Laden is With Us!"

I remember last year around Halloween, when we were telling the boys that we'd be heading to Al Gore's house. The twins were obsessed with who and what was scarey. So Bill naturally asks me: "Is Al Gore scarey?" Very much so. I may be sick, but at least I am not scarey sick. Let's hope I am on a quest to trick or treat at one of Kerry's mansions four years hence, while I contemplate with dread the run on pepto bismol that will beseige the grocery stores if Hillary gets elected.

It's ugly for a reason!

Every once in a while, I just have to link to Lileks: It's ugly for a reason!

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