Return to Abnormalcy

Return to Abnormalcy

Return to Abnormalcy

A mostly political Weblog.
Aug. 30 2004 3:21 AM

Return to Abnormalcy

Plus--Porn on the Interstates!

If President Bush were to tell the Swift Boat Veterans, "Those are great ads. Please run more of them," he'd immediately be accused by the Kerry campaign (and maybe the Federal Elections Commission) of illegal "coordination" with an allegedly independent political group. ... Now suppose Bush did what Kerry and David Broder want him to do and told the Swifties "Those are terrible ads. I call on you to stop running them." Why isn't that also illegal coordination? Coordination involves telling someone when to start and also when to stop, no? [I'm indebted to alert kf reader S.K. for this point.] ...

Does this mean Broder's idea that

candidates ought to be judged by their willingness to tell their supporters when they have crossed the line


is untenable, because it in effects asks the candidates to start coordinating illegally? I'd like to think not--the only way to allow free speech by independent citizens while limiting the role of big money in politics seems to be to preserve some rule against "coordination" of the independent citizens by the official, regulated campaigns. But it will probably have to be a rule loose enough to allow candidates to publicly approve or condemn particular independent ads--in other words, loose enough to allow some de facto, long distance coordination. The hope, I suppose, is that it will always be clumsy, imprecise coordination, because the candidates still wouldn't control who shows what ads initially--and even in public the candidates couldn't get too specific (e.g., "I like that ad but I'd pull it from the Denver market and run it in Orlando instead"). ... 12:06 A.M.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Return to Abnormalcy: Just when it seemed as if Bush, not Kerry, might become the calming "return to normalcy" candidate, he goes and gets quoted in Time saying "I'm the guy making history." In context it's undoubtedly far less boastful than that sounds--but still ... Voters may think, 'We've had enough history for a while, Mr. President. We're still having trouble digesting the history we thought we'd already made.' ... 11:12 P.M.

Saturday, August 28, 2004


Road Trip Report, 8/04--Drive-by journalism in its purest form: Kausfiles drives from L.A. to New York so you don't have to! Executive Summary of major findings:

It's getting smaller: I started late and still spent only three nights on the road, one less than usual. I'm not sure why. I didn't go illegally fast. True, they've improved the roads and raised the speed limits to 70 or 75 across the plains.

Crappiest Interstate Experience: Missouri, the perennial winner. Choppy, narrow highway flanked by tacky commerical billboards. Some of them--e.g. "Got Bra Problems?" or "Yucko's Poop Scoop Service"--may have been subtle, NEA-funded performance art.

Distressing evidence of the Coarsening of American Culture I:  Even big Interstate highways are no longer decent, family-friendly places, thanks to the proliferation of giant lighted signs advertising the "Adult" and "XXX" bookstores along the side of the road in several Heartland states. "Mom, what does three X-es mean?"

Distressing evidence of the Coarsening of American Culture II: Country music, traditionally thought to be on the right-wing side of the culture war, has begun to incorporate hip hop elements--or, rather, to self-consciously and somewhat pathetically ape the corrosive, materialistic playa' machismo of the imagined ghetto while pretending to maintain an adversarial stance. Sample lyric from "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy", currently #11 on Billboard's Country chart:

Well I don't give a dang about nothing
I'm singing and Bling-Blanging
While the girls are drinking
Long necks down!
And I wouldn't trade ol' Leroy
or my Chevrolet for your Escalade ... [snip]

I'm a thorough-bred
that's what she said
in the back of my truck bed

Please. ... I guess it all comes down to which General Motors SUV you drive, and whether you show off the bling-bling or the bling-blang. (How did Anne Kornblut miss that?)

It's a lousy song too.

Strangest architectural encounter: A prison along I-70 in Greenville, Illinois featuring all the cheap, hack post-modern cues now associated with upscale shopping centers--red and beige brick stripings, triangular pediments, etc. It looked like a Best Buy surrounded by barbed wire--Bed, Shower & Beyond.

Favorite exit name: Little Point.

Kansas in August is not as corny as you'd think!

Bill O'Reilly Award for Least Convincing Claim of Persecution by Snobs: To John Michael Montgomery, whose otherwise effective country hit "Letters From Home," told in the voice of a U.S. soldier in Iraq who's received a letter from his parents, contains these lines:

I hold it up and show my buddies,
Like we ain't scared and our boots ain't muddy, and they all laugh,
Like there's something funny bout' the way I talk,
When I say: "Mama sends her best y'all."

Hello? Aren't Southerners a plurality of the U.S. Army? Isn't it shot through with Southern military culture? I don't think they make fun of people who say "y'all"!

Most Disappointing Sign: Any of the ones around Colby, Kansas advertising "Post Rock Country." After 1000 miles of heavy metal, oldies and Nashville schlock, I was ready for post rock country. But the signs were only publicizing a form of stone once used to make fenceposts.

Best music station:  Tie between KRCC in Colorado Springs ("Late Evening Freeform") and WOUB in Athens, Ohio ("Crossing Boundaries"). Both were much better, music-wise, than L.A.'s vaunted KCRW--perhaps because they are less influenced by record-industry people.

Trend I most need explained to me: Airsoft guns. They shoot plastic pellets, not BBs, right? Who buys them? Adults? Children? What damage can they do? Are they somehow an artifact of gun control laws? Don't the people who use them risk getting shot by cops who think they are regular guns? Instapundit will know ...

P.S.: Rob Long, who claims to have also driven across the country, nevertheless says he doesn't know who Lee Ann Womack is. I guess he didn't listen to my mix CD after all. ... Update: Long now claims in an email that he listened to the CD "somewhere in the watery border between Missouri and Kansas." ... 

6:42 P.M.


Rancor Away! Monday Morning Kerrybacking: Alert reader J.D. (not his real name) emails with what seems to me a useful point about the impact of the Swifty fuss on Kerry's potential, implicit,  "return to normalcy" message:

Whether people believe the Swift Boat stuff or not, the anger that veterans have toward Kerry, the muddled history of his combat experience, and the bitterness of the arguments are giving people an impression that four years of Kerry would be four years of rancor and never-ending debates about his wartime (and post-wartime) activities. That ain't normalcy, and people are starting to shy away from that prospect. [Emph. added]

If there's truth to this, then Kerry's optimum strategy was not to fight back at the Swifties (i.e., calling them liars and trying to suppress their ads) but to somehow, yes, calm the waters--defusing the story by saying something like: "Those were turbulent times and they are entitled to express their opinions. We all did things we're proud of and things we may regret. I don't want to reopen those wounds." ... P.S.: In general, a combative, "bring it on" Kerry tone--toward the Swiftys or anyone else, including Bush--may undermine the best thing Kerry's got going for him, which is the national desire for a respite from tumult and rancor, including a) US vs. Muslim rancor; b) partisan post-Florida rancor; and c) trans-partisan post-Vietnam rancor. ... Why not float above it? Be the change! ... The Feiler Faster Thesis says it's not too late! ...P.P.S.: In other words, what Robin Toner's stale Week piece calls

The rough lessons of 1988 took hold: Respond, hit back, leave no charge unanswered


might be completely wrong for 2004. ... P.P.P.S.: Toner writes as if the combative Kerry response has been effective! ...6:01 P.M.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Corrections and Camrys: Malcolm Gladwell e-mails:

Apparently you think that in my SUV article in the New Yorker I ignored the issue of how "the sociological difference between the drivers of different types and makes of vehicles" affects auto safety. Really? I thought that was one of the main points of the article. The really critical question of whether one car is safer than another, I wrote, "depends on who's behind the wheel." I talked about how a Porsche Boxster is a very safe car with my mother driving, and a very unsafe car with me driving. I talked about how drunks and teenagers represent a hugely disproportionate share of traffic fatalities, not because of the cars they drive but because they are drunks and teenagers. Kausfiles writes, in a rebuke to my "over-rated" article, that minivans aren't safe because they are vans, but because they are "mainly driven by cautious, milquetoasty moms." Here is an actual quote from my article: "Drivers of minivans, Wenzel and Ross's statistics tell us, die at a fraction of the rate of drivers of pickup trucks. That's clearly because minivans are family cars, and parents with children in the back seat are less likely to get into accidents." Is it asking too much to ask you to actually read an article before criticizing it?

I shouldn't have said Gladwell ignored the sociological issue. He didn't, and I apologize for the mistake. But he mentions it only after he's elaborately deployed a chart that shows varying death rates for different brands of cars and SUVs--a chart that plays a crucial role in persuading readers of his thesis that consumers are not making a "rational calculation" when they conclude SUVs are safer:

In a head-on crash, an Explorer or a Suburban would crush a Jetta or a Camry. But, clearly, the drivers of Camrys and Jettas are finding a way to avoid head-on crashes with Explorers and Suburbans. The benefits of being nimble--of being in an automobile that's capable of staying out of trouble--are in many cases greater than the benefits of being big. [Emphasis added.]

The problem is that the sociological differences Gladwell later notes--e.g., drivers of minivans are more cautious than drivers of SUVs, so minivans do better in the statistics for reasons having nothing to do with their design--completely undermines the power of his big chart and the conclusion about nimble Camrys. Maybe the SUVs have high death rates because more reckless people tend to drive SUVs, and if the same reckless people drove passenger cars those cars would have even higher death rates than the SUVs do. We don't know. Maybe the variations between brands are not variations in vehicle design but variations in the type of driver they attract. Camrys could have low death rates not because they are so nimble but because they are the most boring cars on the planet and are bought by boring, safe people! If the statistics in the big chart took into account such driver characteristics, it could well turn out that SUVs really are safer after all, because the benefits of passive safety (all that metal) outweigh the nimbleness benefits touted by Gladwell.

Not only does Gladwell fail to follow up on the implications of his minivan point for his own chart, he draws an opposite, bizarre conclusion.

"Is the Boxster safer than the TrailBlazer? It depends on who's behind the wheel. In the hands of, say, my very respectable and prudent middle-aged mother, the Boxster is by far the safer car."

Really? If the Boxster is safer when driven by Gladwell's mom than when driven by Gladwell, it doesn't follow that a TrailBlazer wouldn't be safer still. The evidence Gladwell offers that it isn't is his chart--which, again, isn't much evidence at all precisely because doesn't take into account which cars cautious people like his mom tend to drive.

That's what I should have said.

[What about rollovers?-ed. Rollovers account for only a fifth of auto deaths. How a car protects you in a collision seems more important.] 3:27 A.M.

kf Bias Exposed: I didn't believe the thesis that base-voter turnout is more important than swing-voter seduction when Nagourney pushed it almost a year ago. But now that Brownstein's pushing it, I do! ... 1:09 A.M.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


The Fader Faster Principle:

Yesterday's CW:  "[T]his is now John Kerry's contest to lose"!

Tomorrow's CW:   Mission   Accomplished!

Day-after-tomorrow's CW: Thanks, Iowa! ... 2:08 A.M.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

So that's how Arnold Schwarzenegger solved his Pecker problem!Writing in Los Angeles magazine, my friend Ann Louise Bardach comes up with the gritty details of what sure looks like a tacit deal between tabloid giant AMI (run by the aptly-named David Pecker) and Schwarzenegger--a deal in which the tabs go easy on the Schwarzenegger scandals while they make money off a bodybuilding empire in which California's governor is in effect a partner. (Pecker denies protecting Arnold, but Bardach has ex-staffers who say otherwise, and the tabs' pro-Arnold coverage speaks for itself.) ... Who's the sleazy player here, Arnold or Pecker? I say Pecker! Schwarzenegger doesn't pretend he isn't a self-interested, news-manipulating businessman. He would only suffer from a compromising conflict as governor if the state of California were to have dealings with AMI. But Pecker does, on occasion, pretend to be a journalist who is actually telling his readers the news.... P.S.: There are at least two additional layers of speculative paranoia left to peel back in any scholarly effort to figure out just how much of Schwarzenegger's miraculous ascent was pre-planned (by Schwarzenegger):  a) Why, exactly, did Pecker decide in 2002 to buy a bodybuilding empire, as opposed to something else? Isn't it a coincidence that just when Schwarzenegger needed it the leverage that let him neutralize Pecker's tabloids happened to fall into his lap? b) Was Arnold, despite appearances, somehow behind the whole recall effort (which gave him an opening to run for governor without having to survive a GOP primary)? ... 3:52 A.M.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Reader M.R. reacts to my comment that "The impression is forming: Kerry behaved honorably and capably in battle, but he was a hero in the write ups!"

So you just now figured out the STANDARD rule of
military write ups?

Fair enough. Let's assume that a certain amount of hype is standard procedure in military write-ups, especially when medals are involved. The problem is that Kerry is running for president on this official hype of a more-than-honorable record (one reason he's constantly referring reporters to his official medal citations). He's not only running on the hype but pushing it to the limit, milking it for all it's worth. That's dangerous in, yes, the Internet era! Obsessive fact-checkers can smoke out the exaggerations and get them past the ex-gatekeepers.**  Unfortunately, it's more or less all Kerry's got. It wouldn't be so important if Kerry had a) a discernable ideology; b) a political message; c) a record of achievement; or d) an appealing personality! ... P.S.: As Polipundit's reservist reader notes, the standard military practice of grade inflation also puts Kerry's glowing "fitness" evaluations in perspective. "One of the Top Few" turns out to mean "One of the Top 50%." ...

** (LBJ's far-more-hyped Silver Star, for example, would be smoked out immediately today.)  3:24 A.M.

Monday, August 23, 2004

D'Vera Cohn buries ledes in mass grave! Yes, it's possible the decline in unwed births in D.C. was mainly caused by an exodus of young black women. The District is a small place and normal city-suburb flows can produce big demographic shifts. But look at the good news Cohn buries:

The Korenman study concluded that a small part of the District's reduction in unwed births was due to fewer women choosing to have babies out of wedlock -- mainly teenagers and women older than 35.

Reducing teen single motherhood is not chopped liver! Also:

The study .. .[snip] also looked at the two other big bonus winners, Alabama and Michigan, and concluded that demographic change completely explained the decline in Alabama's unwed births, but not Michigan's.

Michigan is not chopped liver either! And the teen birth trend is not just local:

Nationally, one in three babies is born to an unmarried mother, and the rising national rate leveled off in the mid-1990s. But births to unmarried teenagers are still dropping, nationally and in the District, a trend experts say is especially important because those babies are most at risk of poverty, behavior problems and other ills.

Compensatory emphasis added. 11:54 A.M.

Fudging Breaks Out: Alert reader A.F. notes close reading reveals that the pro-Kerry eyewitness account of Pat Runyon--like the pro-Kerry eyewitness account of William Rood--contains some seemingly clever wording. In Runyon's case, it fudges the issue of whether Kerry was actually under fire in the incident for which he won his first Purple Heart:

Runyon said Kerry was wounded after one vessel tried to avoid an inspection.

"Lt. Kerry said, 'I'm going to pop a flare, and when I do, I want that engine started,' " Runyon said. But the outboard would not crank. Meanwhile, the sampan's crew steered it to the riverbank, and people started running on the shore. Runyon said shooting broke out.

Somehow, Kerry's weapon stopped firing. Runyon thinks he ran out of ammunition. He said Kerry bent down to pick up another gun and got hit in the arm.

"It wasn't a serious wound," Runyon said, and Kerry was able to start shooting again. When the firefight was over, Runyon said Kerry told him all he felt was a "burning sensation." [Emph. added]

"Shooting broke out"? Shooting by the people on the riverbank, or shooting only by Kerry and his crew? The story leaves the impression there was a two-sided firefight, but it doesn't quite say that, does it? ... Again, the ambiguity may be inadvertent. Or not! ... P.S.: According to the Swifties, the Boston Globe'sKerry book has Runyon saying "I can't say for sure that we got return fire or how [Kerry] got nicked." [Why not check the Globe book yourself?--ed I'm in Richfield, Utah and it's the middle of the night is why. I'm sure they have a fine local bookstore but not a 24-hour bookstore.] 11:18.A.M.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

I actually think the "web of connections" between Kerry and the Dem 527s is a lot denser than this. Where's Chris Lehane, for example? But it's a start. ... 8:01 P.M.

William Rood's eyewitness account of the Silver Star incident has now been published. It's quite convincing, and the Swifty response (in the Tribune, at least) is weak. ... P.S.: But we could do without the "purple martins." They make the whole piece seem speech-written (and therefore suspect). ... 5:43 P.M.

Friday, August 20, 2004

kf Alert: Watch out for a big Sunday paper** pro-Kerry eyewitness hit (on the Silver Star incident--that's the one with the beached boat and the fleeing VC) ... Timed to vindicate Kerry right before the Republican convention. ... P.S.: Even more reason to have a press conference! ... **Update:Chicago Tribune, where the eyewitness works.... More: But Michael Dobbs' big Sunday WaPo account  of the Bronze Star incident (that's the one where Kerry fished Rassmann out of the water) is mixed. It's considerably more sympathetic to Kerry critic Thurlow than Dobbs' Friday anti-Thurlow hit piece and not very sympathetic to Kerry's pet historian, Douglas Brinkley. On the other hand, the Post found a non-Band-of-Brothers eyewitness who says the boats did come under fire. [But see this very useful Fray post on the other, hotly-contested Bronze-Star issue: injury conflation!] ... The impression is forming: Kerry behaved honorably and capably in battle, but he was a hero in the write ups! [Update: That may be unfair, at least for the Silver Star incident, if William Rood's now-published account is accurate. Kerry comes off as innovative and brave--worthy of commendation. But see this. And on second read Rood doesn't quite say turning the boats into the enemy fire was Kerry's idea, does he? He only says Kerry "had talked to Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush." Maybe this ambiguity is unintentional. Or maybe Rood's piece is very carefully written.]

The WaPo piece also features this graf:

Although Kerry campaign officials insist that they have published Kerry's full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records. A Freedom of Information Act request by The Post for Kerry's records produced six pages of information. A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least a hundred pages.

Bring them on! ... 6:13 P.M.

Here's the sort of calm factual rebuttal--as opposed to, say,  conspiracy-minded, process-oriented base-pleasing paranoia about a "web of connections"!--that might actually do Kerry some good against the Swifties. ... P.S.: I agree with RCP in that I don't quite see how--as Kerry's campaign manager boasted--the recent Kerry push-back "marks the end" of the Swifties, let alone turns the story into a positive for Kerry. ... Doesn't Kerry now need to hold a big, Ferraro-like press conference? People will pay attention. If he handles it well, the Swifties' story will be dead and he'll jump 5 points in the polls. If he doesn't handle it well... hmm ... what's Senator Lautenberg doing next month anyway? ... 12:55 P.M.

I don't understand how even Iraqi forces  are going to clear out Sadr from the holy shrine in Najaf without a propaganda disaster if the place is wired with explosives, as some TV reports have it. ... How do you say "Waco" in Arabic? 3:39 A.M.

Kf'sLong-OverduePush-Back!This has undoubtedly been blogged, but I couldn't help noticing that what The Note called Michael Kranish's  " long-overdue, point-by-point push-back from the Kerry campaign" on the charge that he didn't take his Swift boat into Cambodia during Christmas of 1968 containedno evidence of any sort--beyond the Kerry campaign's own assertions--that Kerry was ever in Cambodia. Instead,Kranish gave us the testimony of three Swift boat crewmen.

1) One, who supports Kerry, says "they were 'very.. very close' to Cambodia" but "did not think they entered Cambodia."

2) A second, who opposes Kerry, says they were nowhere near Cambodia.

3) A third said they got close but didn't go into Cambodia and "could not recall dropping off special forces in Cambodia or going inside Cambodia with Kerry." [Emph. added.]

If this is Kerry's mighty, mighty "push-back," I'd hate to see what a Kerry retreat would look like. Yet Kranish's account was bizarrely portrayed by The Note as a pro-Kerry turning point. ...

P.S.: The idea that Kerry was actually in Cambodia over Christmas when he said he was has apparently long been abandoned by the Kerry campaign. ...

P.P.S.: Like many of my friends, I wasn't paying much attention to the Swifties until Kerry went postal  on them. (Hmm. Was that a smart move? What happened to the rope-a-dope strategy?) I don't know which side is right. I don't know that I'd even hold it against Kerry if he did exaggerate a bit to get the three Purple Hearts that let him leave Vietnam. I do know that if freedom of speech means anything it means that a group of citizens can get together to bring up this sort of charge against a presidential candidate, subject to the laws of libel. But read this New York Times editorial and see if you can avoid concluding that the Times doesn't think the Swift Boat Veterans ad should be stopped because it might be financed with corporate or union money in violation of the spirit of McCain-Feingold. The Times doesn't even really think it should be stopped because it was financed by a rich individual Republican (something that's clearly perfectly legal under McCain-Feingold  as long as the group running the ads is not incorporated). The Times thinks the ad should be stopped because you just shouldn't be able to make such "outlandish" independent charges in a campaign. They're against the speech, not the financing. They seem to be saying: If only the "snoozing watchdog" F.E.C. would show some guts we wouldn't have to deal with this nastiness! ... Like Kerry, they're trying to come up with a "process" reason that avoids the inconveniently messy issue of truth. But their process reason--an attack on unpleasant "independent" criticism per se--seems particularly dangerous. (The Swifties also wrote a book--does the Times want to suppress that too?) ...

P.P.P.S.: How would the press have reacted if the Bush campaign had called on the distributor of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to "withdraw"  the film. [Thanks to reader H.] ...

P.P.P.P.S.: Respectable big-time journalist friends who met with the anti-Kerry vets recently found them a lot more credible than expected. Sorry, Note! 3:21 A.M.

If Kerry could mobilize a counterattack on the Swifties as rapidly and effectively as the ed-choice community has mounted a counterattack on the NYT for its union-made anti-charter hit, there'd be no reason for Democratic  "angst."   Eduwonk has all the linking you need  on the charter-stats story (and, more important, none that you don't). ... 2:22 A.M.

She Goetz You Ink: Why would any politician get their hair styled by Isabelle Goetz of the Cristophe salon? I'm sure she gives a good cut. But sooner or later, if you get famous enough, you'll probably wind up in Lloyd Grove's column. Three years ago Hillary Clinton was the subject of an unflattering Grove inside-the-salon report; this week it was John Kerry's turn. You'd think Cristophe and Goetz would have uncovered Grove's source by now [and told them ...?-ed How about 'Keep up the good work'?] 1:45 A.M..



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk