Thursday, September 29, 2005


I’ve become obsessed with the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. A couple of weeks ago we rented Miracle, and after seeing the movie I went and bought a recently published book called The Boys of Winter. Here are a few fun facts :

* Nine of the twenty players were Minnesota Gopher Hockey players; no other college program had more than 2 represented on that team. Of course, Brooks was at the time the Gopher coach, so one could argue that the team may have looked very different if that were not the case, but then again a win is a win. (Whereas the University of Chicago boasts many more Nobel winning economists than Minnesota, they had no players on the team; indeed, it is probably the case that no one who has ever graduated from there has ever learned to skate).

* Mark Johnson, who I remember as the star offensive player, was a Wisconsin Badger; not only that his father was the coach of the Badgers, and he and Brooks were like night and day. Bob Johnson was this extroverted happy go lucky coach, whereas Brooks took the “a leader must be hated by his men” approach, with his success stemming from making his players hate his opponents slightly more than him. Coaching in the same conference as Johnson, to his Gopher team he would bad mouth Coach Johnson constantly. There was fear that the personal animosity between him and Johnson would lead Mark to forego the Olympics; at the time he was recognized as the premier amateur player in the country.

* The US played the Soviets in Madison Square Garden a couple days prior to the Opening Ceremonies, and got demolished.

* If you’ve seen the movie, so far it is very consistent with the facts in the book (I’m halfway through). Brooks changed his whole brand of hockey to mimic the Soviets and chose a team intended to be able to better exploit the wider ice used in the Olympics.

* The dorms that housed the Olympic Village in Lake Placid are now a low security federal prison.

Anyway, the book is OK; you learn the back stories of the different players, as well as those of some of the Soviets (of course the author whitewashes all of the Commie conspiracies these guys were no doubt knee-deep in). But the only thing worse than watching hockey in TV (in comparison to seeing it live) is reading about it. You cannot appreciate the speed and athleticism of these guys unless you see it live.

But if watching hockey on TV pales in comparison to the real thing, the movie’s coverage of the action is worse than TV. Ironically, the extras on the DVD go into all the details about how they scripted over 70 plays exactly as they happened in the game with the Soviets. This was done right down to the details of how guys on the periphery of the action were holding their sticks. The scenes are filmed as if you are on the ice skating right next to the players. Somehow it just doesn’t work –you can never see the plays developing like you can with the typical eye-in-the sky view you get as a live fan or on TV.

They also had Al Michaels essentially re-broadcast all of the plays, with the exception of the call he makes at the end, "Do you believe in miracles?" For that they used the original, as they felt there'd be no way to mimic the sincere emotion in his voice when he made the call in real time. They interview Michaels, and he talks about how he's proud that his call at the end has helped launch the story to the prominence it now enjoys. What an ass! He could have blurted out "I'm having an affair with Jim Craig" instead and it wouldn't have made any difference. I've hated that guy ever since he used to trash Buddy Ryan on Monday Night Football.

The book also discusses what the guys have done after the Olympics, and where they are today. So far they are all pretty normal, which is in a way surprising to me. To paraphrase a George Bernard Shaw quote that has always stuck with me (and which partially redeems him for being a Stalin-loving Commie), the two greatest tragedies in life are not achieving a goal that has consumed you, and achieving a goal that has consumed you. It would seem to me that that tragedy becomes even worse when the whole country was so vested in your performance and you achieve a degree of fame as a result, and all at the age of 21. How can playing in the NHL compare? I would have thought some of these guys would eventually run into some serious troubles, but so far in my readings they are all pretty normal.

As Kurt Russell as the Herb Brooks character as the movie winds down, and I am garbling this quote no doubt: "Today we have the Dream teams being sent to the Olympics, but ironically this kills the dream." The author of the book says something similar - the athletes we send to the Olympics now (at least in Hockey and Basketball) add glamour to the Olympics, but take away all of the romance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No Comments?

Gee whiz, what does a guy have to do to get a comment these days? I put all of my reactionary rightwing rage into yesterday's post and I get nothing in return. In order to avoid the same fate today, let me pull the old comedian's trick of asking if anyone in the crowd today is from Philly? If so, like me, you are probably too numbed from years of doomed sportsfandom to have the particularly negative stimuli of the dreaded Mets getting a comeback victory over the hanging-on-by-a-thread Phils get to you.

Well, if that loss still depressed you, cheer up - Cindy Sheehan was arrested yesterday for tresspassing or protesting without a permit or something. Maybe she'll get in front of a judge who will get her the psychiatric care she desparately needs. She was beaming from ear to ear as the cops hauled her away, which caused me to reflect on what the appropriate punishment for such crimes to be to discourage people making political theatre out of it so easily. You see - here is a peaceful woman minding her own business stalking the president for 2 months now, being arrested for no reason. Fascists. Now that we are stacking the Court, I say we ship her off to Guantanamo to meet some of the freedom fighters she is so enamored with; it's not like this would cause an uproar among the press, who already talk about the inmates there as if they are a bunch of harmless guys caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Apropos of nothing, let me recommend a few TV shows for your viewing pleasure. Prison Break, on Monday at 9 on Fox, is a great new show, though the underlying conspiracy to which we at present know very little will probably be some crazy leftwing lunacy - I can see it coming, but I don't care. The show is great. Next up - The Office - best comedy ever (Beverly Hillbillies excluded in a league of its own), on NBC on Tuesday nights. Unfortunately it coincides with my softball league, so I won't be seeing it for awhile. But last year, I never laughed as hard as I did when I saw an episode where a guy from corporate came to do some diversity training. Classic stuff. Finally, I'm a huge Lost fan - believe the hype, it is a great show; rent the first season and watch it tonight if you didn't see it, and you'll only be down 1 show (the season opener). Finally, if you have HBO, the Entourage is great - about 3 NY kids sponging off of their about-to-break-it-big actor friend, enjoying the run of the town.

Finally, since there is no overriding theme today, I thought I'd point out something I read today, wherein this guy was lamenting the lack of glamour among Hollywood's leading women, a problem this guy thought would worsen with Julia Roberts claiming she is retiring. Huh? She is perhaps the most unglamorous leading lady in the history of movies. It reminded me of a classic line from Joe Queenan, which I paraphrase here: "Barbara Streisand said she always thought that she was ugly because her mother never told her she was pretty. Julia Roberts has the opposite problem."

Monday, September 26, 2005

My Racist Republican Tribe

Most recent comment: ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz, how about more posts on politics?

Give the people what they want, that’s my motto. Lucky for you, while on the brink of taking another nasty shot of Chartreuse this Sunday, I spied the Washington Post Op/Ed page and substituted reading that for more benign forms of self-abuse. Fortunately for me one Jennifer Moses, formerly of McLean VA, has spent the last ten years studying the strange ways of the white middle classes in Baton Rouge, LA.

…polls show that the president’s approval ratings are down nationally. But here in Baton Rouge, where the rubber, as it were, meets the road, the president still seems to enjoy an almost indestructible popularity.

You know you are in trouble when she says “as it were.” She interrupts a cliché, something that might come out of the mouth of high school football coach (but not an “author”), to let everyone know that she is aware she is breaking the rules for educated people, but so deep is she in the strange middle class ways of white Baton Rougers that she cannot help herself from using one of their quaint little sayings.

Given that Baton Rogue has now swollen to twice its pre-storm size, traffic is a nightmare, schools are on double shifts, helicopters swarm in the skies and the shelters continue to house thousands, the undimmed support for the president is downright astonishing.

What is downright astonishing is the utter stupidity of these sentences, and that they were published in the Washington Post (well, maybe that’s not so astonishing). Now, it can be argued that the federal response was less than great to Katrina (though I have argued that it was the least of the mistakes made, and the Governor was clearly not interested in relinquishing any control), but even aside from those arguments, to my knowledge no one has blamed Bush for the hurricane’s path. Given that NO is beneath sea level, it seems that there was no way anyone could stay on there, and they had to go somewhere. Baton Rouge is the place where probably the greatest percentage of NO residents enjoy ties of family and friends. My bet is that the average Baton Rouger feels less put out about the whole situation that the NO migrants, and are for the most party happy to abide their friends and neighbors, with the obvious exception of one bitchy author from McLean, VA.

But it’s a tale of two cities: In the shelters and in North Baton Rouge, where row upon row of dilapidated shotgun shacks have long been home to the city’s black community, mention of the president inspires little more than quiet disgust. But on the other side of town, in the prosperous white neighborhoods where solid brick houses sit well back on lush lawns, the president’s reputation remains largely intact.

For an author having come from McLean VA, where the average home, if sold today, would allow the seller to buy 4 or 5 solid brick houses on lush Baton Rouge lawns, to point out the income inequality in Baton Rouge is rather funny. The average WaPo reader, moreover, probably cut a $30,000 check in the last week to send their kid to private kindergarten so that, at all costs, her child would not be exposed to the great economic diversity of Washington D.C., but no doubt is sitting down this Sunday morning to this article, sipping on her Starbuck’s latte, commending herself on her compassionate leftwing politics in between occasionally cursing her illegal domestic labor for missing a few spots while cleaning. That too is a tale of two cities - and both of them voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.

And presumably the people who have long lived in dilapidated shotgun shacks are only now expressing quiet disgust with the president, whereas during the Clinton years those shotgun shacks were Martha Stewart-worthy homes. So spare me the “rich” Baton Rougers remaining oblivious to the plight of the poor in their midst, and using this as a background to explain their loyalty to the president.

The question is: Why now?

See, her ten years of careful research are finally paying off, because now, as the brave northern educated anthropologist, she has infiltrated the Baton Rouge middle class the way that Jane Foss joined the colony of apes, and now she returns from the wild to educate us on their strange ways.

Why, after five years of extraordinary ineptitude, culminating in the shameful spectacle of Americans dying from lack of emergency resources, does Bush continue to inspire any loyalty at all, let alone the loyalty of what strikes me as a large swath of the population that , more than any other place, has absorbed Katrina’s secondary shockwave.

Ughh! She is already dismissing one possible explanation – that the people who support the president do not reflexively regard his tenure as extraordinarily inept. And of course she presents no argument in favor of that pronouncement, but just marches ahead as if that cannot possibly be an explanation. Surely everyone can see it, right? Even these dim-witted Southerners. And here we go again claiming that because a hurricane has lead to intolerable traffic for some bitch from Virginia, everyone in town should hate the president. So, Occam’s Razor – the idea that the simplest explanation is the best – is dismissed out of hand, and now we get to hear the real reasons some Baton Rougers support the president.

And the answer isn’t that folks in Baton Rouge are a bunch of racist ignoramuses.

What? You cannot be serious? Your WaPo reader just spit out his mouthful of hot latte all over the Mexican poolboy! Do you have any data to dismiss that as the best explanation of their support for the president? You’re taking a real chance here, making your readers re-think their hole stance on Republicans. And why, pray tell, would a racist ignoramus be hell-bent on supporting this president? Again, no explanation needed – everyone knows he hates black people, right, except for a few token Secretaries of State.

Rather, it lies in cultural and social identification, overlaid with a patina of Christianity and fueled by raw, largely social, fear. In short, even before the hurricane rendered hundreds of thousands homeless, the feeling in white, middle class Baton Rogue was already one of displacement.

Raw! Social! Fear! Her ten years of infiltrating the white middle class have finally paid off! They are displaced! By Raw! Social! Fear! My guess is that, given the pretentions of this article, her approach to conversing with her subjects has often led to her being ignored, verbally insulted, or dismissed out of hand. Rather than correctly interpreting the behavior of her subjects as evidence that she is a bitch, she chalks up their strange reactions to Raw! Social! Fear! Bravo. Very novel.

She then goes on to describe two of her neighbors, both Bush supporters who know Bush “may not be a genius but” he can “at least talk the talk, drawing a clear line between right and wrong”, which comes as a comfort to them because as they look at the “intransigent underclass,” “our sleazy, sex-driven popular culture, as well as the explosion of poverty-related societal ills,” they don’t know where they belong anymore, or “which tribe” they might claim membership in.” I guess since they are not racist ignoramuses, they are contemplating joining up with an Indian tribe, preferably one boasting great casino ownership rights.

Later we get this throw-away: “Because if under George W. Bush the Republican Party has become heartless, the Democratic Party has become spineless.”

If only the Republican party would become heartless!

“Of course, not all of the support for Bush in Baton Rouge comes from as benign a position as that of my neighbors – we have plenty of plain old-fashioned greed here, as well as the usual assortment of racism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, homophobia and religious self-righteousness, which the Bush team has played so brilliantly.”

Whew. Why didn’t you say so in the first place. When I spit hot coffee on the poolboy the smell from his burning flesh was really quite disturbing – I had to dismiss him for the day, and now there are leaves floating in my pool. But it is good to know that there are only two Republicans loyal to the president who are sympathetic characters due to their Raw! Social! Fear!, and that the rest are racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, homophobic, and religiously self-righteous, and I can continue to regard myself as altogether morally superior to them. If there is one thing I cannot stand – it is self-righteousness! And let’s hope the President stops playing to these people so brilliantly – the drive to amnesty illegal aliens from Mexico, wars to provide oppressed Moslems a better life, high place minority cabinet members – it is a regular racist, xenophobic, religiously self-righteous dream come true. Now if only he would hire intellectuals, like Jennifer Moses!

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Most recent comment received: "ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz Too political. How about more stories about drunken debauchery in Stone Harbor?"

I am afraid I led with my best story of drunken debauchery in Stone Harbor, leaving it difficult to provide an encore. Besides which, there are many more instances of sober debauchery in Stone Harbor, but alas none of those involved me directly and this is, after all, a family website.

But in trying to recall some story along this requested line, I was taken back to August of 1991, the month prior to my getting in way over my head in graduate school. I had spent the first part of the summer in Seattle - maybe to find myself, I don't know - but I was on a very tight budget, so mostly I found myself sober. So I was itching for a drink once back in Stone Harbor. It was then, on one of my first nights back in town, in Fred's Tavern, where Paul Carson bought me my first shot of Chartreuse.

My lips were slightly sunburned from the first few days of guarding. For the uninitiated, one might think that pouring liquor over sunburnt lips would significantly reduce the pleasure of the drink, perhaps even making it displeasurable. But with Chartruese, the story is more complex - with unburnt lips, the drink is pure hell - so it is hard to say that burnt lips made it any worse. No matter your physical state, there is no potential for pleasure from drinking Chartruese. Imagine, for example, that you are in the firey pit of hell; does the stink of burning flesh really add to your displeasure in a manner that can be measured? Would you say that, but for the stink, hell isn't all that bad?

So there I am in this den of iniquity, imbibing perhaps the nastiest concoction ever conceived, thinking to myself - who came up with this nasty drink, and for what purpose? Is the drink intended as a feat of stupid courage, as a passage into manhood? What kind of sick mind sets out to make a drink so pure in its nastiness? The bottle itself answers this question - Carthusian monks - a small sect of Catholic monks living in France. Here is the Wikipedia entry for Chartreuse:

Chartreuse is a French liqueur composed of distilled wine alcohol flavored with 130 herbal extracts. The liquor is named after the monastery where it is produced, which in turn is named after the mountainous region where it is located. The color chartreuse is a green and slightly yellow color resembling that of the Green Chartreuse beverage.

According to tradition, in 1605 a marshal of artillery to French king Henri IV, François Hannibal d'Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vauvert, near Paris, with a manuscript that contained a complicated recipe for an "elixir of long life". The recipe eventually reached the religious order's headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. Since the document was decoded in 1737, it has been used to produce the "Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse". The formula is said to call for 130 herbs, flowers, and secret ingredients combined in a wine alcohol base. The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. It has 71% (vol.) alcohol (142° proof) and is colored with chlorophyll.

Today the liquors are produced in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by three monks at the Grande Chartreuse. Other related alcoholic beverages are manufactured in the same distillery (e.g. Génépi). The exact recipes for all forms of Chartreuse remain trade secrets and are known at any given time only to the three monks who prepare the herbal mixture.

In the short story "Reginald on Christmas Presents" (contained in the 1904 collection Reginald by Edwardian English author Saki), the title character declares that "people may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die."

Now Catholics, arguably moreso than other Christians, have focused in on the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine, as a rationale for enjoying a drink every now and again; and, not taking the bible literally, we have not constrained ourselves merely to wine, instead interpreting the miracle as permitting all alcoholic beverages. (It could be argued that the water to wine was a miracle specific to the cultural mileu of Jeruselam, and that the miracle could be even more broadly construed as permitting recreational drugs beyond alcohol. But there is a line, and any stoner who would suggest that, had the Isrealites fled to Jamaica, with Jesus later being born to Mary, the mircale would have involved turning lawn grass into maryjane, would clearly be crossing it. This is why Catholics can drink but not get stoned). So the idea of a set of cloistered monks concocting some new home brew is not so out of sorts with the biblical endorsement of enjoying a drink or two. But the problem here is that cloistered monks are not likely to be obsessed with other people's enjoyment, let alone their own.

Chartreuse, unlike wine or other alcoholic beverages, is not about enjoyment - it is about corporal mortification - self-punishment as a method of atoning for sin. There is a place for this in the Catholic Church, although not a big place; lenten sacrifices, for example, are about taming our appetites so as not to be controlled by them. But the monks have clearly pulled a fast one here - you order up a drink expecting to commemorate the wedding miracle as a joyful celebration of your Redeemer's unfathomable compassion and mercy - and instead you get Chartreuse. Involuntary corporal mortification just isn't right. I suspect this probably a lot to do with Martin Luther and other Protestant's desire to separate from the Church.

Of course, involuntary or not, corporal mortification is corporal mortification. That shot of Chartreuse should be sufficient to wipe my slate clean for that entire summer. (St. Peter at the gates, going down a list of sins I must account for during that period, looking up for an explanation; I lean over and point out the small print on his list, which he missed, showing the shot of Chartreuse. St. Peter - well then, let's move on, all clear on that account). So perhaps it is no coincidence that Paul Carson, himself a Catholic, made it something of a mission to get as many people as possible to experience Chartreuse that summer. And he took his mission straight to the bars, where corporal mortification was perhaps most needed. I don't know what Paul is doing today, but if he's still single, he has a good claim to joining with the Carthusian monks and becoming one of the three entrusted with the formula.

I've had Chartreuse only a limited number of times since. Professor Vic brought a bottle to a Christmas party thrown by me, Vegas Heavy-T and Fruit Juicy back in Minneapolis. No matter our political disagreements, that small act of charity on his behalf went a long way to saving some souls there that night, and in the end that matters. Later, his gift to me for standing up in his wedding was a bottle of the dreaded elixir. Apparently he believes I have a lot to atone for. But since I am planning to live a long life, you can bet I am stretching the consumption of that bottle as long as I possibly can.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cheap Response to Comments Entry

Today is the lazy response to comments day. So here goes:

The Hatcher seems to espouse the creed that anecdote is the singular form of data. A phrase like "More times than not, those who see themselves as great humanists can't seem to grasp the possibility of loving an actual human" argues that more than half of all humanist are really terrible un-loving narcissists.

The Hatcher's implicit maximum likelihood estimate of the proportion of humanists that are pricks would be spot on as long as he adds no more than two other humanist to the sample he uses to make this statement.

I think I'll reserve judgement until I get a little more data.



Well, Arnie, I added two more yesterday - Rousseau and Marx - which I believe makes me safe in my conclusion unless I add no more than four more. Not a whole lot more data, but more data nonetheless. But without adding any more to the thin anecdotal data, I'll refer you to the quote from Kenneth Arrow, considered by many to be the greatest living economist, who makes basically the same observation.


Professor Vic said...
I would simply add that if we are playing the anecdote game, let's pay some attention to moral conservatives lack of morality such as the numerous Republicans who had affairs while prosecuting Clinton's White House behavior and the string of televangelists in the 1980s and 1990s who were adulters or embezzlers.

Not trying to defend the personal life of Lennon, Miller, or even Clinton for that matter, but hypocrisy is by no means the sole domain of left-wingers.


I might also add, with the greatest due respect to the esteemed Vegas Heavy-T, that most mainstream individuals would not espouse assassination as the appropriate punishment for being a poor father or a hypocritical jerk. Everyone knows that assassination should be reserved for democratically elected Latin American leaders who disdain American foreign policy.

I'd like to draw a central distinction between, say, the embezzling cheating televangilist, and the John Lennon's of the world. Assuming the embezzling, cheating televangilist is Christian, and a true believing Christian, he holds the view that man is fallen or sinful in nature. So in a way his own troubles are a validation of his creed and his view of human nature. Lennon, and I am only guessing here, was probably more in line with Roussea in believing that man is essentially good, but has been corrupted by institutions, the Church being chiefly among them; if he could rid himself of the guilt trip of Christianity, Utopia would follow. Now when a guy like this hits his wife, he supports the creed espoused by the televangilist, not his own. And that, to me, is interesting.


Anonymous said...
I never understood why if a person has talent in the field of entertainment, they somehow become the voice of humanity. Just because John Lennon was part of the best musical writing duo of all time, doesn't mean he knows any more than anybody else concerning the human condition.

The problem is not that the Lennons and Millers of the world express all the politically correct opinions of the day in order to sell a few more records, tickets, books etc. while being total bastards at home; the problem is that we give their opinions any more weight than anyone else's.

On a related note, the one thing that sickened me in the Katrina aftermath was the video footage of celebrities touring the devestation. I just have this vision of agents calling clients telling them to get down to New Orleans to get exposure. I then can see a posh helecopter ride, a quick five minute tour with the cameramen in tow, and a perfect opportunity to talk about the latest project.


I dismissed doing a promotional tour of the blog in the region for the same reasons. But try to understand these actors - their job is to display emotions that are not their own; as Dirigible points out, these guys know less about the human condition than most, so going to New Orleans or the funeral of Joe DiMaggio (as Jack Nicholson and Kevin Costner both requested of the family, but were, I am happy to say, denied) allows them a couple of minutes of authentic living. And greatest musical writing duo of all time? Ever heard of Sonny and Cher? Before your think I'm joking, please explain to me why "I want to hold your hand" is in any way more profund or of lasting cultural importance than "I got you babe."

Incredible Dirigible said...
Professor Vic is right--even if Lennon was a phony when it came to being a humanitarian, I can't say I would wish assassination on him, or that I'd make light of his killing. (Saddam or Osama, on the other hand...)

That last anonymous poster wrote, "Just because John Lennon was part of the best musical writing duo of all time, doesn't mean he knows any more than anybody else concerning the human condition...the problem is that we give their opinions any more weight than anyone else's."

IMHO, Lennon & company probably knew LESS about the human condition, since they were living lifestyles of the rich & famous, not eating at Taco Bell or shopping at Wal-Mart or dealing with the problems average folks do.

But WE don't give their opinions more weight than anyone else, THEY do so, by using their celebrity as a platform to mislead (largely unchallenged) or have a voice that your average Joe cannot have. Julia Roberts & Sally Field get to testify before Congress about whatever pet cause they choose, but could Dr. Hatch or Professor Vic? Of course not. Not because Gidget's smarter than Hatch, but because she's famous, for parroting lines from scripts.


To those who interpreted the Vegas heavy-T story as an endorsement of assassinating humanists who smack their wife, let me explain. Of course you’re right, homicide in such cases is not good. I recounted that story because I think it illustrates a humorous anecdote of a very atypical response to a hand-wringing display of one’s exalted sensitivity to tragedies that no one should have to prove or even express his abhorrence over. I’ve been in conversations like that (too many in recent years given many bad events), and it almost becomes this crazy competition to express your emotions more eloquently, or to make more original and novel observations, than the others in the conversation. The assumption is that the stoic in the group, who doesn't take his turn showing his emotional correctness to the rest of the group, is somehow the oddball. It is rather bizarre. What you never see is someone who does what Heavy-T did – express an emotion so beyond the pale in order to highlight that the opposite view is so barbaric that holding the status quo view is no mark of virtue. Genius, pure genius, if you ask me.


Anonymous said...
A fair point about celebrities, but let's not limit it to Hollywood. Limbaugh, Hannity, and Franken, for example, are nothing more than political entertainers. None are trained in political science or public affairs.

Some are good at acting; bizarrely , our culture then allows such individuals to espouse political viewpoints. Rush and Sean are good at talking on the radio ( Al's really not that good at it, although he's more amusing); bizarrely, some segments of our culture consider their political viewpoints to hold authority. And, in the end, they have far more effect on the nation's political discourse than does Sean Penn.



Have to disagree with you there. Even Franken provides information; these guys are informed - they read a lot, they talk to a lot of people. They go deeper into stories than TV; much of what they do is criticizing other journalism. Of course they espouse their opinions in connection to the information they report, but there is a lot more meat to the offering. Journalists aren't trained in political science or public affairs, either, and some are on TV because they are pretty faces, but that doesn't mean you cannot learn anything by watching the news. Pure actors, on the other hand, typically just emote based on some conspiratorial view of the President.

And I should add that Lennon’s behavior as a husband and father do not diminish his message or his music, but being the judgmental SOB that I am, I look at the totality and say that, on balance, he’s really not worthy of the respect he is accorded. Words are easy; actions are harder. Mother Theresa lived her words; Lennon didn’t (of course some of his words would be impossible to live, like “I am the walrus, kookookachoo”). Not to compare his negligence as a husband and father to a child-abusing priest, but I wouldn’t excuse a child abusing priest for his eloquence at the pulpit, an eloquence that might even inspire my beliefs. He was blessed with a gift, and perhaps that makes him even more accountable than most. And in the long-run, and this is something I truly believe, there are enough people out there with the same message to deliver to the masses, and so his loss, as well as his deficiencies while he was with us, are not deeply felt by anyone other than his family and friends. It is his behavior to them that I would argue is more important in judging him as a man.

Loving humanity does not make one ipso facto a cad. But among people who have become famous, and whose fame comes partially via a reputation that includes this great regard for humanity, there seems to be more cases of loutish behavior than one would expect based on their public reputations. Marx, Sartre, Rousseau, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Bertrand Russell – the list of guys with crappy private lives can get quite lengthy. Obviously fame comes to those with a fair amount of ambition, and ambition often leads to one to put himself first in line, so that might be the source of the correlation.

I don’t take Lennon's vision as the measure of him as a man. And I think that point generally gets lost – people tend to judge people they don’t know personally based upon their views and opinions rather than their actions; they do so both negatively and positively. As a result, guys like Lennon are respected as some sort of secular saint, and in other cases people like Mother Theresa are reviled for being pro-life. I guess I just want the incentive system – who gets applauded in this world – to reflect what I think matters more.

More Intellectual Cads

Lots of good comments on that last post. I'll respond to some of them tomorrow, but for now I give you an article from the archives,which I thought I had republished on the blog, but I cannot seem to find it. Anyway, it is very similarly themed, and perhaps might draw other good comments that I can address tomorrow. But I should address one comment here and now. Incredible Dirigible makes the comment that I am smarter than Gidget; I do not endorse that comment, and feel that he has left me open to invidious comparisons from commenters with less scruples than himself.

“Most discussions of social justice … have a strong degree of smug piety about them. Actual behavior in critical moral situations is more revealing. Moral and ethical principles derived from idealized views of the self are likely to lead ultimately to cynicism about others” Kenneth Arrow

The quote above is accurate for a certain type of discussant in debates over social justice – the liberal intellectual. No group has more faith in its own ideas or more contempt for those that dismiss them than the smugly pious socialist dreamers who populate the liberal arts departments of universities throughout the world. Frank Knight, a 20th century economist, once wrote that the “disposition of an individual, under liberalism, to take upon himself” an ethical obligation to improve society “seems to be an exhibition of intellectual and moral conceit; it is unethical.”

One could forgive the liberal intellectual his utopian delusions and moral conceit if his “actual behavior in critical moral situations” was consistent with his self-professed love of humanity. But it would seem that the moral conceit Knight speaks of often leads to Arrow’s “cynicism about others”, and the result, too often, is that the intellectual treats those around him abhorrently.

Indeed, the personal lives of some of history’s most famous influential liberal intellectuals seems to bear out this connection. Paul Johnson, a British historian, examined the contradictions between the private lives and the public sermons of some of the most influential (and by influential, I mean upon the course of history, rather than only within intellectual circles) intellectuals of all time in his book Intellectuals, which consists of short biographies for Rousseau, Karl Marx, Jean Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and others.

Rousseau was the philosophical leader of the French revolution, who generally held the belief that man is, by his very nature, good, and that any evil that exists in the world exists because man has been corrupted by from his natural goodness by institutions. Rousseau had a rather high opinion of his own natural “goodness”, which does not include false modesty as a virtue, having written: ‘The person who can love me as I can love is still to be born’; ‘No one ever had more talent for loving’; ‘I would leave this life with apprehension if I knew a better man than me.’ But as a famous bishop once said, “If we would really know our hearts, let us impartially view our actions.” Rousseau’s actions? Five babies he fathered with the same women whom he never married were given up, at his coaxing, to a hospital that took in close to 3000 abandoned babies a year, two thirds of which generally died within a year. Any pangs of guilt for the most talented lover of all mankind? “I know full well no father is more tender than I would have been.” As for the mother of the children, Rousseau “never felt the least glimmering of love for her.” And his most famous work, Emile, was a book about the proper moral education of children. Imagine Bill Clinton writing a “how to” book for mentoring young women in their careers.

The all-encompassing love of humanity so clearly expressed by intellectuals often leads them to embrace socialism or communism as their political ideology. Marx, the man who devoted his writings, if never his own comfort, to ending the exploitation of workers by capitalists, never himself seriously attempted to get a job, relying upon Engels (who co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Marx) as his main source of income. As Johnson puts it, Marx “simultaneously exploited the generosity of a friend while advocating a political order that would abolish the “exploitation” of the working class.” His own life gave a clue to the disastrous consequences of the political system he advocated on the incentives to work for a people guaranteed a minimum income. As for his knowledge of the people he would save, the working class, “so far as we know, Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine, or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life.” As for his record as an employer, you’d think he would be attentive to not exploiting those in his charge, but Helen Demuth, a nursery-maid for the family, received only her keep, and never a penny in wages, from Marx. As Johnson puts it: “Like many self-centered intellectuals, he [Marx] tended to think that moral laws did not apply to himself.” Even those laws that he derived himself.

Both men were committed dearly to “social justice”, a commitment that Hayek describes as the “chief outlet for moral emotion, the distinguishing attribute of the good man, and the recognized sign of the possession of a moral conscience.” And the striving for social justice, always loosely defined as some unattainable socialist utopia, leads to “the destruction of the indispensable environment in which the traditional moral values alone can flourish, namely personal freedom.”
The necessity of the destruction of personal freedom in connection to attaining social justice was not lost on these intellectuals. Nor were they naïve about the means required for this destruction. History repeatedly shows that those who would deprive a people of freedoms they have traditionally enjoyed can do so only with violent coercion.

Though socialist intellectuals in the U.S. are often identified with the peace movement surrounding the Vietnam war, their motives for joining that movement should not be confused with pacifism. Their historical silence in the face of the atrocities committed by communist leaders exhibits their tolerance for violence in the service of “justice” (to this day, they agonize more over McCarthyism than over Stalin’s murders or those of the Vietcong after the U.S. withdrawal). Closer to home, many supported the inner city riots of the sixties, and donated money and resources to radical and violent revolutionary groups, such as the Black Panthers.
A moral inversion has taken place as a result of the influence of liberals over the last century.

Your commitment to social justice, as measured by your stance on public and political issues, is the only moral standard by which liberals will endorse the “judgement” of others. If you are aligned with them, you’ve demonstrated the “possession of a moral conscience,” and nothing else is expected from you in relation to your private life. Those who are not aligned with the commitment of the liberal to social justice more often than not judge a man by his actions in private life, which liberals have characterized as “intolerance” and “judgmentalism.”
The end result of that inversion is a people who sacrifice their freedoms in exchange for the right to be responsible to nothing other than their own selfish whims.

Bertrand Russell, a 20th century socialist, in responding to someone calling into question his advocacy for socialism and his seemingly contradictory zero charitable givings, said “I am a socialist, not a Christian.” May the two never be confused. It is precisely the environment that these liberal intellectuals would seek to create, where no man is held privately accountable for his irresponsibility, that creates the want for a socialist fix

Friday, September 16, 2005

At Least They Got John Lennon

So I am hopping on my bike for my daily commute, and Joey is there at my side to see me off.

"Joe, do you think when you're grown up, and you have to go to work, you'll ride your bike to work."


"Why not?"

"I'm not going to work."

"Where are you going to go?"

"To the basement."

"What are you going to do in the basement?"

"I'll be in my laboratory making potions."

I am unique in having a son who aspires to be Grampa from the Munsters (without ever having seen the show). No doubt he'll be making potions for an oafishly large son-in-law.

And while we are on the subject of fathers and sons, I read in the paper today an excerpt from a book by John Lennon's first wife, where she describes him hitting her pretty hard on one occasion and walking away without a care in the world. It reminded me of a movie I once saw - it was a documentary on father/son relations made by a guy as he travelled the world with his father. At one point they got to iterview Julian Lennon, and he says quite frankly, and I am paraphrasing, that it was quite odd having a father so beloved by the world and considered to be such a lover of humanity, who was nevertheless a total ass as a father.

It also reminded me of a favorite Vegas Heavy-T story, when he was a freshman at Georgetown. A bunch of people in the dorm were sitting around in a classic bull session, ostentatiously displaying their moral seriousness and emotional correctness by expressing the right level of dismay over those lights of the world taken from us by the assassins gun - MLK, RFK, JFK, and any other person with K as a last initial. Heavy-T, after sitting quietly through the discussion, stands up and says, in reference to the assassins - "at least they got John Lennon," and walks away.

Of course it is no coincidence, in my mind, that a self-professed lover of humanity was a prick as a father. More times than not, those who see themselves as great humanists can't seem to grasp the possibility of loving an actual human; loving humanity in the abstract is comparatively rather easy. Because for these people love is a feeling, a sentiment; and as the poets of the world, they are naturally those with the most refined and admirable sentiments. The problem comes when one defines love as needing to be expressed as continual selfless action, rather than remote and fleeting sentiment. It is there that the John Lennon's of the world tend to fail miserably, because they love nothing over and above themselves.

Another famous intellectual in this genre is the recently deceased Arthur Miller, author of Death of a Salesman and the Crucible, where he exposed us anti-Communists as a bunch of Salem witch-hunters. He was, according to the NYT obituary, our foremost “Playwright of Conscience.” Evidence to this effect is provided in the following, which I copied long ago from the Arma Virumque blog:

I wonder how many of those who champion Miller ... noticed this letter by one J. Stephen Lang in the May 23 number of National Review. Citing Martin Gottfried's Arthur Miller: His Life and Work, Mr. Lang writes that

Though clearly sympathetic to its subject, Gottfried's biography speaks of a matter that the liberal press overlooked in its flood of Miller praise. By his third wife, Inge Morath, Miller fathered Daniel, a son born with Down's syndrome. Regarding Daniel, Miller told his agent on the phone, “He isn't right. I'm going to have to put the baby away.” Daniel was put in a home for people with Down's syndrome and lived out his life there. Inge visited him weekly, but Miller never did, even though the institution was near their home. Nor did Miller acknowledge this son in any public way, including in his autobiography. Thus the great moralist of the public eye--the sensitive, socially conscious soul the liberals so admire--seemed lacking in the most basic of human affections. Attention must be paid to compassionate liberals' lack of compassion.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Roberts and Stare Decisis

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this article:
I cannot seem to link with blogger correctly lately, so I copied the URL. Anyway, it concerns the Supreme Court, and the notion that there are certain Superprecedents - ie. decisions made by prior Courts that should be beyond the ability of the current or future courts to reverse. It talks about another scholarly article, the contents of which are interesting given John Roberts answers yesterday to certain questions regarding Roe V. Wade. For those who don't know, Roberts basically said that Roe is established precedent, and that established precedents are to be respected because overturning them willy/nilly would send a jolt through the system. Here is a passage from an article on his testimony:

"...from committee chairman Arlen Specter. "In your confirmation hearing for the circuit court, your testimony read to this effect, and it's been widely quoted: Roe is the settled law of the land," Specter said to Roberts. "Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?"

"Well, beyond that, it's settled as a precedent of the Court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis," Roberts answered, picking the last part of Specter's question. "And those principles, applied in the Casey case, explain when cases should be revisited and when they should not. And it is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes."

Now, this is from the Weekly Standard article, which discusses the Casey decision, a decision that upheld Roe:

Moreover, the article provides a devastating analysis of the famous joint opinion in Casey. Written by Justices O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, the opinion suggested that maybe even all three would have voted against the holding in Roe, had they been on the Court in 1973. Yet they were unwilling now to overrule Roe. Why? Stare decisis. In particular, the joint opinion contended that failure to follow precedent would undermine the Court's legitimacy and weaken the Court's ability to command public adherence to its decisions.

As Maltz pointed out, this analysis "reverses the accepted view" that constitutional decisions should have less protection under stare decisis because they are less amenable to correction by Congress than statutory decisions. "In essence," Maltz observed, "the opinion asserts that if one side can take control of the Court on an issue of major national importance, it can not only use the Constitution to bind other branches of government to its position but also have that position protected from later judicial action by a kind of super-stare decisis."

So, in other words, the Court's legitimacy is undermined in the event that it reverses an opinion that is completely asinine, but the asininity of the initial opinion doesn't hurt the Court a bit. Reversing a bad decision sends a "jolt" through the system, which apparently is to be avoided (though Roberts did not say that a jolt is never appropriate), but making a bad decision never does.

Abstracting away from the underlying issue, pro-choicers can argue the justness of the legality of abortion, but I think they should agree that the justness of the process of making it legal throughout the land (ie. Roe) is extremely suspect. We have certain rights that are inalienable, and they are spelled out rather clearly; the rest of what people like to claim are our rights are very much alienable. The emanating penumbras of the Constitution (cited by Blackmun in the Roe decision) are clearly bunk - Constitutions do not emanate penumbras. Certain issues are to be left to the democratic legislative process, rather than the autocratic (when abused as it has been) judicial process.

That thinking would suggest that no prior Court decision deserves any respect outside of that deserved by its accuracy. I think it is nevertheless appropriate, although one could argue that the truly more conservative position would require showing sensitivity to the potential consequences of such a jolt. For example, if overturning an interpretation of a given law would lead to civil unrest, avoiding such unrest would obviously be a goal you'd want considered. But the question is who, under our system of government, should be sensitive to such concerns? Overturning Roe would merely turn the matter over to the states, whose legislatures would be charged with deciding on whether to keep the status quo or further regulate abortion. It is not the Court's role to consider the potential costs of a "jolt" to the system; that role properly lies with our elected representatives.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Mathematical Proof of The Absolute Moral Authority of Saddam

P Bryon writes to tell me that Mother Sheehan has taken her "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" American tour to the capital of NY state, where she is assembled with her band on their tour, which is winding its way to DC.

It got me thinking back to some of Professor Vic's comments in regard to my posts regarding Mother Sheehan, where he suggested that having lost a son in Iraq, Sheehan has gained some level of moral authority in regard to our foreign policies; of course, I took the view that having lost her marbles when she lost her son, any claim to moral authority is rather stretched. In any event, I read recently that Maureen Dowd, perhaps the dumbest editorialist ever to live, did her best to cement that notorious claim for herself by remarking in a column that Sheehan had absolute moral authority as a result of having lost a son.

Of course, 2000 mothers have lost sons now, which gives us 2000 women running around with absolute moral authority. I suppose I am fine with that as long as none of them are Hillary. But what happens if they disagree? By all appearances the other 1999 don't agree to the extent that they want to make a public spectacle of themselves. And can I use the fact that the Wife of Hatcher doesn't have a fallen son to counter her claims to absolute moral authority? "Take out the trash." "You take it out - you're not the boss of me - Cindy Sheehan is!"

There are so many ways to point out that Dowd's claim is perhaps the dumbest ever, but here is one that cuts the heart of the matter: Saddam lost two sons to Bush's war for oil - does that give him twice the absolute moral authority of Mother Sheehan? Maybe not, because he is not a mother after all. Maybe fathers only get a fraction of absolute moral authority per son killed. But he is a freedom fighter - just ask Mother Sheehan and Michael Moore. And that has to count for something!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Random Idiocies

Al Gore is cheeking his medications again:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Former Vice President Al Gore urged Americans on Friday to hold the Bush administration accountable for failing to adequately prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina.

"When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic flood waters five days after a hurricane struck, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe, but to hold ... the leaders of our nation accountable," Gore told environmentalists at the Sierra Club's national convention.

"The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis, it is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences," Gore said.

Funny he should be preaching to the Sierra Club about the federal government's failure to protect the people of New Orleans. Because really the Sierra Club should be judging the performance of the federal government based upon how the black bear is fairing, or the conditions for amorous relationships among certain bird species. Has FEMA saved any black bears? If they did, no doubt we'd be hearing them crow about it (this is from an article on National Review Online - for some reason my linking is down):

With all that has happened in the state, it’s understandable that the Louisiana chapter of the Sierra Club may not have updated its website. But when its members get around to it, they may want to change the wording of one item in particular. The site brags that the group is “working to keep the Atchafalaya Basin,” which adjoins the Mississippi River not far from New Orleans, “wet and wild.”

These words may seem especially inappropriate after the breaking of the levee that caused the tragic events in New Orleans last week. But “wet and wild” has a larger significance in light of those events, and so does the group using the phrase. The national Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups who sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a 1996 plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees.

The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.” In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

And speaking of litigation, I read somewhere that Mayor Ray Naggin delayed the decision to evacuate for fear of litigation over lost revenues from the hotels in the city. And you know what? He was right to be concerned. If only it was the lawyers who couldn't escape the flooding (members of Hatcher's family who are attorneys in the Bayou excluded, of course).

But lest you fear our government will never get a handle on protecting its people, rest assured that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are on the job, making sure that no Supreme Court justice is complicit in the catastrophic acts of nature going forward:

It took less than an hour before Senators considering federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court fell into disagreement over Hurricane Katrina. In their opening remarks, the two top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee invoked the tragedy as a reminder of the gap between rich and poor and the need for a Supreme Court that wants to close that gap.

"Today, the devastation, despair facing millions of our fellow Americans in the Gulf region is a tragic reminder of why we have a federal government, why it's critical that our government be responsive," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking minority member of the panel.

"We need the federal government for our protection and security, to cast a lifeline to those in distress, to mobilize better resources beyond the ability of any state and local government -- all of this for the common good."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, said lessons should be learned from the hurricane.

"The powerful winds and flood waters of Katrina tore away the mask that has hidden from public view the many Americans who are left out and left behind," he said. "As one nation under God, we cannot continue to ignore the injustice, the inequality and the gross disparities that exist in our society."

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment. (That still makes me laugh).

I don't even know if it is worth digging into the logic on this one, but what the hell. Last I checked, the Supreme Court has never blocked one welfare-related program. I suppose there are differences between conservative and liberal jurists over such things as criminal rights, and as there is clearly a correlation between poverty and crime, maybe this is where the Supreme Court can play its part. Perhaps this is what Leahy and Kennedy are referring to. Which brings us to the widespread looting that took place in NO - what are Judge Robert's views on punishment here? My guess is that the Leahy and Kennedy view is to go easy. The problem with that view is that it completely misses the fact that whereas the poor account for the perpetration of most crime, it is not at the expense of the rich; it is a cost that falls squarely on the poor. The poverty in NO was apparently never abated by 4 decades of welfare, whereas the population of poor fatherless teen-aged boys no doubt flourished under such aid. People needed food in this crisis, no doubt, but that doesn't explain why others would loot gun shops and take shots at relief helicopters. So, if closing the gap between rich and poor is such a priority for Kennedy (how many poor people does he invite to Hyannesport?), he should welcome a judge who doesn't excuse criminals for their poverty.

Meanwhile, it looks like Bush is about to fire Brown as head of FEMA. On a related note, I read with interest comments made by Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday: "We need to understand what FEMA is. And it's an appalling fact that very few reporters in Washington seem to know what FEMA is. FEMA, first of all, is not a first responder. FEMA is basically a tiny little agency that has been kept weak. And you know why it's been kept weak? The governors want it that way. In each of these operations, it's always FEMA's job to work through the state and local government... And what FEMA is, is an agency with supplies and a lot of money. And we're going to see that money spread around ...

That seems spot on to me - I've always thought of FEMA as basically a federal insurance company that comes in after the fact and dishes out the goodies. I mean, it's not like my kids, who aspire at times to be firemen and police officers, run around playing FEMAman. Do those guys even carry guns or axes? Do they drive big red trucks? I'll give my kids some monopoly money and tell them to run around rewarding people whose property was crushed by natural disasters, but my guess is that the game will wear thin real fast - which is the best indication of any that Brit Hume is right, FEMA is not intended as a unit of first responders. What with all of the hulabaloo over the qualifications of Brown, I don't think that I've heard any specific charges of things that FEMA actually screwed up. I'm not saying there aren't any, I'm just saying it seems like people are pointing the finger at them because they don't understand their limited role.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Political Issues Snarled Plans for Military Help After Hurricane - New York Times

This a decent NYT story about the wrangling that went on between Bush and Blanco regarding control of the relief effort.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

White House Shifts Blame

"White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials" - that was the page 1 headline in Sunday's Washington Post, and it was a classic example of headline that is not supported by the body of the article. I kept waiting to read the line where Bush is quoted as saying - "Don't look at me, the local guys screwed up." I didn't find it.

"Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country's emergency management."

"Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday. The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull of taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly."

So what do we learn from this paragraph? That the locals were afraid that if they did not maintain responsibility for certain aspects of the evacuation that are within its jurisdictional control, and the administration took over all aspects, everything could be blamed on the locals. My guess is that the source of that last quote does not have authority to speak publicly for very good reason. Now clearly by this point - Friday - there have been many screw-ups, the most egregious of which occurred at the state and local level (i.e. a thousand school buses sitting in a parking lot, no call for evacuation until Sunday even after the White House was pushing for it on Saturday, disallowing the Red Cross from supplying food and water to the Superdome due to concerns about incentivizing too many people to go there, etc.). So so far we have the speculation on the part of some Louisiana politician or political underling (and none of them have ever been on the take) that the White House was trying to get some control over the situation, not so that things might run more smoothly, but instead only because they want to blame the locals for prior screw ups.

"Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said."

Shouldn't this be the headline? Louisiana politicians have been sitting on their asses. Instead we get a headline, never fully supported, that Bush has been blaming them with the implicit inference, again not supported by anything within the article, that the blame truly lies with Bush.

"Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, FEMA director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort."

Shouldn't the intrepid team of reporters be asking why it is such a priority on Saturday to be spending time making moves to "protect" her independence from the federal government? Does James Lee Witt command the resources that the feds command to get the job done? By Saturday, probably 50 percent of the people in this country had given money to philanthropic organizations for the relief effort; is it necessary for the governor to be spending her time setting up a redundant philanthropic fund while people are still trapped in the city?

"Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," he said. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable."

Now I ask you, how can the Bush quote be so determinitively interpreted as putting responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government? To say that the lower levels do not have the capacity to achieve the objective, it would seem to me, is an admission that federal help is absolutely required; and by essentially admitting that, it becomes an issue whether such help was offered in time. He did not say that the locals have the capabilities but mismanaged them. So a more reasonable interpretation would be that he has partially exonerated the locals - even if you had made all the right calls (which they didn't by a long shot), there'd still be a crisis and the feds would still be needed.

If the Feds screwed up, and I believe they did, the screw-up came in not recognizing soon enough that the governor and the mayor of New Orleans were incompetent hacks. The President was probably overly sensitive in letting these guys exercise the authority over the situation that the law permits them; not an unreasonable position for a former governor who believes in federalism, nor for a guy who had Rudy on the ground in the last major national crisis. If they had been competent, it seems to me that the issue of when Bush moved (probably a day late) would not have mattered, because Bush would have been asked by them to move much sooner, and many more people would have been evacuated if the city had followed its own evacuation plans.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Some Thoughts On Katrina

This is from the Best of the Web at Opinion Journal:

Democrats are worried. "Before the Senate acts on John Roberts' new nomination, we should know even more about his record, and we should know whom the president intends to propose to nominate as a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor," Reuters quotes Sen. Ted Kennedy as saying.

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.

You gotta love the last line. I wish journalists used it every time they quoted Teddy the gasbag.


This caught my eye also from Best of the Web, which quoted John Podhoretz: Once again we see the gigantic divide in this country--not between Right and Left, but between people who live and breathe politics and those for whom politics are only an incidental part. You need to look at the world through political glasses to assume that THE key aspect of a natural disaster is the response or lack thereof of the authorities--whether they be local, state or federal. The president doesn't MAKE hurricanes, therefore he will not be blamed FOR hurricanes. Nor do the governor and the mayor.

Very true. And it seems to me, as guilty as I most often am of living and breathing the politics, that those who don't are correct not too in most cases. Some windbag on Capital Hill, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, before all hell broke loose, was rattling on about how we're all Americans, and that we're not Republicans and Democrats when it comes to our sympathies for what is taking place in the Gulf, etc. etc. Like that really needed to be said? That differences over tax policy or other mundane or even serious affairs of state would translate into differences over our reactions to the devastation in that region and to its people? At the end of the day, both your average Democrat and your average Republican do not abuse their dogs; we're more alike in most ways than not, a fact that is often lost when political discourse vests all of our energies into exploring those areas where we do differ.

But now the fur is flying with fingers pointing everywhere and the s*&^ hitting the fan, and every other metaphor you can think of to describe how fingers are pointing between mayors, governors, presidents, cabinet members, etc. Which is how it should be - because we are universally saddened by the events down there, it is only natural that we explore what might have been screwed up. But of course that diverges quickly into accusations of personal willfull negligence, mostly aimed against Bush. Not very productive. Call him incompetent, and offer the facts to prove that assertion, and that is fair game. But call him a racist who couldn't care less about poor people, and all you can offer as proof is your omniscience, which allows you to read his mind.

At the end of the day, we know we can count on the Senate to conduct an investigation that satisfies everyone, right? The problem is that, as with any crisis that merits some review after the fact, those who do so tend to lose sight of the fact that New Orleans getting hit by a Cat 4 hurricane was not a certainty one month ago.

Playing the role of the cold economist, there is no doubt that a structural solution to what has occurred in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane can be conceived, financed, implemented, and ultimately successful in avoiding repeating this rather ugly history. But many suggestions, if offered in time to have been put into place prior to Katrina, would still have been worthily rejected; the simplest solution in this category – evacuate the city forever (which may be the most cost effective solution ex post, but not ex ante). The tendency is to discuss what went wrong in the aftermath with the 20/20 knowledge that a CAT 4 or 5 hurricane hit the city with certainty, but decisions are made when such events are far from 100 percent probabilities. Many solutions are cost effective when the bad event is a certainty; many are not when the probability is low. The end result of this catastrophe will be this – the government will seriously over-invest in emergency preparation.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

First Day of Kindergarten

When General George Patton's father dropped him off for his first day of school, he turned to the boy and sadly said "Son, henceforth our paths diverge forever." My words of wisdom were more practical - "don't pick your nose, otherwise we'll have to move to another school district." Yesterday marked the start of a new era in the Hatcher's household with the twins starting kindergarten. No tears were shed by Wife of Hatcher as we dropped them off, instead she remarked simply to me: "Damn them kids for not letting me cry like all other moms."

They already went to some kindergarten camp for a month this summer at their school, so they are familiar with the place. One day I dropped them off there, and Billy was very explicit about how little hand-holding I needed to do. "Dad, you didn't need to get out of the car. You should have just said goodbye to us in the car. We can walk to the classroom by ourselves." I think he's doing drugs.

Sure, there was an element of sadness in seeing them off to formal book learnin, but in the same way terminally ill patients living in constant pain feel a twinge of sadness at parting this life - their sorry to see all of the good memories get left behind, but they know the pain of their current state and the inevitable downward decline makes now the right time. Like a cancer that has progressed beyond a reparable point, all boys reach that stage where the ratio of pure obnoxiousness to little kid cuteness crosses a tipping point, and worsens at an accelerating pace. How do I know I've reached this point? Here is a typical conversation:

Hatcher: "Hey Billy, what do you say we go out back and toss the football around."

Billy: "Hey Billy, what do you say we go out back and toss the football around." Giggle

Hatcher: "All right, if that's the way you want it."

Billy: "All right, if that's the way you want it." Giggle.

Hatcher: "I cannot wait until your the father of an obnoxious little five year old boy."

Billy: "I cannot wait until your the father of an obnoxious little five year old boy."

Hatcher: "What about you Joe?"

Joe lifts his t-shirt, places his left hand under his right armpit, with his right arm up in the air and bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbow, forces his elbow down to his side causing the air in his armpit to espace through the palm of his left hand, making a pretty convincing farting noise. Laughs hysterically and does not answer me.

Yeah, it's time for them to go to school. If a kid can teach himself the armpit fart trick, he's ready to read is what I say. So now they are at least partially society's responsibility, which is no small relief to parents who thought that disaster would strike at a time when we'd have to face the glare of the blame spotlight by ourselves, with no school system to point the finger at.

Patton recalled his fathers words for the rest of his life: "I have never forgotten that but though we lived more and more apart our hearts and minds never separated." May it be so for me and my two sons.

Sign up for my Notify List and get email when I update!

powered by