Saturday, June 05, 2004

Southern strategy

Looking at the lastest polling available in 10 south (or near south) states (AL, AR, GA, KY, LA, MO, NC, TN, VA and WV -- polls are not available for SC and MS, and FL is a special case, only partly a southern state), there are 3 states in which Bush's lead is under 3 points: Tennessee (+2.5), Virginia (+2) and Missouri (+1), and in all these three Bush is running behind his 2000 results (TN +3.86, VA +8.04, and MO +3.34)*.

Right now, all of these states look like possibles for a Kerry pick-up, and, indeed, Kerry has started advertising in Virginia, to the consternation of the GOP. A running mate who's from the south just might help add a point or two in each of these states, and when you add in the fact that polls have shown that adding Edwards to the ticket makes North Carolina competitive (Bush is currently ahead by 4 points, well behind his 12.83 point margin in 2000), it should really put matters to rest about who the best v.p. choice would be, speaking strategically, at least. (There are other numerous reasons to chose Edwards as well, as I've stated before.)

It's true that Edwards cannot guarantee North Carolina for Kerry, but polls also show that Vilsack can't guarantee Iowa either, despite his popularity there. The advantage of picking Edwards is the possibility that Kerry's vote might raise a couple of points throughout the south, and with Bush's approvals running so low, that might well be enough to put another state or two in Kerry's column -- which in this election could well be the difference between victory and defeat.

*(Arkansas is not much out of the running either: Bush is current 4.8 points ahead of Kerry, which is behind his 5.44 margin in 2000).

Update: West Virginia is another possible Kerry pickup. A Mason-Dixon poll, (which may be a leaked internal survey) shows Kerry ahead of Bush by 6 points (47-41) with a margin of error of 4 points. Given its suspect provenance, it's not enough for me to change the state's status, but it is enough for me to flag it for a possible trend towards Kerry.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/05/2004 04:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Polling accuracy

From Gary, a commenter on Swing State Project, comes this link to a statement from the National Council on Public Polls' Polling Review Board about poll accuracy in the 2000 elections, which could well be useful in evaluating the results we're seeing now as we track state-by-state polling for the purpose of forecasting Electoral College results for 2004.

The 2000 election was a tie between Bush and Gore and was the closest election since the Kennedy-Nixon election in 1960. Democrat Gore had a slight edge in the CBS and Zogby polls, while seven of the other polls leaned to Republican Bush. The Harris poll had it tied. Four years ago, all 9 polls erred in favor of overstating Democratic Clinton. Challenger Nader was overstated by 7 of the 10 polls this year. Two got the Nader vote correct. All other polls overstated Nader's vote. Third party candidates typically get less support in the election than they do in the final pre-election polls.

Two other organizations used methods that previously had not been used. Harris Interactive conducted its polls on the Internet among a panel of e-mail users and forecast a tie. Rasmussen's Portrait of America poll was off by 4.5 percentage points on each of the top two candidates. Rasmussen had its interviews conducted by a computer playing a recorded voice with no live interviewer intervening.

I have no idea if Rasmussen is still using this bizarre method of data collection in its 2004 battleground state polling, but if it is, that, along with the all-month-long nature of their polls, might explain the disparity between the Rasmussen results and the Zogby interactive results (which potentially have their own problems).

Rasmussen's 4.5% error rate was by far the largest shown in the NCCP statement. The average Bush/Gore error was 1.1% and the average Nader error was 1.3%. Harris and Harris Interactive did best at predicting the Bush/Gore result (0.0% error), but its Nader error rates weren't as good (2.0% for Harris Poll, 1.0% for Harris Interactive). ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News/Wall Street Journal did best at predicting Nader (0.0%), but were among the highest in Bush/Gore error rates (1.5%). The Battleground poll was the worst poll using traditional data gathering methods, with 2.5% Bush/Gore and 1.0% Nader error rates.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/05/2004 03:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Peace is a long-term military strategy

Peace is not some hippie buzzword or dreamy pacifist ideology. It's an active, long-term military strategy that requires different, possibly counterintuitive, tactics. The world knows that the United States is unmatched in its ability to wage and execute wars. In the future, we will have to become equally unparalleled in our ability to negotiate and sustain peace.
Cassidy Black
letter to the editor
New York Times Magazine (4/25/2004)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/05/2004 12:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, June 04, 2004

Tenet resignation

There's an aspect to the Tenet resignation that I haven't seen much comment on: by resigning now, Tenet has forced there to be Senate confirmation hearings for the new director-designate, which will inevitably turn into am extended discussion about the "intelligence failure" (or blatant misue of intelligence) which played such a pivotal role in legitimatizing the Bush administration's desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein through an invasion of Iraq.

After the Abu Ghraib scandals broke and didn't fade away but kept on getting deeper and deeper, there was considerable speculation that Bush would (or should) fire Rumsfeld, and perhaps others in the highest levels of the civilian hierarchy of the DOD, because of his involvement. Good money has it that he didn't let Rumsfeld go, and, indeed, gave him a glowing public testimonial, because it would mean Senate hearings for his replacement, and Bush wanted to avoid that, since prominent Republican Senators (those who haven't swallowed the Kool-Aid) were beginning to have qualms about Bush's mishandling of foreign policy and the growing mess that Iraq has ended up being.

So, is it possible that with all the other reasons that have been advanced for Tenet's decision, there may have been some partisan political purpose behind it?

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 11:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Encounter at 1600

I don't generally post a lot of these, but here's another one making the rounds, this one more in my usual baliwick:

One sunny day in 2005 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the Marine standing guard and said, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine looked at the man and said, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The old man said, "Okay" and walked away.

The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush." The Marine again told the man, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The man thanked him and, again, just walked away.

The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same Marine, saying "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine, understandably annoyed at this point, looked at the man and said, "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don't you understand?"

The old man looked at the Marine and said, "Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it."

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, "See you tomorrow."


[Thanks to Trish]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 09:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Blues 101 (or How to Sing the Blues)

This is one of those circulars that runs around the internet by e-mail and gets posted on lots of websites, but nobody really knows who wrote it or where it started. (A number of sites give authorship as "By Lame Mango Washington (attributed to Memphis Earl Grey with revisions by Little Blind Patti D. and Dr. Stevie Franklin and help from Uncle Plunky)," but I assume that is another joke, probably added on along the way.) Most of these things are pretty unfunny, or rely for their impact on supposedly being true (while actually being fodder for the Urban Legend Reference Pages at, but I thought this one was pretty funny, so here it is:


1. Most Blues begin with: "Woke up this morning..."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues unless you stick something nasty in the next line like "I got a good woman with the meanest face in town."

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes, sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound."

4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch. There ain't no way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broke-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or SUVs. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or anyplace in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still great places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues anyplace that don't get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg 'cause you were skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg 'cause a alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can't have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go out to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues:
a. Highway
b. Jailhouse
c. Empty bed
d. Bottom of a whiskey glass

Bad places for the Blues:
a. Nordstrom's
b. Gallery openings
c. Ivy League colleges
d. Golf courses

11. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an old ethnic person, and you slept in it.

12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues?

Yes, if:
a. You older than dirt
b. You blind
c. You shot a man in Memphis
d. You can't be satisfied

No, if:
a. You have all your teeth
b. You were once blind but now can see
c. The man in Memphis lived
d. You have a 401K or trust fund

13. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.

14. If you ask for water and your darlin' give you gasoline, it's the Blues.

Other acceptable Blues beverages are:
a. Cheap wine
b. Whiskey or bourbon
c. Muddy water
d. Nasty black coffee

The following are NOT Blues beverages:
a. Perrier
b. Chardonnay
c. Snapple
d. Slim Fast

15. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken-down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

16. Some Blues names for women:
a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie
d. Fat River Dumpling

17. Some Blues names for men:
a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Big Willie

18. Persons with names like Amber, Jennifer, Tiffany, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

19. Make your own Blues name Starter Kit:
a. Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.)
b. First name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, etc..)
c. Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

Examples: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jackleg Lemon Johnson.

20. No matter how tragic your life, if you own a computer you cannot sing the blues.

[Thanks to Shirley]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 09:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Poll: Polls Unreliable

This might be part of the problem with Zogby's and Rasmussen's poll results apparently in conflict:

Most Poll Results Unreliable, Poll Finds

Written by James Peters

Only 1 in 7 Americans respond honestly to survey questions, according to a recent CNN/Gallup survey. Titled Telling the Truth: American Style, the study is believed to be the first of its kind.

"We have been polling Americans for over 100 years," says John Greggio, Sr. Vice President of Psychometrics for the Gallup Organization. "But we never thought to ask people if they were being honest."

The telephone survey of 1006 Americans was conducted during the week of May 7-14. It paints a disturbing picture of Americans' relationship with the truth, and of life in general. Among the poll's other findings:

  • Most people wish their neighbors would just go away

  • 28% of all Americans have reported seeing Jesus in the crawlspace underneath their house in the past six months

  • More than half of all adults over 65 say they now inhabit a dream world where fact and fiction have become mere mental constructs

The poll's margin of error could not be determined.

[From The Spoof via MyDD]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 05:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Zogby v. Rasmussen

When the Zogby interactive battleground-state polling results came in, there were questions about how accurate it might be, since it was taken over the internet, via e-mail, and not by telephone as is normally done. Zogby insisted that it stood by the results, so I dutifully took notice of them and, partly as a result, moved several states around in my electoral vote analysis.

Now, three Rasmussen polls have come out in three of those swing states, and none of the three support or corroborate the Zogby results:

  • In Ohio, Zogby had Kerry at 49.4, Bush at 44.8 and Nader at 0.9, with a margin of error of 4.1 points. That a +4.6 advantage for Kerry, outside the m.o.e., and therefore statistically signficant -- in other words, a bona fide lead. Rasmussen, on the other hand has Bush and Kerry neck and neck, with Bush ahead 46-44. (With a margin of error of 4, the difference between them isn't significant.)

  • In Oregon, Zogby had Kerry 49.7 - Bush 44.3 - Nader 2.9, a +5.4 lead for Kerry, also outside the m.o.e. of 3.2, and therefore significant. Rasmussen doesn't agree, showing another statistical tie, Bush 46 - Kerry 45 with a m.o.e. of 5.

  • Finally, Missouri, which Zogby had going for Kerry 47.2 to 43.9 with Nader at 2.1. Because the m.o.e. was 4.3, Kerry's 3.3 lead was not statistically significant, but Rasmussen still showed a lead for Bush, 44-43, with an m.o.e. of 5.

Now, objections have been raised that Rasmussen tends to get conservative results, but I think a more pertinent objection is that the polling was done not over several days, but over the course of the entire month of May (1-31). That seems to me to be quite a long time to take such a snapshot, but it any case the results probably aren't strictly comparable to Zogby's, which were taken over the course of 6 days (May 18-23).

The next Zoby interactive results are, I believe, due out next week, and it will be interesting to see if they confirm the initial results. In the meantime, I've marked these states as potentials to change categories, but I've refrained from making any changes yet, awaiting further developments.

Update: Rasmussen's results from Pennsylvania are in, and it's the same situation. Zogby had Kerry ahead by 8.2, outside the margin of error (3.8), but Rasmussen's numbers (gathered over the course of the entire month) shows a dead heat: Kerry 44 - Bush 45 (moe4).

Update: Chris Bowers has posted his latest cattle call:

  • Popular vote: Kerry 51.42 - Bush 48.58 (too close to call)

  • Electoral vote (270 needed): Kerry 316 - Bush 222

  • States changing hands from 2000: FL, NV, NH and OH

Note: Several hours after I posted this, Chris updated his numbers, based on some new data he came across. I've updated the numbers above to reflect those revised results.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 02:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



A week or so ago, I reported that Chris Bowers was predicting a Kerry win -- and not just a squeaker, on the basis of his analysis of voting trends, past results and curent polling, he was forseeing a Kerry landslide -- perhaps up to 450 out of 538 votes in the Electoral College. Earlier in the month, Chuck Todd had made the same prognostication, a big Kerry win, in Washington Monthly.

Now, Jeff Alworth, of The American Street joins in to call for the same result: a Kerry walkover:

The polls and the pundits are still predicting a squeaker in November. The thin rationale for the pundits goes like this: although Bush is sliding in the polls, Kerry isn't ascending and by the election, Kerry's negatives will overwhelm him. That's the entire foundation supporting this position. All other scenarios are against Bush--his record is littered with debacles, his party is splintering and abandoning him, and the mood on the street is ugly. The best hope the Bushies have is to make Americans hate Kerry--a war hero who has served his country for 30 years--more than they hate the guy who appropriated their tax dollars to pay for a failed war, for corporations who sent their jobs to India, and for the ultrawealthy who were supposed to spend us back into solvency (but didn't). Even Karl Rove ain't that good.

Here's the truth: Kerry will win, and he'll probably win big.

There's tons of evidence for this, but we're too close to events to see it. In five months, we'll look back and and admit that we saw the writing on the wall, but just couldn't believe it.

Take a look at Jeff's post to see the evidence he cites for his conclusion, but I have to say that I just don't buy it -- I think he underestimates the range of what can happen in the next 5 months, and overestimates the lasting effect of Bush's current poor situation. As I wrote in a comment on The American Street in response to Jeff's post:

[A]s much as I'd like to believe [these predictions], I cannot bring myself to -- not yet, at least.

There's still quite a bit of time left, and many things can happen. Kerry can meltdown, or Bush can make it appear that he's melted down; Bush can spin the "turnover" in Iraq as a quasi-withdrawal and take pressure off himself that way; the economy could rebound and the jobs data could start moving north (unlikely, but still...); Bush could bite the bullet, realize he's fucked, fire Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz and the rest of the neo-con gang and force Cheney to resign "for reasons of health", then blame everything on them and rebuild his administration with popular Republicans like McCain and conservative Democrats like Zell Miller; Rove could find a Willie Horton-ish soft spot in Kerry's armor; the media would stop its recent skeptical outlook and return to the stance of fawing acceptance they've adopted for the past 3+ years; and so on.

[I can add that perhaps we'll be subjected to another deadly terrorist attack, and, although I believe the result of such would be turning away from the man who couldn't manage to protect us, despite three years to work on it, it's also possible, as others have suggested, that people will again rally around the man in the White House and refuse to change the administration. There's also the long-dreaded "October Surprise," the capture of Osama bin Laden or something similar, but I myself don't believe that OBL is stil.l alive, and other potential "surprises" would hardly carry the same kind of impact.]

A lot can happen in 5 months.

I've been disappointed too many times to allow myself to accept that this thing is in the bag and that it's going to be big. If it's true, than I'm going to reach that conclusion by working away at it incrementally anyway, so why take the risk of jumping into the deep end if it's not necessary?

I'm concerned that this mini-spate of landslide predictions is the result of an overreaction to the nosedive that Bush is currently in, by people who (like myself) desperately want to defeat Bush. The danger with accepting these forecasts is that they can breed overconfidence and a sense of inevitability of Kerry's winning, which would work against a full-time, all-out effort to defeat Bush. (Why work hard for a result that's bound to happen in any event?)

While it might possibly be true that the snapshot of the current moment perhaps points to a big Kerry win (although I'm not so sure it does), to accept that the situation isn't going to change substantially between now and then is, I believe, foolhardy. It's true that almost everything seems to be going our way right now, but life and politics can be terribly unpredictable, and a major perturbation of the current status quo could change everything almost overnight.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/04/2004 01:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Coming home

I flew back from Charleston to New York today (our performances there at the Spoleto Festival being completed), and as my bags were being checked with the chemical sniffing machine, the TSA guy who was doing it engaged myself and one of the performers who was with me in some conversation. Given the situation, and the nature of his job, and the fact that he was searching our bags at the time, I was unsure at first whether he was lightly interrogating us, or was simply chit-chatting. He asked where we were going, and we said "New York", to which he replied "Why?" I misheard him at first and thought he said "Hawaii?", so I responded "No -- New York," and he once again asked "Why?"

In that circumstance, brevity seemed the best tactic, so I said "Because we live there." He asked us a few more questions, and it finally seemed that he was just making conversation (I guess), just a non-New Yorker feeling free to dis New York -- or perhaps he was using the additional time to fondle some of the underwear on the top of my (female) friend's suitcase. (It certainly seemed that way, and he didn't appear to have given my underwear -- also on top -- the same going over.)

Charleston's a lovely city, with a very human scale and some beautiful houses in the historic district, but I have to admit after a couple of days there I ran out of things to do. Partly it was me (the paucity of my interests) and partly it was the situation --no car to make trips outside the downtown area, and not really enough time in most days for a day trip in any case, because of our performance schedule. Everyone was very helpful and friendly (sometimes aggresively so -- the moment you'd walk through the front door at the Holiday Inn we were staying out, the people at the desk would pratically shout at you "HOW ARE YOU?", which made me try to enter as quickly and unobtrusively as possible), and that is certainly different from New York, although out reputation for being curt, surly and unhelpful is mostly a stereotype.

Still, even though I would probably not be very happy living in Charleston myself, I can see that it has virtues which would please other people, and I certainly wouldn't think of asking someone going there why they were doing it, as if to imply that only morons and deranged people would choose to visit.

I suppose it's possible that maybe he suspected us of being terrorists (I was wearing all black, and sandals), and was just engaging us in conversation to see how we handled the language, or something.

Or perhaps he was just a panty-loving, New York-hating, loudmouthed asshole -- who can know?

At any particular time there is usually one city in the world that is seen as exemplary, whose architecture is emulated, whose institutions set the fashion, and whose manners and way of life are taken to be the international standard. London during the nineteenth century, Paris during the first half of the twentieth, and New York City today were — are — such cities.

Witold Rybczynski
"City Lights"
New York Review of Books (6/21/2001)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/03/2004 03:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Right and wrong

Men may do the right things from a mixture of motives and may with equal ease do terrible deeds with the best of intentions -- or no intentions at all.

Tony Judt
"On 'The Plague'"
New York Review of Books (12/29/2001)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/03/2004 03:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Perversity and understanding

A friend of mine once described perversity as a situation that enlisted your curiosity while discouraging your understanding.

Ward Just
"Why I Was In Vietnam"
New York Times Magazine (3/19/2000)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/03/2004 03:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Greatest book title?

On The Bonassus, Daniel Geffen has a nomination for the greatest book title of all time. Take a look, and see if you agree.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/03/2004 03:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush v. Gore

Publius reminds us:

Look, it's a sign that our country isn't as screwed up as many people think given that Americans didn't take to the streets after Bush v. Gore. Any way you think about it, that case was an outrage. Just think about it mathematically. Nine -- nay, five -- Justices selected a friggin' President for 300 million people. They would have been hung if that happened in 1800 - literally. It was a fundamentally illegitimate, anti-democratic, judicial coup d'etat. But getting away from all that, what really irks me -- and this is why I refuse to take any shit from any Federalist Society member blathering on about "activist" judges -- is that the outcome in Bush v. Gore required the conservative Justices to turn their back on everything they had ever preached. It was cosmic hypocrisy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/03/2004 01:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Kerry, Bush & Iraq

Jim VandeHei and Dan Balz write, in the Washington Post:

Foreign policy experts on the left and the right said that, on Iraq, the principal focus will remain on Bush. "Kerry can let the administration stew in their own juices, and he can just essentially say incompetence has led them to this point," said Gary J. Schmitt of the Project for a New American Century, a conservative think tank. "I don't think the public really would even pay attention if he had an eight-point plan for fixing things."

That's exactly right, which is why Kerry is not obligated to provide such a plan in order to be elected. In fact, since the facts "on the ground" change so quickly, he's actually much better off not putting forth such a plan.

Noam Scheiber extends the idea on the New Republic's badly named &c. weblog:

Iraq is Bush's baby. Everyone knows it's Bush's baby. And if it keeps going badly, he's finished, regardless of how close he happens to be to Kerry's positions on the matter. Second, Kerry isn't left to argue that he has more credibility in executing the same policies. He's left to argue that Iraq has been a disaster, and that it's Bush's fault--which is almost self-evidently true. And, finally, declaring a timetable for withdrawing the troops would not be politically advantageous for Kerry. Doing so would give Bush cover to lay out a timetable of his own, which would be substantively disastrous but pretty useful politically for the White House. By not budging from his commitment to stay the course in Iraq, Kerry forces Bush to do the same, meaning he has to keep owning every inch of the disaster Iraq has become.

And what about the convergence of Bush's Iraq policies with Kerry's? Josh Marshall weighs in on this:

It has now become close to a commonplace that John Kerry's policies differ little from President Bush's. Where is the difference, we hear, since both candidates are for an openness to greater troop deployment, a fuller role for the United Nations and the country's traditional allies, and dropping support for the exilic hucksters who helped scam the country in the first place.

This is a weak argument on several grounds. But the most glaring is that what we see now isn't the president's policy. It's the president's triage -- his team's ad hoc reaction to the collapse of his policy, the rapid, near-total, but still incomplete and uncoordinated abandonment of his policy.

The president's actions, if not his words, concede that Iraq has become the geopolitical equivalent of a botched surgery -- botched through some mix of the misdiagnosis of the original malady and the incompetence of the surgeon. Achieving the original goal of the surgery is now close to an afterthought. The effort is confined to closing up as quickly as possible and preventing the patient from dying on the table. And now the 'doctor', pressed for time and desperate for insight, stands over the patient with a scalpel in one hand and the other hurriedly leafing through a first year anatomy text book.

In other words,

the president now argues that he is best equipped to guard the country from the full brunt of the consequences of his own misguided actions, managerial incompetence and dishonesty.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/01/2004 03:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bring back DDT?

Tina Rosenberg, writing in the New York Times Magazine, makes a strong case that the ban on the use of DDT has had serious consequences for the third world:

DDT was falling out of favor even before the 1962 publication of ''Silent Spring,'' Rachel Carson's book that described the dumping of DDT and other pesticides on American towns and farms and detailed the destruction they caused. DDT had not been sold as a way to control malaria but to eradicate it, so the world would never have to think about malaria again. But eradication failed -- it is now considered biologically impossible -- and because DDT had not lived up to its billing, disillusion set in. At the same time, DDT's indiscriminate use was provoking the development of resistance among mosquitoes, and many countries were shifting to decentralized health systems, which meant they were no longer able to organize nationwide house spraying.

The move away from DDT in the 60's and 70's led to a resurgence of malaria in various countries -- Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Swaziland, South Africa and Belize, to cite a few; those countries that then returned to DDT saw their epidemics controlled. In Mexico in the 1980's, malaria cases rose and fell with the quantity of DDT sprayed. Donald Roberts, a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., has argued that when Latin America stopped using DDT in the 1980's, malaria immediately rose, leading to more than a million extra cases a year. The one country that continued to beat malaria was Ecuador, the one country that kept using DDT.

In the few countries where it is used today, DDT is no longer sprayed from airplanes, and no country admits to using it as an insecticide for crops -- although there are probably cases where it is diverted for agricultural use. Its only legitimate use is inside houses. Roberts said that the quantities used for house spraying are so small that Guyana, to take one example, could protect every single citizen of its malarious zones with the same amount of DDT once used to spray 1,000 acres of cotton. ''The negative environmental effects of DDT use that led to its banning were due to massive, widespread agricultural use,'' says a fact sheet published by Usaid (no fan of the chemical). ''Spraying limited amounts of DDT inside houses is considered unlikely to have major negative environmental impact.''

What about DDT's impact on the people inside the houses? The most serious evidence of DDT's harm to humans are a few studies showing that higher levels of DDE (the form DDT takes when it metabolizes) in a mother's blood is associated with premature birth and shorter duration of breast-feeding. But other studies have found no such associations. There was suspicion that DDT causes breast cancer, but study after study has found no connection. In general, DDT is feared for its effect on the environment, not on humans. It has been used on such a huge scale over the last 50 years that it is reasonable to think that if it had any serious effect on human health, we would know it by now.

Rereading ''Silent Spring,'' I was again impressed by the book's many virtues. It was serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962 and published in book form that September -- a time when Americans were living in the golden glow of postwar progress and science was revered. ''Silent Spring'' for the first time caused Americans to question the scientists and officials who had been assuring them that no harm would result from the rain of pesticides falling on their farms, parks and backyards. Carson detailed how DDT travels up the food chain in greater and greater concentrations, how robins died when they ate earthworms exposed to DDT, how DDT doomed eagle young to an early death, how salmon died because DDT had killed the stream insects they ate, how fiddler crabs collapsed in convulsions in tidal marshes sprayed with DDT.

''Silent Spring'' changed the relationship many Americans had with their government and introduced the concept of ecology and the interconnectedness of systems into the national debate. Rachel Carson started the environmental movement. Few books have done more to change the world.

But this time around, I was also struck by something that did not occur to me when I first read the book in the early 1980's. In her 297 pages, Rachel Carson never mentioned the fact that by the time she was writing, DDT was responsible for saving tens of millions of lives, perhaps hundreds of millions.

DDT killed bald eagles because of its persistence in the environment. ''Silent Spring'' is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. Public opinion is so firm on DDT that even officials who know it can be employed safely dare not recommend its use. ''The significant issue is whether or not it can be used even in ways that are probably not causing environmental, animal or human damage when there is a general feeling by the public and environmental community that this is a nasty product,'' said David Brandling-Bennett, the former deputy director of P.A.H.O. Anne Peterson, the Usaid official, explained that part of the reason her agency doesn't finance DDT is that doing so would require a battle for public opinion. ''You'd have to explain to everybody why this is really O.K. and safe every time you do it,'' she said -- so you go with the alternative that everyone is comfortable with.

''Why it can't be dealt with rationally, as you'd deal with any other insecticide, I don't know,'' said Janet Hemingway, director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. ''People get upset about DDT and merrily go and recommend an insecticide that is much more toxic.''

Because the ban on DDT became the midwife to the environmental movement, the debate about it, even today, is bizarrely polarized. Most environmental groups don't object to DDT where it is used appropriately and is necessary to fight malaria. But liberals still tend to consider it a symbol of the Frankenstein effects of unbridled faith in technology. For conservatives, whose Web sites foam at the mouth about the hypocrisy of environmentalists, DDT continues to represent the victory of overzealous regulators and Luddites who misread and distort science.

So far, conservatives have not been able to budge Usaid, even though they have managed to remake the agency's overseas AIDS programs to promote abstinence and discredit condom use. But malaria is not part of the public debate as AIDS is, and DDT does not have the same cultural urgency for the religious right that abstinence does.

William Ruckelshaus, the head of the newly created Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT in 1972. It remains one of the most controversial decisions the E.P.A. has ever taken. Ruckelshaus was under a storm of pressure to ban DDT. But Judge Edmund Sweeney, who ran the E.P.A.'s hearings on DDT, concluded that DDT was not hazardous to humans and could be used in ways that did not harm wildlife. Ruckelshaus banned it anyway, for all but emergencies.

Ruckelshaus made the right decision -- for the United States. At the time, DDT was mainly sprayed on crops, mostly cotton, a use far riskier than indoor house spraying. There was no malaria in the United States -- in part thanks to DDT -- so there were no public health benefits from its use. ''But if I were a decision maker in Sri Lanka, where the benefits from use outweigh the risks, I would decide differently,'' Ruckleshaus told me recently. ''It's not up to us to balance risks and benefits for other people. There's arrogance in the idea that everybody's going to do what we do. We're not making these decisions for the rest of the world, are we?''

In fact, we are -- the central reason that African nations who need DDT do not use it today. Washington is the major donor to W.H.O. and Roll Back Malaria, and most of the rest of the financing for those groups comes from Europe, where DDT is also banned. There is no law that says if America cannot use DDT then neither can Mozambique, but that's how it works. The ban in America and other wealthy countries has, first of all, turned poor nations' agricultural sectors against DDT for economic reasons. A shipment of Zimbabwean tobacco, for example, was blocked from entering the United States market because it contained traces of DDT, turning Zimbabwe's powerful tobacco farmers into an effective anti-DDT lobby. From a health point of view, of course, American outrage would have been more appropriate if traces of tobacco had been found in their DDT than the other way around.

Then there are chemical companies. ''I get asked all the time -- are you being paid by chemical companies?'' said Thomas DeGregori, a professor of economics at the University of Houston and an advocate for DDT. The question is amusing, because the corporate interests in this issue are actually on the other side. DDT is no longer on patent, and it is known to be made only in India and China -- and the price has soared since the rich-country ban put manufacturers out of business, making it harder for poor countries to buy. Janet Hemingway of the Liverpool School, who advises African governments, said that she and the officials she works with are often lobbied by chemical companies selling more expensive insecticides, telling her about DDT's evils. ''Clearly, they'd like to see DDT banned -- it cuts into their markets,'' she said.

The only kind of liberalism I feel is worth defending is one that when conditions change, it changes its response to reflect the new circumstances. If Rosenberg is correct that inside the house spraying of DDT can make a tremendous difference in mosquito control and malaria suppression, and that there is little or no danger to humans or animals from spraying in such amounts, then it's really incumbent upon us to support programs which fund that spraying through Western aid institutions.

Take a look at the entire article and make up your own mind. It's available here and, as a PDF, here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/01/2004 02:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Did Iran use us?

According to an article in The Guardian:

An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.


"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."

That seemed a strong possibility to me when the news first came out about Chalabi's connections to Iran being even stronger than had been generally thought. That's why I wrote, 10 days ago:

Is it possible, given the strong links now being reported between Chalabi and the Iranians, that the Bush administration was suckered by the Iranians into bringing down their mortal enemy, Saddam Hussein, and weakening the country in the region which has been their rival for hegemony in the Persian Gulf?

(If Bush & Company were suckered by Chalabi's "intelligence", it's only because their ideology predisposed them to believe what they were being told, but as we learn more and more about the amount to which the invasion was based on Chalabi's information and assurances, and looking at the result, then factoring in the strange lack of public comment from Iran, it really does have to be considered that Iran has utilized the United States to get done what it couldn't do itself.)

It'll be interesting to see what this investigation uncovers, if we ever learn its results.

[Link via Follow Me Here]

Postscript: Of course, since only about 30 people read this blog regularly, my post is very much like the tree that fell in the forest when there was no one around.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/01/2004 01:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Whither Gore?

On Follow Me Here, Eliot Gelwan has a question:

I read Gore's speech and thought of the Presidents who become elder statesmen after they leave office, unencumbered by the need to build a national constituency and able to speak from truth instead of power. Gore seems to have bypassed the President phase and gone right to the statesman-like. He eloquently encapsulates the extent of Bush's betrayal of American ideals with a quiet but sustained outrage and concludes with some between-the-lines regret that he acquiesced to the theft of the Presidency from him by the Supreme Court in order to "do what I could to prevent efforts to delegitimize George Bush as he took the oath of office." Has there been any talk of what role he might have within, or as an advisor to, a Kerry administration?

Clearly, the most fitting place for him would be on the Supreme Court, but you can't count on a vacancy opening up. What about replacing John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq? Kerry's going to need someone intelligent and good there to help clean up Bush's mess.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/01/2004 12:59:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, May 31, 2004


I saw this quote outside the Unitarian Church in Charleston, S.C.:

If you understood everything I said, you'd be me.

Miles Davis

Update (6/4/04): I hadn't noticed until today that this very Miles Davis quote is the subtitle for Utility Fog, one of the fine blogs included in the "Some Links" section in the right-hand column.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/31/2004 01:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


From the mother of a gay son

The letter to the editor reproduced below is a powerful piece of writing from a mother in Vermont with a son who is gay:

Letter to the Editor
by Sharon Underwood, Sunday, April 30, 2000
from the Valley News (White River Junction, VT/Hanover, NH)

As the mother of a gay son, I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be.

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda "could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

Sharon Underwood lives in White River Junction, Vt.

Strong stuff, and moving.

I got this letter from Atrios, who got it from Unqualified Offerings, who picked it up from Fresh Bilge, who got it from a blog called Signal Shift, but the link where it supposedly came from is bad, so the trail ends there. Nevertheless, Googling brings up numerous instances of this letter reproduced on many blogs and websites, but, unfortunately, none of them is the primary source. The website of the Valley News, in White River Junction, doesn't show a reference to it, which may mean nothing as many sites don't keep their stuff available forever, and this is 4 years old, but it any case can't serve to verify the provenance of the piece.

In other words, as powerful as it is, there's no way that I've been able to find to verify that the letter actually ran in that newspaper on that date, or that it was written by a Vermont mother of a gay son. Nevertheless, with that caveat, I've offered it for the intrinsic value of the words and ideas themselves, wherever they came from, and whoever wrote them.

Update: A friend of mine did the logical thing (which I never even thought of doing) and wrote the editor of the Valley News to confirm that the Sharon Underwood letter appeared there originally. This was the response he got:

Yes, it did originally appear in our newspaper, the Valley News, several
years ago. If you need more specific info about the date of publication,
let me know.

Martin Frank
Editorial page editor
Valley News

So, that seems to answer that.

[Thanks to Luca!]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/31/2004 01:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Electoral vote tracking status

My current Electoral College status remains as it was a few days ago (reminder: 270 votes are needed to elect):

DEM: ME-4, MI-17, MN-10, NH-4, OH-20, OR-7, PA-21, WA-11, WA-10
(104 swing + 168 safe = 272)

GOP: AZ-10, AR-6, CO-9, LA-9, NV-5, TN-11, VA-13, WV-5
(68 swing + 148 safe = 216)

IN PLAY: FL-27, IA-7, MO-11, NM-5 (50)

DEM 272 / GOP 216 / PLAY 50

Still, I've marked three states (Florida-27, Iowa-7 and New Mexico-5) to be moved into Kerry's column as soon as another poll comes out confirming his lead there, and one other state (Nevada-5) to be moved from Bush's totals into the "in play" category with some confirmation. Potentially, that might give the Democrats 311 votes and leave only 16 unaccounted for.

Over on MyDD and Swing State Project, Chris Bowers' has his current cattle call:

Last Updated 5/28, 11:00 a.m.

National Two-Party Vote Projection
Kerry 52.3
Bush 47.7
Status: Lean Kerry

Electoral Projection

Solid Kerry: 235 Bush: 142
Lean Kerry: 92 Bush: 75
Total Kerry: 327 Bush: 211

States changing hands from 2000: FL, MO, NV, NH and OH

But he also presents his figures for state-by-state partisan advantage (compared to national propular vote totals) for each election from 1976 to 2000. He uses these as part of his methodology in figuring his cattle call numbers. I found them very interesting and useful.

Update: The bad news is that a new poll by the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows Bush ahead of Kerry by 6 points, outside the margin of error (which was 2.6). This endangers Ohio and its 20 electoral votes, which I've currently got assigned to Kerry.

Update: DavidNYC, on Swing State Project reports:

David Wissing (who invaluably compiles all the state polling information in one place, as linked [here]) uses a very simple method: He awards a state's EVs to the winner of the most recent poll in that state, and where polling is unavailable, he uses the 2000 results. Right now, that gives Bush 296 EVs to Kerry's 242. David, by the way, is a Bush supporter - but his methodology, of course, is purely objective.

Such a method is simple, perhaps even simplistic, but it avoids the problems inherent in my own system: wishful thinking, projection, selection prejudices, etc. However, Wissing doesn't use all available reported polls, apparently excluding those done by partisans, and Zogby as well.

Update: (6/1) On Political Strategy, William Hare has the thought that Kerry's foray into Virginia may be the tip of the iceberg of a new regional strategy, one which could well involve Edwards as his running mate.

Update: (6/2) Rasmussen's latest Ohio poll confirms the Mason-Dixon results: Bush 46 - Kerry 44, margin of error 4 points. A statistical dead heat, but enough to move OH-20 out of Kerry's column back into "in play" again:

DEM: ME-4, MI-17, MN-10, NH-4, OR-7, PA-21, WA-11, WA-10 (84+168=252)
GOP: AZ-10, AR-6, CO-9, LA-9, NV-5, TN-11, VA-13, WV-5 (68 +148=216)
IN PLAY: FL-27, IA-7, MO-11, NM-5 OH-20 (70)

DEM 252 / GOP 216 / PLAY 70

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/30/2004 01:50:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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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


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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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