5/04/2002

Get well soon, Lady Bird Lady Bird Johnson is resting comortably after suffering a stroke on Friday. We're all rooting for your recovery.
I fought the law and the law lost Houston District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has sent a letter to Harris County Attorney Michael Fleming saying "it will be difficult to prosecute" people who are ticketed for speeding if they demand a jury trial.

Under Texas law, motorists who exceed posted limits are assumed to be driving in an unsafe, imprudent manner. But they actually are ticketed for driving in an unsafe manner, not because they went over a speed limit.

The law thus opens the door to the argument that a motorist who exceeds the speed limit was nonetheless driving in a safe manner, Rosenthal said.

"I believe that it would be difficult to convince a jury that a speed in excess of 55 is unreasonable, given the historical fact a speed of 70 was considered by the Texas Transportation Commission to be reasonable and prudent a few short weeks ago," Rosenthal wrote.

Pretty interesting. I must admit, I hadn't thought of it. One of Houston's dirtier secrets is that you can fight a speeding ticket and win. Some years ago, the speed limit on a section of service road for Loop 610 raised its speed limit from 35 to 40 after a string of motorists successfully challenged tickets on the grounds that a study of actual use had never been performed to determine what a proper limit should be. This section of the service road runs through the city of Bellaire, which is a notorious speed trap. The state eventually did a study, and when they discovered that the average speed on that stretch of road was 44 MPH, the limit was raised.

Of course, some people simply hire the right lawyer when they can't or don't want to take Defensive Driving. I know several people who have used David Sprecher's services to get tickets dismissed. There's nothing like being the top expert in an obscure but lucrative profession.

The ultimate effect here may be the retraction of the lower speed limit, whose implementation Attorney Stafford worked to prevent in the first place:

Stafford is trying to persuade the commission to substitute another measure for the lowered speed limit, such as tighter controls on industrial pollution.

He said he will present the TNRCC with a highway safety expert's findings that a 55-mph speed limit creates dangers because motorists drive at vastly different speeds.

Stafford said the signals coming from the TNRCC are that it will restore the old speed limit.

"I think the commission will vote 'yes,' " he said. "I remain optimistic."

I can already see the letters to the editor decrying the waste of putting the 55 MPH signs up only to take them down again in short order. Nothing like a well thought out plan.

5/03/2002

Inappropriate rebirth Hey, Moira Breen is back! She's got a new URL (so update those links) and she's gone Moveable Typing. And she's got lil ol' me as her Blog of the Day, as if you needed extra incentive to pay her a visit. Welcome back, Moira! Go on and take a look, I'll still be here when you get back.
COLIs revisted Fritz Schranck writes about taxation terminology, and points to this article at More Than Zero about "dead peasant" insurance, also known as Corporate Owned Life Insurance, or COLIs. He talks about their tax benefits for corporations, then tackles the "insurable interest" question.

State laws often require an "insurable interest" in the individual covered by the policy. I can't just look through the comments on this site and buy life insurance on the commenters. Likewise, a corporation can't just buy life insurance on anybody's life. Since the corporation has an interest in its employees well-being, the law has allowed companies to insure employees. In fact, banks often require that key employees have substantial life insurance (with the bank as loss payee) as part of a loan agreement.

First of all, companies need their employees alive, for obvious reasons. In fact, the law governing "insurable interest" actually recognizes that interest in allowing these transactions. Second, companies benefit from "COLI" or "BOLI" regardless of how fast or slow their employees die. The scope of a company's COLI program makes almost no difference to the company's interest in the employees well-being.


I dispute the notion that an employer has an insurable interest in all its employees. For one thing, as this Chron story says, COLIs continue to cover ex-employees. How can Three Initial Corporation have an insurable interest in someone who's left for greener pastures?

Further, most employees make zero direct difference to a company's bottom line. According to the now-archived Chron article I initially referenced, Wal-Mart had COLIs on employees who worked in the distribution center and the automotive center. Camelot Music had COLIs on part-time minimum wage workers. There's no way that the departure of these employees, whether from the company or from this vale of tears, had any effect on its day-to-day operations, let alone its stock price.

I don't have any problem accepting that companies have an insurable interest in top executives, inventers, critical people like that. But ordinary wage slaves? C'mon.

MTZ has one more nit to pick:

Finally, if this is so outrageous, why don't we mind that the government has a stake in rich people dying? In that case the state's interest is crystal clear - the faster rich folks die, the more government benefits through the estate tax. The government suffers no identifiable loss to offset, unlike those who must make due without an income producer.

It's a valid point. I think the main difference is that we've always known about the estate tax, and besides, very few of us are affected by it. COLIs have been a well-kept secret. I think that offends people nearly as much as the idea that some executive will prosper from Joe Sixpack's untimely demise. I can't help but feel that the companies themselves realize that there's something squirrely about COLIs, which is why their "revelation" comes as a bit of a shock to us.

BTW, to answer MTZ's question about why these stories suddenly started appearing, I daresay it's because of the lawsuit over COLIs in Texas, where state law requires insurable interest. I know it's hard to believe that Texas is more proletariat-friendly than Oregon on any issue, but there you go.

5/02/2002

Hulk add links! I've added Meryl Yourish and TAPped from The American Prospect to the blog links. Don't know how I hadn't discovered Yourish before, but after reading her Stan Lee problem solver, I'm glad I did. I may have to apply that in a team meeting some day.
Speaking of Matt Welch... Hey, Welch. May 1 has come and gone. When are you gonna put a new banner on your main page?
There oughta be a word Jim Treacher's Bloglossary defines "Instalanche" as "a sudden influx of thousands of hits that threatens to crush your server, brought on by a link from Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.com". Well, what about second hand traffic from the Prof? Reynolds linked to Alex Rubalcava when he first wrote about Alex Michel and the email which we now know to be a hoax. Rubalcava in turn linked to me when I stated my objections. I've gotten about a hundred hits from that today. Not much of an Instalanche, but it's contributed to my biggest day since Matt Welch cited one of my posts.

So my question is: What should be the word for Instalanche sloppy seconds? Any suggestions?

And just in case I'm worried that the traffic wave is over, I'm now in the top 10 of at least three different Google searches for variations on "Alex Michel". The hits just keep on coming.
Rats! I'm posting this CNN story because I want to see how many Google hits I can get for saying "remote controlled rats".
Quality is Job 1, Aussie style I mean that as a compliment. From a news item forwarded to my inbox:

Perth prostitutes were reeling from exhaustion following an influx of United States sailors stressed from a stint in a war zone, a well-known madam said today.

Mary-Anne Kenworthy said she was forced to close the doors of her famous Langtrees brothel for only the third time ever yesterday because her prostitutes were so worn out they could no longer provide a quality service.

When she realised the sex workers just couldn't cope any more she closed Langtrees doors for a day rather than risk the brothel's reputation.

"We're the biggest and the best, I'd rather take nothing than offer a poor service," Ms Kenworthy said.

Who says people don't take pride in their work these days?
That Saudi ad campaign Virginia Postrel, who has a snappy new self portrait up (note to Max Power: Your demand has been met), points to this Happy Fun Pundit post which lauds the cable networks for turning down the Saudi advertising money. While I appreciate anyone who can work "ululate" into his writing, I must respectfully disagree with this sentiment. I think this misguided effort on the Saudis' part would backfire on them. I think that Americans would recognize the lies and that there would be a backlash that would greatly embarrass the House of Saud. Turning them down lets them paint themselves as aggreived victims: Those oppressive American broadcasters, too afraid to let the people hear the truth about Our Friends the Saudis, blah blah blah.

Well, hey, as Penn Jillette says, the cure for bad speech isn't no speech, it's more speech. I say bring it on. Let's get all of America talking about Saudi Arabia. Let's talk about those 15 of Saudi's finest who pioneered new aviation techniques on September 11. Let's talk about their love of poetry. Let's talk about their fundraising efforts on behalf of the families of suicide bombers. The cable networks who refused the Saudis' money have done them a favor by not forcing all of us to think and talk about these and many similar charming little quirks of the Saudi personality. And, as Virginia rightly notes, they can take that $10 million which was earmarked for our economy and spend it instead on things like more Wahabi schools. I'm not seeing the upside here.

The beauty of America is that as a free and open society, we can directly counter this kind of propaganda. We don't need to be shielded from it. I'm sorry that we won't get the chance to demonstrate that to these warm, close friends of ours.
Picky, picky Gary Farber is amused by a Concerned Citizen who writes to tell him that Whitehouse.org isn't the real Whitehouse. Gary, perhaps you should have gently replied to this reader that of course you know that Whitehouse.com is the real thing.

(Obligatory joke-ruining warning: Whitehouse.com is a pr0n site. Don't go there if you're at work or near kiddies.)

And as long as we're critiquing satire, I feel compelled to point out this error from the latest bit you've cited:

Laura and I were honored that the Prince came to our humble Texas home. Over the years, the Saudi royal family has played gracious host to the Bush family on dozens and dozens of occasions while we negotiated private and fabulously lucrative oil deals, so it really was a pleasure to finally return the hospitality. Of course, I was sad to be unable to entertain the Prince with the wonderful after-dinner beheadings I know he and King Fahd enjoy so much, but I did assure him that on his next visit, we would go down to the prison and electrocute a mongoloid or two. He seemed to like that.

Silly rabbit. We use lethal injection here in Texas. Not only is it more effective, it's environmentally friendly!
It's a hoax! Matthew Yglesias points to the scoop on the Alex Michel email. The New York Post's Page six got a confession from Jonathan Locker, one of the two conspirators:

When we reached Locker yesterday, he confessed to making up the exchange.

"It was a complete hoax," Locker said, "and I feel really bad about it." Sahrbeck has e-mailed Michel an apology.

Glenn Kinen and Alex Rubalcava, who blogged it first, also point to this story.

I'm not surprised. I was doing a bit of detective work on this myself, but I can see that the route I was taking might have led me to an incorrect answer. When Rubalcava mailed me the full email chain, I took note of the domain from which Michel's email supposedly originated. When I visited that site, I discovered that it allows guest signups. I figured that Sahrbeck and Locker probably created an address for Michel via the guest singup. This would have enabled them to write those messages from Michel themselves. What's clever about that is even if a noseybody such as I had gotten my hands on the originals, their headers would have looked perfectly normal.

So, my investigative idea was to contact the site administrators to see if that address was a guest address and if so, when it was created. From the Post article, it's clear that the address was real. I haven't heard back from the admins yet (I'm going to send a followup note and withdraw my request - no need to make them do unnecessary work), but if I had they'd have told me that the account was bona fide. Another beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

Turns out the hoaxers weren't that clever. They simply made up the replies from Michel and started the forwarding chain, so header analysis would likely have caught them if the Old Media hadn't sweated a confession out of them first. Well, good on you, Page Six. I've seen enough of these hoaxes in my capacity as tech support and email admin that I'm happy to see an offender get caught. They were looking for publicity, and they got it. Enjoy the fallout, fellas.
Um, I think you're missing the point here... Today's Wacky Google Search From The Referral Log: "Debbie Does Dallas Real Audio". I think we may have found an untapped market.

5/01/2002

The Bachelor Strikes Back Alex Rubalcava responds to my objections regarding the provocative email purportedly from Alex Michel of the ABC reality show The Bachelor. He also forwarded me the email he himself had received.

I still can't say for sure that the mail wasn't faked. I'd have to see the original mail from either Sahrbeck or Locker, and even then they could have set up a fake address to send the mail to. Still, the mail Rubalcava forwarded me differed from most multiply-forwarded email hoaxes in that it was a complete chain back to the originator. Often, the contents have been cut and pasted into some other message, then forwarded around. Rubalcava says Sahrbeck and Locker's contact info checks out, which is another point generally in its favor. Usually, the original hoaxer is unknown and untraceable. Of course, some people do it for the publicity. We'll get a better feel for that when and if this hits the Old Media's radar screen.

So, while I still have my reservations, I admit that there is a decent case to be made for authenticity. If I can find a little spare time, I may get out my houndstooth cap and do a little digging myself. Stay tuned.
Scandal or hoax? Matthew Yglesias and Glenn Kinen both point to this report by Alex Rubalcava about Alex Michel, the focal point of ABC's reality show The Bachelor. Rubalcava prints a series of "unconfirmed emails" in which Michel claims that he was pressured by ABC to pick underdog Amanda over Trista.

The emails started with a note from a member of the Harvard group Fly to Michel, a Harvard alum who was also in Fly. The current Fly member sent Michel's reply to friends of his but failed to remove Michel's address, so one of those people sent this note to Michel:

From: Locker, Jonathan
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 8:39 AM
To: 'alex.michel@REMOVED
Subject: The Bachelor

Alex, Jeffrey Sahrbeck was giving out your email address so I figured I would shoot you an email telling you how disappointed I was with your decision. Do you like fat girls or something? Amanda is nasty-- she is packing extra lbs all over the place. Trista is smoking hot AND she is a Heat dancer. Anyway, I lost a lot of faith in both you and the ABC network.
Regards, Jon

Michel replied as follows:

From: Michel Alex
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 12:42 PM
To: Locker, Jonathan
Subject: RE: The Bachelor

Jon,

Please do not email me anymore and tell Jeff that if I ever meet him, I will kick his ass for giving my address to all of his high school friends. Anyway, there is no doubt that Amanda is much fatter than Trista, but the producers made me pick the underdog. Don't worry, I bagged Trista.

Alex

I don't buy this for three reasons:

  1. It's ridiculously easy to forge email. The other two emails Rubalcava provides show the same time and date as these two - the first mail to Alex has the same time and date as the second, and the first reply from Alex has the same time and date as the second. Rubalcava offers no explanation for that, saying that's how they appeared in the mail as it was forwarded to him.

    I'm not worried about the synchronicity here as I am about the possibility that Rubalcava or the person who sent him these notes is faking the whole thing. I know a thing or two about SMTP mail protocols and email headers, and I know people who know a whole lot more about them than I do. Until I can see the full headers and show them to some pros I trust, I will remain skeptical about this. It's just too easy to be a joker.

    For reference on how to read email headers and determine what is real and what may be forged, see the following links:
    Pobox: How to Read Email Headers
    Pobox: Examples of Forged Headers
    StopSpam: Reading Email Headers
    Email Protocols: SMTP, MIME, POP & IMAP


  2. If Alex Michel is pissed enough to kick Jeff's ass for passing his email address on to people Alex doesn't know without his permission to do so, then why in the world is Alex insulting his bride-to-be and bragging that he "bagged" Trista to this total stranger? Is he that stupid and/or indiscreet? You'd think the networks might have learned something about background checks after the whole Rick Rockwell/Darva Conger thing. If it turns out this is genuine, I'd say that Alex's marriage to Amanda will make the Rockwell/Conger union look like Ward and June Cleaver.


  3. Any man who thinks that a 5'10" woman who weighs 130 pounds is "fat" is not living on Planet Earth.


That last one isn't really a valid objection to the possibility that all this is the truth, but it needed to be said anyway.

I don't mean to be harsh to Alex Rubalcava, who may have stumbled on a nifty little scandal here. I just don't believe this is anywhere near sufficient proof. Really, the people who have to come forward with the proof are Jeff Sahrbeck and Jonathan Locker. Forwarding Alex Michel's replies erases their original headers as far as the new recipient is concerned. Only those two, who purportedly have the originals, can prove that they're the real thing.

By the way, it may sound like an insulting question, but do we know for sure that "Jeffrey Sahrbeck, Harvard Fly 1999" is a real person? Don't scoff, many legends from multiply-forwarded emails have fallen because no evidence that the principals involved exist could be found. Go take a look through the Urban Legends Reference Page for plenty of examples.

For what it's worth, InstaPundit seems to accept Rubalcava's claim without question. Max Power doesn't. War Liberal is undecided but skeptical. Protein Wisdom is undecided but not as skeptical. I had no idea I was this far behind the commentary curve. The curse of a day job, I guess.
We attack, you decide Rob at Get Donkey! points me to this article by Kristin Tillotson, who had the unfortunate experience of appearing on The O'Reilly Factor as the designated punching bag. Tillotson wrote a column defending the controversial book Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine and the University of Minnesota's decision to publish it. Her experience was not very pleasant:

Kristine Kotta, O'Reilly's producer, sees my column online and calls to ask if I will represent the pro side, as no one from the University of Minnesota has consented to do so, with the con position to be filled by Minnesota House majority leader Tim Pawlenty (R-Eagan), who has spoken out against the book. I'm apprehensive, knowing what a pit bull O'Reilly can be with anyone to his left, but decide to go for it.

[...]

IN THE HOT SEAT: I knew the deck was stacked heavily against me going in, with Pawlenty on my right and O'Reilly in my face (figuratively, that is; all I could see during the taping was a camera lens). I knew of the risk that no matter what I was able to say, some viewers would think I was pro-pedophilia. What I didn't know was that they would seat Pawlenty and me so close together we were practically in each other's laps, or how difficult it would be to get a word in edgewise without seeming as rude as O'Reilly, who gave Pawlenty -- with whom he was in complete agreement -- the first and last word.

At one point, O'Reilly said it wasn't necessary to read the whole book, that you don't have to read all of "Mein Kampf" to get its gist, either. The only response I was allowed was nonverbal, so I rolled my eyes. What I wish I could have said was, "Not only is that analogy absurd, you stole it [from Judith Reisner, a Dr. Laura crony]."

O'Reilly is fond of saying "the spin stops here."

Not exactly: During this segment, O'Reilly twice hammered me with a passage from Levine's book that said, "We relish our erotic attraction to children." Two problems: a) Levine didn't write those words; she was citing another author, and b) if you read the entire paragraph, you get a much different meaning: " 'We relish our erotic attraction to children,' says Kincaid (witness the child beauty pageants in which JonBenet Ramsey was entered). But we also find that attraction abhorrent (witness the public shock and disgust at JonBenet's 'sexualization' in those pageants)."

Tillotson also got the type of feedback one would expect from a shock-radio audience - email calling her "pathetic", "scumbag", and "Commie pinko".

I've never watched The O'Reilly Factor, so I can't say if this was typical or an aberration. What I've read of Bill O'Reilly makes me think he's just another egotistical windbag, but that doesn't mean his show has no value. I do wonder sometimes if anyone's ever thought of putting on a political/social issues show that's actually about discussing issues in a rational manner. It'd probably get McLaughlined and O'Reillyed to death in the ratings - or worse, consigned to 7 AM on Sundays - but I'd still like to see it. Who knows, maybe we'd learn something.

(OK, I've probably just described Meet the Press, but I fear I'm really talking about The Firing Line, which went the way of the dinosaur three years ago. If the time for such shows really has passed, we're all the poorer for it.)

On a side note, Tillotson is a coworker of James Lileks. Perhaps he'll notice the headline of this article and inform the appropriate people that the term InstaPundit has already been taken.
Speaking of negative publicity Chronicle readers give a thumbs-down to Linda Lay's upscale resale shop idea. Two of them also criticize Houston's Leading Information Source for giving Linda Lay free publicity on Page 1. It's gonna be a fun summer, I can just tell.
Thus endeth the boycott You may have heard of Texas Automotive Export, an auto parts shop in Dripping Springs that sent a fax to an Israeli customer saying they will not do business with Israeli citizens and suggesting that they "restrain their military" and "stop your oppression of the Palestinian people". Diane at Letter from Gotham recently suggested that all New Yorkers boycott Dripping Springs in return. Well, fear not, Diane, the boycott is over, as negative publicity and the threat of a lawsuit has caused TAE's owner John Harris to retract his words. That global village thing can be a two-edged sword, John. Better luck next time.

4/30/2002

Is it just me, or has Blogger been slower than usual lately? There was such a lag yesterday on my dialup account between hitting the Post & Publish button and the publish occurring that I reposted the same thing a couple of times before I realized it was just taking its time.

Cable modem gets installed Friday. Once I have that and the new web space set up, it's off to Moveable Type I go. I'll always be grateful to Blogger and Blogspot for getting me started, but all good things and all that. Hey, my folks outgrew AOL, so I can outgrow Blogger. Stay tuned.
Cancer risk overblown, film at 11 So apparently that Swedish study which claimed that many starchy foods, including things like bread, contain carcinogens was maybe a tad bit overstated. Perhaps the fact that the scientists announced their findings at a press conference before publishing them in a peer-reviewed journal might have been a tip-off as well.

The whole thing reminds me of a George Carlin joke: "Scientists have determined that saliva causes stomach cancer, but only when ingested in small quantities over a long period of time."
You're not alone, dude Justin thinks he and The Rapmaster may be the only bloggers watching the NBA playoffs. Not so - I've caught several games so far. It's been pretty entertaining, too. I'm already sorry to see the Dallas/Minnesota series end. And as a disgruntled Rockets fan, I'd take great joy in seeing Scottie Pippen help cough up Game 3 to the Lakers if it weren't for the fact that I hate the Lakers. Sacramento, San Antonio, Dallas - I'm counting on you to end our long national nightmare here. Don't let me down.
Linda Lay update Linda Lay, the former First Lady of Enron, is set to open an "upscale secondhand shop" in Montrose in order to help friends and family with cash flow problems. I used to live about four blocks from the location given in the story. I may have to poke my head in and see for myself what kind of booty Mrs. Lay is letting go of.
The young and the foolish Remember The Anarchist Cookbook? It was a straight-from-the-counterculture guide to making bombs, getting high, and generally giving the finger to The Man. I'm willing to bet most people reading this knew someone in high school who had a copy and carried it around, just in case.

Turns out that William Powell, the author of the Cookbook, has changed his mind about it and would like to see it removed from publication. Unfortunately for him, the publisher owns the copyright and has no desire to stop printing it. Take a look at William Powell's author comments on Amazon for the details. Found via The Straight Dope.

4/29/2002

All politics is local Joshua Trevino shares an interesting email from a former coworker who is now on the Ron Kirk campaign. It's the 29 APRIL 2002 5 entry, but I'll quote him here since he doesn't have permalinks:

Who knows how accurate this is, but it's worth sharing a bit from an e-mail of a friend who's working on Ron Kirk's Democratic Senate campaign in Texas:

The Senate campaign that I am working on is going really well. We handily won our Primary Election on April 9th and now we are in the marathon heading to November. The cool thing is that this race has attracted national attention, so it should be a very exciting campaign season for us. We are doing so well, in fact, that the Republicans have actually come up with an excuse to send Bush's counselor Karen Hughes back to Texas to deal with us. Honestly, I am a little scared of her...

Just figured I'd feed the rumor mill.

Now there's a conspiracy theory about Karen Hughes' resignation that makes some sense.

If Kirk is getting national attention, it's in part because he's actually sought it out. His companions on the "Democrat Dream Team" ticket are doing their best to avoid the national party as Clay Robison wrote in the Chron on Sunday. I can't say I'm surprised, and I can't say it's bad strategy for John Sharp and Tony Sanchez, but it's disheartening for me nonetheless.

Kirk has little to lose by aiming for a larger spotlight. His opponent, John Cornyn, is playing the Dubya card for all its worth. Bush will undoubtedly lend a hand to Governor Goodhair and David Dewhurst, but it's the Senate election that will matter to him and his agenda in the fall.
Searching for meaning after a tragedy Mike points me to this article by Robert X. Cringely, who lost his infant son to SIDS last week, and what he hopes to do about it.

There ought to be a monitor, I thought, that could tell when a SIDS attack was about to begin. In the neonatal intensive care unit, where Chase spent his first few days, there are lots of monitors and they go off when they detect apnea -- a cessation of breathing lasting for 20 seconds or more. Chase had a problem with apnea. Twice he turned blue right in my arms, simply forgetting to breathe. The treatment for apnea is literally shaking a leg, reminding the kid to take a breath. The cure for apnea comes with age, and can be helped by treating with caffeine. A double latte for my baby, please.

But to the medical establishment, apnea isn't SIDS. If apnea is falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the road, SIDS is falling asleep at the wheel and driving into a bridge abutment. The doctors tell me leg shaking won't end a SIDS attack and monitoring won't detect one.

Still, as a grieving nerd, I feel the need to do something. And I am not at all convinced that epidemiologists are to be trusted in this. After all, they are medical statisticians and mainly play the odds. I want to defy the odds. If current monitors won't work, I want to make ones that do.

So here is what I propose. It is my plan to devote much of my resources and a good portion of the rest of my life to combating SIDS. I can't cure it, but I think I can help babies to evade it. The trick is to first develop a very cheap, very accurate, recording medical sensor.

I wish him well, and I hope I'll never have that kind of incentive to do something.
Give me a moment to stop hyperventilating, then I'll be right with you When your wife calls you on the phone and the first words out of her mouth are "The good news is that I won't be going to Algeria in May", it's not really clear if you want to hear what comes next. Fortunately, there was no "And the bad news is..." forthcoming. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop down to the nurse's office for a Valium.
That's moral clarity, Mr. President Great op-ed in the WSJ by John McCain, courtesy of Kyle Still.

It is the unenlightened rule of Arab dictators, not the plight of the Palestinians, that condemns the Arab world to the civilizational crisis in which it finds itself. Which Middle Eastern nation grants its Arab citizens the most political freedom? Israel. Which countries' leaders have the blood of innocents on their hands but hear nothing about it from the Arab League? Iraq, Syria, and Sudan, for starters. Which country has the most egregious record of occupying another today? Syria, in Lebanon. In which countries do Palestinian refugees suffer without rights and the most basic freedoms? Other than Israel, only Jordan has treated these people with any dignity. Which nation in the region has matched its payments to the families of Palestinian murderers with money for health care, education, and other development in the territories? Not one.

How Arab leaders can abide their own hypocrisy is one question. Why they expect us to do so is a better one.

Arab leaders recoil in mock indignation from any suggestion that they have a responsibility to discourage Palestinian treachery. Instead, they demand that the United States pressure the government of Israel into forsaking its obligation to defend its citizens from terrorism that Arab governments celebrate and support.

I'm also distressed that some of our European allies are dismissing Israel's legitimate security concerns. In some quarters, Jews are once again threatened with attacks on their institutions. We are witnessing once again the torching of European synagogues. All world leaders must condemn, in the strongest terms, such despicable behavior.

It would be awfully nice to hear some of these self-evident truths be spoken aloud by our Commander in Chief. I recognize the need for realpolitik, but at some point you need to check your compass and make sure you're still heading in the right general direction.

I've become convinced that Bush's hopeless muddling of the Middle East situation is the best argument for a McCain-as-Democrat Presidential run in 2004. I have no idea if McCain sees it this way, but there's a lot of room to criticize Bush here, and I believe he'd draw a fair amount of Republican support (among voters, anyway) for doing so. McCain's military credentials would deflect any suggestion that he's somehow unfit (or worse, unpatriotic) to criticize the president on this issue. (John Kerry would presumably have this protection as well, but West Wing fantasies aside, I don't see any Northeastern liberals in the White House in the near future.) Of course, the general diminutiveness of the Democratic class right now makes blue-skying about McCain that much more seductive.

It surprises me that Bush has stumbled here. I grant that the Middle East is a tar baby of gigantic proportions. I grant that no one's hands are clean. I grant that we're forced to do business with some unsavory characters, and that it's neither wise nor desireable to risk the kind of Islam vs. the West war that Osama bin Laden was hoping to spark in the first place. But really, if there was one person you thought you could count on to see things in stark black-and-white, good-versus-evil terms, it was GW Bush. Somewhere along the line he forgot what he said in the days following September 11, and it shows.

What I want these days is simple enough. I want our President to remind the world, every day if necessary, what being a good guy in this fight is all about. I want him to remind us all that peace doesn't simply mean one side promising not to kill the other. I want him to stand firm for liberty and freedom. I didn't vote for him, and I have little faith in him, but even I think he's more than capable of this. Was I wrong?

The crazy thing is that if Bush had stood up more forcefully for Israel against the Saudi bloodsuckers and European anti-Semites, he'd have then had the moral authority to whack Ariel Sharon on the head with a cluestick and tell him that he wasn't making this any better or easier. Sometimes when everyone in a conflict is mad at the mediator, it means the mediator is doing a good job. Bush has clearly demonstrated that this is not always the case.

4/28/2002

Eurocentrism Patrick crystallizes something that I've been thinking about for awhile now, about the relative level of understanding of the world and how it works among Americans and Europeans. I came of age in the 80s. If you were a college student in the 80s and you were politically aware but not already a Young Republican, you probably didn't think much of Ronald Reagan. He was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he had a fairly simplistic view of the world, he said stupid thing about ketchup and trees, and he was surrounded by scary people like James Watt and Ed Meese. It was easy to base a political philosophy on denigrating Reagan.

The problem was that in this environment you would often find yourself around folks who believed this sort of thing a lot more fervently than you did. They didn't merely dislike Reagan and distrust his worldview, they took it to the next level and condemned American society and politics, both for ever electing Reagan in the first place and for being the kind of place that would ever elect a Reagan. If you hung around these people long enough, you spent a fair amount of time feeling vaguely guilty about being born American, and if you didn't go along with their wholesale condemnations and diatribes, you were somehow as backward and unsophisticated as Ronald Reagan and his supporters.

Not too surprisingly, these folks tended to be Europhiles. Many of them talked about moving to Europe or at least spending a lot of time there. If only America could be as enlightened as Europe, then maybe they'd find a reason to stay. I sometimes wonder what became of people like this. Did they become Jerry Rubin, or did they remain Abbie Hoffman?

I think recent events have shown pretty clearly that though we may have another simplistic boob who surrounds himself with scary people in the White House, we have no reason to feel inferior to Europe. I think Americans understand Europe better than Europeans think we do, and I think we understand Europe better than some of them understand us. In any event, I agree with Patrick. I've got enough things to feel guilty about.