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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 1,800 Johnson quotes), with a weekly essay springing from one of Johnson's quotations.


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Wednesday, June 30, 2004:

In a world that isn't doing enough to slow the pain and destruction of AIDS in Africa, a study has shown that a simple daily vitamin can have a significant impact in extending life and making death less painful for women who are infected with HIV. The key problem, to my thinking, is that since vitamins are no substitute for the appropriate medicine, providing vitamins might work to salve the consciences of those who could probably do far more than provide just vitamins.
Link 10:16 PM Home

Picking on media "bias" to influence the election. A card player knows that if the dealer is fair, the hand he's been dealt is fair. It may not be fortunate, but it's fair. And a card player who is the dealer, even if he fixed the deck, has still less to complain about. But Republicans, who not only control all three branches of the Federal government — and got us into Iraq — so dislike the current state of affairs that when the media covers the world realistically, they claim bias. And they'll use this claim to try and swing the election. But even anonymous White House insiders know that it's not bias. (Read it. It's a cynical game.)
Link 6:24 PM Home

What the heck is this? Google in Elmer Fudd? And why?
Link 10:50 AM Home

Tuesday, June 29, 2004:

How many stories are there like this? I presume that newspaper offices don't put all their stories about all the detainees in a wire-caged drum and spin it around to randomly draw what they'll write about. But even if you assume a bias that they want to focus on justice gone awry, how many are like this one? And does it matter if it's more than one? More than five? Twenty? How many does it take for you to care?
Link 11:38 PM Home

Be careful how you read this improvement... High school graduation rates are higher this year than last year, which is good news. But don't credit the current administration: the population the census bureau checked for having a HS diploma is those who are aged 25 or older. Most of these people were not in high school during President Bush's term. The increase is small compared to last year, but welcome:

Among those 25 and older last year, 84.6 percent had graduated from high school, up from 84.1 percent the previous year, according to bureau estimates being released Tuesday.

The share of people with at least a bachelor's degree from college also inched up, from 26.7 percent to 27.2 percent, continuing a decades-long rise.

So, those who were 25 last year would have been 18 in 1996. This is a Clinton-era improvement. Maybe some finished their degrees late, during the Bush years, but I bet that won't explain the uptick.
Link 5:25 PM Home

Please do take a look at Tom Toles today.
Link 5:08 PM Home

How Grover Norquist remembers that children are the future. The battle for school vouchers suffered a defeat in Colorado yesterday, with the state supreme court striking down a voucher program. Diane Carman at the Denver Post regrets the entire voucher effort: not just the principle behind it, but also that battling misguided vouchers efforts drains administrators' attention for making genuine improvements.

Across the country, the voucher movement is a fabulously well-choreographed political distraction.

Because if everyone is busy debating how public money can be diverted to private schools that discriminate in admissions, avoid state-mandated accountability programs, and thumb their noses at the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, the lawmakers can get away with their continuing neglect of the state's children.

Even if the state voucher program had been implemented, it would have affected only a handful of the 750,000 K-12 students in Colorado.

Now, I'm no fan of the No Child Left Behind act because of its failure to help schools succeed. But good ol' Grover Norquist has a special take on the voucher battle...

The National Education Association quotes Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and chief spokesman for the starve-the-government crowd, saying, "We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money." (Emphasis mine.)

So the legal gamesmanship will continue for years, even though by any measure of educational quality, opportunity or commitment to the future for all Colorado children, the concept is a monumentally ridiculous waste of time.

Carman's chief regret is clearly the poor quality schools, and she hates politicians arguing for vouchers when there are far bigger solutions — like funding textbooks. And Grover Norquist is just plain despicable.
Link 4:58 PM Home

Bush and Kerry are neck and neck in Florida, even with Nader in the scenario.
Link 11:54 AM Home

A small increase in real wages in May — of 0.2%, after you consider a May inflation figure of 0.5% — is heartening in the sense that it's in the right direction. I'll feel better, though, when I learn that the income increase is broad-based, and not concentrated among the upper tiers. Because expenses like food and energy certainly aren't concentrated among the wealthy.
Link 11:42 AM Home

"Watch stocks for the best leading election indicator." That's National Review columnist Larry Kudlow's conclusion regarding recent events and Bush's popularity, that eventually the sunshine in Iraq will lead to ever-greater stock prices, and thereby drown out all the other negative news of late. Bush's cheering section certainly has room to be concerned: the latest New York Times/CBS News poll results show Bush's job approval ratings are at the lowest point of his term. "The poll found Americans stiffening their opposition to the Iraq war, worried that the invasion could invite domestic terrorist attacks and skeptical about whether the White House has been fully truthful about the war or about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison." These results are not a blip: they follow in the footsteps of other polling conducted by the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, each of which showed declining support for Bush.

Certainly, the economy has a great impact on how people vote, but I'm not sure it makes much sense to point to stock prices. I suspect Kudlow overstated some factors when he wrote

Trouble is, bad news from Iraq has drowned out good news from the economy. As a result, last year's spectacular stock-market rally generated by Bush's base constituency an investor class of 95 million shareholders who are eternally grateful for tax cuts on dividends, capital gains, and personal income, and who cast two out of every three votes in the last two election cycles have lost some of the reelection faith as the stock market stalled during the first-half of this year.

For one thing, it doesn't seem as if he's clear on causes of re-election faith. Is the loss due to Iraq? Falling stock prices? Or has he suggested, rather, that Iraq drives stock prices which drive re-election faith? He's not clear. Secondly, while the "investor class" may include 95 million shareholders under some definitions, far fewer than 95 million received any significant benefit from dividend tax relief. Investments in 401Ks represent the bulk of the holdings for most shareholders, and those people received no relief on this count; their dividends feed back into the account, and there are no taxes on them until withdrawal, at which point the withdrawals are considered ordinary income. To refer to all 95 million as being part of an "investor class" is marketing at best, class warfare at worst: it plays to the aspirational goals of many, many people who are still (let's face it) working class, and tries to leverage class for political ends.

There is a lot of bad news for Bush, and Kudlow's labeling the economy as "booming" sounds like trickery to me, since Q1 growth in GDP was just downgraded from 4.4% to 3.9%, lower than the growth for the previous quarter. Voters will have to be sadly ignorant of how their tax decreases have shifted debt burdens onto their children, or will have to feel good about it when they realize it.
Link 10:55 AM Home

Monday, June 28, 2004:

Guilty as charged. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is continually shown to have security flaws, although that "continual showing" may be due to its being the big dog in the pound, targeted by the many. BusinessWeek has yet another column on why you're better off with another browser, and how it's easy to switch. (It really is.) To be honest with you, I've been using Opera for years, and not just because it's low profile. Before I went broadband, I liked the ability to turn images off easily, through a click on the tool bar, which made my surfing go so much quicker. And the cookie control is great, too. Love it, and I pay for it. (Of course, I'm the kind of guy who paid for his own copy of PKZIP, too.)
Link 10:31 PM Home

Today's changing of the guard in Iraq is more significant than the toppling of a statue, but something else to see is what Spencer Ackerman noticed: a source for Bush's belief of "long standing ties" between Iraq and al Qaeda seems to be recanting on his statements.
Link 8:59 PM Home

Cloaking themselves in diverse opinions. Andrew Sullivan, significantly, on the Republican Convention:

Isn't it telling that the Bush administration wants McCain, Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Giuliani as prime-timers for the convention? They're the three Republicans least in sync with the Bush administration. McCain is as close to a dissident as you can find. And Arnold keeps Bush at arm's length. A more representative selection would be: Santorum, DeLay, Ashcroft. And then you see why the Bushies won't let them hog the limelight. Too much honesty could wreck the campaign.

"Indeed," as they say.
Link 11:30 AM Home

Doesn't Ralph Nader sound like quite the madman? Following his failure to obtain the endorsement of the Green Party, he's predicting its demise.

"The benefit was really for the Green Party," Nader said yesterday of what an endorsement of him would have meant. "I don't want to exaggerate it, so I'll just say massively more."

Endorsing him, Nader said, would have meant higher visibility and better fundraising opportunities for the party. Because of his vice presidential running mate, Peter Miguel Camejo, it also had the potential to attract Latino voters.

Instead, by nominating Texas attorney David Cobb, Nader said, the party that made him its candidate in 1996 and 2000 will "shrink in its dimension" and "has jettisoned [itself] out of any influence on the Democratic Party."

That Nader, always spreading sunshine, if you'd only open your windows.
Link 10:49 AM Home

"Punitive" liberalism. In this week's Weekly Standard James Piereson works into a eulogy of Ronald Reagan through the context of liberalism which was overly harsh on American history. The phenomenon — which he describes as a "bizarre doctrine" — includes a highlighting of the flawed past (slavery, misdeeds with Native Americans, oppression of minorities and women, the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and so on). The phenomenon, as he characterizes it, doesn't stop there:

Given this bill of indictment, the Punitive Liberals held that Americans had no right at all to feel pride in their country's history or optimism about its future. Those who expressed such pride were written off as ignorant patriots who could not face up to the sins of the past; and those who looked ahead to a brighter future were dismissed as naive "Pollyannas" who did not understand that the brief American century was now over. The Punitive Liberals felt that the purpose of national policy was to punish the nation for its crimes rather than to build a stronger America and a brighter future for all.

This is a dangerous notion: it claims that people were so focused on the negative that no positives could exist in their minds. It is as if to say, the world would be better off if the United States had never existed. From this behavior which he identifies (and may only be imagining, since he provides no specific examples of individuals who present such an eclipsed perspective) he launches into an indictment of progressive efforts of the last 30 years.

The punitive aspects of this doctrine were made especially plain in debates over the liberals' favored policies. If one asked whether it was really fair to impose employment quotas for women and minorities, one often heard the answer, "White men imposed quotas on us, and now we're going to do the same to them!" Was busing of school children really an effective means of improving educational opportunities for blacks? A parallel answer was often given: "Whites bused blacks to enforce segregation, and now they deserve to get a taste of their own medicine!" Do we really strengthen our own security by undercutting allied governments in the name of human rights, particularly when they are replaced by openly hostile regimes (as in Iran and Nicaragua)? "This"--the answer was--"is the price we have to pay for coddling dictators." And so it went. Whenever the arguments were pressed, one discovered a punitive motive behind most of their policies.

This is plainly absurd: the goal of affirmative action was never to punish, but to enforce sharing. Piereson seems to have forgotten the founding principles of our country: that we see ourselves as a moral nation, where all men are created equal. If he sees it as punitive, perhaps it's because he doesn't want to share. Perhaps he needs to learn that he's not special, and others have been held back needlessly, wrongly.

Wanting to achieve progress through constructive criticism is not the new phenomenon which Piereson would have us think. A Samuel Johnson quotation is appropriate here, and one which he should post on his bulletin board: "It is unpleasing to represent our affairs to our own disadvantage; yet it is necessary to shew the evils which we desire to be removed." (It comes from his Introduction to the Political State of Great Britain.)
Link 9:54 AM Home

Sunday, June 27, 2004:

Controversy helps sales. Samuel Johnson knew that when he said

It is advantageous to an authour, that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck only at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.

In all probability the White House increased the celebrity of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies when they gave it all the attention they could, something like a half dozen interviews or so in the week after it was launched. And Michael Moore? Well, he credits the reactionary furor for its box office success this weekend. I'm not sure what the best response should have been — maybe this was a no-win situation — but if your press people are providing copy for the news, it only makes the articles longer. And your words are open to more analysis, and so on.
Link 8:03 PM Home

More violence in the Middle East. I'm not there, and can only pass on these links... Five Israelis were wounded as a result of a blast near an Israeli outpost; and Israel is said to have fired a missile into the Gaza strip, presumably in retaliation. I'm sure these stories are developing; I don't usually follow these developments on a minute by minute basis, so if they are of especial concern to you, you'll do better elsewhere.
Link 7:32 PM Home

Note to political panhandlers: Don't get NYC to host your fundraiser, and then vote against New York. So says the mayor.
Link 11:02 AM Home

If you saw Fahrenheit 9/11 this weekend and want to know about its accuracy, the Center for American Progress has a good analysis. By the way, Michael Moore was on Al Franken's show the other day, and I was glad to hear him stress some points about Bush's time at Booker Elementary School on 9/11 which hadn't been receiving emphasis: one, Bush was at the school until 9:30 in the morning, and two, since it was a well-publicized event, the entire time he was there the school could have been at risk: he should have left ASAP. (I stressed that most recently here.)
Link 9:46 AM Home

Saturday, June 26, 2004:

Two quotations.

"Is this the Democratic Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who reassured his countrymen we have nothing to fear but fear itself? No. This is John Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-eyed, who have nothing to offer but fear-mongering."
  —"We Agree It's Disgusting," Bush/Cheney 04 campaign newsletter, June 26, 2004

"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
  —President Bush. October, 2002

As they say in the movies, "I got yer fear-mongering right here, buddy."
Link 10:44 PM Home

Dick Cheney's comments that he "felt better afterwards" (after cursing at Senator Leahy, that is) occurred in this interview with Fox's Neil Cavuto. What else is there?

  • Continued failure to distinguish between meetings between Iraq and al Qaeda, vs. a collaborative relationship;
  • Demonization of those who see the world differently from him: "it's as though people are going back, trying to scrub Saddam clean here now, this is really just a poor, misunderstood fellow there in the Middle East."
  • Regarding whether or not the economy is improving, he prefers to shout his arguments louder than deal with critics' counter-arguments: "Well, we keep doing events like today, get out and talk to folks, have an opportunity to explain to them what our policies are and why we think they're working. You just have to go out and get a big bullhorn and convey the message just as often and aggressively as you can. And that's what we do."

There was also sycophancy from Cavuto over Cheney's profanity to Senator Leahy: "You sounded like me in one of my staff meetings." As if it's appropriate to talk like that. Those guys at Fox: just one of the boys.
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Changing the tone in Washington. It's clear they don't want to. They really don't.
Link 10:04 AM Home

Friday, June 25, 2004:

How not to package a DVD. I saw 50 First Dates with my daughter the other day, and I have to tell you I was pleasantly surprised. I expected a washout remake of Groundhog Day, and while comparisons are inevitable, I found it sufficiently unique to enjoy it as a sweet romantic comedy. But I have a huge problem with how the DVD was packaged. A key plot element is shown at the opening menu, before you hit "play," and it tells you about an important solution to Drew Barrymore's character's problem. Just like that, if you already know what her plight is, you know what solution they will use. Pitiful. (Another problem I had was that when Adam Sandler's character gets his big idea for the solution, Adam Sandler is completely dispassionate. No enthusiasm or energy whatsoever.) But aside from that I loved it, and needed to talk about very little with my daughter afterwards.
Link 2:06 PM Home

There's a little bit of a brouhaha going on about the sequential reviews of Bill Clinton's My Life at the New York Times; the first review (by a staff reviewer) was famously negative, the second (by author Larry McMurtry) was positive. Some have interpreted the second one as an effort to kowtow to Clinton. Famous arts reviewer Terry Teachout (who knows a thing or two about freelancing) has come to the Times' defense, saying the two reviews were probably assigned independently. Yet, Teachout notes, some still bristle over McMurtry's attempts to soften the unfavorable comparisons to Grant's memoirs, and interpret that as a reference to the first Times' review, meaning McMurtry's review was a response to the first. I wasn't aware the first review mentioned Grant when I discussed how common the comparisons were in this post a couple nights ago, where I showed there were apparently over 500 instances of it. I included those thoughts in an email to Teachout, which he appended to his post ("MORE: A reader writes..."). There are actually comparisons to Grant the same day that the Times' first review came out, so it's very possible that McMurtry had more in mind than just the first Times review when he mentioned the Grant comparisons.
Link 1:22 PM Home

We really have to get our Guantanamo act together. No more important ally than Great Britain right now, correct? And you'll remember that when we sent a handful of Guantanamo detainees home to the UK, Great Britain saw no justification for holding them and immediately released them? (A bad indication of our standards, if'n you ask me.) Well, it looks like we continue to test the UK's patience over Guantanamo.

Britain's top legal officer slammed as "unacceptable" on Friday proposed U.S. military trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees in a speech reviving a rare rift between the closest allies in the global anti-terror war.

Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's comments, released ahead of delivery in a speech in Paris, were one of the bluntest statements yet of London's disquiet over the U.S. handling of terror suspects at the U.S. base in Cuba.

"While we must be flexible and be prepared to countenance some limitation of fundamental rights if properly justified and proportionate, there are certain principles on which there can be no compromise," he was to say.

"Fair trial is one of those -- which is the reason we in the UK have been unable to accept that the US military tribunals ...offer sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards."

Can we please have an administration that plays well with others? Please?
Link 11:58 AM Home

More contacts, still no collaboration. Today's New York Times discusses a document which outlines overtures Baghdad made to Bin Laden in the 1990's, in the interest of eroding support for the Saudi royal family. But for all its inkage, any honest reader would have to see that it falls short of providing any evidence of collaboration.

At the meeting, Mr. bin Laden requested that sermons of an anti-Saudi cleric be rebroadcast in Iraq. That request, the document states, was approved by Baghdad.

Mr. bin Laden "also requested joint operations against foreign forces" based in Saudi Arabia, where the American presence has been a rallying cry for Islamic militants who oppose American troops in the land of the Muslim pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina.

But the document contains no statement of response by the Iraqi leadership under Mr. Hussein to the request for joint operations, and there is no indication of discussions about attacks on the United States or the use of unconventional weapons.

The document is of interest to American officials as a detailed, if limited, snapshot of communications between Iraqi intelligence and Mr. bin Laden, but this view ends with Mr. bin Laden's departure from Sudan. At that point, Iraqi intelligence officers began "seeking other channels through which to handle the relationship, in light of his current location," the document states.

Members of the Pentagon task force that reviewed the document said it described no formal alliance being reached between Mr. bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence. The Iraqi document itself states that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."

I'll grant that acceding to a request that speeches be broadcast are indicative of a cooperative spirit, but there's apparently little else. Just a lot of meetings in this.
Link 11:27 AM Home

Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler head, has switched from Bush to Kerry. He was in a number of Bush commercials in 2000, but now seems to have seen the error of his ways.

"All of my best friends are Republicans," Mr. Iacocca said as he introduced Mr. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, for a speech on technology at San Jose State University, "and they ask me, 'Are you crazy or something? Why are you doing this?' I tell them the world is changing, our country is changing, and we need a leader who will understand that change taking place."

One of the most visible business leaders ever, his voice should be very valuable in a number of battleground states.
Link 10:56 AM Home

A little deflation of the economic "boom." Q1 2004 growth in US GDP had been reported at 4.4%, but it's been revised down to 3.9%, putting it at lower than the 4.1% currently being reported for Q2. Inflation figures were also revised, up.

However, it is important to stress that although the latest 3.9% level is lower than expected, it does mean the US economy is continuing to grow - only slower than had been previously thought.

Patrick Fearton, an economist at AG Edwards in St Louis, said it was vital to maintain this perspective.

"It's certainly lower than expectations so in that sense it was a disappointment, but the key thing is that this is still appreciably better as a growth rate than the long-term average, which is only about 3%," he said.

Is it really "vital" to maintain this perspective? I mean, the long-term average is a comparison of all times, good and bad. Current growth rates are against a lower base, and coming out of a downtime it should be easier to exceed the long term average, always, just as a function of the math. (It's kind of like shaving a couple strokes off your golf handicap is easier when you start to bear down, and much harder once you've already done that.)

The official government press release is here.
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Dick said a bad word, mommy. On the Senate floor, during a heated exchange with Senator Pat Leahy, VP Cheney was, uh, un-statesman like. Big time.
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Thursday, June 24, 2004:

"Squishy math." Paul Krugman on the mechanics of the administration's tally on terrorism.
Link 11:48 PM Home

They sure know how to squander. Take a look at Bush: campaigned as "a uniter, not a divider." He had a country united and practically completely behind him following 9/11. Then, after properly hitting the Taliban in Afghanistan, chose to invade Iraq for a lot of reasons which so far seem unfounded. (Even if WMDs were moved into neighboring countries, no real evidence has been produced, so far as I know.) So he pretty much squandered that unity. And now, in Iraq: not only were we not really greeted with sweets and flowers (I blame him for gullibility on that count) but the greeting us as liberators, if it existed, is certainly no longer true, given the recent negative polls in Iraq and the bombings today.

I just hope those red states really understand the electoral college and appreciate it.
Link 9:14 PM Home

Body counts. The spree of bombings in Iraq today are just plain horrible: I'm inclined to think that we have given the Iraqi people a significant opportunity as a result of our dethroning Saddam Hussein, but the way in which various elements in Iraq are reacting to the opportunity should give anyone pause to question that belief. I think it's overly simplistic to say these deaths today wouldn't have happened if we hadn't arrived on the scene: many would argue that if these deaths wouldn't have occurred, an equal or greater number would have had Saddam stayed in power. I won't be so glib as to leave it with a simple "who knows?" and then turn my thoughts to baseball, but Human Rights Watch (which detailed all the deaths which provided Bush the human rights argument) said they didn't think the war was just because abuses weren't happening so badly recently. So I don't know.

But I will say that whether or not Saddam Hussein would have killed more innocent Iraqis than we've seen die, there is not getting around the fact that if you take the Bush war as a given, the toll of human lives has been needlessly deadly thanks to the poor planning of Bush et al. It didn't need to be this bad. We may have sent in enough troops to fight the war, but because we alienated so much of the international community in the run-up, the initiative didn't have an adequate second wave of staffing (of the right sort) for the post-war. Today's deaths are due, first, to the insurgents, but due secondly to the Bush administration's accumulated arrogance.
Link 8:26 PM Home

Laura Bush is W's secret weapon? This profile at CBS is very nice, and describes some of the disagreements she's had with her husband, but is clear about her reticence in sharing her opinions with the President. I'm sure she's a perfectly likeable person. But...

"I think she's President Bush's secret weapon. I think the more we see her out on the campaign trail, the populace and voters are going to get excited," says Bush supporter Gary Coberly.

"Probably the best reason to send me back is so Laura Bush will be the first lady for four more years," the president says at rallies.

Find me anyone whose Bush-Kerry preference is changed by exposure to the First Lady. And then tell them that the President says — jokingly, admit it — that the best reason to re-elect him is to get her back. And if they still prefer Bush, ask them if he didn't sound a little like Bill Clinton's "buy one, get one free." See if they bite, and let me know. This is just inane reporting.
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Reading the tea leaves. I always used to love the aftermath of the USSR's May Day parades, where close analysis would be given to who was next to whom in the reviewing stands, for clues to whose star was on the rise or wane. (I have no idea if anyone ever went back and checked the characterizations for their accuracy.) An analogous process is being done in today's Los Angeles Times, wherein the various recipients of Bush's Presidential Medals of Freedom are given close scrutiny for the various political constituencies Bush might be trying to appeal to. It's an interesting idea, I admit, that the awards list might be politically motivated for an election year, but to completely sell me on the proposition I'd have wanted the reporter to compare this year's recipients to last year's, demonstrate differences, and explain them to me politically.
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