Man Without Qualities

Monday, September 30, 2002

What's It All About?

Wondering what the Turkish-uranium incident was really all about?

Well, apparently it's NOT about uranium
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The Passing of the Torch

Reports are circulating that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (who recently campaigned for Robert Torricelli in Trenton, telling voters that, "You can't possibly appreciate the job Torricelli does") and New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine (who at the same time declared that he had "never been prouder to be on a dais as I have this afternoon with the leadership you've got in the state of New Jersey") will jointly propose a novel tribute to the career-end of New Jersey's now-departing senior Senator.

Senator Torricelli's political career was finally extinguished over the weekend by an Eagleton poll showing a 13-point gap, apparently evidence that there are just not - even in New Jersey - as many amoral, totally cynical voters completely obsessed with keeping the Senate in Democratic control to the exclusion of even serious ethical deficiencies in their representative as Mr. Torricelli and the amoral, totally cynical and completely-obsessed-with-keeping-the-Senate-in-Democratic-control-to-the-exclusion-of-even-serious-ethical-deficiencies-in-the-senior-New-Jersey-Senator New York Times had been banking on.

Senators Daschle and Corzine are said to have prepared a joint statement describing their proposed tribute:

"So that Bob Torricelli's Senate career may end with on the same moral note that has characterized it from the outset, the New Jersey Democratic Party will join with the National Democratic Party in making a squalid politicized effort to force the hyper activist New Jersey Supreme Court to annul rather clear New Jersey State Election law and permit the Democratic Party to place another candidate on the ballot in lieu of Mr. Torricelli. We are confident that the ensuing uproar over the degradation of the Court will completely drown out any of the "issues" we purport to wish to become the focus of the remaining few weeks of the campaign. We are also confident that the New Jersey Court will comply with our motion and allow the "Torch" to be passed to the man that a majority of Democratic Poobahs chooses in lieu of the man chosen by primary voters only weeks ago. Of course, we cannot predict who that man will be - since all the bids have not yet been received - but we can say that we don't want to be forced into the kind of degrading "write-in" strategy that Washington, D.C Mayor Williams was forced to resort to when he screwed up his election laws.

Once the new candidate is selected and rubber-stamped by the compliant New Jersey Court, Senator Torricelli's name will formally and ceremonially be removed from the ballot and replaced with the new name. On that date we ask all Americans - from coast to coast - to stand by in their bathrooms and, at exactly midnight on the appointed day, to mark the occasion by simultaneously flushing once or twice while observing a solemn moment of silence. Small paper torches may be lit and dropped in at the same time, if desired. The resulting drop in national water pressure - together with what will then be an ongoing chaos in the courts - will serve as a fitting and touching memorial to mark the end of this great career. We believe this simple and dignified ceremony will help to bring together everyone in the nation, and especially the troubled citizens of New Jersey, at this sensitive but disturbing moment in our nation's history for a true "Hands Across the Waters" experience. Those concerned about the potential for water waste attendant to this ceremony are advised to reserve an appropriate deposit before hand.

May God have mercy on Senator Torricelli as he passes into the unknowable void beyond the Beltway.

United States Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine"

UPDATE: Best of the Web notes:

McGreevey, New Jersey's governor, appeared with Torricelli, and the Washington Post's transcript, produced by the error-prone folks at eMediaMillWorks, includes this telling typo in a McGreevey comment: "The Democratic State Committee will petition the New Jersey Supreme Court for the ability to replace Robert toilette's name with another candidate."

Some things are just too good to be made up.

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The Democrats' Continuing Descent Into Madness

The same two loopy Democratic Congressman who embarrassed themselves on television a few days ago are now comforting Saddam from Bagdad. Hanoi Jane had nothing on these guys.

Surely these guys are Republican moles, right? Inserted into the Democratic Party in the Nixon era as a "dirty trick," there to lie in wait pretending to be ultra-liberal Democrats until the critical moment when they could emerge and destroy "their" Party's election prospects.

The Congressman want inspections. But even the U.N. weapons inspectors are now demanding the right to roam freely around Saddam Hussein's palaces and other suspect sites, a demand which Saddam has refused.

Of course, the concept of "inspectors" reliably determining that, say, there are no mobile biological weapons production facilities in Iraq, is grimly hilarious even if the inspectors could roam freely.

Let's see how Mr. Gephardt Op-Ed's this one.
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The Torch goes out.

Good God, another Federal election ends up in the courts over the meaning of State election laws!

UPDATE: Now if only Senator Harkin would show Torricelli's sensitivity ....
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More on Our Relative, the Chimp

Paul Orwin of TurnedUpToEleven posts a very interesting (at least to me) continuation of our discussion regarding the significance of studies purporting to show that chimps and humans have similar genomes (with perhaps 95% to 99% of their DNA in common).

Referring to the proposition that comparable "useful" DNA should have more similarity than "junk" DNA, Professor Orwin, among other interesting things, makes two points:

"1) I was probably understating the case when I called it a "best guess". There have been many efforts to study human and ape genes, and all have borne out the very close relationship. 2). Functionality certainly constrains genome structure, in highly specific ways."

Taking the second question first: of course functionality constrains genome structure. But I don't think that is a correct formulation of the issue. If my questions were put in this form they might look like: "How much does external functionality constrain genome structure compared to internal functionality and other factors?" How can we measure the difference? My questions were: (1) doesn't the 95-99% overlap in non-functional DNA suggest that factors other than external (expressive) functionality may play a major role in determining the structure of this "junk" DNA? (2) In particular, if the "junk" does actually serve some kind of "internal" function, isn't it possible that internal function plays a major role in determining the structure of this "junk."

For example, to look at the simplest case, bacteria have little or no junk in their DNA. Isn't that consistent with a model in which there is no function for "junk" in such a unicellular organism, and that evolutionary pressures have therefore ejected entirely the DNA for which there is no internal structural role (in other words, constrained its "structure" to zero)? After all, I understand that one possible source of "junk" is retroviral insertions - which, I believe, bacteria have to contend with, too. So it's not as if there aren't candidates for "junked up" bacterial strains being produced. They just don't seem to survive.

The link between expressive functionality and genome structure is not, to my knowledge, always so clear as Professor Orwin suggests. For example, there is an immune system receptor common to rodents and humans called CD-32. In rodents it appears to correspond entirely to one gene. But in humans, it corresponds to two genes (CD-32A and CD-32B), but it is my understanding that there are also other ancillary variants of at least CD-32B involved. In this case, there is a lot of difference in genome coding for little or no apparent difference in expressive results (that is, the CD-32 receptor).

I'm not sure what lies between "best guess" (which I already construed as "best guess by an informed, highly competent expert" - and I don't think one generally makes money in Vegas betting against that kind of thing, already) and "scientific fact." But I'll construe this point to mean that Professor Orwin has a high degree of confidence in this guess, and that other experts do, too, and that confidence is probably manifested practically in the direction he and other experts choose for their research. Since to my knowledge nobody has even mapped the chimp genome, I'm not sure how much further one can wisely go at this point, but it's interesting that Professor Orwin is willing to climb out on that particular limb. I am certainly not saying Professor Orwin is wrong, or likely wrong in any of this. My original and continuing focus was on the meaning of the studies that purport to "prove" genome similarities - I don't see any popular articles about what even very good scientists think is probably right, or almost certainly going to turn out to be right, or whatever else may lie between "best guess" and "scientific fact.".

It is certainly well reported in the popular scientific press that various efforts to compare specific human and primate genes have been made, and - at least by the measures described by those researchers - all have borne out very close relationships. Indeed, Professor Orwin cites to one such popular report about a study of the "Y" Chromosome, a report which includes this passage:

The amount of variation in the human Y chromosome, for example, says something about the size of the population from whom we descended. The greater the variety, the larger the starting population must have been. Likewise for the chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimpanzees and bonobos, she found, show significant variety. "I found a ton of variation in chimps and bonobos," she said. Not so with humans, where little variation means we all evolved, recently, from a very small population, a few tens of thousands of individuals less than 200,000 years ago. In that small initial population, the key mutations that made us human could have spread quickly, Stone theorized.

Now, Professor Orwin described this report as a particularly good one supporting his position, but the qualitative language in the above excerpt doesn't seem to have the same confidence he suggests. And while the report does include quotes from the researcher such as: "Chimp and human chromosomes look virtually identical," the details of the report just says the researcher "looked at a stretch of DNA on the Y chromosome," which is hardly enough to determine how extensive the DNA segment studied there actually was. Moreover, the report does not state whether that researcher attempted to isolate a completely "useful;" piece of DNA - although one does get the impression that at least some of the examined DNA was "useful."

What is particularly striking to me about this article is the assertion: "DNA sequences in humans and chimpanzees are more than 99 percent identical .... It is that last 1 percent that makes us human." But as little as 1.5% of all human DNA may be "useful." The Man Without Qualities is not alone in expressing reservations about how meaningful it is to study the "junk": "They say 99 percent of the genome is not genes. I believe it's 3 percent that is genes," said Bill Haseltine, president of Human Genome Sciences.... At any rate, Haseltine believes studying the whole genome is a waste. "It's clear we should focus on genes and not the genome," he said.

In any event, there have been to my knowledge no attempts to simply compare the "useful" DNA of chimps and humans in the aggregate. Indeed, it is my understanding of the current state of molecular genetics that although some pieces of DNA are known to be "useful" there is actually quite a bit to be learned in the area of sorting the "useful" from the "junk." Indeed, there are quite active research efforts underway (including commercial efforts) to find (and patent!) new "useful" DNA concealed within the masses of "junk." So we seem to be rather far from a direct comparision of aggregate "useful" DNA.

I, personally, have difficulty in accepting naked percentages (99% or 95% or whatever) even of "useful" DNA as a very meaningful measure of species similarity. For one thing, as Professor Orwin points out, certain life functions are more basic than others. To use Professor Orwin's example, pretty much every cell in every organism needs to use adenosine tri-phosphate. So why should the presence of the genomic structure that corresponds to the ATP cycle be counted as a very significant point of "similarity" between chimps and humans? The "hedgehog" gene in a fly is considered very similar to the human hedgehog gene, and to the hedgehog gene as it occurs in most animals. Why should that not be a reason for discounting the hedgehog gene as a point of similarity?

If one were to count things like "lights," "desks," "windows," "teachers," "lab hoods," "reagent bottles" and the like at the CalTech biology department one could probably find a very high level of "overlap" with the biology department at "Poly" (the private school that runs through 12th grade down the street from the CalTech department). Would that show that the two biology departments were "very similar"? Isn't there something subtle and different about what goes on in Professor Orwin's head and the heads of his Tech colleagues that gets swamped in all this naive counting ?

Professor Orwin also states:

I think Musil is overstating the case here. In fact, there are tremendous similarities between mouse and human immune systems. Can he name even one "theory" that was "demolished" by the differences?

Well, yes, of course I can. But I'll instead do something which Professor Orwin may find more intriguing: I'll describe a current theory that will soon be demolished in exactly this way. Specifically, there is a "hot" theory stemming from certain assumptions of rodent/human immune system similarities which is hoped in many quarters to have potentially direct application to a certain experimental cancer treatment. That theory will be demolished by a paper soon to be published. The paper will show that instead of the presumed rodent/human similarities at the gene level one species entirely lacks the genes being studied in the other species.

In any event, I hope that Professor Orwin does not find anything I have said above offensive or impertinent. I have been absolutely charmed that he took the time and effort to share his expertise with me, an expertise wildly beyond my own. After all, Professor Orwin could have done what Charles Murtaugh did - link to Professor Orwin and another blog that responded to my original post while refusing to acknowledge my existence, and this although I have permalinked to Charles almost from the inception of this blog. That's fine, everyone has their own view of Blogosphere civility. It's still my best guess that Charles is a wonderful, perfectly charming person.
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The Torch: Going, Going ... Out?
There are reports that Senator Robert Torricelli may drop out of the election. Perhaps as early as today.

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Sunday, September 29, 2002

A Few Second Amendment Thoughts

James Lindgren's article "Fall from Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal" does a pretty thorough job of debunking "Arming America," even inverting much of Bellesiles' argument:

If guns were already more common in the eighteenth century than Bellesiles says they were on the eve of the Civil War, then his narrative of how we got from low gun ownership to high gun ownership collapses into the opposite story of a shift from high gun ownership to somewhat lower gun ownership.

But after reading Lindgren's article I found myself asking if there is still a research project to be accomplished there, the one that Bellesiles should have focused on in the first place: Can we determine how widespread was late 18th century and early 19th century ownership of guns of the type used by state militias.- not just of guns. Did ownership of militia-type guns increase over the 19th century.

For example, Professor Lindgren points out at one juncture:

"Bellesiles confuses arms produced at militia musters with arms owned. There were many guns that would have been suitable for shooting birds (“ fowling pieces” ) or vermin, or for hunting larger animals, that would not meet the standards of the day for battle muskets, which were very heavy with extremely long barrels. It is somewhat akin to confusing an M-16 with a shotgun."

As Professor Lindgren also points out (although he is certainly not the first to do so and does not claim to be) as a work of history, Arming America does not directly advocate any gun policies, one argument that emerges from his conclusions is that if guns were not widely owned in the late 18th century and early 19th century, then it is unlikely that gun owning was understood as an individual right in the Second Amendment.

Today, there seems to be a growing belief (if not yet a consensus) that "an individual right in the Second Amendment" may extend only to guns of the type used or potentially used in a militia.

It therefore seems relevant to try to determine historically not just whether ownership of all guns was widespread in the late 18th century and early 19th century. "[G]uns that would have been suitable for shooting birds (“ fowling pieces” ) or vermin, or for hunting larger animals, that would not meet the standards of the day for battle muskets' may not be as relevant in determining whether the Framers of the Second Amendment meant it to create an "individual" or "individual and fundamental" right.

Perhaps such research has already been done, or perhaps it can be extracted from the raw data already accumulated in the process of cleaning up after Bellesiles. There is some suggestion that such extraction may already have been done, as where Professor Lindgren writes:

As to the Providence, Rhode Island, data, Bellesiles has dropped the claim from the hardback edition of Arming America that the guns in the inventories were evaluated is old or broken and now claims that the majority of guns are so low-valued that he reappraises them as old or broken. There are a number of problems with this claim. Most important, historians should not reappraise 300-year old guns that they have never seen based solely on evidence of their monetary value. Bellesiles does not provide a sufficient basis for his reappraisal. He does not reappraise a few very low-valued guns. Rather, he appraises the median-priced gun in Providence as old or broken.The best evidence we have for what a typical gun cost in Providence, Rhode Island, is the very probate data showing that guns cost about one pound. This is consistent with other data, as I show in the next Section. A new military-quality weapon in a time of war might go for two to three times that amount, but that does not mean that an ordinary working gun or fowling piece in a time of peace would go for more than about a pound.

Finally, as to the frontier data on dysfunctional guns, Bellesiles says that they are listed as such. It is not possible to change this claim based on a reappraisal. Of the estates that Heather and I examined, 83-91% of them listed guns that were not described as old or broken.136 This does not, of course, indicate that most of these guns were of military quality or even suitable for battle. Many were undoubtedly fowling pieces, better suited for hunting birds. But this is solid evidence that many Americans owned functioning guns.

In any event, it would be interesting, to me at least, to know if militia-worthy gun ownership was common in late 18th century and early 19th century America.

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The Torch, Doused

Looks like it's all over but the final immersion for Senator Bob Torricelli.
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Descent of Gore

The MinuteMan explains how Al Gore's same penchant for unstable factoids that harmed him so much during the campaign will - surprise! - probably harm him a lot this time around, too. The MinuteMan pretty much reduces Mr. Gore's problem to a kind of infernal macro.

It's sad to see a man like Mr. Gore trapped in a macro of his own making. Like him or not, he once had potential.

Now Al Gore seems to run like a piece of Fortran in a Java universe.
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Quick Silver

Bill Quick offers some valuable insights on the war/economy/elections question.

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Saturday, September 28, 2002

Urban Legends of Pisa

According to a recently published history of science, Galileo never dropped weights of different sizes from Pisa's leaning tower to prove that objects fall at a rate independent of their weights; the weights were dropped by Aristoteleans hoping to prove Galileo wrong.

Snopes does not appear to take up the matter.

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Friday, September 27, 2002

Brian O'Connell Returns to the Blogoshere

... just shortly after the Apollo 12 booster was identified as re-entering the Earth's gravitational capture.


UPDATE: Brian says this is questionable questioning! But I just say that it's our patriotic duty to ask questions and that makes us more patriotic than all you sheeple out there.

And I never said "space junk," anyway.
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Democracy, Liberal Democrat Style II

Mr. Gephardt makes it official. The Democratic Party holds that voters should not be involved in any campaign debate or process that might actually inform them of their representatives' views on war with Iraq and related topics.

Mr. Gephardt and his crowd could not be more wrong. WAR IS INHERENTLY POLITICAL. IT IS A COMPLETELY APPROPRIATE AND INEVITABLE CAMPAIGN ISSUE. If the Framers didn't think war was a political issue, why did they divide up the decisions involving war betwen the President and Congress?

If we and they thought that matters of war were matters of objective principle, the Constitution would assign the power to declare and wage war to the unelected Supreme Court.

But there is no chance that Mr. Gephardt crowd will succeed in removing the war from the campaign. In fact, even Mr. Gephardt's New York Times Op-Ed is itself obviously driven by an excruciatingly pure political fact reported on the front page of the very same edition of the Times: With six weeks to go until the midterm elections, Republicans appear to hold a slight edge in this year's fight for control of the House of Representatives.

Poor Mr. Gephardt. He probably won't get to be Speaker again this year. Boo, hoo. (Mr. Gephardt can take comfort from the Note's opinion that "Adam Clymer goes out on the limb big-time with this front-page New York Times lead.")

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That Kennedy Style

The WMD placed by the Soviet Union in Cuba posed no "immediate" threat to the United States - nobody thought the Soviet Union would use them right away and if they had remained in Cuba they would never have been used.

But John F. Kennedy saw the Soviet strategy for what it was, and blockaded Cuba "unilaterally." He did not act pursuant to United Nations authorization. No sensible person thought he had to, and no sensible person argued that this clear act of war against Cuba violated the United Nations Charter.

What a difference a brother makes.
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Al Gore's Continuing Descent Into Madness

Al Gore is now reported to be denouncing the Bush Administration for not acting on its pre-9-11 information:

"The warnings were there" before the attacks, Mr. Gore said. Mr. Gore's speech, which also accused the administration of running roughshod over civil liberties.

Of course, his argument seems to completely ignore that the intelligence services he is now criticizing are the same ones the Clinton-Gore Administration molded for the preceding eight years.

But the completeness of Mr. Gore's incoherence is most surely displayed in the way it neatly illustrates Dan Henninger's observation that "the same people who say the danger was obvious also say and write that we don't yet know enough about Iraq's military capabilities or intentions to act pre-emptively against Saddam Hussein." Just days ago, Mr. Gore asserted that any military action against Iraq now could "seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and weaken our ability to lead the world."

Gore and Henninger must be a vaudeville act, right? Henninger the straight man. Gore does Gracie?

As an amusing aside, Mr. Gore revived his old embarrassing campaign problem of asserting bizarre factoids which almost certainly will not check out once the inevitable investigative leg work is done by the media or Republican partisans:

Mr. Gore also said Mr. Bush's Justice Department and the FBI had spent more time and resources investigating a suspected brothel in New Orleans than monitoring bin Laden and his terrorist network. "Where is their sense of priorities?" Mr. Gore asked.

Where indeed.

And let's not forget:

Ironically, while Mr. Gore was escalating his attacks on the administration, former President Bill Clinton was planning to attend a Labor Party conference in Great Britain to help Prime Minister Tony Blair persuade skeptical party members to support Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush in taking military action against Iraq.

It is increasingly apparent how much Messrs. Gore and Clinton dislike each other. But is that any reason for Mr. Gore to ignore the caginess of the old silver fox?

Mr. Gore's statements are taken by some as a sure sign that he will run for the presidency in 2004. But really they are a sure sign that he should take Ms. McNeil's advice: "You've got other talents. Go write about sports at the school newspaper, join the debate team, or maybe you've got a nice voice and belong on the stage." In fact, Mr. Gore's 2004 campaign song now seems obvious, and in the mean time I know just the song for Mr. Clinton to urge Mr. Gore to work on now:

Don't you love a farce; my fault I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want - sorry my dear
But where are the clowns - send in the clowns
Don't bother they're here

UPDATE: Only a few weeks ago the Man Without Qualities suggested:

Gee, if this recent progress against Iraq and al Qaeda keeps up, maybe the [New York] Times will begin to suspect that the United States is not only the world's only superpower - but it can whistle and walk at the same time, too! Don't laugh. It could happen!

And while the scales have not yet fallen from the eyes of the New York Times, an astute reader e-mails that the Associated Press reports that Bill Clinton said:

"I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. That is, I think we can turn up the heat on Iraq and retain our focus on terror."

Is Mr. Gore listening? Or is he still too busy trying to get his nose to honk?

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Awesome, Sensational Dreck!

Shouldn't be missed. Worth the extra time and then some.

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Thursday, September 26, 2002

Simon and Davis

The Man Without Qualities has for some time believed that reports of Gray Davis' inevitable triumph over Bill Simon have been greatly exaggerated, and, frankly, amateurish. I therefore cheerfully welcome signs that the Wall Street Journal now seems to agree, as indicated in these excerpts from an editorial in today's Journal:

California Governor Gray Davis signed a bill mandating paid family leave this week, just as a new survey of executives rated the state's "business climate" the worst in the nation. Consider these two more signs that Republican challenger Bill Simon still has a chance to beat Mr. Davis next month.


The paid leave law is a bonanza for unions that Mr. Davis wants to turn out to vote in November. It is, however, one more burden for business, which will have to finance this attempt to import European economic vigor. Current federal law mandates only unpaid leave and exempts companies employing fewer than 50 people; progressive Sacramento is sticking it to every Mom and Pop store in the state.

This is one more reason for job creators to leave what was once an entrepreneurial mecca. The recent survey, by Development Counsellors International, found that 57% of 283 executives rated California the worst state in the nation to locate a business.


It takes some doing to turn California into a business bust, considering its climate, resources and tremendous talent base of 35 million people. But the state's politicians have done it by piling ever more regulations and costs on employers. The state's workers' compensation system is out of control, with premiums rising as much as 120% this year. In February, as a payoff to trial lawyers, Mr. Davis signed a bill doubling workers' comp payouts.

All of which explains why Mr. Davis still faces a close re-election contest. California hasn't elected a Republican statewide since 1994, and the media long ago declared Mr. Simon a goner. But a new poll this week shows him within striking range at 40% to 32%, with one in five voters still undecided. This is bad news for an incumbent whose record voters know.


One recent [Davis] ad asserts that "a jury of 12 Californians ruled Simon's company defrauded its partner." That ad ran after a trial judge threw out the civil fraud jury verdict against Mr. Simon. The judge declared that Mr. Simon's company was the real victim of fraud and awarded it $125,000 in legal fees.

Mr. Simon is trying to refocus the debate on such trivia as the state's economic future. The Republican is proposing to slash the capital-gains tax -- which hits Silicon Valley hard -- curb lawsuits and workers' comp, and reform endangered species laws that punish agriculture. He also wants to expand cooperation with private contractors to rebuild the state's neglected roads. All of this is worth debating, along with a state budget deficit already expected to be at least $10 billion next year.


Watching the polls, the national GOP is finally saying it will throw as much as $2 million into the race. And Mr. Simon recently loaned his campaign $4 million. But that pales compared to the $31 million that Mr. Davis has in the bank, money raised from business on the promise that he'd veto the kind of onerous mandates he is now signing to save his career.

California voters tune into politics notoriously late, and many are clearly unimpressed with both candidates. The magnitude of the state's problems, Mr. Davis's enduring negatives and the fact that Mr. Simon can now run free of his legal problems means they may yet deliver an upset.

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Top 10 Reasons Not To Go To War With Iraq

The ever-thoughtful Cato Institute presents its Top Ten well-reasoned factors against war with Iraq.

The Man Without Qualities thinks war with Iraq is a necessary and beneficial thing, well worth the price.

But every citizen should weigh carefully the pros and cons of something as serious as a war. The President, the Republican Party, the conservative portion of the mainstream press and the right side of the Blogosphere have all done a very good job of explaining the reasons for invading Iraq.

But none of the liberal mainstream media, the Democratic Party or its "leaders" or (strikingly) the left side of the Blogosphere has been producing much other than jibberish in this area.

So it is worth pondering seriously what the Cato Institute has to say.

UPDATE: The Man Without Qualities is not impressed with Cato's points. For example, many of them are of the "Arab street" variety - which make no more sense now than they did in the case of Afghanistan. Here's an article from Arab News (sent by an astute reader) that pretty much blows that concern away.
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Democracy, Liberal Democrat Style

As discussed here in prior posts and by many other people in many other venues, Senator Daschle and the Democrats are complaining that the Republicans are "politicizing" the Iraq war question.

This Michael Kinsley article exhibits the other - simultaneous and entirely inconsistent - position the left is attempting: "Shouldn’t we all have a say in deciding whether our nation goes to war with Iraq?"

In a democracy, "the people" normally and mainly "have a say" through the campaign and election process.

But, of course, to the very dapper Senator Daschle that would be prohibited "politicization." Can't have that.

In sum: From the Democrat's perspective, the country can't go to war without everyone "having a say" - and we can't let people "have a say" because that would mean bringing the war up as a campaign issue, which is "politicization."

Conclusion: No war possible. Got that? An algebra problem.

Isn't that tidy?

The only thing the Democrats leave out is the reality of all those dead people on September 11 - and the great many more dead people we can look forward to if Saddam and his kind continue to go unaddressed.

UPDATE: The Star Tribune does one-half of the liberal algebra problem.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Chimp Relations

Scientists reportedly now suspect that chimps and humans are not as closely related as once thought.

Where prior studies suggest that 98.5% of the human genetic code can also be found in the chimp, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the true overlap may be only 95%.

These chimp/human overlap reports have always confused the Man Without Qualities. And it's not just that Jane Goodall's emotional and physical relationships with her chimps have always seemed - for my tastes - a little too close for comfort. (Does she know when she's got hold of an ugly one?). It's just that while it's is all very nice to say that the human and chimp genetic codes have a lot in common, it has always been my understanding that most of the human genetic code is not used at all - but has apparently been deactivated for a very long time. [Indeed, my memory is that in the course of a single, port-drenched dinner two Nobel Prize Winners (one a winner for monoclonal techniques and the other for cat brains) told me that.] Only a small part of the DNA in a human cell is therefore active in cell operations, and I have always assumed the same is true for chimps, too.

My confusion arises because I have never been able to determine from the popular media coverage (such as this linked article) if the "overlap" studies include comparisions of inactive genetic material. If the studies do include such comparisions, then why is it not possible that much of the active human code only overlaps with the inactive chimp code - and vice versa. Wouldn't that mean that a 95% (or 98.5%) "overlap" could be all but meaningless?

Or is the "overlap" implicitly restricted to the active portion of each genome - and that technical aspect of such reports just suppressed in the popular version? I must confess that I have never taken the time and effort to read an original paper. However, I have little doubt that a considerable portion of the readership of the Man Without Qualities curls up with their subscription copy of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from time to time. So perhaps one of them knows.

Just asking.

UPDATE: TurnedUpToEleven posts a remarkably transparent (given the technical nature of the material) and very enlightening explanation answering the above questions. TurnedUp also makes the telling point that humans appear to be at least as closely related to bonobos as to chimps! Take that, Jane Goodall!

FURTHER UPDATE: By the way, while I very much like TurnedUpToEleven's well-considered response to my post, it is worth noting the portion of that response that actually addresses my questions:

Dr. Britten suggests, based on his analysis of a few million base pairs of the genomes of chimps and humans (about 0.1%), that we may be off in our estimate, and that it is probably closer to 95%. As far as Mr. Musil's concern goes, this study does not distinguish between "useful" DNA and "junk". The best guess, however, is that there isn't going to be a difference, but that, if anything, the functional genes are probably more similar, because they are constrained by their function. That is, the gene that encodes for hemoglobin is more restricted than an equal sized region that does not encode a gene, because what ever changes that hemoglobin gene, its essential function must be preserved. So, it is most likely that the "junk" DNA is not identical, with all the functional genes varying, but rather the other way around. In this sense, the very close similarity between our "junk" and chimp "junk" is further evidence of our close evolutionary pairing.

I think that the "best guess" of a good scientist is worth a lot, and deserves a lot of respect. I also think that a "best guess" is a guess. Further, the proposition that functionality can be expected to constrain genome structure is appealing, as is the corresponding thought that "junk" portions of the genome should be able to drift more.

But if functionality were really so important to genome structure, it is a little odd that there is already a 95% overlap in genome structure even where one considers portions of the genome with no apparent functionality. And if the "junk" portion of the genome actually plays some ill-understood structural role in the genome itself (as TurnedUp suggests may be the case), then how do we know that such internal structural "functionality" does not impose more uniformity than is imposed by external "functionality." For example, if one builds a building out of bricks, the internal engineering funtionality of the walls will have a lot more to say about the ordering of the bricks than does the ultimate external function of the building - a fact which is apparent simply because the exact same building can function as a church or a disco. It seems to me that this kind of thing can only be answered by experiment. But I do not see anything in what has been discussed so far that prohibits a regime in which some simple internal structural role of "junk" DNA may be shared by many animals and cause the "junk" over time to assume a highly unified, definite, shared pattern in many genomes - but where relatively minor differences in external functionality cause vastly greater differences in "useful" DNA sequencing.

In the alternative, if the "junk" DNA represents once-functional DNA which has been superseded by later evolutionary developments, it seems that the "overlap" might be exaggerated in the "junk' portions of the genome. For example, if most of the "junk" comes from a period before chimps and humans evolutionarilly diverged, then all (or most) of the divergence will be reflected only in the "useful' portion of the genome. If that were the case, then studies that do not distinguish between "junk" and "useful" DNA might exaggerate the degree of evolutionary similarity.

Moreover, there are plenty of examples of biological systems that serve the same function but seem to have very different structures. For example, the mouse immune system and the human immune system serve the same "function." But the differences betwen the mouse immune system and the human immune system have demolished more than a few immunological theories. It doesn't seem to me to be much of a stretch to ask whether those differences are reflected at the genome level. Of course, primates have more and deeper "functionality" in common than do rodents and humans.

So, as Aaron Haspel observes, TurnedUp's post is convincing. It convinces me that my first question (Do the studies distinguish between the "junk" and "useful" portions of the genome?) has been definitively answered.(The studies do not distinguish). But my subsequent question (Does this mean the overlap percentage may not be very meaningful?) has not been answered, but does lie within the still-to-be-tested zone of a good scientist's good guess. Actually, several guesses. That's OK with me. Maybe that's what Aaron means by my being "set straight."

Aaron's "mapping fallacy" point is a generalization of the "junk/useful" question. I asked whether the "non-junk" overlap in the chimp and human genones is extensive (Answer: the evidence supports some best guesses that it is extensive - but that's not what these studies are actually saying.). But Aaron points out the danger of concluding too much from even an extensive overlap of the "useful" portions if it is confirmed, a point with which I strongly agree.

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But Watch Out For Buffy

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bill Bennett notes how Al Gore has consigned himself politically to the ranks of the walking dead with his Commonwealth Club speech:

Mr. Gore's speech reminds us that it really does matter who is president -- and that if he were president, the war against terrorism would be conducted in a radically different manner. Last September, Americans breathed a sigh of relief in reflecting on the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Now we have reason to be grateful once again that Al Gore is not the man in the White House, and never will be.

No member of the walking dead has ever so perfectly looked and sounded the part. Indeed, it is surely the role Mr. Gore was born to play! HIS TIME HAS COME ROUND AT LAST!
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Central Park Jogger

By the way, anybody not following The MinuteMan's continuing series on the Central Park Jogger case is making a mistake. It's the best. Here and here and here and here - and the links!
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Regime Change in the Senate?

You know the Democrats are really getting desperate when even the normally sensible ones in the bunch feel they have to start carping about the president's "legitimacy" (yes, yes, Florida again!) in efforts to stop the coming Iraq war.

I guess those rumors of the probable coming "regime change" in the Senate have a lot more to them than I had thought.

UPDATE: Some recent MSNBC/Zogby Poll tracking poll results show some interesting spreads.

Some examples:

Minnesota – Senate Republican Norm Coleman (47%) leads Incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone (41%)

Missiouri – Senate Democrat Jean Carnahan (48%) leads Republican Jim Talent (40%)

New Jersey – Senate Democrat Bob Torricelli (39%) leads Republican Douglas Forrester (34%) [Is Torricelli really as "endangered" as McAuliffe (nee Clinton) says?] [UPDATE: You bet he is!]

North Carolina – Senate Republican Elizabeth Dole (55%) leads Democrat Erskine Bowles (32%)!

South Dakota – Senate Democrat Tim Johnson (46%) leads Republican John Thune (43%)

lots more
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Starbucks as Starter Home

The Man Without Qualities has an Italian friend (well, actually, his family has lived in Turkey for almost 100 years in Istanbul's "Western Quarter" and he's considered a "Turk" on his American immigration papers, which he's really annoyed about - but that's another story) who denounces Starbucks' coffee as "Cheap, burnt, over-priced, over-roasted, undrinkable swill!"

But I point out to him - with apologies to Mr. Allen - that, yes, it is cheap, burnt, over-priced, over-roasted, undrinkable swill, of course, but as cheap, burnt, over-priced, over-roasted, undrinkable swill goes it's some of the very best! The Starbucks niche is a kind of "starter home" for serious coffee drinkers. After a while, once the exoticism of the espresso-based Starbucks drinks wears off, many Starbucks patrons will want to move further upscale and drink good espresso. They may even learn not to drink any kind of milk in their coffee after dinner and that a double espresso just before bedtime can help one to sleep (an old Italian trick)!

Of course, not every Starbucks patron will move upscale or want to. But the net effect should be more and better coffee and more and better coffee houses!
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Torricelli Flame-Out Casts Light on Daschle-Gore Crack Up

Senator Torricelli just doesn't get it. In fact, at least with respect to understanding his own ethics problems he appears to have lost it.

Curiously, the good Senator appears to retain his ability to recognize acts of political suicide by other Democrats:

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, who was trailing his Republican opponent badly in the polls, called Mr. Gore's speech "not relevant."

"I don't think it has any effect on Democrats' thinking at all," Mr. Torricelli said.

[Croooow Blog wonderfully demonstrates what an intellectual and political mess Mr. Gore has become.]

The symptoms of partial disassociation Senator Torricelli is manifesting seems to be shared by Senator Daschle, who is quoted in the same linked article as saying:

"A lot of people in this country have many of the same concerns that ... vice president [Gore] spoke about. But I think at the end of the day, there's an interest on the part of most Democratic senators to express support for the effort [in Iraq] and to give the president the benefit of the doubt. ...I must say, I was very chagrined that the vice president would go to a congressional district yesterday and make the assertion that they ought to vote for this particular Republican candidate because he was a war supporter, that he was bringing more support to the president than his opponent."

The Senator Majority Leader has now further expanded on his sentiments:

"So, Mr. President, it's not too late it end this politicization. It's not too late to forget the pollsters, forget the campaign fund-raisers, forget making accusations about how [un]interested in national security Democrats are ..."

Since the senior New Jersey Senator is exhibiting so much lucidity in the area of the Iraq war, perhaps someone might want to ask him how he thinks Senator Daschle is going to make his "Stop politicizing the War!" charge stick while the nation is receiving embarrassing transmissions from the Goreocosm [ click for a detailed rebuttal to the Goreocosm transmission] such as:

"In the immediate aftermath of September 11th," Mr. Gore said, "we had an enormous reservoir of good will and sympathy and shared resolve all over the world. That has been squandered in a year's time and replaced with great anxiety all around the world, not primarily about what the terrorist networks are going to do, but about what we're going to do."

With Mr. Gore intoning such things - and Senator Daschle treating them seriously and suggesting the rather obvious fact that a lot of other Democrats in Congress agree with Mr. Gore - how can Senator Daschle argue that a candidate's position on Iraq is not an important election issue?* Is it Senator Daschle's view that voters shouldn't be thinking about and voting about whether the country should go to war? Senator Daschle thinks that a candidate's telling the voters where the candidate (and an opponent) stands on the war issue is prohibited "politicization." Are the voters just supposed to find out the details of their representative's positions on waging war as a surprise after the election - like someone popping out of a cake at a wild party? If it were the case that Democrats support the war just as much as Republicans then Senator Daschle would likely be in the right - but that is not what he's saying. And it just isn't true. Of course, some Democrats think the President is right and clearly split with Mr. Gore. But astute observors think the bulk of Congressional Democrats agree with the bulk of Mr. Gore's complaints, for example. There are even hints of an "80/80 Rule": 80% of Congressional Democrats may support 80% of Mr. Gore's complaints. But it appears Senator Daschle urgently wants to hide that fact and its consequences from the voters. [ * Mr. Daschle was reminded that the particular Presidential quote to which he was objecting actually pertained to the Homeland Security Bill, not Iraq. Details, details - the Senate Majority Leader responded that he wasn't being that limited or picky in the basis for his assault on the President.]

Is that what Democracy means? What happened to all those Democrats calling for a "national debate" on war with Iraq? And what was the point of the "national debate" the Democrats have been demanding (even as they refused until recently to participate in such a debate) be if not to affect the composition of the decision-making bodies involved in determining whether and how such a war should be waged? If a particular Democratic candidate objects to being characterized as unsupportative of an Iraq war, then the candidate can just say to the media: "I support the President's position as much or more than my Republican opponent!" Of course, if that's not true, the Democrat has to choose between uttering a public lie and accepting accurate criticism. That's good.

Domestic issues are going to be a major feature of this election, as Mr. Gore is correct to point out and exploit. But efforts to take the war out of the campaign are at least as foolish as any delusion that domestic issues can be completely swamped by war issues. It all properly goes into the hopper, although some polling results suggest that most voters deem terrorism and national security to be more important issues than the economy:

Despite the stock market drops and a lackluster economy, the public sees terrorism as having a higher priority for the nation right now over the economy and jobs. By 55% to 33%, Americans say terrorism and national security, instead of the economy, should be the nation's higher priority.

So why the heck does Senator Daschle think that the set of issues deemed by the electorate to be the most important facing the country be excluded from the campaign debate? The calculated efforts of Congressional Democrats to suppress the war debate even while demanding that the debate must occur before military action is taken is having some strange results: 44% of polled voters (and a majority of Democrats) say members of Congress have not asked enough questions about President Bush's policy on Iraq, while one in five say they have asked too many questions. And to educate and satisfy the voters, there is no one better for a member of Congress to ask questions of than another, competing candidate for Congress.

The Man Without Qualities does not generally view Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal) as a constructive person. However, she certainly got it right in her NPR discussion:

"[W]e have all said to the president in order to build consensus in our country for a course of action, the American people have to know at what cost; at what cost in terms of human lives of our young people; at what cost in terms of dollars, especially if we go it alone--it could cost tens of billions of dollars; at what cost in the war against terrorism; and at what cost in terms of the length of an occupation of Iraq that may be necessary if, indeed, Saddam Hussein is toppled."

Ms. Pelosi is not just advocating a number-crunching exercise. She is correctly urging a political process to determine whether the voters and their representatives are in allignment in their considerations as to whether the costs of a war are acceptable. And an essential part of making sure that the voters' views are alligned with those of their representatives as to what constitutes an acceptable cost is to determine during the campaign whether a particular candidate in fact accepts the costs and supports war with Iraq. That's not "politicization" - that's democratic, representative self-government.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

TIME's Fool II

The Daily Howler (scrowl to bottom) now posts - finally a transcript copy! - Sandy Berger's bizarre, unexplained retraction of his TIME interview assertion that he handed over an anti-al Qaeda "plan" to the incoming Bush Adsministration:

BERGER: Now, the second question you asked—which comes off of the Time magazine story, I think—was there a plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition? I could address that.

The transition, as you will recall, was condensed by virtue of the election in November. I was very focused on using the time that we had—I had been on the other side of a transition with General Scowcroft in 1992. But we used that time very efficiently to convey to my successor the most important information—what was going on and what situations they faced.

Number one among those was terrorism and Al Qaida. And I told that to my successor. She has acknowledged that publicly, so I’m not violating any private conversation. We briefed them fully on what we were doing—on what else was under consideration and what the threat was. I personally attended part of that briefing to emphasize how important that was. But there was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect.

Now, of course, the question everyone is asking is "Will TIME run even one of those little corrections that hardly anyone reads? Or maybe it was always just a big joke, so there's no need?"

Croooow Blog also wants to know if Josh Marshall is planning an acknowledgment of error (or worse).

Link via Croooow Blog

UPDATE: An astute reader points out that Eric Alterman also tippled in Mr. Berger's Cool Aid. Indeed, the Alterman column is still warm. No admissions yet.

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Monday, September 23, 2002

Clueless in Berlin

The Times of London reports that "a senior diplomat" (apparently, a senior German "diplomat") said:

“The Bush people are worried that the German resistance will prove to be a rallying point for other critical Europeans ahead of a possible war.”

"The German Resistance." Think of that choice of words from a "a senior diplomat."

This same Times of London article reports that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder "moved to repair an increasingly fraught relationship with the United States by sacking two senior politicians" : Ludwig Stiegler, head of the Social Democratic parliamentary grouping, who had compared Mr Bush to a Roman Emperor lording it over his colonies and Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Justice Minister, who compared Mr Bush with Adolf Hitler.

A Roman Emperor lording over colonies and Adolf Hitler. And now the irresponsible, opportunistic antics of Herr Schröder's campaign and continuing intransigence become "The German Resistance" to "a senior diplomat." Like the heroic French Resistance in the 1940's.

Herr Schröder! Number three for the sack!

Maybe President Bush should congratulate Herr Schröder by having Colin Powell send him some White Roses? After all, wouldn't it be diplomatic to condescend to the new government's offensive "German Resistance" delusion? Isn't that what one should do to abide those once admirable but who descend into senility? Somebody has to provide the responsible adult supervision - and it apparently isn't going to be Gerhard Schröder's crowd - including his "senior diplomats."
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A 4.8 might be noticed in California. Might even make it to the happy talk local news.

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Sunday, September 22, 2002

Uber die Dummheit [Wieder, Mehr]

Associated Press is calling the German election for the Social Democrats.

German voters opt for de facto support of Saddam Hussein and a reduced chance of urgently needed economic reform. In particular, the smaller-government Free Democrats will be excluded from power entirely (of course, the antics of Juergen Moellemann show the dark side of even that party).

UPDATE: One gets the feeling that German elites have talked themselves into thinking that wide sweeping reforms are simply impermissible. The reasons are cultural. Individualistic Americans see government as "Uncle Sam"; the collectivist-oriented Germans, as "Vater Staat," or the paternal state. They are historical. Remember hyperinflation in the 1920s, if you wonder why Germans are risk-averse. Or the lethal fragmentation of Weimar, if you need to ask why Germans adore consensus and things like "Mitbestimmung" or co-determination, which allows unions a powerful voice in the ways companies are run. There's even the German character if you're reaching for an excuse. The poet Hoelderlin once mused about his fellow countrymen: "tatenarm und gedankenvoll" -- weak in deeds, but rich in thought. In the end, though, these excuses are mostly rubbish.

Wacky German "kulture," in the context of modern history, was seen as competing and inconsistent with, "civilization" (i.e. responsible Democracy). This fight between "kulture" and "civilization" was a hallmark of German politics for decades. The whole mess is nicely outlined in Paul Johnson's wonderful book "Modern Times".

“Uber die Dummheit” (“On Stupidity” - included here), a lecture that Musil delivered in Vienna in 1937 - note the date - deserves special attention for its relevance to this election and the german cultural and political experience. "Anyone, these days, who would have the audacity to talk about stupidity would be running serious risks: such audacity may actually be interpreted as arrogance, or, in a nutshell, as an attempt aimed at upsetting the development of our age." Particularly relevant is Musil's analysis of “the higher, pretentious form of stupidity” —the “real disease of culture,” in Musil’s opinion, which infiltrates even “the highest intellectual sphere” and has consequences throughout society. “The examples,” he dryly notes, “are pretty blatant.”

And they remain so today.

Parts of the essay sound as if they might have been taken from a Social Democrat strategy paper: "If stupidity did not resemble progress, talent, hope and improvement quite so perfectly, nobody would want to be stupid".

In particular, it looks like it's going to be a long, cold four years in US/German relations.

UPDATE: From a stock market's perspective, not every election contains real information. It seems this one did. But the real test will come in the near future.
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The Evil That Title IX Does

Title IX, of course, is the federal the law "prohibiting sex discrimination" in federally funded institutions. An already huge and growing body of evidence indicates that by any reasonable definition of 'discrimination" Title IX is likely the nation's largest single source of sex discrimination in college sports - as this this New York Times article again confirms.

The article describes male "walk ons" - male athletes who are not recruited for athletic scholarships - being turned away in droves because of Title IX-induced restrictions on their sports, even as women's teams scour their campuses for female "walk-ons".

It is hard to know what is more appalling here, the actual harm inflicted on these young men, or the unspeakably hostile, self-serving, insensitive and (of course) deeply sexist comments of the interviewed female coaches, including this pearl in which the chairwoman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's committee on women's athletics denigrates male walk-ons as people who never actually play but just want to be "part of the group" so they can talk about it years later:

"If you're not going to get your uniform dirty during games, you shouldn't be on the team," said McNeil, who is also the chairwoman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's committee on women's athletics. "I believe there is still an opportunity for a walk-on to bloom on our teams, but there has to be a cutoff date for those who just want to hang around. We can't afford it. It's time to tell these students: `You've got other talents. Go write about sports at the school newspaper, join the debate team, or maybe you've got a nice voice and belong on the stage. Some guys just like to be part of the group. Then 10 years later they will talk about being on their college team, when the fact is they never played."

So, there has to be a cutoff date for those who just want to hang around. And it's just fine with Ms. McNeil if the "cut off date" for male athletes is the date the school decides not to recruit you before you even arrive on campus, but for female athletes the "cut of date" is the date of, say, graduation. For this comment alone, Ms. McNeil should be ejected from her position with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. But the problem is clearly much bigger than one such intensely myopic and bigoted thug. The problem goes all the way up to Congress and back to foolish voters.

UPDATE: The Man Without Qualities is always thrilled to be graced with a link from, one of my very favorite blogs. But it is not true that I am angry at Ms. McNeil, even as the call goes out from these quarters that she be ejected from her position with the National Collegiate Athletic Association as an intensely myopic and bigoted thug! I would no sooner get angry at Tony Soprano. But one expects people favoring a position for Tony as the chairman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's committee on women's athletics would be in short supply. And let's face it, it wouldn't just be because Tony is a guy. It's because he's an intensely myopic and bigoted thug. After all, someone who makes his point with pearls like "I'm the motherfucking fucking one who calls the shots" is no more or less desirable as the chair of such a committee than someone who who trills that "there has to be a cutoff date for those who just want to hang around. We can't afford it. It's time to tell these students: `You've got other talents. Go write about sports at the school newspaper, join the debate team, or maybe you've got a nice voice and belong on the stage. Some guys just like to be part of the group. Then 10 years later they will talk about being on their college team, when the fact is they never played."

No, it's not that I'm angry with Ms. McNeil or people like her, it's just that there has to be a cutoff point for those who just want to hang around as chairpersons of committees like this saying embarrassing things that practically invite litigation, among other things. We can't afford it. It's time to tell these chairpersons: `You've got other talents. Go write about sports at the local newspaper, develop your skills (so strongly suggested by the tone of your remarks to the Times) for picking the exactly right New Jersey bridge abutment into which those who disagree with people like Tony can be entombed, or maybe you've got a nice voice and belong on the stage (who knows, maybe you're a soprano!). Some people just like to be part of the committee, but they really just end up imposing their own thoughtless, unexamined biases through their official position. Then 10 years later they will talk about being on the committee and forging "progress", when the fact is they never really understood how much they used their powers to hurt the innocent young people they were supposed to be helping.

You know. I'm just trying to help Ms. McNeil find the position that's right for her so she can be HAPPY.

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Saturday, September 21, 2002

Saddam, Mr. Nice Guy

Isn't it nice of Saddam Hussein to make life easier for George Bush like this.

The New York Times says Saddam had made life more complicated for the President by agreeing to inspectors, so maybe the Iraq president felt bad and is now trying to make it up to Mr. Bush by refusing to agree to any new UN resolution (that is, one that differ from Saddam's "deal" with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - who, of course, had no authority to bind the UN or the US).

If Mr. Hussein holds his ground on this new demand, and the Security Counsel resolution is "unacceptable," the problem the Times thinks it sees just goes away.

Who knew Mr. Hussein could be such a sweetheart?
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Another Way Frank Rich Is Wrong

Frank Rich says: "no one can even try to make a case for the legitimacy of Saddam's regime."

Little did he know: here, and here and here and here (in response to here) and, of course, generally, here.

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More Evidence that Germany Is Hopelessly Detached from Reality

No sex for soldiers while in active service.

This is supposed to keep up morale.

One can just imagine the study that supports this move:

"Soldier, would it make you happier if we prohibited everyone from having sex? Not just you, you understand, but everyone?

"Ja! You bet it would! None of us can stand the idea that someone else is getting more than we are."

Does that sound right?

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The Coming Torricelli Flame-Out

New Jersey Democratic Senator Torricelli has been fighting to keep every fragment of the ethics/bribery case against him as secret from the public as possible.

As noted in a prior post, his efforts are wrongheaded and counterproductive - since they increase suspicions against him (and voter and media hostility), and will probably be worse than ineffectual in that the information he is trying to keep secret will simply escape at what, for him, is the worst possible time.

That worst possible time is starting now - with just weeks until the election. And sure enough "a federal appellate court on Friday ordered the release of a government letter that sought leniency for Cresskill businessman David Chang, convicted of illegal campaign contributions to the senator."

More to come.

Senator Torricelli has ben arguing preposterously and counterproductively that the Chang letter should be kept secret to protect the Senator's "privacy". The appeals court addressed that argument by noting that Torricelli himself has "already made public statements attempting to refute the very material he now wants us to suppress from public view. ... As far as the Senator's privacy was concerned the ink was in the milk.''

My guess is that a lot of Jersey voters - especially the Independents, who are less likely to inhabit an apparent Democratic ethics-free zone - will be thinking about the Senator's inky milk when they enter that booth in November.


The New York Times, in an article that could almost be mistaken for a solicitation for emergency campaign contributions for Mr. Torricelli, reports no anxiety on the part of either the Times or top Democrats that a person so tainted with ethics and bribery charges may again be elected to the Senate as a Democrat. No. No. The Times predictably sounds a different alarm :

Prominent national Democrats now regard Senator Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey as their party's most vulnerable Senate incumbent, prompting concern that his endangered seat might cost Democrats control of the Senate.

But, of course, to be fair to the top Democrats, their anxiety is not limited to possibly losing the Senate if Mr. Torricelli loses. Some Democrats are, of course, attuned to the larger ramifications of Mr. Torricelli's situation. Such as how that situation might affect the ability of other Democrats to get hold of all the money they want:

Some Democrats also say they are concerned that the party's focus on New Jersey threatens to limit the money and other resources that are available for other Democrats as their party flushes more and more into New Jersey.


And while last week the Times reported that some Democratic voters in New Jersey are deeply troubled by Mr. Torricelli's ethical problems, the same apparently cannot be said of big Democrat donors:

But Mr. McAuliffe and other party leaders also say that the interest generated by the Torricelli race has helped draw more money than they expected. "Bob is bringing millions of dollars in," Mr. McAuliffe said. "If anything, Bob is creating excitement out there and helping raise more money."

That's the spirit, Mr. McAuliffe. Show 'em who got you that job!

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Friday, September 20, 2002

A Trap Swings Shut II

The New York Times is now explaining on the front page that the Republicans will be aided by the fact that: No matter what the Democrats do now, Iraq considerations will dominate the media until election day..

Or, as the Times puts it:

The significance of the war debate, Republicans say, is that, by crowding out the issues Democrats wanted to talk about, it changed a race that had appeared to be shifting toward the Democrats in midsummer.

Imagine that. Don't they read Frank Rich at the Times?

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Truant II

The "Reverend" Jesse Jackson seems to have missed more class days at the Seminary than I had previously thought.

Now he says:

“Since he’s not gonna volunteer, it means you have to kill Hussein. In order to get to him you’re going to have to kill a lot of innocent people - to get to him. It’s reminiscent of biblical times – killing all those children to get to Jesus.”

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TIME's Fool

Shakespeare was right, "Love's not TIME's fool!"

It turns out that TIME's fool is Bill Clinton's former national security advisor, Sandy Berger, who just back in August was busy telling TIME that the Clinton administration had prepared a major, magic strike against al Qaeda, which the Bush Administration delayed!

Well, what a difference a few months, some third-party investigations, and an oath (or at least the applicability of the Federal False Statements Act) can make - at least if you're not Bill Clinton!

Apparently under oath and definitely before Congress, Mr. Berger yesterday is reported by Foxnews to have contradicted "published reports" (that is, Mr. Berger's own August TIME interview) that the outgoing Clinton administration gave the incoming Bush team a plan to go after Al Qaeda. He also said that he heard of the possibility of airplanes being used as weapons as one of several possible threat scenarios. Mr. Clinton himself had previously confessed earlier this year that his administration's plans had a "high probability" of failure, and that he personally declined to pursue any such plan. Which is good, I guess, since Mr. Berger is now saying that there was no plan to pursue in the first place.

In addition, Newsmax is reporting that during the same Congreessional testimony Mr. Berger also insisted "that the Clinton administration never received an offer from Sudan to extradite Osama bin Laden to the U.S., directly contradicting President Clinton's statement earlier this year that he personally turned down the Sudanese offer in 1996."

Links via Croooow Blog.

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Thursday, September 19, 2002

Larry Sabato Sez Some of These Senate Elections Are Stranger Than You Think

Some particularly odd aspects of two upcoming Senate elections are highlighted in bold below.


LARRY SABATO's CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: Toss-up (Highly competitive)

Democratic Senator Jean Carnahan, appointed after the tragic race of 2000, is no better than a nominal favorite to win the remaining four years of the term technically won by her husband, the late Governor Mel Carnahan. Congressman Jim Talent, the unsuccessful 2000 GOP gubernatorial nominee, is a strong challenger who probably would have been governor had it not been for the plane crash that killed Governor Carnahan and created an enormous last-minute wave of sympathy for the Democratic ticket in Missouri two years ago. It is becoming apparent in public and private surveys that Talent is doing quite well, and that IF this trend continues, he will have a decent chance to beat Carnahan on election day. However, there are too many unknowns remaining in this race, and the Crystal Ball is not yet ready to say that it is leaning to Talent.

It should be noted that the Missouri match-up is technically a special election to fill the remaining the four years of the term of the late Gov. Carnahan. As such, the winner will likely be sworn in within a few days of the Nov. 5 election, assuming Democratic Governor Bob Holden doesn't sit on the official certification of the results produced by the elected Republican Secretary of State (Which Holden may well be tempted to do). Therefore, if Mrs. Carnahan wins, the effect is nil. But if Talent should capture the seat, and there are no other changes in the Senate before then, the Senate would revert to Republican control for any lame-duck session in November/December. With Trent Lott the Majority Leader again, this would have some dramatic effects, potentially, including the possible approval of Bush judicial nominees currently bottled up in the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee. This prospect--tantalizing for Republicans and nightmarish for Democrats--will undoubtedly increase the focus on and fundraising for this contest as election day approaches.


LARRY SABATO's CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: Likely Republican (Highly competitive)

After an unusual eight years of Democratic rule in Republican Alaska under Governor Tony Knowles, Alaska seems to be reverting to form with Republican Frank Murkowski, the current junior U.S. Senator from Alaska. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer is a credible Democratic nominee, but her only real chance is in the mad collection of third-party and independent candidates on the ballot in Alaska, which may drain more votes from Murkowski than from her. Still, Murkowski is firmly in the frontrunner's saddle, and he has to hope that Alaskans do not prefer in the end to keep his Senate seniority by electing Ulmer.

By the way, if Murkowski does win, he will be able to appoint his U.S. Senate successor. The new Alaska governor takes office on December 2, but by law (passed by a GOP state legislature), Murkowski must wait 5 days after his Senate resignation to appoint the successor. This provision was enacted to prevent outgoing Democratic Governor Knowles from getting the Senate appointment--though again under law, would have had to choose a registered Republican for the open seat. If the Congress has a lame-duck session, and the GOP has achieved majority status through the election of Jim Talent in Missouri (see Missouri Senate race), then Murkowsi's resignation might deprive Republicans of their temporary majority for the 5-day period.

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Corporate Reform Goes to the Republicans

The most recent Pew Survey results report many interesting things - including a rather predictable uptick in the President's standing. Although the report is certainly not clear good news for either party, at least one result is especially curious:

[T]here is no evidence that Democrats have been able to capitalize on a summer's worth of corporate scandals or a sagging economy. Republicans hold a slight 36%-31% lead as the party better able to deal with corporate corruption. Republicans have lost the lead they held early this year as the party better able to handle the economy; the two parties run even on this issue, mirroring the parity in the congressional ballot.

It is interesting to ask whether the electorate sees through the O-so-opportunistic Democratic grandstanding on this issue, especially over the summer.

The poll also indicates some Democratic strengths, including that "turnout is likely to be on par with the 1998 midterm congressional election, but that, unlike 1998, Democrats express as much interest in voting as Republicans at this stage of the campaign".

Of course, very few seats in the House are truly competitive - so such general poll results can be seriously misleading as a measure of House results. The Connecticut 5th Congressional district (Johnson/Maloney), for example, is supposed to be "competitive" - and here's a Republican poll for that District.

On the other hand, the Senate races are not gerrymandered. But, even there, state-by-sate polling is much more important. For example, here's a Republican New Jersey poll.
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Saddam and Germany

William Safire says that Social Democrat Rudolf Scharping, who Mr. Safire describes as "the defense minister who had been recently booted out of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet for financial irregularities," has a strange way of explaining why President Bush wants to depose Saddam Hussein. German justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, is reported to have said that "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used." Chancellor Schroeder himself embarrassingly claims "This was always our aim, to get the weapons inspectors back in," while the Wall Street Journal (or rather, a Journal op-ed by the Christian Democratic Union's shadow foreign and defense minister) points out that the Chancellor strongly opposed the very American actions that brought Iraq to request the return of the inspectors - even in its current diversionary sense. The Journal article dramatically claims that "the chancellor has for his own personal gain plunged the federal republic into an international crisis." The Washington Post has accused the Chancellor of isolating Germany through unilateral obstructionism and refusal to cooperate even with a United Nations resolution.

All of these developments flow from the Social Democrats' weakness on German domestic issues, leading them to capitalize on what they see as a short-term popular international position. One might - and many will - write about the cynicism, opportunism and destructiveness of the Social Democratic approach. But a narrower issue is: what effect is the most recent wave of the German-left excess having on German voters? Until recently, the Social Democrats were able to increase their standing in the polls with this issue without sounding so extreme as to trigger the very claims of 'German isolationism" that are now being heard around the world. Many German people very much dislike the thought of their soldiers being sent into battle under any conditions - but it is at least possible (I would say probable) that even more Germans even more strongly dislike the thought of Germany being branded as a "unilateralist" determined to obstruct the functioning of international law, in this case the Security Council. The Best of the Web links to a Times of London article reporting that even before the most recent German-left excesses, polls showed a tentative resurgence of the Christian Democrats. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) tomorrow also points out that the Chancellor's claim to having assisted in bringing Saddam around is false and calls the upcoming election "too close to call." None of this reflects very well on the German electorate, who have had years to discover how ineffectual and downright dishonest their current government really is - and should have much better judgment of international issues, too.

To be fair to the German electorate, the round of German-left excess, the resulting recriminations and then the even worse German-left excesses - such as the bizarre statements of Social Democrats Scharping and Daeubler-Gmelin - may have arrived with a bang. But analysis of the significance of such developments is now available to German voters, if they care to see what is happening. The FAZ, for example, runs an editorial tomorrow including the following:

[O]nly Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, [are] red-faced on the international stage. The German version of unilateralism - “we don't care about UN resolutions“ - reduces the international pressure on Iraq. Baghdad was able to interpret Schröder's “without us“ and his brusque criticism of the United States as a serious rift in the Western alliance, yet in the end Saddam could no longer count on the German chancellor because Schröder, the unilateralist, became internationally isolated and thus minimized his own influence on the United States. By raising doubts over the West's willingness to push through UN resolutions with military action, Schröder hindered his self-professed goal of a political solution.

If, as suggested by some recent polls, the Social Democrats' excesses have already passed the point of diminishing returns with the German electorate, then the most recent developments coupled with statement's such as the FAZ analysis may well accelerate and intensify that process. The Germans may to some extent justify themselves in this election, yet.

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Gore the Mudak? II

"How can a guy who ran for president and other offices be such a lousy people person? This is a guy who never came back to us after that debacle a couple of years ago, never thanked us for the hundreds of hours we devoted to saving his sorry ass, never called, never wrote. Then he shows up in 2002 like it all never happened. He's useless."--an unnamed Palm Beach County, Fla., Democratic operative, quoted in The American Prowler, Sept. 19

Link Via Best of the Web

"Mudak" (Russian curse): "complete idiot/loser." Derived from the Tartar word for testicles.
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An Inspector Suggestion

Both Lileks and Galt have lots of sharp things to say about weapons inspections in Iraq. The Man Without Qualities thought just enough about the practicalities and strategies of weapons inspections to realize that I would need at least two more lives to think the whole thing through.

But I do have one wirthwhile consideration that hasn't been publicly vetted (perhaps for good reason):

My guess is that the United States knows some - but not all - exactly or reasonably specific - locations of Iraq's WMD centers, and that the evidence of such locations is very sensitive. Suppose an acceptable panel of experts (acceptable to whom I will leave as a seriously open question - but say the Security Counsel and the US intelligence agencies for the moment) could be formed and the evidence of such locations disclosed to that panel. The Security Counsel resolution requires that Iraq disclose all locations of WMD, and authorizes military force if that is not done. As a non-exclusive enforecement mechanism, the resolution also states that if Iraq does not disclose a single site that the panel knows about then Iraq is to be conclusively deemed in material defiance of the resolution. Iraq does not know which locations the US (and the panel) is aware of - so if Iraq fails to disclose even one location, that location may be on the "known" list.

Is the above feasible, and would it provide a meaningful incentive for Iraq to disclose? Would it help call the multilateralist bluff? Or would it just confuse the situation?

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The Washington Post reports:

President Bush plans ... today [to] formally ask ... Congress to grant him authority to strike unilaterally if Saddam Hussein does not comply soon with United Nations mandates to forfeit his weapons of mass destruction .... Bush's proposed congressional resolution would give him "maximum flexibility" to carry out any war plans, regardless of U.N. actions .... Should the Security Council reject Bush's proposed resolution, the administration is prepared to make clear it believes it has authority to act unilaterally under a "self-defense" clause in the U.N. charter. .... Congressional leaders predicted swift passage of the proposed [Congressional] resolution

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