Man Without Qualities

Friday, September 30, 2005

Herr Doktorprofessor And The Birth Of The New!

Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman has over the years refined his style, generally settling in recent times on a two-part column structure:

First, dubious factoids (some may prefer the word "factette" - which is like a fact but smaller and softer) are adduced, usually without a clear source or with a source difficult for most readers to check - but almost always tendentiously, and often in paranoid "everyone knows what this means" fashion.

Second, an "analysis" is provided based on the factoids/factettes, usually of a highly dubious nature and attributing the "bad" factoids/factettes de jour to George Bush, who (we were generally reminded) is a corrupt fool who nevertheless has seized control of the world, apparently because he was admitted to schools he should not have been allowed to attend. The "analysis" is backed either explicitly or implicitly with Herr Doktorprofessor's academic credentials. Each column in this style could be provided with a footnote along the lines of: "Hey, buddy, nobody with these credentials would be making an argument that's actually as ridiculous as this one reads: you must just not understand."

The problem with this settled structure is that it leaves Herr Doktorprofessor vulnerable to a critic who actually does understand the analysis, knows it is ridiculous, and is willing to say in no uncertain terms right there on the internet.

What's a raving lun...I mean a major columnist ... to do? Well, genius often lies in simplicity: Herr Doktorprofessor has completely eliminated any analysis whatsoever from today's column, which is nothing but a listing of factoids/factettes presented tendentiously in a paranoid "everyone knows what this means" fashion!

Don't take my word for it. Read the column.

What could account for this change of structure - this complete elimination of even a pretense of analysis? Well, even granting that the new approach is likely an experiment on Herr Doktorprofessor's part, it is probably a result of Times Select, which has probably largely restricted readership of his column to those who are really determined to read it - and that readership disproportionately includes people who already know pretty much what Herr Doktorprofessor is going to do with his analysis once they read the factoids/factettes. In other words, Herr Doktorprofessor's new structure probably reflects his sensitivity to the fact that TimesSelect now means not only that he is preaching to the choir (which has long been the case) but that only the choir can and will hear him and they already know where's he's going once he lays out his tendentious version of those factoids/factettes.

As noted, today's column is nothing but a list of tendentious factoids/factettes, including:

According to a new U.S. government index, the effect of greenhouse gases is up 20 percent since 1990.

The Artic ice cap is shrinking at an alarming rate.

When Senator James Inhofe, who has called scientific research on global warming "a gigantic hoax," called a hearing to attack that research, his star witness was Michael Crichton, the novelist.

It's not possible to attribute any one weather event to global warming. But climate models show that global warming will lead to increased hurricane intensity, and some research indicates that this is already occurring.

Do Herr Doktorprofessor's TimesSelect readers need to read any more? Of course not. The missing "analysis" would just argue that Republicans like Messrs. Bush and Inhofe are clueless about global warming and by rejecting the Kyoto Accord probably helped cause Hurricane Rita and Katrina. Since all available evidence indicates that Kyoto Accord would not have any such effect, the "analysis" would have to amount to another set of snide "everyone knows" comments - so it's actually better left out anyway. There's no "analysis" in the new structure, and the conclusions are all left to what Mayor Daley used to call insinuendo - so critics have a harder time pointing to the weak spots in the analysis that isn't there. There's just no natural place to point out that Congressional committees often have entertainers as "star" witnesses (Democrats are particularly fond of rich movie stars who portray ordinary people in their roles), or that research suggesting that hurricanes may be getting stronger is highly qualified because scientists didn't have good ways of measuring hurricane speeds until recently, or that there is no indication that global warming is caused by anything human that could be changed meaningfully within reasonable costs, or any other criticism of the analysis-that-isn't-there. Well, maybe the critics can make a place.

The only problem with the new structure is that someone not already on Herr Doktorprofessor's mindtrack will likely just think he's just writing unconnected, paranoid gibberish - which he is.

For example, the items in the factoid/factette list above actually come in the column all jumbled up with lots of other sinister-sounding stuff about Jack Abramoff, Alan Greenspan and gangland-style killings. It would be perfectly possible to infer from the column's order of the factoids/factettes that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks that a conspiracy including Jack Abramoff, the Fed Chairman and Halliburton caused global warming and Hurricane Katrina as a cover for murdering some recalcitrant member their gang - perhaps by including him among the 1,000 or so dead from the storm. And it would also be possible to infer (if one were so inclined) that all of that is intended by Herr Doktorprofessor to tie into why OSHA is being run by some guy said to have once represented someone favoring ephedra: Two of the three senior positions at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are vacant. The third is held by Jonathan Snare, a former lobbyist. Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group, reports that he worked on efforts to keep ephedra, a dietary supplement that was banned by the F.D.A., legal.

That last example exhibits one of the difficulties with Herr Doktorprofsor's experimental "no-anlaysis" format. Not everyone would see the appointment of a former FDA lobbyist to the OSHA board as all that sinister, even if he did once represent someone in connection with ephedra. Lobbyists, like lawyers, represent clients as professionals - and there is no easy link between ephedra and occupational safety anyway. Herr Doktorprofessor himself once was an adviser to and wrote glowingly about Enron. But while they might have other reservations, most people would not find his Enron connection to be all that sinister if he were appointed as, say, chief economst at OSHA or the FDA (if they have one). I'm afraid that Herr Doktorprofessor is just going to have to learn the hard way that if he wants to be sure that his readers makes some paranoid "everybody-knows-what-this-means" connection, there's just no substitute for actually including a paranoid analysis.

All of this is troubling to the Man Without Qualities because I had thought that TimesSelect might actually cause Herr Doktorprofessor to become less nutty, not more nutty as in today's column. But Herr Doktorprofessor's new structure is probably only an experiment, one he is making in an attempt to avoid the ultimate economic incentive imposed by the fact that most people who pay for analysis actually expect analysis - not just snide factoids/factettes served up without any dressing.

So I don't think he'll be able to keep this new structure up and running very long. Time will tell.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Louisiana Democratic Party: Swept Away (By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) IV

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said Wednesday during a visit to Houston:

"Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time," he said. "New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again."
As noted in prior posts, unless displaced New Orleans African-Americans return to the state, the Democratic Party there is all but washed up. So what the HUD head is saying is not good news for them. Of course, technically, he's not referring to Louisiana generally, he's referring to New Orleans. But a very large percentage of the New Orleans diaspora is telling pollsters that they intend to stay where they are now - and that's not Louisiana. Indeed, FEMA is giving eligible Katrina displaced persons rent vouchers nationwide. If those people do not return to New Orleans, they are likely not returning to Louisiana. But the Lousiana Democratic Party is not going down without fighting. In fact, Louisiana Democrats in Congress are attempting to coerce the poor to return:

Despite the severe social and cost disadvantages inherent in a housing relief program based on scores of trailer parks established in remote locations, FEMA appeared determined to implement a strategy that would compel low-income evacuees to accept housing aid only within their home states. In part, this strategy may stem from concerns that many of those receiving assistance may not choose to return to New Orleans or the other damaged communities along the Gulf Coast unless coerced to do so.

As press reports have noted and at least one poll has confirmed, many of the low income evacuees now lodged in other metropolitan areas have become attached to their new communities and desire to start over in them, rather than return to the Gulf Coast. Perhaps reflecting this concern and fearing a permanent loss of constituents and voters, Louisiana’s congressional delegation has reportedly attempted to alter legislation related to federal relief efforts to limit some assistance to only the displaced who remain in their home state or return from an out-of-state shelter. On the issue of providing a tax credit to help the displaced find employment, a spokesman for Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) explained, “My boss sees this as less a matter of individual relief than part of an economic revival package to repopulate the city.” More bluntly, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA) said, “If evacuees decide they want to stay in Houston, Texas, why should we pay an employer to give them a job when we need people back in New Orleans?”
So here's the Democratic thinking: A New Orleans refugee has his home and life washed out by a category 4/5 hurricane. He thinks he would do better starting life over somewhere else. The heck with what he wants. The Louisiana Democratic Party needs its constituency back. That's what counts!
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Calame's Demon

A prior post noted that New York Times public editor Byron Calame puts his finger on a big problem with the mainstream media generally:

I find it disturbing that any Times editor would come so close to implying - almost in a tit-for-tat sense - that ... bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions...

That sinister sense that Mr. Calame identifies, that almost in a tit-for-tat sense bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions is certainly disturbing ... even demonic. Call it Calame's Demon. And Calame's Demon is very busy, indeed, in the halls of the mainstream media. Consider these pearls from an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:

TOM DELAY HAS BEEN so intellectually dishonest for so long that news that he may have been criminally dishonest hardly comes as a surprise. ... DeLay's troubles also continue something of a tradition, dating at least to former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, of ethical lapses among those in the leadership of the House. ... Yet DeLay is more than the sum of his ethical lapses. He also has a long history of hypocrisy. ... But the real problem isn't what DeLay may have done, it's what he stands for.
Mr. Delay is not my favorite member of Congress, for a number of reasons. But his current troubles certainly do not include a demonstration or finding by anyone of the ethical lapses in his indictment - still less that those "troubles" continue any "tradition" of ethical lapses. The editorial was largely written by Calame's Demon.

While the Times' express pre-trial conviction of Mr. Delay would do credit to Alice in Wonderland, it is not the only mark of Calame's Demon in this editorial - which reflects much of mainstream media's reaction to Mr. Delay's indictment. One might also ponder what is missing in the editorial: the presumption of innocence, that the ethics violations for which Mr. Delay has actually been sanctioned in the past are trivial (in contrast to the lurid accusations his critics have made) and any discussion of the evidence supporting the indictment or whether the indictment is likely a politically motivated abuse, rendered up in canonical Texas style.

In fact, the indictment very likely is a Texas Democratic, abuse: The prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, also had Texas Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison indicted in 1993. She was acquitted in February 1994 when Mr. Earle, disheartened by the judge's pre-trial rulings, refused to present the case. If Mr. Earle is engaging in abuse, why does the Times cheer on the destruction of one of the highest members of the federal government by a state officer acting with corrupt motivation? Because Calame's Demon whispers in the journalist's ear: "Go ahead, Delay has a long history of hypocrisy! What he stands for justifies what you are doing!"

Would the Times cheer with the same gusto if, say, a Republican prosecutor caused Justice Souter to recuse himself from the Supreme Court by indicting him for conspiring to cause Weare, N.H. to corruptly condemn his home at an above-market price? After all, many people consider the Kelo decision that Justice Souter joined to drip with hypocrisy and to be a much more egregious abuse of power than anything of which Mr. Delay has ever been accused. The mere fact that Justice Souter's act is legal should be of no matter to the Times, since today's editorial is at pains to point out: But the real scandal in Washington ... isn't what's illegal, it's what's legal. What if such an indictment against Justice Souter were supported by no better evidence than this Texas prosecutor has mustered against Mr. Delay and the prosecutor had a history of political recklessness (as this does this Texas man)? The quality of the evidence and the probable motivation of the prosecutors don't matter to the Times' discussion today. Why should they matter with respect to any other case?

Perhaps the Times would find itself guided by the hand of Calame's Demon to write, long before any trial had taken place and in complete disregard of the quality of the evidence known and the likely motivation of the prosecutor:
Souter's troubles also continue something of a tradition, dating at least to former justice Abe Fortas, of ethical lapses among those on the Supreme Court. The real problem isn't what Souter may have done, it's what he stands for.
As in Delay's case, Calame's Demon often nests securely among the branches of New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that revolutionized American libel law. The Los Angeles Times has probably libeled Mr. Delay in today's editorial, but the paper does not fear because under Sullivan public officials suing for libel have to prove that the statements they complain of were made with "actual malice" - that is, that the statements were published with at least reckless disregard as to whether they were false. But all that may change - at least if the newest member of the Supreme Court has a say in the matter, as noted by an article in the New York Times to which my attention was drawn by a perspicacious reader:

When Judge Roberts was asked about other Supreme Court cases during his confirmation hearings, he sometimes embraced them as correct. He said he had "no quarrel" with others. In his written response to Mr. Schumer's question on the Sullivan case, Judge Roberts said only that it "is a precedent of the court, and I would start with it in any case implicating this area of the law." ... ...

Judge Roberts ... briefly described his own critical views on the Sullivan case. In that memorandum, dated Aug. 28, 1985, Mr. Roberts offered what he called "my own personal view" on the proper balance between the interests of libel plaintiffs and the interests of the press. He said he would favor relaxing the standards established by the Sullivan case, which gave the press increased protection from libel suits brought by public officials, in exchange for eliminating punitive damages, which can often account for the bulk of libel awards.
Where would Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and other such creatures of Calame's Demon be without New York Times v. Sullivan? Perhaps we'll be finding out sooner than we thought.

The money that led to the indictment this week of two Las Vegas pastors and the wife of one of them came from federal grants arranged by Sen. Harry Reid in September 2001, a Reid spokeswoman said Wednesday....
Link from InstaPundit

Byron York: Coming Soon: The Ronnie Earle Movie...The DeLay prosecutor has let a film crew follow him through the whole case
"Raymond Chandler meets Willie Nelson on the corner of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in The Big Buy, a Texas noir political detective story that chronicles what some are calling a 'bloodless coup with corporate cash,'" reads a description of the picture on Birnbaum's website,
One can well imagine the righteous uproar that would have erupted if Ken Starr had tried somethng like this. Will the mainstream media protest now as they would have then?

Will the Pope convert to Islam?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Perils of Monolithic African American Democratic Loyalty

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has established a few things with clarity:

1. Those most vulnerable (especially, personally) to the weak New Orleans levees were African-Americans.

2. New Orleans African-Americans vote overwhelmingly and reliably Democratic, and Louisiana Democrats probably cannot hold any state-wide office without those votes.

3. [O]ver the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state. .... Louisiana's politicians have requested much more money for New Orleans hurricane protection than the Bush administration has proposed or Congress has provided. ... [M]ore than any other federal agency, the [Army Corps of Engineers] is controlled by Congress; its $4.7 billion civil works budget consists almost entirely of "earmarks" inserted by individual legislators.

All of which raises the basic question: When faced with a very generous but still finite total federal civic works allocation, why didn't Louisiana Democrats "earmark" projects that would protect their most important constituency - New Orleans African Americans?

The answer seems pretty clear: Louisiana Democrats knew they would get those African-American votes whether or not the politicians chose the civic works projects that protected that constituency the most.

There can be few worse examples of how African-American voters have been ill served by their nearly monolithic loyalty to the Democratic Party than the record of federal civic works expenditures in Louisiana.
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Over The Top With The Mainstream Media II

Tom Maguire has lots more particulars, especially whopping examples of media gore-and-gash-hype. And he has some further media confessions. Here and here, for example.

Tom points out that NBC News claims that its reporting was "responsible" and that "the only deaths we reported were the ones we actually saw." But he found this example of NBC's concept of "responsible" reporting right away: "There are so many bodies that medical staff are using the baggage conveyor to carry the stretchers." Read the whole thing and the great links.

And remember, Mr. Bush cut back on flood spending in Louisiana to help finance his Iraq adventure, appointed an incompetent to head FEMA, and, of course stole the election in 2000 and dodged the draft. So it was responsible for the media to run all those gore-and-gash stories, just the way NBC says it was. In a tit-for-tat sense, Mr. Bush's bad behavior essentially entitles the media to rely on assumptions and refuse to correct an unsupported fact ... at least until well after the damage is done.

Sure, that flood spending didn't really decrease under Bush at all, and was thought by many to be increasing the risk of flood damage. The programs were also wracked with corruption, and locally elected federal politicians preferred their pork prepared a different way, as the Washington Post noted: [O]ver the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large. .... In fact, more than any other federal agency, the Corps is controlled by Congress; its $4.7 billion civil works budget consists almost entirely of "earmarks" inserted by individual legislators. And, OK already, that "incompetent" at FEMA did a good job in the Florida hurricanes last year and FEMA's Katrina's response wasn't slow compared to FEMA performance in other hurricanes, including those during the Clinton years. But all of that is beyond living media memory! Can't we all just move on!

But about that election in 2000 and that all-important 1970's draft issue ....
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It is well known that some "Old Europe" countries such as France and Germany have followed policies of appeasement and non-confrontation of terrorists and non-support of many anti-terrorist programs, although such cuntries do make weak anti-terrorist efforts. Many Europeans hold the foolish attitude that such an approach will insulate them from attack. The attitude is foolish in part because as obvious terrorist targets such as the United States and Britain intensify their efforts to deter such attacks, the likelihood of terrorist attacks on other European countries should increase - a kind of "overflow" effect. France - a major exporter of what Islamic fundamentalists regard as the most deranged, sensualist form of western culture, and a country with many famous monuments that in the minds of Islamic terrorists practicaly beg to be destroyed - is ultimately a prime target for major Islamic terrorism. It's just a matter of time. And apparently not very much time:
Terror suspects detained in France had been eyeing up the Parisian metro network, an airport and the headquarters of the domestic intelligence service as possible targets, sources close to the investigation said. .... Nine people were detained by police early Monday in a series of raids west of Paris in what officials said was a crackdown on suspected Islamic terrorist activities. Among those being held is Safe Bourada, 35, who was released from prison in 2003 after five years for helping organise a series of bomb attacks in France in 1995 for the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). .... Officials said the men were members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an armed Algerian group that grew out of the GIA and has links to the Al-Qaeda network. Bourada was described as their ringleader. The GSPC has threatened to carry out attacks in France and it is seen as a credible danger by intelligence officials.

The interior ministry announced later Monday the government has prepared a series of new anti-terrorism measures including increased use of video-surveillance and improved police access to Internet and mobile telephone records amid the heightened threat of terrorism.
Increased use of video-surveillance and improved police access to Internet and mobile telephone records!? No doubt those will put the fear of Allah in such people.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

O, Silo!

The Times of London reports:

A FAMOUS gay penguin at New York’s Central Park Zoo has reignited the “culture wars” over homosexuality by going straight. Silo, a chinstrap penguin, had been in a six-year relationship with another 18-year-old male called Roy. The pair even raised a chick together when their keepers gave them a donated egg, after they tried unsuccessfully to hatch a rock. The widely publicised story of the two males bringing up a baby, named Tango, made them gay icons. Their same-sex household was cited by liberals as a corrective to the traditional “family values” displayed by Emperor penguins in the hugely popular new documentary, The March of the Penguins, which has been hailed by Christian conservatives.
Well, what is this going to do to all those arguments that gay men can't be "reconditioned" to be straight? Or that sexual identity is genetic? Is Silo's AC-DC nature a result of lifestyle choice?
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Over The Top With The Mainstream Media

In critiquing New York Times editor Bill Keller's response to the controversy over Alessandra Stanley's claim that "Fox's Geraldo Rivera ... nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way New York Times" (Stanley's words) during his coverage of Hurricane Katrina, public editor Byron Calame puts his finger on a much larger problem with the mainstream media generally and the Times in particular:
I find it disturbing that any Times editor would come so close to implying - almost in a tit-for-tat sense - that Mr. Rivera's bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions and refuse to correct an unsupported fact.
Contrast the New York Times rank tit-for-tat denialism with this remarkable - but still incomplete - example of intellectual honesty in the Los Angeles Times:
National Guard ... accounts about rescue efforts, water supplies and first aid all but disappeared amid the roar of a 24-hour rumor mill at New Orleans' main evacuation shelter. ..... The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials." .... Hyperbolic reporting spread through much of the media. ... The Los Angeles Times adopted a breathless tone ... in its lead news story, reporting that National Guard troops "took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance." The New York Times repeated some of the reports of violence and unrest, but the newspaper usually was more careful to note that the information could not be verified.
It is remarkable that the LA Times confesses to gross exaggeration in its and other media coverage, where the NY Times is yet to fess up - even though the LA Times article expressly points out that the New York paper carried many of the same, exaggerated reports and only "usually" qualified them as "unverified." But the LA Times confession falls far short in identifying the causes and nature of the exaggerations:

Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor. .... "I don't think you can overstate how big of a disaster New Orleans is," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a Florida school for professional journalists. "But you can imprecisely state the nature of the disaster. … Then you draw attention away from the real story, the magnitude of the destruction, and you kind of undermine the media's credibility." .... New Orleans' top officials seemed to confirm the accounts. Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass appeared on "Oprah" ... Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing [at the Superdome and Convention Center].

Telephone service? Race? Imprecise statements? Please. These are not even arguably excuses or even plausible causal mechanisms. The argument being advanced by the LA Times here could be summarized this way:
"We heard all these lurid rumors, and we couldn't raise anyone on the telephone to verify them, so we just went ahead and ran them anyway. And, by the way, we here in the mainstream media are racists - always ready to report the worst about African-Americans - so that's another reason we ran all those horrible, unverified stories. Mayor Nagin and Police Chief Compass are racists, too - which is why they said those terrible things. And we were imprecise."
No. Just no. That's not what happened and that's not why the media was so hot to run those stories. What the LA Times omits is the glaringly obvious fact that these exaggerated stories were run, and the local Democratic officials' complaints made and spread, with an eye to left wing political advantage from the very beginning.

Nor does Ms. McBride's argument that you can't "overstate how big a disaster New Orleans is" square with reality. In fact, the most important aspects of that disaster - total loss of human life - were grossly overstated throughout the mainstream media reporting and also by local Democratic officials - again, acting on political motives.

Even former president Bill Clinton perceived and noted the obvious anti-Bush bias in the mainstream media reporting when he said the BBC coverage of the New Orleans disaster "was designed to be almost exclusively a hit on the federal response." What Mr. Clinton said of the BBC coverage (other than its accuracy) just as correctly describes the political motivation of the mainstream American media coverage in effecting their exaggerations. Mr. Clinton's observation that "there is nothing factually inaccurate" in the BBC coverage is, of course, wrong because it predated the revelations described in the LA Times article. I was in Canada during Hurricane Katrina and received a full dose of the BBC coverage, which lapped up the "rape, murder and chaos" stories as much as the LA Times did and more, as in this BBC rubbish: Adam Friend ... had been sheltering in the Superdome stadium in New Orleans. ... He had earlier sent a frantic text to his parents, describing how dead bodies were "all around him". And then there's this lurid BBC howler: Another woman stranded in New Orleans told TV reporters: "People are dying, they're dying. Babies are dying, there's an old lady over there dead in the chair. People are dying. We're starving out here." And, of course, the BBC was more than pleased to repeat uncritically such things as Mayor Nagin's claim that "thousands" had had died in New Orleans, without any questioning of hizzoner as to how or why he was using such numbers or how reliable such estimates might be. And the BBC went on and on in its timeline: [T]he Superdome stadium and the city's convention centre is cleared. Evacuees recount scenes of violence, including rapes and murders at the shelters.

Why did so much of the mainstream media feel entitled to run such exaggerations with the intent of hyping whatever criticism could be made of the federal administration? See Mr. Calame's comment above. See Mr. Clinton's comment above. And see the same comments in analyzing the grossly exaggerated mainstream media coverage of Abu Ghraib, Rove/Plame (is that still going on?) and so many other stories (and non-stories).

Rathergate represents a nadir in the tendency of the mainstream media to take what they assert as a deficiency in Mr. Bush as justification for basing THE BIG, LURID STORY on outrageous, unsupported "assumptions" in total disregard of established journalistic standards, including the reticence of most of their own consulted experts. Rand Simberg provides quite the tour of the terrifying, dank recesses of the mind of Mary Mapes, the still unrepentent chief perpetrator of the Rathergate fiasco. Among other things, Mapes, who attempted to derail the US presidential election with fabricated documents whose dubious provenance she (at best) willfully ignored, says she is stunned by the "vitriol" (her word) she and her co-defenestrant Dan Rather have provoked. To Mapes, Bush was (and is) a man who had done bad things, and that justified in Mapes mind disregarding journalistic standards to produce a story based on documents whose authenticity could not be established, and which were provided to her by people whose reliability she never established and she well knew to be virulently hostile to the president. Yet she is stunned that others object strongly to what she did. Mary Mapes is the fully born avatar of Byron Calame's demon.

Alessandra Stanley's presumptuous, undocumented "nudge" is trivial compared to what Ms. Mapes tried to pull off. They both soldier on unbowed, their states of mind, and the ethical and journalistic structure of their crimes, much the same.


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Monday, September 26, 2005


The issue of the broader economic effects of higher gas prices is hotting up, with the President calling for less driving and some analysts arguing that high fuel prices will make for a very difficult 2006.

I do not pretend to understand what the broader effects of gasoline price hikes will be, but I am fairly confident that the President will get his wish that many people will drive less in the short run in response to sharply higher fuel prices.

Anecdotally, the effects already seem rather stunning - especially on weekends. Last Saturday, I drove from Santa Monica to Los Feliz (through downtown Los Angeles on normally clogged freeways) at all times traveling not less than 60 mph except for a minute or so on transition ramps. Yesterday, I drove from Los Feliz to Pasadena at about 5:00 pm and dropped below 60 mph for only a couple of minutes. Each time, I found myself realizing at the end of the trip that I literally could not remember the last time I was able to make that trip at that time of day without encountering considerable traffic. These have not been the only examples of sometimes surprisingly decongested freeways I have encountered since Hurricane Katrina pushed gas prices into the $3 range in these parts.

There's still lots of clogged traffic in Southern California. But at least during periods in which one expects that traffic is mostly discretionary (that is, not mostly people going to work), there does seem to be a noticeable slackening on some freeways. It raises the interesting if expensive question: Just what is the price point of gas that would make the Southern California freeways function the way they did in, say, 1970? Would $5 a gallon do it? For a while I was thinking that Hurricane Rita would allow us to find that out by shutting down, say, 20% of the nation's refining capacity. Then Rita whimped out. Such a price would not even equal what most of the world pay - albeit with lots of taxes.

It's too early to conclude anything as to whether increased gas prices are reducing congestion - and the shopping, recreation and other economic activities that correspond to congestion. But it will certainly be interesting to watch what happens, quite literally on the road.
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Turnover At The Top

Mindles Dreck does a really quite thorough job of eviscerating Nina Munk's New York Times article that purports to "find" that the newest Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America "reflects a growing concentration of wealth and economic power." Sample Dreck:

Did Nina Munk look at the table accompanying her article [that] contrasts the Forbes 400 of 1985 with those of 2005? Some notable stats:
255 with self-made fortunes vs. 165 in 1985
90 fewer "inherited at least some wealth"
25 immigrants vs. 1985's 14
4 more (129) have no college degree
25 with a Harvard or Yale Degree, down from 37

As they say, read the whole thing. Perhaps Ms. Munk, who comes from an extremely wealthy Canadian family, is merely engaging in wishful thinking in this article? Then again, her phrasing is oddly ambiguous in places: "I read through the newest Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, hoping to find many names I'd never heard of. They're not there." Perhaps we are suppose to infer that Ms. Munk has heard of these old 400 people to the point of boredom (have you heard of all those people?), as a kind of latter day Ms. Astor wannabee - and is writing her article to tell us just how woefully disappointed she was reading through the new Forbes 400 list for someone fresh and exciting to play with!

It's all so sad!

"There's no turnover at the top" seems to sound ever more frequently at the Times. The chant is sometimes led by Steven Cay Johnston wielding some distorted construction of Internal Revenue Service figures (discussed here and here and here, just as examples). Ms. Munk's seems a relatively new voice in that particular amen corner at the Times.
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The Gathering Storm

Don Luskin scribes what in my view future historians are likely to read as the first version of the epitaph of the New York Times:

The New York Times Company desperately needs the money. Last week the company shocked Wall Street with earnings that came in at only a third of what analysts had expected — and expectations for the rest of the year were guided lower, too — thanks to declining circulation and ad revenues. And the company announced the second round of painful layoffs this year — 500 employees this time, including 45 in the news room. Executive editor Bill Keller told the survivors, “I wish I could tell you relief was in sight.”
Of course, dire as the Gray Lady's straights may be, the drastic remedy of resorting to straightforward, disinterested reporting and coherent, fact-checked columnists appears not yet to have been actively considered as a remedy. Perhaps Times management is waiting for the third stroke.

While we await the longer term descent of the Gray Lady's last end, TimeSelect is creating some interesting effects, with Editor and Publisher itself sounding a rather elegiac note:
[O]ne thing is clear already: the once-popular user habit of e-mailing favorite opinion columns from the paper has declined rapidly. ... The result [of TimesSelect]? Not a single such column shows up among the 5 "most e-mailed" today. .... In what must be considered a major feat, Paul Krugman's Monday column, while open only to TimesSelect subscribers, still managed to come in at #8. But that doesn't mean everyone, or even many, who received the column could actually open it. The new system still allows subscribers to e-mail the column to anyone -- but recipients can only read it if they, too, are members.
Since then, things have worsened for Herr Doktorprofessor, as noted here.

On the other hand, Standard & Poors has no time for elegy, and comes right to the point:
The New York Times was hit with more bad news yesterday when Standard & Poor's Rating Services put the company's long term debt on "credit watch with negative implications" after the company lowered its earnings estimates once again.
And then there's the Times' stock performance compared to, say, any of the Dow, the S&P or NASDAQ.

Put it this way: If the performance of the United States economy could somehow magically be interchanged with that of the New York Times over the past couple of years, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman would be a very satisfied man. But he's not.
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Don't Wanna Brawl

John Roberts' nomination glides on a frictionless surface towards confirmation by the full Senate while some, including many in the mainstream media, warn that the next Supreme Court nomination will face increased turbulence from liberal Republicans as well as Democrats. Senator Specter, for example, has been widely quoted as saying, "I think that there's been a lot frustration on this one, and it's been commented upon very broadly and I think that frustration may well be vented on the next nominee." Even conservatives who deplore the very real irregularities of the Roberts confirmation say thins are just going to get worse, with Melanie Kirkpatrick putting it this way in OpinionJournal:
John Roberts's confirmation may be the exception that proves Judge Jones's rule. During his hearings, Sens. Arlen Specter and Dianne Feinstein asked insulting questions about his Catholicism; Ted Kennedy called his Reagan-era writings "mean-spirited"; and several Democrats roughed him up over his views on civil rights. By modern standards, that's a love fest. But the next confirmation is another matter.
Senate conservatives are also said to be spoiling for a fight:
"If the president doesn't nominate a solid nominee, that is going counter to what he campaigned on," Mr. Brownback said. And if such a nominee "involves a contentious battle, then let it be."

"I think you are going to see a contentious battle regardless of who is nominated," he added, "even if it is Judge Roberts's twin brother."
Is that right? Will the next nomination result in a donnybrook far beyond the Roberts micro-dustup ?

No. Or, rather, almost certainly not on the basis of any conservative ideology of the nominee.

There are several factors that will probably prove determinative in suppressing a brawl. First, the great majority of United States Senators personally don't want to brawl viciously with their colleagues. Most people don't become Senators to brawl. They deliberately chose an office that faces re-election only every six years expressly to avoid election brawls. They are members of an organization often compared to a swank, private club - and that is still true despite some erosion in recent years. But it's those big eroding moments that stick in the Senators' minds, and those memories make a new eroding moment highly unlikely.

Above all, the overwhelming majority of Senators don't want another Bork-type-blow-out. No way, no how. Robert Bork was not just another ultra-competent D.C. Circuit blowhard. He was - and, really, still is - one of the Washington "in crowd." Following his disastrous nomination he did not go away. He wrote books about it, lots of them. Worse, he had and has lots of friends in that same "in crowd" Washington circuit, and those friends made cocktail parties, dinner parties and God-knows-what-other-parties, very uncomfortable for everyone involved in The Original Borking. In fact, they're still at it.

That there are few things desired less by a United States Senator than the outcome of The Original Borking is probably the biggest reason there was, and could be, no Borking of John Roberts: The outcome of a Borking of John Roberts would have been even worse for the Washington party circuit, the personal lives of the Senators and the "collegiality of the Senate" than The Original Borking. At least with Robert Bork one could fall back on the fact that while the man was and is smarter than almost anyone, and incredibly competent, he was all too willing to tell one exactly that in no uncertain terms and in just about any setting. And he still is - look at those books! In short, Robert Bork is and always has been personally unbearable for many, many people. But John Roberts is a sweetheart! One can only imagine the collective trepidation of the United States Senate as it contemplated 20 or so more years of social life plagued by personal friends of John Roberts absolutely savaging Democrats who had participated in such a latter-day Borking, and tongue-lashing every Republican perceived as not having done enough to stop the abominations. The Senate minds must have reeled anew - other than those such as Ted Kennedy's so pickled that they reel all the time.

The "Gang of Fourteen Agreement" also makes a real blow-out Borking unlikely in the near future. The Washington Post reported on what that Agreement means for Supreme Court appointments:
[E]ven if they can show that the nominee has sharply held views on matters that divide many Americans, some of the 14 senators who crafted the May 23 compromise appear poised to prevent that strategy from blocking confirmation to the high court, according to numerous interviews. The pact, signed by seven Democrats and seven Republicans, says a judicial nominee will be filibustered only under "extraordinary circumstances." Key members of the group said yesterday that a nominee's philosophical views cannot amount to "extraordinary circumstances" and that therefore a filibuster can be justified only on questions of personal ethics or character.
So that deal apparently prohibits recourse to all of the most important ideological and jurisprudential criteria the Democrats need to satisfy their now-frantic constituencies, such as NOW. Indeed, if what the Post reports is correct and holds up in the Senate, Mr. Bush can choose anyone he wants, so long as he chooses a candidate of impeccable personal ethics and character. (By the way, the Gang of Foourteen Agreement is itself a already product of the first "collegiality" factor described above.) If Mr. Bush abides by all that, and chooses such a person who is also a pleasant, well-connected Washington insider, a woman and/ or a minority, it's very hard to see how conservative ideology will be enough to propel this next confirmation into a Senate donnybrook.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fancy Women II: A Few Externals

This post below is directed at the internal inconsistencies and incoherencies of the criticisms of the Yale study and the New York Times article discussed, with the LA Times commentary taken as an example. For example, I noted in the prior post that the existence of a pool of rich potential husbands is "key." It's "key" to that post because Ms. Stabiner says it is "key" to her appraoch and argument. But as noted in that post, even in her context and taking her assumption, her criticism makes little sense. One can also address the issues raised in the prior post from an external standpoint that challenges the basic assumptions the critics make and the facts they assert. That approach opens up a vast vista, a vista that this post only gestures towards.

Many studies support the conclusion that for life-long prosperity a stable marriage with two spouses that support each other is hard to beat, regardless of whether either one of them is "rich" or potentially so. But what if the marriage is not stable? Yes, for couples of modest income divorce is a bigger issue as to material well being than it is for the rich. But focusing on careers and professional training while disregarding the needs of future childbearing unleashes its own statistical demons. Such a focus almost certainly increases the chances that a woman will never marry, or will bear children late in life or not bear children at all. Never-married people have their own problems and "numbers" - problems and "numbers" that arguments such Ms. Stabiner's fail to mention. For example, the plight of a divorced woman with children is far from enviable. But with divorce comes the obligation of child support payments from the ex-husband, an obligation certainly not universally ignored. So is the plight of a divorced woman worse on average than the plight of a never-married mother? Where are those "numbers," Ms. Stabiner? Then there are "numbers" concerning, say, the relative depression, alcoholism and drug use rates of married people compared to unmarried people. What "numbers" are there to express the loss to a woman who is required to use a "donor egg" rather than her own because she waited too long to bear children? Is there a "number" that measures a woman's state of mind when she comes to understand that her focus on her career has been the major factor in her never being able to have children at all? One could go on and on.

Closer to the home turf Ms. Stabiner stakes out for herself, where do we find in her article the "numbers" that capture the most basic, starting issue at stake here: Do children benefit from a full-time, stay at home mother? I keep looking and looking, but I just can't find those "numbers" in Ms. Stabiner's article. There's lots of research (some is detailed here, for example) and the results are by no means monochromatic. For the most part, as the book linked above notes, research shows a wide range of effects of maternal employment on child development, some apparently neutral and some clearly negative - with many other factors (including sex of the child and wealth of the household, Ms. Stabiner) interacting with maternal employment to create sometimes startling differences. For example, this study found that teenagers with working mothers who attend relatively wealthy schools are more likely (77 percent) to have a birth compared to teens who attend similar schools but have non-working mothers, where such teenagers who attend relatively poor schools are less likely (18 percent) to have a birth compared to teens who attend similar schools but have non-working mothers. Does that study make one more or less confident that the relatively rich women surveyed by Yale and HBS are "naive" and merely "privileged," as Ms. Stabiner says they are?

While most research does not paint a uniformly negative image of maternal employment, the general drift seems to be towards what common sense would suggest: It's on the whole generally better to have mom at home, especially in the early years. But one thing that does emerge with crystal clarity from the existing research is that if one is interested in whether a stay-at-home mother benefits her children, the kind of sweeping claims made by Ms. Stabiner and other such critics to a position supported by "the numbers" and "research" and "science" is completely unfounded - even embarrassing. Of course, it isn't at all clear from her article that Ms. Stabiner is mostly concerned about the children of the women she castigates. Indeed, Ms. Stabiner seems to have a pre-existing political goal and is quite prepared to tromp on anyone who gets in her way, whether it’s the older alumni she ignores, the current female students she castigates, or the future children, the concern for whom by their future mothers she labels "selfishness."

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