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Me: Frank Lynch

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These are my mundane daily ramblings.
For something less spontaneous, I maintain The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page (over 1,700 Johnson quotes), with a weekly essay springing from one of Johnson's quotations.

Bio:
Born 1957, raised in Florida, moved to New York area in 1982; now live in Brooklyn.
Married, with one kid unit.
Former marketing research professional. Now drawing no salary, but working on a book.

Email:
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dot
lynch2
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November 29, 2003:

President Bush's surprise Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad was, in my view, a nice gesture. The secrecy behind it — everyone was surprised — reinforced the basic good spirit; other Presidents might have given more notice, for greater political capital. For some time, I was full of good cheer.

Mixed feelings started to creep in yesterday. First, I wondered how much of the advance secrecy was out of security concerns, vs. a desire to minimize the political advantage. And I couldn't help but wonder if, in keeping quiet, this weren't some kind of retreat from the "bring 'em on" call he made in July. Is it possible that this meant there was apprehension over how well the government thought they could protect him? (Even when visiting Buckingham Palace, the security arrangements were so pervasive that significant damage was done to the gardens.)

A Washington Post editorial puts it thus:

[T]he nature of the president's trip inadvertently revealed a great deal about the true state of affairs in Iraq. The fact that the president of the United States had to travel in an unmarked car to a secret flight, land and depart in darkness and was unable to tell even members of his family that he planned to visit Baghdad hardly speaks well for the security situation. Administration officials seem pleased to have pulled off such a surprise, but it would have been a far more triumphant visit if the element of surprise had been unnecessary.

To repeat, I started off with feelings of goodwill about the visit, and while I saw the potential security issues associated with it, I still wasn't thinking of it as a visit for political purposes. My mixed feelings became even more mixed, however, when I started hearing people talk about it explicitly as a political move; and it wasn't only liberals who were saying it: on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" last night, Steve Forbes (a former candidate for the Republican nomination for President, and publisher of Forbes magazine), said:

"I think it was a brilliant move, and the fact that Democrats are wordless I think says it all."

At that point, I'm sorry to say, I became more cynical: perhaps the President wasn't playing it up for its greatest political advantage to make us think it wasn't political, when it really was.

There was no question in my mind but that the Republican party has been using 9/11 for political advantage, and now it would seem the White House has decided to do the same with Thanksgiving.
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November 28, 2003:

Cook's vanity. Yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner worked out wonderfully (pretty much). All the food turned out fine, and I think the turkey was the best I've ever roasted; the ancho chile-sesame seed sauce was a great accompaniment for those wanting something a little off the beaten path, and for those hewing to their childhood traditions, we also had cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, beets, green beans (with nicely roasted almonds), and pies.

As a cook, I take pride in what I serve, but I have to remember that, at the end, very little of it was really my doing.

  • First, although I did a lot of the work, others also worked: our guests brought a few vegetables, Ab and the Kid Unit made the stuffing, and the Kid Unit made the cranberry sauce.
  • Second, when it came to the food I worked on pretty much alone (the turkey and the ancho sauce), I was following in the steps of others; the turkey recipe came from Cook's Illustrated (whose web site had a recipe specifically for large birds like ours, which weighed 18 lbs.), and the ancho sesame sauce recipe came out of one of Diana Kennedy's Mexican cookbooks (adapted by me to be just a sauce rather than a vehicle for shredded chicken).
  • Third, I had nothing to do with farming what turned out to be a great turkey; the turkey cam from a farm in Vermont we'll order from again, Stonewood Farm. Simply put, it was a great bird, and it's to their credit.
  • Last, but by no means least, the quality of the food, and its mere availability, and the abilities and opportunities of everyone involved, were thanks to God.

When you think about it, all I did was some work. That's all.

The one truly disappointing aspect was that Ab's mom didn't feel like joining us, complaining of some ailment or another. She has become a shut-in, and getting her out is more and more difficult with every occasion.
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November 23, 2003:

Hey, hey, hey, InstaPundit posted my email — but no link to my site, alas. (Yes, I read more than liberals' web logs.)
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In the CD player right now is the remastered Duke Ellington's Never No Lament, the Blanton-Webster band recordings. I've probably had the prior edition at least ten years, and the sound has greatly improved. If you don't know Ellington, I should tell you that this early 40s ensemble was one of the finest he ever had. Mah-velous.
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It must be magic, or a time warp, or something! A "Jason Sprague" reviewed Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver at amazon.com thus:

The first 'book' in this novel is really quite slow and dry, which is an unfortunate first impression. On several occasions, I was on the verge of putting it down altogether. Patience is rewarded in the second book, which offers more of an active story line and lively characters. If you are in the throes of the first book and reading reviews to see what others thought, stick with it.

Encouraging, but the second volume isn't due out until April, 2004. Methinks Mr. Sprague is some kind of insider.
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November 21, 2003:

I just heard my first radio ad for Botox, urging listeners to get treated before the holidays hit, so all your friends at all your parties can see the results. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time," a female voice says. I am rushing right out.
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I had a reassuring moment this morning while in the Brooklyn Public Library. I had gone in to get a book for my wife, whose book group had chosen Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim. Normally, I just check the Strand's web site and see if they have copies, but when I learned the book was written in 1954 I checked the library's, which indicated several copies on the shelves. While there, I took a look at some of their other holdings. They had 15 different titles from Wilbur Smith, a novelist my wife likes; and in the biographies, I saw books on Robert Walpole (spurred by my recently posting a couple of Johnson's Parliamentary Debates), as well as all three of the massive volumes of Henry-Louis De La Grange's biography of Gustav Mahler, sundry books on Johnson, numerous on Boswell, and many on Edmund Burke. As part of the browsing process my eyes drifted to other volumes I had never been aware of, and while I had no intention of reading them, I thought it was a good thing they were there.

One of Johnson's most famous lines is a reality check to the vanity of authors, from Rambler No. 106: "No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditations and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue..." True, but the forces of commerce now make most volumes smaller than they once were, and therefore less imposing. I think it's far more likely that someone will pull a smaller volume off a shelf and consider it. And, rather than having a feeling of hopelessness for the aspirations of writers, I had a feeling of hope for our culture: we, the readers, are blessed to have public libraries, free repositories of some of the best that humanity has to offer. Thank you, Andrew Carnegie!
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November 20, 2003:

Be kind to your hawk friends today. A gentle hand on their shoulders... a reassuring "there, there," or "I know" would be nice. Think about what they've been through over Iraq, with the roller coaster feelings of validation- deflation that they must continually be going through.

  • First, there were President Bush's promises that he would go through the UN, giving them a sense that the US is a righteous country, only to be frustrated in the Security Council by France and Russia;
  • There was the triumph of Colin Powell's presentation to the UN, only to hear later through other channels that it was questionable.
  • The many occasions during the invasion (and shortly thereafter) where there was initial word that WMDs had been found (or labs to make them), followed shortly thereafter by the news that what was found wasn't really what they thought. (It happened in the case of compounds, weather balloons, labs, and rockets — fueled by reporters anxious to get scoops.)
  • And, most recently, last weekend's article in the Weekly Standard, detailing evidence that there were links between Iraq and AlQaeda, and definitively trumpeted on the cover as "Case Closed." Hawks' feelings their days in the wilderness were now over could be heard throughout the land: Fred Barnes (Weekly Standard editor) practically beat his chest on Fox news; The New York Post (like the Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.) crowed "Bush Was Right;" Tony Blankley (the Washington Times) mocked the lack of coverage in mainstream media as coming from newfound restraint regarding leaks; and far less importantly, conservative web logs everywhere were in glory. But interpretations of the memo which underlay the Weekly Standard article didn't always cowtow to the "Case Closed" headline: the Department of Defense issued a release noting that the memo was based on raw, undigested facts (out of context), and Newsweek has an article blasting its dodginess. The case is interesting, but it's not closed, it's open, and therefore honest hawks should recognize that they still don't have a smoking gun.

So that's their roller coaster. Why should we give them our sympathies and understanding? Well, because US liberals certainly went through something similar in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, the original Teflon President. Given the name by Jimmy Carter, his predecessor, scandals and mistakes didn't "stick" to him, and he glided through much of his Presidency unscathed. (So much so that he remains revered in the hearts of many Americans; and the idea of him being a Teflon President was so bitter to his defenders, that many efforts were made to suggest that Clinton surpassed Reagan in Teflon-itude, so we could forget ever applying it to Reagan.)

Everyone remembers how unimpeded Reagan's presidency was by the Iran-Contra scandal — which, if you remember the details, was a pretty damning moment in our country's history.

But there were all sorts of brouhahas which had surprisingly little traction:

  • An inability to balance the budget, in spite of the basic perception that Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats;
  • The "trickle down" theories of his economic advisor David Stockman, who suggested that school lunch programs classify ketchup as a vegetable to make budget cuts easier;
  • Accusations of bribery and corruption among his staff (a couple dozen members were convicted and/or served time). NSA director Richard Allen, for instance, accepted an illegal gift of a luxurious watch on his first day on the job;
  • Much much more to jog your memory is here.

And yet, in spite of the deluge of stupidity, duplicity, and downright prevarication, and in spite of continued disappointments that nothing seemed to upset the American people, liberals continued to hope that reality would break through. But it never happened...

And so, we know exactly how the hawks feel; we can sympathize with them, and should be considerate, patient, and understanding, but so long as the verdict is out on Saddam Hussein, we shouldn't act as if the hawks are right.
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November 19, 2003:

Try not to be astonished, my friends, but I'm giving up on Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. After more than a hundred pages, I don't care about the characters, the plot, or the style. It's silly enough to plod on for 800 more pages, only to finish the first part of a trilogy. (My friends of course know I have this chronic inability to read fiction, which I can overcome on only the rarest occasions.)
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Two articles at Slate on the "Feith" memo are worth reading. Jack Shafer explores the reasons why the mainstream press hasn't given full blown coverage to the Hayes article; and while he poses a couple "shoe on the other foot" tests, he also notes that the press is usually slow to re-open issues that they see as being closed in the public's mind. And, in an accompanying article, Edward Jay Epstein reviews his available information on an Atta visit to Czechoslovakia prior to 9/11: apparently urgently done to meet a timetable, and conducted in an area of the Prague airport where he could sit without having a visa, and carefully done out of the view of surveillance cameras.

Case open.
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If I were a Democratic candidate for President I would side-step questions about whether or not I supported marriage for Gays and Lesbians, and re-focus attention on issues that matter to more Americans. Yesterday's decision in the Massachusetts Supreme Court is of course significant, but really, isn't it better to remind America that our ports are largely unprotected? That our emergency first responders remain vastly underfunded? And that we've compromised our Homeland Security and our national budget balance in giving tax breaks to those who need them least? Why get mired in Gay marriage as an issue, when it can be approached better after election? (This post will soon be followed by my "If I were King" series.)
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November 18, 2003:

What to make of the Douglas Feith memo? Over the weekend, the Weekly Standard published an article on an October memo from Douglas Feith (US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy) to the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; the memo was written at the request of the Committee, which had asked him to support testimony he'd made on July 10. (It's not clear from any article I've seen when the committee made this request.)

The Weekly Standard article, titled "Case Closed," extracted several evidence items from the memo which support a conclusion of an Iraqi-Al-Qaeda link, Iraqi involvement in 9/11, and so on.

Many web logs are talking about this... Among the conservative web logs, it's gotten play from the well-read Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit, who have both complained about the lack of coverage by major US news outlets. Among liberal web logs, Matthew Yglesias (at TAPPED) and Joshua Marshall have basically concluded there's not much in this memo that is news. In fact, the quality of the thinking in Feith's memo has been downgraded by the Department of Defense itself, which, in a press release referred to its contents by saying "The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions."

Many, including Matthew Iglesias, have questioned Feith's credentials, because he comes from a department which was created to re-think intelligence from a fresh perspective. But without adequate experience in intelligence, one needs to think carefully about the picture he presents. Truly, if you look at Feith's resume, you don't see much there in terms of experience in handling intelligence. Feith, I'm sure, is an earnest man, and believes what he says, but he may be overly credulous and too easily swayed by what he wants to see.
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November 16, 2003:

How many good days do we have left in the fall? New York City residents always have to ask... Today was not an overwhelmingly beautiful day, but it still merited taking advantage of Prospect Park.
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Yesterday was a good, productive day... Ab and I went into Manhattan for supplies for Thanksgiving, basically. A table cloth, and at Fish's Eddy we found these small plates for about a buck each that will be perfect for munchies. (Munchies is much easier to spell than horses doovers... Why don't the French just call 'em munchies, anyway?) ...and some presents for our Dutch friends (who just might be astonished to receive a package prior to St. Nick's — but, if they see this, I guess I've just saved them from a cardiac arrest). Plus some new snow boots; the pair I bought a good ten years ago died last winter.
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What an incredible hassle... Yesterday I resolved the head count for Thanksgiving, and last night I went online to order a free range turkey with the appropriate poundage. The farm is not really set up for online purchases through their web site, and they use PayPal to process payments, which meant I had to re-establish a PayPal account. (I had one once, but then closed it as a result of what I saw as poor customer service in failing to alert its users about fraudulent emails that would attempt to gather PayPal account specifics.) The process of setting up an account was surprisingly complex, and I'm not sure if my purchase went through. Because of the amount of the purchase, there was a detail about some additional charge of $1.95, and a number I would see on my charge card statement... And then there were emails asking me to confirm my email address (which, since I'd received emails before purporting to be from PayPal made me leery...) And in order to verify a linkage to my bank account, I had to look for two tiny deposits into my account. But neither my charge card nor my bank account update that quickly, and I can't see if charges have occurred, and the farm hasn't sent any automatic confirmation of my purchase. So, I'm in limbo for a couple days, I guess. But NO ONE wants to be without a turkey.

Update: All will be fine. The farm told me the online purchase didn't go through, but they would send me a turkey and an invoice.

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Senator Bill Frist's online poll gyrations have even made it into the New York Times. Frist or his staff wasn't happy, apparently, with the results, and later took a completely different approach. He showed the four judicial nominees currently being resisted by the Democrats, as well as "all of the above," and asked site visitors to identify whose nomination was being held up. Oddly, the 168 who have been approved go unmentioned at all times!
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November 15, 2003:

(Don't miss the 2004 update showing income and charity by Bush & Kerry states.)

A closer examination of "Red State" and "Blue State" generosity. In my November 14 post (scroll down) I talked about a "Generosity Index" that showed Red (Bush) states were more generous in their charitable contributions, when compared to their adjusted gross income, than Blue (Gore) states. I also discussed how our perceptions of what a state's residents "give" depends on what you assume about those who don't itemize their charitable deductions on their federal income taxes. (The rankings in the original report basically assumed that those in a state who don't itemize give just as much as those who do. In Mississippi, it meant assuming that 80% gave over $4,000 to charity and didn't itemize it, a risky assumption, I thought.)

Another part of the analysis which concerned me was that it was based on a comparison of the disparity in ranks: if a state's population ranked low on adjusted gross income (AGI) (its ability to give) and ranked high on charitable giving, the state ranked high on generosity. Rank data has advantages and disadvantages: an advantage is that it disregards extreme data values; a disadvantage is that it treats small differences no differently than large differences.

So, I did further analysis of the data, where I calculated the actual percentage of the AGI which went to charity in each state, depending on whether you assume non-itemizers gave $0, $200, or $500 to charity. I also ranked the states on the resulting percentages. Further, I averaged the percentages and the ranks, according to whether they voted for Bush or for Gore.

CONCLUSION: Red states were slightly more generous than Blue states under all 3 assumptions about non-itemizers, but not enough to crow about. In all situations, Red states and Blue states are only giving 2-3% of their income to charities.

Percent of AGI that went to charity,
under 3 assumptions about Non-Itemizers:
 
Assuming
Non-itemizers gave...
  $0 $200 $500
Average Red State 2.30% 2.67% 3.22%
Average Blue State 2.07 2.35 2.78
Difference 0.23 0.32 0.44
Difference as a % of what Blue states gave 11% 14% 16%

Ranks of Individual States on the basis
of the percent of AGI that went to charity,
under 3 assumptions about Non- Itemizers:

 
Assuming
Non-itemizers gave...
  $0 $200 $500
Average Red State 23.1 21.9 20.3
Average Blue State 29.2 31.0 33.4

(Please note a minor technicality: across all 50 states, the average rank on any measure would be 25.5; if states were broken into 2 equal groups of 25 states each, and then each group's average rank were calculated, these 2 averages would sum to 51 (25.5 times 2). The ranks for any column above sum to more than 51 because the two groups are not of equal size; there are 30 Red states and 20 Blue states.)

The leading state, by the way, and under all three assumptions, was Utah. About 37% of its tax filers itemized their contributions, claiming an averaged $5,638. The state which ranked lowest was New Hampshire; ranking 50th under two of the three assumptions (and 49th under the third), about 31% of its filers itemized their deductions, claiming an average of $2,368. Both were Red states, demonstrating that charitable donations is no sure predictor of presidential voting.

Update (December 3, 2003):
  • "Rdavis" has a related discussion.
  • I should have been clearer regarding how much Utah seems to give. If you assume non-itemizers in Utah give nothing to charity, it works out to about 5% of Utah's AGI going to charity, vs. 2.2% for the average state.

UPDATE: Data released in 2004 (covering the 2003 tax year) suffer from all these same problems. Oddly, they defend extrapolating to the taxpayers who don't itemize by claiming that the charitable donations of those who itemize account for 60% of all charitable donations — meaning, in their eyes, that averages based on itemizers provide a reliable estimate of charity overall. But the problem is that for the vast majority you don't know what they gave; and since they say there's not much left that's unaccounted for, it makes little sense to project the estimate from a small group onto a much larger group, when that much larger group should be contributing little. Corporations give to charities, too. My discussion of the latest results is here.
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November 14, 2003:

The discussion in this post has been carried further... Please see above.

Are the "red states" (those who voted for Bush) more generous than the "blue states" (those who voted for Gore)? Andrew Sullivan points to a "Generosity Index," some data which, on the face of it shows that a state like Mississippi gave more to charity (as reported on their tax returns) than a state like New Jersey. Overlaid with whether or not the state voted for Bush or Gore, it suggests that Bush states were more generous. However there's a problem with the data. The original page gives access to an excel spreadsheet; the denominator for a state's average is not the total tax returns, but those returns where charitable deductions are itemized. In essence, it assumes that those who don't itemize give just as much as those who do; and since the average amount of the giving is into the thousands, I think there's room for skepticism. Worst case scenario, if you assume that those who don't itemize gave nothing, then Mississippi (ranked #6, currently showing 19.9% claiming an average of $4,340) and New Jersey (ranked #35, showing 40.55% claiming an average of $3,041) change dramatically: Mississippi would be recalculated as averaging $864, and New Jersey would average $1,233 (NJ would show 50% more). Assuming $0 from nonclaimers might be extreme, but if you assume $500 from non claimers, the figures work out to $1,264 for Mississippi and $1,530 for New Jersey. Obviously, assumptions have a big impact on the results, and the conclusion that red states are more generous than blue states.
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November 13, 2003:

Picture of
a meerkat. Made your plans for the weekend yet? Why not take your kid to the zoo? And if you don't have a kid, you can become one yourself.
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Online polls are a bad enough idea as it is, without the questioner playing with the results... Online polls involve a convenience sample (they're not drawn from a randomly selected universe), and therefore you can't really say anything substantive about the results; often, they also suffer when someone with an agenda on a question directs people to go to a poll and answer. But Senator Bill Frist (the most powerful man in the Senate, by the way) apparently wasn't getting the results he wanted, so he changed the question on his poll, reversing the implications of "yes" and "no" while keeping all the old yes/no votes intact. The anonymous blogger "Atrios" calls the play action, first here, then here, and part three here.
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A pleasant political exchange... My weekly essay, on the reactions to a planned television mini-series on The Reagans, drew a humor laden email from Steve Danckert, who allowed my posting his email and my response. Steve's email drips with humor, beginning with references to "vile whig." In another exchange we both regretted the closed-mindedness that exists in too many political discussions. But I still feel that the disarmament needs to start with the party in greatest power, not with the opposition.
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November 10, 2003:

"How can we stop saying 'it,' if you won't tell us what 'it' is?" A wonderful moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course. But Prince Charles faces a similar dilemma: how do you deny a rumor where there are no specifics, due to British law? What, specifically, are you denying?
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Many blogs die quickly, it seems. Salon's managing editor Scott Rosenberg pointed to an analysis of the decay of activity on Salon's web logs. Salon gives away a 30-day trial, after which you have to pay about $40 for the software and annual usage. (Not a bad deal, in my view, if you're inclined to blog.) But the analysis show, as you might expect, that giving away something for free is a questionable proposition. Many people (35%) downloaded the software without even making a single post. Of the remaining 65%, 68% never posted after the free period (44% of the total) — leaving 21% (in total) who actually paid into the service.

Salon's issues may be somewhat unique, since a charge kicks in after the first month, but I had seen similar information elsewhere through a link at blogdex, which indicated that most web log writers lose interest quickly. (One could argue that Salon's drop-off rate might actually be low, since it's clear that there will be a charge after 30 days, limiting spurious trial. Many other services are perpetually free.)

As for me, I've now been running this blog for a year, and I never used any of the software that makes blogging easier. I certainly don't post every day, which makes it feel like less of an obligation, and therefore something that I'll do with enthusiasm when I do it.
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One of the writing flaws I hate. From an article in today's New York Times, on singer Sarah McLachlan:

Born and reared in Nova Scotia, Ms. McLachlan said her parents were a scientist and homemaker. She was 19 when she landed her first record deal. Ms. McLachlan had a slow rise to prominence; not until her 1994 album, "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," did Americans really begin to take notice.

The point of this paragraph, of course, is to tell you that it took a while before she became famous; but the units of time which the writer used (age "19," and then "not until 1994") make it difficult to understand just how long it took. But if the reader wants to work (because the writer certainly didn't), it's possible to understand, because back seven paragraphs earlier, it says she's now 35. So, the writer (or the editor) has asked us all to do this:

2003 - 1994 = 9 [it came out 9 years ago]
35 - 9 = 26 [she was 26 when it came out]
26 - 19 = 7 [it took about seven years].

Thank you very much, writer Lola Ogunnaike. Next time, can you and your editor try something like, "She was 19 when she landed her first record deal, but it wasn't until 1994's 'Fumbling Towards Ecstasy' — some seven years later — ..." I happen to believe writing should make people think, but I don't think a news article should be a puzzle. Leave that for Joyce and Pynchon.
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November 2, 2003:

The Halloween costume (see below) was a lot of fun, even just for handing out candy. Steve Martin doesn't run around with an arrow through his head any more, so none of the kids had ever seen anything like it. "How did you do that," many would ask; and I'd assure them that you need to use a hammer, otherwise the sword doesn't go all the way through, and I would turn my head so they could see the blade at the back (setting off further howls). My favorite moment was with a little girl about age four, dressed as a doctor... I said I was glad to see her because I had a really bad headache; did she have any idea why? She thought about it very hard, and then offered "because of all the noise?"

Suicide King constume

We actually had to buy stereo equipment today, something I haven't done in ten years... Our speakers, Polk Audio Monitor 7's are 14-16 years old, and they still work great, but our lifestyle now demands something smaller (allowing more room for the dining room table at big dinners like Thanksgiving), as well as off the floor for when my one year old nephew visits. We looked at the Bose 301 system as well as their Acoustimass 5 system, and went with the former. The latter was more expensive, and didn't have the same sound. The Acoustimass have these tiny cube speakers, and I guess that technology is impressive, but I didn't feel compelled to spend $180 more for what sounded inferior to me.

Now I just have to do something with these old Polks. They work fine — because I've always lived in apartment buildings, they've never really been cranked up. Maybe eBay...
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