Friday, December 31, 2004

Five New Year's blogging resolutions

5. More commentary in posts, and fewer lengthy quotations.

4. Read more Digby, Gilliard, Neiwert and Schmitt and blogs other than my regulars.

3. Seek out and find Billmon, and somehow convince him to start posting again.

2. Read books more and blogs less.

1. Less web life, more real life.

Extra credit: Try my damnedest to forgive the people who elected Bush.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/31/2004 05:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Secret ballot

This, by Juan Cole about the upcoming election in Iraq, is bizarre:

For security reasons, the actual names of most candidates on the 78 party or multiparty lists have so far not been released. This odd situation, in which the candidates are not known a month before the election, attests to how dire the political and security situation in Iraq really is.

[via Daily Kos diarist pontificator]

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/31/2004 04:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A divertissement

Folks of a certain age may recall the running character "Chuckles the Clown" from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Although Chuckles was mentioned fairly frequently, and was the subject of one of the show's best episodes (#127:"Chuckles Bites The Dust"), he was only seen a few times, and usually (not always, as this page incorrectly says) in full makeup.

From memory (and a check with the episode guide for confirmation and some names), Chuckles only appears on the show three times:

  1. The episode (#8:"The Snow Must Go On") where a giant snowstorm hits Minneapolis on Election Night, knocking out the phone lines, and Mary is left in charge of the live news coverage while Lou goes out to find some votes. After endless hours of the same result ("Turner 27, Mitchell 14"), Chuckles the Clown (played by Richard Schaal; he also played two of Mary's beaus -- the brothers Howard and Paul Arnell -- at different times) shows up in the morning in full clown costume and makeup under his overcoat and earmuffs. He's got a newspaper with the final results, and Mary asks him to announce the new mayor to the TV audience. ("Boys and girls, our new mayor is: Mr. Mitchell!") Lou is not happy: "Mary, when I leave someone in charge I never second guess them, so I'm never going to ask you why you dressed Ted Baxter up in a clown suit."

  2. The episode (#51:"Who's In Charge Here") where Lou is bumped upstairs to be program director, and has to kick Murray and Mary out of his office because of a "important children's programming meeting." As they leave, Chuckles the Clown (the actor who played him is not listed, probably because he had no lines) enters in full makeup and costumes, carrying a briefcase.

  3. The episode ("#79:"Son of 'But Seriously Folks'") where Mary is dating one of Chuckles' writers, Wes Callison (Jerry Van Dyke), and he leaves to work in the newsroom. Chuckles (Mark Gordon) comes up to the newsroom to get Wes's advice about a poorly written script ("There's no development, there's no gozinta!") and has a confrontation with Ted Baxter: it seems "The Chuckles the Clown Show" has better ratings than Ted's news program. This is the episode where Chuckles is shown without full makeup -- he's got a costume on (different from the previous two costumes), and a funny hat, and maybe a little facial makeup as decoration, but not full clown whiteface.

    [All quotes and descriptions from memory]

(There's also an episode [#32:"Thoroughly Unmilitant Mary"] where the station's writers and performers go on strike, and an executive [Larry Gelman, who also played Dr. Bernie Tupperman, the urologist, on The Bob Newhart Show] has to substitute for Chuckles. He shows up on camera to introduce Lou doing the news, but he's still got a red clown ball-nose from being Chuckles. He doesn't count as the real thing.)

Chuckles does not appear in the episode (#38:"Ted Over Heels") where Ted falls in love with his daughter, Betty Bowerchuck (Arlene Golonka), but is embarrassed to express his love for her in public, because her father is a clown; nor is Chuckles seen in the program where he dies (#127:"Chuckles Bites The Dust") -- Lou just shows up in the newsroom and announces that Chuckles was leading a parade in his "Peter Peanut" outfit, and was shelled by a rouge elephant. (Murray: "Lived in a trunk, died in a trunk.")

What's the point of all this nostalgia? None at all really: I'm not making a point of any kind. The word "gozinta" (or "gazinta") just popped into my head and started a train of thought that I followed up on.

BTW, I tried to work in something about the real-life Chuckles the Clown who was picked up on a sex rap because he left his fly open while entertaining kids at a Wal-Mart in Moline, Illinois, but I couldnt' figure out how to do it. Besides, Mary's Chuckles wouldn't have done a thing like that, not a guy who professed the "Credo of a Clown":

A little song,
a little dance,
a little seltzer down your pants.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/31/2004 04:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A terrible idea

Chris Bowers thinks that Democrats should abandon the "war on terrorism." He's right that framing the stuggle against radical Islamic fundamentalism in that way evokes conservative tropes, and is therefore in some respect detrimental to us if it is not in some way reframed, and he's surely right that the phrase itself is illogical in that it's impossible to actually wipe out "terrorism," which is a technique as old as the hills which can never be eliminated -- as long as there are asymmetrical conflicts, terrorism will be utilized.

But the problem is that "the war on terrorism" is an immensely evocative and intuitively understandable phrase, even though it doesn't make any literal sense at all. People hear it, and they know what it means, or think they do, and they're instinctively supportive of it. So unless you can come up with another way to frame the conflict which has the same power and apparent authority, it's both useless and foolhardy -- and politically dangerous to Democrats and liberals -- tilting at that particular windmill.

And even more than that, the reason that Chris is close to 180 degrees wrong about this, is that he isn't simply urging that we abandon the specific framing of the struggle, he's urging that we abandon the struggle itself, and that is a terrible idea on almost every level. It ignores the reality that there are indeed people out there who are bent on harming us both at home and away, that they're fairly well-organized, have a great deal of support from ordinary people in the Islamic world (or at least an unwillingness to step in and stop them), they've got money and manpower, and, overall, they've been pretty damn effective at achieving their immediate goals, if not their overall one. Their existence is not a conservative fairy tale (regardless that they've made them the boogey men of our age), they're real and they're dangerous to us.

The scale and the scope of the danger can certainly be discussed, and should be, and the most effective steps to be taken to protect ourselves as well (we can all agree that Bush's actions have had exactly the opposite effect), but it's ridiculous at this point in time, a mere three years after 9/11, to argue that there is no danger and that Democrats should deny the need for us to protect ourselves, a legitimate, and perhaps primary, function of the government.

Ridiculous and terribly, terribly dangerous politically, because an insistence on the Democrats taking such a position will not gain us one vote that we don't already have. It will also, inevitably, split the liberal/Democratic coalition (so carefully built up in opposition to Bush) right down the middle, destroying it and perhaps sinking the party for the foreseeable future.

I'm at a loss for why Chris, who wrote so well on the need for expanding that coalition, thinks this is a good idea. Where, I wonder, does he think that the people this new strategy is supposed to attract are going to come from? There's little or no indication that there's a signficant pacifist presence out there that isn't already aligned (loosely or not, it really doesn't matter so much when push comes to shove) with the center-left coalition. It's the same argument I hear from people who think that Kerry should have been presented himself as a forthright liberal and come out strongly against the war in Iraq: one of my correspondants feels that there are enough "moderate anti-war Republicans" that their defection away from Bush would have made a significant difference, but I just don't see it. (The rump of the moderate wing of the GOP is so stunted and so localized -- in the Northeast, primarily -- that it's silly to think that the small percentage of them who are anti-war would have made any difference at all, in either the popuilar vote or, more importantly, in the Electoral College.)

I understand, I believe, that Chris writes from a strong moral conviction, and that there is a great attraction for all liberals in taking an anti-war position. I hate to be so crass as to counter with strategic and tactical political considerations, but it's still true that his idea presents serious dangers to the party and the coalition, to the extent that if it becomes a strong meme within in and gathers momentum it can cause considerable damage even if (as is probably inevitable) it is never adopted. Internal conflict, and fracturing, is bound to result.

I have great regard for the folks at Daily Kos and MyDD who are hell-bent on using the power of the "netroots" to reform the Democratic party, but in doing so, they've taken a step from being mere citizens to being citizen/politicians. There's nothing wrong, and everything right, with that, but in becoming a politician, one has to start taking into consideration more factors than one's own personal views and preferences, because politics is the art of the possible and exists only within the realm of the possible. Once one loses sight of that, one is poised for failure -- not the failure of losing by 3 states, 3 million votes and 2.46%, but the failure of losing by 49 states, 18 million votes and 23.15% of the voters.

That we lost such an important election makes it inevitable, and necessary, that we shake up the party and make it better than it is, which is why I'm in favor of structural, operational, procedural and personnel reform [like this or this], but for Chris to propose an idea such as this one might make one think that the loss was a huge one, not in its importance (it was indeed huge in that sense), but in the margin of defeat. It was certainly not that kind of loss at all, it was a narrow victory for Bush at best. For that reason, we don't need sweeping philosophical changes, we just need to make the party work better.

Update (1/3): More on structural vs. ideological reform.

Update (1/6): Matthew Yglesias on why we're still endangered by Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/31/2004 02:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A minister speaks out

This is from an e-mail that's making the rounds. It's been posted to several blogs and the forums at Democratic Underground, but I've been unable to find a source for it on the web or otherwise track down its origin or verify its authorship.

Oklahoman Minister Speaks Out

Dr. Robin Meyers
Oklahoma University Peace Rally
November 14,2004

As some of you know, I am minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in northwest Oklahoma City, and professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.

Tonight, I join ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian. We've heard a lot lately about so-called "moral values" as having swung the election to President Bush. Well, I'm a great believer in moral values, but we need to have a discussion, all over this country, about exactly what constitutes a moral value. I mean what are we talking about?

Because we don't get to make them up as we go along, especially not if we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right and wrong, and moral is as moral does. Let me give you just a few of the reasons why I take issue with those in power who claim moral values are on their side:

When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will, and that your critics are either unpatriotic or lacking in faith, there are some of us who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe that this is not only not moral, but immoral.

When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn them on their head (you know, Sermon on the Mount stuff like that we must never return violence for violence and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword), you are doing something immoral.

When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are doing something immoral.

When you find a way to avoid combat in Vietnam, and then question the patriotism of someone who volunteered to fight, and came home a hero, you are doing something immoral.

When you ignore the fundamental teachings of the gospel, which says that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test, by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us so the strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker, you are doing something immoral.

When you wink at the torture of prisoners, and deprive so-called "enemy combatants" of the rules of the Geneva Convention, which your own country helped to establish and insists that other countries follow, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that the world can be divided up into the good guys and the evil doers, slice up your own nation into those who are with you, (or with the terrorists?), and then launch a war which enriches your own friends and seizes control of the oil to which we are addicted, instead of helping us to kick the habit, you are doing something immoral.

When you fail to veto a single spending bill, but ask us to pay for a war with no exit strategy and no end in sight, creating an enormous deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our children, you are doing something immoral.

When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn't matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have done something immoral.

When you use hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out record numbers of evangelical voters, and use the Constitution as a tool of discrimination, you are doing something immoral.

When you favor the death penalty, and yet claim to be a follower of Jesus, who said an eye for an eye was the old way, not the way of the kingdom, you are doing something immoral.

When you dismantle countless environmental laws designed to protect the earth which is God's gift to us all, so that the corporations that bought you and paid for your favors will make higher profits while our children breathe dirty air and live in a toxic world, you have done something immoral. The earth belongs to the Lord, not Halliburton.

When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

When you tell people that you intend to run and govern as a "compassionate conservative", using the word which is the essence of all religious faith-compassion, and then show no compassion for anyone who disagrees with you, and no patience with those who cry to you for help, you are doing something immoral.

When you talk about Jesus constantly, who was a healer of the sick, but do nothing to make sure that anyone who is sick can go to see a doctor, even if she doesn't have a penny in her pocket, you are doing something immoral.

When you put judges on the bench who are racist, and will set women back a hundred years, and when you surround yourself with preachers who say gays ought to be killed, you are doing something immoral.

I'm tired of people thinking that because I'm a Christian, I must be a supporter of President Bush, or that because I favor civil rights and gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I'm tired of people saying that I can't support the troops but oppose the war?

I heard that when I was your age, when the Vietnam War was raging. We knew that that war was wrong, and you know that this war is wrong, the only question is how many people are going to die before these make-believe Christians are removed from power?

This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can turn things around are people like you, young people who are just beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It's your country to take back. It's your faith to take back. It's your future to take back.

Don't be afraid to speak out. Don't back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut. Real Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims, and real Hindus, and real Buddhists, so do all the faith traditions of the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious. Every human being is precious.

Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith. And "war is the greatest failure of the human race" and thus the greatest failure of faith.

There's an old rock and roll song, whose lyrics say it all: War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. And what is the dream of the prophets? That we should study war no more, that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Who would Jesus bomb, indeed? How many wars does it take to know that too many people have died? What if they gave a war and nobody came? Maybe one day we will find out.

Time to march again my friends. Time to commit acts of civil disobedience. Time to sing, and to pray, and refuse to participate in the madness. My generation finally stopped a tragic war. You can, too!

[Thanks to Shirley]

Update: Here's a different kind of preacher -- which is preferable, I wonder?

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/31/2004 01:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The stingy place

From an editorial in today's New York Times:

President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.

We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.

The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/30/2004 02:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A man without mercy

Sister Helen Prejean, of "Dead Man Walking" fame, has Bush pegged:

As governor, Bush certainly did not stand apart in his routine refusal to deny clemency to death row petitioners, but what does set him apart is the sheer number of executions over which he has presided. Callous indifference to human suffering may also set Bush apart. He may be the only government official to mock a condemned person's plea for mercy, then lie about it afterward, claiming humane feelings he never felt. On the contrary, it seems that Bush is comfortable with using violent solutions to solve troublesome social and political realities.

The aphorism "A hammer, when presented with a nail, knows to do only one thing" applies, par excellence, to George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, Bush tackled the social problem of street crime by presiding over the busiest execution chamber in the country. At the time of the thirteen death row exonerations in Illinois, Bush stated publicly that although states such as Illinois might have problems with a faulty death penalty system, he was certain that in Texas no innocent person had ever been sent to death row, much less executed. That remains to be seen. What is clear is that he had, as governor, no quality of mercy.

Update: As Bush's legal advisor, Alberto Gonzales was primarily responsible for the entirely cursory nature of the information given to Bush on clemency appeals. Now the guy's up for Attorney General of the United States. Here's a reminder of just why that's a bad idea.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/30/2004 02:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


All wrong, all the time

Publius nails it, in a post titled "THE BUSH FOREIGN POLICY - Always Wrong, All the Time":

...I would think that humanitarian disasters in other countries would be the political equivalent of hanging curve balls. You really don’t have to exert that much effort to earn global goodwill. In fact, it's one of those rare opportunities where every single person on the planet would agree with you and appreciate your words. Even if you truly don’t give a shit that 100,000 people have died, even if you would rather clear brush for four days than worry about it, all you have to do is have a five minute press conference, express sympathy, and promise money somewhat in excess of what you could get at a couple of political fundraisers. In fact, the only way to blow such a golden opportunity to gain sorely needed goodwill (especially in the Muslim world) is to do exactly what Bush did – nothing. It was a rather remarkable feat.

I wrote to friends last night, about Bush and Company: "These guys are really just completely and totally incompetent..."

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/30/2004 01:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I've been primarily watching CNN International for the last couple of days, and their coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has been pretty good. Regular old CNN hasn't been bad either, when I switch over to it. The few times I've looked in on MSNBC, their coverage seems barely adequate. (I haven't seen much of Newsworld International's coverage.)

On Fox News [sic], though, you'd be hard pressed to know that a terrible disaster had taken place: a few quick items in a news summaries, some reports about various governmental and international agencies falling down on the job, another about an Israeli search team being refused entry to Sri Lanka because it contained members of the IDF, a mention that the US was helping disaster relief by using its spy satellites to direct the ground efforts... and then on to their usual mix of right-wing biased stories.

What complete jerks these people are. How can anyone who fancies him- or herself as a journalist work for this outfit and sleep at night?

CNN International seems to be the best option, although the repetitive use of their exclusive videos can be stultifying. Look for CNN International where your cable provider used to have CNNfn.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/30/2004 01:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Things to forget

I'm not generally a big fan of Arianna Huffington, but I thought her list of things to forget from 2004 was good.

[Thanks to Shirley]

Update: However, as an e-mail correspondant of mine wrote:

NO NO NO...Although one sincerely wishes none of the items on this list ever happened, the title of the column should have been NEVER FORGET.

She's got a point.

Update: Armando has some things that Republicans should remember.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 02:09:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Just squeaking by

Here's an interesting electoral fact:

According to election return figures on Dave Leip's Atlas of Presidential Elections, Bush's margin of victory over Kerry (2.46 percentage points) is the fifth smallest margin in the last 29 Presidential elections, since 1892. The four margins that were smaller were 1960 [Kennedy/Nixon, 0.16], 2000 [Bush/Gore, 0.52], 1968 [Nixon/Humphrey, 0.70], and 1976 [Carter/Ford 2.06].

What's really interesting is that Bush's winning margin is the very smallest in that period for any incumbent President who served a full term. (The next highest was Wilson/Hughes in 1916, with a margin of 3.12 points.)

Here's a headline we didn't see: "BUSH WINS BY HISTORICALLY SMALL MARGIN".

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 11:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The spamming Mr. Sulikuh

This is the text of a genuine piece of spam I received this morning. Does anyone really fall for this stuff?

Dear Sir/Madam,

This mail will definitely be coming to you as a surprise, but I must crave your indulgence to introduce myself to you.

I am Mr. John mensah Sulikuh, a supervisory manager at the United Trust Bank Ltd, London. However I got your contact through the International web directory.Recently we discovered a Dormant Account with a huge Amount of Money Valued USD17,600,000.00 (Seventeen Million, six hundred Dollars Only) that belongs to One of our late Customer MR. KRAANVOGEL DIONIJS. who died In a plane crash. During our investigation and auditing in this bank, my Department came Across a very huge sum of money belonging to MR. KRAANVOGEL DIONIJS from Beverwijk, Netherlands, who died along with his wife, MRS. KATRIEN DIONIJS and Daughter, MS. SOFIE DIONIJS so the fund has Been dormant in his account with this Bank without Any claim of the fund in our custody either from his Family or relation before Our discovery to this development.

The Banking law here stipulates that if such money remains unclaimed for 15 years, it will be forfeited to the Bank Treasury as an unclaimed bill. It is only a foreigner that can stand as a next of kin and it is upon this discovery that I decided to contact you to collaborate with you to pull out this dormant fund.In order to avert this negative development. On behalf of my trusted colleagues we now seek your permission to have you stand in as next of kin to Our late Customer so that the fund will be released and paid into your account as the beneficiary’s next of kin now that the bank is still expecting a next of kin or relative of the deceased, MR. KRAANVOGEL DIONIJS.

We could have done this deal alone but because of our position in this country as civil servants, we are not allowed to operate a foreign account and that would eventually raise an eye brow on our side during the time of transfer since we still work in this bank, this is the actual reason why we required a second party or fellow who will assist us forward claims as the next of kin and also provide either an existing bank account or to set up a new Bank a/c immediately to receive this fund, even an empty a/c can also serve for this purpose.

However, on smooth conclusion of this transaction, you will be entitled to 25% as gratification for your assistance to us, while 5% will be set aside to take care of expenses on both sides that may arise during the time of transfer and also for telephone bills, and the remaining 70% will be for me and my colleague.

What I want from you is for you to act as the deceased next of kin. I have in my possession, all the necessary Documents to successfully accomplish the operation. Bear in mind that this proposal is 100% risk free. Further Information will be given to you as soon as I receive your positive response. I suggest you get back to me as soon as possible stating your wish. For confidentiality please contact me on my personal email [address removed].

Best Regards,
Mr. John Mensah Sulikuh
United Trust Bank Ltd

I don't want to be uncharitable, but anyone who's taken in by a scam as transparently phoney as this one is almost achin' to be taken.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 10:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The stingy Mr. Bush

I saw just now on CNN International that the US has now doubled the amount of aid it has pledged for relief of the Indian Ocean tsunami, bringing it up to $35 million.

That almost, but not quite, brings it up to the projected cost of the Bush inaugural.

It's unlikely to do much good, but Act for Change is trying to put some pressure on the administration to do more.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 06:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The callous Mr. Posner

Via Daily Kos, an article in the New York Times about why there was no tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean has a telling quote:

Richard A. Posner, a federal judge and author of "Catastrophe: Risk and Response," said tsunamis in the Indian Ocean had a low probability of occurring, but a high risk of damage if they do occur.

A disaster may occur only every 100 years and kill 40,000 people, Judge Posner said, but "one way to think about it is, that's an average of 400 people killed each year."

Sure, that's one way to look at it. Another way is that 40,000 people died in a matter of hours, many of whom might not have if a warning system was in place.

In any case, Posner's numbers are somewhat off:

The following destructive tsunamis are listed on a data base maintained by the Tsunami Laboratory, Institute of Computational Mathematics and Mathematical Geophysics (

1. 1797/02/10 Central part of the western Sumatra. The quake was most felt near Padang and in the area within +/-2 deg of equator. Padang was flooded by powerful waves. More then 300 fatalities.

2. 1833/11/24 South coast of the western Sumatra, estimated rupture from 1 S to 6 S latitude. Huge tidal wave flooded all southern part of the western Sumatra. Numerous victims.

3. 1843/01/05 Strong earthquake west of the central Sumatra. Terrible wave came from the south-east and flooded all the coast of the Nias Island. Many fatalities.

4. 1861/02/16 Exceptionally strong earthquake affected all the western coast of Sumatra. Several thousand fatalities.

5. 1883 Krakatau explosion 36,000 fatalities

So, even though the last major Indian Ocean tsunami was 121 years ago, these are not 100-year events, as Posner implies, since there were 5 of them in the course of 86 years, and now there have been 6 of them in the last 207 years.

Since we do not have a precise enough knowledge of how earthquakes work to predict exactly when they will occur and how strong they will be, to assume some kind of regularity over a period as tiny (geologically speaking) as 86 or 121 or 207 years is an extremely faulty assumption. Posner's calculus of risk is also faulty because it assumes that the longer the period of time between events, the less risk there is from the event, when exactly the opposite is true. We may not know exactly when a earthquake will happen, but we can observe the longer there is between them, the more the chance is that the next quake is going to be more rather than less severe, and the resulting tsunami will be more devastating.

I don't know quite how you figure out how damaging a quake or tsunami will be in order to determine what a rational approach to spending money on the problem would be, but then I don't pretend to be able to set up a "pragmatic" system based on cost/benefit analysis to determine what legal and political efforts are worthwhile and which are not justified, as Posner does. Still, it's obvious that the answer isn't simply to divide the number of people who die by the amount of time between events, because it entirely ignores the catastrophic nature of the event.

Suppose, for instance, that I was to give Posner the chance to choose between these two courses of action:

1. Every day for one hundred days I will to apply to his right arm, by pinching it, 1/100th of the energy that would have come from the impact of a bullet shot through that arm by a pistol.

2. I will shoot Mr. Posner in the right arm with a pistol.

Which choice, I wonder, would Posner prefer? Would he be as interested in preventing the first as he would most certainly be in preventing the second? If not, why, since they carry the same cumulative amount of energy?

The death of 400 people a year (actually, the figures work out to more like 600 to 800 people a year, once you factor in those who will die from diseases resulting from the tsunami) is certainly, in my opinion, a strong enough reason to take steps to help prevent something from happening, but I suppose one could legitimately disagree with that opinion. But it strikes me that it takes a particularly callous man to equate that with the death of over 60,000 people in a very short period of time, and the potential death of an equal number in the coming weeks -- not to mention the cost (certainly to be counted in billions) of the necessary relief effort.

Postscript: Jeffery Rosen skewers Posner in this review of his book on Slate:

Posner's thesis when discussing these emotionally laden subjects is as deadpan as his prose: "[T]he tools of economic analysis—in particular cost-benefit analysis—are indispensable to evaluating the possible responses to the catastrophic risks." Unfortunately, assigning precise numerical weights to the costs and benefits of preventing catastrophic risks is a daunting challenge, and Posner's attempts to do so are numbingly technical and ultimately unsatisfying. In the end, balancing liberty and security involves disputed questions of value rather than precisely quantifiable facts—questions that must be resolved not by experts but by politics. [...] [D]ifferences in risk perception can only be resolved through political negotiation. But democratic politics is an enterprise for which Posner has contempt.

Update: Then there's this statement (to be fair, not specifically about the devastation from the tsunami) by Posner, from his blog:

I do not think that foreign aid is a good use of public or private money. All the problems that foreign aid seeks to alleviate are within the power of the recipient countries to solve if they adopt sensible policies.

You know, if those people would just get off their behinds and get to work, they wouldn't have these problems.

Statements like his lend credence to Publius' summary of Posner's "law and economics" system:

Posner and his marching brooms adopt subjective values judgments and dress them up as objective empirical conclusions by using a facade of economic jargon. Like Bush (though in a much more subtle or even unconscious way), Posner is actually flipping empiricism on its head. His methodology (in practice) allows him to begin with a conclusion and subsequently justify it by playing around with the completely unquantifiable concepts of “costs” and “benefits.” Even if he doesn’t actually reach a conclusion, he is still articulating a process (or methodology) that does little more than to give people a way to mask values judgments as empirical conclusions by using economic jargon.

I'm put in mind of William Westmorland's statement, captured in the documentary "Hearts and Minds," that "Orientals don't place the same value on human life as we do," not because I want to accuse Posner of harboring that particular prejudice, but because it exposes the dangers of operating on assumptions which unwittingly reflect errant value judgements.

Update: As of around 9:30am Eastern, CNN International raised the death toll to 71,000, which means that it's rapidly approaching double the number that Posner was so apparently unconcerned about. I wonder if 80,000 deaths would be significant enough for him to think of this as an intrinsically important event? If not, at what number does the death toll start to impress him?

How does he factor in the 2 million in Thailand alone who have been left homeless by the tsunami? Obviously the estimated economic cost of $3.6 billion is easy enough to deal with, you just add it in and wham, bang a new cost/benefit calculation, how jolly!

Posner's viewpoint isn't "pragmatic" or "realistic," and by its cold-bloodedness it's not even entirely rational. What it is, is grossly inhumane.

[Note: More on the Sumatra earthquake in this post below.]

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 04:46:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A rule of thumb

How to tell a wingnut from a conservative:

A wingnut will vociferously deny that the Washington Times is a right-wing rag unworthy of wrapping fish in.

A conservative will agree that the Washington Times has a conservative bias, but will then try to convince you that the Washington Post and the New York Times have an equivalent liberal bias.

(There are degrees to which people are members of the reality-based community, and some myths are just too firmly implanted to easily dislodge -- but let's not get into a discussion about religion.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 03:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Liberals Against Terrorism

Liberals Against Terrorism:

Our mission is to articulate a comprehensive strategy for defeating terrorism that is in line with fundamental principles of liberalism.


America needs a clear, comprehensive strategy for combating terrorism that leverages our strengths, protects American interests and promotes global security and prosperity. Our strategy must be realistic, sustainable and adaptable as the nature of the enemy and threat continue to evolve. America's strategy must also fit within a broad, coherent US foreign policy that is true to American values, institutions and the rule of law, and that honestly confronts the lessons of the past three years.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2004 02:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

American death rates in Iraq

A few weeks ago, in a comment about U.S. military deaths in Iraq on another blog, I asked:

One thing I would like to see, are some “per capita” figures which show deaths in Vietnam and Iraq in ratio to the number of troops committed.

(To which another commenter implied that by simply asking the question I was helping the enemy.)

Now, Phil Carter and Owen West have provided that information in an article in Slate which compares death rates in Iraq to those in Vietnam:

In 1966, U.S. troops in Vietnam numbered 385,000. In 2004, the figure in Iraq has averaged roughly 142,000. Comparing the burden shouldered by individual soldiers in both conflicts raises the 2004 "constant casualty" figure in Iraq to 3,065 KIA. Further, casualties in Iraq fall more heavily on those performing infantry missions. Riflemen—as well as tankers and artillerymen who operate in provisional infantry units in Iraq—bear a much higher proportion of the risk than they did in Vietnam. In Vietnam, helicopter pilots and their crews accounted for nearly 5 percent of those killed in action. In Iraq in 2004, this figure was less than 3 percent. In Vietnam, jet pilots accounted for nearly 4 percent of U.S. KIAs. In 2004, the United States did not lose a single jet to enemy action in Iraq. When pilots and aircrews are removed from the equation, 4,602 ground-based soldiers died during 1966 in Vietnam, compared to 2,975 in Iraq during 2004.

The main thurst of their piece is that comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, usually dismissed as a fabrication based on partisan political considerations, is not unjustified:

After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.


That today's fighting in Iraq ... may actually be more lethal than the street fighting in Vietnam should not be taken lightly. Vietnam was marked by long periods of well-fought, sustained combat but little perceptible gain. Volunteers outnumbered conscripts by a 9-1 ratio in the units that saw combat during the war's early days in 1966, and at first they enjoyed the support of a country that believed in their cause. But as the burden widened and deepened, and conscripts did more of the fighting and dying, the country's faith evaporated. Today's burden is not wide, but it is deep. Communities such as Oceanside, Calif., home to Camp Pendleton and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, have suffered tremendous loss during this war—nearly one-quarter of U.S. combat dead in 2004 were stationed at Camp Pendleton. Military leaders should be mindful of this fact: To send infantrymen on their third rotations to Iraq this spring is akin to assigning a trooper three tours in Vietnam: harsh in 1966 and a total absurdity by 1968.

Critics of the war may use this analysis as one more piece of ammunition to attack the effort; some supporters may continue to refer to casualties as "light," noting that typically tens of thousands of Americans must die in war before domestic support crumbles. Both miss the point. The casualty statistics make clear that our nation is involved in a war whose intensity on the ground matches that of previous American wars. Indeed, the proportional burden on the infantryman is at its highest level since World War I. With next year's budget soon to be drafted, it is time for Washington to finally address their needs accordingly. [Emphasis added. -- Ed]

So it's celar from their figures that in Iraq, every military death hurts the effort there more than a death in Vietnam did in that war, because without a draft to supply replacements, the death in Iraq reduces our current and future fighting force by a significantly larger amount. Now, replacing each dead soldier, or wounded one unable to continue fighting, is much harder, even given the lesser number of troops involved, because there just aren't replacements for them easily available.

This, of course, is the reason that many people were predicting, and continue to predict, a return to the draft if the Iraq War continues for any length of time, and if the sights of Bush's neo-con advisors are set in Iran, as they seem to be, it's virtually impossible to even threaten an invasion there without having more troops available.

But that's purely common sense, which doesn't seem to exist in abundance in Washington DC these days.

(More on this topic in an earlier entry, here.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 11:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


My alter egos

Some other Ed Fitzgeralds:

The Advisor
The Artist
The Baseball Player
The Captain
The Car Restorer
The Cinematographer
The Coach
The Columnist
The Councilman
The Environmentalist
The Gun Flack
The Hyphenate
The Journalist
The Pilot
The Professor
The Publisher
The Realtor
The Safety Instructor
The Salesman
The Set Dresser
The Social Worker
The Soldier
The Sports Writer
The Student

...and the rest.

A granfalloon to be sure, but we do seem to have a lot of bases covered, don't we?

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 10:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rights vs. rights

Commenting on an article from the Village Voice, Follow Me Here's Eliot Gelwan writes:

Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. has pointed out that Congress doesn't even have the power to establish a nationally uniform system of voting—everything in the Constitution concerning presidential elections is mediated through the states, which is why every state (and within every state, every county) runs elections its own way. He's proposed a constitutional amendment to right the wrong. Passing it is a daunting prospect, no doubt. But as strategy, it also has the makings of brilliance. Let the Republicans try to fight it. Put them on record as against the right to vote. Let them defend the process as it exists—where a figure like Blackwell can simultaneously be the captain of one of the teams and the game's chief referee.

Then Americans will know where the Republicans stand.

Standing behind Jackson's constitutional amendment would be a better application of progressive energies than the frenzied attempt every fourth December to chase down the horses after the barn door is closed.

Now, I'm not in any way convinced that Bush "stole" this election the way he actually did steal the last one -- the evidence of fraud and voter suppression just isn't sufficient, and even if every allegation is true, it's not enough to have made the difference in the election. Unfortunately, the evidence at this poiint seems to be that Bush won because more people in the right places voted for him.

Be that as it may, if any significant fraud took place, it underlines the need for a consistent voting methodology in every voting district in America, so these questions don't keep coming up.

I'm not as certain as Eliot, however, that trying to get Jackson's amendment passed is going to put as much egg on the face of the Republicans as he thinks. That's because they'll trot out their trusty states' rights argument to combat it. (You know the states' rights argument, it's the one they generally trot only only when they're not in control of the apparatus of the Federal gu'mint and foisting their ideological fancies on the various states.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 03:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


They won't see the light -- until...

Kos writes (in an entry with an interesting excerpt from an American Conservative Magazine article about the conflict between the wingnut bloggosphere-supported neocon foreign policy and conservative realism):

So how long before the 101st Fighting Keyboardists and the radio blowhards realize that the war is folly, and their allegiance to the neocon agenda has led the nation into a $200 billion meat grinder?

The answer, as Kos indicates, is clear: they'll never change their minds as long as their guy is in charge. The second a Democrat takes over, they'll immediately change their spots.

That's because they have no intellectual honesty, just dogma.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 02:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Pluperfect idiots

Kevin Drum on Bush & Company:

Watching these guys in action is truly a remarkable thing. I mean, it only makes sense that I think the Bush administration chooses the wrong course on ideological issues. After all, we're on opposite ends of the partisan spectrum. But what continually astonishes me — and yes, I know it shouldn't anymore — is their almost supernatural ability to choose the precisely wrong course even on purely operational, nonideological tasks. You'd think they'd occasionally get something right just by chance, wouldn't you?

That this is true is obvious to almost anyone who's looked beyond ideology, fear, and rank emotionalism and examined either the general scope or the particulars of the Bush record of disachievement, which is one of the primary reasons why the results of the election are so dispiriting. Not only was the wrong man elected, not only is the country (and the world) going to suffer because of that, not only are our future generations going to get royally buggered by the malfeasance and mismanagement which have been our lot for the last four years, and will certainly continue for the next four years, not only all that, but half the voting population has been exposed as incapable of clear-thinking, dragged down into the murky depths by their misperceptions, prejudices and dogmatic preconceptions, and dragging us with them.

Ain't that just peachy? At first it made me very mad (as Mark Durrenberger noted here on 12 November), but now, it just makes me incredibly sad. And incredibly worried as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sumatra quake and tsunami

[Update: I note from my referral logs that, for some reason, this blog entry is scoring quite high in the searches of people looking for information on the Sumatra earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami, particularly if they reference the Burma plate. I don't know why that would be, but for those who have arrived here with that in mind, the stuff below comes from the US Geological Survey website, which is a good place to go for more information. -- Ed]

The devastation is of a scale difficult to comprehend [update: A list of relief agencies and ReliefNet; also this blog, set up to coordinate blogosphere efforts], and the media has spent most of its time dealing with the scope of the human tragedy, as well as whatever individual stories they've been able to get, but I'm also very interested in the mechanisms behind natural disasters as well, and this aspect is rarely covered well by the media. This is from the U.S. Geological Survey's website:

The devastating megathrust earthquake of December 26, 2004, occurred on the interface of the India and Burma plates and was caused by the release of stresses that develop as the India plate subducts beneath the overriding Burma plate. The India plate begins its descent into the mantle at the Sunda trench, which lies to the west of the earthquake's epicenter. The trench is the surface expression of the plate interface between the Australia and India plates, situated to the southwest of the trench, and the Burma and Sunda plates, situated to the northeast.

In the region of the earthquake, the India plate moves toward the northeast at a rate of about 6 cm/year relative to the Burma plate. This results in oblique convergence at the Sunda trench. The oblique motion is partitioned into thrust-faulting, which occurs on the plate-interface and which involves slip directed perpendicular to the trench, and strike-slip faulting, which occurs several hundred kilometers to the east of the trench and involves slip directed parallel to the trench. The December 26 earthquake occurred as the result of thrust-faulting.

Preliminary locations of larger aftershocks following the megathrust earthquake show that approximately 1200 km of the plate boundary slipped as a result of the earthquake. By comparison with other large megathrust earthquakes, the width of the causative fault-rupture was likely over one-hundred km. From the size of the earthquake, it is likely that the average displacement on the fault plane was about fifteen meters. The sea floor overlying the thrust fault would have been uplifted by several meters as a result of the earthquake. The above estimates of fault-dimensions and displacement will be refined in the near future as the result of detailed analyses of the earthquake waves.

The world's largest recorded earthquakes have all been megathrust events, occurring where one tectonic plate subducts beneath another. These include:

the magnitude 9.5 1960 Chile earthquake, the magnitude 9.2 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska, earthquake, the magnitude 9.1 1957 Andreanof Islands, Alaska, earthquake, and the magnitude 9.0 1952 Kamchatka earthquake. As with the recent event, megathrust earthquakes often generate large tsunamis that cause damage over a much wider area than is directly affected by ground shaking near the earthquake's rupture.

[Click on the map above for an updated (1/1/2005) higher resolution image, and the map below for additional information.]

Note the immense size of the movement involved here: 1200 kilometers (about 745 miles) of the plate boundary moved an average of 15 meters (almost 50 feet).

(I note that after initial reports referred to the tsunami as a "tidal wave" -- a misleading usage, since tsunamis have nothing to do with the tides -- that term has now all but disappeared from almost all more recent reports. Apparently "tidal wave" was used because "they often resemble a tide that keeps rising, rather than cresting waves when they reach shore." This explains the lack of dynamic-looking crashing waves on many of the amateur videos being shown on CNN.)

Update: From Follow Me Here, a list of international relief agencies that contributions can be made to. There also more information on ReliefNet. Also, from the vlwc, a link to the SEA-EAT blog set up to coordinate bloggers relief efforts.

Update (1/5): Tsunami background information from the New York Times.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2004 01:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, December 27, 2004

George J. Fitzgerald

February 5, 1930 - December 23, 2004

My father was a man with his share of faults and weaknesses, just an ordinary man with a family, nothing special in the grand scheme of things, but as my brothers and sister grew up there was always food on the table, we had clothes and shelter to keep us warm, and we were loved and well cared for.

That's really saying quite a lot, I think.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/27/2004 11:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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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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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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