Oct 312007

Tonight I heard an interesting talk by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen, author of the two volume set, “Birds of South Asia: the Ripley guide.”

The last part of her talk was about her work in uncovering the fraud perpetrated by Richard Meinertzhagen in the first part of the 20th century. A lot of observations about the distribution of birds in south Asia had been credited to him, with museum specimens existing to back them up. Except it turns out that a lot of his specimens were frauds. In many cases he stole bird specimens out of other collections, doctored them and relabeled them as his own, making false claims as to where and when they had been found. Rasmussen was not the first person to make accusations of fraud, but her detective work showed that the fraud was a lot more extensive than anyone had known.

Meinertzhagen’s techniques, as described by her, reminded me of the Sandy Berger story. He would ask the curators for collections of specimens to study, but wouldn’t return them all. He was once found to have a briefcase full of them as he was leaving the U.K. museum where he was working. He had Berger-like stories to cover himself — the previous curator had allowed him to do it and he always returned them — except he didn’t always return them. He was banned from the museum for a year until an influential aristocrat by the name of Rothschild got him reinstated — and in the meantime he was stealing specimens from Rothschild, too. It was only in the 1990s that his fraud became known, though there had been people way back who had suspected.

Well, Hillary has been in the process of rehabilitating Sandy Berger like Rothschild did Meinertzhagen. But will Berger complete the parallel by stealing from Hillary, too? Probably not, but it made me laugh out loud to think about it. (People turned around and gave me strange looks.)

Oct 282007

Conservative writer Austin Hill has praise for Bill Clinton’s words, “How dare you.”

As he then attempted to continue with his address, another heckler shouted at President Clinton, claiming that the terrorist attacks had been an “inside job.”

“An inside job?” Clinton retorted, with indignation in his voice. “How dare you. How dare you! It was NOT an inside job!”

In a matter of a few seconds, former President Clinton used a spontaneous moment with rude people in his midst to communicate to a fearful, skeptical American people. What was the message he conveyed? That the worst suspicions about our country and government are not to be tolerated, and certainly not to be believed.

I beg to differ. I think it’s fine that Clinton confronted the hecklers, and it’s fine to tell them they’re nuts or to make fun of them. And it’s fine to have them carted away if they’re not letting him speak.

But to say, “How dare you?” That implies they should not be allowed to say such things. In fact, that’s the message Austin Hill took away, as indicated by his words, “not to be tolerated.” Our Bill of Rights gives people the right to say crazy things. That’s how they dare say that. We do need to tolerate such words; otherwise we’re not much better than those who took down the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I realize it might just have been a manner of speaking, and that Clinton may not really have meant this kind of speech should not be allowed. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hyper-literal.

On the other hand, maybe in Clinton’s case we should parse his words very carefully and take them seriously. I am reminded of this incident from 1995, as told by Todd S. Purdum in the NYT:

This area is also a stronghold of anti-Government paramilitary groups, and Mr. Clinton addressed them tonight in a question from the daughter of a worker in the Federal Bureau of Land Management, who said the Oklahoma City bombing had left her afraid for his safety.

“The most important thing we can do to make your father safer is to have everybody in this room, whatever their political party or their view, stand up and say it is wrong to condemn people who are out there doing their job, and wrong to threaten them,” Mr. Clinton said. “And when you hear somebody doing it, you ought to stand up and double up your fist and stick it in the sky and shout them down.”

Shout them down? That’s the way dissidents may have been handled in the beginning days of Nazi Germany. But that’s not the sort of behavior the Leader of the Free World should be encouraging.

If people were a physical threat to this woman’s father, that should be reported to the police. If they were just criticizing him for working for the government, that is their right. And it is her right to criticize them back. Or to ignore them, if that would seem to be more effective.

But for an American president to be advising people to be shouted down is to encourage mob rule and the voice of unreason. He should be upholding the right of people to dare to say what the voices in their head are telling them, secure in the knowledge that we are upholding a country where reason and evidence will stand against it. Telling crackpots that they dare not speak vindicates their conspiracy theorizing in their own minds, and lends them credibility. What we need to do is bring these people and their crackpot ideas out into the sunshine, not shove them into a closet.

And speaking of sunshine, what was on those papers that Sandy Berger stuffed into his shorts, anyway?

Oct 272007

Like me, The Main Adversary has been greatly influenced by George Will’s arguments against the line-item veto.

But having thought it over a little more, there is at least one point I’d argue with.

But were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating. He would be making, rather than executing, laws, and the separation of powers would be violated.

I don’t think this is true.

When a court strikes down legislation, that is not considered the same as legislating. We make a distinction between initiating a piece of legislation and saying no to it.

When a state supreme court told a state legislature that it had six months to write a law to enable gay marriage, THAT was legislating. That was a usurpation of the law-making power. But when it overturns a law banning gay marriage, whether we agree with it or not, that is not a usurpation of the legislature’s job. Rather, it is a check on the legislative power.

When a state supreme court tells a legislature that it must raise taxes to provide funds for schools, that, too, is legislating. When a state supreme court overturns a law providing funds for private schools, that could well be within its powers to act as a check on the law-making power.

By George Will’s logic, we could have no checks and balances, because any time the courts or the executive say no, that would be indistinguishable from legislating.

I don’t see how the fact that it’s one provision of a law vs a whole law that’s being vetoed would change things on those grounds. It is true that the line-item veto has been declared to be unconstitutional — but it can hardly be on the grounds that it’s indistinguishable from legislating. There is a very clear distinction between the two.

Oct 252007

There has been a lot of talk about the socio-economic status of Graeme Frost’s family and eligibility for SCHIP programs. I don’t know much about that. It’s not that I am uninterested. I have had my own experience with people trying to make me and my family, with our middle-class income, dependent on government welfare programs. But I’m more interested in his case of the issue of whether it’s right to take kids, put words in their mouths, and put them up on stage for partisan political purposes.

We seem to have an instinctive sense that it isn’t right when celebrity stage parents do it. The following is from a book review in the Wall Street Journal: The Perils of Being a Child Prodigy : Why Ervin Nyiregyházi never lived up to his potential.

In fact, “Musical Wonder Child,” part one of “Lost Genius,” might easily have been subtitled, “How Not to Raise a Prodigy.” The child of an amateur pianist and a tenor in the chorus of the Royal Hungarian Opera, Nyiregyházi was paraded around Europe performing for the social elite. Although his parents arranged quality musical training for their son, his mother banished his chess set for fear it would lure him away from music. She urged him to play Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” in less than 60 seconds and insisted he perform in short pants to heighten his marketing appeal. (He finally rebelled at the age of 17.)

We could come up with other examples like that, too. But somehow, whenever there is talk of cutting government spending, people think it’s OK to parade their kids like was done with Graeme Frost, and even put words in their mouths. Back in the mid-1990s when the new Republican Congress was battling the Clintons, some parents at the local VA was were also parading their kid in front of journalists for the sake of continued government spending. That’s when my campaign against this kind of child exploitation began.

I had already got somewhat sensitive to this issue some years earlier when my two oldest children were young, probably a little younger than Graeme Frost. I took them to a debate between Jackie MacGregor, Republican candidate for Congress against the incumbent, extreme leftist Howard Wolpe. MacGregor was a bit of an extremist herself, as am I. But she said some things I couldn’t support, and finally I just sat on my hands during her final applause lines. My kids were clapping wildly, though, along with the rest of her partisans in the crowd. I was glad I had brought them to the event, but it made me think how dangerous it is to use children this way. They knew which side their parents supported, but they weren’t old enough to think these things through themselves.

Graeme Frost is in 7th grade, so he is old enough to start thinking. The Kennedy-vs-Nixon campaign was in full swing when I was that age. Our teacher in our two-room school in rural Nebraska was at one point quizzing the kids about their political affiliation vs that of their parents. There was one 8th grade girl who supported the Democrats while her parents were Republican. The rest supported whichever candidate their parents supported. The teacher used that as evidence that only one of us was thinking for ourselves, while the rest of us were not doing so yet. That infuriated me, and I’m still angry over it 48 years later. Just because I agreed with my parents didn’t mean I wasn’t doing my own thinking. So I became a rebellious teenager — rebelling against those who said teenagers of the 1960s needed to rebel against their parents. (Well, to some extent I did, as my parents can still testify. But it in many ways I refused to do so, still angry over the implications of what our teacher had said in 7th grade.) I imagine Graeme Frost is doing some of his own thinking, too, and might be similarly resentful over what I’ve been writing here. But at that age kids shouldn’t be used as props for their parents to hide behind.

Oct 232007

In the 1750s Benjamin Franklin was in England, in part to petition for redress of grievances — The Pennsylvania Governor considered himself too special to have to pay taxes, even though he was the richest man in the colony. Eventually we had a Revolution — one that had an impact around the world.

Now the egalitarianism that began in that era is coming undone.

From the WSJ

A law President Bush signed last month drew a lot of attention for trying to make college more affordable for many. Less trumpeted were provisions that support the altruists among us.

The law, signed by President Bush last month, appropriates $20 billion to cut interest rates on certain federal student loans and increase grant aid for low-income students over the next five years. But the College Cost Reduction and Access Act also creates an important incentive for all students to enter fields of public service by offering to forgive what could amount to tens of thousands of dollars of school debt per student.

The legislation broadly defines public service to include a wide range of occupations, such as public health, public education, working for a nonprofit organization and serving in law enforcement or as a public-interest lawyer.

In other words, the members of the governing class are too special to have to pay the full costs. They get special government subsidies that the rest of us don’t get.

This is bad on so many levels. It sets up a situation of government vs the people. It shelters a whole class of people who tend to favor higher taxes from knowledge of the impact that the cost of government has ordinary people. It demeans entrepreneurship in the private sector, the sector that supports the increasing costs of government.

We’re seeing this same sort of thing happening in England, now, too.

From Paul Greenberg

There’ll always be an England, so they say. But you might doubt it after reading about the latest controversy in Parliament. To quote David Stringer’s AP dispatch from London: “British lawmakers have been granted the power to move to the head of the line at restaurants, rest rooms and elevators inside the Houses of Parliament, angering those assistants, researchers, janitors and other workers who must stand and wait.”

Oct 232007

Breitbart.com tells us that not everyone has yet succumbed to the mania for health and safety. There are still a few “live free or die” types that have not yet been made to submit.

When Daniel Craig was unveiled as the new James Bond actor in October 2005, he was forced to wear a life jacket as he sped through London on a boat up the River Thames

It was somewhat out of keeping for the daredevil fictional British spy, in a press call stunt widely acknowledged as having backfired.

“It’s not his fault. He’s doing what he’s told,” McGregor groaned.

“Today, health and safety are out of control. In Africa, garage attendants smoked as they filled the bikes. I took great pleasure in that.”

Oct 222007

Reading this article by George Will is the first time I’ve ever seen good arguments against a presidential line-item veto.  I am not completely convinced, but I am convinced that his are serious objections.   The best way to evaluate his concerns would be to take a look at places where governors have had that power, to see if the effect has been as he describes.  So where does one start with that?

Oct 212007

No, not the socks into which he stuffed documents. I’m talking about Socks, the cat.

Hillary dumped an innocent cat when he was no longer politically useful. But she picked up a convicted national security risk, and made him an unofficial adviser to her campaign. Could it be she expects him to be useful? Has he done more for her than Socks did?


This is a photo of our Calico Cat, caught sleeping in the dog dish again. That may have been in 2002. She has since died, at about age 16. And more recently, E-Flat, too, has died, also at a very old age, leaving us with no cats at all. (Mittens and Theophrastus died many years ago.) Somewhere in between Calico and E-Flat, Toelpel died. He was a black Lab mutt, a contemporary of Calico. So there are no animals to keep the mice, chipmunks, and whitetail deer at bay. And it’s the time of year when mice are trying to move indoors to winter quarters.

Everytime I become aware of a stray cat that needs adopting, my wife says no, because she is the one who will have to care for it. (Which is true.) But she has left the door open a bit to the possibility of getting another cat if it’s a Tuxedo cat, like Mittens.

socks 385x185 222463a

Well, guess what? Socks, too, is a Tuxedo cat. He’s pretty old by now, but if Betty Currie feels put upon to have him, I know where he could find a good home. He wouldn’t even be required to catch mice, though it would be nice if he could advise us on matters of household security.

I make no such offer if Sandy Burger gets dumped.  I make no such offer to take in Sandy Berger if he gets dumped.  I have a hard enough time as it is finding the papers I need without having to search peoples’ shorts.

Oct 192007

I’ve told the Audible.com people that I’d like to sign up, but first they have to fix their wretched web site.   I’ve pretty much run out of books for my MP3 player from our public library’s Netlibrary subscription, other than Pimsleur language recordings.

But it’s too painful.   If I go to their web site and elect to Browse for history books, I get a web page that says “Audible has 1587 history titles with more being added all the time.”   And it displays eight of them, and offers to let me listen to samples.  But there is nary a link by which to browse to look at more than those eight.   To do that, I have to use their complicated search page.  But I don’t want to search.  I want to browse — one handed, with my mouse, not my keyboard.   Most library card catalogs have decent browse functions to provide serendipity almost as good as you can get browsing the stacks.  But audible.com doesn’t get it.   False advertising, I’d say, telling me to “Browse and Discover”, and then provide no means to browse.