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Forfeiting Respect

July 19, 2009 Leave a comment

aretha-respect

I wrote three days ago that my favorite blogger, hilzoy, announced her retirement, effective on Friday. I also quoted from her retirement announcement, which I won’t repeat here. But let me quote from her last post.

A democracy is essentially about determining the course of our nation together. To do that, it helps a lot to have a good citizenry. A good citizenry is informed, serious about things that are worth taking seriously, and not liable to be led off course by demagogues. (Everyone doesn’t have to be like this, but you need a critical mass of people who are.) But I’ve always thought that a good citizenry is also composed of people who assume, until proven wrong, that many of the people who disagree with them are acting in good faith.

This matters for policy: you’re unlikely to choose sound policies if you assume that anyone who disagrees with you is a depraved, corrupt imbecile. It’s hard to learn anything from people you have completely written off. But it’s also corrosive to any kind of community or dialogue to assume the worst about large numbers of people you’ve never met. It makes you less willing to try to take their problems seriously, and to try to figure out how they might be solved, or to try to understand what’s driving them.

I hate it when people do this to me. I never wanted to do it to them. … I also wanted to try, if at all possible, to treat people, and most especially my political opponents, with respect, except where respect had been clearly forfeited. (Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, I’m thinking of you.) Because, as I said, I think it’s just corrosive to democracy if people are not willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to one another. Besides, it’s uncharitable and wrong, and besides that, perhaps some people would survive in a world in which no one was ever more generous to them than they deserve, but I am quite sure that I would not.

hilzoy’s sentiments came to mind yesterday afternoon when I was catching up on days of the Wall Street Journal. There’s much that I enjoy in the WSJ. But they do manage to put a lot of people on their op-ed page who fall hilzoy’s category of forfeiting respect. Two of them appeared in Thursday’s paper: Karl Rove with his weekly column and John Yoo with a piece explaining, according to the headline, “why we endorse warrantless wiretaps.” I didn’t get past Yoo’s headline. Have we not had enough of his justifications for illegal government activities? Anyway, I gave you the links. Read them if you can.

Al Franken and the WSJ

July 6, 2009 1 comment

franken

With the news last week that the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner over incumbent Norm Coleman of the state’s second Senate seat, I almost wrote about his victory and how pleased I was to see one of my college classmates join the Senate. But I didn’t have much more to say than that, so I let it go. And then I read the editorial on the matter in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal and was stunned to find them accusing him of stealing the election:

The unfortunate lesson is that you don’t need to win the vote on Election Day as long as your lawyers are creative enough to have enough new or disqualified ballots counted after the fact. … Mr. Coleman didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.

This is now the second time Republicans have been beaten in this kind of legal street fight. In 2004, Dino Rossi was ahead in the election-night count for Washington Governor against Democrat Christine Gregoire. Ms. Gregoire’s team demanded the right to rifle through a list of provisional votes that hadn’t been counted, setting off a hunt for “new” Gregoire votes. By the third recount, she’d discovered enough to win. This was the model for the Franken team.

Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election. If the GOP hopes to avoid repeats, it should learn from Minnesota that modern elections don’t end when voters cast their ballots. They only end after the lawyers count them.

Um, they can’t be serious, can they? In both Minnesota and Washington, the rules were followed. If they want to talk about stolen elections, they’re barking up the wrong trees. There’s a little election in November 2000 that might be worth reviewing.

The next day, writing in his blog, Paul Krugman helped me better understand what’s up at the WSJ:

… yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years. Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe?

I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?

Update: On reading this post, Gail pointed me to an excellent article in the British newspaper The Guardian. It notes (italics mine): “Hand-counted paper ballots proved, yet again, to be the gold standard in this election, which the state canvassing board, the three-judge election contest panel and now the state’s supreme court has affirmed as won by Franken, the former radio talkshow host and comedian, by a mere 312 votes. Minnesota’s excellent election law, requiring both the secretary of state and the governor to sign the election certification only after all election contests are settled in the state, has assured that the next senator from Minnesota will not serve under a cloud of suspicion. Only the most insane and/or disingenuous could challenge the findings from one of the longest and most transparent election hand-counts in the history of the US.”

Categories: Newspapers, Politics

Giro d’Italia

May 23, 2009 2 comments
Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

I don’t get it. Why all the coverage of the Giro d’Italia? It’s been ignored for years, but now Juliet Macur has daily coverage in the NYT. Since when is interest in the race sufficiently large?

Perhaps I should explain. There are three great multi-stage bicycle races each year: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. Each lasts three weeks. Each has the cyclists riding all over the country, with mountain stages, flat stages, time trial stages, and so on. The Giro is in May. The Tour in July. The Vuelta in August.

US coverage used to be limited. I have the perhaps false memory that I read little bits about the Tour in the NYT when I was in summer camp in my childhood. And I remember when Eddy Merckx used to be the dominant rider, winning five times between 1969 and 1974. Only Jacques Anquetil had won five times before him. Merckx also won the Giro five times, and the Vuelta once. But I really started paying attention in 1985. It helped that we were in France for part of the Tour, in the early days of our extended honeymoon. On the final day, we were over at my sister’s apartment watching on TV as they came along the Seine into Paris. I realized they were just 200 meters away and here we were watching indoors on TV. That was silly. We could instead cross over the Seine and walk up to the Champs-Elysees to see the finish. Gail (my wife Gail, not my sister Gail) and I headed out and just as we got to the street, sister Gail leaned out the window to shout down to us that our niece Joelle wanted to come too. She would have been 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday at the time. We waited for her to come down, then headed to the Seine,. She wasn’t walking too fast, so I ran ahead while Gail led her on. They eventually caught up and somehow found me amidst the huge crowds leaning against the barriers along the Champs-Elysees. (Many years later I would discover that my friend and colleague-to-be Sandor, then a young student from Hungary, was watching from somewhere nearby, up on a lightpost.)

I got to see the field zip by in the repeated circuits from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back that close the race, with Bernard Hinault being cheered as he was about to win his fifth Tour, thanks in part to the help of his teammate and rising star, the American Greg LeMond, who rode beside him safely in the peleton as they awaited the finish. LeMond had finished third the year before, his rookie year, and might well have won it in 1985 had he not been assigned the role of helping Hinault. LeMond settled for second, with the understanding that Hinault would repay the favor the next year by helping him win. Except that a year later it seemed Hinault wanted to win again. There was some friction before LeMond ultimately won. And if LeMond’s brother-in-law didn’t accidentally shoot him the next year, he might well have won five straight, but instead he took two years to recover before winning two more.

I could go on and on about the Tour. By then I was hooked, a committed fan. In the early ’90s, before the world wide web existed but with news services available on the internet, I would sit at my desk in the mornings during the Tour and constantly update my news feed in order to get the latest reports. TV coverage started around then, on ESPN, but in the evenings, hours after the actual daily race. It took years before we had live coverage. What changed everything of course was Lance. Lance Armstrong. With Lance as national hero, we finally got to have live coverage of the Tour every morning.

Which brings us to the answer to my opening rhetorical question. Why the sudden interest in the Giro? Lance of course. I understand, sort of, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me why someone who retired years ago and is well past his prime should have such a following that we now have detailed coverage. He’s not going to win. He’s 14th at the moment in the general classification, with a week to go. Pretty impressive, I admit, but not a reason for blanket coverage.

An American has won the Giro in the past. Andy Hampsten, in 1988. He is perhaps better known for finishing 4th to LeMond in the first Tour that LeMond won, in 1986. Imagine that. Americans in 1st and 4th in the Tour, at a time when hardly anyone in the US paid attention. And that still didn’t result in greater coverage. It took Lance to change everything.

I should be happy. I just wonder why it took so long, and why it took a national celebrity to bring the press. I wish things were different.

Categories: Cycling, Newspapers, Sports

Come On, Maureen

May 18, 2009 Leave a comment

dowd

Why is the cover-up so often worse than the crime? For instance, let’s look at Maureen Dowd’s now-famous column in yesterday’s NYT. You can no longer find the original version on-line. In it, she wrote:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The only problem is that at his Talking Points Memo blog on Thursday, Josh Marshall had already written:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Okay, so maybe Maureen Dowd actually reads the major political blogs and gets ideas from them. That’s fine. Just give them credit when you quote them. She didn’t. The problem is, here’s her after-the-fact explanation of how it happened that she didn’t, as written to The Nytpicker:

josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now. i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we’re fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.

The correction is on-line, as you can see if you click on the Dowd link above. But really, this is such an implausible explanation. The pity is, it was as fine a column by Dowd as I read in ages.

Here’s a portion of Mark Liberman’s analysis of the explanation at Language Log: Read more…

Categories: Newspapers

Rule of Law, cont.

April 25, 2009 Leave a comment

broder

No sooner do I finish a post on the rule of law than I turn to my RSS reader and find a new post from hilzoy on David Broder’s column in tomorrow’s Washington Post. I can’t bear to read David Broder anymore, and I have already commented on him in a post a couple of months ago. But let’s see what he’s up to now. We’ll start with his opening:

If ever there were a time for President Obama to trust his instincts and stick to his guns, that time is now, when he is being pressured to change his mind about closing the books on the “torture” policies of the past.

Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

“Torture” in quotes?! What’s your problem, David. Do you have another name for waterboarding? And painful coercion? Being forced to read your columns is painful coercion. Walling is torture. Good god. Even Peggy Noonan, who advised us last Sunday, in response to the torture memos, that “Sometimes you need to just keep walking,” managed in her column in today’s Wall Street Journal to grant that waterboarding is torture: “Torture is bad, and as to whether the procedures outlined in the memos constituted torture, you could do worse than follow the wisdom of John McCain, who says, ‘Waterboarding is torture, period.’ This is something he’d know about.”

Broder tells us that “now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more — the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past.” Huh? I don’t want punishment for policies of the past. I want punishment for crimes of the past. I would hardly be the first to bring up the Nuremberg trials as evidence of what I have in mind. Should the Nazis not have been punished for “policies” of the past. Gee whiz, David. What are you thinking?

But let me leave it to hilzoy to say more. The passage below is responding to particular points in Broder’s column, so for full context, read both his column and her full post:
Read more…

Categories: Newspapers, Politics, Torture

Wrong Word of the Day

April 20, 2009 1 comment

xkcd

Where have all the editors gone?

Noam Cohen has an article in today’s NYT about Randall Munroe and his xkcd comic strip, which will soon appear in a book. As Mr. Cohen explains, “the idea that Randall Munroe, creator of the online comic strip xkcd — wildly popular among techies the world over for its witty use of programming code in its gags — would for the first time publish a book is still something of a head scratcher.”

You can go to the link for more details, which are not the point of this post. The point is another head scratcher. It occurs in the following sentence from the article (with bold done on my part for emphasis): “The book will include a forward from Mr. Munroe as well as red-ink commentary from him on the most popular strips.” That was the print edition. Online, forward has been changed to foreward. Progess of sorts. A step foreword. I wrote to Mr. Cohen. Maybe he can have the online version corrected.

Categories: Language, Newspapers

The MSM: Full of Surprises

April 4, 2009 Leave a comment

pujols

I don’t know what to make of the sports article in today’s Wall Street Journal, on the Leisure & Arts back page of the Saturday/Sunday Weekend Journal section. Allen Barra, whose biography of Yogi Berra has just appeared, has an article headlined Pujols Is Baseball’s Best. Well, yes. What else is new? I’m always happy to read more about Albert Pujols and his greatness, but this is hardly headline worthy. And yet, after a lead-in about the timeless question of who the best player in baseball, we read the following passage, italics added by me:

[T]he standards for greatness would appear to be simple: The best player in the game at any given time would have to be an outstanding hitter, a good defensive player, and at least a competent base runner.

Who, then, qualifies as the best player in baseball today? The answer might surprise even some dedicated baseball fans, but ask around and the name that pops up the most is 29-year-old Albert Pujols. The Dominican-born St. Louis Cardinal is a quick, intelligent base runner, though never called upon to steal bases. He is a superb first baseman, regarded by many as the best fielder at his position in the major leagues. “First base isn’t the hardest position to play,” says Lou Piniella, manager of the Cardinals’ archrivals, the Chicago Cubs, “but Albert adds an extra dimension. He’s sure-handed, and just about nothing gets by him. And he has very good range for a guy his size.” (He’s 6-foot-3 and about 230 pounds.)

But it is with a bat in his hands that Mr. Pujols excels. “If you define an effective hitter simply in terms of the runs he produces,” says Caleb Peiffer of Baseball Prospectus, “Pujols is just the best in the game — a tremendous power hitter who seldom strikes out. He might be the most consistent player in the game. He draws a lot of walks. He might be the best right-handed hitter in baseball history.”

I don’t doubt that this answer might surprise some casual followers of baseball, but dedicated baseball fans? Who could possibly be surprised. Sure, one can argue the point, but any dedicated baseball fan, if asked to name the three best players, would surely include Pujols, the only debate being who the other two are.

Yet another example of the fecklessness of the mainstream media. Maybe soon we can have a headline announcing another surprise: waterboarding is torture. Oh, wait. Not in the WSJ. But that’s another matter.

Categories: Newspapers, Sports

Packer on NYT Columnists

March 14, 2009 Leave a comment

nytoped

Last night I wrote a post on newly-announced NYT columnist Ross Douthat in which, as an example of his writing, I quoted from his recent post on RNC chairman Michael Steele. A couple of days ago, the New Yorker’s George Packer gave his thoughts on Douthat’s selection as the NYT’s new conservative columnist. Packer notes that “Douthat, the Times’s choice to replace Bill Kristol on its Op-Ed page, is so thoroughly his predecessor’s opposite that the selection is itself an admission and correction of a mistake. … this excellent choice shows that the Times has begun to see its conservative columnist as something more than a quota hire.”

Packer goes on to comment very briefly on all the NYT columnists, and I found his observations sufficiently interesting that I wanted to share them. Here they are (italics mine):
Read more…

Categories: Newspapers, Politics

Douthat on Steele

March 13, 2009 Leave a comment
Ross Douthat (with co-author Reihan Salam)

Ross Douthat (with co-author Reihan Salam)

Two days ago the New York Times announced that Atlantic writer, editor, and blogger Ross Douthat would become their newest columnist, ending weeks of speculation about who would replace Bill Kristol, joining David Brooks in the conservative-columnist slot. I have read some of Douthat’s work in the Atlantic. I look at his blog from time to time — mostly when references are made to his posts by fellow Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan — but I haven’t subscribed to it. In particular, I haven’t read enough to form a clear sense of his thinking or to decide how eager I am to read his columns. But everything I’ve read about his selection by writers I like is positive.

Douthat will be blogging at the Atlantic for another month. I looked over some of his recent posts and enjoyed his comments on Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele (and Sarah Palin). These comments are in a post yesterday afternoon, Douthat’s first since the announcement of his move. An excerpt follows:

I think Steele’s stumbles, while different in form from Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful broadcast-network interviews (he’s said too much; she didn’t say enough … and was tongue-tied doing it), reflect a similar underlying difficulty – the attempt to brazen through an intellectual vacuum with charisma alone. Both Steele and Palin are extremely charismatic, as American politicians go, which is a big reason why Republicans of different stripes – moderates for the Marylander, conservatives for the Alaskan – have been so excited about them. But they’ve both attempted (or been asked) to chart a new direction for the Right on style alone, and they’ve floundered as soon as they’ve been pressed for substance. Steele has responded by telling his interlocutors whatever they want to hear, Palin responded by telling her interlocutors next to nothing at all – and the results, in both cases, are and were unfortunate.

The point here, to return to an earlier theme, isn’t that a brilliant rat-a-tat-tat of bright policy ideas from either Steele or Palin’s lips would suddenly convert an audience of fence-sitting voters to rock-ribbed conservatism. It’s that given conservatism’s current straits, having something intelligent and fresh-sounding to say about how your political persuasion bears on the great issues of the day ought to be a baseline for rising right-of-center politicians. Insufficient, yes, but necessary all the same – not least because if you haven’t figured out something smart-sounding to say in advance, all the charisma in the world won’t save you from saying something foolish.

Categories: Newspapers, Politics

WSJ Sports

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

marchmad

When I went through our newspapers this morning, I opened the Wall Street Journal’s fluffy section — Personal Journal — looked at an article on its front page about a feature at tripadvisor.com that lets you compare the real costs of booking with one airline versus another on a particular route (including baggage fees, food, and so on), then read an article on the back page about the Big East basketball conference’s annual tournament that started tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Big East is the biggest of the major conferences, with 16 teams, and a noteworthy feature of this year’s tournament is that all 16 are invited, not just the top 8 or 12. It was an interesting article, to the extent that reading about the end-of-regular-season, pre-NCAA-tournament conference championships are interesting. But I didn’t think much about the fact that there was such an article. The WSJ has articles on just about any imaginable topic.

Late this afternoon, I looked at the WSJ’s front section, which evidently I had failed to do in my first pass this morning, and I noticed the banner headline on a green background stating “It’s Official – Sports in the Journal D12.” Wow! Sports in the WSJ. I mean, I knew it was due to happen. Ever since Murdoch bought it, it has slowly moved towards a regular paper. And as local papers die (our own Seattle Post-Intelligencer, owned by Hearst Corporation, is likely to die this week), the diversifying WSJ will be better positioned to compete with what are in effect its only national competitors, the NYT and USA Today. But still, a WSJ sports section? I turned immediately to D12 to see what they would be covering. And found an article about the Big East basketball conference’s annual tournament. Somehow I was oblivious this morning to the fact that I was reading the inaugural WSJ sports page. I turned back a page, anticipating that there might be more sports pages, but there weren’t. One page in from the back was the usual Leisure & Arts page. But it did have another sports article, one with a business slant written by Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith, in which the economics of the NCAA basketball tournament is discussed.

The Zimbalist article had no real surprises, but I can’t resist quoting two comments in which Zimbalist can’t quite restrain himself from pointing out, in passing, the absurdity of big-time college sports. First, in a discussion of the finances of major college basketball, he observes:
Read more…

Categories: Economics, Newspapers, Sports