Saturday, October 04, 2003


Back in the day, I used to enjoy reading William Safire's "On Language" column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, until Safire became completely unable to keep his conservative politics out of it. I grew weary of his constant carping about liberals and Democrats in the guise of a column about words, so I stopped reading it entirely. Except that Safire goes on vacation for a month or so every year, and for that period of time the guest columnists actually write about words and language, and they actually do so without liberal bashing, so the column becomes, again, interesting and readable.

Recently, Charles Harrington Elster wrote in that column:

My crowning moment in word serendipity is seared into my brain. I was thumbing through Paul Hellweg's Insomniac's Dictionary when I stumbled upon the word resistentialism, which Hellweg defines as "seemingly spiteful behavior manifested by inanimate objects."

Reading that definition, I had what can only be described as a revelation. I felt that an entire category of my experience had been uplifted from the Cimmerian realm of the Inexpressible into the clear, comforting light of the Known.

Here, at last, was a word for the rug that quietly curls up so it can snag your toe, the sock gone AWOL from the dryer, the slippery piece of toast that always hits the floor jelly side down. Here, at last, was the word that explained the countless insolent acts of things, especially the infuriating intractability of plastic wrap.

"Resistentialism" -- a lovely word.

I never finished reading Edward Tenner's books Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, but from what I remember of what I read, it was all about the resistenialistic properties of things.

And speaking of words, someone used a word in rehearsal the other day that I've never heard pronounced, only (and very rarely) seen in print: deliquesce, meaning to melt away, or to disappear as if by melting. It's lovely sounding word which doesn't give up its meaning as readily when spoken as it does on the page -- which is quite possibly the reason that it was cut from an earlier draft of the play we're working on. (Plays, of course, being primarily designed for hearing and not so much for reading.)

I think I first came across the word "deliquesce" in J.G. Ballard's early disaster SF novel The Crystal World, in which a part of the African interior mysteriously begins to crystalize, and the crystalization slowly spreads, sort of like Vonnegut's Ice-9 in super-duper slow-mo. (Ballard at that time was writing novels in which the world was taken over by desert or the ocean or some other ecological or physical state.) At one point the crystals start to melt and Ballard used "deliquesce" more than once in telling that part of the story.

And speaking of Ballard, his new novel, Millennium People awaits my attention...

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/04/2003 02:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


John Dean says "Sue"

On Salon, John Dean writes:

I thought I had seen political dirty tricks as foul as they could get, but I was wrong. In blowing the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame to take political revenge on her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for telling the truth, Bush's people have out-Nixoned Nixon's people. And my former colleagues were not amateurs by any means.

He also thinks that Plame and Wilson should sue Bush:

Regardless of whether or not a special prosecutor is selected, I believe that Ambassador Wilson and his wife [...] should file a civil lawsuit, both to address the harm inflicted on them, and, equally important, to obtain the necessary tools (subpoena power and sworn testimony) to get to the bottom of this matter. This will not only enable them to make sure they don't merely become yesterday's news; it will give them some control over the situation.

[link via Steve Gilliard]

Update: I changed the title from "Dean says..." to "John Dean says..." to avoid confusion.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/04/2003 02:24:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Beating the drum for Drum, and other thoughts

For those who think (or pretend to think) that the Victoria Plame affair is "too complicated" to understand, Kevin Drum has a concise summation:

Top White officials blew the identity of an undercover CIA agent, potentially endangering both lives and intelligence operations, solely to gain political payback against a guy who had risen to the top of their enemies list.

Now, that's not hard to understand, is it?

Kevin also's got a post which links to articles in the Big 4 of conservative print media outlets (Washington Times, National Review, Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal), with excerpts from each. He points out that half of them (the Times and the Standard) think that it's a serious thing, while the other two hew to the right-wing party line.

And what's more, in another post, he does a good job summing up the evidence for whether Plame was an "operative" or an "analyst".

Oh, what the heck, just go read CalPundit every day, as I do.

(I've said it before, and it's true, one thing that discouraged me from starting a blog was that I agreed with practically everything Kevin writes, so there seemed little need for me to blog.

What, then, is the raison d'etre for unfutz? Well, sometimes -- such as now, when it's hard to find the time to post-- it doesn't seem to have one at all, but, ultimately, it's to give me an outlet so I don't end up screaming back at the TV every day.

Next week, we'll be going into crunch time on The Violet Hour, the "technical rehearsals" which immediately precede our first preview peformance, during which it's hard to find the time to sleep, let alone do anything extraneous to the show, so I doubt I'll be posting much then, but once the show has opened, things will calm down somewhat, and we'll see how things go.

If it turns out that I really don't have the time necessary to sustain this site, I guess I'll close it down, disappointing my dozen or so Loyal Readers, but I don't think that will need to happen.)

Update: I neglected to state the obvious, that the entire point of unfutz is to allow me a forum through which I can singlehandedly (OK, with much help from My Friend Roger and others as well) solve the world's problems -- hence the name of the blog.

I'll be getting to it any day now.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/04/2003 01:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Baseball redux

In an earlier post, I made predictions about who would win baseball's post-season series, and then appended the payroll rankings of the various teams involved, because I found it interesting that all but one of my picks had the team with the higher payroll beating the team with the lower payroll (the exception was that I picked the Giants over the Braves). But it occurs to me that I ignored something more interesting.

The eight teams in post-season play are, in payroll rankings:

1. New York Yankees
5. Boston Red Sox
6. Atlanta Braves
8. San Francisco Giants
12. Chicago Cubs
18. Minnesota Twins
20. Florida Marlins
26. Oakland A's

That's a fairly even distribution across the 30 teams in baseball, and would seem to belie the argument that having a lot of money to spend is the determinative factor in baseball success. If that were true, wouldn't we expect to see more than a mere 4 of the top ten teams in the playoffs? And wouldn't one expect no teams from the bottom half of the payroll rankings, or at most one "Cinderella" team? Instead there are 3 teams from the bottom half playing in post-season.

I'm not going to argue that having a lot of money to spend doesn't make a difference, but one counterargument to that is the New York Mets, and another is that, so far, there does seem to be some semblence of "competitive balance" within baseball.

As for my predictions, too few games have been played to knock down any of my picks, but the Giants can no longer win in 3, having lost today to the Marlins.

(Incidentally, the Boston/Oakland game, which just concluded a few minutes ago when Oakland, the team that never bunts, won on a bases-loaded squeeze bunt in the 12th inning, was a real crackerjack, a spectacular example of what post-season baseball is all about.)

(BTW, there were clearly hundreds, if not thousands, of Cubs fans in Atlanta for today's game. What I wonder is, how did they all get tickets? Did they fly to Atlanta and stand in line, or buy them online, or get them through scalpers or what?)

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2003 03:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The field

Over on Daily Kos, Kos takes a look at the Democratic field of candidates and concludes that everyone should stick around except Graham and Lieberman, who should drop out.

I've been puzzled by various references to how "muddled" or "confusing" the field of Democrats is, because, to me, it's been pretty clear from the very beginning that Mosley Braun, Sharpton and Kucinich were non-starters with no hope of ever getting the nomination, and no possibility of winning the election if they (through some bizarre set of circumstances) were to get the nod. Once you disregard those folks, (or look on them as comic relief) the field went down to Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Graham, Kerry and Lieberman. As Kos says, Graham's campaign never took off, so he can be ignored, but I disagree with his contention that Edwards is viable and Lieberman is not -- I'd reverse that. And then there's Clark.

So the real field is now Clark, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry and {Lieberman or Edwards} -- that's 5 people, which hardly seems like a large number to keep track of, and neither confusing or muddled.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2003 02:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Recall strategy

Given that it looks as if the recall will succeed and Schwarzenegger will be elected governor, I wonder if a better Democratic strategy wouldn't have been to put up a well-liked liberal movie star against Arnold (someone really level-headed and liberal, not a Barbra Streisand type), who would then step down when they won, in favor of Cruz Bustamente?

I have no idea who that person would have been, though, not being terribly conversant with the political leanings of Hollywood stars.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2003 02:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Covering the Plame Affair

I've had nothing particular to say about the Valerie Plame affair (or "Wilsongate", or "Plame/Wilson", or whatever name eventually sticks to this extremely serious scandal that looks like it has good legs), but, then again, I've had very little to say about anything due to my work schedule. My only insight to share (which is hardly profound) is that the amount of activity among the three P's (politicians, pundits and the press) seems to indicate that there will be serious consequences to it, at least the resignation of a major administration official. I don't think that will be Rove, even though it's highly likely that Rove is at the center of the scandal, because Bush's need for Rove's political skills is so great that other people will be sacrificed in an attempt to save Rove's neck. That attempt to scapegoat someone else may or may not stem the tide, and it's still barely possible (although not, in my opinion, probable) that the whole thing will result in the downfall of the entire Bush regime. At this point, it's difficult to project too far ahead.

In any event, for those who want to keep up on things as they develop, the two places to go in the blogosphere are Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and Kevin Drum's CalPundit. Between them, and the links they offer, they've got it all covered.

Update: Those interested in what the scandal is called might want to read the comments thread on Daily Kos about it -- I don't have the patience to read the 327 posts currently there. (Kos uses "Plamegate", which is one I hadn't seen before.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2003 02:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Dean's appeal

In the Washington Post, Laura Blumenfeld analyzes Howard Dean's appeal:

Despite the buzz surrounding retired Gen. Wesley Clark's late entry into the campaign, and mounting attacks from some of his other eight rivals, Dean has raised the most money and leads the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. Conventional wisdom credits Dean's Bush-bashing and his stoking of Democratic anger. But to follow Dean on the stump is to see something more subtle at work.

While the other candidates focus on their humble roots or heroic feats, Dean inverts the telescope: He talks about the voters. He tells them they're okay. Instead of trying to get them to love him, he tells them to love themselves. A doctor by training, he injects psychology into politics.

"I liked it when he said the election wasn't about him, it was about us," said Pierce. "He's empowering me."

This is the intended effect, the candidate said in an interview. "People feel horribly disempowered by George Bush," he said. "I'm about trying to give them control back. This is not just a 'campaign,' it's a movement to empower ordinary people. I don't say, 'Elect me.' "

Instead, Dean says the election is in their hands. Delivering a series of exhortations, he'll turn a garden party into political group therapy:

"Stop being ashamed."

"Stand up and say what you think."

"You ought to be proud."

"The power to change this country is in your hands."

"You have the power."

"You have the power."

Yes, there is anger. But it is tightly managed. "It's raw energy, an energy I know could be channeled," Dean said. "It's similar in a patient relationship, helping them channel their energy into something better for them. "


If the emotional leitmotif of Bill Clinton's campaigns was empathy -- "I feel your pain" -- Dean's is empowerment -- "We'll fix your pain."

"The power to take this country back is in your hands," Dean said to the crowd. "Not mine."


Dean's appeal is not based on traditional political charisma. His presence is not commanding; he isn't a backslapper, or a world-class speaker. His smile looks more like a baring of teeth. Asked how he relaxes, he said he mows the lawn and does his taxes.

Yet at a recent rally in New York, women cried, "I want to have your baby!" His supporters are so passionate they have organized themselves in areas where no campaign infrastructure exists, calling themselves Dean Heads, Deanie Boppers and Deanie Babies. Monday Dean hoped to make the Guinness World Records for conference calls by linking more than 1,400 house parties in all 50 states with "Dr. Dean's National House Call."

"Most politicians treat voters like consumers," said Karen Hicks, Dean's New Hampshire state director. "Dean treats people like participants."

[link via Tapped]

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2003 01:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Clark: Basic principles

From Josh Marshall's interview with Wesley Clark:

TPM: There are all sorts of critiques about the present administration's domestic policies. What's the central one? What's the central problem, the central flaw in this administration's domestic policy?

CLARK: There's an underlying ideological drive that overrides pragmatism. The American people want government to fix the things they can't fix themselves. The American people are basically individualists. They like each other; they're very charitable and generous; they're bound together in a hundred different ways -- they're not a big-government country. They're not socialists. But they recognize there are things they can't fix, like healthcare, or education--public education.

And this administration comes in with an ideology that blocks its ability to see, articulate, and resolve those problems. It's an ideology that's a sharpened sort of right-wing Republican party ideology. It has no real intellectual base to it. It's just the ideology of a party. By intellectual base, I'm talking first, trickle-down economics. No reputable economist stands up and says, "Trickle down economics really works." Because we know the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $100,000 a year and less is much higher than the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $350,000 a year and more.

So therefore when you say you're going to give money to the rich so they'll make jobs for the poor -- that's not a very efficient way of producing jobs in the American economy. We know that, all things being equal, that the lower the tax rate at the margin, the greater the incentive to earn the extra dollar. But we also know -- it's just human nature to figure that out -- that in a society where you've got a lot of people that are struggling to pay the electricity bill and the telephone bill and you've got a few people who don't care what the electricity and telephone bill is, that the few people who don't care about these things ought to pay a higher proportion of their income to help the rest of the country than the people who are struggling with the necessities in life.

I mean this is just sort of basic principles. I think most Americans understand and appreciate it. For some reason, this administration can't. This administration has crafted an ideology that basically is designed to roll back the institutions that have helped this country. They promote the ideology through sloganeering, through labeling, name-calling, talk radio. But when you really get down and scratch it, there's not much there.

Update: I didn't mean to single out this one excerpt, because there's a lot of good stuff in the rest of the interview as well, so take a look at the whole thing.

Update (10/3/03): After reading the interview again with more care, I have to say that I'm pretty impressed. I'm still not sure that Clark can, speaking simply logistically and practically, go all the way, but, as I wrote to my friends in the e-mail discussion group, I could well look back on this interview as the moment when I started moving away from leaning towards Dean in an uncommitted kind of way and started moving to leaning towards Clark in the same manner.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/01/2003 02:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Kevin Drum has the answer to the conservative complaint that liberals just want to tax "other people" to help the poor:

of course we want to tax "other people" to help the poor. And that includes ourselves. After all, who else can help the poor besides other people? Other people have all the money.

Well, yeah, exactly.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/01/2003 12:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Clark: What went wrong?

From the New York Review of Books, an article dated September 25th:

Iraq: What Went Wrong
By General Wesley K. Clark

The decisive phase of the American campaign to invade Iraq and seize Baghdad was remarkably successful. Basically, the operation succeeded because of the competence of the fighting units, especially the men and women handling weapons and equipment. Without the edge their abilities gave us, the air forces could not have hit the Iraqi forces effectively on the ground; nor could the ground forces have advanced through the Republican Guards so quickly and with such light casualties. The US commanders' role was to shape that competence and apply it to the situation at hand. This they did brilliantly.

But there were also problems that should not be ignored. First, the military plan took unnecessary risks, because it skimped on the forces made available to the commanders. And while the level of forces proved adequate for defeating the Iraqi military, the central idea in military operations is effectiveness, not efficiency. Military operations should not be run like businesses, which have predictable requirements and aim to minimize the costs of meeting them. Combat, especially land combat, is one of the most unpredictable of human activities. It is inherently risky, with the risks usually resulting from factors that are improbable or cannot be foreseen. Therefore, sound logic dictates the need to minimize foreseeable dangers before beginning any military operations.

Additional forces were available— they were even under orders to prepare for combat in Iraq. One more combat division, an additional force for securing the supply lines, more trucks and supply units to provide the redundancy that the inherent inefficiency of military operations requires—each would have reduced the risks. Some of the planners knew this; whether these forces would be used was the issue at the heart of the continuing tensions during the planning process. But they weren't deployed until it was too late.


The war plan's excessive risk became clear in the postcombat stage, and here the US forces and capabilities were unequal to the task. It was the planners' job to have anticipated the various contingencies and to make adequate provision for them, including the possibility of postwar Iraqi resistance to US occupation. The "rolling start" philosophy of the top commanders, which seemed to emerge as much from continuing deployment problems as from any strategic calculus, made this impossible. The result, at the end of major combat, was a US force that was incapable of providing security, stopping the looting and sabotage, and establishing a credible presence throughout the country—even within Baghdad. The ensuing disorder vitiated some of the boost in US credibility that was won on the battlefield, and it opened the way for deeper and more organized resistance during the following weeks.


Some may contend that such a "rolling start," with units being added over a period of months, is inevitable in a modern war—that building a stronger force, or starting the buildup earlier, would have sabotaged attempts to find a diplomatic solution. But the administration's own announcements belie this concern. The deployments of forces were habitually announced long before the forces actually began to move, and their size was exaggerated, giving an impression of substantially greater numbers than would actually be engaged in fighting.

Others have suggested that the relatively small ground force was accidental, that Secretary Rumsfeld's continued questions about the plan and deployments simply disrupted the process to such an extent that the required forces could not be delivered—and that eventually the commanders were reconciled to this situation, not wanting to face the secretary's wrath by raising objections. Still others have suggested that the ground force was relatively small because of Rumsfeld's insistence on holding down financial costs. That is, additional forces would be held back until they were clearly needed. And some have suggested that, by limiting ground forces, Rumsfeld was proving his point about the relative merits of special forces and air power compared to the traditional army. As one officer remarked, "He just always wanted to go light on the Army ground forces—same as in Afghanistan." Perhaps all these factors contributed to the inadequacy of the deployed forces.

The second major criticism of the war plan—a profound flaw—concerned the endgame: it shortchanged postwar planning. Those who plan military operations for a war must take into account the aftermath. Four steps have to be considered: deployment; buildup; decisive combat; and postconflict operations. The destruction of enemy forces on the battlefield creates a necessary but not sufficient condition for victory. It is not just the defeat of the opposing army but success in the operations that follow that accomplishes the aims and intentions of the overall plan. In this case, the purposes, as enunciated by Secretary Rumsfeld, included ending the regime of Saddam Hussein, driving out and disrupting terrorist networks, finding and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, eliminating further terrorist activities, and establishing conditions for Iraq's rapid transition to a representative government "that is not a threat to its neighbors."

Victory requires backward planning, beginning with a definition of postwar success and then determining both the nature of the operations required and the necessary forces. Here the administration's focus and determination on winning the war in military terms undermined the prospects for success once the country was occupied.

The Bush administration has explained the situation in postwar Iraq as a matter of assumptions that hadn't quite worked out, "that tended to underestimate the problem." It apparently believed that removing Saddam would remove the Baath threat, that large numbers of military and police would rally to the Americans, and that Iraqi bureaucrats would stay on the job.

In fact, the lack of preparations was partly a consequence of the leadership and decision-making within the Bush administration and partly the result of deeper forces and tendencies at work within the US government and the US military. From the beginning, the "decisive operations" (how to defeat Iraqi forces) had priority over the postwar plan (how to achieve the real objectives of establishing a secure and peaceful Iraq). The Pentagon's military organizations concentrated on using their basic expertise—the application of military power—rather than the broader requirements inherent in the situation. This was compounded by a continuing bureaucratic struggle between State and Defense, the first cautious and circumspect, the other determined to forge ahead seemingly regardless of the issues. This was a struggle that wasn't decided until January 2003 by the decision by the White House to give full postwar responsibilities to the Department of Defense.


This brings us to the third major criticism of the government's plan: in attempting to retain full control, the administration raised the costs and risks of the mission by preventing our use of the very allies and resources that should have been available to the US. The Bush administration, thus far, has been unwilling to make use of the international legitimacy and support it could have from international institutions like the United Nations and NATO. Rather than gain leverage by means of international legitimacy, the United States, even through the long summer of 2003, refused to cede political authority to the UN or grant meaningful authority to any other international institution. Yet such legitimacy was critical if governments in Europe were to provide forces and resources to assist postwar efforts in Iraq. With greater international legitimacy, especially in Europe, more leverage could have been brought to bear on governments elsewhere. In the court of international opinion, the UN's authority carries substantial weight. All of this was potentially available to the United States—if only our government had seen that it was necessary and pursued it.

Operation Iraqi Freedom showed the need for greater multilateral planning and participation, especially during the postconflict phase. Here are some of the perennial questions that weren't adequately considered. Who is going to provide the police and ensure public security? On the basis of what authority? Will there be a judicial system, with lawyers, judges, and jails? Whose laws will govern? How will the nexus of organized crime, corruption, and quasi-governmental authority on the part of religious and other leaders be handled? Asking the right questions, and creating appropriate solutions, are not tasks for one power alone, not even a power as great as the United States. More than fifty years of post–World War II experience have pointed toward the advantages of working, wherever possible, within the framework of alliances and multinational institutions. In jettisoning these lessons for the convenience of a largely bilateral operation, the United States left itself at risk legally, financially, and militarily. And no matter what the military language would say about "decisive operations," the events on the ground in Iraq, after the big military operation succeeded in defeating Saddam's forces, would in the long run be truly decisive.


In Iraq by early June 2003, the signs of determined resistance on the ground were unmistakable. The United States was facing ambushes and sniping, especially north and west of Baghdad. These were areas through which the small US forces on the ground had never fought—they simply arrived on the scene in the midst of the postwar collapse of Saddam's government. Inside Baghdad, despite a gradual re-turn to civil order, there remained isolated sniping, shooting, and sabotage. A shadowy Baathist movement calling itself "The Return" seemed to have emerged. The United States halted some redeployments of forces and undertook major military actions to reinforce the threatened areas and attack. As the overall ground commander stated, "This war isn't over yet." By September 21, more than eighty Americans had been killed and more than five hundred wounded in the conflict since May 1.

The campaign in Iraq had indeed succeeded in overthrowing Saddam's regime, but as of late September 2003, no weapons of mass destruction had been found. It was still likely that, before it collapsed, Saddam's regime had at least some programs in place to redevelop or enhance such weapons, especially biological weapons; per-haps there were even some weapons stocks, and we just haven't found them. But it was clear that, as our forces took over the country, new terrorist networks were being created, or imported, in resistance to the American effort. Any democratic transformation of Iraq was therefore going to have to contend with a new terrorist threat, in addition to a multiplicity of cultural, political, regional, and economic challenges.

No one could believe at this point that bringing about such a democratic transformation would be easy, quick, or cheap. It is true that if a primary but unspoken purpose of the military campaign was to demonstrate the skills and courage of the American armed forces, then it was surely a success. Thirty years of dedicated effort have built a US military without peer in its ability to defeat enemy forces on the battlefield. But power creates its own adversaries, and those who are determined to contest American strength will seek methods that minimize the military advantages we have accumulated. Much greater work remains to be done if the United States is to achieve success in promoting our values, our security, and our prosperity. All else being equal, the region and the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam gone. But the US actions against old adversaries like Saddam have costs and consequences that may still leave us far short of our goal of winning the new war on terror. Indeed, the effects of the war may actually impair our efforts to achieve that larger goal.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2003 02:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Deja vu all over again?

Here in New York City, Rudy Giuliani owed a fair amount of his (inexplicable to me) popularity to the precipitous decline in crime during his regime. Rudy was diligent in ascribing this to his policies, which followed the "broken windows" theory, of cracking down on "lifestyle crimes" like subway-turnstile jumping, graffitti, cleaning car windows at major stoplights and so on, and made sure that the credit would accrue to him alone. (He forced out his police commissioner when Bratton dared to take some measure of creidt for himself.)

But I always thought that, while community policing and the lifestyle crime crackdown may have had some effect, it's more likely that these three factors, acting on each other as catalysts and intensifiers were significant:
  • Demographics The bump in the population curve of 17-25 year old men (the most likely group to commit crimes) simply moved on as people grew older

  • Economic The economy got better during the Clinton years, enough so that young men who might otherwise see organized or semi-organized criminal activity as their only option were presented with a viable alternative. In addition, the unemployment rate dropped, so there were less "street people" among whom petty (and not-so-petty) crimes can originate.

  • Drugs The crack epidemic waned, as younger men who saw the devastation that drug addicition brought to their families and friends chose not to take up drug use.
Now, I don't have any particular documentation for this, but it does seem to me to be at least as reasonable an explanation as Guiliani's theory that arresting squeegie men somehow mystically brought the murder rate down. And if my theory is correct, or even partially correct, then it's somewhat disconcerting to read this, from this week's Sunday New York Times City section, which is distributed only in New York:


As Glass Vials Litter the Street, Fears Rise of a Nightmare Revived

By day, the laughter of children fills the air along 104th Street near Columbus Avenue in Manhattan Valley. By night, it is replaced by the sighs of human desperation.

"It's a parade of zombies lining up to buy their crack," said Michael Gotkin, a landscape architect who lives near the Frederick Douglass Houses, a public housing project where, he said, the drug activity is concentrated. "It happens almost every night."

People are seen spilling out of apartments suspected of being used as drug dens. Residents say the drug activity is busiest in the wee hours, between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. By dawn, all that remains are empty glass vials and small plastic bags, strewn around the sidewalk.

"We see people smoking crack in the open,'' said Ron Hoffman, a teacher who is also a member of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association. "We see people who live in the neighborhood selling drugs. And in the mornings, I see a lot of street people who are sleeping on the benches."

While the area is no stranger to drug activity, many residents had thought the worst was behind them after the 1980's crack epidemic. But during the last year, residents said, crack has come back to their neighborhood.

Community groups have been monitoring the drug dealing closely. "Unlike before, we haven't had any violent incidents connected with the drug dealing here," said Marjorie Cohen, executive director of the West Side Crime Prevention Program. "Knock on wood."

Police statistics seem to bear that out. Major crimes in the 24th Precinct, which covers the area, are down by nearly 1.5 percent compared with last year, and nearly 10 percent compared with 2001.

Residents attributed the rise of drugs to the existence of several single-room-occupancy hotels, where the city has been placing homeless people with a history of drug use. Calls to the police, they said, have not resulted in improvements, although undercover drug busts have been conducted in the area.

Detective Walter Burnes, a spokesman for the New York Police Department, declined to comment except to say, "We are aware of the problem and we are addressing it."

But community groups said more needs to be done. "This neighborhood had turned around," Mr. Hoffman said. "Things were going so well, that we're getting caught with our pants down."

One can only hope that this is not a warning sign of a new burst of street crime. The demographics continue to be with us, I think, but the economy seems clearly to be in for a long period of stagnation and high unemployment, so if street drug use (of crack, especially) is on the rise...

Anyone who lived in New York during the depths of its last bad period will understandably shudder at the possibility of seeing anything like it again.

Update: What about the general crackdown on crime and the imprisonment of extremely large numbers of people for longer terms? Wasn't that a factor in driving down the crime rate?

In a review by Jerome S. Bruner of The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society by David Garland, that contention is debunked:

The homicide rate in the US remained steady at around 10 per 100,000 from 1972 to 1992, in spite of the four-fold increase in incarceration (from about 100 to 400 per 100,000), while the rates of robbery, rape, and aggravated assault actually went up by more than 50 percent. One might say, of course, that quadrupling the imprisonment rate was part of a largely failed effort to reduce the steady rate of crime, especially the violent crimes about which we're most concerned. But twenty years of steadily increasing imprisonment with, at best, few results? It should also be remarked, by the way, that there has never been much substantial evidence that raising imprisonment rates reduces crime.

Starting around 1992 violent crime in America began declining and it is still going down—again, nobody is quite sure why. The homicide rate, for example, dropped from its two-decades-long 10 per 100,000 in 1992 to 6 per 100,000 in 2000. But despite that decline in violent crime over those years, the number of people in jail continued to rise steadily: from some 350 in 1992 to nearly 500 per 100,000 at the end of the millennium—an increment that adds up to tens of millions more days in prison.

Can we conclude, then, that the dramatic increase in imprisonment that began in 1972 belatedly began deterring violent crime in 1992, twenty years later, when crime rates started dropping?[4] If this is the case, then why did the rate of imprisonment continue to increase after crime had begun declining?

Crime continues to be on the decline. Yet incarceration rates are still increasing, though they have begun leveling off, even declining slightly, in a few states, more as an economic measure than as one of changed attitudes toward the harshness of prison policies. Even so, the weekly increase in the number of jail beds needed between June 2000 and June 2001, for example, was 587: not as great as the 1,500 weekly increase in the 1990s, but still considerable. Why are there 30,000 additional jail beds per year while crime continues to decline?

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2003 12:46:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, September 29, 2003

What kind of thinker are you?

What kind of thinker are you?

For many years, people used IQ tests to try and determine someone’s intelligence. However, some researchers believe that IQ tests do not take into account the fact that different people might think in different ways, and have different strengths and weaknesses.

Most people would agree that Mozart was a genius - but Mozart would probably have struggled with Einstein’s theories just like the rest of us. This doesn’t mean that one man was more clever than the other – they just thought in very different ways.

Many psychologists now believe that what we call intelligence can be subdivided into different categories, all of which can all be measured independently. Different kinds of thinking are needed to solve different problems.

[via Follow Me Here]

I was unimpressed enough with this quiz to consider not posting it, but then my own result said that I was a "Musical thinker." I'm not quite sure what that means, but it is true that I feel quite connected to music, despite not being musically trained, so I relented.

The nine styles of thinking tested by the quiz are:

Logical-Mathematical thinkers:
  • Like to understand patterns and relationships between objects or actions

  • Try to understand the world in terms of causes and effects

  • Are good at thinking critically, and solving problems creatively
Linguistic thinkers:
  • Tend to think in words, and like to use language to express complex ideas.

  • Are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.
Interpersonal thinkers:
  • Like to think about other people, and try to understand them

  • Recognise differences between individuals and appreciate that different people have different perspectives

  • Make an effort to cultivate effective relationships with family, friends and colleagues
Intrapersonal thinkers:
  • Spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to understand themselves

  • Reflect on their thoughts and moods, and work to improve them

  • You understand how your behaviour affects your relationships with others
Naturalist Thinkers:
  • Like to understand the natural world, and the living beings that inhabit it

  • have an aptitude for communicating with animals

  • You try to understand patterns of life and natural forces
Existential thinkers:
  • Like to spend time thinking about philosophical issues such as "What is the meaning of life?"

  • Try to see beyond the 'here and now', and understand deeper meanings

  • consider moral and ethical implications of problems as well as practical solutions
Musical thinkers:
  • Tend to think in sounds, and may also think in rhythms and melodies

  • Are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.

  • Feel a strong connection between music and emotions
Spatial Thinkers:
  • Tend to think in pictures, and can develop good mental models of the physical world.

  • Think well in three dimensions

  • Have a flair for working with objects
Kinaesthetic thinkers:
  • Think in movements.

  • Like to use their bodies in skilful and expressive ways

  • Have an aptitude for working with your hands

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/29/2003 11:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Long Now

From the website of the Long Now Foundation, Stewart Brand writes:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth. It began with an observation and idea by computer scientist Daniel Hillis:

"When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."
Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.

Hillis, who developed the 'massive parallel' architecture of the current generation of supercomputers, devised the mechanical design of the Clock and is now building the second prototype (the first prototype is on display in London at the Science Museum). The Clock's works consist of a binary digital-mechanical system which is so accurate and revolutionary that we have patented several of its elements.(With 32 bits of accuracy it has precision equal to one day in 20,000 years, and it self-corrects by 'phase-locking' to the noon Sun.) For the way the eventual Clock is experienced (its size, structure, etc.), we expect to keep proliferating design ideas for a while. In 01999 Long Now purchased part of a mountain in eastern Nevada whose high white limestone cliffs may make an ideal site for the ultimate 10,000-year Clock. In the meantime Danny Hillis and Alexander Rose continue to experiment with ever-larger prototype Clocks-the current one may be 20 feet high.

Long Now added a "Library" dimension with the realization of the need for content to go along with the long-term context provided by the Clock-a library of the deep future, for the deep future. In a sense every library is part of the 10,000-year Library, so Long Now is developing tools (such as the Rosetta Disk and the Long Server) that may provide inspiration and utility to the whole community of librarians and archivists. The Long Bets project-whose purpose is improving the quality of long-term thinking by making predictions accountable-is also Library-related.

The point is to explore whatever may be helpful for thinking, understanding, and acting responsibly over long periods of time.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/29/2003 10:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The long moment

Two years after 9/11, a telling moment here in the heart of New York City.

This afternoon, in the middle of rehearsal, on the 8th floor of a building in Manhattan, we hear a large, loud, reverberent sound from outside. Distant, but not too far away. The kind of sound that's hard to identify without some context: it could have been a clap of thunder (it had been raining earlier), it could have been some construction steel plates being dropped, or it could have been an explosion.

Everything in the room stops. And we wait. We exchange looks. Someone looks out the window. Someone comments that it might have been thunder. Someone asks if there's CNN in the building. We listen for the sound of sirens. Hearing none, we go back to work and pick up the rehearsal where we left off.

It couldn't have taken more than a minute or so, maybe less, a mere moment. But it was a long moment.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/29/2003 10:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Plame scandal -- more than it seems?

Steve Gilliard thinks that the leaking of Valerie Plame's name and status as a CIA officer was something more than just for spite:

So when the debates started about Al Qaeda getting weapons, Plame was the person who kept saying not only that it wasn't happening, but it wasn't likely to happen. Also, there was zero evidence from her sources Saddam could pass such weapons if he wanted to. She'd come back from a business trip, do a brief at Langley and say "it's not happening" Cheney's people sit in occasionally and like neither her tone nor conclusions. Despite the myth, there are plenty of NPR-listening liberals at CIA.

They press and press and her answers never change. It's not happening.

So they finally decide to ignore her, and go about with their lies. She writes a report calling them off-base and goes off to raise her twins. Months later, she's now riding a desk, and doing her job, and someone asks for someone to check this yellowcake thing. She says her husband used to cover the region for the NSC. They check on him, he's got sterling references from EUCOM and is seen as military-friendly. They send him to Niger, he concludes there's nothing to the story.

More months pass. Wilson comes out, saying that the uranium story was crap. The people in the VP's office then put two and two together. Not only is Wilson messing with them, but that bitch Plame is his wife. Let's get them both.

So I think it's not only to teach other people a lesson, but some payback for her honest conclusions.

Sounds very possible to me, given what we know about the way the Bush White House operates, and their feelings about "disloyalty."

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/29/2003 12:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Check out TPM

Speaking of the corruption of the Bush administration, as I was a few days ago, anyone who hasn't already done so should read Josh Marshall's series of posts (start here and read down) about the crony capitalism of New Bridge Strategies, intimately connected to the Bush administration and poised to suck up "business opportunities" in Iraq.

And while you're there on Talking Points Memo (which is my first blogging stop daily), read also the posts on the Valerie Plame affair, where a high White House official apparently outed a CIA asset in order to punish her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for speaking out on the "yellowcake" scandal.

The thing is starting to snowball a bit, as more and more media outlets pick up on the story.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 01:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I don't know about baseball predictions made by anyone else, but mine are generated by a combination of deep analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each team, observation of how they played during the season, my past experience, and tons and tons of wishful thinking.

So, here goes: In the ALDS, the Yankees beat the Twins easily, in 4 games at most. The Red Sox and the A's duke it out to 5 games and the Red Sox come away with the win. In the NLDS, the Braves beat the Cubs in 4, and the Giants beat the Marlins in 3.

In the next round, the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the ALCS, but they'll probably go all the way to do it. In the NLCS, the Giants beat the Braves, but not easily.

In the World Series, the Yankees beat the Giants.

Incidentally, by special arrangement, bring a printout of these predictions to any token booth of the New York City subway system, and youll be allowed to ride for the special low, low price of only $2.00. (Offer not good after curfew on the "R" or "N".)

Update: According to this on the ESPN site, my predictions for the LDS have the #1 payroll (Yankees) beating the #18 payroll (Twins), the #5 (Red Sox) payroll beating the #26 payroll (A's), the #6 payroll (Braves) besting the #12 payroll (Cubs) and the #8 payroll (Giants) winning over the #20 payroll (Marlins).

In the LCS, I predict that the #1 payroll (NY) will beat the #5 payroll (Boston), but that the #8 payroll (SF) will beat the #6 payroll (Atlanta). Then, in the World Series, the #1 Yankees beat the #8 Giants.

So, except for the anomoly of the Giants beating the Braves (and their payrolls are separated by only $3.85 million), my predictions seem to be saying that money spent on players is money well spent.

Update #2: Obviously, I'm a Yankee fan, and want to see my team go all the way, but if the Yankees were to be eliminated early, what would be great to see would be a Boston Red Sox - Chicago Cubs World Series. Great for those of us not in Boston or Chicago, that is, because we can watch with dispassionate interest, while the fans from those two cities would know that one or the other of them would suffer a kind of disappointment almost unknown to other baseball fans.

Well, maybe that wouldn't be so great to see after all, but the fervor would certainly be at a fever pitch.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 01:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I use the free low-rent version of Blogspot, which doesn't support graphics in blog posts, so I can't really do this right: but has anyone noticed that, from certain angles and depending on the state of his hair, Paul Wolfowitz looks quite a bit like Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges?

I know that I certainly haven't, and even if I had, I wouldn't want to lower the level of civil discourse by saying it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 01:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


And then, on to Grand Fenwick!

My Friend Roger comes to my rescue again with a pointer to this short item in The Onion:

U.S. Invades Non-Oil-Rich Nation To Dispel Criticism

LUXEMBOURG VILLE, LUXEMBOURG—In an effort to quiet criticism of U.S. military policy, 50,000 U.S. troops invaded and soundly defeated the non-oil-rich Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Monday. "Once again, the U.S. claims victory over a rogue nation," said President Bush after the 45-minute war. "The people of Luxembourg, although prosperous and living in peace, have suffered under the tyranny of a monarchy for centuries. And allow me to point out that Luxembourg has not one drop of crude oil." Troops will return home Friday, following the public hanging of Grand Duke Henri de Luxembourg.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 12:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A reminder: things can change

From a review in the NY Times Book Review of a biography of Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop:

Actually, as Bremer shows, Winthrop was among the least wretched-making of the Puritans. He might be considered the Mohammad Khatami of the Evangelical Republic of Massachusetts. (Since ''Puritan'' is an imprecise label, the vogue now among scholars is to alternate it with the synonyms "evangelical," "reformed," "godly" and "hot Protestant," the last of which makes it sound as if the brand has been extended beyond Christian rock all the way into spring-break reality television.) As in Iran today, theocrats in 17th-century Massachusetts were struggling with moderates, and the outcome was uncertain. The colony executed adulterers, seriously considered requiring women to wear veils and drafted a legal code based on the Old Testament. Clerics advised their congregations to ''be willing to be killed like sheep'' in the fight against Antichrist, and when ministers suspected an enemy of Roman Catholicism, they warned that he should be hacked out like a bramble: ''Call for hatchets do not deale gently it will prick you.''

It was thanks in part to Winthrop that Christian versions of the chador and Islamic law were not institutionalized in Massachusetts, and he probably also helped to keep the number of hanged adulterers much lower than it might have been. Nonetheless, he was very far from a modern liberal. He saw no injustice in slicing off the ears of a man said to have criticized the colony's government, and in his journal he described with unnerving complacency the execution of a young man caught ''in buggery with a cow upon the Lord's day'': ''The cow (with which he had committed that abomination) being brought forth and slain before him, he brake out into a loud and doleful complaint against himself. . . . There is no doubt to be made but the Lord hath received his soul to his mercy.''

Imagine! A theocracy, right here in a precursor to one of These United States.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 12:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why not spread the joy?

Not much blogging from me in recent days, due to time pressure, and the plain fact that I don't have a lot to say right now that isn't being said by others, and, for the most part, better. I know from experience that when I'm more rested, I'm also more opinionated, so I expect things will change at some point and I'll post more often. In the meantime, I urge the dozen or so people who pop in here regularly (my Loyal Readers) to use the links at the right and read some of the very good blogs there.

One item did catch my eye: Michael Froomkin at has an idea, and it ain't bad, really.

According to the CIA Factbook, Iraq today has an estimated population of just over 24,683,000, and (in 2002) had a GDP estimated at US$58 billion in purchasing power parity, giving it an estimated GDP per capita of about $2,400. (David’s guess as to GDP was much better than mine, but I had a better guess as to the population.)

The Administration seeks $87 billion, but not all of it is for Iraq. According to the New York Times, “Of the $87 billion, military operations in Iraq would account for $50.5 billion. Military operations in Afghanistan would take up $11 billion, Iraqi reconstruction $20.3 billion, and Afghanistan reconstruction $800 million.”

Counting just the reconstruction grant, that makes a subsidy about equal to 40% of Iraq’s former GDP, and about $960 for every Iraqi. Throw in what we are spending to occupy the country, and it’s more than last year’s Iraqi GDP, and about $3,230 per Iraqi.

Having seen these numbers, I’ve now cooked up a modest proposal for a US exit strategy from Iraq. Bring all the troops home. Give each Iraqi $3000 a year for the next year or two, and count on the free market to conduct the reconstruction for us at much greater efficiency than we would otherwise achieve.

[via Atrios]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2003 12:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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03/16/2008 - 03/23/2008
03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008
03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008
09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008

search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
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Daou Report
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Political Animal
*Talking Points Memo*
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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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