Man Without Qualities

Saturday, September 14, 2002

A Trap Swings Shut

New York Times columnist Frank Rich began as an avowed theater critic - and remains an unavowed theater critic, reviewing without significant insight or depth the surfaces of world events as if they were theater performances. Reading Mr. Rich's column, one is continually reminded of the old New Yorker cartoon of a father changing a flat tire in a desolate landscape, while he squawks at his small daughter who is petulantly leaning from the car window: "No, we cannot change the channel. This is real!" Could Mr. Rich not have a plaque with the Shakespeare quote "All the world's a stage ..." somewhere in his office?

But while it is worse than pointless to refer to Mr. Rich for depth of insight, he often reveals tellingly if inadvertently the liberal establishment's unguarded reaction of the moment to the first flash of a major new development. Then, Mr. Rich's columns are to the liberal establishment like horribly unflattering snapshots of them guilelessly clicked at an uncomfortable social event. And so it is today, as Mr. Rich reels from the effects of President Bush's United Nation's speech and discovers all at once the awful truth: No matter what the Democrats do now, Iraq considerations will dominate the media until election day.

Perhaps the Democrats will stall a Congressional vote, against the President’s wishes. In that case, the media coverage will probably be dominated by tales of the Congressional maneuvering and its effect on the elections. Perhaps the Democrats will permit a Congressional vote. In that case, the media coverage will be dominated by tales of the consequences of those votes on individual Congressional elections and, most importantly, by tales of international and military developments as the Congressionally-empowered President (for there is no serious chance he will not prevail in such a vote) moves the nation towards war. Either way, international considerations will loom much larger in the media coverage through the upcoming election than the Democrats desired. And for the most part, Democrats will be reduced to publicly supporting the President as all that goes on. Of course, that is not the same thing as saying that individual elections will likely turn on such developments - social security, drug prices and the like will still burn through the Iraq fog. But their influence will be reduced about as much as they can be reduced in any off-year election.

How could this have happened, Mr. Rich fumes? He says that the 'real reason" the President waited until September was to avoid the media doldrums of August. An innocuous quip of Andrew Card is presented to support this rant, but does nothing of the sort. Nevertheless, the President and his team have probably played a very skillful game of politics on this issue. Their political efforts have not been as devious and effective and long-running as Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to bring the nation to its acceptance of World War II while cementing his own political position and that of his party, but the Bush efforts have essentially done the same job. The Democrats attempted to lie low and withhold specific comments provoking a true national debate on an Iraq incursion during the summer. But the "unexpected" comment by Messrs. Scowcroft, Baker, Kissinger and Eagleburger forced a national debate anyway. Odd that so many loyal Republicans, all of them closely connected with the President's father, chose to speak out while the Democrats saw it in their interest not to speak out. The result has been months of real national debate - and the elimination of one the Democrats' main arguments that might have held things off until after the election: we can't have a Congressional vote until we have had a national discussion. Mr. Rich sulks that the national debate has been mostly a Washington affair - but this is clearly wrong. He is even reduced to quoting from Peggy Noonan's pre-UN column ("Time to Put the Emotions Aside"), while disingenuously failing to mention her post-UN follow-up column ("Back With a Roar") - even though it was available at the time Mr. Rich wrote his column. Surely it is a sign of desparation that Mr. Rich is reduced to reliance on such an omission.

Mr. Rich is driven to rely extensively on the argument that the United States - which fought World War II in both Europe and Asia - cannot hope to run a war against Iraq and al Qaeda at the same time. It seems to be an unfortunate coincidence for Mr. Rich and the liberal establishment that just days after the President's central United Nation's speech - which turned the tables on the multilateralists and has his UN critics and their followers seriously on the run - the United States has at the same time engineered the capture of a top al Qaeda operative and broken up a terrorist cell in Buffalo, New York. As the Times put it: The twin breakthroughs in the antiterror investigation came at the end of a week in which Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, were warned of a high risk of further attacks, and heard the Bush administration set out its arguments for taking the campaign against terrorism into Iraq.

But by far the most entertaining thing about this screed by a man who cares about little but entertainment value, is its palpable sense of the big city slickers waking up to understand that they have been snookered by the country bumpkin.


UPDATE: Saudi Arabia seems to have figured some things out. If this Saudi resolve is durable, another major objection to an incursion dissolves: the absence of local allies willing to allow bases from which the invasion may be launched and maintained. Qatar has already indicated it may allow its territory to be used.

Will Tom Daschle and the New York Times ever catch on?

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It's the Turn Out and the Independents, Silly

The New York Times runs a strange and intellectually dishonest article on the New Jersey Senate race. The article purports to discuss whether Mr. Torricelli might be saved by the argument that the race is not just "a contest between Mr. Torricelli and his Republican challenger, Douglas R. Forrester, but a choice between a senator they view as ethically compromised and the risk of a Republican-controlled Senate." The Times article is strange because if focuses entirely on how well this argument is carrying among already serious Democrats.

The article itself admits that in New Jersey: "Among registered voters, 25 percent are Democrats and 18.6 percent are Republicans." The polls quoted in the article indicate where one should look for relevant electoral developments: "[T]wo polls released this week show Mr. Forrester with a slight lead among likely voters and an unusually high percentage of Democrats wavering." With only 43% of all New Jersey voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans, the most important questions in this race are: "Will independent voters turn from Mr. Torricelli because of his ethical problems and vote for the Republican, Mr. Forrester, instead" and "Will Democrats vote at all in the Senate race? In particular, will Mr. Torricelli's ethical problems cause a substantial number of Democrats not to vote at all in the Senate race?"

But the Times reporters don't talk to or even discuss the independents at all and they don't ask the "wavering" Democrats the pertinent question. Instead, voter after Democratic voter is quoted as ultimately coming out for Mr. Torricelli, either easily (“I'm not finding it a difficult choice ... Torricelli is not a warm and fuzzy guy, but that's not in my top criteria.") or after some hand wringing ("I have struggles with it," ... [I]n addition to the threat of war, "I'm concerned about the role of social services, about shortchanging our poor while rewriting the tax laws" to favor the wealthy). But these are hard-core Democrats. They are not likely to vote for the Republican challenger. So the Times is soliciting answers to a misleading question. Mr. Torricelli himself isn't wearing such blinders, since "the argument" is described as "a view that Mr. Torricelli would like more voters to take" - not just Democratic maybe-non-voters.

The article says: "The argument seems to play well in this town full of Democrats, which gave Mr. Torricelli 70 percent of the vote in 1996 and the new United States senator, Jon S. Corzine, 72 percent in 2000." Of course the argument "plays well" in such a town - if the voters are assumed to come out on election day. This is news? Further, the Times reporters knew before asking their questions that "the argument" would play better in such a town than in any other kind of town, but they stay exclusively in that environment. In fact, the polls suggest that turn-out may be poor among Democrats: "In the independent Quinnipiac University Poll, 29 percent of registered Democrats said they did not think that Mr. Torricelli had 'the honesty and integrity to serve effectively' as a senator. In the Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll, only 50 percent of Democrats said they held a positive opinion of him, while 35 percent said they were reserving judgment." The Times has the polls, why not ask the questions the polls suggest?

The Times self-imposed restrictions allow it to paint a much more positive picture (although still not really positive) of Mr. Torricelli's position than would have been possible if the issue had been raised in its relevant political terms, as described above. But the Times failure to go beyond those restrictions suffuses this article with a delusional sense of denial. Although all the voters interviewed here decide one way or the other to vote for Mr.Torricelli, he is still trailing in the likely-voter polls.

UPDATE: Jane Galt focuses on the awful moral dimension of the Times story and its quotes from Democratic voters cynically choosing personally to vote for a corrupt man to represent them in the Senate. The Times reporters themselves fail to treat this dimension at all, as if they were interviewing Mary and Paul Bland just before dinner - and it's all no big deal.

FURTHER UPDATE: Things are so bad with Torricelli that Ted Barlow is agreeing with Jane!
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Welch on Independent Directors

At the margins, the Man Without Qualities has always had reservations about the cult of Jack Welch - especially when it comes to the description of his own management principles as written by Jack Welch.

But there is no denying his results at General Electric or his practical business genius. That genius shows up as he demolishes with supreme insight one of the most peculiar suggestions that the "corporate reform" crowd has been advancing: the virtue of loading the board of directors of a public company with so-called "independent directors." (He also rather successfully defends himself from recent attacks on his post retirement "perks" andf scores a good hit at the New York Fed chief's unsupported - and probably unsupportable - implication that executive compensation in this country is generally inefficiently high)

Independent directors are nominally just directors who are not part of company management. But, as the term is being used now by the "corporate reform" crowd, it often carries an implied requirement that an "independent director" be someone who is not very wealthy and is not a member of the business elite. The point of this proposed "reform" seems more political than economic. Worse, there is often an implied suggestion that "independent directors" actually represent special interest groups - such as environmental or civil rights groups. Such 'special interest" directors would breach their fiduciary duties to shareholders almost by definition.

Non wealthy independent directors are not meritless. But that merit does not lie in any supposed tendency their presence has to align the interests of company management with the interests of the shareholders. Rather, there is often a benefit of having the views of a smart, friendly person who is not part of management. Small doses of this are enough. In fact, anyone who has experience with the management of public companies should know that this kind of "independent director" is normally the most docile. Mr. Welch certainly shows that he knows when he says:

The independent director issue worries me to death, because what do you want out of a director? You want intelligence, common sense, independence, the willingness to speak out. If you get people that the compensation of the board, their compensation on the board is critical, I think they're less likely to. No offense to faculty members or foundation heads, but the income from a board is more significant to them than a wealthy person who might have a one percent conflict.

Mr. Welch addresses the problem of non-wealthy independent board members. But attempts to rely on wealthy independent board members also pose problems. The Man Without Qualities has in earlier posts pointed out that very wealthy directors whose fortunes are not derived from the company on whose board they serve have much more to lose if they neglect their fiduciary duties. In a sense, their personal fortunes constitute a kind of 'bail" or "bond" posted to guaranty their willingness to abide by their fiduciary duties. This economic effect is straightforward (indeed actual bail and bond systems are based on this observation), but political bias prevents some people from seeing what is economically obvious. (One may wonder if such people would support abolition of bail in criminal cases.)

But for this very reason, it is not often easy to find such board members. Rich, ethical people who want to "post' their personal fortunes for no other reason than the opportunity to serve unrelated public investors are just not that plentiful. However, if the director compensation is fairly high (although not what management earns) and the company is perceived to be run by the board in a transparent, ethical manner (so that the risk to the director of liability from charges of malfeasance are low), it may be possible for a public company (or at least some of them) to attract such people. But if board compensation is high enough to attract such people, the more aggressive members of the "corporate reform" crowd will argue that the board has been "bought off." For example, this argument has been made about Enron, despite the absence of substantial evidence to support such a position.

And such people often also have a personal connection to management (friend or prior business partner, for example) that can partially offset their independence. This kind of informal personal relationship is hard to track and account for. For example, what company wants to tell its CEO that he can't be friends with members of the board of directors? The CEO is supposed to try to remain on good personal terms with each board member - where's the line? And who would want to police such a line?

In sum, Mr. Welch points out the problems with non-wealthy independent board members, and reliance on wealthy independent board members is also highly problematic. The bottom line is that "independent board members" are not a likely answer to aligning the interests of management and shareholders. The corporate reform crowd should dream another dream.

So let's hear it for Jack Welch. Sometimes retirement can confer the kind of independence on a former CEO that allows him to say the politically unpopular things that he couldn't have said while he was charged with representing the interests of shareholders.

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Friday, September 13, 2002

Janet Reno Unbound

The State of Florida has turned down Janet Reno's request for a recount, despite reports of possibly extensive errors in the voting process.

If she has learned anything from her years in the Clinton administrations, she will now pull out all the stops and challenge the Democratic primary results in Florida courts and in the court of public opinion - and she will pay no heed whatsoever to any damage this might do to the Democratic Party. In fact, she should be especially willing to engage in activities that inflict the maximal damage on her own Party. Why? Because she, personally, has nothing to lose - and she can trade a credible threat to demolish the Democrats for some serious personal benefits.

Janet Reno was born on July 21, 1938. She is 64 years old. This is therefore her last opportunity for an elected office she might want to hold. But if she concedes, she has failed - and she's on her own. But if she challenges the results, she has some chance of upsetting her opponent's victory.

The Florida Supreme Court squarely demonstrated in the 2000 Presidential election mess that it cares not a bit about anybody's concept of Florida election law. That court is completely partisan and result-driven. If the individual justices who sit on that court personally voted for Janet Reno in the primary, they may find a way to appoint her the Democratic nominee if the case comes before that bench. Ms. Reno should keep in mind that the absence of judicial integrity of the Florida Supreme Court is a wildcard in any court challenge to the primary results, and potentially a major asset for her. Even if that court would not ultimately side with her, the court's history of political opportunism creates a serious uncertainty that she can exploit for her own ends. Where there is uncertainty there is opportunity.

She should challenge the results in court. Then, before the Florida Supreme court rules on the matter, she can strike a back-room deal with the Florida or national Democratic establishment to concede the primary in exchange for some serious personal benefits. Perhaps she can obtain an influential appointment in the Democratic Party from Terry McAuliffe, the head of the national Democratic Party and the Clintons' current spokesperson. Perhaps some Democratic-leaning investment bank will make her vice-chairman at a high salary despite her complete absence of qualifications for such a role - just as Al Gore accomplished. But she should let her imagination take her where it may. These are her salad days.

Ms. Reno should have learned from the Clintons the wisdom of trading on the Democratic Party's fortunes without remorse to advance her own. After all, Bill and Hillary Clinton liquidated the Party's decades-long dominance of Congress in 1994. In 1996 Mr. Clinton gained re-election by "triangulating" away from the Congressional Democratic Party. And, of course, Mr. Clinton's own oval office self-indulgences with his intern may very well have been the deciding factor in costing the Democratic Party the White House in 2000 - where Mr. Gore should have won in a walk on the basis of the long-term prosperity of the Clinton years.

Ms. Reno should follow suit and ignore the nay-sayers who counsel that she not challenge the legitimacy of her opponent's win. Instead, she should challenge that legitimacy in every available forum. She should pay no heed whatsoever to naive suggestions that she do what is "best for the Party". That Party long ago chose the Clinton way, and she is entitled to play by those rules. There is no reason she should play the chump just to serve the interests of Mr. McAuliffe (nee Clinton).

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O, The Horror of It

From 1992 until January 2001, the heightened prospect of opening the paper to an image of Bill Clinton's ghastly, exposed, flabby, white, jogging thighs added a new terror to the morning of every American. Since then the "flabby thigh risk" has declined - from, perhaps "orange" to "green" with the inauguration of the new President.

But all this progress will be lost if the public is now to face the dreadful prospect of images of an erect and aroused Chelsea Clinton. Surely this is an unprovoked attack on the American magazine reading public that should not go unanswered.
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More Tyco Follies

Floyd Norris of the New York Times seems headed in the right direction in asking how likely it is that a management team that looted Tyco did not play games with the company's financial statements and its representations to investors.

Mr. Norris even broaches the tender subject of investment bank complicity: "Along the way, we are told, Mr. Kozlowski got an unnamed brokerage firm to replace one analyst with a friendlier one and then exchanged gifts worth thousands of dollars with that analyst."

But if Mr. Norris' suspicions are borne out - and the Man Without Qualities believes they are likely to be - it is rather easy to see how Merrill and Goldman could be drawn into the ensuing maelstrom way beyond any bank complicity in the Enron mess. Tyco is a conglomerate, put together in a huge string of mergers and acquisitions in which Merrill and Goldman were intimately involved and for which they earned huge fees. Indeed, they are hoping to earn more huge fees breaking the company up. The Man Without Qualities has no bias against huge fees, or against investment bankers profiting where the opportunities arise. However, if Mr. Norris is on target, and Tyco management has committed serious securities fraud in the course of executing the series of transactions that formed the existing company, how likely is it that the super-smart investment bankers that made it all happen had no inkling of what was under the sheets?

Tyco looks as if it is on the brink of replacing all - or almost all - of its board of directors. In addition to the Justice Department, SEC and New York investigations, the company has hired David Boise to aid it in its investigations of prior management. Mr. Boise is very smart and thorough. And working for a new board would mean he would be probably be fully incentivised to uncover anything prior management tried to hide. So it looks like there is a good chance that many of past management’s efforts at concealment will be unavailing, if such efforts were made.

Of course, no one has yet shown that past Tyco management did any of those bad things. So no one has yet shown that there was any bad thing for the investment banks to facilitate. Future investigations may turn up nothing.

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Thursday, September 12, 2002

President Daschle

"I don't think that the case for a pre-emptive attack has been made conclusively yet."

- Senator Tom Daschle following President Bush's United Nations speech

The Associated Press calls that "qualified support." But does it sound like any kind of "support" to the reader? Or does it sound like opposition?
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More Off Notes

There is something about the current Florida election mess that has disoriented the normally highly oriented folks at the ABC Note. The Note gets off to a good start with a cite to the Democratic leaning Miami Herald's election post mortem editorial, which includes priceless lines such as:

"Blame for this inexcusable electoral meltdown must go to the county elections supervisors whose primary responsibility is to plan and organize elections. It might be argued -- and probably will be argued -- that the state failed to give county supervisors enough resources to guarantee a relatively error-free election. But that just would be a lame excuse."

Somehow that doesn't sound like Florida Democratic voters will be getting all that riled at Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

But that doesn't keep the Note from its unsupported near-certainty, as it insists:

"One near-certainty is that Democratic voters in Florida will get energized over this new round of voting chaos to a degree we doubt cries of "Remember 2000" would have achieved. And Governor Bush's cavalier dismissal of Reno's voting problems on Tuesday is likely to further boost that sentiment."

What evidence does the Note cite to support its near-certainty? Only the opinion of Adam Nagourney, a reporter for the New York Times, arguably the nation's leading vendor of anti-Bush propaganda, whose report only says (predictably) that Democrats will try to use the vote foul-up against Bush (of course they will) - not that there is any indication that auch efforts will have any substantial effect:

Suddenly, as even Mr. Bush's advisers acknowledged today, Florida was on the verge of becoming a national joke again, and Democrats were asking why it was that that Mr. Bush's government unable to fix what was clearly a major problem in the way his state was run …

Of course, it is just Mr. Nagourney's argument that the Miami Herald says is a lame excuse.

Further, as the Note correctly admits: "[S]ome Democrats fear that by pushing the idea that this election got screwed up, they will be tainting their own nominee by casting him or her as the product of a flawed election." And those "some Democrats" are right - especially after the stink Democrats made about the "legitimacy" of George Bush's election after the 2000 mess.

I don't mean to criticize all of the Note's coverage of this mess. For example, the Note astutely points out that McBride will probably have an easier time raising money than Ms. Reno would have. But some of the off Notes are pretty bad.

With respect to New York, the Note today pretty much confines itself to marvelling at the reportedly huge amount ($75 Million, or is it $100 Million?) Mr. Golisano is going to spend in his doomed bid for the governorship, as if all of that money is going to be spent attacking Mr. Pataki. I cannot believe Mr. Golisano, a man who has accumulated over a billion dollars in personal wealth, is so naive that he doesn't understand that most of his money will have to be spent selling himself affirmatively to the New York voters and that he must also spend money attacking Mr. McCall. Also, since the $20 Million Mr. Golisano spent in the Independence Party primary was just barely enough to keep Mr. pataki from taking that away from him, some deeper questions about the efficacy of his future anti-Pataki expenditures are also in order.
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The Gray State

Most media have written off GOP Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. Undeterred by any memory of the Truman-Dewey run, the Los Angeles Times, for example, wrote on September 8 that "It's time for the GOP to wake up to reality: Bill Simon is going to lose the gubernatorial election in November.". A company controlled by Simon was hit with a politically damaging jury award in a civil fraud case of more than $70 Million. Simon's Democratic opponent, Gray Davis, reopened a 14-point lead in the polls. Simon's campaign was deemed hopelessly incompetent, while David hammered him with negative commercials - especially commercials focusing on that fraud award. Most recently, the media (especially the Los Angeles Times) has deemed Simon's disavowal of a gay-rights questionnaire that his campaign had answered sympathetically to have been the final, fatal catasthophe.Former Reagan White House adviser Lyn Nofziger, who was briefly an adviser to the Simon campaign, publiclly said Simon is being stupid. Simon is all washed up, right?

Not exactly. The race has taken some unexpected turns. Despite running an allegedly "incompetent" campaign, Simon has halved his poll gap with Davis, who now leads by only 7-points and has clearly lost momentum. Worse for Davis, the number of undecideds actually increased, to 22%, up from 16%. While the Times spins this last result as a "pox on both their houses" ("The more voters see these candidates, the less they're sure they want to vote for either one."), the increase in undecided voters clearly cuts more against the incumbent - who the voters have known for many years. In fact, Mr. Davis' disapproval ratings top his approval ratings. The Times spin also ignores the fact that the voters have mostly been seeing Simon through Davis commercials and hostile press coverage (such as the Times'). Simon, relatively short on funds compared to Davis, is clearly planning an end-loaded campaign whose efforts will increase quite a bit in the next few weeks. That kind of campaign has also been a hallmark of Simon's main advisor.

And now the California judge hearing that fraud action has tossed out the entire verdict (both compensatory and punitive). Having made such a big deal of this fraud action in countless television ads, Davis will now have an interesting time explaining its annulment. Davis' focus on the fraud action has always been more than a little desperate and dangerous for him, since that focus brings attention to ethical considerations generally - where Davis is extremely vulnerable for many questionable activities in building his gigantic warchest.

While the race is very far from over, right now it looks to the Man Without Qualities that Mr. Davis will probably be looking for a new job in November. That may have more to do with Davis' own problems than with Simon's political genius. But, before dismissing Mr. Simon's political intelligence, perhaps one should spend some time pondering Mr. Simon's come-from-behind win over of Richard Riordan in the Republican primary. And I don't recall the "main stream" media ever relenting in their assertions that Ronald Reagan was a dope - even as he eventually handilly defeated their favored candidates one by one by one.


UPDATE: TechCentral's C.C.Kraemer has some very perceptive things to say on this topic.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Tyco Follies

The New York Times reports:

Tyco is also planning to file its own lawsuit as early as today against the former chief executive, L. Dennis Kozlowski. Tyco will seek the return of his income and benefits since 1997, an amount that is at least $250 million. ... The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, plans to indict Mr. Kozlowski as well as Tyco's former chief financial officer, Mark H. Swartz, and the company's former general counsel, Mark A. Belnick, on charges that include conspiracy to commit fraud, larceny and enterprise corruption, these people said. The S.E.C. is expected to accuse the men of securities fraud and plans to seek millions of dollars in penalties.

The period with respect to which the new charges pertain is interesting: since 1997. For example, investment banker Richard Johnson worked two years at Tyco before returning to Merrill Lynch's mergers group in late 2000. Mr. Johnson is now a senior officer of that group. Merrill is now reportedly vying for fees from a planned break up of Tyco, which also had very close ties to Goldman, Sachs during this period - and has such close ties now.

Can the rot at Tyco be so broad and deep as the prosecutors are saying without Merrill and Goldman being heavilly involved?
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Some Off Notes?

The generally astute ABC Note makes some curious points about the election results in Florida and New York. In Florida, the Note says:

Governor Bush, on the other hand, will be weakened by the ballot fiasco. Putting politics aside, he IS the governor, and he failed to insure that a working system was in place. Ordering the polls to stay open two additional hours was hardly a solution. Adding politics back in: all of this has the potential to revive the "get-the-Bushes-for-election-irregularity" energy that once promised to drive Democratic efforts in the Sunshine State this year. Republican bravado aside, honest GOPers will quietly say that if McBride holds on to his current lead, this is going to be a competitive race. The debacle in Florida, replete with yet more sound and video of frustrated voters, has and will continue to dominate what coverage there is of the primaries, while strategists on both sides sift for clues as to what the mess will mean for Jeb. Democrats charge that the mess represents yet another big Bush promise gone unkept, arguing that he pledged to fix the state's education system, child welfare system, and elections systems — and hasn't.

Perhaps the Note has something to back up a conclusion that the Governor of Florida will be weakened by a fiasco attributed in the media I have seen mostly to Democratic-controlled county governments. As the Note points out, Mr. Bush IS the Governor - not a county supervisor. Perhaps there are exit interviews or some other evidence showing that people who would otherwise have voted Republican (or Democrat-leaning voters who would otherwise not have voted at all in November notwithstanding problems with the state's education system and child welfare system) will now turn out and vote Democratic because of a voting fiasco in the Democratic primary, especially one attributable to Democratic county workers. That evidence would be interesting. Weird, but interesting.

With respect to New York, the Note opines:

New York was great for Democrats because wealthy self-funding candidate Thomas Golisano appears to have defeated GOP Gov. George Pataki for the Independence Party line on the November ballot, and is expected to spend millions to try to take the governorship away from the Governor.

Setting aside for a moment Pataki's huge warchest and his even bigger political skills (those are mega things, but put them aside), with New York you now have a heavily Democratic state; a heavily favored group of Democrats running for other offices; a candidate who will likely unite and turn out the Democratic base with his historic effort; the Clintons working hard to win this; and a multimillionaire who will pound Pataki with ads all fall, orchestrated by a wily, experienced consultant (Roger Stone) who remembers well his run-in with the Governor over Trump business.

All of which lands this race on the edge of the radar screen, while still not squarely front and center. But Republicans — who remain worried about the November message and practical implications of losing a lot of governorships this year — could now be facing races in New York and Florida that weeks ago looked like easy wins.

Except that the counterfactual in the prior paragraph ("Setting aside for a moment Pataki's huge warchest and his even bigger political skills (those are mega things, but put them aside)") is still needed to reach the conclusion that Republicans "could now be facing races in New York ... that weeks ago looked like easy wins." What is the purpose of this nonsense? And why stop with counterfactual assumptions that just "set aside" Mr. Pataki's huge warchest advantage and political skills (by the way, exactly what does this leave to consider? Pataki's hairdo?), why not just "assume for the moment" that Mr. Pataki has just had himself lobotomized and will announce a previously secret pederasty conviction? HEW-WHEE! Under that assumption New York Republicans could now really be facing a race in New York that weeks ago looked like an easy win! Who cares?

Further, the Clintons only declared their support for Carl McCall, the winner of the Democratic primary, a few days ago (against the interests of Mr. Clinton's own former cabinet member, Andrew Cuomo). That's hardly a sign the "Clintons [are] working hard to win this" - at least so far. Nor is any evidence put forward by the Note that Mr. McCall is "a candidate who will likely unite and turn out the Democratic base." Is Mr. McCall, an African-American, expected to embrace or repudiate Al Sharpton, for example? Which choice "unifies the base" of the New York Democratic Party?

Perhaps most remarkable of all is the Note's insistence that Thomas Golisano's "defeat" of Mr. Pataki in the Independence Party primary is really significant. Significant enough to make the election results in New York "great" for Democrats. How likely is this where Mr. Pataki almost beat Mr. Golisano in Mr. Golisano's own primary even though the New York Times says he spent more than $20 million on anti-Pataki television advertising and direct-mail appeals? In fact, the New York Times reports: "A statewide poll released Monday by Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion, had Pataki leading McCall, 51 percent to 34 percent, among registered voters."

Is it unfair to the Note authors to suggest that the whole collection of New York counterfactual and weak considerations almost seems to be a set up for the assertion that Mr.Golisano "will pound Pataki with ads all fall, orchestrated by a wily, experienced consultant (Roger Stone)?" Do none of the Note authors know Mr. Stone personally as a friend? They don't say they do.

So I guess they don't.

Do they?

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Seems Like Old Times

There are many reports comparing the current voting machine disaster in Florida with the events of November, 2000. And lots of silly Floridians are talking conspiracies:

"The poll workers told her to go home because the voting machines did not work, said Love-Jackson, 42, an unemployed Carol City resident. "It's a lot of Republican bull to keep Bush in," said Love-Jackson, who speculated that somehow the unopposed GOP governor was trying to determine whom he would face in the November general election.

But Ms. Love-Jackson and other such conspiracy advocates may want to take note that the Florida counties control the mechanics of balloting in that state, and the problems are again concentrated in Democratic-controlled counties: Dade and Broward, especially, where Ms. reno has outpolled her opponent by 2-to-1 (although 14 of Florida's 67 counties, including six of the seven that were sued after the 2000 vote, were reported to be experiencing at least some trouble). Also, the problems may be affecting the Democratic primary - the Republican nomination for governor is not in question.

So if there are shenanigans going on, doesn't it make more sense to ask whether one faction of the Democratic Party in these troubled counties has manipulated the voting process to harm the other Democratic faction? Janet Reno is trailing. Shouldn't her thoughts and accusations be that her opponent's faction might have rigged the election though his county-level followers? ("Poll workers didn't show up, forcing some precincts to open late into the morning. And some Democrats were given Republican ballots.") Shouldn't the whole matter devolve into a hideously self-destructive internecine war among Democrats in which they level against each other all the same accusations the Democrats hurled against Bush in 2000 and plan to revive in 2004?

After all, if one is going to go off on a paranoid tangent the way these Florida Democrat conspiracy advocates are doing again, shouldn't at least the rough direction of that tangent have something - if only something small and insubstantial - to do with reality?

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More Calls for Rubin Questioning

The Washington Times is demanding that Robert Rubin be formally questioned under oath for his and Citigroup's increasingly murky roles in the Enron scandal. If Senator Lieberman's committee won't do the questioning, then perhaps Rep. Billy Tauzin's House Energy and Commerce Committee could issue the subpoena. That committee should have some time on its agenda, since it has just terminated it's preposterous grandstanding show of harrassing Martha Stewart and finally referred her case to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, where it always and exclusively belonged at the Federal level.

For its part, Citigroup is now reorganizing so that Mr. Rubin will have more power and authority in running the Citigroup investment bank, known as Salomon Smith Barney, which is now under extensive Federal investigation in connection with its role in several scandals in addition to the Enron scandal.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Jill Stewart Dissents

Jill Stewart is fed up with certain aspects of September 11.

I don't agree with much of what she writes, but it's interesting that she's willing to go against the tide, and she makes some good points.

Ms. Stewart takes a level headed, down-to-earth approach. And her article to some extent illustrates the old adage: "If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, then you probably don't completely understand the problem."


UPDATE: Mickey Kaus points out:

The semi-official party line on the right, regarding the 9/11 anniversary, is to disdain blubbery mawkishness in favor of clear-eyed action -- as puts it, "Remember and move on. There is work to be done." Jennifer Harper echoes the theme in a forceful Washington Times essay and Peggy Noonan says "a certain coldness is in order."
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Crystal Ball for 2002

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has interesting things inside.

Link via Best of the Web.

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Monday, September 09, 2002

Relative Miracles

Lodged in rubble and narratives of the disasters now nearly a year old are events seen by Peggy Noonan and some others as possible miracles, such as the discovery of a cross formed from fallen girders, as well as many individual stories of apparently miraculous escapes and human bravery. And where people consider miracles they nearly always consider God, who Ms. Noonan also writes was brought "Back" to New York by the tragedies. In this sense, miracles - or possible miracles - bring people to God, like horses to water. Ms. Noonan notes, for example, that her teen age son thinks hilarious her thoughts of the miraculous.

A year later it is natural and appropriate to remember the events of last September 11 elegaically, at least if one does it as well as Peggy Noonan. But it is not the only way to remember. So while it is natural and appropriate to remember elegaically, I want to remember with some modest personal thoughts on what a miracle is or might be.

It's often convenient to start an analysis with a definition, if only as a sacred cow to pat as one passes by. Unsurprisingly, "miracle" has many definitions to pat. One could look to the Bible. ("Miracles are those acts that only God can perform; usually superseding natural laws. Baker's Dictionary of the Bible defines a miracle as 'an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God.'") Similarly, St. Augustine (354-430) defined a miracle as anything that happens "contra quam est nota natura" (in defiance of natural laws known to us). One could consider "miracle" as a term employed to discuss a supposed competition of science and religion. ("Let us define a 'miracle' simply as an event which violates at least one law of nature. ...[I]t is sometimes additionally required that miracles be caused by a supernatural being. For our purposes and in the interest of economy, that further requirement can be dispensed with. Alternatively, a miracle is sometimes taken to be any extraordinary event, particularly one that provides someone with a great benefit.") One could consider definitions which in themselves prohibit the recognition of miracles. David Hume claimed that miracles were impossible events and therefore did not happen as there is no way to prove their existence

But a definition is a tool, and I want to my own tool, which I call "relative miracles." Starting with any set of logically consistent principles (say, some formulation of modern science), then a miracle relative to those principles is defined to be an event that is not determined (that is, predicted) by applying those principles to the state of the world prior to such event and could not be determined by application of any consistent extension of those principles to the state of the world prior to such event. Specifically, a miracle relative to modern scientific principles is an event not determined (or predicted) by applying modern science to the state of the world prior to such event - and which could not be determined by application of any consistent extension of modern science.

Miracles relative to scientific principles do not have to violate any such principle (remember, this is by definition). So they need not satisfy St. Augustine's requirement of "contra quam est nota natura." Instead, such a relative miracle merely has to be not determined (predicted) by those principles - so in this sense my definition is weaker that St. Augustine's. But a "relative" miracle must also not be predicted by any consistent extension of scientific principles, regardless of whether those principles have yet been discovered. In this sense, the "relative" definition may be stronger than St. Augustine's, for example, since he seems to have restricted his considerations to "natural laws known to us".

It may also be worth noting that merely because a given set of principles is consistent with the later occurrence of a particular event, it does not necessarily follow that one could consistently add a definite prediction of that event to the original principles. For example, suppose a particular event (say, a meteor landing) actually occurred east of the Mississippi, but prior to the event a given set of scientific principles predicted that the event had a 50% chance of occurring east of the Mississippi and a 50% chance of occurring west of the Mississippi. The definite assertion that the event would happen east of the Mississippi is not consistent with the original principles because adding such an assertion is inconsistent with the conclusion that there is a 50% chance the event would occur west of Mississippi. On the other hand, if the original principles did not address the event at all, then one could consistently add a definite prediction of that event including its location to the original principles. In this sense, the "relative' definition of the miraculous avoids the famous objections of David Hume. The reader is invited to compare other defintions of "miracle" with the relative definition.

I think the relative concept of a miracle is important because people do not start from a blank slate in assessing unusual events, and for several centuries now there has been a perceived displacement of the religious - especially the "miraculous" - by scientific principles. So it seems worth while to ask: are there events whose full explanation is necessarily denied to us even in principle once we accept modern science? As long ago as St. Augustine (in the Confessions, for example), serious religious thinkers have realized that no amount of reasoning could alone lead one to faith in God - reason's role was seen as limited to bringing one into a position for a separate and irrational "leap of faith." (This Augustinian realization was curiously rejected by St. Anselm's "ontological proof" of the existence of God. But that is another story.) For example, that acceptance of modern science may itself deny the possibility even in principle that certain events can be fully explained will not interest everybody, but it may intrigue a scientific skeptic who believes that “A miracle is nothing more than a natural law not discovered.”

Are "relative miracles" possible? They may be, at least relative to certain formulations of quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein famously exhaled in skepticism over the indeterminism of at least the so-called "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics that "God does not play dice with the universe." He was reportedly hopeful that the probabilistic conclusions and theories of quantum mechanics might be completable by a (possibly deterministic) subquantum theory explaining individual measurement results. That is, Einstein was hoping for a "deterministic hidden-variables" theory, that is, one in which the value of the hidden variable uniquely determines the measurement result. It was not to be - at least relative to the Copenhagen interpretation, which is non-deterministic, if one also believes in the principle that the "hidden-variables" cannot transmit information instantaneously (hidden-variables conforming to this restriction are called "local"). The Irish physicist Bell demonstrated that all local hidden-variables theories - including those needed to provide a deterministic foundation - are incompatible with quantum mechanics.

The "Copenhagen formulation" has been the formulation favored by most textbooks. But other, even deterministic, versions of quantum mechanics exist, including an impressive formulation by Bohm. Many scientists also believe that any meaningful hidden variable theory must be "local," and and nonlocality has not been experimentally demonstrated.

Of course, quantum mechanics famously concerns the action of very small objects. However, it is not hard to imagine that events on a molecular level - especially if the molecule in question is DNA, RNA or the like - could have quite profound macroscopic consequences. Many a frisky young couple has discovered such things - or at least experienced the results of such things - for themselves. And more than one religion is based on the curious, particular qualities of a single baby.

Many topics related to the one discussed here are treated in the recent and beautiful book Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action.


UPDATE: More elegaic, cold Noonan gold.

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Falling Up

Most years the Man Without Qualities is visited in his Los Angeles abode by an old friend who now works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This friend stops off on his way to the South Pole - there to study the "universal background radiation" for several nippy, white-nighted months. He once spoke to the first-grade classmates of the Man Without Qualities' son - a touching experience in which many more questions were raised about Santa Claus and polar bear-penguin relations (none) than about the residual energy from the "Big Bang" that pervades the Universe.

Now he sends news in the form of a front page article from the Chicago Tribune concerning his new telescope project and the very latest developments in anti-gravity (which is becoming a very big deal):

South Pole telescope to probe mystery of `dark energy'

By Ronald Kotulak
Tribune science reporter

August 30, 2002

Astronomers from the University of Chicago and four other institutions plan to build a unique telescope at the coldest place on Earth to figure out the biggest mystery in cosmology: Why is the universe, in a sense, falling up?

Funded by a $16.6 million National Science Foundation grant announced Thursday in Washington, the team expects to have the telescope running at the South Pole in four years.

Its mission is to explore a recent discovery that has turned physics on its head. Two years ago astronomers were stunned to find evidence suggesting that the universe is in the grasp of dark energy, a puzzling antigravity force that is causing it to expand at an ever-accelerating rate.

Cosmologists--scientists who ponder the origins of the universe--had thought that the expansion either was constant-- gradually spreading but
basically staying the same--or that it was slowing. If gravity were causing the universe to slow, then it would eventually collapse on itself, ending up in what has been called the Big Crunch. This would be the opposite of the Big Bang theory that the universe came into existence in a gigantic explosion 10 billion to 15 billion
years ago.

An accelerating universe, on the other hand, would mean all stars, galaxies and other matter would spread apart so fast and become so diluted that over billions of years the universe would be nothing but a void.

What it comes down to is that scientists know very little about gravity. It used to be clear that gravity was an attraction between bodies, and on Earth that meant things always fell down.

But cosmologists now suspect that on the scale of the universe, gravity, propelled by something they call dark energy, behaves just the opposite. Newton would have been shocked to see an apple fall up.

"We do have antigravity now, but only on this enormous scale," said Bruce Winstein, director of the U. of C.'s Center for Cosmological Studies, where the dark energy telescope was conceived and developed.

One of the most bizarre features is that as the universe expands, it creates more dark energy that pushes the expansion to warp speeds.

"If dark energy really is 70 percent of the whole universe and it behaves the way current theory predicts, then it really is beginning to dominate everything about the universe," said Tony Stark of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"It will actually turn off the formation of galaxies. From now on there will be very many fewer galaxy clusters formed."

Besides the U. of C. and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, other institutions collaborating on the project are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at Berkeley and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The telescope, which will be 26.4 feet in diameter, will function like a huge thermometer measuring differences in temperature in ancient space. The instrument will be able to detect tiny variations-- as little as 10 millionths of a degree--in the Big Bang's leftover heat, which scientists call the cosmic microwave background.

A variation in the temperature in a specific area signifies the presence of a galaxy cluster. That will allow astronomers to count the galaxy clusters in the field. The fewer the number, the greater the evidence that dark energy is at work, forcing galaxies to fly apart so fast that they can't form clusters.

Antarctica was selected as the site for the radiotelescope because the temperature is always cold, which limits the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor blocks the microwave radiation coming from space.

Astronomers will use the telescope to do a census of galaxy clusters that are 5 billion to 7 billion light years from Earth, when the universe was one-third of its present size and galaxies were rapidly forming clusters.

As the microwave radiation travels through these clusters, their dust slightly changes the wavelength of the radiation. The telescope will be sensitive enough to detect these changes, which will tell astronomers how many galaxy clusters inhabit a given amount of the universe at that early time.

[Note: MWQ's friend points out that this statement is not quite right---it's actually the electrons in the cluster that changes the wavelength of the radiation, not dust.]

Theory predicts that if dark energy is greatly accelerating the universe's expansion, then galaxies will be scattered too far apart to form many clusters. The fewer the clusters, the more powerful the dark energy.

"With the South Pole telescope we can look at when galaxy clusters formed and how they formed," said U. of C.'s John Carlstrom, who heads the project. "That is critically dependent on the nature of dark energy, this elusive component of the universe."

Dark energy is different from another cosmological mystery, dark matter. Dark matter refers to the unseen matter that exerts enough gravity to keep spinning galaxies from flying apart. Scientists are confident they eventually will solve the mystery of dark matter, which is probably tiny ubiquitous particles that have not yet been detected. Because matter and energy are interchangeable, an observation made by Albert Einstein, it has been estimated that dark matter makes up about 20 percent to 25 percent of the universe's energy and that stars, planets and people make up a mere 3 percent to 5 percent. The giant's share, 70 percent, is now believed to be the mysterious
dark energy.

Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune

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That's Why They Pay Him The Big Bucks

Michael Eisner, the embattled Chief Executive Officer of the embattled Walt Disney Company has sent the following e-mail to many Disney employees (who the company calls "cast members" - a practice not unique to Disney in the entertainment business):

Dear Fellow Cast Members:

I thought you should know that this weekend "Signs" went over $200 million at the U.S. box office, helping to make Disney number two among all the studios for the summer. This is an extraordinary achievement by our Studios unit, under the leadership of chairman Dick Cook. And, it is all the more remarkable because we have actually reduced the average cost of our movies, focusing on producing quality films with talented directors, like M. Night Shyamalan, who first brought us "The Sixth Sense" and now "Signs."

During these challenging times, with the economy in recession and the stock market depressed, it is easy to merely focus on the areas where we need to improve our company's performance (and, be assured, that we are working 24/7 to achieve this, and are seeing more encouraging "signs" in ABC's fall line-up!). But, we should not lose sight of our ongoing successes, one of which is "Signs" and the studio behind it, The Walt Disney Studios.

So, congratulations to everyone who works at the Studios - whether at Touchstone, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Feature Animation or Miramax - in development, marketing, production, finance, distribution, and every other area, for helping to demonstrate that our strategy is correct and that, with creativity and dedication, less can be more. Thanks for all your efforts!


Of course, contrary to Mr. Eisner's assertion, the United States economy is not "in recession."

Apparently even working 24/7, Mr. Eisner, ever the big picture conceptualist, could not take time to note such minutia. Details, details.

On the other hand, it may be worth noting that intellectual disorientation is considered a typical symptom of "pump head" syndrome. Not that there is any connection. No. No. Not at all.
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Top Ten

The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey ranks the nations top-rated business schools:

1. Dartmouth College
2. University of Michigan
3. Carnegie Mellon
4. Northwestern University
5. University of Pennsylvania
6. University of Chicago
7. University of Texas at Austin
8. Yale University
9. Harvard University
10. Columbia University

Such surveys and rankings are always and rightly highly controversial - so too much should not be made of this one. But one striking aspect of this survey is Harvard's low rank, despite resources that dwarf those of any other business school in the world. Harvard also has lots of personal connections which might have been thought likely to boost its rating. In that sense, one might reasonably wonder if the survey overstates Harvard's already-low ranking. Which leads to some other troubling thoughts about the place.

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