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September 21, 2005

Quite Possibly The Worst Thing You Can Buy on Amazon

I'm including the link so you know I'm not making this up:

The 9-inch George Bush Chibi Plush represents the President's best effort to win votes among Ghost In The Shell fans! Done in Chibi style, this is how President George Bush would look in a Japanese animated cartoon. Depending on your political affiliation, you can have George join the Power Puff girls and fight evil, or make George the newest villain!

Personally, I want to see the George Bush Chibi vs. Cthulhu Night Gaunt. Or maybe against the Monty Python Baby Killer Rabbit.


UPDATE: I'm shopping for "unique" birthday gifts. In the process of doing so, I've come across this:

Lunch Money is a non-collectible card game. You play Catholic school girls who are beating each other up for their lunch money. All of the designs are in good fun, but may offend some of our more conservative customers. Beware!

I'll have to think of someone to whom I can give that...

November 23, 2004

Ronnie Earl, Superprosecutor

Now, here's a man who's confident. Travis County Prosecutor Ronnie Earle didn't seem able to get an indictment against Tom Delay, so instead he's opted for a "moral indictment" in the New York Times. The man is nothing if not confident:

Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader. . . .Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime.

(emphasis added) Surely pride goeth before that particular fall? Are the prosecutors of Travis County, Texas so astute and discerning that they have never brought a man before a grand jury unless they have actually committed a crime? Certainly he meant to write "is suspected of" a crime. Either that, or the entire process of criminal adjudication that follows an indictment is a rather expensive superfluity.

I've already written that it was dumb of the Republicans to try to change the rules to help Delay. But according to Mr. Earle--who of course hasn't a political motivation in his body--this strikes at the very rule of law, threatening our society, our social order, and the work of our law enforcement officials.

There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.

The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.


If one wanted a paragraph more finely crafted to make Mr. Earle look like a political hitman, it would be this. He so overstates his case that one would have to be excused for attributing political motivation to him, lacking any other coherent explanation.

After all, let's get one thing straight: the rule that was changed for the sake of Tom Delay wasn't a general law. It doesn't affect general citizens. It doesn't even affect all lawmakers, only members of a particular party. It's a rule for determining the standards under which they will reject their leadership, and the change was at worst one from a bright-line rule (anyone indicted must step aside) to a slightly more discretionary standard (a committee must recommend whether to remove anyone indicted within 30 days). If one believes that Mr. Earle is acting out of partisan motives, then even if hypocritical it may not be immoral to change the rule: enforcing it could be a manifest injustice.

This is the hypocrisy strikes at the very heart of our rule of law, making the jobs of enforcement officers more difficult? But if this rule is so important, certainly the fact that it's never been enforced by the Democrats upon their leadership is that much more toxic to the rule of law? Or is "hypocrisy" somehow more corrosive to more fiber than allowing an indicted man--remember, no man is even a target of a grand jury in Travis County, Texas unless he's committed a crime--hold a leadership position? Is allowing an indicted Democrat to be chair somehow moral because, hey, at least they didn't change the rules?

It's all very well to say, "Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall." But this rule is not a law, at least not in the general sense. (Do internal party rules have the force of federal law? Can they, since they're not passed even unicamerally?) Whether Mr. Earle is concerned with justice or simple politics, the heavens are not falling around him. Which, again, does the man no favors when one tries to guess his motivations.

November 19, 2004

Gaming Delay, or Ethics for Fun and Profit

Let's be clear: I think the move to change the rules of the House Republican Party to allow Delay to stay chairman is a political mistake, for many of the same reasons that Prof. Bainbridge does. That said, I have a standard rule: whenever one side of a political argument is getting indignant and self-righteous, check the facts. When a hardcore (see comments) Democratic leftist law professor who was nonetheless a defense attorney is calling a yet-to-be-indicted man a crook, there's definitely more to the story.

The Background
First of all, look at the coverage of the story. To get the summary from the Washington Post:

House Republicans, in an unrecorded voice vote behind closed doors, changed a 1993 party rule that required leaders who are indicted to step aside. Under the revised rule, an indicted leader can keep his or her post while the Republican Steering Committee -- controlled by party leaders -- decides whether to recommend any action by all GOP House members.

The rule change applies equally to state and federal indictments.

Republicans made it clear they will not act if they think their leaders are targeted by grand juries or prosecutors motivated by politics, which is the charge DeLay and his allies repeatedly have leveled at a grand jury based in Austin. The grand jury has indicted three of DeLay's political associates in connection with fundraising activities for a political action committee closely linked to DeLay.

So, let's see how that plays among the punditry. First, E. J. Dionne, declaring that Republican's ethics are slipping:

Shays reminds us that when and he and Gingrich were in the opposition, they gave voice to many who worried about the dangers of an entrenched majority that came to assume it had a right to power and could do whatever was necessary to keep it. Gingrich's line about the Gilded Age just may have come 12 years too early. You don't have to be a crackpot to believe that the Gilded Age is now.

Or Prof. Heller, again steaming up the Yin Blog:
Hypocrisy, thy name is Republican. Let's not forget, the Republicans originally passed the indictment rule because they said they had higher ethical standards than the Democrats . . . . Ethics, integrity, honesty -- all are negotiable when it comes to increasing Republican power. The Republicans truly have no shame.

Both are rightly, of course, accusing the Republican leadership of hypocrisy. But it's an odd sort of hypocrisy. Normally such accusations come from within a moral framework similar to the the framework of the accused. And yet the Washington Post doesn't mention what MSNBC buries in the last paragraph:

House Democrats have a rule requiring committee leaders to step aside in case of a felony indictment, but it does not apply to top party leaders. Pelosi said the rule would be expanded to include the top leadership.

(emphasis added) How does this jibe with Pelosi's accusations (let alone Dionne or Hellers?):
"If they make this rules change, Republicans will confirm yet again that they simply do not care if their leaders are ethical. If Republicans believe that an indicted member should be allowed to hold a top leadership position in the House of Representatives, their arrogance is astonishing."

But of course, until it became convenient to the Democratic Leadership (i.e., pretty much yesterday), the Democrats formally believed the same thing. Now, while the hypocrisy charge is a pretty good one--the Republicans changed their rule to illustrate "moral superiority" back in the days of Dan Rostenkowski--hypocrisy itself is a pretty venial sin. And if the accusers are, at best, saying "The Republicans are daring to lower their standards back to where ours have been since the days of [not heretofore known as moral paragon] Dan Rostenkowski," then any accusation of the sin of hypocrisy must be met immediately by a question: do you really think the substantive rule is a good idea, and if so, why are you only raising your standards now?

Doing so isn't precisely hypocritical, though a case could be made, but rather grossly opportunistic. And I suppose that's not even a venial sin, but that's a shaky soapbox from which to preach.

The Rule
Once we've gotten past the shocking discovery that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill can be hypocrits and opportunists--and I don't generally go to Washington for lectures on morality, nor get shocked by petty misbehavior there--a reasonable person should look and see if the rule change makes sense. So let's start with the rule itself: what does it say? (I'll admit, I'm relying on news reports because the House Republican Policy Committee and the House Republican Conference don't mention the rule change at all.) Essentially, it states that when a leader or chairman is indicted, the Republican's Steering Committee must move within 30 days to recommend to all House Republicans whether the member should be removed from his position. It's basically put a bit of discretion into an otherwise bright-line rule.

From the point of view of justice, this is probably wise. After all, for all you hear about Delay's ethical problems, let's consider what the Ethics Committee had to say about Rep. Chris Bell, who has brought most of the House ethics complaints against Tom Delay:

The committee's Republican chairman and senior Democrat used the four-page letter to Bell to warn lawmakers that making exaggerated allegations of wrongdoing could result in disciplinary action against the accuser.[1]

That accusations of impropriety frequently have political motivation is nothing new. Indeed, the Republicans stand on a very thin reed when they mention that an anti-Delay investigation is "political." Of course it is, as was the one which felled Rostenkowski, the accusations of ethical lapses by Tip O'Neill, Newt Gingrich, Hilary Clinton (to mention only book scandals), etc. The incentive to bring such prosecutions or investigations is going to be as strong in opponents as the instinct to protect the defendant will be strong in allies. The fact remains that sometimes such politically-motivated accusations will be true.

Nonetheless, in the face of such accusations, it may be that a bright-line rule requiring leadership officials to step down would be inappropriate. After all, as Republicans rightly point out, it is giving a veto on leadership appointments to opposition prosecutors.

In Defense of the Bright Line
At the end of the day, however, I still think the Republicans should have stood with their old rule. As Prof. Bainbridge points out, this has been a media gift to their opponents. But more substantively, I'm not certain the bright-line rule wouldn't have worked better, discouraged more improper prosecutions and ethics complaints, and been on the whole more just. And frankly, Nanci Pelosi should thank her stars that Republicans don't take my advice.

Not to sound too much like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates, but one solid rule in conflict is to always consider your opponent's next move. Let's say that a Democratic prosecutor did bring a highly suspicious indictment against Delay, and the Republicans made Delay step down, making it clear that his replacement was just there until the indictment was quashed. Sure, that's a bit unjust to Delay, since given the two-year terms in the House the case might very well not be concluded before he's up for re-election. But I think the Republicans could have legitimately told him that no matter how useful he's been, he should take one for the team.

On the other hand, look where this would leave Republicans. Their response could have been, "Not only are we following our own rules, but let's note that the Democrats still aren't playing by our standards, and they're taking advantage of us. Sure, it puts us at a disadvantage, but that's why you get when the party of lawyers starts manipulating the rules of the game." Make that the top talking point for every Republican asked about it, and within days it will become almost insufferable. Look who gets painted as hypocrits now!

What's the next move? Well, the Republicans still have control of the DOJ, and thus can move around Republican-leaning federal prosecutors. We have a governor in California, a mayor in New York, and dozens of other officials who now have an incentive to instruct investigators to look into Democratic candidates. Does anyone truly think that Republicans are the only folks with skeletons in the closet? Sure, Texas politics aren't pretty, but I've lived in Detroit: how closely does one want to look at David Bonier? How about Ms. Pelosi? Chuck Schumer (assuming the Senate wants into the game) or Charles Rangel? I'd imagine that if Delay had stepped down, the Democrats would have had to prepare for a game of revolving leadership, as every leader proposed came under attack.

Yes, the bright-line rule would lead to a lousy few months, maybe a year.

But then eventually both sides would very likely see how fruitless the tactic is. Just as Congressman Bell has gotten a firm talking-to, both houses of Congress would start disciplining those who made unfounded ethics complaints. Party leadership would start reigning in rogue prosecutors. At the end of the day, the profit in the battle is very low so long as both sides join it. New rules can be put in place to discourage misuse of the old ones.

In the end, I think the final equilibrium in the system would be slightly more ethical, and less fraught with conflict, than the present system set in place by protecting Delay. The Democrats now have an incentive to bring as many thinly-backed accusations against Republicans as possible: each one gives them more "hypocrisy" headlines. And the Republicans have no incentive to be more restrained, especially if Pelosi is true to her word about changing the Democratic rules: either they enjoy Democratic hypocrisy when they change their own rules, or they nix a few annoying chairmen.

Of course, all of this fits my preconceived notions about rules against standards: that rules will lead to a lower level of deviancy in the aggregate, but end up with unjustifiable results in individual circumstances, while standards are adjustable to the individual but liable to be abused by less-than-angelic officials. So my predictions may very well be suspect. Still, it's a pity the Republicans didn't at least try.

[1]This pretty confirms the impression I received during my time in the Senate, when staff counsel were always concerned with the minutiae of our activity to make sure we couldn't contradict a set of rules so complex that very few of us regulated by them could understand them. Call me a cynic, but I'm usually against "ethics" rules (as opposed to general laws) because I've yet to meet one that hasn't evolved into a system of self-protection mixed with a weapon for political backbiting.

November 06, 2004

Tasteless

One more columnist come unhinged. Here's Greil Marcus doing a mock-obituary for Bush, dated 2018.

Mr. Bush's life after his presidency was marked by misfortune. He soon lost interest in his status as the standard-bearer of his party and its chief fundraiser; many believed he had again begun drinking, and in any case he seemed to spend most of his time at private clubs in Houston, where he established residence in 2010 after selling his property in Crawford, Texas. ("At least I won't have to cut that f--- brush again," Mr. Bush was heard to say after his last election.) Then on May 1, 2011, Jenna and Barbara Bush were killed in a drunken driving accident in New York City, an incident that also took the lives of seven other people, four of them friends of the Bush daughters. Rumors that a Bush family friend attempted to bribe the police to report that a person other than Jenna or Barbara Bush was driving (the body of Barbara Bush was in the driver's seat) were never confirmed.

If you're going to write a piece of wish-fulfilling fantasy, it behooves you not to fantasize that your opponent's daughters die in drunk-driving accidents, taking several people with them. It just looks churlish. (Via Spleenville.)

November 05, 2004

Post-Election Reading

OK, here's something I can feel good about. Maybe I'm not happy about my friends' misery, but at least I can enjoy some schedenfreude by reading the press. Among the best:

  • Maureen Dowd at the New York Times seems in need of medication.
  • Over at Slate, Jane Smiley is eyeing Maureen's pill bottle enviously.
  • But the glory of glories is this analysis of Operation Clark County, the Guardian's attempt to switch Ohio from Red to Blue:
    Katz also said he knew all along that the letter-writing project could backfire. So, did it? Almost certainly, yes. In 2000, Al Gore won Clark County by 324 votes. And since Ralph Nader received 1,347 votes, we can assume Gore's margin would have been larger without Nader on the ballot. On Tuesday George Bush won Clark County by 1,620 votes.

    The most significant stat here is how Clark County compares to the other 15 Ohio counties won by Gore in 2000. Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark. He even increased Gore's winning margin in 12 of the 16. Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark. The Guardian's Katz was quoted as saying it would be "self-aggrandizing" to claim Operation Clark County affected the election. Don't be so modest, Ian.


Couldn't have happened to a nicer spammer.

UPDATE: Oh goodness. Add Margaret Cho to the list. Priceless. Watching her come unglued--she's not even funny here--is just so fun. Can I still donate to Bush's re-election fund? (Via Bainbridge.)

November 04, 2004

Post-Election Thoughts

I know a lot of people won't believe this, especially in light of my endorsement, but today wasn't as happy for me as you might expect. That's not just because I woke up with a splitting headache from a ridiculous hangover. (Note: Electoral college does not imply electoral fraternity does not imply electoral drinking game. And betting against Bush for Florida did me no favors.) A victory I didn't care much about has come at the expense of a lot of folks who did care very deeply, and that's been tough to watch.

The blogosphere has been awash with people cursing the outcome. (I'm sure that's just a fraction of the links most people could manage. I've been avoiding blogs all day, mostly due to work pressures, but also because I didn't want to read it yet.) I watched the results last night in a heavily Democratic room, and felt the mood ebb. And at the end, why in the hell did it have to come down to Ohio?

Sure, the results provide me with a bit of justification. The more or less common story is that conservative Christians turned out to vote for amendments against gay marriage, the direct result of the kritarchy of Massachusetts. I can't argue with the result: as I've said, I'm not that worried about gay marriage, but this will act as a deterrent to the next round of social change that someone wants to push through courts instead of legislatures. (I'm glad I wasn't blogging today: Waddling Thunder got to make the argument before me, and he's made it very well.)

But not Ohio. In my heart of hearts, I really wanted Ohio to be the exception. Because whatever else, I knew that people I cared for were going to Ohio. I knew that Chris had been working his guts out for his cause there. And I knew that if it came out against him, he'd be cruelly disappointed. OK, that's not a rational reason to back one outcome over the other--there are a million other activists in other states who will be just as devastated, and had the decision gone otherwise there would have been enraged Republicans--but sometimes the hopes one has for the future just aren't rational. I didn't want Ohio to pass its proposition, I hoped Pennsylvania would go red so Ohio could go blue, and I really didn't want it to be the last state.

Anyway, there's a Bush presidency, a fair amount of Republican triumphalism and a lot of Democratic angst. And pundits everywhere are looking for the "lessons of the election," which seems such a doomed effort that I'm sorely tempted to try it. If I had to give my Democratic colleagues some advice for 2008, it would come down to two ideas.

First, divorce the lawyers from the Democratic Party. The backlash against gay marriage really is the smaller part of the issue. The larger part is that so much of the intellectual (and financial) support for the Democrats come from a group of people that are very bad at convincing other Americans.

I know, that's fairly provocative (although hardly original). After all, we legal types are supposed to be trained to argue, right? And we are. But we're trained to argue in a very specific way, for a very specific audience--mostly for judges. We cocoon ourselves in a profession with exclusive rules and complex norms which cut us off from the "lay" masses. And in the end, this is simply not conducive to connecting with people outside that world: on one level, we're too used to arguing within a web of preconceived assumptions about "rights" and "process," and have a hard time stepping out of that and engaging.

The thought occurred to me today as I was practicing for a presentation of a more technical than legal nature. One thing I've noticed about law reviews and the legal world is an almost allergic aversion to diagrams or Powerpoint, but here I was putting together a maze of arrows to represent information flows. And as I was dry-running the speech, I felt my brain click: I was relaxed, effusive, in-the-zone with my audience, trying to tell them why a system would make their life easier. For the first time in ages, I was outside the assumptions, not "thinking like a lawyer."

Don't get me wrong: I love the law, and I'm looking forward to my professional career. But it is a mindset, and I wonder the extent of the effect it's had on the Democratic Party.

Second, the Democrat's big "quick win" would be to learn a language of religion. There are many voters who vote with their hearts and their souls rather than their pocketbooks, but in many quarters this is seen as something fantastic. Take, for instance, David Usborne, a writer for the UK-based Independent, quoted by Irishlaw:

Voters, especially those in the heartland states, took moral values as their core standard in deciding which candidate to support. Indeed, this may emerge as the most surprising finding to emerge from this presidential race.

As IL points out, it's not surprising if you know the voters in question, people of a deeply-held religious faith. The problem is that many--though by no means all--elements of the left trivialize that. From stunningly poor arguments posing as jokes to invocations of the "Texas Taliban", there is a strong strain of the Democratic Party that is simply not interested in engaging evangelicals and providing a good home for them. And this strain is by no means a silent minority of the party. Think of how Hollywood treats religion in movies. Even if you think that's a fair and accurate portrayal, here's a hint to the next Democratic Clinton: your moment comes when you strike out loud and hard at the next clone of Saved.

Too much of the left now thinks of religion as some form of irrational fiction, that anyone hooked on the Left Behind series must be unworthy of, or incapable of, reasoning with. But each and every one of them has a vote, and in this election they were provoked and used it. Kerry's position--that he was against gay marriage, but would leave it to the states--was untenable so long as the bulk of his supporters were campaigning against DMA, where "leaving it to the states" meant "leaving it to state judges." This was not a convincing argument to someone who did care about the issue.

That doesn't mean, as one Democrat on the radio said today, that they'd be best off nominating a President who doesn't support gay marriage or abortion. There are good religious arguments for same-sex marriage that have been made, and with some force. They're not, however, silly lists from Leviticus or pointing out that Jesus never speaks against gay marriage directly. They' complex, well-reasoned, and speak within the language of faith. Most importantly, they're generally made by individuals of stong and persuasive faith themselves. It takes much more courage to embrace--not "nuance"--a contrarian position within a church than outside it.

It certainly takes more courage than the standard Kerry line of "Whatever my religious belief, it shouldn't be our nation's." That the argument makes sense to secularists does not make it a particularly useful line to woo the section of the electorate that is not secular.

Instead, "learn the language." Learn what someone of faith cares about and how to argue within that sphere. (It's not unlike learning to "think like a lawyer.") And then come out full-bore for homosexual marriage with arguments that treat religion as a source of authority and a driving factor in why such marriage must be recognized, not as an obstacle to be overcome before one gets to the secular reasoning. People resent being considered obstacles. And when naysayers complain this tactic won't work, just point out that it only has to work a very little on the margins: much as Republicans win if we can crack a fraction of the African-American vote, Democrats can make great gains quite quickly here.

I'm not sure how seriously he meant it, but the most poignant Democratic statement I read today came from Brian Leiter, who said, "I do not know the country in which I live." That statement shouldn't be an indictment of the nation, but an exhortation to learn about it.

November 02, 2004

Oh Lord, I Pledge, I Pledge, I Pledge

Jeff Jarvis and Megan McArdle have made pre-election "peace pledges" for how they'll behave after the election. For the record, I pledge myself to both of them, as well as this:

I pledge that I will not ascribe to the winner, or their opponents, moral or ethical deficiency without evidence. And by evidence, I mean enough that I'd be happy to put forward a case in a real court and defend myself against the most Scalia-esque bred with Torquemada version of Rule 11 followed by a subsequent British libel trial.

Ditto about the moral or ethical superiority of the opposition or party in power/out of power, whoever they may be.

I will not assume that my political opponents act out of ill will, greed, hatred, or any other Deadly Sin, but rather because they share a different but positive vision of American greatness.

I will, however, continue to state where one party or organization has performed clearly better than another in areas in which I have expertise. (Which is to say, I'm still going to say that Kerry's blog kicked Bush's blog's ass all over the map, especially technically. Whoever wins.)

Update: Professor Bainbridge links to the latter pledge with the comment, "In other words, [McArdle's] promising to not do what the Democrats spent the last four years doing."

Much as I hate to take a crack at a guy with good taste in wine, that's exactly the kind of comment the pledges are meant to prevent. Sure, some Democrats have spent the last four years frothing at the mouth. Others haven't, and that should be recognized. Indeed, it has to be recognized, or we never find our way out of this miserable cycle.

October 30, 2004

Last Word On Election Blogging Before Tuesday: This Blog Endorses Bush

Right: I wasn't going to do this, because the idea of a blog endorsement seems pretty silly. Likewise, me endorsing Bush is about as exciting as the New York Times endorsing Kerry. I mean, it's not like you're shocked. But because my friend Martin asked for my defense of George Bush and because Lawrence Lessig and his pal Dan Winer have found a way to tie this all into Google, I can't resist. After this, law blogging, I promise.

So here we go. This blog endorses George W. Bush for President. Why?

Continue reading "Last Word On Election Blogging Before Tuesday: This Blog Endorses Bush" »

Confirm Your Prejudices

A friend of mine had a lament back during the Rathergate scandal: "Why is it that the media never makes dumb errors like this against us?" Needless to say, he's a democrat.

I mention this because there's another "memo"-like scandal coming out. The Lancet released a study this week purporting to show that 100,000 "excess" civilian casualties have occurred because of the invasion of Iraq. The headline numbers have received quite a lot of media coverage, and one's usual suspects (like Prof. Leiter and Prof. Heller) have jumped all over it. States Prof. Leiter: "So much for the pathetic "humanitarian" rationalizations for the war."

Now, the general point to be made about the war--that the mortality rate has probably risen--doesn't seem counterintuitive. Much like the memos scandal, this isn't really controversial. But just as with Rather, the Lancet's overreaching for extravagant "proof" is becoming the story itself.

You see, any casual reader of the report should have had alarm bells ringing the moment they got to the first page. I pointed out to Prof. Heller in his comments section that while I wasn't a statistician, this smelt pretty funny to me. Over the last few days, other commentators have been clobbering the report with more authority. The best analysis is probably in yesterday's Slate. It begins with the same fact as most of the critiques: the 100,000 number is in fact as follows: "98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000)" In other words, the authors are 95% certain that the number of "extra" deaths lies between eight thousand and nearly two-hundred thousand. As Kaplan says, "This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board."

I'll leave it to my readers to link through and look at an accounting of the methodological problems with the survey: use of clustering in a population with highly divergent results; confirmation of few of the deaths; failure to compare results with other reports. And of course, the fact that the lead author is both anti-war and insisted on pre-election publication raises questions of political bias and motivation.

None of this was obscure: it only took reading the report and the surrounding publicity. (Of course, the New York Times noted nothing about the "expedited" peer-review of the article and its author's insistence on pre-November haste.) But neither Heller, Leiter, or their ilk wrote critically about the numbers, instead focusing on the headline figure and from there drawing their preferred political conclusions.

And herein lies the lesson, I think, for bloggers: check your prejudices when they tempt you. There's a strong urge, particularly in a heated electoral season, to quickly grasp those things which seem to support your favored positions. I mean, I'd love to see a headline tomorrow that said something like, "KERRY FOUND IN IOWA AL QAEDA BORDELLO--EVENING SPONSORED BY MOVEON.ORG DONATIONS FROM HEINZ FOUNDATION". But if the headline came from National Review, I would think thrice before linking. I'd probably call friends in Iowa to make sure that the hotel in question existed. Emails to the reporter might be in order, or to prominent members of local law enforcement. I'd certainly search the blogosphere for counterarguments before penning anything. And if, for instance, it turns out that this house of ill-repute were run by an old Jewish madam and the source of the Moveon.org link was Karl Rove's ex-girlfriend... well, let's just say that I'd link to those parts of the argument, if not talk about something else instead of post on the subject. (For instance, I've said very little about the Swift Boats Veterans, because frankly I couldn't evaluate that evidence properly if I took the time, which I won't.)

There's a reason for doing this, and it's summed up in one word: credibility. Anything coming out these days that seems too good to be true probably is. I have to admit that during the Rather scandal, I was continually waiting for the other shoe to drop: the mythical Selectric coming out of hiding and typing out a damning indictment of internet sleuthing, Dan Rather bringing the necessary witnesses back from the grave to testify... something. The idea that CBS would shoot itself in the foot this badly just seemed to be such a gift. I got lucky: my original post on the subject wasn't thoroughly researched enough, but seems to be correct as of this date. But that was luck, and I wouldn't count on it again.

The thing is, as a blogger you've got a continual electronic record of your errors, especially if you get a lot of links. While correcting those mistakes counts for a lot, not making them in the first place is better. And the best way to do that--and preserve a good reputation--is to ensure that your sources are solid before you use them. This Lancet study should caution those who cited it. At least, one would hope.

UPDATE: Add Ambimb to the list of blogs I read that have quoted this study without critically evaluating it. Still, you can hardly blame him, since he reads the Guardian, which should get win, place, and show in the Uncritical Prejudiced Analysis Derby. In light of the above, note the Guardian's introductory paragraph: "About 100,000 Iraqi civilians - half of them women and children - have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of airstrikes by coalition forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and US public health experts." There is nothing of the critical analysis I've linked here, not even a quote from outside experts. The paper is taken as gospel, the "first reliable study."

Martin, bear in mind the next time that you tell me the Guardian is a "reliable" source that in their mind, "reliable" means somewhere between 8,000 and 196,000.

October 23, 2004

Political Ennui

Apparently, someone else shares my feeling of electoral burnout.

A new line of t-shirts have come out declaring Election Year 2004 to be "The Year of the Monkey F---ing a Football." (link most positively not work safe) [1]

Given the way this campaign's going on both sides, I need this shirt.

[1]: According to the site, the word is a dysphemism for "a task performed with extreme ineptitude.

October 20, 2004

Do You Hear That Sound? That's The Knell of Apathy

I never thought I would say this. Indeed, if you had shown me the words I'm about to write through a time machine when I was idly chatting in July, I'd have laughed in your face. But here's the truth: I am thoroughly, thoroughly burnt out on politics.

Since I was old enough to vote, I've never lived through an election in the United States. In 1992, I had just started my first year of university in England, and 1996 found me returning to Oxford from Osaka. In both cases I voted by absentee ballot. I didn't even vote in 2000: I'd moved so many times I couldn't figure out what state I could vote in. (Before anyone blames me for Bush v. Gore, the only options were Texas and Michigan: I don't think my confusion as to my home state threw the election to Rhenquist and Co.) But I have never had to live through the barrage of news, ads, and ridiculous commentary without the comforting filter of British insouciance. [1]

My god, what I wasn't missing. Look, I'm a Bush voter, and I can't really imagine what could happen at this point to make me move from the Republican Party, so I suppose the election's been done for me for several months. But I'd vote for Kerry if the election could be held tomorrow, just to get the damn thing over with. It's not just that I've already decided. It's that the trivia and the overheated rhetoric is getting to me.

Let's just count the non-sensical things that have absorbed the debate in the last few months. Remember the Swift Boat Vets? With due respect, I don't care if Kerry bribed his senior officers to give him purple hearts as part of his payoff for covering up a heroin ring. The statute of limitations of my attention--and my ability to believe anything can be "proven"--has run. Now otherwise sensible people are asking if Kerry is barred from the presidency by the 14th Amendment.. (Note: link is to Volokh disagreeing with the thesis.)

Ditto for anything to do with Bush skipping out on National Guard service, whether or not the evidence comes from phantasmal and phantasmagoric IBM Selectric Composers. It would be like judging whether a firm should hire me by asking what I was doing back in 1975. Christmas 1975 isn't exactly "seared into my memory," but I'm pretty sure it involved a great deal of chronic irresponsibility (as well as soiled diapers).

But even if those things are fading, the relentless trivia of this election just won't end. Here's Paul Krugman talking, yet again, about that draft that's just around the corner. You know. That old rumor introduced by two threatening bills about which Professor Leiter once said: "the fact that these bills were introduced by Democrats will be hugely advantageous as the Bush Administration has to confront the deteriorating military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan..." Yeah, well, the Bush Administration, or rather, his proxy Republicans in Congress, pushed those bills to the floor a while ago. They passed it by a resounding 402 to 2 vote. Oh hell, I'm sorry, that's what it failed by. Rangel didn't even vote for it, which literally made this an issue not even its father could love.

Then we have the litany of requests for apologies. Cheney curses out a Senator on the floor. Kerry makes hay out of Cheney's lesbian daughter. [2] Now Teresa Heinz-Kerry lets a new one rip from the ketchup-bottle.

You know, I'd give my vote, my pledge of eternal alligiance, perhaps my very soul by contract to the candidate who said, "I'm going to make you this promise at the outset of my campaign. I'm not going to say anything bad about my opponent, who is a fine man. And if one of my supporters does, I'll send away his money. If that supporter happens to be sitting next to me, I promise I'll spit in his face." Now that doesn't count rational statements of policy: both candidates have been accused of saying that if the other is elected, we're more likely to suffer a terrorist attack, and I hope they both believe it. If they don't, they don't think their anti-terrorism policy is substantively better than the other guy's. But stop with the mud.

And finally, I'm just sick of the strident tone. Without any particular focus on any particular blogger, let's look at some of what I've been reading, hearing, and seeing recently:

  • The Guardian's "write a voter in Ohio" campaign and the commentary about it. Yeah, it's a real shock when you spam a bundle of random addresses that you get hatemail back. And note that while the Guardian has published some of the replies they've gotten, they've not posted the letters sent. Sure, they said to be polite, but anyone want to bet on 100% compliance? How many randoms got Gruaniad-style rants?
  • Again, from Professor Heller: I Honestly Think This Is the Scariest Quote I've Ever Read. An unattributed, unnamed source quoted by a hack with an axe to grind? Christ, I've read scarier in reviews of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Come to think of it, the fact that movie got the green-light is scarier.
  • Or from Carey over at Gondolin: "If George Will is excited, we should be scared." (Also describing the normally-sober Will as "drooling.")
  • Any number of my associates declaring that, "If Bush wins, I may have to leave the country."

Folks, this is ridiculous. Look, there is nothing, and I mean nothing in what's listed above, what's been mentioned in the debates, or what random pundits might be "drooling" over that should inspire fear. Sixty years ago, the architect of modern liberalism was telling us how our greatest fear should be fear itself. In 2004, everywhere I turn someone's telling me that I should be petrified of George W. Bush.

Now I know why some people find Wes Craven scary.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this rant, I did spend most of the Clinton years out of the country. But let me say emphatically: the fear of a draft-dodger winning in 1992 did not drive me away from these shores. Nor does the possibility of a Kerry victory influence my firm decisions, tipping the balance towards London or Tokyo and away from New York. I don't think there's anyone who could get elected in the United States that would make me ashamed of my nation, unless the Democrats nominate Michael Moore in 2008 in a mammoth fit of pique. I've never told anyone that I was anything but American when I was overseas, and don't figure I'll start now.

I can understand that some people think Bush's policies are wrong. I can even go so far as to see how someone could dislike him, distrust him, disagree with him, or even diss him. But this continual litany of fear, this wearing of sackcloth for the sins of Bush II, this near-despair by the Kerryites... was it this miserable at the end of the elections I missed?

[1]: Incidentally, the BBC coverage of Election Night is always, always better than the American version, because they don't take it entirely seriously. First of all, once it's past midnight the coverage is handled by second-string announcers and American commentators who couldn't get onto FOX/MSNBC/CNNHL/WTBS/WKRP. Seeing folks who aren't used to being "crack dream team punditry" handle the tips and turns of the 2000 election was a riot in and of itself. But even better is the BBC's resident Swingometer-in-Chief, Peter Snow, who assaults the viewer with a variety of computer-generated graphics as "visual aids." The 2000 election, for instance, displayed the "Race for the White House," in which two little medallions of the candidates races towards a cartoon White House, propelled by little icons representing electoral votes. Snow also brought out his classic "swingometer," which informed viewers exactly how the House of Representatives would be constituted, how the Senate race was going, and who would be Prime Minister if the Americans ran their election like the good ol' Brits. That this last was completely irrelevant to anything was cheerfully ignored.

[2]: And can we have a moment to look at this one? Various people have justified this by making it an issue of Cheney's "hypocrisy," because he supports a president who objects to homosexual marriage when his own daughter is a homosexual. Don't we have to make two assumptions before we get from Kerry's statement to an accusation of hypocrisy? First we have to suppose that Mary Cheney supports homosexual marriage, an assumption I've yet to see proven. There's significant question as to Dick Cheney's opinion. But even after that, we have to assume that both Mary and Dick Cheney feel so strongly about the issue of homosexual marriage that it overrides all other considerations. What if they don't even consider that the prima inter pares among issues this year? Why is it that if one is homosexual, this has to be the issue you care about?

As charges go, this one just doesn't stick. There's nothing hypocritical about supporting a president who disagrees with you on a policy or two.

October 09, 2004

HELP ME MY FIREND, UGRENT NEED ASSISST

DEAR SIR:

It is with STRICT CONFIDENCE and trust that I wish to contact you seeking for your assistance to help as regards an investment opportunity. I sincerly hope that this letter will not come as a surprise to you, or cause you any embarrassment since we neither knew each other before, nor have had any previous contact or correspondence. I am writing to you because your email address came to me in a dream from ALMIGHTY GOD.

I am the son of PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, and fear that my father is soon to be deposed in a palace coup in the Democratic Republic of America. In this regards I am worried that I will soon have to leave the country to a safe haven in Nigeria. At the moment, I currently have $87 Billion US DOLLARS deposited in a safe account under the name of my friend Hal E. Burton. However, with the present dispensation of the current government of the Democratic Republic of America, all monies are attempted to be recovered by the revolutionary administration. On this note I desire an urgent attention to assisst me secure the aforesaid sum in any bank account you may furnish me with.

We would avail ourselves of a TOTAL LOSS OF THE WHOLE SUM depending on your promptness to furnish me with this required information which will enable me facilitate instructions and signal to the security company for expedient transfer of this funds to your account. However, I am sure that they misunderestimate your kindness and sense of justice in this matter.

Please send your address and bank details to me so that we can determine that this is mission accomplished. The next administration will be tireless to recover this sum, and so will we.

Your friend,

GEORGE H. W. BUSH IV

[Ed's note: Yep, this is original, my English friends have descended upon me this weekend, and we put this thing together over coffee.]

September 29, 2004

Credit Where Credit is Due

Professor Althouse seems annoyed that the Bush Blog took her entry "How Kerry Lost Me" somewhat out of context. Basically, they linked, cut a few paragraphs out, and made some conclusions about her that were unwarranted. In her words:

Was the first thing I wrote about the Republican National Convention? No, it was the twelfth thing I wrote about!

Did the convention impress me because it "offered substance and an agenda for winning the war on terror"? I never said that. I wrote about being impressed by the passion and conviction about national security as expressed by Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Ron Silver.


Now, I've seen both campaign blogs doing things like this, but here I'm going to have to give some credit to the Kerry campaign: they run the better blog. For one thing, while it spins, it's rarely as obvious in its spin as the Bushies. Further, whilst both blogs are fairly negative, the Kerry blog has quite a few posts urging grassroots, individual action, a very nice touch.

But while spin may be in the eye of the beholder, I don't think there's any doubt that the Kerry Blog is better as a technological matter. The design is lighter and easier to read, the blog features comments and fosters discussion, and for the most part, what's there works. Whereas if you look at the bottom of my right sidebar in the "Ridiculously Bipartisan News" section, you'll see that the Bush Blog's RSS 1.0 feed hasn't updated since July 10th. (Actually, most of the time when I click through to the feed itself it seems broken.)

Earlier in her post, Prof. Althouse wonders why a link from the Bush Blog gets her fewer hits than Instapundit, Allahpundit, or Vodkapundit. My guess is that relatively few people read the Bush blog, particularly in comparison to the Kerry one. (I don't have site-usage statistics, but the Kerry Blog currently shows a Page Rank 7--up there with Volokh or Instapundit--while the Bush Blog shows only a PR5, which is less than my humble site. Page Rank isn't a wonderful proxy for page hits, but it does say something about popularity.)

At least in this election cycle, I'd say the Democrats have shown a much better use of new technology than the Republicans. (First and foremost, the former make sure their technology works.) Some thoughts on why this is so will have to wait for a later date.

September 05, 2004

A Question for Senator Kerry

It's funny how everything seems to be blamed on the Republicans these days, at least if you're a Democrat. Take, for instance, the various descriptions that they've been giving of Zell Miller lately. I'm not exactly certain why his speech has struck the left dumb (well, actually, into comment frenzy) with shock and awe. Some of us, old as we are, remember his 1992 keynote speech. Apparently personal attacks are OK, just so long as you sling them at a guy named Bush.

But the most interesting accusation I've seen today comes (via Ann Althouse) from the New York Times. It appears that flextime is all a Republican plot:

Mr. Bush explained the proposal this way during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio: "I think the government ought to allow employers to say to an employee: 'If you want some time off, and work different hours, you're allowed to do so. If you want to accumulate time to spend with your family, spend with your parents, spend for being re-educated, you're allowed to do so.' "

The problem with this approach, feminists and other liberals say, is that it would require changing a law that guarantees unskilled workers extra pay for overtime work. "It's the abolition of overtime," said Ellen Bravo, national director of 9 to 5, an association of working women. "This is the employer flexibility protection act."

It turns out that both sides have different definitions of flex time - not to mention radically different notions about the 40-hour workweek.

Now this piqued my interest for one particular reason: here's a place you could really judge what kind of a man Kerry is, if someone wanted to do the research. (Damn this coming out on a Sunday, when I can't find out.) You see, prior to the Republicans taking over the Senate in 1992, there were a lot of loopholes in employment law with respect to those working on the Hill. I was lucky: I got there after the Republican revolution, when the Republicans extended a lot of benefits to House and Senate workers that didn't exist before.

Now, while a lot of Senate employees are fresh college graduates with money to burn and parental support, many aren't. When I started in my first office, I was working with a stereotypical working mother and a married couple trying to get through school. Both needed any money they could get. On the other hand, I can't remember that anything stopped Senators from paying overtime or giving better benefits.

So maybe someone should look back at Kerry's employment records. After all, every Senator is not only a leader, a visionary, a legislator: he's also an employer. See how he treated his staff in the mid-80's. Did he pay overtime? Give flextime? Pay above or below the Senate average?

Worth looking into. From my experience, I'd bet there's some reasonable information there. He wants to talk about protecting the poor and middle class. How did he do it when he was an employer?

September 02, 2004

Why Wasn't I Here?

I've not been blogging the convention. I've not been going to the convention. But this makes me think I might have been making a mistake. The authors of one of my favorite websites confused a bundle of street protestors by handing out Republicans for Voldemort bumper stickers.

On Sunday, the Republicans for Voldemort Street Team converged on the hapless protesters at United for Peace and Justice's protest march, forcing RFV bumper stickers into the hands of confused do-gooders.

Sometimes politics is glorious. (By the way: to my friend Martin, who bought me a RfV t-shirt after finals finished last year, thank you, and you'll be happy to know that one of your bucks probably went to Moveon.org.)

August 31, 2004

Ad Hominem Attacks At Amazon

Now, normally I don't have much disagreement with Professor Bainbridge. But in his latest piece, he suggests that Amazon.com's decision to suspend their rule against ad hominem attacks is politically motivated:

Although the announcement implies that the policy shouldn[']t apply to any books about presidential politics, Unfit for Command appears to be the only political book as to which the policy has been lifted. Bias? If this annoys you too, why not buy a copy? You'll let Amazon know that you're not dissuaded by their bias (and support this website at the same time!).

(I'll let you go to his website to buy your copy, if you want.)

Let me suggest here that Amazon's motivations might not be bias, but simple mercy. I can't imagine that any book currently on the market is as likely to provide a source for ad hominem attacks--from both sides--as this one. As of today, there's 1,465 customer reviews, and I can only see it increasing.

To put that in perspective, Ann Coulter's Treason, out for much longer, has 1,934. Maureen Dowd and Hugh Hewitt's latest have only about sixty or so. Bill Clinton's My Life only clocks in at the mid-500s.

I wonder if at least one motivation for Amazon's shift in policy is the worry that whoever had to edit all the reviews for ad hominems would simply up and quit in revolt. Of course, were this the case, some honesty would be in order. Amazon's policy statement should have read:

Important note from Amazon.com: We've decided to suspend our normal customer review policies and rules for this title. For example, we usually prohibit ad hominem attacks. Frankly, we can neither afford to manually edit this bile, nor write software smart enough to separate the merit from the mudslinging. Besides, as of this morning, there were 732 reviews of this book, and we've only sold four dozen copies. We don't know where you guys are buying this tome, but either it's not from us or most of you have never actually read it.

Therefore, short of obscenities, reviews on this book are now a free-for-all. We take no responsibility for the following discussion. It's not clear that anyone else has. Have fun! We're going out for beer.

Looking at it, this strategy might have worked much better for Amazon. As of this writing, three of the top four reviews are not about the book at all, but complaining about Amazon's "biased" policies.

August 28, 2004

Redundant. Redundant.

As the Republican National Convention nears, protestors have descended upon this city like a swarm of pandemonious locusts. I've spotted posters for at least three different organizations wanting to send their message to the Republicans at the law school alone. Banners are being hung, marchers are marching, and men are standing naked on the street because they think this will raise awareness of AIDS. Yes, politics in its passionate silliness has descended on the Big Apple and will be plaguing us for the next week.

In case you're wondering, I'm not 'blogging the convention.' Bush is the nominee, so it's not like there's going to be thrills, spills, or surprises. The whole thing is pretty scripted, and it's not like I'm expecting soaring heights of rhetoric, least of all from the candidate. Between that and the protestors, I can't imagine not having better ways to spend my time.

I thought of arranging a counterprotest, but then realized that I manage counterprotest by mere existence. After all, what could be a more Republican counterprotest to the partisan strangeness than what next week's going to entail anyway: getting up early to work, going on a date or two, and putting on a suit in order to go get a job.

August 07, 2004

Do Your Part For Democracy: Screw A Liberal

Amazing what you can learn from the Village Voice.

As the Republican hordes descend upon New York in search of validation and pleasure, Fuck the Vote will be firmly positioned near the convention site in a bus with a fold-out bed in the back.

While the GOP sells itself at the Garden, Nathan Martin, who started the project, hopes the party's faithful might also sell or trade their votes for sex with hot Fuck the Vote models.

At a conference for hackers in midtown on Sunday, Martin presented his project to cheers and laughs.

"Liberals are hotter than conservatives," Martin said, explaining that Fuck the Vote hopes to use this scientifically unproven fact to get liberals to bed conservatives in exchange for a pledge not to vote for George W. Bush.


Now, if I may: if Mr. Martin may posit that liberals are hotter than conservatives, let me posit the "scientifically unproven" fact that Republicans are better strategists. If I'm voting, I'm voting in New York, which means that any vote for Bush is worth precisely nothing. (If Bush carries New York, he's carried the rest of the nation. Don't hold your breath.) And I'm wagering that a goodly number of convention Republicans are going to be native New Yorkers on their own turf.

Somehow, I think there's enough of us to keep Mr. Martin's bed busy, whilst making sure he does absolutely nothing to influence the election. Not that I'm advocating such tactics of course, but if you're Republican, have no scruples, and are looking for what bathroom walls euphemistically describe as a "good time"... well, you know where to go.

(Oh, yeah, check out the video at the Village Voice's site. If they're not your cup of tea, don't bother.)

All Hail Commandant Edwards

Via Professor Bainbridge, I hear a familiar refrain from the Kerry Camp which is actually mindless and offensive. Says Veep-Wannabe Edwards (registration required):

"When John Kerry is the next president of the United States, there will be no red states, no blue states," he said. "No division of America."

Now, one ponders exactly how Edwards thinks he's going to accomplish this goal. Perhaps he believes that those of us who identify with what he considers a 'red state' mentality are insane or infirm in our beliefs, such that a Kerry ascension will be accompanied by a blinding flash of healing insight on our part. Or perhaps he believes that Mr. Kerry is a man of such messianic prowess that once he has achieved apotheosis in the City on a Hill, our doubts of him shall merely be burnt away with the rest of our impure souls.

Kerry and Edwards not generally tending towards such rhetoric, however, and being more inclined to believe in the goodness of government action than divine intervention, I can only assume that upon a Kerry victory in November I am to be issued an invitation to a re-education camp somewhere in the deepest Midwest, where I shall be taught to love big government, racial gerrymandering, and unionization. Ah well. With Martha Stewart facing prison time, one hopes that the First Lady will intervene and get our fellow inmate to design airy, comfortable, and stylish uniforms.

July 18, 2004

But do they provide free condiments in schools?

And here I've come across the hot new dinner table item for conservative familys. Worried that with every hamburger on your backyard barbeque, you're supporting the Heinz family, and thus the Kerry campaign? Well, now there's:

W Ketchup: You Don't Support Democrats, Why Should Your Ketchup?

I leave the pithy quote as an exercise for the reader. I mean, really, this is too easy.

June 26, 2004

Political incivility

Well, it's been a bad week all-around for the politically civil. Yes, Mr. Cheney, we're well aware that the Senate's sense of comity should be given a memorial next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it doesn't excuse you telling Senator Leahy to f--- himself. Save that sort of thing for when you're not on camera.

On the other hand, the left of the blogosphere has been erupting with indignation at the fact that the Bush campaign is "using images of Adolf Hitler in its campaign videos." What is often not mentioned is that the ad uses clips from a rather infamous Moveon.org advertisement.

This kind of moralism seems particularly obtuse. First of all, the argument against MoveOn.org's advertisement wasn't that it was distasteful to use Hitler in a campaign ad, but that it was odious and excessive to compare your political enemies of whatever stripe to one of the 20th century's worst moral scourges. Those who are criticizing the new Bush video fail to distinguish between comparing a candidate to Hitler, and pointing out that a candidate's supporters frequently make such an overwrought comparison. At least on this point, the Bush ads have it right: it's ridiculous for Kerry to denounce Bush's ad if he's not willing to take a swing at MoveOn or Michael Moore.

That's merely to say the ad is not morally reprehensible. It's still not a bright move. Even the Kerry website has noticed what I pointed out months ago: that Bush's website, his ads, his entire posture is simply too damn negative. There's no need to run this ad on the front page of the campaign website. Even if it had been the brainchild of a campaign staffer, the idea could have been shunted off to some politically sympathetic fringe group to turn into a net-meme. The wooly-eyed hatred of the Moores of this world doesn't need any more focus, and certainly not from the candidate himself.

This is where I'm really concerned about the Bush campaign: it's entered a bunker mentality. Under a fairly relentless barrage of criticism from all sides, it's become overly-defensive. I can understand why: when propaganda films like Moore's, screeching like that from MoveOn, all in all these things begin to hurt those who are closely involved with the candidate. There's an urge to cry 'foul' at some point. But crying foul does not befit a candidate for the presidency. There's others (like the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy of the Blogosphere) to do that. The candidate needs to remain above such sound and fury.

The Bush website should have a relentless stream of optimism on its homepage. How about a ticker noting how many of Iraq's power plants are back on line, how many schools have been started or built: the kind of mundane things that don't get covered in the news because they don't bleed, but are frightfully important? How about guest columns from some of the web's better commentators to spruce up the site? How about some actual interaction--Kerry's site gets hundreds of comments a day? But most importantly, get the images of Kerry and his cohorts off your homepage. It's bilious, angry, and the sign of a wounded tiger. Cut it out.

UPDATE: Will Baude reminds me that Cheney isn't the only pol willing to use the f-word in relation to a political opponent. We might debate whether "f--- off" is better or worse than "f--- it up," but it does put some of the griping in perspective. This election hasn't been played by the Marquis' rules.

Glancing at the Kerry blog, it's particularly instructive how some people will criticize their opponents but not their allies. My frequent rival Chris Geidner was incensed that one would use children for political ends. I wonder what he thinks about the Kerry for President lemonade stand? Ah, I'm sure those four-year olds are doing this completely independently of their parent's political views...

UPDATE 2: How sad. I found out today that I was linked off the Bush2004.com site. Unfortunately, it's a parody site, and not the real one. There goes my hopes of getting links from the Bush and Kerry blogs before this election's over...

UPDATE 3: I just noticed that Oxblog has a copy of a Kerry fundraising letter strongly taking Bush to task for using images of Hitler. Amusingly, there's no mention that the images come from a MoveOn ad.

May 27, 2004

A Few Presidential Thoughts

I have to admit that I'm getting very, very tired of the Presidential blogs. Both of them accuse the other of all of the tricks of political spin, without ever seemingly stopping to notice that their own camp is following the same playbook. It's like watching two naked men throw stones at their own glass houses. (And if you can pause to think of either presidential candidate naked, you're getting the full horror of the situation.)

The Kerry blog accuses Bush of not mentioning the word "Iraq" on his homepage. Of course, if you include it as part of the "war on terror," it's mentioned all over the site, but the magic word "Iraq" doesn't appear, doubtless on the advice of some political consultant. I seem to recall a certain political topic which the Kerry blog still doesn't mention [1].

Much as I didn't like the candidate, it does make one long for the Dean campaign. The man seemed deliciously unspun, though of course I'm sure that's only partially true. In any event, posts on the campaign blogs may become more sporadic over the summer, simply because both of them have remarkably less to say for themselves. My two main criticisms remain: (a) Kerry's has too few specifics about anything on it, and (b) Bush's entire site seems to be about Kerry.

[1]: Not only does the Kerry blog avoid mentioning gay marriage as much as possible, but it's almost offensively coy:

John Kerry has a 96% Lifetime Score and a 100% score since 1995 from the Human Rights Campaign, yet he is being attacked in the press as bad for the LGBT community.

Well, let's see, why might this be? Could it be that his Toolkit for GLBT activists mentions his opposition to the FMA, but doesn't even mention his own stand on gay marriage? (Hint: he disapproves of it, at least on paper, though suddenly has become an ardent advocate of states rights.) If he's not taking flak in the media, he should be: at least Bush has a proper, credible belief on this subject.

April 29, 2004

Faint Praise?

Via Ambimb, I find JohnKerryisaDoucheBagButImVotingforHimAnyway.com.

Brain dead from Con Law and now literally speechless, but I figured I might as well share in my amazement. Take a five-minute break from studying and have a look. Forget the content--someone paid to buy that URL...

UPDATE: I can now make this a Ridiculous Bipartisanship post by showing you what might be the worst political website I've ever seen. It's The Lord of the Political Rings. (Note spelling error in URL.) I apologize if politically-inclined Tolkien fans like Serious Law Student or Heidi suffer any psychological trauma from viewing this.

From Memepool. I'm going to bed now. That was awful.

April 24, 2004

Quick Political Website Commentary

And to finish off my glorious wireless blogging this lunchtime, a few quick observations on the political web:

Memo To Bush:
Number of times John Kerry's face appears on JohnKerry.com today: 6.
Number of times your face appears: 0.

Number of times John Kerry's face appears on GeorgeWBush.com today: 6.
Number of times your face appears: 0.

I know negative campaigning is endemic these days, Mr. President, but this is ridiculous. Get your face on your homepage and a real message up there.

Bush Hate Site of the Day:
For my readers who just can't get enough inane anti-Bush bile.

Someone at Bush headquarters didn't manage to snag Bush2004.com. Headline on this parody site: "Al Qaeda Bombers Endorse Bush--Terrorists Thank Allah For America's 'Holy Idiot.'"

Personally, I hope this gets as much exposure as possible. This is the kind of thing that makes the rabid anti-Bush folks look... well, speaks for itself, really.

Defending John Kerry

Now this doesn't happen very often, but since I'm on my lunch hour, I'll note this. Colbert King of the Washington Post questions John Kerry's commitment to racial diversity. Mainly he's alleging that Kerry's 'inner circle' is completely white, with people of color, alternative sexualities, gender, etc. brought in only to talk to their particular communities:

Regardless of how much the Kerry press releases make it sound as if those "all-stars" and "senior advisers" are the Dream Team, they aren't the people calling the shots. They don't have a hand in positioning the candidate or in guiding his campaign. That is the special preserve of the [allegedly all-white] inner circle.

As most of you probably guess, the color of John Kerry's 'inner circle' is a matter of supreme indifference to me. Still, the charge seemed strange, so I though I'd take a quick look to see if I could find some data, without doing what Colbert King did: calling spin-central and seeing what popped up. I mean, at the very least, it would be cool to find out what Kerry blogmeister Dick Bell looks like.

In so doing, I found the Civic Actions Wiki, a sort of roster for Democratic campaign staff. The data on the Kerry campaign is here. There's no 'inner circle' listing, but I went to what I cared about--who runs the website. And at least here there's diversity: one, possibly two hispanic men, a woman, and white guy. A quick glance through shows that the Deputy Campaign Manager, Marcus Jadotte, is an African-American. Not that the racial mix matters, but since they do run a good blog [1] (even if I'm not a Kerry fan), it's nice to see them front and center.

I'm not sure if that answers Colbert King's question: maybe these people are functionaries and the 'Inner Circle' that's 'calling the shots' is indeed all-white. But looking through his campaign staff and reading a bit about them is a fun experience in and of itself, so it's not been a wasted lunch.

[1]: Having looked at the Bush and Kerry blogs and websites over the last few months, I regretfully give the edge to the Kerry site. The Bush site is slightly better technically, but the Kerry site's lighter, more open site design is less of a trial to look at. Bush's site could really use an overhaul: there's too much stuff on the homepage, and it's just too confusing.

That said, both sites need some stylesheet help. Senior browsers are a key audience, and neither site's fonts increase when you use IE's "Text Size" feature. For older Americans, this has to be annoying.

March 25, 2004

Ridiculous Bipartisanship

You all know how scrupulously objective I am, right? Not a partisan bone in my body. No. Never. Quiet back there in the peanut gallery.

So I'm going to start a feature, Ridiculous Bipartisanship. In the interests of proving that lefties may be liberal and righties may be conservative but neither of them are sane, I will provide you with similar craziness from both sides of the political divide. With any luck, I'll be able to find features from similar groups, making similar logical errors.

For my first trick, I present to you:

  • Move On's new video trying to convince us that Rumsfeld 'lied.'
  • Brain-Terminal's Pin the Tale on the Donkeys video 'proving' Democrats to be similar 'liars.'

I make no claims as to the accuracy or sense of either. There's a reason I'm calling this bipartisanship 'ridiculous.'

To inaugurate the event, I've started Ridiculously Bipartisan News, a new RSS feedset at the bottom of my right navbar. Included are the latest George Bush and John Kerry blog feeds, and a handy George Bush News Script.

The news script is actually quite cool: a one-line cut-and-paste .aspx script that's dead easy for a blogger to embed. (I'll include a Kerry news script if anyone can email me one. I couldn't find it on the Kerry site.)

Next on deck: My next act of Ridiculous Bipartisanship will be a review of the Bush and Kerry blogs, both of which make some inspired technical choices to meet the unique challenges of blogging at the presidential candidate level. Ideas for new bipartisanship ridiculousness should be sent to iambipartisan-at-threeyearsofhell-dot-com.

UPDATE: A big boo to Kerry for putting an image as a headline to a blog entry and not correcting his RSS feed. It made my inaugural update of Ridiculously Bipartisan News look bad. (Incidentally, the Bush blog makes much better use of RSS.)

Giving The Devil His Due

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Quick Political Website Commentary (1)
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Ridiculous Bipartisanship (2)
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