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Friday, July 05, 2002

 
TIP YOUR HAT.

More sad news at the end of a sad week: Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest pure hitter who ever lived, is dead at 83.

I won't belabor this, but take a moment to read some of the tributes. Then marvel at these two things:

On the last day of the 1941 season, Williams average was just barely .400 (rounding up). Fans wanted him to sit out the days' doubleheader to preserve the record. But Ted played a double-header, went 6-for-8, and ended the year batting .406. No one has done better since.

Williams didn't so much proclaim himself "the greatest hitter who ever lived" as much as toss the subject out for discussion and dare you to nominate anyone else. But he was proudest of his military service in World War II and in the Korean War, where as a marine pilot, he flew dozens of missions as John Glenn's wingman. How cool is that?

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LIFE AFTER COD.

"We're keeping Chilean sea bass off our plates in order to keep it on the planet," says Fritz Blank, chef de cuisine et proprietair of Deux Cheminees -- a Philly restaurant I can't afford.

According to environet, Blank is just one of 57 Philly chefs no longer serving the pricey fish in an attempt to protect it from the overfishing that threatens the species. (Some 380 chefs nationwide are part of the campaign.)

Despite regulations to protect the Patagonian Toothfish ("Chilean sea bass" just sounded better on menus), poachers and illegal fishing have put the species' future in jeopardy.

The "Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass" campaign here could have an impact, since 70 percent of the fish (some 21 million pounds) are bought for restaurants in the U.S.

Maybe the easiest way to protect the species, though, would be to remind diners that it's really just a toothfish. Who wants to eat toothfish?


posted by Fred Clark 10:19 PM

 
NO ONE ELSE IS WORKING TODAY.

The Schuykill Expressway was a ghost-town this morning on my commute to The Cube. Apparently most of the Philly region had the good sense to take today off. The slacktivist didn't get today off, so here I am, doggedly pretending to work ...

A strange direct mail appeal arrived this week from First Things, Richard John Neuhaus' monthly rant of sometimes insightful, sometimes seditious commentary on religion and public life. The letter cites "the promise of romance" as one reason to subscribe to the Neo/Theo-cons favorite piece of homework. As evidence, it cites this letter from "a satisfied subscriber":

"I first laid eyes on my wife while she was reading First Things at the University of Virginia library. I was immediately intrigued -- it's not often that one spies an attractive blonde keenly poring over the most intelligent guide to religion and public life ..."

I shudder to think that First Things is now including a "Forum" section. I suppose this appeals to the same kinky crowd salivating over Ann Coulter's photo gallery.

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Good news today: Charles Peters' July/August "Tilting at Windmills" column is now available online! Peters is a fount of irrepressible common sense and curmudgeonly wisdom. "Windmills" is a monthly pleasure to read.

Speaking of the Washington Monthly, don't miss Joshua Green's insightful article on the new rules of scandal: "The 'new tone' that George W. Bush brought to Washington isn't one of integrity, but of permissiveness."

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The folks at the Poynter Institute poynt out that the Freedom of Information Act just celebrated it's 36th birthday on, appropriately, the Fourth of July. A nice primer on how to file a FOIA request here.

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George W. Bush enjoys approval ratings in the high-70s. Mr. Bush, like his father before him, is well acquainted with the surge in popularity experienced by a wartime leader. So did it make any sense to launch a full-scale rhetorical assault calling for the removal of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat? The painfully predictable result: Arafat's popularity is soaring.

But note the subtle genius behind Mr. Bush's wily statesmanship. The president recognized that Arafat is virtually irreplaceable as a negotiating partner in any future peace plan. Fearing that Sharon's bellicose calls for Arafat's removal would lead, inevitably, to a more radical Palestinian leadership, Mr. Bush had to act to strengthen Arafat's hold on power, but he had to do so without upsetting our Israeli allies. In a masterstroke of chess-like diplomacy, Pres. Bush appeared to side with Israel's opposition to Arafat, but did so in a manner that actually reinforced the Palestinian's authority.

Yet another example of Mr. Bush humbly being willing to appear foolish in order to accomplish his policy ends.

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Meanwhile, in Florida, Sultaana Freeman is suing to be allowed to wear a black veil in her driver's license photo. Her husband, Abdul Malik, is vigorously defending his wife's right to consider herself a second-class citizen, inferior to men, saying that asking her to remove her veil for the photo is "just like asking to pull off her shirt."

The Orlando Sentinel seems to agree with the ACLU that Malik's misogynism is constitutional and legal, since it is religiously motivated misogynism. This is probably correct, much to the relief of the Southern Baptist Convention and the troglodytes of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

All Americans enjoy our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, but we also enjoy the First Amendment right to freely criticize the religious views of others with which we disagree. We are even free to combine our religious beliefs with our free speech to formulate sentences like this: "It is morally wrong to require women to cover their faces with veils."

So Abdul Malik says it would be immoral for his wife to uncover her face. I say it's immoral to require her to keep it covered. We both claim religious, divine authority for our views. Do all moral claims boil down to such unproveable assertions? Not the kind of question I have the energy to pursue on a Friday when everybody else seems to be at the beach ...


posted by Fred Clark 1:29 PM


Wednesday, July 03, 2002

 
A NEW CREATION.

Do you think Amy Grant sold out with Lead Me On?

Regardless of your answer, if you didn't understand that question, you're probably not an American evangelical Christian. And unless you're a part of the unique and almost untranslatable American evangelical subculture, you won't fully appreciate how cool the following story is from the 2002 Creation Festival.

Creation is one of the largest big Christian music festivals held every summer around the United States. It draws more than 60,000 attendees to several days of Christian pop music and preaching. If the names Michael W. Smith, the Supertones or Jaci Velasquez mean anything to you, then you'll appreciate that Bono really doesn't fit in well with the milieu there. That's what makes this story so much fun.

Dwight Ozard forwarded the following from Jay Schwartzendruber:

"Bono videotaped a special DATA public service announcement that was unveiled by Michael W. Smith at Creation East on Friday night. Via the festival's huge DiamondVision screen, Bono apologized for 'interrupting your festival' and went on to talk for several minutes about the Bible's extreme emphasis on the plight of the poor, and our call to respond to Africa's need.

"The following night Michael W. played the video clip for the 200,000 attendees at Celebrate Freedom in Dallas.

"Bono's PSA was created for the Christian community, affirming his recent statements that DATA is 'an unusual combination of church and street.' Look for other Christian artists to showcase Bono's special message, along with email sign-up sheets, at this summer's festivals and on various tours."

It's a measure of Bono's growing moral stature that John Allen's Washington Monthly piece on possible successor's to Pope John Paul 2, suggests that Cardinal Oscar Rodriquez Mardiaga of Honduras may be papal material because, in part, he's been working with the rock singer on third world debt.

Then of course, there was the Time cover story.

You can learn more about Bono's efforts and DATA at this home page.

And for those of you inside the evangelical subculture, try to stick up for Michael W. when he starts fielding criticism for giving a platform to that worldly, secular rockstar ...


posted by Fred Clark 4:46 PM

 
PRESIDENT MUNCHAUSEN.

So a firefighter gets arrested for starting an Arizona wildfire. No one is keeping statistics on firefighter-arson, but this is not a unique occurrence. Sometimes, the people who are supposed to be putting fires out get strange ideas about playing the hero, so they intentionally set fires in order to fight them.

In related news, President Bush has recently been calling for increased corporate responsibility and a firmer hand from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC is headed by Harvey Pitt, a man Pres. Bush appointed precisely because he is ideologically opposed to strict regulation.

Now the president is angry with Paul Krugman [registration required] for dredging up the SEC's past investigation of his own business activities. The agency's 1989-1993 investigation of George W. Bush for insider trading, dumping $850,000 worth of stock in Harken Energy just before the company tanked.

That investigation ended without any charges leveled against him, but the SEC was adamant that it "must in no way be construed as indicating that [Mr. Bush] has been exonerated."

Josh Marshall thinks this story has legs, and enticingly predicts that additional soon-to-come revelations will prove more damning and harder to evade for the president. (Arbusto, anyone?) Part one seems to be here.

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O.B.R.C. WATCH.

The WaPo notes that several black Democrats in Congress had urged J.C. Watts, the Only Black Republican in Congress, not to retire, saying his presence was needed in the GOP. J.C. even got a letter asking him to reconsider from civil-rights hero Rosa Parks:

"If you can, please remain as a pioneer on the Republican side until others come to assist you," Parks wrote. "I am glad I stayed in my seat."

The departure of Julius Caesar Watts, OBRC, and the increasing marginalization of Colin Powell, leaves the GOP with even fewer black faces in high places. And one has to wonder, war-time or no, how long Condi Rice can hang in there covering for her boss' gaffes.

For the most part, I agree with J.C. Watts' father, who repeatedly told his son that "A black man voting for the Republicans makes about as much sense as a chicken voting for Col. Sanders." But as we've argued here, Pres. Bush's support for Cleveland's school voucher program provides a tangible example of his working to benefit poor black families. That coupled with his modest-but-worthy proposal to promote black home-ownership could help Mr. Bush in his attempts to court black voters. That is, unless he pursues black voters in a clumsy and ham-fisted manner.

Ron Walters, for one, is skeptical of the president's motives with his housing intiative, but says the plan might do some good. (Walters writes for BlackPressUSA, "Your Independent Source of News for the African American Community." Some of the most prominent ads on that site are for Shell (the oil company that fueled apartheid and executed an African Nobelist) and the Philip Morris companies. Is this an example of the principled separation of editorial and advertising in journalism, or just the sad sellout it appears to be?)


posted by Fred Clark 11:59 AM


Tuesday, July 02, 2002

 
LA VITA E BELLA


Do Melinda Henneberger and Bill Turque really enjoy the Hollywood-perfect life that seems portrayed in their current Slate breakfast table session? If you saw these people in the beginning of a movie -- raising twins, in Italy, while researching books on art and politics -- you'd be sure disaster was about to strike, like with those poor families seen smiling with Charles Bronson in the first five minutes of any Death Wish movie.


Not that I begrudge them this beautiful life, but from here in the cubicles and fluorescent caverns of corporate America, the idea of getting Microsoft to pay you to blog from some idyllic cafe in Italy seems almost inconceivable.


Ms. Henneberger's to-the-point comments on Cleveland's school vouchers, however, echo what Slacktivist has been saying:


"I personally do not fear that the wall separating church and state is going to crumble because some low-income families who want to send their kids to a parochial school are given the means to do so. (Although if we keep hearing about pedophile priests it's going to take more than a little voucher money to keep the Catholic schools open.)


"Unlike all our friends who send their own children to private schools but think poor kids have to be protected from exposure to Sister Theodosia's catechism lessons, I think that's the least of their problems.


"The whole voucher debate seems ridiculously skewed toward political, rather than educational, outcomes. I take Teddy Kennedy's point that it's risky to take funds away from already struggling public schools and certainly do not argue that vouchers alone will save those schools, which need more than incentives to improve.


"But voucher programs would help some of the kids who now have no choice but to attend failing schools. We can all agree we should do whatever it takes to fix the public schools, but after years of debate on educational reform, it just hasn't happened, under either party. So it seems time to give vouchers a try."


Bill responds by referring to E.J. Dionne's WaPo editorial, in which he calls vouchers "a form of cheap grace for those who want to pretend they care about poor kids even as they evade the cost of fixing the deep inequities built into our educational system."


Dionne is dead on here:


"If everybody who debated vouchers cared about poor children as much as they claim to, they would come up with a compromise that is both fair and radical. Let's try vouchers for low-income kids who are stuck in broken public systems and have decent alternatives available. But let's admit that these experiments are no substitute for a large-scale effort to improve the public schools.


"Of course, that would take serious money and effort. It's far easier just to continue our abstract arguments about the merits and demerits of vouchers. ..."


And America does not have the political will to invest "serious money and effort" into the lives of poor children. Especially not into the lives of poor black children.


BTW, Slacktivist give Dionne extra credit props for contrasting "cheap grace" with what is required of its opposite: "serious money and effort."

The phrase "cheap grace" comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship. The message of that book could be summed up in the epigram at the beginning of >A Prayer for Owen Meany</i>:


"Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig."
-- Leon Bloy



The U.S. Holocaust Museum has a nice online exhibit on Bonhoeffer here. Sojourners published this piece on the 50th anniversary of his death.











posted by Fred Clark 3:37 PM

 
RUN, PERCY, RUN.


A dog is running against Katherine Harris in the Republican primary for Florida's 13th congressional district. Specifically, a border collie named Percy. Presumably, the Jesse Ventura experience has taught voters to ensure that their protest votes are cast for someone ineligible to serve.


The 13th is one of those partisan districts where the dominant party's primary in effect names the winner of the general election. But as much fun as it might be to see Percy win, Democrats have to be rooting for Harris.


This excerpt from Jeffrey Toobin's book Too Close To Call (courtesy of BuzzFlash) shows why Harris' victory spells big trouble down the line for the GOP:


"As James Baker said any number of times during the post-election battle, 'The vote in Florida was counted … the vote in Florida has been recounted…' No one from the Gore campaign ever challenged this view. There was only one problem. It simply wasn't true….


"In fact, many counties - a total of eighteen - did not recount their votes on the day after the election. Those counties accounted for 1.58 million votes, more than a quarter of all the votes cast in the election. The significance of this omission can scarcely be overstated. ...


"Baker, and Bush himself, invariably cited the automatic recount as proof that the votes had been 'counted and recounted.' But, of course, those votes had not been recounted, and to this day, the votes in the eighteen counties still have not been officially recounted. A central theme of the Republican public-relations effort was that Gore was demanding third and fourth examinations of ballots that had already been rigorously scrutinized. And it was false.


"This subterranean story of the automatic recount marked just the first time that Harris's office performed heroic, if necessarily unsung, service to the Bush campaign. In the days that followed, Clay Roberts and Debbie Kearney, Harris's general counsel, would exchange nervous glances whenever the subject of the automatic recount came up. They knew that it had not been a full recount. But neither they nor their superior, Katherine Harris, ever corrected the public record."


Post-election qualms about divisiveness kept Democrats from leveraging political gain from the Unfinished Election. Then came the war, which rendered mention of Bush's Florida dishonesty utterly "September 10th." But while President Bush is insulated from his own misdeeds, the pawns who oversaw them are not. And Katherine Harris may be the least sympathetic figure to arise from the sordid Hiaassenian swamp of the 2000 election.


Presuming Harris wins the primary, she should coast through the general election and into the House of Representatives. The ethics probe could start a few months later. I'm not clear on the specifics of Congress' ethical standards, but I think probably breaking Florida's election law, then lying about it to sway an election, can't be considered ethically good. Harris' gradual disgrace will probably ensure that the Democrats again carry Florida in the 2004 election.


Pres. Bush's best move might be to offer Harris an ambassadorship somewhere far away, then to send James Baker down to run Percy's campaign.






posted by Fred Clark 2:12 PM


Monday, July 01, 2002

 
TIGER LILIES

No matter where you go in the Delaware Valley right now, you're not far from a patch of tiger lilies in full bloom. This almost -- but not quite -- makes up for weather that's as hot and sticky as the inside of a tennis shoe.

Kudos to Mickey Kaus for being one of the few commentators on school vouchers (see below) to note that vouchers are popular among black parents desperate to get their kids out of dead-end schools. No effort to reform American education can succeed without acknowledging that our public schools are massively segregated, and that this fact is hurting black children.

Mickey also points to this Washington Post editorial, which embraces what I think is just about the right angle on school vouchers.

Also from Slate, Joe Klein's "European Listening Tour" made for generally interesting reading, including this fantastic riff on global population, describing " ... a world of massive numbers: a billion Chinese, a billion Indians, 300 million Americans who live as if they were 3 billion ..."

J.C. Watts, the former college football star who went on to become the Only Black Republican in Congress, has announced that he will not run for re-election. During his tenure in the House of Representatives, Watts demonstrated above all a canny ability to milk every drop of advantage he could from his position as OBRC. But he also made some genuine contributions, working on several admirable bipartisan efforts to promote economic development in low-income communities. The pragmatic "American Community Renewal Act," for instance, contained many modest but positive steps.

Watts' departure raises the question of who the GOP might find to replace him in the role of OBRC. Picture Dick Armey, Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay and Trent Lott gathered around a conference room table, brainstorming the names of potential black candidates ...


posted by Fred Clark 3:42 PM

 
LONG DISTANCE MENTAL HEALTH

Speaking of WorldCom ... The layoff of 17,000 workers is sobering, and I don't like to think what the company's swan dive means for its hometown of Clinton, Mississippi, but I do enjoy a measure of schadenfreude over the downfall of the worst service provider I have ever encountered.

I got my first wireless phone from MCI just before they were taken over by the WorldCom freight-train to nowhere. Every call I ever made was assessed roaming charges, and my voicemail was never set up, though the company never failed to bill me for it. I sent them a letter in which I refused to pay for a service I had not received. Their response, in essence: "Yes, you will pay, because we are very, very large and you are very, very small."

I had no idea at the time that this was a company founded and shaped by Bernie Ebbers, a church-going fellow Baptist.

I've since switched to the more affordable and infinitely more pleasant-to-deal-with Working Assets. They're an aggressively do-gooder-ish company that donates 1 percent of your phone bill to worthy charities like Habitat, Amnesty International or the Sierra Club. Plus, they send me a coupon every month for a FREE pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

You can sign up here to begin your own nicer/cheaper/more-ethical phone-and-ice-cream service.

Working Assets also provides the chance to sign on to citizen letters on a variety of current issues. I generally agree with these advocacy letters, and I like Working Assets' efforts to use their phone bills to raise awareness about these issues, but I'm not unqualifiedly sure it's always a good thing to be trying to make citizen involvement "quick, easy and convenient."

This month, Working Assets is urging it's "members" to:

"Support Mental Health Coverage: Insurance companies currently limit coverage for mental health treatments, making it difficult and costly for patients with schizophrenia and other mental disorders to get the care they need. The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, H.R. 4066, would require insurers to cover mental and physical illnesses equitably, with less than a 1% impact on premiums. Urge your Senator to help provide coverage for the mentally ill."

So which is it? Do we want to help "patients ... get the care they need"? Or do we want insurers to "cover mental and physical illnesses equitably"? American healthcare is not about getting people "the care they need." It's about maintaining the absurd charade that healthcare fits neatly into abstract textbook notions of "market models."

So now, in the name of "equity" we're fighting to make sure that those suffering from mental illness are entitled to the same half-baked, over-priced, restrictive, inefficient, delayed-reaction, too-many-cooks private healthcare that those suffering from physical illness receive. That should be enough to drive anybody crazy.




posted by Fred Clark 11:44 AM

 
BILL GREIDER, HOPEFUL CYNIC

William Greider has every right to point to the Enron/Global Crossing/WorldCom/etc. scandals and shout "I told you so! I told you so! I told you so!" but exercises more restraint and dignity in this Nation column:

"The systematic deceit and imaginative greed--the sheer chintziness of personal finagling for more loot--go well beyond the darkest hunches harbored by resident skeptics like myself. Indeed, the Wall Street system is now being flayed in the media almost daily by its own leading tribunes.

"Listen to this summary of the scandals: 'The failures of Wall Street's compliance efforts are coming under intense scrutiny--part of a growing awareness of how deeply flawed the US financial markets really are. The watchdogs charged with keeping the financial world honest have all lost credibility themselves: outside auditors who bend the rules to please corporate clients, analysts who shape stock recommendations to woo investment-banking customers and government regulators too timid or overwhelmed to keep track of the frenzy.'

"You might have read those points in The Nation, but these words appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. A week later, another page-one Journal story crisply explained the implications for global investors: 'Boasts about world-class corporate disclosure, bookkeeping and regulation of American financial markets have become laughable in the wake of Enron and Arthur Andersen scandals.'

"When radical critique becomes mainstream observation, change may be in the air. In my view, this is a rare historical moment--conditions are ripe for reforming and reordering the system, an opportunity unmatched since World War II."

The need for "reform and reordering" is certainly apparent, but I fear he's a bit too optimistic here. An increase in the urgency of the need for reform does not imply an increase in the likelihood that such reform will occur.


posted by Fred Clark 10:43 AM

 
SPEAKING OF THE ONION ...

"Corporate America has got to understand there's a higher calling than trying to fudge the numbers, trying to slip a billion here or a billion there and maybe hope nobody notices," George W. Bush said Friday.

Is this the same George W. Bush whose scheme to "privatize" (i.e., individualize) social security is infamous for its blatant attempt to slip a TRILLION here and a TRILLION there while hoping nobody notices?

Paul Krugman, of course, has noticed.

The interplay between Krugman and the Bush Administration has provided a fascinating unfolding drama on the op-ed page of the New York Times. As the President's lies on social security have gotten more and more brazen (and there is no charitable alternative term -- on Social Security, George W. Bush lies and lies and lies and lies) the formerly staid economist has gotten increasingly frenzied and shrill. George W. Bush's amiable baldfaced lies about his social security plan, and his nonchalance about the fact that his falsehoods have been repeatedly disproven, seem to have shaken the foundations of Krugman's economist's faith in human rationality.

This dispute would be much more amusing if Mr. Bush's lies did not entail such grim consequences for the 7-out-of-10 American families who pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes, whose paychecks the president is using to subsidize his income-tax and estate-tax cuts for the wealthy.

A nice discussion of the estate-tax boondoggle here and here and here.

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Mr. Bush (and/or his speechwriters) deserves some credit for making this nuanced distinction: "The federal government will be vigilant in prosecuting wrongdoers to ensure that investors and workers maintain the highest confidence in America's business," Bush said.

Ethicists are invited to parse the shades of meaning between "evildoers" and "wrongdoers."

For extra credit, ethicists may determine whether taxing the poor to benefit the wealthy, then repeatedly lying about it, is simply wrong or more fully evil.


posted by Fred Clark 9:43 AM


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