Man Without Qualities

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Your Grandmother May Have Been Right, Again

The modern diet - especially eating sweets - may cause acne.
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Opportunity Knocks

The Trent Lott mess has given rise to many calls that the GOP must "do more" about race, many of those calls issuing from highly disingenuous quarters such as Nancy Pelosi.

Representative Pelosi presides in a party that has Donna Brazille commissioned to promote local African-American candidates to defeat Al Sharpton's capture of the African-American vote in the next Presidential round. So one might be tempted to counsel Ms. Pelosi and her ilk to tend her own fields and be done with it.

But that would be passing up a real opportunity, because what Ms. Pelosi is saying is correct and the fact that she is saying it creates a real opportunity for the Republicans to do something constructive.

One of the bitterest consequences of the structure of the current Democratic coalition is that many urgent and worthy African-American interests are perversely suppressed within the party in favor of the other, competing interests. Perhaps the worst example is the submersion of the educational opportunities of African-American and other minority children to the interests of the teachers unions. Many younger African-American leaders are acutely aware of this disgrace.

Now that the GOP again controls both houses of Congress, a program of school vouchers for children from disadvantaged schools may be a real possibility. By proposing such a targeted, well-funded voucher program, the President and Congressional Republicans would send a message to African-Americans that Republicans care about them in the ways that count. The best result would be that if such a program became law, African-American children would benefit enormously.

But proposing such a program would also split the Democratic coalition in several ways, even if it does not pass Congress. Young, visionary African-American leaders would be further encouraged to break from the manipulative, traitorous Sharptons and Brazilles who have inherited the old civil rights estate. And minority parents would be encouraged to understand that the Democrat/Union monolith is a main obstacle to their childrens' progress, education and happiness.

It is also interesting at least to consider the consequences of formulating such a program as a partially unfunded federal mandate. That would induce the states to reallocate their own educational funding towards enhancing minority student achievement. But it would also cause budget stress and controversy at the state level, which could adversely affect the program's prospects. However, if the state requirements were phased in over a period of years, the effects on state educational funding priorities might be very beneficial.

As Ms. Pelosi points out, more needs to be done. The furor surrounding Senator Lott's departure from GOP leadership may make such a program more likely. So perhaps more can be done.

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Friday, December 20, 2002

No Discounts?

One of the characteristics of insider trading that makes it so common is that it is not often detected and, when it is, it is very hard to prove. For that reason, many people believe that it is especially important that insider traders be fined a multiple of their illegal winnings if the behavior is to be deterred. The reasoning is fairly straightforward: If there is only a 10% (say) chance of getting caught and fined, then the actual fine should be fixed at ten times the amount obtained through insider trading - so that when discounted by the 10% there is no ex ante benefit to breaking the law.

It is therefore curious that George Soros was fined only what he obtained in his insider trade. This fine provides little incentive to refrain from additional insider trading - although it does provide some.

Of course, there are some serious people such as Henry Manne who believe that insider trading actually helps the economy. If that is true, it is always economically irrational to deter insider trading - and every fine is too much, at least from an efficiency standpoint.

Last August 2, for example, Professor Manne argued in the Wall Street Journal article linked above ("Options? Nah, Try Insider Trading"):

Now, ... as we are seeing the problems of stock-option plans, insider trading is beginning to look like an interesting alternative.


The problem was -- and is -- that no one could suggest an alternative to stock options for encouraging management to behave in the interests of shareholders. A few academics have joined me in suggesting that insider trading was nearly ideal for that purpose. But politicians won't come near it, and the SEC gags at the suggestion.


After the option is exercised, the executive becomes a larger shareholder. Stock ownership pushes management to maximize share price, especially if the shares represent a substantial part of an employee's undiversified portfolio. But as the employee's shares represent only a tiny fraction of all shares outstanding, the induced incentive for risky choices may still fall short of what would be dictated by the interest of shareholders. In other words, stock options offer no greater incentive than would a similar number of shares held by the manager, however acquired.

Insider trading , on the other hand, allows the insiders to meticulously craft their own reward for innovations almost as soon as they occur and to trade without harm to any investors. The incentive is immediate and precise and is never confounded with stock-price changes that are not of the managers' making. The effect of this trading will always be to move the stock price in the correct direction quickly and accurately, irrespective of what accounting entries are made for the underlying event. Stock prices will, for example, reflect the present value of anticipated future gains from new developments, something accounting cannot and should not provide for.


Currently, the SEC sees its job as regulating the entire market for information. This is madness. It starts at the supply side with accounting rules that began life as managerial tools and tries to make them into a valuation scheme. It finishes on the demand side by restricting insider trading , which merely shifts the identity of the people who may trade first on undisclosed information.

If insider trading were legal and used to replace or supplement stock options, there would be no "tragedies" of employees being left high and dry with options way out of the money. There would be no loss of reward when an innovation merely resulted in a reduction of an expected loss. There would be no unearned gain because a company's stock appreciated in line with a market or industry rise. And there would be no peculiar problems of accounting since such trading would be entirely extraneous to the company's accounts.

There are plenty of ways companies could regulate their own insider trading to best fit their needs. Some might limit trading to buying on good news and prohibit selling on bad news. Some could limit the amount of stock an employee could purchase, or outlaw insider trading altogether. We would certainly see some innovation in enforcement techniques and perhaps in the publicity given to insider transactions.


All we have to do is make the present laws optional. Just one thing: I would require companies to disclose details when they had adopted an insider trading system. That way I could go load up on the company's shares.
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Dim Bulb Finally Going Out II?

And then, of course, there's this, which almost seems to be the Senator's personal effort to prove me wrong.

By the way, when Trent Lott went off the rails, a lot of conservative bloggers spoke up - although early posts were made by some liberal bloggers.

It is now late Friday night, and the Murray story has been out all day. The three liberal blogs credited by Kausfiles with respect to the Trent Lott story don't seem to have a word about Senator Murray's howler: Atrios, Josh Marshall and Timothy Noah.

Is their shared thought that it would be hard to give Senator Murray's comments a pro-liberal, anti-Republican spin, so why post? Nah. That would just be too, too cynical.

Just the silence of the lambs?
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Dim Bulb Finally Going Out?

My post stating that Senator Patty Murray is not an idiot has inspired a large and forcefully disagreeing response.

It has, for example, been pointed out to me that The Progressive found Senator Murray to be the fourth dumbest person in Congress, and for reasons that are certainly not insubstantial:

No. 4


Democrat, Washington

Staffers report that Murray frequently seems confused about the finer details of procedure and debate, a fact reflected in her complete lack of accomplishments since winning office in 1994 as the "Mom in tennis shoes." Virtually the only legislation she is closely associated with is a bill calling for an expansion of family and medical leave, and it has languished in the Senate for years.

Murray often talks about how her experience as a preschool teacher left her with an abundance of compassion for children. Such compassion was hard to spot during an interview she gave to Gannett News Service, in which she described a three-year-old boy in one of her classes as "the epitome of every teacher's nightmare, the kind of kid you want to nail to the wall."

Murray calls herself an environmentalist, but her gooey sentiments on the subject could drive Mother Nature over to the Wise Use camp. She once said she wanted to be the voice of the salmon in Congress because fish "don't talk."

Murray at least appears to recognize her own limitations. As she once told a group of schoolgirls, "If I can do this job, anybody can."

But I do not believe this kind of thing qualifies Senator Murray as a true "idiot." Instead, I view the Senator as in possession of a shrewd, cynical and intensely limited but highly destructive intelligence that must be acknowledged to be defeated.

One must recognize excellence in all of its forms!
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I didn’t fail ten thousand times. I successfully eliminated, ten thousand times, materials and combinations which wouldn’t work.

Why does Virginia Postrel underestimate herself?

Virginia is absolutely correct when she denies "that progress depends on grim, self-denial--what I call the "repression theory of progress."

One of the greatest, most liberating aspects of modern science is that it does not depend on grimness or any other emotional state or posture. My prior post from Richard Feynman amply displays how the objective, non-emotional nature of modern science - including the social sciences, such as economics - allows for the essentially unbounded personal joyful exuberance and sheer fun that Richard Feynman personified.

Grimness is for religious cults - objective scientific truth will set you free.

But why does Virginia bother with those who have spent their careers progressively undoing themselves? Her fabulous 1999 lecture on "Economics Play" makes vastly more sense that the Paul Krugman quote she reproduced in her book and again in her December 19 post:

"You can't do serious economics unless you are willing to be playful. Economic theory is not a collection of dictums laid down by pompous authority figures. Mainly, it is a menagerie of thought experiments--parables, if you like--that are intended to capture the logic of economic processes in a simplified way. In the end, of course, ideas must be tested against the facts. But even to know what facts are relevant, you must play with those ideas in hypothetical settings. And I use the word 'play' advisedly: Innovative thinkers, in economics and other disciplines, often have a pronounced whimsical streak."

Another brilliant Southern writer, Flannery O'Connor, told a story of a brilliant dinner party in 1950 at Mary McCarthy's. The conversation turned to the Catholic Eucharist, which, being the Catholic, Flannery was supposed to define. Mary McCarthy said it was a symbol and that it was "a pretty good one". O'Connor replied: "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it!"

If economics or any putative science is mainly a menagerie of thought experiments or parables that are intended to capture the logic of economic processes in a simplified way which only in the end must be tested against the facts then to hell with it. As Feynman's lecture points out: there is great, exuberant play in formulating science - but science is mainly about the objective world and repeatable experiments. That is very, very hard work. Without a primary focus on that work, activity that is supposed to be science becomes just self indulgence.

And that, for example, is why another very playful American who really understood these things said: "Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."

Professor Krugman, on the other hand, seems more a once-talented person who has not done his homework for a very long time. And this quote gives some insight as to why he has gone so wrong.
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I'm Sorry To Be Personal, But ...

... anyone who would write this at the time of someone else's mother's murder is way out of line, at best.

As one of the post commenters correctly puts it: "Another in a long line of totally tasteless posts, accompanied by similarly tasteless comments from the loyal toadies. This post ranks up there with the the despicable comments of Lott at Strom's birthday party."

A public apology is very much in order here, too, but don't count on it. Trent Lott on this count is clearly the better person.

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The Long, Long Line at L'Idiot II

Innocents Abroad posts some facts that would make Senator Murray stay in her house for a year if she had any shame.

Innocents' post also raises a central human question: Senator Murray's comments contain a huge helping of contempt and disrespect for all the United States funded aid workers who struggle with imperfect tools (aren't they all?) to help Third World people.

I have argued here in the past that among the most viciously uncivil actions we can commit is to ignore the contributions of those who deserve acknowledgement. On that count, Senator Murray is a savage.

If she can't bring herself to stay home and out of sight, Senator Murray should give up those tennis shoes to some kid from Bangladesh and walk barefoot for, say, six months to discipline herself from spouting off like this again.

God, and at Christmastime, no less.
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Now That Everything Glows So Brightly III

An astute reader from Wisconsin responds to this and this prior post:

Dear Mr. Qualities:

I think there is a simple answer for your question: Why the liberal mainstream press missed the Lott story.

True, the blogs pushed it, but it was first raised by ABC's the Note the day after it occurred, which also mentions quotes from offended politicians presumably aired by ABC News. ABC pretty much is a cornerstone of the mainstream liberal press.

But I would argue the larger reason why none of the other dozen or so reporters who were at the birthday party recognized the story was this: Washington reporters are part of a pack that filters every story through the lens of conventional wisdom and the story line of the day. Anything that falls outside those boundaries can be, and often is, overlooked.

Yes, the Washington press, like press virtually everywhere, is disproportionately liberal. They do protect their sources -- and here Insta-professor is correct -- and that protection racket often (not always, but often) compromises aggressive reporting. (Recall that Woodward was a lowly metro desk reporter, covering minor matters in Virginia, when he was sent to a court hearing of the Watergate burglars where the names "Howard Hunt" and "CIA" came up. And it was WaPo's Bradlee who argued for keeping Woodward and his sidekick on the story when others at the paper wanted the White House/Washington desk to cover it. At least, that's how it was portrayed in the movie.)

Remember, the Washington press corps love nothing more than a story like this -- it feeds the beast back home! The press corps love a feeding frenzy. The true dynamic at work in the press corps isn't a "they're liberal so they miss conservative stories" argument, even though that's true. The true dynamic is that the corps are always on the lookout for something that will spur a feeding frenzy.

Particularly during dead news days like these -- post-election, pre-budget fighting. So the incentives for the press corps, liberal or not, is to be on the lookout for stories like this. (The Lott story, in form and approach by the press corps, bears remarkable resemblance to the Condit/Levy story, and the Gennifer Flowers/Clinton story, and the. ......)

When the pack misses a story (we covered the birthday, not the racist remarks), the only thing that can yank it back is some mainstream press/commentator who points to the obvious -- this is a story, you idiots!. So, as this story developed, one can argue that the racist remark was ignored by the press initially because it didn't fit the conventional story line. The observations of liberal interest groups (in the initial ABC Note item) and liberal bloggers (first Noah, then JJ Marshall) could be ignored by the mainstream press, because that's what they do -- criticize Republicans.

The tipping point, I would argue, came when the Insta-professor condemned the remarks, late in the evening the day (Dec. 6) after the birthday party. Reynolds, I would argue, has become mainstream. He's kind of like the city editor of the blogosphere -- passing on stories left and right, making pithy little comments here and there. But when Reynolds -- who is not non-partisan, but who's partisan tendencies are pretty well disguised -- condemns something that the rest of the mainstream press ignores, it becomes a red flag. Instapundit has huge traffic numbers, and is probably read by as many influential bloggers on the left as on the right. Once he jumped on the quote buttressed by a WaPo story that same day -- buried on page A6 -- that had damning quotes from Kristol), others were sure to follow -- Sullivan, Frum, the rest. By Sunday, Lott was doomed, his forced apology causing him only further troubles.

Thanks for indulging a long note.

Keep up the good work!
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Another Surprise From Pop-Up Stopper

I have found that the version of Pop-Up Stopper that I use often prevents me from "republishing" my Archives on Blogger.

Pop-Up Stopper seems to think that the "republish" button activates an "Archives Pop-Up" on Blogger - and Stops it.

If I turn off Pop Up Stopper, the problem goes away, and I can "republish."
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But Small, ... Really Small

Richard Feynman, almost everyone's favorite physicist, noted that even psychology can be a serious research science in the right hands!

SIDE NOTE: The Man Without Qualities was present in the crowd to which Professor Feynman gave this address originally, and remembers it well. It was an incredible experience - maybe almost as profound for me as his nude baths at Esalen were for the Professor. But my Cal Tech experience lacked a good beautiful-girl-toe-massage episode.
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The Long, Long Line at L'Idiot

Senator Patty Murray is in it:

"[Ossama Bin Laden]'s been out in these [third-world] countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that," Murray said. "How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"

Al Qaida has engaged in some Afghan infrastructure work - as noted in the linked article - but that's not the source of al Qaida's popularity on, say, the streets of Karachi. And Senator Murray knows that the United States - both through its government and its many private charities - has for many decades done each and every thing she lists at a scale that dwarfs by orders of magnitude anything bin Laden did on these fronts. The World Bank, for example, is largely funded by the United States and is very much in the third world infrastructure business, for example (although it's amazing that any examples are needed) here and here and here.

The Senator's suggestion that al Qaida has been building day care facilities is just bizarre. Does Senator Murray think that Afghan woman under the Taliban dropped their children off at al Qaida day care centers before work?

Buying the affection of Third World populations through foreign aid is a very old, difficult, often-tried and highly problematic effort. She trots it out as a new idea.

Senator Murray is no idiot. So why would she say such things?

She seems to be groping for some politically effective way to oppose the war on terrorism generally, by arguing that the money should be spent domestically:

For example, she told students, "You'll be graduating into a world that is very difficult. … The economy is struggling. War in Iraq is a very real possibility in the short term" and could cost $200 billion even if it were to last only a few weeks. The cost of waging war could result in cuts to domestic programs such as Pell grants for college students.

But even accepting the Senator's suggestions at face value, massive foreign aid also costs a lot of money - which also allows less to fund Pell grants and the like. Building roads and dams, for example, is not cheap. To finance meaningful infrastructure projects at a scale that would affect the opinions of a good number of the billions of Third World residents would be very expensive.

Further, such aid often (many would argue, "usually") does a lot more harm than good to the residents of the "aided" countries while enriching the local kleptocracy. Does the Senator imagine a road through, say, the Amazon rain forest is an obvious good that the United States should finance? How about the Three Gorges Dam in China? Criticism of infrastructure foreign aid is not confined to conservatives, but comes from many political directions.

Maybe someone should sit the Senator down and explain to her that foreign aid has to pass the approval of the local Third World government, which often is mugging the governed and doesn't care about environmental and social damage.

And even massive aid would probably not change Third World opinions very much, simply because even where aid does good there is no easy way to convince residents that the United States has done the building, a necessary precondition to affecting popular opinion.

The difficulty in effectively convincing people that United States aid has helped them should be obvious to Senator Murray, since she is herself ignoring past and present United States efforts in these very comments.

Links from DRUDGE.


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Thursday, December 19, 2002


The Minute Man points out that Brad DeLong's credibility seems to be rather badly tattered! Dear me. The Good Professor can't figure out why a man with initials "J.E.B." might be called "Jeb." I guess Professor DeLong must have been too busy calling other people "idiots" to figure that one out. In Steve Martin's movie, "L.A. Story," a line of silly people are eager to get into the overpriced restaurant "L'Idiot" - which requires a full credit check, social references and personal interview before granting a reservation. It appears that Brad DeLong would have stood in that line if he had known about it.

It's all so tragic, since certain academics would counsel Professor DeLong that he has every incentive not to burn his credibility--it is, after all, the only thing he has to sell.

But Professor DeLong should not despair! DeLongian "credibility" is the least of what serious academic researchers sell. As I have noted in a prior post:

Within the framework of the objective scientific method, scientists do not sell their credibility. It is completely irrelevant to mankind's understanding of classical physics that Isaac Newton may have cooked (or "adjusted") some of his lunar orbit data. Nor to the extent such topics constitute science does our understanding of relativity depend on anything Albert Einstein may have done or thought, nor does our understanding of radioactive decay stand or fall on what Marie Curie thought she was doing, nor is our scientific understanding of quantum mechanics dependent on Werner Heisenberg's thought processes or credibility. Science does not "trust" Newton, Einstein, Curie, Heisenberg or any other scientist for their findings - the whole point of science is to check out and repeat what an individual scientist says he or she has found, discovered or invented.

But, then, the problem here seems to be that one actually has to be a serious scientist to take advantage of this observation. So what Professor DeLong believes may really be true in his case. Sad.

UPDATE: Looks like Atrios would like to keep the Good Professor company standing in the L'Idiot line.

You'd think they'd learn something from their joint flaming hatred of all things Bushy putting them in that line together - but they won't. The learning stage of life seems over for each of them.

But, then, even the Pope's staff blossomed.

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The Truth In Cliches

In this case:

"It takes one to know one."

Link thanks to Croooow Blog
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More DeLong Nonsense

Poor and Stupid does a take-down of some typically simplistic, intellectually dishonest DeLongian economics. Yep, according to Professor DeLong, one just connects supply and demand curves and federal budget deficit consequences are fully explained! What's the big fuss, says he?

Professor DeLong calls that "normal" economics - without apparent irony. Of course, the Good Professor doesn't say that he would do what "normal" economists would do. Isn't he droll? Are his fellow economists taking note of his manifest contempt for the field and their minds?

The way Professor DeLong is trending, the Krugman Truth Squad will soon have to acquire the lot next door to accomodate the growing mass of rich intellectual DeLongian composte.

FURTHER THOUGHT: Among the many things Brad DeLong's simplistic pseudo analysis ignores is that, generally speaking, what one finances is more important than how one finances it. In the area of corporate finance this principle manifests itself as the famous Miller-Modigliani Theorem, which holds that the enterprise value of a company is independent of its financial structure once the substantive business plan is fixed, except of bankruptcy and tax effects (taxes perversely favor interest payments over dividends).

In the sphere of national economics, the concerns are different, but attempts have been made to address them coherently by, for example, James M. Buchanan in his book "Debt and Taxes", for example. A quick scan through the Buchanan effort reveals all the more clearly what a pathetic joke Professor DeLong's is attempting with this post.

For a cogent analysis of what happens when a first-class economy diverts too much through the political mechanisms, Gerhard Laffer presents a sophisticated take on Germany's current, inadequate efforts to claw itself back from permanent stagnation and decline brought about by economic policies very much like those Professor DeLong cherishes. Herr Laffer's article should be read in its entirety, but it is available only to Wall Street Journal subscribers and is copyrighted. I will resist Professor DeLong's own frequent penchant towards intellectual property kleptomania and not reproduce the entire copyrighted article. However, the following fragments are interesting enough:

"Very clearly, our system is not attractive."

It has to be one of the great understatements in German politics, but all things considered, it's still progress. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was speaking of tax rates that can approach 50% of investment income and the billions Germans park in friendlier places abroad avoid those rates.

For years, Europe's biggest taxers have done little to make their systems more attractive and encourage the repatriation of that money, choosing instead to threaten and bully. ....

Germany has finally announced a step in the right direction. Mr. Schroeder proposes a tax amnesty for those holding capital "offshore" (an amusing term when applied to landlocked Switzerland), combined with a lowering of the tax rate on interest income to 25% (that rate will later rise to a more confiscatory 35%). Currently, income from savings is taxed at an individual's marginal income-tax rate, which can be as high as 48%.

A cut that hefty might seem generous, but it's actually just a concession to reality.
Sound familiar? It should; it's a version of the famous bell curve credited to California economist Arthur B. Laffer, which he used two decades ago to argue that lower tax rates could bring in more revenue when the rates had gotten so high that people started taking steps to avoid taxes altogether. The Laffer Curve was not primarily concerned with tax evasion per se, but capital flight is one way high tax rates can depress tax revenue.


The tax amnesty and rate reduction won't stop tax evasion, nor will it solve all of Germany's economic problems. But beginning from an understanding that the problem is Germany and not Switzerland, Austria or Luxembourg is a good start. We hope this means that the centrist, tax-cutting chancellor of Mr. Schroeder's first term is making a comeback.

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Something To Keep In Mind When Thinking About The International Criminal Court

Michiel Visser finds what appears to be a dreadful example of perversity in a European criminal court.
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Now That Everything Glows So Brightly II

Duane D. Freese on Tech Central has some excellent and interesting insights on both the local (Lott) and global (conservatives directly chastise leaders with far reaching consequences) political effects of blogging.

Although Mr. Freese does a commendable job sorting out who influenced whom and what, he does not address why the liberal mainstream media missed this story. Similarly, Howard Kurtz noted: A dozen reporters heard the Senate majority leader say the country would have been better off if Thurmond had won the presidency -- and it was carried on C-SPAN -- but only an ABC producer thought the remarks were newsworthy. But he spends little effort trying to explain why the news significance was missed.

Mr. Kurtz does reproduce without comment Glenn Reynolds' explanation: "The guy's majority leader. Reporters, as opposed to bloggers, depend on him for access. The hinterlands are full of bloggers who don't care whether Trent Lott is nice to them or not. That makes them different from the Washington press."

Professor Reynolds is highly perceptive, but, in my opinion, he really drags the red herring with this comment. This explanation posits that the reporters were conscious of the story's potential significance but were not willing to write about that significance and cause its potential to be realized because the reporters would thereby risk losing "access." But the same Washington press corps has a long record of going for the carotid artery of any vulnerable Republican, including Senator Lott. Why should this story be any different? Sorry, sometimes even highly perceptive people swing an air ball.

Mr. Kurtz's also notes: Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says his paper initially used an AP report because it had already done a Thurmond birthday story. That reaction suggests that Mr. McManus just did not understand that this story carried quite a different significance from a general "Thurmond birthday story." The current Strom Thurmand hardly figures in the subsequent mess, which is, of course, about Senator Lott, not Strom Thurmond.

In my opinion, any satisfactory explanation as to why the national liberal media missed this story probably must start from the assumption that they did not comprehend the significance of this story and that the more conservative Wall Street Journal tumbled to it's significance first among the mainstream media.

My prior post takes a preliminary stab at such an explanation, but much more needs to be done.

But answering the question: WHY DID THE LIBERAL MAINSTREAM MEDIA MISS THIS STORY may ultimately be the story's most politically significant imperative, together with the scientific mirror image of such a historical explanation: What other stories like this are the liberal mainstream media missing and likely to miss in the future?

At the moment, that imperative seems to be lost in an unappealing cloud of blogger triumphalism and mainstream embarrassment.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

To Boldly Go Where All English Writers Were Before!

Stuart Buck is right about split infinitives. English has always had them, always should have them and always will have them. Latinization was a fad, and not a benefit to English. It has been truly written there are two ways of hating English poetry: one can hate poetry, or one can love Alexander Pope.

The Man Without Qualities is not classically trained (unlike the erudite Dr. Weevil, for example). But the Father Of The Man Without Qualities was fluent in three forms of Greek (two classical versions and demotic) as well as Golden Age, Silver Age and Church Latin. He was also proficient in French, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian - but he considered those languages to be essentially corollaries of the basics.

He always hated the phony "rule" against English split infinitives - and for exactly the reason Stuart cites. He also pointed out that not only infinitives but also adverbs work differently in English and Latin. For example, it is convenient to think of the infinitive of "read" as "to read." An adverb is then thought of as modifying the deployed form of the verb: "quickly read."

But the Father Of The Man Without Qualities sometimes pointed out that just as English clearly includes two-word infinitives, English can also be viewed as including multi-word infinitives: "to quickly read," for example can be read as a single infinitive. When one deploys it in conjugated form, as in "I intend to quickly read this book," one is not using "quickly" as a verb - a criticism which misunderstands the structure of the multi-word English infinitive. [See the comment to Stuart's post.]

This approach eliminates the split infinitive problem entirely exactly because the approach still leaves the question of choosing the verb correctly. "To read quickly" does not have the same meaning as "to quickly read." The "rule" against split infinitives can then be seen as a phony simplification of the rather hard problem of picking the right verb.
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Zeitgeist Victim?

Was it Al Gore who said:

The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Democratic Party. The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Tim Noah - there's a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-liberal billionaires like that Saban guy who make political deals with Democratic administrations and the rest of the media ... Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks-that is, day after day, injecting the daily Democratic talking points into the definition of what's objective as stated by the news media as a whole...

Something will start at the Democratic National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the left-wing blog network and in the newspapers that play this game, and Sidney Blumenthal and Carville will stir things up with an astroturf e-mailing effort. And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these DNC talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist.

Or maybe that was somebody else.

I just can't remember clearly. My zeitgeist is acting up.
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Make No Little Plans

If these big buildings would be profitable - and not just a product of political will - they should be built. The Memorial aspect of their design is on the right track.

But the original WTC did not make economic sense - it was the product of government excess and waste. The worst kind of memorial in the Financial District, whose fundamental role is the proper allocation of national economic resources, would be economically irrational structures of this magnitude. That really would represent a terrorist victory.

A terrorist defeat would be to convert their destructive act into an opportunity to fix the prior governmental error of building an economically irrational WTC. If these big building would do that, then the memorial aspect can go along for the symbolic ride.

Economic rationality is another term for living well - which is ALWAYS the best revenge. Cliche or not.
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Steele Nails Lott

Shelby Steele hits a home run in his analysis of the Trent Lott mess.

The Republican Party must provide a home for African-Americans and other minorities who are fed up with the old Democratic skam of phony support of minorities which in fact leads mostly to their impoverishment and dependency. The President knows that. But the Trent Lott story has become a big obstacle to accomplishing that goal. People who become big obstacles to their Party's necessary political goals are not appropriate Senate Majority leaders, although they can have other roles to play.

Senator Chafee, for example, is likely a big obstacle to the accomplishment of some necessary Republican Party goals. That doesn't mean Senator Chafee should be invited to leave the Party or the Senate - but nobody is going to nominate him for Senate Majority leader, either.

And, unfortuneately for Senator Lott, even if other factors against his leadership role were not already enough, an example must be made when a nasty story gets this big.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Now That Everything Glows So Brightly

Why did the mainstream liberal media, especially the New York Times, miss the Trent Lott story so badly for so long, while by the admission of the New York Times the more conservative Wall Street Journal, for example, did not?

The same cannot be said of liberal bloggers. After giving due credit to the Note, Kausfiles reports: It was a string of pro-Democrat bloggers -- Atrios, Josh Marshall, Tim Noah, to name three -- who immediately started whaling on Lott. (The conservative bloggers -- Sullivan, Frum, and Goldberg -- began pummeling Lott a day or two later).

The main significance of the Lott remarks was and is their adverse reflection on the Republican Party, and liberal blogs as a group report and comment on just about everything that could have even the most modest (often even less) adverse reflection on the Republican Party. So it makes sense that some liberal Blogs would comment on the Lott remarks. But what about the timing?

To Kausfiles DemBlogs-First is evidence of a possibly centralized e-mail distribution calling attention to Lott's gaffe - and that's a good point. But I think it's more likely that like-minded bloggers read each others blogs more than others do, and also e-mail each other. So once one of the DemBlogs read the Note piece and posted and/or e-mailed on it, the rest were more likely to follow. No central distribution was needed - a daisy chain would do quite well. And it is not necessary to assume all the DemBloggers saw and understood the Note squib on Friday - only that one of them did.

But I believe that the New York Times is also correct to point out that it was conservative Blogs and media - especially Andrew Sullivan - that really got this story play and gave it teeth.

Why is that? Why would Howell Raines, who Andrew Sullivan says hates him and has barred him from writing for the Times, pay more attention to the story after Mr. Sullivan had his say than Mr. Raines did after Atrios, Josh Marshall and Tim Noah had their says - and even after receiving Kausfiles' hypothetical e-mail from some Sidney Blumenthal or a simulacrum thereof? Well, to begin with, unlike DemBlogs, any mainstream media outlet has to make a serious evaluation of the news significance of any item - and in this case that meant making a serious evaluation of the anti-Republican consequences of the Lott remarks. Why would liberal media outlets be bad at making that evaluation?

A suggestion: Could the New York Times (including Mr. Raines) and other liberal mainstream media be developing an ingrained discounting of the relentless "anti-Republican" spin given by liberal news outlets - bloggers and mainstream media? Could such a discounting have caused the liberal mainstream media to fail to recognize the significance of the Lott story being covered or passed along by DemBloggers (perhaps stimulated or induced by the hypothetical Kausfiles e-mail)?

But, why would this effect not have happened to conservatives, too? Most conservatives believe that much of the liberal media (including the New York Times) has allowed editorialization and liberal political bias to seriously distort ordinary news reporting - there is nothing new in such accusations. That belief seems to be even stronger applied to liberal blogs.

But one consequence of that belief is that conservatives have grown accustomed to discounting the "anti-Republican" spin given to reported facts in liberal outlets until they have been independently evaluated - and then conservatives do independently evaluate those reports. That's what Andrew Sullivan did, for example. Ira Stoll used to do it wholesale on the now-passed-on "Smarter Times" blog. Lots of conservatives are doing that kind of independent evaluation all the time now, and have been for quite some time.

The liberal media - especially the mainstream liberal media - relentlessly deny that reported facts in the liberal media are spun. Could it be that all that denial has led to a condition in which the mainstream liberal media is discounting anti-Republican spin (political music of the spheres)? When one sees and gives anti-Republican significance to many, many things, isn't one more likely to miss the real thing (such as the Lott story) when it comes along? For example, the refusal of the Augusta National golf club to admit women seems to have as much anti-Republican significance to the Times (or, at least, Howell Raines) as, say, the unemployment rate.

Now that everything glows so brightly, how does one see the stars?

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The Ineligibility Of Medicare

Arnold Kling scribes a terrific item showing why Medicare is an idea whose time has passed.
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Meme And Variations

For days Kausfiles and others have advanced the point that the Blogosphere has led in the Trent Lott story:

[B]logs (e.g. Atrios, Josh Marshall, Tim Noah, Sullivan, and Instapundit) took the lead in blasting Lott -- while the NYT 's Guilty Southern Liberal Howell Raines, hilariously, was asleep at the switch when a real 60's-style civil rights controversy came along -- wouldn't Lott eventually have gotten into big trouble for his remarks even if the Web didn't exist? ... When Raines steps aside, I'll become a triumphalist too. ..Update: John Podhoretz is already boosting the "victory for the blogosphere" meme in what is actually a pretty persuasive column.

A variation on this meme in a slightly different key is now advanced by the New York Times, which argues that conservatives - especially Andrew Sullivan - also led the liberal media:

Conservative columnists, including Andrew Sullivan, William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, and publications like National Review and The Wall Street Journal have castigated Mr. Lott for his remarks at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th-birthday party, arguing that the conservative movement's credibility on racially tinged issues like affirmative action and school vouchers has been squandered.

So it seems that most of the mainstream media (other than the Journal) and most liberals "waddled up" (an Ira Stoll term popularized by James Taranto) late.

To paraphrase Kausfiles: Would Lott eventually have gotten into big trouble for his remarks even if the conservatives didn't exist?

[Or, "If Josh Marshall fulminated in a forest and no conservative was there to hear him, would he make a fuss?"]

UPDATE: The news pages of the Times are reporting how conservatives led the assault on Senator Lott.

But over in the funny pages Paul Krugman ignores those conservatives and the Times story, and focuses only on that advancer of so many cracked-brained conspiracies, Atrios, as having "played a key role in bringing Mr. Lott's past to light." No mention of Andrew Sullivan appears, which is appropriate, because the grant of kudos to Atrios is only an excuse for Professor Krugman again to adopt and advance a vaguely described cracked-brained conspiracy theory himself, this time one borrowed from Atrios. Specifically, Professor Krugman this time makes creepy but empty insinuations about the supposedly nefarious "secretive Council for National Policy. This blandly named organization..."

Why choose so pale a conspiracy?! Pick one with real juice in it, Professor Krugman - Atrios has so many lying so low!

For example, who could forget Atrios' delirious claim that the "theory" that the United States government shot down Flight 93, the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, was "credible?" Such perception! Now, Professor Krugman, there's a nifty cracked-brained conspiracy for you to advance in the New York Times.

And it's economics-free, just like you like 'em now!

Perhaps Professor Krugman will fill us in on the rumors that the Pennsylvania wreckage was surveyed quietly by a black helicopter that then went on to make a delivery to the secretive Council for National Policy!

FURTHER UPDATE: The Minute Man has more on the Krugman-Atrios Conspiracy, as those with their shared emotional predilections but not their shared political views, might couch it.
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Sree Tips

Good and interesting web site picks - always some gems.

Also comes as an e-mail newsletter.

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Monday, December 16, 2002

I Was So Wrong

Al Gore brought in relatively good ratings on Saturday Night Live.

I thought he would have bad ratings.
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The Silver Penned Mr. Morris

Dick Morris scribes an interesting take on the fate of Trent Lott, including this curious passage:

Let's start with the fact that I have known Lott for 15 years and have had, perhaps, a hundred or more meetings with him. I got to know him better than any American politician other than Bill Clinton. He is no racist. There is not a racist bone in his body. That's why one third of Mississippi blacks vote for him, year after year.

This is all that Mr. Morris has to say about his personal dealings with Mr. Lott in this column.

But Mr. Morris' dealings with Senator Lott go well beyond having "known Lott for 15 years and hav[ing] had, perhaps, a hundred or more meetings with him." In fact, Mr. Morris ran Senator Lott's campaigns in 1988 and 1992.

For what it's worth, the Man Without Qualities believes that Senator Lott cannot and should not be left in his position as Senate Majority leader - and in all likelihood will not hold that position for more than a few weeks. But the Senator is probably not a worse person than most under the Capital Dome - and certainly not worse than many of his current critics. So, from my perspective, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Morris having worked for Mr. Lott.

But this column of Mr. Morris’ addresses Senator Lott's political history and in large measure defends the Senator in his time of crisis, and it would have been appropriate for Mr. Morris to specifically state that he, Mr. Morris, played a substantial part in that political history and that some of the actions being defended in the column were likely the result of Mr. Morris' own advice to Senator Lott. The paragraph from the column excerpted above actually seems to mislead the reader on that account.

Perhaps the most charitable construction of this column is that of a loyal friend spending some personal credibility in aid of a former benefactor.

UPDATE: The Note suggests that this column represents Mr. Morris "reminding the world that he is/was a long-time adviser to Lott." Perhaps that's true of the very small part of the world that already knows that Mr. Morris is/was a long-time adviser to Lott. Otherwise, the comment is inexplicable,
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More invoices from the Piper are coming due to pay for the collective German stupidity of reelecting Gerhard Schroeder:

"Along with the majority of German citizens, I am shocked by the present conceptionless government," said Herbert Hainer, chairman of the Adidas sportswear group.

That pretty much sums it up.

But it's unfair to call the present German government "conceptionless." The government probably still knows how to bail out of a flood - and can likely still say "we don't approve" of whatever the United States wants to do with Iraq.

Those were all the "concepts" the Germans themselves cared about when they reelected this bunch of clowns. What do the same citizens have to complain about now?

"Conceptionless!" How dare Herr Hainer use such a word! It's so uncivil. Tax that man until he pipes down!

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More "Plans"?

Former President Clinton now says that in the 1990's:

"We actually drew up plans to attack North Korea and to destroy their reactors and we told them we would attack unless they ended their nuclear program."

But he also says: i

I approve of the approach by President (George W.) Bush to work with the South Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Russians to end this program -- but make no mistake about it, it has to be ended.

Mr. Clinton certainly does not mention that he tried to put together an international coalition at the time. There were no reports of such attempts in the 1990's. He certainly did not repair to the United Nations to obtain any authorization to carry out his now-claimed "threat."

Is Mr. Clinton saying that he then planned to "attack North Korea" without any United Nations resolution? Without UN inspectors? Is he saying that he had actually created "plans" to launch an unprecedented military action on the doorsteps of South Korean, China, Japan and Russia without the consent of any of these countries? Is he saying that he drew up plans to launch a new Korean War without the consent of Congress?

And what about the "imminent threat doctrine" that supposedly prohibits United States attacks on a country that does not itself pose an imminent threat against the United States. That doctrine is cherished by many in the Democratic Party, the United Nations and the media, but has been repudiated by the Bush Administration as part of its Iraq plan. No comparable repudiation was effected by the Clinton Administration, but North Korea posed no imminent threat to this country. Was Mr. Clinton planning to attack North Korea without addressing the "imminent threat doctrine?"


There seems to be a continuing pattern of post-White-House-partum delusion here. Sandy Berger previously asserted, with Mr. Clinton as his sometimes-second, that the Clinton Administration had also created "plans" to attack Afghanistan. Mr. Berger finally withdrew that assertion in Congressional testimony. The fate of those prior non-existent "plans" are discussed here and here and here.

Mr. Clinton's new claims will probably be withdrawn after it is "explained" and "clarified" that "drew up plans to attack North Korea"really means something like "somebody whose name was not written down shouted out in a Clintonian all-night 1990's "Bull Session" that if the North Koreans didn't watch out 'the United States might actually do something about it some day."

One wonders what the junior Senator from New York thinks about all this "planning."
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The Besotted

Some in the media are besotted with the prospect of Senator Joseph Lieberman running for President. Where Will Lester at Associated Press provides a down-to-earth take on the Senator's near-declaration occasioned by Al Gore's decision not to run, Ryan Lizza at the The New Republic, clearly one of the besotted, trills this troubadour song [link via Kausfiles]:

As for the actual Democratic field, Joe Lieberman is obviously the biggest winner. The scene from SNL of Gore handing Lieberman the winning rose turned out to be prescient. It's not just that Gore decided not to run, freeing Lieberman to enter the race. He also made the announcement weeks earlier than anyone assumed he would. The next two months are crucial for recruiting staff and locking up donors. "This is a huge gift to Lieberman," says one Democratic strategist. "If [Gore] did it the first or second week of January, Lieberman would have to scramble to put everything together. This allows Joe Lieberman to be like all the other candidates." And since Lieberman will now enter the race, the media spotlight will quickly turn from Gore's announcement to Lieberman's. The story of Lieberman's campaign will begin with the fact, already being mentioned by his supporters, that the candidate made a promise and stuck to it.

Senator Lieberman "made a promise and stuck to it?" That qualifies a man to be President? Or is even particularly significant? I suppose it is better than compromising many - if not most - of one's signature positions in the name of political expediency and the campaign, as Senator Lieberman did in 2000. Vouchers anyone? And I suppose it's better than holding one's self out as an Orthodox Jew for years and repeatedly claiming that Orthodoxy was central to one's identity, only to just chuck the whole thing ("Orthodox?" Did I say "Orthodox?" I meant "Observant.") when it becomes inconvenient and too many questions are raised about Sabbath campaigning and the like.

More importantly, the besotted class might spend some time considering that Senator Lieberman was chosen and significant in 2000 as an antidote to the Lewinski scandal. Unless the Democratic Party has a general voter problem with personal morality, Senator Lieberman's ecological niche is gone. Nor did Senator Lieberman perform well during the 2000 campaign. His campaigning became a tuneless drone. Al Gore did much better in debate against George Bush than Senator Lieberman did against Mr. Cheney. In fact, the debate with Dick Cheney was a disaster for the Democrat where, for example, a post-debate a Field Poll of voters in Democrat-leaning California found:

"By a 42% to 27% margin voters in this state felt that Cheney made the better overall impression during the debate. Pluralities of Californians also felt Cheney seemed better able to take over as President in an emergency, was more self-confident and was better able to defend himself and his positions than Lieberman."

Nor is Senator Lieberman, a Northeasterner, likely to appeal to the South, Midwest or West as much as Mr. Gore did. And, since the election, Senator Lieberman has reasserted most of those signature positions he abandoned during the campaign. Do they just get chucked again now that he's again running for national office?

No. The Republicans just haven't been good enough to deserve Senator Lieberman as the Democratic candidate.

Could the Senator siphon off a significant amount of contributor money from others who might be actually viable candidates? If Ryan Lizza says the Senator can attract money, I'm prepared to believe that is possible. The drain would almost certainly further weaken the Democratic effort, just as the naive obsession among some in the media with the prospect to his candidacy will mostly harm other Democrats by comparison.

But both effects should be small since Senator Lieberman comes with no indicia that he will survive even the first cut.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman continues to show how weak he can be in the clutch, as with this assertion about Senator Lott [link from Crooow Blog]:

Lieberman ... insisted the Lott transgression was “more consequential” because he was speaking “as a person in line to the presidency.” The Senate Majority Leader is not on any succession list.

It is the President Pro Tem of the Senate (that is, the senior Senator of the majority party - formerly ex-KKK member and Democrat Robert Byrd) who is in line for the Presidency - not the Senate Majority Leader.

In other words: Senator Liberman is spectacularly ignorant of the structure of the Senate in which he has served many years.

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Sunday, December 15, 2002

No More Gore

A "senior adviser" to Al Gore was telling the media again that Mr. Gore will not run for the Presidency again.

Then, finally, after God-knows-how-many "leaks," Mr. Gore himself admitted as much.

It was more than a little weird and undignified that Mr. Gore allowed this kind of political information to trickle out to the public through third parties. Perhaps he was hoping that someone will rush forward and plead: "No, Al, you just can't do it! WE ALL NEED YOU SO MUCH!"

But as long as he's making a farce out of the whole Presidential thing anyway, why didn't he just include his announcement not to run again as part of his Saturday Night Live shtick, along with the excruciatingly predictable and obvious and unfunny "send up" of his long kiss with Tipper.
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Hair Of The Dog!?

As John Kerry's hair is remorselessly dragged through the mud by the far right-wing media, a nation raises its curling irons and asks as one: What will Hillary do? When Mitt Romney accused Shannon O'Brien of "unbecoming" behavior in the heat of a campaign debate, she and Senator Clinton unisoned back "SEXISM!" But if Mr. Romney had gone for Ms. O'Brien's hair, these two Democrat politicians would surely have bristled twice as much as they did. And for that very reason no woman running for office in America today would be subjected to the hairy assault now leveled at Senator Kerry. What does it matter if his haircuts cost $75 or $200? Is this question raised when Dianne Feinstein or Susan Collins runs for office? Of course not. Yes, what is happening to Senator Kerry is just bald sexism. Hillary's silence to date on this outrageous attack on her fellow Democrat's tresses is all the more disquieting since she and her husband have both been victims of the odious politics of coiffure destruction.

Los Angeles once figured prominently in all accusations of hirsute excess, from claims of clandestine hair dying by Ronald Reagan, to Bill Clinton's notorious "Hair Force One" episode where he was alleged to tie up La La Land tarmac, to Jerry Lewis busting the budget to fly out his West Coast barber to prepare for an "epochal run at the Palace Theater." Indeed, some considered Jerry Lewis' hair to be a star in its own right (some say the same of Hillary), and one imagines that there may yet be efforts to award it a special lifetime achievement Oscar. As the foregoing linked writer puts it: "Lit up with spotlights onstage or in movies, it could look like an ebony skullcap - a grotesque approximation of the black widow's peak of greasepaint sported by the Pierrot figure in the commedia dell'arte." Wonderful. So brooding and poetic!

But the willingness to pull hair into politics has clearly spread east. Even German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been entangled in the uncomfortable but inevitable question: "Grey, mein Herr?" There is speculation that Iain Duncan Smith's lack of sufficient thatch could deny him leadership of Great Britain - placing him with the doomed likes of William Hague and Neil Kinnock in the arena of follicly-challenged challengers.

That both Clintons should be found close to the dark roots of modern politicized hair is no coincidence. "Hair" once meant "character" or "nature."

Hair matters. It matters in politics and it matters in religion. It always has mattered. Alan Bennett famously noted the significance of pilosity in the Torah, a point also well analyzed by others. And in a passage of Holy Scripture Saint Paul states, Both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Cor. 11:14) Could it be said any more clearly? These are eternal questions. Modern man is not the first to ask: If there is a God, why is there poverty, death ... and baldness?

Democrats must recognize the crisis and come together over the threat to Senator Kerry's topknot, just as in an analogous context Matt, 6 grade student at Bancroft, wrote on October 15, 2002 in his excellent and revealing review of Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman:

Mrs Ribble turns into Wedgie Woman. She spills Super Power Juice onto her hair which gives her hair super powers. Captain Underpants is in a lot of trouble.

Yes, super powered hair means Captain Underpants is in a lot of trouble. And just so, Senator John Kerry. Hillary and the rest of the Democratic Party should wake up and smell the pomade.

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