Fraysters scrutinize a missile defense "anomaly."

Fraysters scrutinize a missile defense "anomaly."

Fraysters scrutinize a missile defense "anomaly."

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Dec. 20 2004 2:36 AM

Projectile Dysfunction

Fraysters scrutinize a missile defense "anomaly."

Fred Kaplan's latest account of what went wrong with missile defense during a recent Pentagon test caused lots of eye-rolling, with most fraysters practically accepting as a given the overtly political (rather than military) reasons for the program's ongoing existence.

Drawing an interesting analogy to the French and their Maginot line during World War II, wewhite concludes that the success or failure of the program is less important than the complacency and "sloppy thinking" it encourages. Despite his disillusionment with the program, HawkEye defends the concept of missile defense as rooted in historical precedent: "The British started it in World War II (along with the Bomb Squad). Germany was firing V1 Rockets at the time.... the Buzz Bombs. The RAF was tasked with shooting or knocking them down along with Antiaircraft Artillery." 

Arlington2 ends his list of alternative doomsday scenarios not addressed by missile defense with a generous offer:

Well, the SDI system works as it was intended to work.

That is, it provides defense contractors with a two or three decade development and deployment phase to set up a system that will defend against Soviet ICBMs. Or Chinese ICBMs. Or ICBMs from any country loony enough to launch one from its own soil. As long as that soil is far enough away to require a high trajectory and at least 20 minutes or so of flight time required to detect, verify and lock on to the target.

It won't defend against a cheap, makeshift, short range missile launched from a cargo ship sitting 50 miles off New York. Or Florida. Or California. Or... Well, you get the point. We have so many populated areas sitting on so many miles of coastline that an adversary could choose one of the less obvious targets, such as Charleston or Boca Raton, and still kill tens of thousands.

That's how terrorism works, by the way. Don't try to kill everyone. Just kill as many as it takes to send the nation into a spasm of panic and fear. Judging by our response to the 9/11 attacks, it doesn't take much.

Want to run down some of the other things against which SDI is useless? A dirty bomb. A suitcase bomb. A cargo container bomb. A FedEx bomb. Anthrax. (Remember Anthrax? The administration doesn't, judging by the progress of the investigation into the anthrax attacks.) Poisoning water supplies. Stinger missiles. Suicide truck bombers like Tim McVeigh. The list goes on.

Yep. Eighty billion would be better spent reinforcing security in areas where an attack is more likely. That is, if you actually believe the tab for this foolishness will only be $80 billion. If you do, I have a nice 1974 Pinto I would let go for only 20 grand.

Seconded by etjw here, Mackinactroll agrees that it is essentially a big boondoggle for military contractors. Alaska resident norockets writes in to protest the federal largesse of which her own state has been the recipient as a result of missile defense-related appropriations.

According to sorokahdeen, missile defense has ossified into conservative dogma beyond any rational assessment of its viability:

It's been an inexplicable conservative obsession for twenty years and with the economics of joy presiding in the White House and both Houses, no expense and no number of technical setbacks will work to dissuade them. Why should anyone even imagine it was when as recently as 2001, within a week of the 9/11 attacks, some conservative in an expensive suit stood up on his hind legs before the camera and announced that Islamic suicide hijackers with box-cutters, were proof positive of the need for a ballistic missile defense.

The stakes are high and the sense is thin. Missile defense that wouldn't work against an insane, massive Russian missile strike, could, just possibly, conceivably work in twenty years against a suicidally foolish attack by a Kim Jong-Il, or an Ayatollah with two nuclear-tipped, copies of Chinese cruise missiles and a demon-driven need to actually fire them--after granting us a week's notice ahead of time--instead of, say, sending just the warheads to the U.S. in a shipping container.

Missile defense is not a rational policy, it is a religious rite; an indestructible bugaboo given life, in part, by having a succession of governments made of people who have spent too much time praying and too-little in the contemplation of mathematics and engineering. The kind of people who, like Reagan, could be told that engineers could make possible the equivalent of an Apollo mission hundreds or thousands of times, in an emergency using equipment and systems that were untested, pretty much by definition. If, like Reagan, you could ever once start believing in something like that, you were probably not going to stop--and neither would your ideological descendants.

Missile defense isn't going to go away and it isn't going to die.

if it can be understood at all, it can only be seen in the context of something which obsession has given value that transcends any practical real cost. When you think of missile defense, you have to think in terms of the Children's Crusade, or of the Roman Senator who inserted into every speech the words 'Carthage must be destroyed'--it involves the inversion of reason and logic: a situation where all the setbacks and the horrid costs only mean you have to try harder and spend more.

bluescribbler sums up the same sentiment with the more succinct expression "Faith Based Missile Defense."

In light of my final day as guest FrayEditor05 (at least for now), I wish to give special thanks to:

all the residents of moneybox, on whom I could faithfully depend many a late night for mention-worthy Fraywatch material;

MaryAnn for her stewardship of the Poems fray;

modicum, to which I would like to award a star, with Kevin's blessing, for his consistently insightful and thoughtful posts;

run75441 for his keen eye and recommendations;

Tempo-the-Exile for being a self-appointed safety monitor and Fray vigilante;

biteoftheweek for acting graciously;

EnsleyHill for throwing me a farewell party in BOTF.

That cascading thread actually kinda looks like a big party streamer. AC11:24pm

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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2004

An unusually wonkish topic — Social Security reform — was all the rage this week, with Fraysters subliminally connecting the dots between Timothy Noah's article on the Bush administration's deficit evasion and Henry Blodget's enumeration of investor foibles.

Some long-term thinkers prove that it's not just a concern for the geriatric crowd. Thirtysomething Keifus is already worrying about the looming crisis for his generation when the expected shortfall hits in 40 years.

run75441 has lots to say in general and more specifically about the Congressional Budgeting Office arithmetic, offering a detailed analysis here. Elsewhere, he offers Social Security factoids based on the recent Paul Krugman article in The New York Times. In a third post, run75441 gives a helpful historical primer:

In 1935, after the Great Depression had wiped out the savings of millions of Americans. As a whole the nation faced having millions of it's elderly living in poverty with no place to turn. Over ½ of America's elderly had no means to support themselves after retirement. Franklin D. Roosevelt through Congress put together The Social Security Act creating a social insurance program ensuring that workers would have a source of income when they retire. Even today barely half of the work force has retirement plans. Social Security provides a secure basic income for as long as the retirees live. Two of three beneficiaries receive ½ of their income from Social Security. For 1 out of every 5 seniors, it is their sole source of income.

and a list of recommended reforms:

.  Aliens work in the US for 10 years and go back to their countries to collect it at 62 or 66. Change the limit to 20 years or change what can be received after 10 years.

· The age limit can be accelerated to 67 or even higher; but keep in mind, the average age of a black man is 67 and you may disenfranchise a large percentage of them.

· Change from a Wage Index for increases to a CPI Index even though it will not keep pace with the costs to live.

· Raise the limit from $87,500 to $200,000 and the rate paid in at the 35% bracket. Graduated percentages can be considered at a lower level also.

· Consider taking today's SS and Medicare surplus and investing it in equities that pay at 4% rather than Treasury Securities to push out the year when we need the "loaned" money back from General Funds. It is about time we realize the "real" deficit.

· Increase the rate for individual and company by ~ 9/10ths of 1%. This will take care of benefits in 2042 but the funds loaned to General Funds will still have to be repaid.

· The economic growth Rate used to calculate these years was ~2%. It has been higher.

· Put all state and government workers under Social Security.

· Place a limit on what Senators and Representatives can receive in Retirement Benefits.

Similarly, PhxJustice thinks some common sense measures could be just the thing.

modicum proposes an exhaustive toolkit for SS reform, with this perspective on the economic and philosophical purpose of the program:

Looking at the core concept of Social Security, it is really two programs in one. One, an entitlement for those unable to fend for themselves. We settled whether we believe in this with the New Deal and Great Society; clearly, we do not wish to return to the days of the elderly starving or begging for subsistence or, more contemporaneously, being entirely dependent for their well-being on their children. Two, either a retirement plan or a component of one for those who could have afforded to fund a different form of plan if given the option … to what extent are we willing to divide the program into a retirement plan for those who can afford to save toward retirement and who maintain good health and good luck throughout, vs. an entitlement for those who are incapable or unlucky?

bang3x takes aim at the rhetoric of privatization:

Bush wants it "privatize[d]." The mantra "selective investment" is just bait. "Privatization" means companies with close ties to the power-that-be, after the likes of Halliburton, Carlyle Group, Enron or AARP are to be the company of choice, without bidding, to be the manager of such tremendous amount of money. And since it is a private company, don't expect that the FDIC would guarantee your money put into it." Meaning, your money is at the mercy of these investment companies and their very highly paid CEOs. "Privatization" of SS like that of energy and gas puts you at the mercy of profiteers and price manipulators. Indeed, "privatization" is very highly profitable for the already rich, and very questionable for the small investors.

As Krugman points out in the aforementioned article, The Cato Institute recently dropped the term "privatization" from its literature on Social Security reform and has substituted "choice." Their proposals are outlined here.

Finally, MisterWrite gleefully sees landmines for President Bush in taking on America's graying population. AC12:07am

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Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004

Surfergirl, Medical Examiner, and Jurisprudence all struck a strange synergy this week in their simultaneous focus on the obsolescence and mild absurdity of intellectual property law in the United States. Dana Stevens talks TiVo and trademarks; Amanda Schaffer wants medical research underwritten by public funds to be … public; Rod Smolla downloads his thoughts about Napster and copyrights here.

Grammar geeks will appreciate quijano's criticism of the " noun/verb" distinction used to determine trademark dilution:

Unfortunately for International Trademark Association lawyers, their "adjective only" rules conflict with, well, the English language. Everyone is aware of the propensity of words to slip into and out of different roles, different parts of speech (as Watterson memorably put it, "Verbing weirds language"). But this isn't just a symptom of poor education or reliance on jargon; instead, it's part of how isolating languages (like English) work. Google "zero derivation" to learn more.

On the issue of trademark dilution, the holders obviously have the right to protect their interests. But their insistence on defining how these trademarks are used grammatically is ignorant and their goal impossible. It is akin to attempting to enforce other arbitrary, non-English based grammatical rules ("don't split infinitives," "don't end a sentence with a preposition") with the force of law.

destor23 responds with this anecdote:

Of course, they can't enforce it, they just send out stupid letters to publications. I was once sent a letter, based on a piece I'd written, that claimed people can't "go rollerblading" but rather, "go inline skating on rollerblade brand inline skates." Letter gets crumpled up and tossed. Seriously, what are they gonna do about it?

taigaintucson sends out a classifieds query for the job of trademark violation enforcer here, while Schadenfreude, in a rare display of emotion, confesses her jealousy of surfergirl's journalism gig. 

In a free-wheeling treatise inspired by the Napster debate, Drathan waxes philosophical about the nature of information in the age of the Internet:

Information is a very interesting form of energy. Unlike electrical, kinetic, or nuclear energy, [it] grows when shared and dies when locked. ...

This neatly explains Napster, Grokster, etc. The Information Energy seeks low-resistance, wide-distribution conductors. ...

China can raise a firewall, but it cant block blogs. It will learn to block blogs, but then something else will get through. The Court may ban Grokster, then something else will pop-up. Its the nature of information. It cant be held captive. ...

If I was the movie industry, I would not fight the change, I would embrace it and squeeze juice out of the new paradigm. ...

"But how do you embrace a bunch of pirates ripping off my work?" the media asks? And its a darn good question. Specially if we rephrase it: "How do I embrace MILLIONS of people interested in my work?"

and offers a subsequent elaboration of his main points:

Society has built many props around the nature of information (like the copyright laws, the print, the FCC (!!?)), but only the props that help information achieve its core mission (to spread) will succeed. The net has changed several paradigms and because of it, some props (once again, copyright included), no longer serve their core mission, but the opposite. Natural, evolutionary forces will force these props to adapt or die. (These "evolutionary forces" may take the form of a court desicion, or may take the form of a new grokster, or market forces, or a movie studio that releases a whole movie to the net for free, etc).

Suggesting that legal definitions of ownership are essentially arbitrary, Thrasymachus zeroes in on Smolla's analogy to airspace law:

If the courts and legislature had decided to uphold the airspace rights of landowners along heavily trafficked routes, then those rights would have been worth millions upon millions of dollars, and a pilot's decision to fly over a line of individual plots from (say New York to Chicago) without paying for the rights would have been considered an egregious and inexcusable act of trespassing and theft, depriving those landowners of money that would have rightfully been theirs.

By the same token, copyright theft is only "theft" because the law makes it so. The "theft" of one's copyright is no more inherently harmful than the "theft" of one's airspace. It's not like a finger is chopped off, or like any physical thing in the universe is altered by the performance of the act. It's a question of rights, and who has them, under law.

By contrast, TheRanger considers airspace a lousy example for the point Smolla is attempting to make.

Denisov criticizes Smolla's argument for its ahistorical approach to technology:

Smolla points to a generation gap—that kids know that stealing a cd from the store is wrong, but are unable to recognize that copying an album is wrong. However, people of all ages have copied songs and albums, not simply of a particular generation. If we go back a generation, people copied songs off the radio rather than buy the single; people recorded tapes of the album for their friends. [This fact] goes against his thesis of there being simply the law, the technology being irrelevant…

Smolla's argument rests on two ideas: 1) the technology doesn't matter, whether it be P2P or server-to-peer, the crime matters. Either the courts and record companies have been inconsistent, or the technology does matter, because then anyone whoever taped a song off the radio could be sued, 2) any P2P program has an inherent possibility for misuse—"everyone knows" that, except, well, no, they don't know that.

and offers this prediction:

Having said that, the record industry will probably win this for the same reason so many tech-related lawsuits have been won for the wrong side—judges of this age group know absolutely nothing about the nuances of tech and tech related issues. File trading will be be branded illegal, and just like any other activity declared illegal, young people everywhere will immediately stop doing it.

On a related note, helios gets downright giddy about the transformative potential of open access databases. MutatisMutandis points out the negative effects of poor access to medical research on the pharmaceutical industry here.

science_chick agrees that Schaffer's heart is in the right place but quibbles with the specifics. mav62, a medical research consultant, registers these thoughtful objections to the crusade for free public access:

1) The usefulness of these articles for the general public is limited. These articles are not written for the lay person. They contain technical language and complex statistical concepts that frankly are beyond the uninitiated. While the articles are all peer-reviewed, there still can be significant drawbacks to the study design that a casual reader would fail to appreciate. Someone looking for information on the latest research on a medical condition would be much better off reading summaries of research by someone who could put it all in an appropriate context.

2) Almost all peer-reviewed articles are already available for free in abstract form online. Most journals now require complete abstracts with a purpose, methods, results, and conclusion section. Lay people can receive much of what they would need to know from an abstract.

3) Asking authors to pay for the privilege of being published could put a serious damper on manuscript submissions. Large research institutions would probably break even by saving on journal subscriptions. However, contrary to your article, a lot of medical research does not originate with large institutions, nor is it all funded with government grants. A lot of research is conducted by private-practice physicians at their own expense. Asking them to spend an additional $1,500 to publish their work may persuade many to forgo research altogether. That would be bad for everybody, because a lot of good innovative clinical research would never get done. It would be especially bad for me, because I would be out of a job.

And there is nothing more sobering than realizing how technology could eliminate your professional raison d'être. AC9:43 p.m.

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Friday, Dec. 10, 2004

Fred Kaplan's harsh Assessment of the intelligence-reform bill pending in Congress met with a mixture of apprehension, skepticism, and exasperation. Across the ideological spectrum there was little faith expressed in the government's latest pro forma effort to keep the country safe: the creation of yet another agency head.

First off, some facts. EdgeVertigo does us the favor of reading the fine print:

the bill raises the mandatory retirement age for FBI to 65 from 60. don't ask me what that has to do with intelligence.

the bill also creates the FBI and intelligence "reserve services". in "times of emergency", you can be "reemployed." back door operative/agent draft, anyone?

the bill increases the use of unmanned planes over the southwest to enforce immigration laws, and adds border patrol agents and investigators by the thousands. the bill criminalizes being a "coyote" through a "bringing in and harboring" provision. it is thus arguably a stealth hispanic illegal immigration bill.

the bill allows the bureau of engraving and printing to produce currency, postage stamps, and other "security documents" for other countries, if reimbursed for doing so. my theory is that this provision is intended to allow them to make the passports of the type we now require. we create a market and exploit it?...
 
the bill provides a sense of congress that we support the "future of pakistan" and while doing so extends waivers of certain anti-pakistan legislation regarding foreign assistance through 2006.

the bill offers a lot of blather about what american policy regarding afghanistan
should be, which is arguably a violation of the constitutional allocation of foreign policy powers.

the bill says in the sense of congress that saudi arabian cooperation is not what it should be, again, arguably not its business, and then, after wasting power discussing what's none of its business, offers no concrete recommendations. blah blah blah.

the bill whines about the long term results of american support for dictatorships. you can do yur own hypocrisy check on this one.

the bill most amusingly provides that the policy of the US
government should be to "increase training in multilateral diplomacy" and "negotiation." ditto provision for increased cooperation on terrorism. you can put your own punch line in there…

the bill encourages future legislation designed to streamline and speed the return of analog spectrum to the FCC. again, i don't have the foggiest what this is doing in the intell bill.

LannonMac expresses unease at the proposed consolidation of intelligence agencies:

The arrangement since WWII has been that the FBI, Federal Marshals, ATF, DEA and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are responsible for the lion's share of internal security, principally law enforcement, but also some counterintelligence, while the CIA, Military Intelligence, NSA and other dedicated foreign intelligence agencies were responsible for spying on other nations. In fact the CIA is specifically prohibited (with several exceptions, like internal CIA counterintelligence, etc.) from carrying out spy operations in the United States.

I know it makes sense to combine all of the intelligence agencies, it will be much more efficient, much more reliable and make it much more difficult for international terrorism to strike at America's heart, yet I still feel very uneasy about an all seeing, all knowing, all recording domestic intelligence agency spying on American citizens.

I have not had a chance to review the bill presently before Congress, but I hope that there are some very strong checks and balances included (though I doubt it), which will restrain and restrict the proposed intelligence agency's ability to spy on Americans.

wolfkiller disagrees, citing not consolidation but " duplication of effort" and bureaucratic overlap as the primary problem with the reforms.

Demosthenes bookends his frustration at the inadequacies of the Congressional bill with two pertinent quotations:

Politics: the art of keeping as many balls as possible up in the air at one time—while protecting your own.
Sam Attlesey


Haven't we had enough of the turfism? I'm sick to dearth of it. We listened to Secretary designate Rice explain that nobody could have foreseen 9-11 and that the memos that clearly outlined such a course of action were never elevated to a visible enough level to have an impact. So, apparently the solution is to leave it in the hands of those whose primary concern is the protection of their own prerogatives. Under this compromise bill the new Intelligence director will be about as effective as Tom Ridge
's color coded charts and duct tape warnings and about as ruefully remembered.

The point here is communication and accountability—that requires budget control and the ability to MAKE organizations do things they don't want to do, and more importantly consider things they don't want to consider—like memos titled "Bin Laden determined to attack within US" and paying attention to General's like Van Ripper who win war games with unconventional tactics (you might call them asymmetrical) against our battle plans and are then promptly ignored.

I like the idea of a Director that makes the Department of Defense consider its actions at a macro level and justify them in light of cross checks—I like it because Rumsfeld's record is, simply put, poor and doesn't justify the degree of faith the administration places in him. The Department of Defense needs to be tied in to all available intelligence sources, accountable for justifying its theories and those intelligence sources need to be expanded and less centered around the budgets and single note tracks that military branches tend to follow based upon their disciplines.

An overall Intelligence Director is a response to a spectacular intelligence failure that requires correction, a broader perspective and accountability. I want one neck to grab the next time they fail to protect us, and living in the city twice proven vulnerable to terrorism (and universally voted as 'most likely to be annihilated by terrorists with a dirty bomb'). I demand that sole source accountability and control be a part of that equation. It's obvious the buck isn't stopping with the President, or the secretary of Defense, and the dilution of this position further diffuses the responsibility to a degree that nobody is accountable or responsible for making sure that the next Mohammed Atta never gets off the ground.

This is, in the classic sense of the word. A 'whitewash'—a coat of white paint thinned with water to temporarily cover the dirt.

The 9-11 commission has reached uncomfortable conclusions. I'm not stating that the compromise bill is entirely bad—it implements some of the reforms and its better than nothing but the version prior to this compromise version was stronger and better in that the current budget restrictions hamstring the new director before he takes office. Centralization of intelligence authority has pros or cons, and that's a debate worth having, but this compromise that is neither fish nor fowl circumvents the real conversation we need to be having and the actions we need to be taking. There are many people out there who support this administration over security concerns—burying intelligence reforms and keeping us locked in the same structures that have resulted in past failures is not corrective action.

And the next time people are wondering 'how this could happen' or 'if it could have been prevented' remember this triumph of gutted intelligence reform—of the gut over intelligence—and remember whose prerogatives are being protected, how much budget control and the scope of their vision and interests and at what cost that comes.

The best protection for the people is not necessarily to believe everything people tell them
Demosthenes

NorinRadd thinks the supposed "science" of intelligence gathering is actually closer to abstract art:

I once heard someone say that you can take any abstract painting, name it the Crucification, hang it on a gallery wall, and viewer after viewer will tell you how it depicts the crucification, some even pointing out the figures, cross, etc.

Our intelligence system, intended to be grounded in logical conclusions drawn form imperfect factual sets of information, is too often not driven by a desire to know answers, but by a desire to support foregone decisions. It becomes an exercise in rationalization…

Moreover, when you are not listening to what is being said ("Bin Ladin Determined to Attack" for example), but instead projecting your own notions about what you expect to hear or want to hear, people get killed.

On a more humorous & snarky note, RealMassLibertarian finds the term "Bush Intelligence Bill" somewhat of an oxymoron. AC6:30 p.m.

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Thur sday, Dec. 9, 2004

Much as Susan Sontag derided the replacement of politics by psychotherapy in her post-September 11thNew Yorker essay, Chris Suellentrop's critique of MoveOn.org as a do-nothing "feel-good" group for liberals provoked an equally strong reaction on the Fray.

chaosboy takes an even harsher tack, describing MoveOn.org as representative of "liberal dems" who are "whiny, angry, unrealistic and incapable of being productive or either averse or foreign to success."

Rubicon1 issues this counteranalysis and challenge:

Mr. Suellentrop is claiming that moveon hasn't been effective, which is easy to do, as the Dems have taken an asswhipping lately. However, the red/blue split is fairly close and it may have been worse without liberal grassroots organizations like Moveon. With Moveon, Al Franken, Michael Moore and Air America, at least the left is finally waking up and getting in the game (Falwell recently said we should carpet bomb Iraq and the media didn't bat an eye). I don't hear anyone saying the GOP would get more moderate swing voters if they unloaded Rush and Falwell, but Dems are quick to blame Moore, and apparently now, Moveon. What is the purpose of the article? To discourage donations to Moveon? Mr. Seullentrop: I dare you to write a followup article with more effective alternatives to get liberal candidates elected (er, but that would be more difficult than just whining).

Expatriate_Z disputes the contention that MoveOn.org is lacking in concrete political victories with a list of the organization's accomplishments here.

Fingerpuppet also rises to MoveOn.org's defense:

It's easy to disdain liberal causes in general now after the recent electoral losses. But this is largely a function of our society being less concerned with right and wrong than with who wins and who loses. The way things are commonly perceived, victory determines merit, and might makes right…

Being politically active often seems like an ineffectual waste of time at first, until the tide starts to change. I give a lot of credit to those who go out to work for something they believe in when the chips are down, when they're scorned by society and their cause seems hopeless. But without them, probably, most of the meaningful progress in society would never be accomplished.

AdamMorgan likens MoveOn.org's function to a sort of liberal DNA that can be passed from one generation to the next:

One important function (from a biological perspective) of a society or a large group is to pass on traditions. Like genes, information in traditions helps the next generation adapt to one's environment more efficiently. So, although moveon.org has been largely unsuccessfully in their stated goals, I think it can be argued that what they're developing, or trying to develop, are a set of traditions by which liberals can, once again, successfully use to win elections…
 
So, perhaps, the struggle of moveon.org is the same struggle that Democrats have, to find a new set of traditions that Democratic politicians can successfully use to define who they are…

TheNewSnobbery thinks Suellentrop's measuring stick for MoveOn.org's victories is unfair, and compares the group to a "digital church":

Suellentrop gives a .org the booby prize for not stopping the impeachment that created the impetus for its own creation? The internet is many things, but (and I can't tell you how often I have to explain this) it is not magical and cannot travel back in time.

As for everything else on Suellentrop's naughty list—the Iraq war (blame the press, thanks), the impeachment of a supremely unpopular and incompetent California Dem, slavery, Pearl Harbor—I don't see how any fundraising group is supposed to do those things.

How is moveon any different than a digital church where like minded citizens get together to pass the plate around and bitch about how bad things have gotten. According to at least a hundred thousand essays I've read in the last 2 months, that strategy has worked pretty well for the Republicans. Their hysterical money raisers just seem effective because Bush won.

Which has to be the most facile argument you can make. The swiftboat vets put "hysterical" ads on TV and shifted the debate. Moveon did the same. Now that the election is over, do we simply declare SVFT the tactical winners and Moveon's strategy defunct? Either raising money and putting ads on TV is useful or it isn't, but it isn't fair to deride the Dem faithful as a bunch of circle jerkers without at least acknowledging that the insular, circle-jerking world of Republicans seems to have been perfectly effective.

Continuing with our string of analogies, baltimore-aureole thinks

a closer analogy might be eBay politics. the great success of eBay is that it elevates the unexceptional item to collectable status. people constantly remark that they had no idea that a battered "batman & robin" lunchbox from the 1960's had ANY value at all, and are overjoyed that some idiot on eBay paid them $35 for it. the guy who paid $35 (who probably resembles "comic book guy" on the simpsons) similarly feels that $35 was a screaming bargain). this is because the few people who value damaged school lunchboxes are congregating on eBay and bidding them in a frenzy of "collectableism"…

the concentration of like minded, close-minded people at activist websites - whether these sites are left or right of center - simply provides a mis-impression of the viability of those ideas, and thus causes the ideas to "sell" (via donations) for more then they may really be worth.

the concept that dean is the only person who can "save america" has about as many adherents as those who believe cartoon lunchboxes deserve a place of honor in their homes and are of interest to others who visit said homes.

i now await opprobation from MoveOn contributors and lunch box collectors for my temerity in finding any fault with their world views.

ScottStock yawns at our discussion and has decided to MoveOn himself, declaring internet politics "sooo last year."

For further study of MoveOn.org's psychotherapy-laden lexicon ("painful," "heartbroken," "revelation," "dark"), read this post-election letter from MoveOn.org to its members. AC10:02 p.m.

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Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004

It's beginning to look a lot like … the Holiday Season: Recycled's guide to finding the fir tree of your dreams may or may not be responsible for sparking a polemic in BOTF against the steady secularization of Christmas in America. Otherwise said, have we taken the X out of X-mas?

Advertisement

StormyWeather rails against the "Secular Progressive Assault on Christmas":

We have seen a rash of attacks against Christian Values and Christmas of late. These include:

1. Attempts to ban the singing of Christmas Carols in Schools.

2. Trying to forbid even the mention of or reference to Jesus or God in school or in public celebrations.

3. Attacks on the Boy Scouts because of their position on Gays and God.

4. Repeated attempts by the Far Left to paint people of faith as some kind of whacko nuts.

5. Attempts to force Cities and Counties to remove all "religious symbols" from city and county Logos.

The latest and most outrageous example comes from Denver, where the Organizers of the Annual Christmas Parade refused to allow any mention of Christ. A Float, depicting the Birth of Christ was BANNED from the Parade. Ooops .. one correction. The also refused to refer to it as the Christmas parade .. calling it the Festival of Lights.

However, a Float dedicated to Dead Homosexual Indians was allowed.

Fortunately, here in Long Beach, where apparently saner minds prevail, we held our annual Christmas Parade this past weekend. (Documented proof available upon request for a slight fee.)

To the list of politically correct euphemisms, Schadenfreude adds this one.

His rant against the "right wing" aside, zarquieka feels that the Christmas holiday has skewed our sense of Jesus's religious importance:

Jesus Christ was taken out of christmas long ago. In fact, Jesus Christ was never in christmas! Christmas has always been about lies: Santa Claus, decorated trees, gifts, food, and the christmas story, etc. Religious rightwing christians have been just as guilty as the non-christians in worshiping material things, instead of, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! …

It is what Jesus Christ did in God's plan of salvation that has greater importance to man and not christmas. Thats what God intended for man to worship.

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pace deplores gift-giving on Christmas as "revisionism for the retailers" and the trappings of "commercialized worship." IOZ shares with us his bleak perspective on the commercialization of the holiday:

The end of the year approaches, and it beckons us all, like the long sleepless nightmare of a dead and dreaming Karl Marx, to buy, buy, buy. Between the commercials, Charley Brown appears to remind us that the true spirit of Christmas is a spindly, decorated Norse fertility symbol… Everywhere, everywhere, there's terrible music, piped into every public place until we're totally innured to it, as we are to the surveillance cameras everywhere, everywhere.

ElephantGun weighs the merits of Santa vs. Jesus here:

I like Santa Claus a whole lot better than Jesus. I know that the figure of Santa is over-commercialized in the United States, but I also believe that the deification of Santa is one of the really good things about American society. At a time when our workaholism gives us all a lean, hungry, and cynical look, it's a wonderful relief to contemplate Santa's boundless generosity, bottomless well of happiness, and most pleasing plumpness. Santa's become even better over the last few decades as naughty/nice lists and the spectre of coal have faded into cultural memory. Likewise, Santa is one of the few white European figures who translates easily into other cultures. In our pale-faced household, we used to have a black "Rocking Santa" figure who sang a song in Peggy Lee's voice. Multi-racial, transgendered--Santa makes for an extremely flexible symbol of a giving spirit that demands nothing in return. Now we have a "Saxophone Santa" and the Christmas season doesn't really get under way until he belts out a couple versions of "Jingle Bells." .

To the contrary, I really don't understand the appeal of Jesus story. Although I had a half-hearted Christian raising, the Jesus story seems increasingly less attractive and plausible as the years go by. Where Santa is a carnivalesque figure of fun, merriment, consumption, and over-consumption, Jesus strikes me as an essentially Lenten God of suffering, self-denial, and other-worldliness. Given the unhappy, over-extended character of so much of our lives in the United States, I can understand why we identify so much with Jesus. I mean how many of us chronically feel like we're bearing our own cross. However, just like I often hope for a better society, I often hope for a better god--a god who represents a joy that does not first have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

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Finally, Patlowa provides this hilarious description of the Celebrity Nativity scene at Madame Tousseau's London Wax Museum:

Beckhams as Mary & Joseph, Wisemen, Tony Blair, Prince Phillip, & Dubya; Shepards Samuel Jackson, a popular English comedian, and one other minor celeb; Angle of the Lord, a tootsey pop girl singer. If successful (which it is) an American version is planned. Jesus is played by a non-descripted dollbaby. Is this what evangelicals had in mind with 'public displays' and public 'interpretations' of the nativity and the true 'meaning' of Christmas?

For history buffs, StormyWeather also informs us here that "Jesus was most likely born in late September or early October, in the year 3 BCE. December was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar, when the Romans celebrated the Feast of Saturn. Most of the modern Christmas festivities are actually a hold over from that ancient Pagan Festival."

Save the date! AC6:52 p.m

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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2004.

The face-off pro and con between Phillip Carter and Fred Kaplan over Bernard Kerik's possible replacement of Tom Ridge as head of the Department of Homeland Security generated additional scrutiny of Bush's pick—and a tad bit of indifference.

furioustote provides this thorough defense of Kerik's record, pointing out the contradictions in Kaplan's criticisms:

Mr. Kaplan … seems to be tending to the left in his appraisal of Mr. Kerik. He neglects to mention Mr. Keriks 3 years in the Army as an MP or his training of Special Forces troops in Ft. Bragg. Both of which bear directly on his knowledge of the war we are in against terrorism.

Mr. Kaplan contridicts himself by saying that Kerik advanced himself:

"not by rising through the ranks ... but through loyalty to Mayor Rudolph Giulani"

but then goes on to say:

"Kerik started his rise to power as a veteran street cop."

Which is it? Political toadie or hard bitten beat cop?

Mr. Kaplan also included a rather flip remark about the NYPD when he characterized police community outreach programs as:

"Saying hello to black people once in a while"

He further fails to mention any of the following of Kerik:

He was commissioner of the Passic County Jail and training officer for its Special Weapons and Operations Unit.

As head of the NYPD he was in charge of the largest municipal police department in the US.

He headed its largest anti-narcotics unit that was responsible for the convictions of 60 Cali drug cartel members

And that Mr. Kerik has won 30 medals while a member of the NYPD.

Is Mr. Kerik the perfect man for the job of Homeland Security chief? Probably not. But who is? Tom Ridge was only the Governor of Pennsylvania and he did just fine. Again not a perfect choice but a good one. Was Mr. Ridges tenure perfect? No, but its easy to throw stones from the safety of the media who are responsible to no one and for nothing.

Kronos adds this to Kerik's list of qualifications: "And he looks like a secret police chief too."

joejoejoe attempts to dredge up some dirt on Kerik with his citation of Deravin vs. Kerik, a complicated lawsuit involving claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Read a summary of the case in his post. Max-de-Winter-2 cites less than glowing reviews of Bush's pick for Homeland Security from other media sources here.

JackD thinks the dispute over Kerik is, in a de facto sense, much ado about nothing: "Given the general attitude of the administration and the Republican Congress to refuse to fund meaningful things like port security, the guy with the title probably doesn't matter."

CovertOutrage asks the more fundamental question behind Kerik's appointment: " Why do we even need Homeland Security?":

I think the entire agency is a wreckless, rather redundant misuse of US tax dollars. There are too many government agencies and contractors designed to serve the same protective purpose, starting with local police officers who are grossly underfunded and inefficiently utilized in the arena of national security.

and describes his one direct experience calling the Department:

The one time I did dial the 1-800-number just to test my connectivity to local Homeland Security, I was thrust into an IVR prompt, which left me wondering what hell would have broken loose had I had something significant to report.

Gives new meaning to the term "first responder." AC8:46 p.m.

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Friday, Dec. 3, 2004

In response to Dahlia Lithwick's discussion of the death penalty and the increasingly overt displays of emotion fanned before jurors in the sentencing phase of capital cases, many fraysters expressed reservations about the appropriateness of manipulating emotions to sway the ultimate verdict in the prosecutors' favor.

fozzy laments the transformation of capital sentencing proceedings into viewer entertainment, a spectacle for public consumption:

I find these types of sentencing hearings to be rather distasteful. It is bad enough seeing, as the article pointed out, relatives/friends of either side acting out like they were on some demented Springer show…

Ultimately, this whole process seems to spring out of the same vein as the "reality show" and "Springer" trends. It's not just the jury, nor the jaded judge, who "needs" to hear the wailing in the courtroom. It is a good show for all of us, and we can justify it by claiming it is "therapeutic" (whether it is or not) for those who do it. Much like a Jerry Springer "paternity special", it is not so much a process to find facts or even to resolve issues as it is a good way to get the screaming/crying/hysterics that are so good for ratings.

JohnLex7 similarly deplores the performative aspect of these hearings:

So, unfortunately, what we are left with is exactly this. Relatives parading to the witness stand, and all of them incredibly emotional. One set, reliving the most horrible moment anyone can imagine, and another set, begging for their loved one's life.

The penalty phase of a capital trial is not easy to watch. It's even harder to live through for either side. However, the news media plays this up as the huge competition between the two sides. I swear that they would love to see a brawl between the relatives, the lawyers, and everyone else in the area in front of the judge's bench.

destor23 considers the emotional effects of the penalty phase on the family of the victims:

It can't be good for the witnesses either. Isn't capital punishment a hard enough ordeal for society without forcing a mother to beg for her son's life in front of a jury? Isn't murder a heinous enough crime without forcing the mother of the victim to relive the nightmarish loss?

On the flip side, modicum argues

…there is no avoiding raw emotion entering in when the moment comes to decide between life and death. It seems very appropriate to me that it all spills out in front of the jury. There is no more emotional issue than, "at what cost, death?" That question, outside the court system, is what drives our hopes and fears for ourselves and our families. It is what challenges us to choose between risk and safety in our lives. When to pull the plug, whether to have an abortion, whether to put oneself at risk to save another, whether to send our sons and daughters into battle. Morality plays about life and death fill our fencepost conversations and media. Lithwick suggests that this is all about vengeance, but I have an alternative explanation: it is about us, collectively reexamining our own values through the jury system and the evidence presented.

Pushing the argument further, lysander views the satisfaction of vengeance as an imperative of the State:

When victims say they want "justice," they mostly mean that they want vengeance. They want the bad guy to be punished for what he did, and they want the punishment to be comparable to the harm he caused. Delivering this type of justice is one of the central responsibilities of the state. To prevent citizens from taking matters into their own hands, the state must deliver justice in a manner sufficient to satisfy the populace. You can do away with floggings for theft or a few hours in the stockade for adultery only when the population comes to believe that such punishments are inappropriate.

In so arguing, lysander turns the classic anti-death penalty argument on its head: rather than setting an example of restraint to its citizenry by not applying the eye for an eye principle, the State keeps the peace precisely by indulging the visceral human instinct for revenge.

Natinha also sees no opposition between emotions and justice: "Emotion comes into it because we are all born with a conscience—part of what makes us human. We feel that it is wrong, because that is how we were made."

edithruth, however, disputes the validity of "conscience" as a defining human characteristic:

unfortunatley do not believe all people are born with a conscience and that is part of what makes us human. Sociopathic personalities often lack conscience or the ability to "feel" that something is wrong. They know on an intellectual level by knowing the law or knowing societies norms for behaviour BUT when it comes to feeling it they are short circuited they just don't feel it.

Other fraysters waxed even more philosophical in their discussion of the death penalty. Taking a methodical approach to the question of forgiveness as a mitigating factor, Tracker recaps the following four-step program laid out by "Richard Swinburne (Cambridge Philosophy of Religion Dept Head)":

When someone has intentionally or cognizantly produced serious, unjustified harm to someone else, they must render,

1 Reparation.
2 Apology.
3 Repentence.
4 Penance.

You (1) repair as far as possible for you the damage done to the victim, (2) say you're sorry, (3) turn from the person you were as perpetrator and begin establishing habits of a life devoted to leaving that personality behind, and (4) constitute your apology as sincere by making it costly: when you apologize, offer some sort of servitude, goods, furtherance of the injured's favorite causes, etc., that could not have been required of you before you harmed that person(s).

AdamMorgan makes an interesting point about the moral exceptionality of capital punishment here:

What I find most interesting about the death penalty is that this is the only case, that I'm aware of, where human judgement is considered certain enough to end a life. In all other circumstances, it's not only considered immoral to think so, it's sometimes also considered barbaric.

Consider, for instance, the case of babies born with severe handicaps. A few times a year, in the hospital next to my extragavent office, a baby is born who has such severe handicaps, both physical and mental, it's likely that it's going to live an extremely painful, short life. The parents, also, are going to suffer horribly. Oddly, however, if the parents and doctors wished to end this life, it would be illegal. The doctor would lose his license, the parents would likely be charged with murder, and the hospital might face severe penalities…


In this example, however, it seems that a doctor and a parent's judgement should be sufficient to decide if the baby's life is worth living. These people, certainly, are better qualified to make this decision than a group of randomly selected strangers are, as in the case of a jury. If vengence and revenge weren't the primary motivations of the death penalty, I believe that "expert" judgements on who decides life and death would be more widely applied.

Lithwick gets kudos from Terpfan here and fuschia here for her original approach to a hot-button issue that often produces the same shopworn arguments both pro and con. Whatever one's position might be, one thing is resoundingly clear from Lithwick's analysis: American law as currently practiced no longer subscribes to the Aristotelian definition of law as "reason devoid of passion." AC11:21 p.m.