Man Without Qualities

Friday, October 08, 2004

Failure Of Another Kind Of Intelligence

The report by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group and the Senate testimony Wednesday by Charles A. Duelfer, head of the survey group, make claims that President Bush "misled" the public absurd. If the Report is correct, such charges assume that the American President knew more about the Iraq weapons programs than did the Iraqi President's closest aides. For example, the Los Angeles Times, reports:

Shortly before the U.S. bombing and invasion of Iraq last year, Saddam Hussein gathered his top generals together to share what came to them as astonishing news: The weapons that the United States was launching a war to remove did not exist.

"There was plenty of surprise when Saddam said, 'Sorry guys, we don't have any' " weapons of mass destruction to use against the invading forces, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. ....

Far from being misinformed, the report says, Hussein was micromanaging Iraq's weapons policy himself and kept even his most loyal aides from gaining a clear picture of what was going on — and, more important, not going on — with the program.

Moreover, the Duelfer Report makes John Kerry's (current) campaign position that he would not have invaded Iraq based on what we know now not only irrelevant, but grotesque. No President is ever properly held to a "twenty-tweny-hindsight" standard that Senator Kerry is suggesting applies - a suggestion he will, by the way, deeply regret if he is elected in next month.

The proper standard for judging the President is, and always has been: Did the President make the correct decision based on the intelligence he had then? The core of the "Bush lied" assault on the President has been entirely based on the claim that he knew more than he disclosed to the public. But the Duelfer Report says that even Saddam's closest aides did not possess the information the "Bush Lied" crowd claims the President kept to himself.

Even more fundamentally, the Duelfer Report makes charges that American intelligence should have determined what Saddam's closest military aides could not determine - the status of Iraq's weapons programs - also absurd.

In short: If the Duelfer Report is correct, accepting arguments that the President withheld information on the status of Iraq's weapons systems, or that American intelligence misled the government or the world, shows nothing but a failure of another kind of intelligence that is, "smarts."

For the moment, the Democrats and Kerry-Edwards are happy to treat the mainstream media as useful fools and tools, and the mainstream media seem happy to serve those roles (As an author reviewed by the New York Times puts it in a spiritually similar coontext: This is the truth about the beauty of submission.). But as the recent meltdown of Dan Rather indicates, that is a very risky thing for a news media outlet to accept, since the American people do not often experience a failure of that kind of intelligence even when the media lets them down badly. If Mr. Bush is on his game in tonight's debate, the Democrats and Kerry-Edwards should both learn just how risky a game they are playing.
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The Other 97.5% II: Another Shoe Drops

There's lots of economic news for the candidates to fuss over tonight! As the Senate Joint Economic Committee puts it:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced today that the economy added 96,000 new payroll jobs in September. According to BLS, severe weather in September “appears to have held down employment growth.” The unemployment rate remained at 5.4 percent, well below its peak of 6.3 percent last June, and below the average unemployment rates of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. BLS also announced today that employment growth between April 2003 and March 2004 was underestimated by approximately 236,000 jobs, or an average of 20,000 jobs per month. If this revision is taken into account, 1.9 million new payroll jobs have been created since April 2003.

Some commentators and journalists
[heads up, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman, this means YOU] have recently stated that job growth has failed to keep up with population growth. This is false. Since the unemployment rate peaked at 6.3 percent last June, total employment has increased by 2.2 million, the labor force has increased by 949,000, and unemployment has fallen by 1.2 million. Due to the large increase in employment and large decrease in unemployment, the unemployment rate has fallen significantly, despite population growth.


During September, 96,000 new payroll jobs were created. The unemployment rate remained at 5.4 percent.

According to a preliminary estimate of annual revisions to the payroll survey, employment growth between April 2003 and March 2004 was underestimated by approximately 236,000 jobs, or an average of 20,000 jobs per month.

Approximately 1.9 million new jobs have been created since last April once this benchmark estimate is taken into account.

The strong growth of payroll employment, however, does not tell the whole story because it does not include self-employment. According to the household survey, which includes self employment, total employment has increased by more than 2.2 million since last April. ....

In the 100 days following September 11, 2001, nearly 1 million jobs were lost. ... After a sustained increase beginning in mid-2000, new claims for unemployment insurance are as low as they’ve been in nearly 4 years. Inflation and interest rates are near historical lows. The homeownership rate in the U.S. is at a record-high of 69.3 percent, and the minority homeownership rate is also the highest it’s ever been. Inflation-adjusted after-tax income – the broadest measure of how much money Americans take home at the end of the day – has increased by 10 percent since December 2000....

Additional Reading:
A Recent History of Benchmark Revisions:

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Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Other 97.5%

Tomorrow George Bush and John Kerry will have a chance to discuss material determining about 97.5% of the upcoming election: domestic economic matters. But that doesn't mean tomorrow's debate will necessarilly move the election or polls more than the last one - or at all. Over the years voters have shown a clear pattern of voting their own economic interests as those interests have been personally experienced by the voter - not as they are discussed b the candidates or massed spinning pundits. Moreover, "domestic economy" is to a large extent code for "jobs" and "inflation." The jobs situtation, especially, takes about 6 or 7 months to show up clearly in voter preferences - and that factor has been working strongly but slowly in favor of this incumbent.

But there is still lots to discuss. Oil is way up - but hasn't hit the consumer all that hard, yet. Jobless claims are recently way down.

But tomorrow is a potentially incendiary day for a presidential debate because of this:

Administration - On Jobs, an October Surprise?

By John Maggs
National Journal Magazine


Mark October 8 on your calendar. On the same day that John Kerry and George W. Bush are scheduled to clash in a debate, one of the most potent criticisms of Bush's economic record may lose most of its bite.

On that day, the Labor Department will announce September's unemployment figures, which either will show the job-creation slump of the past several months continuing, or will signal that employment growth is back on track.

More important, October 8 is also the date that the Labor Department squares the previous year's employment estimates with actual experience. And based on hints from other data on pay for workers, some Wall Street economists are expecting a hefty increase in the number of jobs created over the past year under Bush. If so, the final month of the presidential race may play out in a very different economic environment.

It could happen because this race is, unlike any other in history, being influenced by the way each campaign is portraying the job numbers. ....[T]hat 2.6 million job deficit since Bush's inauguration has fallen to 900,000 through August and sets the stage for a possible reversal next month. The first step toward having that happen will be September's job market. ... The second step is the yearly correction in the job-creation numbers, known as "benchmarking." The numbers now on the books are estimates, based on the Department of Labor's monthly survey of thousands of employers. After a year, however, Labor officials have hard data on the number of people applying for unemployment benefits in each state, and the employment figures are adjusted accordingly....

A look at past revisions reveals a pattern -- the survey of businesses tends to overcount jobs created during a recession and undercount them during a recovery. .... If the real recovery in employment began in the summer of 2003, as it now seems, then history would suggest that a revision upward is likely on October 8. And there is another reason that some economists who look closely at these numbers are expecting a big increase. So far, compensation for workers has grown healthily, while workers' average wages aren't rising as much. That would suggest that there are more workers out there than have been counted so far. Jared Bernstein, a former deputy chief economist with the Labor Department, said that if compensation is rising and wages are not, it could augur a sizable boost on October 8 in the estimate of the number of jobs.....

There is yet another reason to expect a revision upward in the job numbers. The most widely cited number for job creation is based on what's called a "payroll" survey of businesses. But another survey by the Labor Department estimates job creation by polling 60,000 households. Most economists consider the household survey less accurate, and it isn't cited nearly as often, but it has gained some adherents in the Bush administration because it suggests that the number of people working has increased under Bush. Economists have been debating for decades about the advantages and shortcomings of the two surveys, but the gap has grown recently between the two estimates. In fact, it has never been wider.

So, how big could the upward revision be on October 8? The average yearly revision since 1979 has been 257,000, and the average of all upward revisions is 308,000. In 2000, there was a positive revision of 468,000.

What this means is that a decent September for job creation, added to an average-sized revision for a recovery, could wipe out half or two-thirds of the remaining 900,000 deficit in jobs under Bush. It is conceivable that almost all of the deficit could disappear next month.

Will an upward revision happen? And, if it does, as a helpful e-mailer points out, we can expect the Paul Krugmans and Michael Moores to start shouting "fraud!" and "manipulation!"

I'm on the edge of several of my seats!
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Stanley Kurtz On The Climate Of Fear

Welcome NRO And Stanley Kurtz readers.

Mr. Kurtz expands on the analysis, and uncovers more evidence, supporting the existence of an asymmetrical political Climate of Fear. More here. Mr. Kurtz's article is well worth reading in its entirety.

The evidence supporting the existence of an asymmetrical political COF is substantial, but by no means scientific or completely systematic. It would be interesting for one or more of the national pollsters to investigate this phenomenon. There are lots of questions to be asked and answered here, and they are a lot more important than many questions with which such pollsters often trouble themselves. Is the concern of many Republicans that they will likely be subject to political vandalism if they express their views real? If so, is the concern justified? Do many Democrats feel the same way - but use bumper stickers and signs anyway? What motivates the perpetrators of political vandalism? Is it geographical? If so, is it more common where, say, Kerry-Edwards support is high (where perpetrators may feel more secure) or low (where perpetrators may feel more isolated and powerless) or something more complex?

My own experience and e-mail has been similar to that of Mr. Kurtz, with the overwhelming number of responses supporting the existence of an asymmetrical COF. But there are also complexities, especially in relying on anecdotal evidence and even on police statistics. For example, some e-mails indicate what may be a skepticism by police of people complaining to the police, and especially the media, of political vandalism. It appears that such complaints are suspected by at least some police of often being mistakes (for example, signs are often placed on the city land or contrary to home association rules and removed by trash collectors or people who feel justified in "correcting" what they see as an illegal activity) or just bogus or exaggerated (complaints to the media garner articles in the local newspaper). Such skepticism may help to explain why the police often do not seem to take serious action.

But a detailed, anonymous national poll might be able to bypass those problems and really determine whether a lot of people are, in fact, not expressing themselves politically in ways their political opponents feel free to employ.

Of course, such a poll would cost money. Perhaps the National Review could find some media partners to commission and finance such a poll?

Just a thought.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Will John Kerry Ride Into A Western Sunset And Take The Democratic Party With Him?

I have theorized that an early Bush-Cheney win determined by East Coast voting would likely have an unusually large and negative effect on Democratic turnout in the West - and therefore have an unusually large positive Republican coat tails effect throughout the West:
[I]t seems likely (and at least plausible) that Kerry-Edwards' supporters would be unusually and disproportionately disheartened by an early and big Bush-Cheney win because so many supporters of Kerry-Edwards don't like "their" candidate anyway. A post-win vote just evidences the voters affirmative support for the loser, and there's not much of that to evidence on the Democratic side. Once Mr. Bush wins, there's no point in voting against him. If that perspective is correct, Kerry-Edwards supporters should stay home much more than is usual (compared to other elections) and much more than Bush-Cheney supporters (in this election). ... [E]lections are normally driven by the race at the top of the ticket. If Kerry-Cheney supporters stay away in droves, Democrats will likely be adversely and seriously affected all down the line. ... Western voters have more of a chance to evaluate Eastern voting patterns before deciding whether it's worth a trip to the polls - which should tend to exaggerate the turn-out consequences. ... John Kerry's aloof personality, a personality that is already hard for a lot of New Englanders to take, is even less sufferable in the West than it is in the rest of the country. ... I therefore strongly suspect that Western Kerry-Edwards supporters are even more disproportionately voting against Mr. Bush, and not for John Kerry, than is true in the rest of the country. If my suspicion is correct, Western Democratic turnout should be even more reduced by a big early Bush-Cheney win. My expectation is that a big and early win for Bush-Cheney ... would translate into a particularly large Republican "coat tails" effect, especially in the West - even in California.Of course, we don't yet know that there will be such a big and early win.
The aftermath of the first presidential debate provides additional support for my earlier theory, as expressed in this remarkable passage from Dan Straight (link thanks to Kausfiles):

[T]he debate reenergized some of Kerry's previously demoralized base on the coasts, but didn't help him much where it counts. This renewed excitement among the base would also explain why there are suddenly a lot more Democrats in many national surveys.But remember, a decent chunk of Kerry's base really doesn't like him - they just hate Bush. When Kerry looks like he might get rid of Bush, they get excited and tell pollsters they're definitely going to vote. When it looks like Bush will probably win, Kerry's base disappears. I think this explains why there have been a few wild swings in the polling despite the fact that there really aren't many swing voters. It's not (so much) the people in the middle who are switching between Kerry and Bush (pace Mark Penn) - it's the people on the far left switching between Kerry and none of the above.
Of course, some (but not all) polls taken in the aftermath of the first debate suggest a reduced chance of a large, early Bush-Cheney win. Questions have been raised about the methodology, and therefore the accuracy, of such polls (do the Democrats who were defending the "party-norming" pollsters who "normalize" for party identification on the assumption that it is essentially fixed still cling to their defenses?). But Mr. Straight also points out that there is reason to doubt the significance of such post-debate polls even if one accepts their accuracy.

Read the whole thing.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More Evidence Of The Existence Of Mass Amnesia

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show
that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological
weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.
He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including
Al Qaeda members... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked,
Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and
chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal,
murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime ... He presents a
particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to
miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his
continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction...
So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is
- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the
authority to use force-- if necessary-- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I
believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands
is a real and grave threat to our security."
- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

"[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the
US Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions, including, if
appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites to respond
effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of
mass destruction programs."
- Letter to President Clinton, from Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom
Daschle (D-SD), John Kerry (D -MA), and others Oct. 9,1998

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to
develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them.
That is our bottom line."
- President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is
clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction program."
- President Clinton, Feb. 17,1998

"Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great
deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use
nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the
greatest security threat we face."
- Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

"Hussein has chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass
destruction and palaces for his cronies."
- Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten
times since 1983."
- Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb 18,1998

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass
destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and
he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
- Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

"There is no doubt that ... Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons
programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear
programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition,
Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using
the cover of an illicit missile program to develop longer-range missiles
that will threaten the United States and our allies."
- Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and
others, December 5, 2001

"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and
threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the
mandated of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction
and the means of delivering them."
- Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical
weapons throughout his country."
- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to
deter and we should assume that it will continue for as
long as Saddam is in power."
- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and
developing weapons of mass destruction."
- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA),Sept. 27, 2002

"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are
confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and
biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to
build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence
reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."
- Sen. Robert Byrd D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working
aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons
within the next five years .. We also should remember we have always
underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of
mass destruction."
- Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years,
every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and
destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity.
This he has refused to do"
- Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that
Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing
capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction."
- Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002
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Climate Of Fear II: Could Liberal Hothouse Gases Cause Global Political Warming?

A prior post discussed what I called a Climate of Fear: Bush-Cheney supporters choosing not to display bumper stickers and lawn signs out of concern of car, home and other damage inflicted by angry liberals. I noted that the apparent phenomenon does not appear to be symmetrical. The asymmetries continue - at least in anecdotal form. The abode of the Man Without Qualities is Los Feliz, a heavily Democratic part of Los Angeles. One hears many pro-Kerry rants in these parts, as fully caffeinated denizens of Cafe Los Feliz (the best coffee and pastries in Los Angeles), the Coffee Table (brooding writers abound ... originally solely in Silver Lake, but now also in Eagle Rock), the Alcove (up the street from from Childrens Hospital's, which helps to provide an interesting lunch crowd including child cardiologists who say that hardly anyone performs the "Mustard procedures" any more and whose Saban Research Institute proves that even a man as politically silly as Haim Saban can do a lot of good) and any number of other local haunts share their far-liberal political views freely, often sauced with verbal venom and confessing to an increasing lack of personal control and rationality. This quote from Kerry-Edwards supporter and British novelist Margaret Drabble appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, but could almost have been overheard at either Coffee Table: "My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world. I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes." Such diatribes are often rather loud and scornful - which is fine by me, since such rants are not really violent in my experience. But I have not yet witnessed such a public pro-Democratic rant confronted by someone nearby who has been required to overhear it, even though there is often a substantial involuntary audience (this is, after all, largely an entertainment industry colony).

One doesn't hear pro-Bush-Cheney rants very often here in Los Feliz, but that is consistent with the political makeup of the place. What is more curious is that one doesn't hear pro-Bush-Cheney rants in more Republican areas, such as nearby Glendale and La Canada-Flintridge. Moreover, even though there appear to be fewer Republican rants, there seem to be more anecdotes of Republicans being hooted down and/or confronted by overhearing liberals, even where the Republicans were speaking privately and rather quietly. A Republican friend recently had such an experience at a Dodgers game, for example. Indeed, around Los Feliz, if one cares to listen one can hear people telling others with satisfaction of how the speaker had recently interrupted a conversation between Bush-Cheney supporters, often because the speaker "just couldn't stand the b******t anymore" or the like - a sentiment very much like that of Ms. Drabble.

Could the growing human emission of Democratic hothouse gases cause global warming in the national political climate of fear? The science is incomplete. But there are some troubling signs that frustrated liberals may be resorting more often to violence beyond a good rant or a less-acceptable challenge of nearby Republican table conversation.

MORE: Glenn Reynolds is on the scene in Knoxville, TN covering the latest objections to Mr. Bush's Presidency.

STILL MORE: Link from Drudge.

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One View Of Mankind

The Vice Presidential debate looms. It seems an apt moment to contemplate the view that the personal injury lawyer takes of mankind and that inspires so many winning and lucrative arguments to the jury! The worldwide dialogue between the personal injury bar and consumer manufacturers has been proceeding for some time, long enough to have generated a fully formed vision of the human personality and mind - a vision that includes but extends far beyond mere safety considerations. So how better to proceed than with a survey of some actual label instructions on consumer goods, as helpfully and timely provided by an e-mailing friend with commentary already in place:

On a Sears hairdryer -- Do not use while sleeping. (Damn, and that's the only time I have to work on my hair).

On a bag of Fritos -- You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside. (the shoplifter special?)

On a bar of Dial soap -- "Directions: Use like regular soap." (and that would be how???....)

On some Swanson frozen dinners -- "Serving suggestion: Defrost." (but, it's "just" a suggestion).

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom) -- "Do not turn upside down." (well...duh, a bit late, huh!)

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding -- "Product will be hot after heating." (...and you thought????...)

On packaging for a Rowenta iron -- "Do not iron clothes on body." (but wouldn't this save me more time)?

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine -- "Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication." (We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head-colds off those forklifts.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid -- "Warning: May cause drowsiness." (and...I'm taking this because???....)

On most brands of Christmas lights -- "For indoor or outdoor use only." (as opposed to...what)?

On a Japanese food processor -- "Not to be used for the other use." (now, somebody out there, help me on this. I'm a bit curious.)

On Sainsbury's peanuts -- "Warning: contains nuts." (talk about a news flash)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts -- "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts." (Step 3: maybe, Delta?)

On a child's Superman costume -- "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly." (I don't blame the company. I blame the parents for this one.)

On a Swedish chainsaw -- "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals." (Oh my God...was there a lot of this happening somewhere?)


The omnivorous knowledgeable Patrick Sullivan communicates:

On a Swedish chainsaw -- "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals." (Oh my God...was there a lot of this happening somewhere?)

Well, in Roumania:

BUCHAREST, Oct 4 (Reuters) - A elderly Romanian man mistook his penis for a chicken's neck, cut it off and his dog rushed up and ate it, the state Rompres news agency said on Monday.

It said 67 year-old Constantin Mocanu, from a village near the southeastern
town of Galati, rushed out into his yard in his underwear to kill a noisy
chicken keeping him awake at night.

"I confused it with the chicken's neck," Mocanu, who was admitted to the
emergency hospital in Galati, was quoted as saying. "I cut it ... and the
dog rushed and ate it."

Doctors said the man, who was brought in by an ambulance bleeding heavily,
was now out of danger.

Astute reader PS comments:

On a Japanese food processor -- "Not to be used for the other use."
(now, somebody out there, help me on this. I'm a bit curious.) ...

I immediately thought of the old expression "do the other thing" as a euphemism for "go fuck yourself" as in "I'm a conservative and those who don't like it may do the other thing." It would definitely be a bad idea to use a food processer to "go fuck yourself." Ouch. I dunno what the manufacturer intended, but I like my theory simply for entertainment value. The expression seems to have fallen out of general use, but it was fairly common 50 years ago.

Esoteric and clever PJF e-mails:

Just a krazy guess, mind you, but it could be a reference to this celebrated case (as recounted on the Court TV website) which would be familiar to many Japanese of a certain age. Here's an excerpt:

In Cannibal Killers, Moira Martingale describes how Issei Sagawa, a brilliant Japanese student, obsessed over tall women with Occidental features. Eventually fantasy was not enough, so while studying for his degree in English literature at Wako University in Tokyo, he became attracted to a German woman who was teaching him the language.

"When I met this woman in the street," he later said to British reporter Peter McGill, "I wondered if I could eat her."

You can probably guess where this one's heading. It ends in a Paris refrigerator.

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Monday, October 04, 2004

It's Cul-de-sac All Over Again

Yogi Berra never said that, of course, but if he extended himself to the last Thursday's presidential debate and its punditocracy aftermath, he could have. I do not believe Senator Kerry's performance in the Presidential debate will prove to be effective in a lasting manner - for reasons similar to those that rendered his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, and that Convention, ineffective. Many of the same pundits who proclaimed the Senator's dead-end acceptance speech a success are now declaring what I believe to be his equally dead-end debate performance a success. Yes, in the case of the first debate Senator Kerry has seen an ambiguous, modest bounce in some polls - a bounce a little clearer than the ambiguous, modest bounce he may have received after his all-but-disastrous convention and acceptance speech. But his debate performance probably wasn't a meaningful success - although not for the reasons most of his critics have focused upon to date.

The Man Without Qualities has not previously commented on the first Presidential debate because I assumed (apparently incorrectly, but there is so much I can't review) that my view would be reflected more or less accurately among the huge outpouring of commentary. There are those who think the Senator was awful - but these commenters write too much like college debate judges or theater reviewers. A presidential debate is not a college debate and definitely not an entertainment. There are those who think not not only was the Senator terrible, but that the President did a wonderful job - but these writers are focusing on substance and ideology, not on effectiveness of the performance. Bill Clinton, for example, was always essentially substantively contentless in his debates, but he was very effective. RealClear Politics offers an interesting set of considerations as to why the Democratic "bounce" will, or won't, last. I largely agree with the "won't" factors - but I would like to offer a somewhat different focus.

To begin with, one should ask why Mr. Bush was gaining, and Senator Kerry losing, altitude in the weeks before the election even though the media has been presenting Iraq developments as negative? Of course, those developments are by no means as negative as the media has stressed. Iraqi elections are coming, and they will likely work out, just as the Afghan elections are probably going to work out. And the "insurgency" is probably focused on the US elections, and is not a structural instability at all. And the Swift Boat Veteran stories have surely had some effect on Senator Kerry's image - at least with some voters.

But in my view the big reason that President has been gaining ground is that this election is 97.5% about the domestic economy, which has been steadily improving. That means that Thursday's debate did not touch the main factors determining how this vote will come out.

What did ordinary people think? There are the apparent majorities who think Senator Kerry "won" the debate - but that "winning" seems to be determined on grounds quite separate from the only reason the debates are held, changing votes, a question left for a later news cycle. There are the fast-out-of-the-box Newsweek poll and USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, each of which detects a fairly substantial swing in electorate preference in his favor, apparently as a result of the debate. But those result are not harmonious with another Gallup poll, which suggests that the debate changed very few votes. Nor are they easily squared with what's happened so far in the Rasmussen Poll:

Monday October 04, 2004--The latest Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll shows President George W. Bush with 49% of the vote and Senator John Kerry with 46%. ... These results are based upon a survey of 3,000 Likely Voters conducted since Thursday night's debate. Overall, they show that Senator Kerry has so far gained one percentage point from the debate. ... In addition to winning the debate, the Kerry team won the post-debate spin.

Nor is a big swing consistent with the Zogby Poll, which shows at best a tiny increase in the Senator standing in a two-man race, and no change at all in a three-man race. A swing of anywhere near the magnitude detected in the Newsweek Poll, especially, should have manifested itself strongly in first Gallup take and especially in the Rasmussen and Zogby trends.

My guess in this case is that Rasmussen, Zogby and the earlier Gallup results are closer correct. [And consider this update: President Bush continues to lead Sen. John F. Kerry among likely voters ... according to a Washington Post tracking poll. In the aftermath of last week's debate, Bush leads Kerry 51 percent to 46 percent among those most likely to vote...] That's not just because of reputation and poll methodology (Rasmussen and Zogby are not among my favorite polls), but because the debate did not convey a great deal of new information. For example, this Wall Street Journal editorial correctly observes that little foreign policy information was produced in this alleged foreign policy debate. Indeed, much of the commentary of the pro-Democratic spinners - including the mainstream media - has been at pains to present style as substance. Senator Kerry is said to have been "Presidential." Mr. Bush is said to have "looked tired." These factors are real. But that's not a whole lot of new information at any level. Perhaps more importantly, Senator Kerry has a style that can impress up front, leaving the viewer (that is, the voter) only later to realize that the performance was not what it seemed to be. New York City subways closed for the Republican Convention? "Global test?" Etc. RealClear puts it this way:

Kerry made a number of gaffes and exposed an internationalist world view that a majority of Americans fundamentally disagree with. So far those mistakes have flown more or less under the radar, but they'll be exploited in the coming days (probably starting tomorrow night with Dick Cheney) and erode whatever gains Kerry made with voters in the most recent polls.
I agree with that - but I think the problem for Senator Kerry is deeper than his gaffes. His problem is that the same style he employs to make much of so little works much better in the short run than it does in the medium or long run - as those terms might be meaningfully defined under the hot glare of this Presidential race. Worse, once the short-term effects start to dissipate, his style leave a sense of distrust ... of having been misled. His exploitation of his modest but respectable 4 months in Vietnam - and the recent ugly contraction of his service record - is perhaps the most spectacular example of this larger problem. His gaffes, which seem to flow from a deep need to inflate his issues to the point of self-destruction, is another part of this problem.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, has a style that can be less shark-like and impressive up front, but over time leaves one feeling that he - for all of what can seem to be his comparative inarticulateness - really understands the essentials better than the flashier Senator Kerry. In an odd way, it is Mr. Bush who leaves one more with the sense that he understands the "nuances." Further, I think that particular stylistic difference resonates more with women - and I also think that the enlarged image Senator Kerry presented on the "split screen" (of which too much has been made) will also resonate relatively poorly among women after the first flashes have subsided. In short, I don't think that Senator Kerry did much to shore up his "base" among women in the medium to long run of this campaign. I also think that Senator Kerry had to add some definition to his positions that he has kept carefully ambiguous to date on account of his split base. That should not, over time, work to his benefit.

But although much has been made of Senator Kerry's performance, I don't think it was exceptionally good at all. The bigger problem for the Republicans is that Mr. Bush's performance, while not really bad, showed Mr. Bush without direct, simple answers to entirely predictable and predicted questions and issues. For example, John Kerry said - as many Democrats have been saying - that Saddam Hussein did not attack the United States. Mr. Bush responded as if it were the first time he had heard this canard with: "I know that." But Mr. Bush should have been prepared to casually note that Hitler never attacked the United States, either, but that didn't stop the US from understanding that he was part of a much bigger problem because of his activities over the previous years, such as invading his neighbors. That approach, in turn, should have been used by Mr. Bush to further question Senator Kerry's ability to see the big picture of the unitary war on terrorism. Similarly, Senator Kerry again used his old bromide: "How do you ask a man to be the last guy to die for a mistake." Making this comment was a big substantive mistake by the Senator, since he got himself into the obvious deep water of calling the Iraq War a "mistake" and then denied it. But there are obvious rhetorical responses to this bloviation: "Invading Iraq was no mistake. How would you have asked one of the Iraqi children the US freed to be the last child to die in Saddam's prison?" There are lots more responses that could easily have been canned in advance.

A more disturbing error on the part of the Bush team is the undeniable fact that he looked and acted tired compared to John Kerry. Mr. Bush and his team are supposedly determined to avoid the mistakes his father made in 1992. The very worst mistake Mr. Bush's father made was in allowing himself to seem old and tired compared to Bill Clinton - an error much discussed in the past 12 years. That it was again committed last Thursday by his son is appalling.

Mr. Bush will recover. Senator Kerry is still an incoherent, unlikeable untrustworthy mess, regardless what his spin meisters say. Voters will tolerate a President's looking tired for one day and for not having pointed answers to obvious and predictable questions on one night. More than that makes it look like the weight of his office is wearing the President down - which is a very bad sign. But Mr. Bush won't commit that mistake again.

Obviously others disagree.

UPDATE: The new post-debate Pew poll shows Bush-Cheney leading Kerry-Edwards by 5% among "likely voters" and by 7% among registered voters. In addition, the "internals" in the Pew Poll and the WP Poll are dreadful for Kerry-Edwards. On another front of bad news for the Democrats, the new Newsweek poll seems to have quite a different political party mix than the last one - with a lot more Democrats polled in the new one.

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