3/15/2002

Who did you say was running for Senate? Tipper Gore in Tennessee (maybe), and Robert Ray in New Jersey. I'm gonna break my own rule about prognostication (which is: Always wait until the event you're attempting to forecast has already occurred before making your pronouncements) and say there's no way in hell these two get elected. Admittedly, Ray is taking on a tainted candidate in Bob Torricelli, but I don't think New Jersey will care for a former persecutor of Bill Clinton. Besides, you think the Torch will go down without a fight? Ray versus Torricelli would be one seriously ugly and expensive campaign.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall, who knows a lot more about these things than I do, says Tipper is seriously considering it. I really should know better than to make predictions.

UPDATE: Turns out I was right after all - Tipper has decided not to run. Thus, I stand by my original prediction that she will not get elected. Whew!
The economics of discrimination Jon Jerome has a long post about racism which stemmed from a conversation with a coworker. (Note: Jon's been having some hosting problems, so try hitting Refresh if you get a "this page cannot be displayed" error.) He lays out a case for why "hidden" racism (as opposed to the overt, codifed racism of the Jim Crow era) is not necessarily why nonwhites don't get ahead in the workplace, citing among other things economic factors:

Systematic workplace discrimination on irrelevancies like race is unprofitable – it’s just bad business practice. If blacks could really be paid less than whites for “the same work,” such an arrangement would create high unemployment for whites and low unemployment for blacks, as firms competed to snap up the same quality labor at cheaper rates. (This simple economic truth also demolishes the idea of the “glass ceiling” for women.) Similarly, if the owner of a firm refuses to hire candidates on the basis of productivity and instead hires on the basis of irrelevant factors, he provides a larger pool of available talent for his competitors, reducing his competitiveness in the market, said uncompetitiveness in the end being fatal to the business. If the best man for the job is a black woman, and you won’t hire her because of that, your competitor will get her, to his benefit and your detriment. Businesses that make consistently irrational decisions don’t last very long – the market weeds them out in favor of those that are more rational.

I don't have any quibbles with Jon's logic (though it won't surprise me if Ginger has something to say about the "glass ceiling"), but sadly the real world of business does frequently operate in this fashion. Take a look at how Rent-a-Center has treated its female employees for one glaring recent example.

You may say that this sort of practice cannot continue, both for the reasons Jon cites as well as the fact that this sort of behavior inevitably ends up with a large EEOC judgment against the offenders, but the point is that it does still exist today. When it finally disappears in a puff of logic, we'll all be better off.
Responsibility and accountability It was Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins' turn to get spanked by the Tauzin Tribunal yesterday. As with executives at Enron and Arthur Andersen, they applied the we-know-nothing defense, which was about as well-received as Jeff Skilling's last performance. They also demonstrated why Top Executives are not the same as the rest of us.

The firm's lawyers were grilled at length about their work investigating allegations raised by Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins in an Aug. 15 memo to former Chairman Ken Lay, warning the company could "implode in a wave of accounting scandals."

In addition to numerous accounting issues, Watkins' portentous memo warned about conflicts of interest and questionable dealmaking that threatened to topple the company.

Derrick, a former partner at V&E who recently retired from Enron, asked the firm to conduct a limited probe of Watkins' concerns.

Under sharp questioning from lawmakers, the V&E lawyers said they never talked to many of the potential witnesses named by Watkins.

They also did not pursue Watkins' claim that bankers may have been pressured to invest in questionable deals with Enron as a condition of future business with the company.

Instead, the firm talked to accountants at Arthur Andersen and executives at Enron, who assured them that issues raised by Watkins were well-known and being managed, the lawyers said.
[...]
For months, V&E has been defending its work on the Watkins probe, saying the firm was not asked to look at Enron's accounting practices.

"If a transaction is not legal and it's been approved by the appropriate levels of a corporation's management, lawyers ... may appropriately provide the requisite legal advice," Dilg said. "In doing so, the lawyers are not approving of the business decisions that were made by their clients. Likewise, lawyers are not passing on the accounting treatment of the transactions."

[Rep. James] Greenwood [R, PA] took the firm to task for apparently accepting the assurances of former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow regarding the partnerships and his own conflicts of interest.

"I don't understand why you didn't feel responsible for Enron and its stockholders and make those calls right away," Greenwood said. "You just took Andy Fastow's word for it."

Whenever I read something like this I begin to wonder if maybe the Michael Moores of the world don't have a good point about big corporations. Why is it that the senior people at V&E who were responsible for this so-called investigation are still employed there? Surely if some lower-level employee had failed at a task in such an egregious and spectacular fashion he or she would have been given ten minutes to clean out their desk and then escorted out by security. The worst thing that will happen to these guys is a golden parachute. Why aren't they held to the same standard, especially given that their decisions have a much greater impact.

My boss has a few simple rules for his employees. Follow these rules and you do well at evaluation time. His #1 rule is "Verify the facts". Too bad he wasn't in charge of the Enron/Andersen investigation at V&E.
Krauthammer on Yates Charles Krauthammer explains why he would have voted to acquit Andrea Yates. I don't think you can say it any better than he does here.

3/14/2002

One for the good guys I don't follow the Republican primaries very closely, as I am not a Republican. There was one race that interested me, and I'm glad to say that the right guy won. That was the race for State Senator in District 17, where State Rep. Kyle Janek defeated former Harris County GOP chairman Gary Polland. Janek has a decent record as a pragmatic non-ideologue, while Polland is a total party hack who sees the world as Us Good and Them Bad.

I wish yesterday's Election 2002 section were still online, because the wrapup of this race shows exactly why we should all be glad that the vile Polland was defeated. I'll quote from the fishwrap version:

The campaigns' hard feelings were evident as the votes came in. Marc Cowart, Polland's campaign consultant, said his candidate fell behind because of "a combination of negative campaigning and being overwhelmed by a bunch of lobby money."

The sheer irony in this is monumental. First off, Janek got 64% of the vote. Maybe, just maybe, Gary Polland "fell behind" because the voters correctly perceived him to be a lousy candidate. Second, the charge that Polland was overwhelmed by lobby money is just too funny. While Polland was the county GOP chair he was a virtuoso at raising money and evading our admittedly weak campaign finance laws to siphon this money to candidates, including himself in this very race. The old joke about murdering your parents and then begging for mercy because you're an orphan applies here.

Later, Polland demonstrates very clearly why he was in fact a lousy candidate:

Polland laid into Janek, saying he received poor ratings from conservative groups, including the American Eagle Forum and the Young Conservatives of Texas.

Polland has accused Janek of often voting with Democrats.

"He's just part of the get-along gang in Austin," Polland has said. He's not part of the solution, he's part of the problem."

In other words, Polland would rather be right than be effective. He'd rather throw rocks than find workable answers. And to think that people didn't vote for him.
I Told You So Dept. The Houston Chronicle reports that no one is paying attention to the new 55 MPH speed limit, partly because there has been no increase in enforcement efforts. Who woulda thunk it?

Here's the really annoying part:

[Lt. John Denholm, who commands the Harris County Sheriff's Department traffic division] put the priorities bluntly: "Our focus is on traffic safety issues, not pollution control. We try to put the enforcement where we're having accidents."

That emphasis is no surprise to local transportation department spokeswoman Janelle Gbur, who noted the reduced limit did not come with any new state or federal funds for enforcement.

"We were hearing prior to the decrease that law enforcement was strapped for manpower, and that even with the (previous maximum) 70-mph limit, they were pushed to the limit to enforce speed laws," she said.

So in effect the lower speed limit is merely a voluntary compliance program, just like every other antipollution effort in this state. We all know how well those have worked.
Samizdata responds Samizdata Illuminatus (Arkham) responds to my tax protester followup, in which I take him to task for assigning credibility to We the People. I'd also received a very polite note from Illuminatus/Arkham (how should I address you, anyway?) about this. I/A says that I misrepresented him; he says he agrees with me that WtP have no legal credibility.

In retrospect, I think he's right. I was too harsh on him here. I guess I didn't think he'd disavowed them strongly enough. That's hairsplitting and it's not really fair. I still maintain that Dale Amon did more than merely point out what WtP are saying, and I stand by my response to Joshua Trevino, but I retract my criticism of Illuminatus/Arkham. I appreciate the feedback, and I hope this sets the record straight.

(Yes, I'm up really late. Too much caffeine between sessions at the bridge tournament, I'm afraid.)

3/13/2002

Girl, exonerated There was a lot of schadenfreuding going on when Winona Ryder was busted for shoplifting. Now it appears that the videotape which supposedly showed her cutting off the security tags on several items in fact shows no such thing. If anything, the tape is quite exculpatory, and the LA District Attorney's office has backed off its original claims.

Don't you just hate it when an excellent story is ruined by an ugly fact?
Kuff goes 0 for 2 Tony Sanchez crushed Dan Morales in the Democratic primary for the gubernatorial nomination. This wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise was that Ken Bensten failed to make the runoff in the three-way race for the Senate nomination. The unsinkable Victor Morales, who did essentially no campaigning, came in first with 34% of the vote, followed by former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk at 32% and Congressman Ken Bentsen at 27%.

I voted for Bentsen, which was a tough choice since I like all three candidates. I'm leaning towards Morales in the runoff but will have to think about it. Congrats to all the winners. I remain excited about Democratic prospects in November.

3/12/2002

Andrea Yates found guilty It took the jury only 3.5 hours to reach the verdict, which surprises me. I thought they'd be in there a lot longer than that.
Tax protester followup Joshua Trevino, who doesn't use permalinks, critiques my critique of Dale Amon regarding tax loonies We the People. Here's the crux of Joshua's argument:

Dale clearly doesn't harbor an opinion either way on WTP's specific agenda -- he provides a link and urges readers to decide for themselves. No editorializing at all, which is a rarity for Samizdata (or any blog, really). That's not good enough for Kuffner:

Had Dale Amon taken a few moments to do some research, he would have discovered what kind of arguments, legal and otherwise, that We the People use against the income tax.

What? Okay, Amon's post wasn't a model of thoroughness. But Kuffner is positing a blogging standard that I'm willing to bet he doesn't always meet. (Heck, I know Yglesias doesn't meet it.) The crux of his critique of Amon is that Amon simply didn't do adequate background research on his subject. Come on. Posting links of possible interest is what blogs do. Heck, I put up a link for chihuahua vindaloo, and I'm afraid I was suckered into posting a fair amount about the probably-baseless allegations of Israeli art students-cum-spies. So what? Live and learn. It's blogging, people. Just because we're better than the New York Times doesn't mean we're Real Journalists.

The real motivation behind this trio of leftist bloggers is, I suspect, a generalized dislike for Samizdata and its ideology per se. War Liberal says it "drives [him] crazy," Kuffner discusses the "tooth-grinding factor" inherent in his reading of it, and Yglesias simply engages in routine petty mockery against it. The result is cases like this, wherein War Liberal is unecessarily caustic; Kuffner is inappropriately condemnatory; and Yglesias is a pathetic bandwagoner. While two of the three mount effective assaults on WTP, none of them can build a realistic case against Dale Amon.

I have several things to say to this. I'll start by reminding everyone what exactly Amon said:

US income tax is illegal

The We The People Foundation held their own hearing as the US Federal Government broke its word to do so. They claim testimony taken under oath shows the entire income tax system to be unconstitutional.

Decide for yourself. The hearing webcast is available here.

Link to webcast omitted. I'd argue that Amon is in fact expressing an opinion on WtP's position. It's right there in the header to his post. He didn't say "Group claims US income tax illegal", or "Group to hold hearing on legality of income tax". if he had, I'd agree with Trevino that Amon was merely pointing to some possibly interesting thing that one might wish to peruse. What he said was "US income tax is illegal". How is that not expressing an opinion?

Even if Amon had hedged, I'd still consider him to be at best disingenuous in pointing out this so-called "argument". Let's take a look at the introduction to the Tax Protesters FAQ to see why:

[T]he assertions addressed in this FAQ are not merely false, but completely ridiculous, requiring not just ignorance of law and history, but a suspension of logic and reason.

In this FAQ, you will read many decisions of judges who refer to the views of tax protesters as "frivolous," "ridiculous," "absurd," "preposterous," or "gibberish." If you don't read a lot of judicial opinions, you may not understand the full weight of what it means when a judge calls an argument "frivolous" or "ridiculous." Perhaps an analogy will help the attitude of judges.

Imagine a group of professional scientists who have met to discuss important issues of physics and chemistry, and then someone comes into their meeting and challenges them to prove that the earth revolves around the sun. At first, they might be unable to believe that the challenger is serious. Eventually, they might be polite enough to explain the observations and calculations which lead inevitably to the conclusion that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun. Suppose the challenger is not convinced, but insists that there is actually no evidence that the earth revolves around the sun, and that all of the calculations of the scientists are deliberately misleading. At that point, they will be jaw-droppingly astounded, and will no longer be polite, but will evict the challenger/lunatic from their meeting because he is wasting their time. That is the way judges view tax protesters. At first, they try to be civil and treat the claims as seriously as they can. However, after dismissing case after case with the same insane claims, sometimes by the same litigant, judges start pulling out the dictionary to see how many synonyms they can find for "absurd."

What I'm getting at is not just that WtP have a weak case. They have no case at all. Giving them any credibility, which Amon did with his post, is like giving credibility to creationists and the Flat Earth Society. Not only are they not adding anything to the discussion, they are actively hindering it. For Amon to cite them uncritically either means he's favorably inclined to their arguments, in which case Amon himself loses all credibility when it comes to discussing this issue, or he hopes to throw sand in everyone else's eyes, in which case he's actively dishonest. The most charitable interpretation is that he's just plain lazy.

And Joshua? My "motivations" were to point out a stupid argument. You are correct that I don't much care for what the Samizdata folks have to say. A big part of the reason for that, as you must have read since you cited my "tooth-grinding factor" comment, is the way in which they present their arguments. I'm willing to listen to people with differing viewpoints until they insult my intelligence. What Amon did here was like citing the Clinton Death List or Alien Autopsy.

Oh, and surely now that several people (myself, Matthew Yglesias, Mac Thomason, Max Power) have pointed out the idiocy of WtP the Samizdata folks would admit that they were wrong in assigning them any credibility, right? Not quite.

I stand by everything I said.
Primary day Today is Primary Day in Texas. I did the early voting thing last week, so I can play bridge with a clear conscience today. The latest polls showed Tony Sanchez with a comfortable lead over Dan Morales, and a three-way tie in the Senate race. Of course, in the latter race about 60% of the voters were undecided, so take that as you will. I fully expect there to be a runoff, it's just a question of who the odd man out is.

3/11/2002

Tournament report Well, as expected, we were eliminated from the Vanderbilt last night. I thought we played well, but the other team was better. The way this works is that each team is made up of two partnerships. Each partnership plays a pair from the other team. The same hands are played at both tables, with the respective pairs playing the opposite hands at each table. The scores from each table are compared and added, then coverted into a scale called International Match Points (IMPs).

We lost by 28 IMPs, 78-50. That doesn't sound very close, but if your team bids and makes a game at one table and defeats that same game at the other, you can get 10 or 12 IMPs, so the real difference comes down to about 3 hands out of the 32 we played. Sure enough, there were about three hands where if we'd done the right thing we could have won the match. Of course, it's easy to play the woulda-coulda game. The opponents could point to a couple of hands on which they clearly did the wrong thing. Had they avoided those errors, they would have beaten us handily. It's always easy to overlook that in the postmortem.

We had our chances and came up short. On to the next events. I expect to play in a pair game today. For the dinner break, a large group of bridge players and local friends are going to our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. Asya, my partner from yesterday, is taking the day off from playing today so she can go on an eight-mile jog in preparation for dinner. Mmm, dumplings...

3/10/2002

Gone bridgin' I'll be spending this week at the 2002 NABC bridge tournament right here in Houston, so I may be a little light on the posts. Today I'm playing with some friends in the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams event. It's probably the most prestigious national event. We have no realistic chance of advancing to the second round, but it's way cool to butt heads with world-class players. If you're a golfer, it's like getting a foursome together and shooting a round at the Masters.

So anyway, I'm a bridge bum this week. Don't let anything too important happen without me.