Rantophilia

Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Follow-up


Obviously, I'm not the only one that took notice of the whole PAM fiasco, and many other folks have addressed it more thoroughly and cogently than me. But the analysis over at Slate caught my eye, because I think that it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the political situation in the Middle East. Specifically, Daniel Gross, the article's author, says that PAM would not have proven to be an accurate predictor of terrorist activity because it is based on the performance of irrational individuals:

More important, a havoc market wouldn't benefit from the rationality that regular financial markets require. By and large, markets for futures--as well as stocks and bonds--are presumed to be efficient and rational, Internet bubble notwithstanding. This collective rationality is precisely what the Pentagon was hoping to harness by creating a market for geopolitical events.

But in the Middle East, many of the figures who would have driven the pricing of PAM securities are not what international relations types refer to as "rational actors." Suicide bombers almost by definition are irrational, or at least not governed by a rationality with which we are familiar. We routinely refer to the main players with terms that place them beyond the field of reason--Saddam Hussein is "the Butcher of Baghdad," Osama Bin Laden is a "madman."

This is an interesting argument, but I think it fails on at least two levels, one obvious and one less so. Obviously, the fact that others refer to Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden by nicknames implying insanity is completely irrelevant to the relative rationality of either Hussen or bin Laden. Second, Mr. Gross assumes that those who motivate and plan terrorism are irrational. But however abominable terrorism is, it is a rational and predictable result of the economic, social, and political conditions that arise in a particular region. Certainly, individual terrorists may well be nuts--though I'd even dispute Mr. Gross's contention that suicide bombers are definitionally "not governed by a rationality with which we are familiar"; taking suicidal action for a just cause is nothing new to western culture--but to declare all those responsible for terrorism to be irrational is unhelpful and inaccurate. To ignore the real sociopolitical and economic factors underlying terrorism is no aid to eradicating the violence, much as calling all poor people lazy does nothing to ameliorate poverty. And Osama bin Laden, though bloodthirsty, has shown the capacity to act in very rational and predictable ways. So, while I agree that PAM was a silly, stupid, and immoral idea, I think that Mr. Gross's analysis is off the mark.

Wow.


A futures market that would allow one effectively to bet on future acts of terrorism, like a North Korean missile attack or the assassination of Yasser Arafat. Sounds like a Philip K. Dick creation of paranoid science fiction. But no, the Policy Analysis Market (PAM) was an idea from the mischevious minds at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is headed by John Poindexter, an Iran-Contra conspirator. DARPA also brought you the former epitome of creepy brilliance, the Total Information Awareness program. I tend to agree with the assessment of Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who called the Policy Analysis Market "incredibly stupid." Unfortunately, PAM is history, and we will never get to know if the free market can be used to predict (if not encourage) death and destruction.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Long Time...


...no blog. Not sure why, except that nothing that's been populating my head has seemed all that interesting. Or maybe more to the point, I haven't figured out how to wrap any of those thoughts into a pretty package appropriate for a post. So, instead of just sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I figured I'd just blog with some random thoughts I've had recently.

1) Saw Seabiscuit over the weekend. Good movie. Solid acting. Great visuals. Suffered a bit for being a true story to the extent that things don't really work out in the most dramatically effective way in real life. So, one must either be bound by fact or by dramatic convention. While it somewhat robbed the movie of a final, tear-jerking moment, I'm glad that Seabiscuit opted for the former over the latter.

2) One political issue that's been bouncing around my head for a while is the notion that Republicans have attempted to co-opt patriotism, and with unpleasant success. For instance, when I drive around and see someone with an American flag in their car window, I generally assume that that person is a Republican. And of course Bush and his posse has urged that sort of association on us by accusing people who speak out against their foreign policy of being un-American. A Salon piece yesterday brought this issue back to my mind yesterday with a report from a young Republican rally in D.C., where the crowd morphed from chanting "Karl!" in reference to Karl Rove to "U.S.A.!" (This, of course, is disturbing on many levels.)

But this has gotten be thinking about how we, as liberals and/or Democrats who are also patriotic, can change this perception. First, I think from a strategy standpoint, Democrats should make an effort to seem more positive. Rather than merely accusing Bush of being a liar and attacking the USA PATRIOT Act, liberals should start saying things like, "We're pro-America. America's strength is measured by the protection of our freedoms, and America requires respecting Americans enough to be honest with them." Sure, the implication is obvious, but it's the sort of thing that undecided voters can cheer about, and, to respond, Republicans would have to admit that they're not really about protecting freedom or being honest.

Second, I think we need advertising. Bumper stickers would be nice. Ones that say, "Democrat for America!" with an American flag in the background. Or, "I'm a bleeding-heart, leftie peacenik and I LOVE AMERICA!" Or, "I would give my life to protect America, but I still think that Bush is a stinking, no-good liar who is running our country into the ground." The last one might be too much for a bumper sticker. Maybe a full-page ad in the Washington Post signed by a bunch of war veterans, then.

3) I went to this show down at the Southgate House in Newport, KY the other week. That evening, the Southgate House epitomized the strange juxtapositions that occur regularly in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. It's located across the street from Newport on the Levee, one of those outdoor mall affairs that mashes together bad shopping, decent restaurants, and a good movie theater to create one huge traffic snarl. Walking in, you pass through a bar where, that night, a three-piece country/bluegrass band was performing, upright-bass and all. Then, going downstairs, you had all the hipsters with their tattoos, shaggy hairdos, and nipple rings jumping around in hipster fashion to weird music. It was great.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Ridiculous Fear-Mongering


The history of blaming geeky past-times for dangerous behavior is long and storied. Just in my relatively short lifetime, there's been "Mazes and Monsters," a little-known Tom Hanks vehicle that preached the dangers of the euphemistic, eponymous role-playing game (a.k.a. Dungeons and Dragons) and the flap blaming the computer games Doom and Quake for the Columbine shootings. And now the usually decent on-line magazine Salon has jumped into the fray with this ridiculous front-page article, which features the image of a cartoon Arab waiving from the cockpit of a jetliner and the caption, "The newest flight simulation video games are so realistic that a terrorist can learn how to fly a jumbo jet without ever leaving his laptop." Egad! What ever shall we do?!

What does it take to get an op-ed piece published in the New York Times?


Take a look at this one by some guy Avi Spiegel, who asserts that the Peace Corps "should equip itself to enter regions it now deems too dangerous." What this means or how the Peace Corps should do this are questions left unanswered by Mr. Spiegel's lengthy yet shallow piece. Instead, it seems that the New York Times was blinded by his experience (as a Peace Corps volunteer) and his current admission to Harvard and NYU (as a divinity and a law school student, respectively). Not that he may not have a point; it's just impossible to tell.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Idiocy


I certainly don't agree with the cartoon, but this is idiotic.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Lies


Over at Slate, Timothy Noah, a.k.a. Chatterbox, gives what seems like a very credible, if cynical and depressing, explanation for the general willingness of the American press and public to believe Bush's lies -- they're usually very consistently told. I tend to agree that this is at least part of the explanation, along with a healthy dose of fear and unwillingness to believe that we bought into a web of lies hook, line, and sinker.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Will the Real Peter Bronson Please Stand Up?


Most of the time, Peter Bronson is a rabid conservative reactionary willing to throw thoughtless barbs at those who do not conform to the Republican agenda. Then, every once in a long while, he comes up with a humanist column like this one. I could still do without his embarassingly unpoetic idiom, but I just wonder how he reconciles his distinctly hateful political views with what appears to be a genuine concern for individuals.

In other Enquirer news, it apparently riles conservatives that former President Bill Clinton is still viewed by some in a rosy glow. Evidence: a guest column by some guy named Armstrong Williams (why he is given space in the paper, I dunno) whose e-mail address (arightside@aol.com) doesn't even try to hide his obvious bias. Mr. Williams, clearly troubled by public perception that Clinton was some sort of humanitarian and Bush is not, breaks down some of the "misconceptions" about Clinton and Africa. Whether his analysis is accurate or not, it seems weird and irrelevant.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Cincinnati Effect


The letters to the editor section in the Washington Post today contains five letters on the subject of Bush's not-entirely-accurate statement in his State of the Union address earlier this year. Four took Bush and his cronies to task for the lie, expressing skepticism about their myriad of excuses for the misstep. However, one attempted something that even the Bush administration has been unwilling to try--blaming Clinton. The author of that one? Robert Moon of, you guessed it, Cincinnati.

Now, I don't want to get into the merits of Moon's letter (though I will note that I have to question any excuse that even Bush hasn't tried to foist off on us first), but it does bring up an interesting facet of my experience living in Cincinnati. I call it the Cincinnati Effect ("CE"). CE is characterized by the irrational belief that the rest of the United States is populated by a majority of rabid, kneejerk conservatives just because I'm surrounded by them here. CE has colored my worldview such that, for instance, I have trouble sometimes believing that people may actually care that Bush lied to them during his most important annual speech or that he and his administration convinced the country to go to war on false pretenses. I hope that the American people are smarter than this, but the Cincinnati Effect still crushes my spirit from time to time.

The Scope of Lies


There's something touching and naive about Nicholas Kristof's analysis in his NYT column today of the pattern of deception practiced by the Bush Administration with respect to foreign policy. It appears as if Kristof has been absent for the past three and a half years (if you count the run-up to the 2000 election), while Bush and his cronies have shown time and again that the truth, with respect to the economy, Enron, Gore, or anything else, would not stand in the way of their victory. Welcome to our world, Kristof!

Friday, July 11, 2003

Power


There's something, well, impressive about the obviousness of the Bush Administration's new push to hang George Tenet and the CIA out to dry for the fact that Bush lied to the American people in his 2003 State of the Union address. And it makes me wonder at what point, and if ever, Republicans are going to tire of Bush and his crew. I've mentioned this before, but it seems to me that Bush and his team are screwing the rest of their party as much as they're screwing everyone else.

For instance, Bush is screwing Republican governors nationwide (such as our own Bob Taft here in Ohio) by cutting aid to the states and forcing those governors to deal with the political fallout of rampant state deficits, which require either drastic cuts in basic services, cuts that offend all but the most hardcore conservatives, or increases in taxes, which offend all but the most moderate conservatives. Now, Bush is happily screwing Tenet by shrugging his shoulders, telling everyone that the CIA said his State of the Union address was fine, and asking, who was he, as the President of the United States, to argue? (If anyone needs help seeing the absolute absurdity of this, please e-mail me.)

Yet, Republicans are eating it up and happily marching in lockstep. Why? Because for Republicans, it's all about power. From proposed changes in filibustering rules in the Senate to the Texas redistricting, the endgame for Republicans is power. What they intend to do once they have that power is somewhat unclear and seems to be an issue that divides them. But the issue that unquestionably unites them (and fails to unite Democrats, who seem more interested in finding a candidate that would exercise the power that they don't have in the way that they want) is the desire to run everything and to make sure that they keep running it for as long as possible. So, they're willing to sit back and politely applaud Bush no matter what he does because he's a winner.

What this means for Democrats I haven't decided. It seems unquestionably cynical to play the Republican game and go for the candidate with the best chance of winning versus the candidate with the platform that best suits you. At the same time, platforms have become something of a joke. Candidates debate issues like medicare and taxes and education and defense, but the meta-issue is power; who has it and how those who don't have it can win it. Democrats need to decide if they want to bow to cynicism and select a candidate best-suited for victory or risk near-certain defeat by putting faith in the independent American voter and try to debate issues.

Let's Say You're a Law School Dean


And you want a chance to advertise your law school, but you don't want to pay for it. What do you do?

Turn to the editorial page of the Cincinnati Enquirer, where any down-on-his-luck educator gets free space for advertising that he'd usually have to pay for!

The L.A. Dream Team


It looks as though the Lakers' desire to build a Dream Team is coming to fruition with the signing of Karl Malone, who is taking nearly an $18 million paycut "to win a ring," according to his agent. Some, like Marty Burns over at CNN/Sportsillustrated are already declaring the Lakers ready for a parade next year. Now, I'm no pro basketball guru, and I already hated the Lakers before all this, but this development is one that will keep me glued to the NBA scores as they scroll along the bottom of SportsCenter next season (even if I still won't watch any games) in hopes of seeing this team crash-and-burn. Nothing would make me happier than to see all this great talent get together and just not pan out. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but how can you like a team that should be so dominent? How can you not want to see them fail?

What Is Your Computer Doing?


"Hackers Hijack PC's for Sex Sites" -- This article is interesting for two reasons: 1) it fits into the "Oh no, what a big, bad world this internet thing is!" genre of reporting that treats technology and the Internet as a huge boogie-man of the apocalypse and is meant to scare the pants off of people who don't know better (for the pinnacle of this genre in moviedom, see "The Net" with Sandra Bullock); and 2) it has to do with the Russian mafia. Who knew that the Russian mafia was so sophisticated?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Crying


For those of us who cry (or at least come very close) at big sports moments, it's good to know that the New York Times has officially declared it okay.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Judge Dinkelacker


Apparently, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker is mad, very mad. You may know Judge Dinkelacker from his role as the prosecutor of the state's case against Jerome Campbell, whose death sentence was recently commuted to a term of life imprisonment by Governor Bob Taft. Now that the issue has been resolved, apparently Judge Dinkelacker is free to tell everyone how pissed off he is by how his prosecution of the case was portrayed by Campbell's attorney. I thought the choicest Dinkelacker quote involved the respective roles of prosecutors and defense attorneys:

How do I put this tactfully? There appears to be a different set of standards for prosecutors and defense attorneys. -- It appears to me that within the last several years that attorneys representing someone on Death Row can do anything or say anything without them having anything done against them. It really does seem unfair.

In response, I'd like to point Judge Dinkelacker to the Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility, Ethical Canon 7-13, which begins, "The responsibility of a public prosecutor differs from that of the usual advocate; his duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict." You see, Judge, it's not just you -- there is a different set of standards for prosecutors and defense attorneys! I just wish he had learned that prior to prosecuting Jerome Campbell on the testimony of two jailhouse snitches, while failing to tell the jury that those snitches had received favorable treatment by his office.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

For those who care about such things...


I thought it might be helpful to pass along this little link (by way of Joe Conason at Salon) to an article in Philadelphia Weekly, which reveals that the company that owns Urban Outfitters has donated significant sums to Sen. Rick Santorum. I can't say that the radical conservative proclivities of corporations has ever much influenced my purchasing decisions, but information never hurts. Oh, and Joe Conason also pointed out that the same guy who owns Urban Outfitters also owns Anthropologie. Another FYI.

Politics on the Court


With so much attention nowadays on the Supreme Court and the role that politics will inevitably play in the confirmation process of any nominee in the foreseeable future, I found one letter in the NYTimes today to be particularly interesting:

To the Editor:

Re "A Win for Affirmative Action" (editorial, June 24):

Like you, I rejoiced that the Supreme Court has held that race can be considered in university admissions. But when you say "one resignation on the court could produce the opposite result in a few years," I regret that you begin to turn this into a political issue divorced from the rule of law.

You ignore that three of the five majority justices in the University of Michigan law school decision were appointed by Republican presidents; and that an appointee of a Democratic president, Stephen G. Breyer, voted with the majority to invalidate the undergraduate program's use of a point system based in part on race.

I disagree with the conclusion that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas reached, but I have every confidence that they acted not as conservatives or appointees of Republican presidents but because they felt that their views were supported by the Constitution and would be in the public interest.

The Supreme Court will keep its respect and position only so long as the American people believe that those appointed decide cases based upon what they objectively think the Constitution or laws require.
WILLIAM T. COLEMAN JR.
Washington, June 24, 2003
The writer was transportation secretary in the Ford administration.

This got me thinking. The Supreme Court, and in many cases individual justices, have exhibited an impressive tendency to distance themselves from politics, both generally and from the specific politics that gave rise to their appointment to the Court. The justices' luxury of so separating the inherent politics of the confirmation process from the reasoned and neutral consideration of the law derives in large part from the fact that they are appointed for life and are not directly accountable for their decisions. It's a great system.

But what Mr. Coleman suggests is that the apolitical nature of the Supreme Court (relative to state courts, for instance) may also depend on the perception and expectations of the people. When people expect justices to act politically, they will. If people continue to hold the justices to higher standards of neutrality, they will meet those standards. It's an interesting theory, and not one without some anecdotal support. Bush v. Gore, of course, is the best (or worst) example of the Supreme Court lowering itself to the expectations of those who anticipated a decision affected by politics.

I don't know whether Mr. Coleman is right or wrong, but I suspect that he doesn't put enough faith in our judicial system. I firmly believe that people qualified to join the Supreme Court -- people whose professional lives are devoted to legal thought and not mere legal politics -- place the law on a pedestal above partisan politics. And I also believe that, despite the occasional political hiccups, if the Supreme Court is populated by qualified individuals, the law on the balance will evolve free of, or at relatively untainted by, the power-grubbing that underlies the recent uproar about Supreme Court vacancies. This theory, of course, relies on qualified individuals being nominated to the Court. And I believe it is that, not the quest for a candidate with the "appropriate" political bent, that should drive the vetting process for potential nominees.