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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.

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March 16, 2004:

Mickey Kaus could benefit from some statistics courses. In his blog at Slate (see "Nagourney buries the lede again") he suggests that New York Times writer Adam Nagourney should have pointed out that preference for Bush vs. Kerry had increased. In a prior poll, Bush lagged Kerry by 5% points, but now by 3% points. Kaus's mistake isn't uncommon, but here's where it is: the current poll has an error range of 3% points; the prior one probably did also. The error range on an estimate of whether or not there's a difference from poll one to poll two is probably a little less than twice 3% points — meaning that the 2% point change in the preference difference is probably insignificant. Nagourney shouldn't have written about it because it the difference isn't significant enough (statistically) to discuss in any other language but "we cannot conclude that preference is any different now than it was before."
Oops update: Kaus is talking about more than a whittling of the lead, but a reversal a shift of 8% points.
Link 7:07 PM

Tomorrow being St. Patrick's Day, you may want to see how it's going in Dublin? Web cams abound, but according to this route map the parade will be going across the O'Connell Bridge... Which means this web cam should help, since it overlooks the bridge. Only, I don't know if you'll be seeing the marchers' fronts or backs... I haven't been to Dublin in almost 15 years, but I think this shot is looking north across the Liffey. The parade starts at noon in Dublin, so that's 7 AM in New York.
Link 1:17 PM

It's a wet snow, pretty, but pretty useless for anything a kid would like. It's not sticking to the sidewalks at all. Just a mess here.
Link 12:29 PM

The picture is getting clearer, and Bush must take ownership for the deficits. Bush has frequently blamed the deficits on the recession he said he inherited from Clinton. But according to a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the recession only accounts for about 6% of the deficit. This is important, of course, because Bush advisers frequently argue for tax cuts for their stimulative, revenue increasing power. For instance, in a White House online chat, Greg Mankiw said:

The tax cuts were aimed to stimulate aggregate demand in the short run and promote sustained growth in aggregate supply in the long run. As the economy recovers, more tax revenue will flow in. Together with spending restraint, this will lead to reduced budget deficit.

(One major problem, of course, was that the tax cuts were targeted towards the rich, who didn't need the help, and apparently didn't create new companies or expand their employment roles. (Not that anyone outside of the White House expected that.) At any rate, Bush is going to have to accept the fact that the deficits were mostly created by his tax cuts.
Link 12:15 PM

It's started... I don't know if this will be our last storm of the season, but the mix arrived a couple hours ahead of schedule. This is a view out the front window, after a half hour. Some areas could get 3-6".
Link 10:42 AM

Step right up! Step right up! It really looks like we were played for chumps, and the barker even called out to the news reporters at the same time as calling out to the CIA and the Pentagon. Let's tally up the impact of this deception: huge budget deficits; protracted the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, while the administration was distracted; a foreign policy in shambles; the dead in Spain, now; and the downfall of President Bush this coming November. I bet Bush is thrilled.
Link 10:28 AM

Our 2003 excursion in Iraq struck many as a diversion from the war on terror. Paul Krugman sums it up nicely in his column today (although the thought itself is not new):

...crucial resources were pulled off the hunt for Al Qaeda, which had attacked America, to prepare for the overthrow of Saddam, who hadn't. If you want confirmation that this seriously impeded the fight against terror, just look at reports about the all-out effort to capture Osama that started, finally, just a few days ago. Why didn't this happen last year, or the year before? According to The New York Times, last year many of the needed forces were tied up in Iraq.

I noted that this isn't a new thought; it was voiced loud and clear, early, by Al Gore. In a September 2002 speech he recognized the overall terror threat, saying "We ought to assume that the forces responsible for [September 11 attacks] are even now attempting to plan another attack against us." Yet even while he saw the importance of Iraq in its region, he was concerned about distraction:

To begin with - to put first things first - I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another. We should remain focused on the war against terrorism.

I don't expect to tally how many are saying what about the Spanish elections, but opinions seem split, with one side saying the overturning of the government means the terrorists won, and another saying that it's democracy in action, in response to a blurring between terrorism and Saddam Hussein. No matter whether or not the terrorists won, I think it's safe to say that a government which ignored the will of its people lost. If George Bush really wants to make his "Coalition of the Willing" more permanent, he'd better get the UN to talk to Spain pretty quickly: it doesn't look like he has much credibility with a nation that just lost 200 lives in bombings.
Link 9:37 AM

Satan's Laundromat went to Queens. The tram shot is great; so is the last of the bunch.
Link 9:03 AM

March 15, 2004:

"Susan, the plans they made put an end to you..." Last week I was fortunate to win an eBay auction on an item I'd lost in my fire twenty years ago: a Blood Sweat & Tears music book covering their first four albums, with detailed arrangements written out. This was a book I'd had since high school, and it was probably the most complex pop music book I'd ever owned prior to Todd Rundgren. Getting it in the mail was a great joy: Dick Halligan's and Fred Lipsius's arrangements were every bit as responsible for the BS&T sound as David Clayton- Thomas's voice was over those years. Clayton-Thomas was like the brand logo, an obvious cue to whom you were listening to, but Halligan and Lipsius were what made it interesting. If they had stayed after Clayton-Thomas left, I think the band might not have run off into obscurity so quickly — the other personnel who remained mattered, but not as much. Anyway, if you don't have a copy of BS&T 3, their recording of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" is just outstanding. They really re-work it, and quite nicely. It's no longer a simple song, but neither is it heavily laden with details either. It's just interesting in ways that go beyond the words. You can listen to the song at Amazon on the page for the CD, but I honestly don't know how complete the sample is. It's just so good: it builds nicely, has some great guitar work by Steve Katz... Could well be one of my favorite recordings of all time, depending on the size of the list.
Link 2:42 PM

They make it so hard to keep up. Our Ministry of Information is here. Twenty years late, Mr. Orwell, but it's here nonetheless. The NY Times reports:

Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.

The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8.

The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting."

But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government.

That's not the only example. Read the whole thing.
Link 11:37 AM

March 14, 2004:

I'd say that's conclusive. Prior to joining in a protest against Bush's handling of Iraq, Sue Niederer prayed to her son who had died in compat in Iraq for a message: if he didn't want her to protest, he was to see that her tires were flattened. Another constituency has been heard from, Mr. President.
Link 9:59 PM

Last week's horrendous bombings in Madrid have prompted renewed questions about the war on terror and whether or not John Kerry is sufficiently serious about it. A statement John Kerry made in a January debate, as extracted by the Washington Times back then, made it sound as if Kerry is too soft. The Washington Times article went like this:

"I think there has been an exaggeration," Mr. Kerry said when asked whether President Bush has overstated the threat of terrorism. "They are misleading all Americans in a profound way."

The newspaper provides no other context beyond that, and in that form it's been picked up by conservative web logs all around. (Google lists 173 web pages with the phrase "misleading all Americans in a profound way.") I've seen very few instances where the quote is put into the context of the debate, and even seen some that claim it's the whole quote. But it's not. Here's the transcript from the debate, as reported in the Washington Post:

BROKAW: Where has the exaggeration been in the threat on terrorism?

KERRY: Well, 45 minutes deployment of weapons of mass destruction, number one.

Aerial vehicles to be able to deliver materials of mass destruction, number two.

I mean, I -- nuclear weapons, number three.

I could run a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggeration. The linkage to Al Qaida, number four.

That said, they are really misleading all of America, Tom, in a profound way. The war on terror is less -- it is occasionally military, and it will be, and it will continue to be for a long time. And we will need the best-trained and the most well-equipped and the most capable military, such as we have today.

At no point does John Kerry say that we don't need to worry about terrorism, only that there have been instances where it's been exaggerated. Is that charge correct, that it's been exaggerated?

First, let's start with making sure we understand what the word exaggerate means, so there's nothing to quibble about. From Dictionary.com, which draws on the American Heritage Dictionary, we learn the verb is defined as:

  1. To represent as greater than is actually the case; overstate: exaggerate the size of the enemy force; exaggerated his own role in the episode.
  2. To enlarge or increase to an abnormal degree: thick lenses that exaggerated the size of her eyes.

(Sorry to come off as pedantic, but sometimes people quibble over definitions when defending their positions.)

What instances do we have?

  • On March 16, 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press." On that show, he stated, "[W]e believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." He retracted that statement last September, saying he'd misspoken, but for six months that earlier statement was laying out there uncorrected. It was noticed in March, and there was plenty of time to correct it, but it wasn't. No nuclear weapons have been found.
  • In his recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services committee, CIA director George Tenet said that he had called VP Dick Cheney about overblown claims about Iraq.

With just these two pieces of evidence, it's clear that Kerry's claim that the terrorism threat has been exaggerated is on target. Another conservative web log has renewed the charge that Kerry is complacent — offering nothing more than the Washington Times reporting — but it doesn't hold water. And I repeat, Kerry said nothing about ignoring the threat.
Link 1:13 PM

March 13, 2004:

It reads as if Cyndi Lauper put on one heck of a show the other night at Town Hall, and I hope the DVD will be out soon. We haven't been fans for very long, just a few years... We were convinced by her Christmas album, and buying At Last seemed like a no-brainer.
Link 9:51 AM

March 12, 2004:

Practicing a religion entails sacrifice. Could anything be more clear? And Lent is a season where those who observe it should understand that sacrifice is part of the deal; even more so on Good Friday. I don't know how many are grumbling about it, but with the Boston Red Sox' home opener falling on Good Friday (a meatless day in the Roman Catholic Church), that means no hot dogs at the ballpark. None. And don't count on your local church to shut an eye for you: opening day is not that important. Didn't you learn anything when you went to see Mel Gibson's movie? Cheeses!
Link 1:15 PM

If Al-Qaeda was really part of the Madrid attacks, one of the hypotheses, I find it disconcerting that no one has mentioned any of the chatter that gets cited when the US feels the possibility of threats against the US is felt higher. We'll have to wait to learn more, but I do hope that they haven't found some new way of communicating which makes them more difficult to detect.
Link 11:10 AM

New Jersey and the Netherlands? The post below made reference to the population of Spain, drawn from the CIA's World Factbook. It's a valuable bookmark, so I would check it out if I were you. When I looked up info on the Netherlands, a country I have a little familiarity with, I learned that its size, comparatively, is almost twice the size of New Jersey. I started to imagine two New Jerseys (which would mean two of everyone I know there — a bit unsettling) and then squeezing it into the Netherlands. At first that seemed like fodder for comedy, but then I remembered that once you get out of the industrial/refinery sections surrounding Newark, much of New Jersey is agricultural, as is the case with the Netherlands. And, because of the proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey is well-served by public transportation, too, just like the Netherlands. I wish I could close this with some flip remark like "now if we could only get the Dutch to start wearing blue eye shadow..." but I'm more overwhelmed by the similarities now.
Link 10:27 AM

March 11 really was Spain's 9/11. The heartless could quibble about the body count, but Spain only has 40 million people, vs. the 290 million in the US. So 198 lives in Spain, in that context, is similar to 1435 lives in a US context. Spain doesn't make these comparisons, undoubtedly, but a smaller country knows how 198 feels. Hopefully, even larger countries know how 198 feels. It was a horrific attack.
Link 8:41 AM

March 11, 2004:

Bessie Smith is bigger on my radar screen in the past few weeks. She recorded about 160 songs for Columbia in the 1920's, and they're available on 5 different 2-CD sets. For some reason a few years ago I bought volume 4, and only volume 4, and have listened to it off and on. A couple weeks ago the New York Times ran an article on Robert Johnson which acknowledged his importance to 1960's musicians but noted that in his era, the blues torch was held by singers like Smith and Ma Rainey. Now, I had been listening to the Bessie Smith that I already owned occasionally, but I stepped it up after that article, and have also bought the rest. What a voice: she can really belt a song, and yet I can tell she's keeping herself in check — those 1920's mikes might have fallen over. I was really cheered to see that "Taint Nobody's Business If I Do" was one of her signature songs: I fell in love with that song in college, off sheet music, never knwoing who sang it. (When Leon Redbone played a gig in Gainesville, knowing he had an encyclopedic repertoire, I called that title out, hoping he'd play it; alas, all he said was "Very good, that's a good attitude.") I also picked up a pristine copy of a biography of her by Chris Albertson at the Strand for about $15. Too bad I didn't do all this at the onset of winter. Is spring conducive to the blues?
Link 9:19 PM

My sincere thanks to those who have put money in the tip jar recently. I don't know who you all are, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Also a thanks to one recent donor who emailed to get my snail mail address to donate directly by check. Thank you all!
Link 9:02 PM

It might only be symbolic, but the Senate rebuked Bush over future tax decreases, passing an amendment to a bill which will require a super majority (60%) to decrease taxes further without compensating tax increases or specific spending reductions. The move, of course, is designed to limit future deficits. For you international readers, our deficit has grown considerably under Bush (the budget was balanced under Clinton), thanks largely to tax cuts which wound up mostly going to wealthier Americans and did little or nothing to stimulate the economy. (It's gotten so bad that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan floated the idea that we need to reduce Social Security.) Now, the amendment may not go anywhere: the budget bill to which it's attached needs to pass, and the Republicans recently shot down a bill they liked because they couldn't accept two amendments attached to it; and after that it has to survive reconciliation with whatever comes out of the House of Representatives. But in the meantime, coming out of a chamber that is controlled by the Republicans, in a presidential election year, it's a reminder to Bush that the world is not just his sandbox.
Link 10:09 AM

A strong indictment against the US war against terror came from Great Britain, one of our staunchest allies (of course). GB has released the five British detainees from Guantanamo Bay, just days after we sent them home. Granted, there are four more we haven't seen fit to release, but does this say something about how many more that we're holding who might deserve release? And how many of them might deserve legal counsel? I assure you that Ken Lay is getting better legal treatment.
Link 8:55 AM

March 10, 2004:

Kerry is not allowed to make smart political moves, is the implication of RNC chair Ed Gillespie's complaint about Kerry's proposed trip to Iraq. Gillespie says the trip is political, yet shows that Kerry's criticism of Bush on Iraq "is uninformed." Clearly, Gillespie fears informed criticism like the dickens, and would far prefer that Kerry not know what he talks about. This would be hazardous for the Republican candidate.
Link 11:24 PM

Last month I joked about Scott McClellan's evasive conversation style as if it carried over into his home life. Asked by his "wife" if a pizza box bearing the name "McClellan" might have belonged to anyone else in the White House with the same name, I had no idea that for a while his brother Mark worked in the White House, too. Mark McClellan is the current head of the FDA, nominated to run Medicare, and discussed in the post below. Maybe this refusal to answer questions thing is in their genes?
Link 10:30 PM

Tim Russert was SO FUNNY tonight... NBC News tonight opened with Tom Brokaw asking Russert about polling figures on Kerry vs. Bush. Russert opened with the closeness of the overall numbers. Now, I know that what he meant was that there was little difference, but the words he used were "It's too close to call." In March. Eight months before the election. As if anybody is ready to call anything at this point!
Link 9:56 PM

The evolving story of the intelligence communications. During the Q&A following CIA Director George Tenet's speech at Georgetown University last Febrary, Tenet said that the President gets his intelligence from him, and him only.

QUESTION: You've presented a very sobering view of the intelligence community today. My question involves elements that are technically outside of the intelligence community.

Recent investigative reports, including a long piece in the journal Mother Jones, which came out this past January, detailed the creation of a Pentagon group a few weeks after September 11th which, as of January of 2002, became known as the Office of Special Programs.

And it contained prominent neoconservatives with direct ties to Dick Cheney and members of the administration.

This group was shown to have a clear political agenda, to have influenced people in the intelligence community, and definitely used gross intelligence to promote their case.

So my question is, can you confirm or deny the existence of such a Pentagon group? And if so, how can we prevent small ideological groups from influencing intelligence estimates?

TENET: Well, I haven't read Mother Jones in a while, but let me say this.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me say this. I'm the director of central intelligence. The president of the United States sees me six days a week, every day. I tell him what the American intelligence community believes.

There are always people all around town -- you know, "There's gambling in this casino." Everybody has different views of what the intelligence means or doesn't mean.

I can tell you with certainty that the president of the United States gets his intelligence from one person and one community: me. And he has told me firmly and directly that he's wanted it straight and he's wanted it honest and he's never wanted the facts shaded. And that's what we do every day.

The rest of it, I don't know.

"The rest of it, I don't know" sounded unfortunately flippant to me, coming against the backdrop of a speech which sounded otherwise candid. Did he really not know, or was he just brushing the rest off as "I don't care, because the President listens to me?" Well, it turns out that his testimony yesterday, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated that he wasn't aware of all the briefings on intelligence that have been going on:

In his testimony, Mr. Tenet hinted at private disputes with policy makers. He disclosed that he had not learned until last week about a highly unusual briefing given in August 2002 by colleagues of Mr. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, to senior aides of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush. The briefing outlined evidence of ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, contradicting the C.I.A.'s view that such links could not be verified.

According to government officials who have seen copies of the briefing documents, the information was presented to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, Mr. Cheney's chief of staff, and included slides that were strongly disparaging of C.I.A. analyses.

So it would seem that Tenet overestimated the extent to which Bush's radio only gets one station. We all knew that: we all knew that Rumsfeld had set up this department headed up by Feith, and could assume that Rumsfeld knew what it had to say. Did Tenet really believe that Feith's positions never reached the President via Rumsfeld? (Here, obviously, it was taking a route through NSA Director Rice.) Sad, this, that the Director of Intelligence doesn't understand the various chains of communication.
Link 8:27 AM

March 9, 2004:

I've spent too little time writing here about my reactions to those repugnant Bush commercials with the 9/11 images, but with work on the book it's not going to happen today. But I will say that it would be worthwhile if some heavily trafficked blog would start making use of my favorite footage showing Bush's leadership on that day... That would be the film where he sits in a classroom, immobile, for 5 minutes, listening to 1st graders read aloud after having heard of the second jet crashing into the WTC. Let's get it back into circulation, gang!
Link 2:31 PM

Chasing down a date. Early in his "Life of Samuel Johnson" Boswell wrote that he sometimes chased across London to verify a date — a major part of his claim for accuracy. Well, too bad he didn't have the Internet. I just spent considerable time figuring out when it was that on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" they asked about Samuel Johnson. I had two data points to work with: it was the same night as one of the Presidential debates, and also a post-season baseball game. Got it: it was October 11, 2000. Yes, it matters.
Link 10:02 AM

"But just wait 'till the tax breaks for my rich buddies start to take effect!" Paul Krugman has a priceless graph and column on the continuing differences between what the Bush administration projects for job growth, and the reality. Very few words were necessary.
Link 9:56 AM

It must be great to watch this just before midnight. It's a wonderful clock, learned about through Ishbadiddle.
Link 8:23 AM

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