Man Without Qualities

Saturday, January 31, 2004


Can the reader toss her mind up just to see where the media reporting would come down if the Kansas or Georgia or New York legislatures were considering a bill to conform building codes of those states, or policies of those states governing the construction of government buildings, to applicable directives of Leviticus or Hassidic custom? Or with some pre-Reformation notions of attracting Christian "grace" to the structure, perhaps by requiring some structures to be built in the shape of a cross - or banning icons on building walls? It requires little imagination to envision the outrage, the correct but shrill assertions of incompatibility with the First Amendment and depiction of the legislators involved by the media (especially the New York Times,where Linda Greenhouse would no doubt address the matter in her highest dudgeon) as insensitive atavists.

And what if the California legislature were actively considering passing a law "meant to encourage planning agencies, building departments and design review boards to provide for the use of feng shui principles, which often touch on the placement of doors and staircases, the position of buildings and the alignment of objects in rooms. It aims to help people live in harmony with nature by promoting the flow of chi, or positive energy, and neutralizing or avoiding negative energy."

The New York Times article describing that development would of course rage against the introduction of such obviously religious considerations - many would say superstitious considerations - into law. The Constitutional infirmity of such a proposal would be prominent in the Times article, right? The paper would never let the proponents of such an outrageous proposal conceal their transparent attempt to impose their religious strictures on state codes with the transparent dodge of "cultural pluralism," would they? We know the Times wouldn't let that dodge be asserted without contradiction because when some legislatures have considered passing laws concerning the teaching of "Creationism" in public schools the Times never allows the proponents of such measures to argue that "Creationism" is another scientific theory that competes with evolution. No, no. "Creationism" is described in every Times article on the subject as a disguise for a religious tenet. In fact, the attempted concealment is generally the major "news" component of any Times article on "Creationism"

And feng shui? That's just a matter for cultural diversity. Or, in the words of the Times' unfiltered and uncontradicted quotes:

"The structure of a building can affect a person's mood," the measure says, "which can influence a person's behavior, which, in turn, can determine the success of a person's personal and professional relationships." "We need to allow the expression of one's culture. That's why people come to California." .... "Feng shui is a very major cultural factor." ... "If there is harmony in the house, there is order in the nation. ... If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."

No need to point out the religious content in any of that. And, for that matter, no need to point out that imposing feng sui principles on the building code would probably add many billions of dollars to construction costs every year in California, a state in which "affordable" construction is already almost extinct.

Gotta keep that chi up as a matter of official public policy and law!

I can't wait to face the Los Angeles building permit process for, say, adding another bathroom in the house, if this thing goes through. And to pay the contractor for building it.

But the Times doesn't report on any of that. Apparently Constitutional infirmity, religious outrage, and huge added construction costs just isn't news fit to print.

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The Unspeakable After The Unelectable

David Brooks with dry hilarity nails the Democratic Party's dynamic of choosing its nominee - John Kerry at the moment - mostly on the grounds of contentless "electability." Among other things, Mr. Brooks brilliantly describes the Democrat/media hall-of-fun-house-mirrors process that has elevated a nearly meaningless Iowa caucus and an irrelevant, favorite-son dominated New Hampshire primary to essential contests.

Of course, the great irony of the "electabiity"criterion - an irony unspeakable by the media - is that not a single voter in the general election will choose either candidate on the basis of his "electability."

How smart is it to choose a candidate with a criterion of no interest to voters in the general election? The Democrats are about to find out.

Read! Laugh! Cry! It's incredibly expensive entertainment - and you're paying for it!

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Spell Checker

The Wall Street Journal today offers some intriguing evidence as to the roots of the continuing irrational media infatuation with Senator Edwards in the form of an amazingly wrong-headed endorsement of Josh Marshall in a survey of political internet web sites:

An assiduous reporter with a writer's eye for nuance and detail, Josh Marshall spent the past week hop-scotching from one New Hampshire campaign rally to another, giving readers of his blog an on-the-ground sense of, for instance, how a candidate like Sen. Edwards was able to reassert himself.

"I've realized that it's impossible not to believe Edwards is going to be the nominee while you're actually watching an Edwards event," he wrote on Sunday. "The certainty wears off awhile later, of course. But while he's got you in his crowd you're under his spell ... There's some sort of hypnosis. At least in the moment, he's that good."

It should be among a candidate's worst nightmares that he convinces his audience of things that they later realize were the results of "a kind of hypnosis." Such a style of campaigning is highly uncondusive to inspiring the kind of loyalty and trust in a constituency that a serious candidate needs. What should be seen as a huge weakness in Senator Edwards' approach is seen by Marshall and this Journal reporter as a kind of strength: he's that good.

This kind of weakness is a very standard and long-observed pitfall of politicians, and it is easy to see that it's a big problem for Edwards in particular. Some media representatives do see the problem, at least in some cases,as David Brooks recently observed:

Aristotle believed that the greatest speakers don't just persuade audiences to accept an argument - they get people to trust their judgment. They use emotion and logic to establish their character, which leaves a deeper impression than the momentary thrill of a standing ovation. [Edwards'] speech does not do that. ... Edwards's answers are just too facile.

Brooks is not a reporter. Many reporters covering Edwards don't seem to understand at all - and fall in love. Why might that be?

Could it be that for most reporters hypnotizing readers with an article for a short time is just fine for the reporter's career? Do reporters sense that they have this in common with Edwards?

It is certainly fine for a trial lawyer to cast a spell that lasts for the length of the jury's deliberations. It simply doesn't matter that the jury may wake up a week later thinking: How could I have done such a thing?

The dynamic is a little different in politics. The presidential election process rewards those who can burst another candidate's bubble - while introducing resources far beyond those available in, say, a personal injury trial.

Assuming the spell can be made to last through an election, doesn't this aspect of Senator Edwards' approach suggest why at the time he decided not to run for re-election he was doing rather poorly in North Carolina polls? It seems that the spell had lifted in North Carolina.

It's a mistake even for a fancy trial lawyer to argue with Aristotle.

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Among The Clintonoids

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. today joins Dick Morris in arguing that Howard Dean has been demolished by the Clintons:

To understand the 2004 presidential campaign we must bear in mind that there are actually two campaigns going on. The first appears to be a campaign among Democrats for the party's presidential nomination. Actually, as is becoming clearer every day, it is a campaign for control of the party for years to come; and that the Clintons are waging it is increasingly apparent. The second campaign is a historic struggle between the two factions of the 1960s generation -- once known as the young right and the young radicals -- to claim that generation's identity once and for all. ...

The most imminent of these campaigns now is the Clintons' campaign to maintain control of the Democratic Party. Last summer's noisy rise of Mr. Dean, the outsider, sent alarm through the Clinton camp. The open field after New Hampshire is more to their liking. It allows for Bill's high-profile trip to Washington this week. His influence will grow, and the arrival of a bruised Democratic frontrunner at the convention this summer will allow Senator Hillary to play a dominant role. ....

Sources in the Kerry camp and the Edwards camp told my colleague "The Prowler" at that much of the opposition research that smeared Mr. Dean in Iowa came from the Clark campaign. "It wasn't just Clark, though," a Kerry staffer reported, "We know of at least two different stories that came from people currently on staff with the DNC, who fed the material to reporters." Says an Edwards staffer, "These are folks who worked for Clinton back in '92 and '96 and in the administration."

That all pretty much tracks the Morris analysis. But what about the future? Where is this all going? Where are the Clintons taking it? In particular, Mr. Tyrell, in my view, veers towards the highly unlikely:

Will frontrunner Mr. Kerry be the next victim of the Clintons' political research teams? Possibly not ... He may be limping in after still more primary battles. Then Hillary ...[may] allow herself to be nominated to the No. 2 spot...

Senator Kerry may or may not be strong in the Convention, but he is not obviously offensive to the Clintons' ambitions as the nominee. He has not threatened to dismantle the Clinton influence in the DNC or the Party generally. Of course, he may simply be keeping quiet about such intentions and do it anyway if he obtains the nomination. But the threat Senator Kerry poses to the Clintons lies in the possibility that he may actually win the election. That development would, of course, be completely inconsistent with Hillary ever becoming president. There no significant likelihood that Hillary Clinton would accept the No.2 position on a ticket she wants to go down to defeat. No. The Clintons would be perfectly happy with Senator Kerry becoming the nominee, not disrupting the current of the DNC an the Party generally - and then losing.

Returning to Mr. Tyrell's question: Will frontrunner Mr. Kerry be the next victim of the Clintons' political research teams? Not soon, at least with respect to releasing anything fatal. Instead, the Tyrrell/Morris approach suggests that the Clintons' would do that only after Senator Kerry becomes the nominee. Of course, at that point the research could not directly or obviously come from the DNC. But indirection is well within the Clintons' capabilities.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Voice From The Sewer

William Safire sketches out a plausible route leading to a brokered Democratic convention in today's column, a column that uses the term "voice from the sewer." I confess that I had not seen this phrase before, but it's a beaut. Here's the explanation:

Conventions have also served the function of building enthusiasm for the party’s candidates, and even before the advent of television, sometimes this enthusiasm was not entirely spontaneous. At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1940, a message from President Franklin Roosevelt was read indicating that the president had no desire to be nominated for an unprecedented third term. The delegates were stunned, but soon a “We want Roosevelt” chant began that lasted for forty-five minutes, leaving Roosevelt no choice but to accept the nomination. This demonstration did not begin on its own. Chicago’s superintendent of sewers had rigged a microphone into the arena’s public address system and started the chant immediately after Roosevelt’s statement was read. This went down in history as the “voice from the sewer.”

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

New England Verities II

There is already a dim awareness dawning at the New York Times that local favorite son considerations still matter a lot. But now that previously-ignored verity is trotted out by the Times to bolster the usual media love and hopes for Senator Edwards:

As he was last week in Iowa, Senator John Edwards was the man in motion at the end of the race. Almost half the voters who chose him here did so in the past three days, an indication that he was gaining but ran out of time. Mr. Edwards now heads to next week's contest in his native South Carolina a presumptive favorite son.

So, here's the Times' thought: After finishing just a few points behind first-place John Kerry in Iowa, John Edwards "bounced" all the way from about 8% in the New Hampshire polls to a grand 12% in the actual vote - while during the same period John Kerry bounced to 39%. But the Times says Senator Edwards just ran out of time. Yes, perhaps if Senator Edwards had kept going for, say, another three months he could have been a contender in New Hampshire.

Why must the Times pretend that there is reason to believe Edwards was on the upswing in New Hampshire? Can't it be enough for the Times to just point out that Senator Edwards may do well in the South - which Senator Kerry has essentially chucked overboard? And why can't the Times admit that Kerry's "win" in New Hampshire was probably inflated by the exact same "presumptive favorite son" considerations that the Times awards to Edwards in South Carolina? And what's wrong with mentioning that Senator Kerry has a personality and bearing that is likely all but unbearable in the West - but that Senator Edwards' personality and bearing don't have that problem?

It's also dawn at Fox News, which notes:

Despite spending a good part of the past year campaigning in New Hampshire and holding more than 100 town hall meetings, Edwards could not overcome the built-in advantages of the New Englanders.

"They're from right next door," Edwards said of Kerry and Dean. "They're expected to do that."

Edwards wants to make a stand with a win next week in South Carolina, his native state.
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Tony Blair Is Off The Hook ...

... but the BBC is placed firmly on its own hook.

This is a good opportunity for defunding and/or disestablishing the Beeb.

Link from Croow Blog.
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New England Verities

Work is the curse of the blogging class.

But work has let up a bit in time to note that the media is almost universally assigning a significance to the New Hampshire primary that is, in my opinion, completely unjustified. And the consequences of that behavior seem poised to become even more embarrassing to the media.

Media blindness to New Hampshire's provincialism has not always been the case. Bill Clinton's strong 1992 second-place showing in New Hampshire enabled him to dub himself the "comeback kid" and eventually become the President. Mr. Clinton finished behind former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts - whose Senate seat is now occupied by Senator John Kerry. Senator Tsongas was, like his successor Kerry, a favorite son. Tsongas' win was therefore appropriately discounted by the media. Clinton's success was significant because it was based totally on matters unaffected by particularly local concerns.

The basic fact is that this is a primary in a small state that is dominated by two favorite-son candidates from adjoining states. The most striking thing about what seems to be happening in New Hampshire is that Kerry and Dean - the two favorite sons - combined are on their way to garnering a mere two-thirds of the vote. (According to DRUDGE, it's now Kerry-36%, Dean 30%. UPDATE: Kerry-39, Dean-26, Clark-13, Edwards-12, Lieberman 9) That shows - in my opinion - that both of them are unusually weak candidates. If Dean and Kerry were not weak candidates and the New Hampshire results were therefore completely dominated by these two local favorites, the media probably would have seen more clearly that the New Hampshire primary is irrelevant because it reflects local concerns and prejudices in a small state. But the weakness of these two men creates the illusion that New Hampshire is a national microcosm. In other words, both Dean and Kerry have benefited enormously by their own weaknesses. It won't last.

There is a small additional bit of information in Joe Lieberman's expected very weak showing. He, too, is a New Englander - and the compete absence of enthusiasm for his candidacy in New Hampshire also shows his hopeless weakness. He is an intelligent man, so he will now likely drop out. [UPDATE: He says he's not leaving. So much for intelligence.]

Senator Kerry's "win" today will also be discounted once the media remembers that most of the country lies well south of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location and that Dr. Dean had become a sainted "underdog" who has now, apparently, "come back" as Bill Clinton did from the Gennifer Flowers scandal that nearly derailed him. But that will leave Dr. Dean's "comeback" with much more significance than it deserves. Early returns from New Hampshire are suggesting that Dr. Dean will also have one of those invaluable strong second-place showing in New Hampshire. So isn't Howard Dean the NEW COMEBACK KID?!

Just to write such a thing is to sense its absurdity - although I do not yet write off Howard Dean.

Of course, there are some major differences between 1992 and 2004. Bill Clinton was a Southerner - and anything but a favorite son. The character problems at the root of the 1992 scandal (poor sexual judgment coupled with a broad tendency to prevaricate) eventually seriously impaired the effectiveness of his presidency. So perhaps voters have learned from that experience. Dr. Dean's character problems that have caused much of his decline are, if anything, more obvious and more obviously relevant to his fitness for the office of the presidency.

If either of the Southerners John Edwards or Wesley Clark were to do well in this primary, that part of the story would have special significance, as Bill Clinton's part of the story did in 1992. But at this point they don't seem to be doing well at all (Drudge, again, reports 12 for Edwards and 9 For Clark). The media may have permanently outgrown its former preposterous infatuation with Clark. But 12 points may be enough to preserve the media's widespread willing, continual, irrational infatuation with John Edwards' empty suit and "it"-ism. John Edwards, a man shallow enough to evaporate within minutes of sunup, but whose feckless words (even his body language) nevertheless occassion admiration and respect, sometimes fear, from even some conservative media figures who seem completely aware of the cynicism of his rhetoric. In any event, his failure to do well in New Hampshire doesn't reveal much new information about John Edwards' viability.

The distorted significance being given to New Hampshire is further complicated by the fact that many reporters have evidently conceived a strong personal dislike for Dr. Dean. And that's true of John Kerry, too. Although by many reports both men provide ample grounds for the reporters' reaction, those reactions - coupled with irrational media infatuation with John Edwards - further obscures the small, real story in New Hampshire: Both Dean and Kerry are weak candidates. Very weak. Senator Lieberman is hopelessly weaker - and should leave right away.

UPDATE: John Ellis distills about as much information from the New Hampshire results as can be done reasonably without pretending to get too much. A must read.

FURTHER UPDATE: John Edwards is shallow, but he's not stupid:

Mr. Edwards's showing came as a disappointment to the senator from North Carolina, coming a week after he placed second in Iowa last week. But his advisers noted that he had had less time here than he had in Iowa, where he had built up steam in the final days of that race, and that he was competing against two men ? Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts and Dr. Dean of Vermont ? from neighboring states.

Well, DUH.

Next Tuesday, when South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and North Dakota have their primaries, will be a real test for all of these candidates. And so will California and New York. Senator Kerry is still far short of a majority even this close to home - and those who think this nomination will be decided soon are reading too much into too little. It's hard to see Kerry really catching fire nation wide. As a 2002 Boston magazine article unearthed by Kerry-loathing Kausfiles describes the new JFK: thin-skinned panderer who poses as a courageous, post-partisan freethinker on issues such as education and campaign finance reform, but bails out when the going gets tough. Now that's the kind of reaction it takes to fire up broad national enthusiasm! Now that Kerry is the designated front runner, all of the others will have intense incentives to point out to the voters the many aspects of Senator Kerry's history and character that gave rise to those Boston sentiments. The effect of that effort may be dramatic - and will probably at least keep Senator Kerry from building a full groundswell. And it's hard to see anyone else catching fire, either. Local ups and downs are a distinct possibility. As is Al Sharpton. Indeed, the reported emphasis Democratic primary voters are placing on the "electability issue" and on the "Anybody But Bush" approach pretty well drives home how little enthusiasm any of these candidates is creating among the broad electorate - even as their much smaller core supporter groups shout themselves hoarse.


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Sunday, January 25, 2004


Many pro-choice activists have long dismissed the arguments of pro-life activists that acceptance of abortion will lead to acceptance of infanticide.

Yet, the dismissed argument has always been intuitively correct - although obviously difficult to verify. Now we have this:

A GOVERNMENT adviser on genetics has sparked fury by suggesting it might be acceptable to destroy children with ‘defects’ soon after they are born.

John Harris, a member of the Human Genetics Commission, told a meeting at Westminster he did not see any distinction between aborting a fully grown unborn baby at 40 weeks and killing a child after it had been born.

Harris, who is a professor of bioethics at Manchester University, would not be drawn on which defects or problems might be used as grounds for ending a baby’s life, or how old a child might be while it could still be destroyed.

Harris was reported to have said that he did not believe that killing a child was always inexcusable.

Professor Harris is not crazy. Nor was General Wesley Clark crazy when he stated that a woman had the right to abort her fetus at any time before birth - even long after it had become fully viable. Yes, these opinions are the opinions of moral idiots. But these opinions are nevertheless becoming quite mainstream - and they are becoming mainstream because broad abortion rights and practice are encouraging many people to view infanticide as no big deal.

It's just a fact. In large measure you can thank the Supreme Court of the United States.

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