Friday, March 26, 2004

Mysticism from the Great Beyond

Today's horoscope: "Today is dark and dreary, and it's a bad time to start anything new or deal with key people. It is best to keep your thoughts to yourself until better cosmic conditions prevail."

This morning, my car was towed.

Go ahead, tell me these things aren't worth a damn. Although, I never did get that toaster.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

How Can You Ethically Have an Ethics Truce?

What exactly is an "Ethics Truce?" Since 1997 the House of Representatives has maintained an informal "Ethics Truce" (there was an official truce in 1997). The two parties have decided to refrain from ethical behavior since 1997? Or they simply agreed not to call the other side out for its unethical behavior? Is there really a difference?

However you want to spin it, is this not the most disturbing thing in the papers of late (ok, that's hyperbole. Madrid among many other things easily trumps this)? Congressmen (and Congresswomen), with the assistance of the state legislatures, have essentially gerrymandered their seats out of competition. Now they don't have to worry about ethical behavior.

Congress is a self-policing, self-regulating body. The impetus for the erstwhile truce- a fear of tit for tat ethics accusations and investigations which would cripple the House- requires us to believe our legislators are petty men (and women) more interested in winning, advantage, and power than doing their job and governing. Maybe it's not that much of a stretch after all? In such an environment, self-regulation has only two settings- mutually assured destruction and anarchy. If the process is not credible, the credibility of Congress- the transparency of the laws and the fairness of the government's administrative offices- will rapidly erode. Articles and behaviors like this one really push a "don't vote for the incumbent" sentiment in me.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Dear Abby, You Tool

Next Monday's Dear Abby column has been pulled. Abby, out of all the letters she must receive, chose to respond to a letter from Marge. You know Marge. Marge Simpson. On top of generally offering milquetoast advice and ocassionally getting it spectacularly wrong, Abby also has a finely tuned bullshit detector. And aren't those the most important traits in an advice columnist: sniffing out frauds and effectively addressing the problems presented? And by effectively, I mean helping solve the problem not helping the writer think the problem is solved.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There was only one competent advice columnist in Abby's family. But she's dead. It was "Ann" not "Abby."*

* Please note that Abbs claims to be "known for its uncommon common sense and youthful perspective." Uncommon common sense (in the "cars will stop, eventually, when you run out into oncoming traffic" way?) is not how I would have put it, but sure. Youthful perspective, however, is an abdominal exercise.

Wonkette pegs old Kurtzie

In his ad analysis of the much talked about Bush 9/11 ad and a similar "Media Notes" column, Kurtz does a fine job of journalistically blurring the line between pandering and issues. Or, as Wonkette puts it: "See, criticizing a policy is actually the same thing as brandishing cheap symbolism while making (as Kurtz observed) empty claims. And vice-versa. Sort of like how filling copy inches with conflicting minutiae makes Kurtz an authoritative media critic."

Now, I expect this type of crap from Kurtz. He's basically the definition of a media tool. Or, to put it more fairly, the chief cheerleader for "he said, she said" reporting predicated on the equivalence of what is said simply because it is said. And here, we have substantively different issues. The Bush record and policies combating terrorism and the use of images of tragedy. And Kurtz does a fine job of fuzzing the difference in the pursuit of objectivity. But that's his role.

Far more disappointing is the Dean, David Broder. Relying on a pseudo-analysis of the closest historical parallel he could find (the first election after Pearl Harbor in 1944) Broder asserts FDR would have done more. In response to the question, "But is it, as supporters of John Kerry and other critics suggest, wrong for Republicans to convert the emotions of that national tragedy into grist for a political campaign?" Broder determines "Bush is a piker compared with FDR when it comes to wrapping himself in the mantle of commander in chief." Which is a nice conclusion but totally inoperative to the question he asked. Wrapping oneself in the mantle of commander in chief and touting the success of your policies, that's one thing. Wrapping yourself in the emotions of tragedy for political gain, well that's something else. Roosevelt's conduct, as chronicled by Broder, is a little cheeky (sending a message to the convention stating he will accept if nominated but is too busy conducting the war to devote much time to the convention) but hardly exploiting the tragedy (exploiting incumbency as a "war president"? yes, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor? no). Roosevelt's communique was not of the "Do you remember Pearl Harbor? Well so do I. Tough times, but I'm helping us work through them." nature- which would be the historical antecedent to Bush's ads. While Roosevelt did accept the nomination via radio broadcast from the San Diego Naval Yard, that's a far cry from accepting it on the deck of the Arizona. Which would be the historical antecedent to the consideration of Bush accepting the nomination at Ground Zero. But Broder misses all these terribly important distinctions by pulling a Kurtz and treating campaigning on issues and the record as indistinguishable from campaigning on exploiting tragedy. 9/11 is certainly on the table this election- it would have to be. The images, the losses, those are hallowed ground and do not deserve the desecration that comes with partisan advantage.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Same Old Story

The 2004 Forbes Billionaires list is quite amazing. There are now 587 billionaires worth a combined $1.9 trillion. For comparisons sake, only recently has the U.S. federal budget crossed the $2 trillion threshold (If Bush wants to cut some taxes and use the military, might I recommend confiscating the worth of these 587 billionaires and funding general operations for a year?). The level at which billionaires operate is essentially incomprehensible. Take the fact that Warren Buffet's net worth increased by over $12 billion. Or the Walton clan, worth roughly $100 billion in total. Do the combined employees of WalMart earn that much in a year (with 1.3 million or so employees, we're talking average earnings of $75000 per to reach this level)? What's the likelihood that those 1.3 million employees (and their families) are collectively worth the $100 billion of the 5 or 6 members of the Walton clan at the top of the list? Not good.

Dear Abby, Your Writers Scare Me

Dear Abby:*

I have been married for two years to the most wonderful woman. However, we have not yet consummated our marriage. She insists on living with her mother. I think it's because of the many terrible things her mother has told her about men and sex.

I am at the end of my rope. I am married, but not married, to the greatest woman on Earth. What do I do?

Unconsummated in Korea

Talk to the clergyperson who married you. Then talk to a lawyer. From my perspective, the relationship you have described is not only NOT a marriage but also may be grounds for an annulment.

Newsflash caller: She's not the greatest woman on Earth. Not even close. For instance, she apparently (per your description) is incapable of making decisions on her own. I must admit I am impressed you have spent two years married before hitting the end of your rope. And to be clear, it's not the sexlessness stuff that puts you over the edge. It's the my "wife" prefers to live with her mother rather than me angle that takes the cake. It's an almost unbelievable story as presented and makes me yearn for more details- either to better advise or to aid in my ab exercises.

* This is old, as I haven't been on the ball for a little while now

Straightening Howie Out

Howard Kurtz, pseudo media critic for the Washington Post, engages in the saddest form of media of equivocation that I have seen in quite some time. In today's column he offers:
When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state law by allowing same-sex marriage licenses, a New York Times profile reported him sporting "a wide grin," "describing his motives as pure and principled," and cited his "business acumen, money, good looks and friends in the right places."

But when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore also defied the law -- by installing a Ten Commandments display in his public building -- a Times profile said that "civil liberties groups accused Justice Moore of turning a courthouse into a church," while allowing that he had also become "an Alabama folk hero."

On the editorial page, the Times criticized Moore, likening him to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, but supports Newsom's protest and gay marriage.

The essential difference between Newsom and Moore: Moore's notoriety came from his defiance of a court order, a fact which is even more noteworthy when we recall that Moore was at the time the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Newsom, on the other hand, is not in violation of any court order and I have seen nothing which suggests he would violate a court order a la Moore.

It really is that simple. Moore wheeled his Ten Commandments display in one night. He was sued. No one in the national media payed much attention. A federal judge ruled against him and set a deadline for removal. Still, no one in the national media payed much attention. The deadline approached and a sitting judge announced his intentions to defy a valid court order. The national media started paying attention. Newsom cannot even come close to this. He may deserve many things depending on where you sit, but he does not deserve a parallel comparison to Roy Moore. Shame on you Kurtz.

The particularly sad fact contained in Kurtz's column- noting as he is that Newsom has received positive press and Moore received negative press- is the general media's awareness of the difference and Kurtz's obliviousness to the point.