Please update your links.
I'm still working through why it is that the president (and two of his press secretaries) knowingly and eagerly (and repeatedly in the case or Ari and Scotty) calling on a prostitute for a life-line during a press conference is not a story in these times.
'The family is looking into whether Thompson's cremated remains can be blasted out of a cannon, a wish the gun-loving writer often expressed, Brinkley said. "The optimal, best-case scenario is the ashes will be shot out of a cannon," he said.' Bravo. This story, read in conjunction with the story in last month's Harpers about the right to die in America provides some great food for thought.
Saw Sideways last weekend. Enjoyed it, but the fact that it was nominated for Best Picture means that 2004 was a very bad year for movies indeed. The Aviator is there simply to give Scorcese his Oscar so Weinstein will shut the hell up. Until next year.
Disclosure: I have not seen The Aviator.
Playing Crusader Kings of late has sparked my interest in the medieval migrations of the various tribes of Europe. Wikipedia has been invaluable in sorting out the facts from my recollections of 9th grade Western Civilization. (In this instance, how exactly William came to believe he had a claim to the throne.)
Update: I feel it's important to note that the one blog that got me into blogging in the first place was megnut. Meg certainly doesn't need any links to boost her page rank, but it should be noted that she is but one example of how women were instrumental in creating both the software and the phenomenon of blogging. Mena Trott is obviously another great example.
Today's issue: women bloggers. Kevin Drum kicked it off. Backpedaled. I found out about it through Ezra. On his site I threw out two comments that reference Brad DeLong's brief Subvert the Dominant Internet Link Hierarchy! series, and making that a broader trend in blogging. Specifically on the issue of women bloggers, though, I feel the need to examine my own house first. The blogroll lists Jess, Meg Hourihan, Laura Rozen, and Halley Suitt. Fafnir may be a woman, but I doubt it. To get my own house in order, therefore, the men will be (briefly) relegated to the level of comment in the source of the page, while I will bulk up the links to women bloggers on the roll. Avedon Carol is correct; the best reponse is here. Also, copied below is Kevin's list of responses from women bloggers. My favorite response on this list is from Brutal Women.
25 years ago today was the Miracle on Ice. I was just over 3 at the time and yet it achieved iconic status for me as I grew up playing the game. In high school a friend of mine had a great poster that a gas station put out in 1980 to commemorate the game. I'm not sure if the bulk of the prose is original, but it really captures just how unbelievable the feat of beating the Soviet team was. Above the writing was the shot of Mike Ramsey (I think) with that look of total elation on his face.
Somewhere along the line we lost it. We stopped believing.
Then the kid next door won a gold medal.
The kid with the runny nose and milk money danced up to the tiger and spit in his eye.
And it's not an upset. Not a long shot, a darkhorse, or a David and Goliath.
It's a miracle.
It's really the only way to describe the magnitude of what those kids accomplished. This was one of the greatest mismatches in the history of sport. That Soviet team was manhandling NHL teams. A few weeks before the game, the Soviets had waxed the US team in an exhibition game at MSG. I've been a part of a lot of incredbile moments playing sports, and I can't imagine what it must have been like to be on the ice for that game.
Some people forget that this wasn't the gold medal game, this was the semi-final. The US still had to beat Finland in the final to win the gold. So how on earth do you motivate a team that's coming off the most impossible victory in the history of sport? Herb Brooks:
You lose this game and you'll take it to your fucking grave.
Your fucking grave.
Hunter Thompson is gone and I am poorer for it. While his most acclaimed work was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I am more partial (being a political junky) to Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972, and another short work with great relevance to today's (or any) political climate: his eulogy of Richard Nixon:
From Rolling Stone, June 16, 1994
HE WAS A CROOK
by Hunter S. Thompson
MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK DATE: MAY 1, 1994 FROM: DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON SUBJECT: THE DEATH OF RICHARD NIXON: NOTES ON THE PASSING OF AN AMERICAN MONSTER… HE WAS A LIAR AND A QUITTER, AND HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BURIED AT SEA… BUT HE WAS, AFTER ALL, THE PRESIDENT.
"And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."
I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.
Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said, "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."
It was Richard Nixon who got me into politics, and now that he's gone, I feel lonely. He was a giant in his way. As long as Nixon was politically alive — and he was, all the way to the end — we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard. He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.
That was Nixon's style — and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don't fight fair, bubba. That's why God made dachshunds.
Nixon was a navy man, and he should have been buried at sea. Many of his friends were seagoing people: Bebe Rebozo, Robert Vesco, William F. Buckley Jr., and some of them wanted a full naval burial.
These come in at least two styles, however, and Nixon's immediate family strongly opposed both of them. In the traditionalist style, the dead president's body would be wrapped and sewn loosely in canvas sailcloth and dumped off the stern of a frigate at least 100 miles off the coast and at least 1,000 miles south of San Diego, so the corpse could never wash up on American soil in any recognizable form.
The family opted for cremation until they were advised of the potentially onerous implications of a strictly private, unwitnessed burning of the body of the man who was, after all, the President of the United States. Awkward questions might be raised, dark allusions to Hitler and Rasputin. People would be filing lawsuits to get their hands on the dental charts. Long court battles would be inevitable — some with liberal cranks bitching about corpus delicti and habeas corpus and others with giant insurance companies trying not to pay off on his death benefits. Either way, an orgy of greed and duplicity was sure to follow any public hint that Nixon might have somehow faked his own death or been cryogenically transferred to fascist Chinese interests on the Central Asian Mainland.
It would also play into the hands of those millions of self-stigmatized patriots like me who believe these things already.
If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.
These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.
Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him — except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.
It is fitting that Richard Nixon's final gesture to the American people was a clearly illegal series of 21 105-mm howitzer blasts that shattered the peace of a residential neighborhood and permanently disturbed many children. Neighbors also complained about another unsanctioned burial in the yard at the old Nixon place, which was brazenly illegal. "It makes the whole neighborhood like a graveyard," said one. "And it fucks up my children's sense of values."
Many were incensed about the howitzers — but they knew there was nothing they could do about it — not with the current president sitting about 50 yards away and laughing at the roar of the cannons. It was Nixon's last war, and he won.
The funeral was a dreary affair, finely staged for TV and shrewdly dominated by ambitious politicians and revisionist historians. The Rev. Billy Graham, still agile and eloquent at the age of 136, was billed as the main speaker, but he was quickly upstaged by two 1996 GOP presidential candidates: Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Gov. Pete Wilson of California, who formally hosted the event and saw his poll numbers crippled when he got blown off the stage by Dole, who somehow seized the No. 3 slot on the roster and uttered such a shameless, self-serving eulogy that even he burst into tears at the end of it.
Dole's stock went up like a rocket and cast him as the early GOP front-runner for '96. Wilson, speaking next, sounded like an Engelbert Humperdinck impersonator and probably won't even be re-elected as governor of California in November.
The historians were strongly represented by the No. 2 speaker, Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state and himself a zealous revisionist with many axes to grind. He set the tone for the day with a maudlin and spectacularly self-serving portrait of Nixon as even more saintly than his mother and as a president of many godlike accomplishments — most of them put together in secret by Kissinger, who came to California as part of a huge publicity tour for his new book on diplomacy, genius, Stalin, H. P. Lovecraft and other great minds of our time, including himself and Richard Nixon.
Kissinger was only one of the many historians who suddenly came to see Nixon as more than the sum of his many squalid parts. He seemed to be saying that History will not have to absolve Nixon, because he has already done it himself in a massive act of will and crazed arrogance that already ranks him supreme, along with other Nietzschean supermen like Hitler, Jesus, Bismarck and the Emperor Hirohito. These revisionists have catapulted Nixon to the status of an American Caesar, claiming that when the definitive history of the 20th century is written, no other president will come close to Nixon in stature. "He will dwarf FDR and Truman," according to one scholar from Duke University.
It was all gibberish, of course. Nixon was no more a Saint than he was a Great President. He was more like Sammy Glick than Winston Churchill. He was a cheap crook and a merciless war criminal who bombed more people to death in Laos and Cambodia than the U.S. Army lost in all of World War II, and he denied it to the day of his death. When students at Kent State University, in Ohio, protested the bombing, he connived to have them attacked and slain by troops from the National Guard.
Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.
Nixon's meteoric rise from the unemployment line to the vice presidency in six quick years would never have happened if TV had come along 10 years earlier. He got away with his sleazy "my dog Checkers" speech in 1952 because most voters heard it on the radio or read about it in the headlines of their local, Republican newspapers. When Nixon finally had to face the TV cameras for real in the 1960 presidential campaign debates, he got whipped like a red-headed mule. Even die-hard Republican voters were shocked by his cruel and incompetent persona. Interestingly, most people who heard those debates on the radio thought Nixon had won. But the mushrooming TV audience saw him as a truthless used-car salesman, and they voted accordingly. It was the first time in 14 years that Nixon lost an election.
When he arrived in the White House as VP at the age of 40, he was a smart young man on the rise — a hubris-crazed monster from the bowels of the American dream with a heart full of hate and an overweening lust to be President. He had won every office he'd run for and stomped like a Nazi on all of his enemies and even some of his friends.
Nixon had no friends except George Will and J. Edgar Hoover (and they both deserted him). It was Hoover's shameless death in 1972 that led directly to Nixon's downfall. He felt helpless and alone with Hoover gone. He no longer had access to either the Director or the Director's ghastly bank of Personal Files on almost everybody in Washington.
Hoover was Nixon's right flank, and when he croaked, Nixon knew how Lee felt when Stonewall Jackson got killed at Chancellorsville. It permanently exposed Lee's flank and led to the disaster at Gettysburg.
For Nixon, the loss of Hoover led inevitably to the disaster of Watergate. It meant hiring a New Director — who turned out to be an unfortunate toady named L. Patrick Gray, who squealed like a pig in hot oil the first time Nixon leaned on him. Gray panicked and fingered White House Counsel John Dean, who refused to take the rap and rolled over, instead, on Nixon, who was trapped like a rat by Dean's relentless, vengeful testimony and went all to pieces right in front of our eyes on TV.
That is Watergate, in a nut, for people with seriously diminished attention spans. The real story is a lot longer and reads like a textbook on human treachery. They were all scum, but only Nixon walked free and lived to clear his name. Or at least that's what Bill Clinton says — and he is, after all, the President of the United States.
Nixon liked to remind people of that. He believed it, and that was why he went down. He was not only a crook but a fool. Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that "if the president does it, it can't be illegal."
Shit. Not even Spiro Agnew was that dumb. He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon's vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.
Unlike Nixon, Agnew didn't argue. He quit his job and fled in the night to Baltimore, where he appeared the next morning in U.S. District Court, which allowed him to stay out of prison for bribery and extortion in exchange for a guilty (no contest) plea on income-tax evasion. After that he became a major celebrity and played golf and tried to get a Coors distributorship. He never spoke to Nixon again and was an unwelcome guest at the funeral. They called him Rude, but he went anyway. It was one of those Biological Imperatives, like salmon swimming up waterfalls to spawn before they die. He knew he was scum, but it didn't bother him.
Agnew was the Joey Buttafuoco of the Nixon administration, and Hoover was its Caligula. They were brutal, brain-damaged degenerates worse than any hit man out of The Godfather, yet they were the men Richard Nixon trusted most. Together they defined his Presidency.
It would be easy to forget and forgive Henry Kissinger of his crimes, just as he forgave Nixon. Yes, we could do that — but it would be wrong. Kissinger is a slippery little devil, a world-class hustler with a thick German accent and a very keen eye for weak spots at the top of the power structure. Nixon was one of those, and Super K exploited him mercilessly, all the way to the end.
Kissinger made the Gang of Four complete: Agnew, Hoover, Kissinger and Nixon. A group photo of these perverts would say all we need to know about the Age of Nixon.
Nixon's spirit will be with us for the rest of our lives — whether you're me or Bill Clinton or you or Kurt Cobain or Bishop Tutu or Keith Richards or Amy Fisher or Boris Yeltsin's daughter or your fiancee's 16-year-old beer-drunk brother with his braided goatee and his whole life like a thundercloud out in front of him. This is not a generational thing. You don't even have to know who Richard Nixon was to be a victim of his ugly, Nazi spirit.
He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.
Copyright © 1994 by Hunter S. Thompson. All rights reserved. Originally published in Rolling Stone, June 16, 1994.
Nooners takes up the issue of blogging today. I join others (Dave, Matt) in generally praising the column. Nooners can't bring herself to actually mention a blogger that doesn't share in her ideology, but what is one to expect from opinion pages of the WSJ? I do find amusing the dogged attempts by Peggy and Hewitt to pretend that the only blogs in existence are the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. Kos, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, the list of elephants in the room goes on, but — ever the good WASP — Peggy will ignore them.
Noonan sees blogging through the lens of journalism and thus shapes her discussion around blogging versus traditional media. I don't find the blogging vs. journalism discussion particularly compelling since the media have always had scandals and always will and, as Roger Ailes so eloquently put it
I have no interest in collectively building a culture online where we figure out norms for people who both consult and write online so that readers can have the tools to be skeptical, active participants.
If blogging can have any effect on the media, my hope is that it will prod the press to stop the he-said she-said nonsense that Brad DeLong regularly derides. It takes courage to report the facts because the facts are not balanced, the facts are not evenhanded and the facts can destroy people. Often simply bearing witness to an event is the most devastating action one can take. Bad people like to do things in the shadows. If blogging can force the media to shine a light on those shadows and report what is happening (rather than what the participants say is happening), that will be a public service. This is not to say that blogging cannot ever be journalism. Many in the ranks have already proven to be effective journalists; but blogging is not about journalism. If all blogging can claim, in the end, is that it slapped the media around a bit, blogging will have failed. What is happening now is an attempt by specialists of all stripes to pigeon-hole blogging. To define it and have it stacked in the appropriate place in the hall closet. That way it can be safely ignored on all issues except for those to which blogging has been assigned relevance. This effort must be resisted.
Blogging has the potential to assist in redefining the way we as people relate to our public sphere. Media are a part of that sphere, but so are government and commerce. Blogging will not destroy any of these, but it's greatest contribution would be to cause us to force them open. For to do that it will have become a great tool of connectivity. It will allow me, on my terms, to connect with you, on your terms. It will allow us both to clarify, to expand, to prod and to react. Jason, today, harkens back to 2000 when I started this blogging thing:
How's that for a bit of nostalgia? Back in the early days of weblogs, a lot of folks had webcams...it was part of the package. Posts, a list of links to your friends' sites, a webcam, link to your Amazon wishlist, maybe a link to your Epinions page, an about page, a guestbook or little chat widget in the sidebar, etc. It was a social space to move around in. Now that everyone is reading everything in RSS readers, a lot of that sort of thing has been lost. RSS readers are not that social, even with so-called "next gen" newsreaders that recommend sites based on what you already read. It's mostly just information in, information out...little time or opportunity for play. Thank God for sites like Flickr, LiveJournal, and Fark, where people can still go to hang out and play around with the web and their friends a bit.
Connections. And, if blogging is successful, those connections will bring change for the better. Much to the chagrin of Nooners, Instapundit and all the Little Green Footballs.
Is Harry Sinden now advising the NHL on its negotiating tactics? Old Harry liked to use this strategy with Bruins free agents he didn't want to sign. He'd go back and forth with the agent for a while and then right before the player was eligible to declare free agency, he'd throw down a take-it or leave-it offer that he knew was unacceptable. Once the player had spurned to offer and declared free agency, he'd start a full PR blitz to blame the player for abandoning the fans of Boston. It worked a few times. It will be interesting to see if it works for the NHL here. Dan Duquette also used this tactic in negotiating with Roger Clemons and Mo Vaughn, among others. There's really no way to respond to such bad faith tactics except through the media. Hopefully the NHLPA is prepared to control the message starting tonight because you can bet the NHL is going to pound away that it's the players who've killed the season.
The league bumped its salary-cap proposal from $40 million to $42.5 million Tuesday and gave the players' association until 11 a.m. Wednesday to accept. If they reject it, the season would be canceled two hours later, according to a letter sent by commissioner Gary Bettman to players' association executive director Bob Goodenow.
"This offer is not an invitation to begin negotiations — it's too late for that," Bettman said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press. "This is our last effort to make a deal that's fair to the players and one that the clubs (hopefully) can afford. We have no more flexibility and there is no time for further negotiation."
In the final bargaining session between NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly and players' association senior director Ted Saskin, the league dropped its longstanding demand for a link between revenues and player costs.
In return, the union came off its reluctance to a salary cap — and proposed one.
The cap the players offered was a soft cap of $52 million, a source close to the negotiations told the AP on condition of anonymity. Teams would be allowed to spend up to 10 percent above that three times in six years but would be subject to an escalating luxury tax on anything above $40 million.
The league knows their offer is unacceptable, but they've structured their final offer to provide some simple talking points.
I'm sure there are a couple of others that I've missed here. I had read the NHL's intent wrong before. I had thought they'd cancel the season over Superbowl weekend to take the heat off such an announcement. I had forgotten that it's far better to blame the other side than admit to mutual failure. So the NHL simply built momentum during the NFL playoffs for this announcement, but wanted to wait for the dead time between NFL and MLB seasons to make the announcement in an effort to smear the players when sports writers have nothing else to talk about (except the NBA). It was a shrewd decision, and we'll see if the players are ready to push back. Already they've botched things by allowing so many media outlets to refer to the lockout as a strike, we'll see now if they're ready for some real mud slinging.
Apropos my problems with Friedman and our current policy in Iraq, we have Lawrence Lessig talking about writing an early draft of the Georgian consitution.
And second, that it captured beautifully the single most important thing that I learned from my years working on "constitutionalism" in Eastern Europe: That 90% of the challenge is to build a culture that respects the rule of law, and that practices it. A document doesn't build that culture. And no one has a formula — either for building it, or preserving it.
Certainly not a law professor.
I don't watch the West Wing, for which I have been roundly castigated by many friends and acquaintences. But here's hoping more people in power look for a lesson from that West Wing than from today's Tom Friedman.
Via Ezra (again) we have Tom Friedman. The text of this opinion piece tacks from the cogent to the bizarre and back faster than a ship navigating the Straight of Magellan. My education about the Middle East is very much in its infancy and yet I cannot help but feel that Friedman, for all his work in that area, is more clueless than I am.
There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can – since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.
And yet falling towards the heart of this paragraph with alarming speed is the Iranian sword of Damocles. From what I can gather, what is happening in Iran is a genuine horizontal dialogue between and amongst a people who are dissatisfied with their government. Similar, perhaps, to the one that occured behind the Iron Curtain in the 70s and 80s. What we have in Iraq is something else entirely and much more of a Frankenstein. The point is that Friedman's statement that what's happening in Iraq is unique to the region is offensively wrong. What separates the steps taken towards democracy and liberty in Iraq from those elsewhere is that they are being forced by a foreign military. They are not organic, not a true democratic conversation between the governing and the governed. It might still work, but it is not a model to be emulated anywhere else.
Another problem is not that Tom Friedman is a fool, but that fools read him. Fools in power. They read Friedman and Lewis and Raphael Patai and they put these half-cocked ideas into motion, and dire consequences result.
In the specific case of the most recent Iraqi elections, Friedman needs to get his facts down:
If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq – based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics – it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah–dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.
But the Iraqis didn't decide who ran for this parliament-thingy either. The voters didn't know for whom they were voting. There was no campaign, no exchange of ideas, no dialogue about the future of Iraq. Now it seems Ahmed Chalabi is a front-runner for a cabinet post. Why is it that American sponsored exiles keep popping up in positions of power? Hint, it's not because of the freedom we've created in Iraq.
There is more, much more, but I fear my head will explode. Again, I don't mind that Friedman is a fool, it's that his readers in power actually give his twaddle credence.
Via del.icio.us/tag/books I came across this interview with Neal Stephenson at Reason.com. Toward the beginning of the interview, Stephenson is asked about a recent talk he gave during which he cited theologian Walter Wink and Wink's discussion of "domination systems." I've never heard of Wink and must make a note to explore his writings, but I find Stephenson's discussion of the concept of power disorders in response to the question interesting.
Reason: You gave a speech at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference a few years back in which you suggested that the focus on issues like encryption was too narrow, and that we should give more attention to what theologian Walter Wink calls “domination systems.” This surprised some of the attendees, partly because it reached outside the usual privacy/free speech issue set and partly because, hey, you were citing a theologian. What brought you to Walter Wink, and what other light do you think theologians can shed on our approaches to government?
Stephenson: This probably won’t do anything to endear me or Wink to the typical reason reader, but I was made aware of him by a Jesuit priest of leftish tendencies who had been reading his stuff.
It’s almost always a disaster when a novelist decides to become political. So let me just make a few observations here on a human level — which is within my comfort zone as a novelist — and leave it at that.
It’s clear that the body politic is subject to power disorders. By this I mean events where some person or group suddenly concentrates a lot of power and abuses it. Power disorders frequently come as a surprise, and cause a lot of damage. This has been true since the beginning of human history. Exactly how and why power disorders occur is poorly understood.
We are in a position akin to that of early physicians who could see that people were getting sick but couldn’t do anything about it, because they didn’t understand the underlying causes. They knew of a few tricks that seemed to work. For example, nailing up plague houses tended to limit the spread of plague. But even the smart doctors tended to fall under the sway of pet theories that were wrong, such as the idea that diseases were caused by imbalanced humors or bad air. Once that happened, they ignored evidence that contradicted their theory. They became so invested in that theory that they treated any new ideas as threats. But from time to time you’d see someone like John Snow, who would point out, “Look, everyone who draws water from Well X is getting cholera.” Then he went and removed the pump handle from Well X and people stopped getting cholera. They still didn’t understand germ theory, but they were getting closer.
We can make a loose analogy to the way that people have addressed the problem of power disorders. We don’t really understand them. We know that there are a couple of tricks that seem to help, such as the rule of law and separation of powers. Beyond that, people tend to fall under the sway of this or that pet theory. And so you’ll get perfectly intelligent people saying, “All of our problems would be solved if only the workers controlled the means of production,” or what have you. Once they’ve settled on a totalizing political theory, they see everything through that lens and are hostile to other notions.
What I really need after this is a nice discussion of the Federalist and how Hamilton, Madison & Jay thought the Constitution would attempt to solve the problem of power disorders. Power disorders of a kind remain the defining problem of our politics. The problems we face currently with regard to corrupt officials or invasive laws derive from far worse disorders that existed under a monarchy. And yet any back-bencher in Albany, NY or moderate congressman in D.C. will tell you that the system (and by extension the people) is being abused by a small minority that are in power. Party politics recognizes this issue and, rather than attempt to remedy the situation, seeks simply to put its slate of officials on the throne. There are those of us that would like to reform the system and yet we resemble the early physicians in Stephenson's analogy. Reform movements often wind up playing whack-a-mole with power disorders rather than unplugging the machine.
Exhuasted today after the Superbowl. The Pats won their third Superbowl in 4 years and I'm elated. I watch these games a little too closely and when I know I can't replay something (for instance, when we go over to a friend's apartment to watch the game) I watch all the more intensely. As you can imagine, watching a game with me is a real treat.
Due to this rather over-intesnse style of watching a game, I am a great arm chair coach. And, as TMQ says, all my advice is guaranteed or your money back! The big question from the Superbowl is why did the Iggles develop a bad case of vapor lock (not to be confused with Todd Pinkston getting cramps during the game and having to leave) at crunch time, I've developed two theories. My effort is trying to see things from Andy Reid's perspective and it's possible he played it the best way it could have been played. I certainly expected them to go no-huddle (as did the rest of planet earth) but it's entirely possible that Reid felt McNabb would throw an INT instantly if they did. That McNabb was just too shell-shocked to run the thing effectively. The way the Pats D played, I don't blame him. Dealing with that crew must be like steering a ship in a hurricane.
My other theory is that Reid knew his D only had one stand left in them and he needed to give them time to rest. Going hurry-up would have had his offense off the field (scoring or not) too quickly and the D just had nothing left in the tank. When they scored to pull within 3 with so little time left, he knew he could tell his D to get one last punt, and they did. Of course that put the game back in McNabb's hands which wasn't where Reid wanted it, but at that point he'd done all he could. And, naturally, McNabb threw the INT when under pressure. This is the weaker of the two theories as Reid's post-game comments indicate that he was himself a bit shell-shocked.
Anyway, those are my two theories.
Finally, these have been the best years to be a Boston sports fan there ever will be. Starting really with Pedro's incredible year in '99 and rolling right on to the Superbowl-World Series-Superbowl trifecta, there's been nothing like it in Boston history. It won't last (perhaps it ended last night) but I've made the effort to soak in every last minute of it. It has been and continues to be one of the things in life that you just sit back and enjoy while it lasts.
Taking a break (or submitting before he went) from his Superbowl festivities, Bill Simmons takes the time to look over the bed the NHL owners made but now refuse to lie in:
Even hockey diehards — a dying breed right up there with Eddie Murphy fans and handlebar-mustache fans — seem to agree this lockout is for the best. And that's a little weird, because we're not talking the WNBA here, where only a tiny segment of people will pay to watch the games. People like hockey. Sure, most of them live in Canada, where Bryan Adams is an icon, but there's still an audience. And we are all victims of a once-likable league that screwed itself up beyond repair, the same way you screw up a relationship by drunk-dialing too many times. The NHL made two unforgivable mistakes: expanding more recklessly than Krispy Kreme and paying their players way, way, way too much money. It was a lethal combination of greed and sheer stupidity.
This was a blue-collar sport for middle-class fans — a quality dive bar with one good TV, a few solid beers on tap and a ballbusting bartender named Fitzy. Then they tried to retool into an upscale joint with $15 beers and bartenders in bow ties. Suddenly, the price of NHL tickets rivaled that of the NFL and the NBA. Does that make sense? … Tragically, the owners lack the resolve and leadership to undo the damage. Basically, they need to bring on a hockey apocalypse and start over. Since that will never happen, hockey is doomed.
My current thoughts on the impending season cancellation is that the league is waiting until after the close of business today to announce anything. Timing this thing to be totally swept under the rug by the Superbowl is crucial for them. Once the sports stations are wall-to-wall Superbowl, they'll have enough cover to slip the announcement in and not have any coverage for almost a week. At that point it will be essentially old news and they'll have had several days to prepare their talking points, etc.
It's not out of the realm of possibilities that, once Bud Selig is firmly ensconced as the new owner of the Washington
Lobbyists Nationals, baseball will go through many of these same death throes. It won't be pretty, but baseball is nearly as broken as hockey and neither league understands that the product is the league itself, not any individual team.
Page 2 interviews Malcolm Gladwell about Blink today. Two things struck me about this interview. First, Jeff Merron seems to have actually read all or most of the book. Second, Gladwell seems a genuine sports fan. The result is a quality interview where both participants are on the same (or at least similar) page. In my experience this is surprisingly rare in book interviews.
I found most interesting the part where Gladwell talks about Moneyball and the need for balance in evalutating a player based on both stats and impression:
You are right to bring up "Moneyball," because reading Michael Lewis' book was a real inspiration for me. I think about it this way. What people in the classical music world discovered was that when they couldn't see the person auditioning, they made very different and much better hiring decisions than when they could see the auditioner. With a screen up, for instance, they began to hire women for the first time, which suggests that before that their judgment had been impaired by all kinds of biases they were unaware of. What they saw with their eyes had interfered with what they heard with their ears. Billy Beane makes the same argument about scouting prospects: that sometimes what you see — whether a player is short or tall, thin or heavy — corrupts your assessment of what really matters, which is whether a guy can hit. So Beane does, essentially, a version of what orchestras do: he put a screen. He doesn't let what he sees with his eyes corrupt his statistical appreciation of a player's ability.
But this doesn't mean that all instinctive judgments about players are useless, because the question of whether a guy can hit is only one of a number of questions that a scout has to answer. GMs also want to know: is the guy lazy or a hard worker? Is he coachable? Does he have good habits? Will he be a good clubhouse presence? How strong is his competitive desire? What separates Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds from any of the other top players drafted alongside them is not talent, at the end of the day. It's desire and competitiveness — and to predict that you very much need a seasoned scout who can look at a player and have an instinctive sense of what he'll be like years down the road. I always thought that the critics of "Moneyball" misinterpreted what Lewis was saying. He wasn't saying that all instinctive scouting judgments are flawed. He was saying that there are some questions — like predicting hitting ability — that are better answered statistically, and that the task of a successful GM is to understand the difference between what can and can't be answered that way. That's my argument in Blink as well.
Later in the discussion Gladwell mentions that he'd love to put eye-tracking goggles on Peyton Manning. I also think this would be fascinating. More than that, I'd love to put them on several QBs of varying skill and age. Seeing how these guys see the field would be fascinating. On Prime Time and other shows, ESPN uses the highlight box to focus on different players during a replay. Which players QBs highlight instinctually (specifically as opposed to what they might say afterwards) as they read the field would provide a great contrast. If only to compare how the field is seen by the viewer (or the coach's tape) vs. the guy under center.
MG: I'd love to know, on this same level of detail, how Manning "reads" a defense. Does he spend a extra fraction of a second on the linebacker, or the safety? When he's playing the Ravens, does he look to Ray Lewis first, or last, or does he do something completely unexpected like not looking at Lewis at all? Are there certain schemes that he takes longer to understand? If so, what are they? And so on. Manning, for instance, probably picks up blitzes better than anyone else in football. Wouldn't you love to know what he's doing, in the face of a blitz, that — say — Kyle Boller isn't?
Even if you haven't yet read the book, it should be a very interesting interview.
Reading over the commentary on the SOTU, I confirmed my suspicion that there was no need to actually watch it. Indeed, all Bush's speeches are, as Ezra noted yesterday, worthless by intent. Full to the brim of empty rhetoric that gets the good-intentioned all atwitter, but deliberately avoid any meaningful details. This is a luxury afforded Bush by his fellow traveller Tom DeLay. DeLay has structured the legislature such that all bills are written in their entirety behind closed doors, passed out of committee at absurd hours of the night and presented for an up or down vote on the floor of the House within hours of the bill's particulars being released to members. It then gets tossed over to the Senate where Frist botches the process entirely and the bill either dies or gets modified. From the Bush/DeLaw perspective what actually happens in the Senate is irrelevant since if the bill is modified it goes to conference committee. That committee, meeting behind closed doors, either discards all the Senate's changes in favor of the original House bill or writes a totally new bill that is far more egregious than the original. The result is once again presented and within hours is voted up or down. If it passes, great, if not, blame the Democrats.
You might ask what the point is to all of this since it ensures that, most of the time, nothing gets done or if something does pass it's so egregious that members would be embarassed to admit voting in favor. The point is to pass the most foul laws possible, and only the most foul laws possible. Otherwise, let them die and try again when conditions seem more favorable. No one's watching so who gives a shit? Make pretty speeches and pass whatever your donors want in the middle of the night. Then make a pretty speech about it. Details? What details? It's all he-said, she-said and you can't report the fact that they're lying, that's not objective.
Reform? That's class warfare. You're just too angry. The American people don't like anger. We're not going to win in the heartland by demonizing our opponents, people just tune that out. We need someone who can reach across the aisle and make common cause. Present our side and reach a compromise bill. That's the Third Way. That's centrism.
Hear him! Matthew Yglesias on Woodrow Wilson:
Fundamentally, though, there are some very real similarities between the two. In my opinion, Wilson, despite the large role he plays in certain versions of Democratic Party automythology was a pretty fantastically terrible president. Like Bush, his policies abroad tended to be animated by worthy ideals, but they were persued in an incoherent and thoughtless manner with seriously bad consequences for the country and the world.
I should note that Wilson's loftiest ideal was Wilson himself. Wilson would be the greatest of peacemakers. Wilson would bring peace with his terrible swift sword and all would be grateful to Wilson. Wilson will get his country into that goddamned War to See Who's Feudal System Will Collapse First even if it takes 3 years and some of the most twisted logic ever uttered. For Wilson is the peacemaker and his 14 points shall end all conflict for all time. Even if he does get schooled at the peace table like a rookie in his first practice with the varisty. Wilson will be remembered, damn it, that's what matters.
A lot of people wonder what the Republican party would look like if John McCain had a stronger role in shaping its message. Well, if Chris Bowers is correct, the Dems are about to find out what happens when the maverick outsider who fell off his horse on the road to Damascus gets the keys to the party. I'm an outspoken supporter of Dean for the DNC chair and I hope that some of my predictions about the DC bubble being popped come to fruition. With Dean at the helm I think we'll start winning some elections again and stop "taking it," as Al Franken so memorably said, on the party level. The insiders are already lining up to get a seat at the Dean table, and I sincerely hope I'm right that he's able to marginalize them. Dean's got a lot of political capital built up. And political capital is worth nothing if you don't spend it.
Is the Mac actually safer? SpyWare, AdWare, malware in general, all of it seeking to destroy my WindowsME installation. Will my looming switch to the mac make me safer? Yes. Why? Because OS X is structurally more impervious to these maladies. True? You bet your buster browns say the mac people. Not true say the, er, experts? From yesterday's Salon article:
According to experts, though, it isn't the Mac's better structure that accounts for why so few pieces of malware and spyware are aimed at the operating system — it's the size of its user base. If miscreants really put their heads to it, they could probably come up with many dangerous attacks against the Mac — but who would want to? Faced with the choice of disrupting 95 percent of the computer users in the world or just 3 percent, which would you choose? The choice is especially obvious for the purveyors of spyware, who, remember, depend on high numbers of infected machines to make money. If you want to make a killing in the spyware business, you're not going to get far by attacking the Mac.
Who are these experts? They go unnamed in the article. Normally I'd let this pass since a reporter will interview many, many sources for a story and if the same general comment comes from many of them, it makes sense to aggregate these comments as the opinion of 'experts.' But in this case I think it's a point worth belaboring. I have spent a great deal of time trying to fix and/or fireproof a number of my family's computers from the perils of malware. It would be of significant help to me if I could say definitively that they will be better off just buying a Mac because these problems are all but non-existent (and getting smaller) when running that environment.
After reading Backlash (via TUAW and MacDailyNews), I am convinced that the 'market share' argument is so much nonsense. And yet, I am always open to a lucid counter-argument. So who are these experts and what evidence (if any) do they have to back up their [collective, paraphrased] assertion? I think that the reason for the profusion of malware for Windows raised in the Salon article is strong. "The choice is especially obvious for the purveyors of spyware, who, remember, depend on high numbers of infected machines to make money." Malware writers do not write for glory, but for profit. If enough profit were to exist in the Mac market, they would enter it. And yet, "[m]any orders of magnitude more people look over the source code for OS X and the related BSDs than have access to Windows source code."
I peg the useful like of a computer at roughly 3½ years. I feel I can say with confidence to family members that their next PC purchase should be a Mac machine, not a Windows machine. To the list of superior features of the Mac OS I now add (for at least the next 3½ years) freedom from malware.
MSFT search has been launched. Becuase of the way I use search engines (mostly for research), it will be some time before I have my own evaluation of MSFT search. Two bloggers did some searches of their own to evaluate the new service. Their experiences are starkly different and highlight, I think, the difficulty of evaluating any search engine. It depends as much on the results you want as the results you get. First up Kim Krause of Cre8PC:
For the record, I'm freezing my butt off in my office because my wood stove is taking forever to heat up.
Following up on the news of MSN's now official, finally legitimate, no more BETA folks, re-launch of its search engine, I have to admit, I was shocked at my very first pass.
The true test is my UsabilityEffect.com site, which came out in May, and though Google indexed it with zesto, rank is a sad tale I scream about behind closed doors. No matter what rabbits I've pulled from my hat, Google has given me a complex about that site. Meanwhile, Cre8pc.com is treated like a Queen; but of course, it's been around since 1996 and well deserves Google's nod. And (ahem) Google loves this blog.
MSN Search, meanwhile, has me gasping. Typing in web+site+usability+reviews, my UE site is on page one of SERPs. Not only that, MSN scored more points for featuring my services page first, followed up with the home page. How freaking wonderful is this?
So let today, February 1, 2005, be a day you remember where you were. Look for your web site(s). Revel in the love. Sing in the rain. Run around stark naked, screaming with joy. For one historical day, let me pathetically admit, I'm paryting with MSN. Come on. WoodStock, as you know, only happened once too.
Overall very positive. Next Fred Wilson of A VC:
Last November, I did a long blog post about my side by side comparison of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft search. Microsoft had just launched their search in beta at the time. My conclusion was that Google was still the best for plain vanilla search because of the format of the results page, the speed of the search, and the relevance of the results.
Well Microsoft is out of beta now as evidenced by the availability of the service at http://search.msn.com. The word beta is gone from the URL.
So, I went back and redid the comparison tests. Did anything change during the beta? Yes, Microsoft got worse and the others didn't change.
Why did Microsoft get worse? Mostly because the relevance of the results got worse. They did something to their algorithm during the beta period that caused the results on the searches I did to change.
First, I always Google myself. In all three engines last fall, this blog was at the top or in the first three or results that are "above the fold". It's still that way in Google and Yahoo!, but somehow this blog is now buried half way down the second page in Microsoft's resutls.
That's enough for me but in an attempt to be fair and balanced, I tried a few more keywords. So I tried "bit torrent + wilco" on all three. The first result for Microsoft and Yahoo! was the front page of bt.etree.org which is a big bit torrent site. Google had that second. But Google and Yahoo! all had various bit torrent sites above the fold, whereas Microsoft had a bunch of other stuff that was less relevant.
I tried a few more searches and in every case, Microsoft's results page was less relevant to me than Yahoo!'s and Google's.
As I said in November, Microsoft has made a nice effort to develop a competitive product, but it isn't going to change my behavior yet.
Two people using their own search results as a barometer and coming away with polar experiences. For my purposes, I think Fred's experience would more closely match my own, but I'm not entirely sure. Kim is an expert on SEO while Fred is a VC. Kim has been trying to figure out how to push a new site that she launched to the top of search engine results using various 'rabbits.' Google has resisted those tricks while MSFT ate them up with a spoon. One could therefore conclude that Google is better because it resists gaming more effectively. Fred's "bit torrent + wilco" search is interesting. What I noticed was that on MSFT the results were heavily populated by blog posts while Google had some blog and some other information. Certainly if I'm a novice bit torrent user (and I am) I think Google's results are better for me. On the other hand, if I'm searching for what's happening in the bit torrent world, MSFT's results would be superior as the gaggle of posts track the latest bit torrent happenings.
Again, depending on what results I wanted, I would have to use a different engine. Ranking one engine as "better" than another is obviously a holistic and personal endeavor. At the moment my default will still be Google, but if I'm looking for the latest info on something I might give MSFT a try.
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