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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 23, 2004:

Unconscious Google bomb? "Google bomb" refers to the conscious effort to manipulate Google search results for a specific phrase through a conspiratorial effort to connect a specific search phrase with a specific search result. For instance, after Dick Gephardt referred to President Bush as a "miserable failure" in a debate, liberals with web sites put that phrase in their pages, and built a link to Bush's bio on the White House web site. For a while, if you searched on the term "miserable failure" at Google, Bush's bio page was the first result; but then a tsunami of conservatives reversed it so it would return Michael Moore's web site first. (Go figure: the implications of a writer/film maker being a miserable failure kind of pale in comparison to a President being the same, but if the wing-nuts thought that was retaliation, I guess there are worse outcomes.)

But I've just learned that my site is the lead result for a Google search on the phrase "the good doctor". In classic "Google bomb" form, that phrase doesn't exist on the page... I don't think it exists on the entire web site. But I guess there are a number of pages out there that link to the samueljohnson.com home page when using that phrase (referring to Johnson, of course, not me).
Link 7:54 PM

Here's a shock... You may have already checked the political donations of your neighbors, but you can also do it by name. I checked on the last name of "Bush," and would you believe that the President's reelection campaign has received $2000 donations (the limit) from someone named "George H W Bush" and someone named "Barbara Bush"? Unbelievable.
Link 2:34 PM

The Administration's response to Richard Clarke isn't always that robust. A lot of motive questioning (it's politics, he's trying to sell a book, and so on) and a lack of substance. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall dissects a typically flimsy argument. (I'm not sure why he "promises to not do too much of this." This is what dialog is all about, and I doubt his readers are bored yet.)
Link 8:29 AM

March 22, 2004:

I haven't even READ "Jane Eyre." I'm not even sure who it's by... Is it the novel they read in the orphanage in "The Cider House Rules"? Anyway, I've just been informed that it's the classic novel in which I most belong:

'Tis a great mystery, but somehow you have come to
belong in Jane Eyre; a random world of love,
kindness, madness, bad luck and lunatic
ex-wives. There really isn't much to say about
the place you belong in. It's your place, and
though it seems far from reality largly due to
how random the events are, you seem to enjoy
it. You belong in a world where not too many
people understand you, and where you can be
somewhat of a recluse.

Which Classic Novel do You Belong In?
brought to you by Quizilla

I'm honestly not too sure I should put a lot of stock in a test result which misspells "largely," though. (Ah, THERE: that's my out!)
Link 11:47 PM

There IS a transcript of the CBS "60 Minutes" segment with Richard Clarke, here. It's not always easy, when writing for free, to bother to point out every striking aspect, but when I reread this tonight I was reminded of something which struck me last night while watching it on the television.

VIDEOTAPE OF GW BUSH: You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.

STAHL: (exp): {Clarke contends that with statements like that, the President continually left an impression that Saddam had been involved in 9/11.}

[VIDEO WITH CLARKE]

CLARKE: The White House carefully manipulated public opinion, never quite lied, but gave the very strong impression that Iraq did it.

STAHL: But you're suggesting here that they knew better

CLARKE: They did know better.

STAHL -- and it was deliberate.

CLARKE: They did know better. They did know better. We told them. The FBI told them. The CIA told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their deaths in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11 when Iraq had nothing to do with September 11. I think for a Commander in Chief and a Vice President to allow that to happen is unconscionable.

Now, the reason this stuck in my craw was that the Bush administration had to know from the regularly conducted public polls that most Americans thought Iraq was behind 9/11. It would have been very easy for the White House to correct this impression. They did not. The only reason I can imagine why they didn't was because they needed American anger to support the war. Sure, after the war Bush made his statement that he'd seen no evidence that Iraq was behind 9/11. But he wouldn't have dreamed of correcting popular opinion beforehand.
Link 11:02 PM

If nothing else, this whole Richard Clarke volcano (try capping this, Red Adair!) Is expanding our reading lists. At that link, a close comparison of defensive arguments from the White House, countered by its own statements.
Link 10:44 PM

He was in the classroom for SEVEN minutes more... I recently wrote about the five minute video of Bush sitting in a classroom after being told that a second jet had hit the WTC on September 11. Today, The Wall Street Journal has an article on the timeline of that day, and Bush sat in the classroom for seven minutes after being informed, not five, and didn't leave the school for another twenty minutes. I'll grant he was probably involved in decision making after leaving the classroom, but as long as he was in that school, those kids were in danger.
Link 12:00 PM

I think the most outrageous contradiction I heard in last night's CBS "60 Minutes" segment on the accusations that the White House ignored Al Qaeda in favor of Iraq came from Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The accuser, former cabinet level antiterrorism guru Richard Clarke, had claimed that in 2001, following the entry of the new Bush administration, he'd been trying for months to get a cabinet level meeting to address the threat of terrorism. Hadley's defense? Cabinet level discussions were occurring, Clarke just wasn't there. (No transcript of the interview is available to link to, unfortunately.) It's odd that Clarke wasn't invited or kept informed, though, seeing as how he was in charge of counter-terrorism.

Also, why have Hadley do the response, and not Rice?
Link 8:38 AM

Oh, the places you'll go! When going with Forgotten New York, it might be a trip to a 1668 cemetary in Queens:

And there it was, in all its melancholy glory: a vast fenced-in field of broken and battered headstones. Even the cemetery's sign, made in 1936, is badly rusted, a relic from another era.

"Welcome to Prospect Cemetery," said Ms. Ludlam, a small, cheerful woman with steel-gray hair, who tries to get grant money to tend the cemetery.

Inside, the group spread out and began wandering the lumpy, overgrown turf. Over the years, vandals have destroyed many headstones, and some of those that remain are illegible. But others can be read clearly, including the oldest standing stone, on the grave of Judith Ludlam, an ancestor of Cate, who died in 1712.

No pictures as of yet... If I see any on any of the attendees' sites, I'll update accordingly. UPDATE: Pictures are at Satan's Laundromat.
Link 8:22 AM

March 20, 2004:

Adventures in running the world's best Samuel Johnson quotation web site... I was contacted by a member of a team working on a scholarly edition of Martin Luther King Jr's works — one of those editions where they footnote as much as they possibly can. They wanted to identify the source of a Samuel Johnson anecdote MLK had referred to in a sermon of his. In the passage, Johnson is supposed to have described the naturalness of our needing to pray by saying, "There is no argument for prayer." (Part of the story, as far as I've traced it, is here.) I'm still bugged by not having found it in the canon, though, and I took a copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson with me on a trip into Manhattan on the subway. I was fascinated by something I found in an entry for April 9, 1772, where Boswell wrote...

He observed, that to reason too philosophically on the nature of prayer, was very unprofitable.

Could this have been it? I knew there are often more details in Boswell's journals — could his journals have been the source that a 1926 book, which King drew on, had found for the anecdote? It wasn't, but I had to question my sanity, because as far as I knew 1926 was too early for those journals to have been found. Maybe I'm wrong on that... Anyway, when I looked in the appropriate volume of Boswell's journals, I was surprised by how much more was there than is alluded to in the scanty reference which had made it into the Life of Johnson; usually, when Boswell is so brief, it's because he has bad notes! But not in this case. While this is not the source of the anecdote, here's what Boswell wrote in his journal:

I introduced the subject of prayer, and the different notions of it in the writings of Abernethy and Ogden. He had not read the last. The different notions of it are that the greater number of the orthodox divines, or rather indeed all of them who reason philosophically, consider the effect of prayer to be merely as it improves the mind of him who prays, whereas others consider it actually influencing the Supreme Being. "Sir," said Mr. Johnson, "to reason too philosophically about prayer does no good. To be sure, you cannot think that it makes God alter his purposes. But by producing good effects on the mind of him who prays, it disposes the mind in such a manner that the thing prayed for is insensibly attained." To this purpose did he reason, and showed me how the greatest powers may be enfeebled and cramped when confined by a system of orthodoxy. Undoubtedly, while the universal prescience of God even as to the operation of the human mind is supposed, prayer is to be held as in reality of no avail. It is only a link in the chain of things.

From that detailed journal entry, Boswell decided less was more when writing the Life of Johnson, and settled on "He observed, that to reason too philosophically on the nature of prayer, was very unprofitable."

A biographer has to make choices; and those who have read the unabridged Life of Johnson know that there are long passages about legal opinions and so on which, to us in our time, seem relatively inconsequential. The efficacy of prayer, however, is not something which we imagine as settled, having been revisited famously by C.S. Lewis. Anyway, I was surprised by Boswell's ellipsis, and I hate the idea that I'm going to have to delve into his journals more. Hate it.
Link 8:48 PM

And as for online auction fraud, today's New York Times has an article on the uncomfortable relationship between eBay's fraud department and vigilantes who want to do more. In the course of all the discussion, we learn some of the techniques that fraudulent vendors use, as well as the current state of eBay's efforts to stop fraud. But it still exists in spite of all the efforts:

Last year, some $200 million lost to online fraud was reported to the Federal Trade Commission. And nearly half the 166,000 complaints the agency received last year were about online auctions, a 130 percent increase from 2001. While the F.T.C. does not break out figures by companies, the vast majority of online auctions are conducted on eBay.

The article discusses some protection methods, but one anecdote could give readers a false sense of security:

Still, it was another eBay user's warning that saved Marianne Houkom. Ms. Houkom, 55, who lives in Newton, Kan., received an e-mail message from Mr. Seiden warning her that the espresso machine she was bidding on did not exist. She said she was horrified, and then relieved when someone outbid her.

No one wants that initial feeling of insecurity, but if this happens to you, don't feel relieved. Bidders can cancel their bids, leaving you still liable for your bid. This happened to me, in a legitimate auction. Under eBay's rules you can cancel your bid if you made a mistake in the amount, but you are supposed to rebid. I was in an auction with two other bidders who, after outbidding me, canceled their bids without placing different bids. I suspect they learned, like I did, that they could get the item for less elsewhere: I alerted eBay to their failure to rebid, but eBay didn't force those bidders to place another bid, and I wound up having to fulfill the seller's auction.
Link 10:58 AM

March 19, 2004:

How not to interview a guest. Cable-news conservative Dennis Miller (we can drop the 'comedian' from his title now, I think) had Eric Alterman on the other night, to talk about The Book on Bush, co-authored by Alterman and Mark Green. Miller is a pretty disengaged host in this segment, responding as if he's not listening, and merely egging Alterman on. Is there an Angro-Meter anywhere nearby? UPDATE: Even Dennis Miller recognized how bad it was. Alterman reports (on his blog) that Miller called him and apologized.
Link 11:52 AM

Myopia, vision, and subways. Anyone who knows anything about the progress of land development in Manhattan knows that the island we have now was not born as it is. For a long time, for instance, the upper west side was wilderness; Murray Hill was once a farm. Much of Manhattan's development came about because of a vision which built subway lines on the west side, not just the east.

So while I was not surprised that there is disagreement between New York's Governor Pataki and NYC's Mayor Bloomberg over whether or not it made sense to extend the 7 line further west and then down to 34th Street (those two disagree frequently), the president of the New York Jets (who plan on a stadium near the projected terminus of the extended 7) weighed in against extending the line to his planned stadium:

"You don't need the subway, necessarily," L. Jay Cross, the Jets' president, said at a forum on Feb. 9. "We can take advantage of the natural geography and get a foothold and get something going over there that helps propel other activities that hopefully follow." He said he was not opposed to the subway extension, but believed it would be most useful to spectators at Olympic events in the stadium. Jets fans, he said, would be more likely to travel to games via the Long Island Rail Road or New Jersey Transit.

I can't help but wonder if that is because his current ticket holders pretty much have to drive cars in order to get to where the Jets currently play. Right now they play in Giants Stadium, in the meadowlands of New Jersey; you can get their via mass transit from Long Island, but it wouldn't be easy: you would have to take the Long Island Railroad, then a subway to the Port Authority bus terminal at 42nd Street, and then a bus out to New Jersey. You could do it, but that's a lot of changing trains, to wind up on a bus which could be held up in traffic. So I wouldn't be surprised at all that much of the ticket-holding base currently gets there by car.

But that doesn't mean it would remain that way with a nearby subway station. Long Islanders could take the LIRR to Penn Station and walk to the game easily. Alternatively, at Jamaica (Queens) they could switch to a subway line which would get them to the stadium by just changing their subway train once. Easy.

New Jersey fans? All they have to do is get themselves to a PATH station, which will take them into the area. They might have to walk or take a bus to get to the station, but that beats the inconvenience of driving through the congested streets in Manhattan.

Now, here's the plus for Jets management: the line will put more people in the market for tickets, allowing the team greater pricing flexibility. Not bad, huh?

The other point the Jets president raised, greater suitability for the Olympics? This guy is clearly not a planner. Anything that gets built just for an Olympics, if not built with the longer term in mind, is a waste, because it falls out of use.
Link 9:58 AM

March 18, 2004:

In the words of Paul Bremer, ...oh, just click.
Link 9:43 PM

An interesting question raised by Jonah Goldberg:

OUR ALLIES [Jonah Goldberg]

I can't tell you how many emails I get like this one (which frames the issue nicely):

Notice how the Dowdy leftists now call Spain "our ally" and treat the country as if it is the epitome of civilization since it tucked its tail between its legs and slipped over to the dark side. Wasn't it just last week they were scoffing at the idea that the US could call any of those 'also-ran' countries who sided with us an 'ally'? Aren't we lucky that they don't politicize the war on terror?

Admittedly, a flip flop would show embarrassing hypocrisy. So, which is it, Jonah? Was Spain a significant member of the Coalition of the Willing or not?
Link 2:41 PM

They stole my idea! They stole my idea! Revisiting any culture can be funny (did you see the Swedish band photos?) — and this collection of old ads from Ebony magazine is no exception. But at the bottom: Soul Aid bandages! I was screaming for this back in college.
Link 11:08 AM

The massive Hyde collection of Samuel Johnson letters, etc. is going to Harvard. (Perhaps they lost my address?) The collection is of immense importance:

The collection holds the only known copy with untrimmed pages of the first edition of Dr. Johnson's 1755 dictionary, the first in the English language. It also contains corrected proofs of James Boswell's biography of Johnson as well as a number of letters exchanged between the two men. And it opens a window into Johnson's exclusive literary club of authors and scholars that included Boswell, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, and his friend the actor and producer David Garrick.

The letters shed light on Johnson's private life, particularly his friendship with Hester Thrale; under the name Mary Hyde, Lady Eccles wrote two books about Thrale, both published by Harvard in the 1970's. Boswell thought Thrale and Johnson should have married after the death of her first husband.

(If you care to read more, you can read Lady Eccles' obituary at the New York Times.)
Link 9:17 AM

We invaded Iraq for humanitarian reasons, because it was ruled by a horrible dictator. Right? Courtesy of Atrios, you can re-read the speech Bush gave a year ago, announcing the 48 hour deadline. Keep it in mind when you hear all the retroactive reconstructing of the rationales.
Link 8:39 AM

March 17, 2004:

Hans Blix: "I think there were things that really were, in my view, rather scandalous." Promoting his new book, Hans Blix was on PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer tonight, and the word scandalous startled Lehrer, who pressed for clarification.

Well, I refer to the uranium contract, the yellow cake. Isn't it scandalous if something that the IAEA takes a day to see is a forgery can sit around the laboratories and intelligence agencies for months without their discovering it?

A day: it took the IAEA a mere day to see something that we couldn't see. It's really a good interview, covering topics such as whether or not war was justified even if there were no WMDs:

I think it is a great thing that Saddam Hussein is gone. That's the great benefit of it. But you still can't sort of retroactively justify the war. You can say that it was fought and started on erroneous premises, but even something started on erroneous premises can have some good consequences.

You can make a balance sheet and I think there will be a lot of negative things on that -- in that balance sheet. The continued violence, clearly, is a negative thing. There are many expectations that the Middle East peace process might be facilitated by this, that establishing democracy in Iraq would help very much. Let's hope it does. But so far to me it seems the balance sheet is negative.

And I would also say that what was the alternative -- I don't think the Europeans actually were saying we would never exclude use of armed force. They did not. They rather said they would like to have longer period of inspections. And we broke them off at three and a half months, which was a very short time. There was nothing in the resolution from 2003 that suggested that it should be so short.

Blix does not accuse the US of dishonesty, so much as poor thinking, from biases.
Link 9:37 PM

Why bring up 1984? Today, Dick Cheney thought he was slamming John Kerry with this line:

"the American people will have a clear choice in the election of 2004 -- at least as clear as any since the election of 1984."

Cheney's reference, of course, is to the re-election of Ronald Reagan in his trouncing of Walter Mondale. To those in the Republican party, any evocation of St. Ronnie is golden.

But other people have other memories of 1984. Like — a book? Where this totalitarian state switches who the enemy is as the occasion suits (uh, we're going after Iraq now, not Osama Bin Laden) and develops this huge propaganda machine (see below), and tries to stuff unpleasant facts down the memory hole?

Have they not heard of this book?
Link 5:29 PM

Thought for the Day:

We have had an unsuccessful war; but that does not prove that we have been ill governed. One side or other must prevail in war, as one or other must win at play. When we beat Louis, we were not better governed; nor were the French better governed when Louis beat us.
—Samuel Johnson (quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson)

Bush is right: we got a war president. Problem is, we need more.
Link 2:35 PM

Happy St. Patrick's Day! The parade hasn't started here in New York, but you can see it pass by through this webcam. You can already see the blue police barricades waiting to be set up. Unfortunately, since the parade goes up Fifth Avenue, you'll see everyone from behind. And of course you won't hear the pipers.
Link 9:11 AM

You really wonder about the background story on this picture... But Thomas Schlijper never seems to provide one... The people are concentrating on the foreground figure for a reason: is this a dancer?
Update: A friend has suggested that the figure in the foreground may only be an attractive passer-by.
Link 12:20 AM

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