Vox Populi

Readers on the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

Two Fray stalwarts on the passing of Ronald Reagan:

Subject: “Reagan and the 20-Year Rule
From:     Zathras
Date:     Sun Jun 6 1543hI remember vaguely having once read some Presidential historian write to the effect that no President could be fairly judged until 20 years had passed from the time he left the White House. The reason for this, as I recall, is that about that much time is needed for each President’s words and actions to start to be assessed on their own terms, as opposed to being entangled in current political controversies.

My memory as to how I came across this is hazy (maybe I just saw it in a movie!) but it’s not a bad rule. Following it, we should just be starting to put the Carter administration in proper historical perspective. Reagan both served longer and made a deeper impression on American government and politics than Carter did, so we may need to wait longer before his tenure in the White House comes completely into focus. Right now, assessments of the Reagan years are thoroughly entangled in today’s politics.

For Republicans, Reagan is still the Founder of the Feast; most of the themes sounded by successful Republican politicians today echo Reagan’s, and even President Bush’s disengagement from the details of government is defended by claims that he is imitating Reagan’s “management style.” Reagan showed the political world how Americans value optimism, and the political world has responded by pounding away on that theme like a young piano student who having learned “Chopsticks” has decided the way to Carnegie Hall is to play it over and over.

Democrats for their part spent most of Reagan’s Presidency reacting to him, and they are still doing it. You can’t read Tim Noah and Will Saletan reacting to Reagan’s death without noticing how little they discuss their own thinking on government except as a response to Reagan’s. Saletan claims Reagan taught him that he was “not a conservative,” as if he ever was; to Noah, Reagan was dangerous at first because he was a cold-hearted warmonger and is now a failure because he wasn’t. So to be a conservative is to think well of everything Reagan did, and to be a liberal is to, well, not – reactions that inevitably say more about commentators on Reagan than they do about Reagan himself.

I am making more an observation here than a criticism. With the passage of time – say, another five years or so – Republicans will feel less compelled to genuflect regularly in Reagan’s direction, and those on the left less driven to see Reagan as a proxy for Republican ideas and personalities they dislike today. And I am as guilty as anyone else of looking on Reagan’s Presidency through the prism of the short period since it ended.

While Reagan was President I served in government in a junior staff position. I was driven to distraction by the way his administration stripped the substance from so much of his rhetoric and by how his own inattention to events and program details led to the domestic policy stagnation of his second term. At the same time I took for granted his personal grace and relationship with the American public, not appreciating as I do now how far he exceeded the men who preceded and succeeded him in the White House as head of state – whatever his shortcomings as head of government – and how important that was.

Of course, this view of Reagan reflects my own orientation: my sense of the 1980s’ lost opportunities to reform government and send it in a worthier direction, my exasperation at how completely the demands of the permanent campaign have overwhelmed the business of government under the lesser men who succeeded Reagan as President, my resentment of the petty ill-bred ways in which the last two Presidents have diminished the office by identifying it with themselves. And, inevitably, my perhaps mistaken belief that Reagan’s legacy could have been built on better than it has been by the people who have been active in government and by some people who have not been.

Henry Kissinger once observed that Reagan was fortunate in when he became President – his fervent anti-Communism would have seemed alarming ten years before 1980 and anachronistic ten years after. I suppose there is reason to doubt how well he would have fit into a world dominated by globalism and an ongoing war against religious terrorism, too. But on an emotional level I miss him terribly now. I can’t say that about any other public figure of my lifetime who has left the scene now, including men whose wisdom and abilities I rated above Reagan’s and many whose background had more in common with my own than his did. I’ve heard people analyze the emotional bond they felt with Reagan; maybe that is a topic subject to the 20-year rule, maybe not. In any event bond has now, finally, been replaced with memory, and if this is hard for some Americans surely this more than anything says more about them than it can about Reagan. [find this post here.]
Subject: “He’s a drug store truck-drivin’ man
From:     Betty_the_Crow
Date:     Sat Jun 5 1825hI miss Richard Nixon. He was an evil motherfucker and everyone knew it, even his friends and family and die-hard supporters, with the possible exception of Bill Safire, the exception who proves the rule. Nixon was responsible for one of the great advances in political culture, the removal of the concept of “shame” from the moral glossaries not only of politicians, which would have been no big deal, but, during the course of his “rehabilitation,” of journalists as well. The real heyday of moral relativism began with Dick.

I won’t miss Ronald Reagan, even though his contribution to political culture, government by hallucination, probably outstrips Nixon’s in import. One of the results of employing an Alzheimer’s victim as president was that it came to seem first impolite, and then cruel, and then downright treasonous to make public note of the discrepancies between rhetoric and reality. We’re still reaping that whirlwind, and it’s that, more than his support for muggers and thieves, murderers and genocidal dictators, more than his perhaps inadvertent surrender to and glorification of government by unofficial means, for which I’ll never forgive him.

Nixon killed shame, and Reagan killed reality. It’s no wonder so many of the latter’s former loyalists now worship Bush, who has far outstripped his mentor at the art of living exclusively inside his own mind.

Aloha, Ronnie, and good riddance.[find this post here.]

Thursday, June 4, 2004

Evicting the Tenet: Early analysis from the Fray comes courtesy of Thrasymachus, who believes that CIA Director George Tenet’s resignation coming on the heels of President Bush’s consultation of outside counsel is anything but a coincidence:

First, there’s the possibility that Tenet himself was the “leaker” in the Plame affair, and Bush just found out. This inspired him to call a lawyer to see how best to protect himself and the Administration… . and the lawyer told him to fire the dude ON THE SPOT.

Second, and more interesting to me, is the possibility that Tenet wasn’t the leaker, but that both him AND Bush just found out who was, and it was somebody so highly placed that Tenet had to (immediately) resign, and Bush had to (immediately) call a lawyer, to figure out what his obligations are, now that he knows.
T. expands elaborately on his theories — check them out here. Steve-R expands on T.’s comments, pointing out that the administration is in an interesting period of transition:
The “pointless war” problem that you point to (or at least the bogus war justification problem) is of course the big political bind that Bush is in, and that he has been busily dancing around for the past couple of years. Of course, Bush and not anyone else sucked the country into this war. However, pointless/bogus or not, his reelection depends now more on its success than its justification.
Does this mean that if the transition from provisional rule to Governing Council is perceived to be a success that all if forgiven so far as the electorate is concerned? Weigh in here. So far as Tenet’s motivations, Lambkin tenders this pithy explanation:
Tenet’s “personal reasons” are about as genuine as Nigerian yellowcake. The reasons are political, and they’re not his but Bush’s.
More from Lambkin here on why now, and gtompkins1 offers this card table metaphor for why Tenet makes the obvious patsy:
Even if there is no such real connection causing the Tenet resignation, you would think that someone like Tenet, now outside the tent, might be made the fall-guy for the Chalabi debacle. If it was, at some point, policy to reveal such things to Chalabi, you can bet that policy is not so well-documented as to have left a clear audit trail. You wouldn’t even have to fabricate evidence, you could probably selectively release real evidence to make any of a number of folks look the culprit. “Play a loser on a loser.” Works in bridge.
Wanna do your own bidding? Click here. Kerry in the Pocket: Much has been made about Kerry’s inability to make a move in light of the administration’s repeated blunders over the past couple of weeks. But few have embraced the logical explanation — why take away Bush’s shovel when he’s digging himself such a fine hole? It’s an incremental process, one that can’t be measured in dramatic jumps in a frivolous Rasmussen Report poll. I like Demosthenes2’s premise — “Kerry as Trent Dilfer“:
Kerry is sort of Trent Dilfer in the Super Bowl. His job isn’t necessarily to win—it’s not to lose. His job is to let the defense win the game and let Rove make stupid mistakes on offense and above all, DON’T FUMBLE! In that regard, meaningless slogans, sadly, go a long way towards ‘not alienating’ anybody—not fumbling the ball.
D2’s post comes in the body of a nice thread, initiated by T. here on Kerry’s new “Let American be America” slogan, with a more pessimistic outlook from Schadenfreude here. Not So Fast: In case you missed it, here’s one of D2’s multi-posts on the Army’s stop-loss orders…KA4:35 p.m.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Plan of Attack: John_McG got a ton of response to his post on Liza Mundy’s piece on Plan B, an emergency contraception. Mundy casually mentions that after the FDA gave the morning-after pill the green light, reproductive rights groups were pleased that the drug would be “as easy to buy as Tylenol or Trojans or Slim-Fast.” JM writes:

I think it’s interesting that the author mentions Slim-Fast and other weight-loss aids as things that are currently available over the counter. Would the author say that the presence of these products brought about more or less eating disorders among teens?
The vast majority of replies to JM take up the old “does life begin at conception” line, which alludes the first portion of his post—an argument you’ve seen in the Fray no fewer than twice daily—but no one has bothered to answer his query on availability v. causality. To take it up with John_McG, click here. Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics: Dick_Riley (presumably not the former SC governor and secretary of education … but you never can tell in the Fray; after all, Curt Schilling hangs out in Red Sox chat rooms) generally “agree[s] with the thrust of Liza Mundy’s complaint about the FDA’s blocking of the morning-after contraceptive,” but has issues with her interpretation of the Steven Galson’s statistics at the FDA. Does Mundy have her thumb on the scale? Ask la_rana, who prefaces his remarks by stating:
As political stereotypes go, I very strongly dislike social conservatives. In my mind, at least, they simply cannot parse their political positions from their sense of moral righteousness … The only people raising more hairs on my neck are those who agree with my political positions, yet feel no compulsion for intellectual honesty. It stirs my innards with a greasy spoon.
According to la_rana:
Galson says 1 in 5 girls are sexually active between ages 11 and 14 (or 20 percent). Mundy says that figure has “scant basis in fact.”

Let’s assume for a minute that “between 11 and 14” does not mean only the ages 12 and 13, but rather includes girls ages 11, 12, 13, 14. Mundy’s contradictory figure is “that only 4 percent of girls have sex before they are 13.” Special focus on “before;” this means that only 4 percent of girls have sex from 0-12 years of age. Assuming that sexually activity increases over the teenage years (fairly safe, I think), this is reasonably in line with Galson’s figure. Mundy then points out that Galson is referring to that “well-known figure—cited by a number of research groups—that one in five teens has sex before his or her 15th birthday” (If citing a well-known figure isn’t dubious than I don’t know what is). Call me Liza, but isn’t that EXACTLY what Galson said?
For la_rana’s coup de grace, click here. Pox Shot: Taking aim at both sides, baltimore-aureole begins with this:
isn’t that a mixed message to kids: your parents are responsible for your misbehavior sometimes, but when you do something with life altering consequences, like getting pregnant or risking HIV infection, you can keep it a secret from them.
For those on the right, b-a fires this salvo:
alternatively, the bush administration (and many state attorney generals) want to prosecute 12 year olds committing felonies as adults … but not allow these same kids access to birth control? the kids have adult judgment in one area, but not in another? hello?
Respond to b-a here, and read an account from aynonemt here —a volunteer EMT at a major university here who’s dealt with several patients suffering from EC side effects. For another superb testimonial, check out Isonomist- on her Bible-school teaching days here.   Behind the Velvet Rope: If you haven’t been reading run75441’s exegeses on the economy, you’re missing out on some of the Fray’s best work. Since run routinely copies his posts to both Business Club Fray and Moneybox Fray, you can access his posts in both the inner sanctum and the outer limits. Run’s post on Plato and W. Edwards Deming is a must-read. And Here or here, you can take a look at “Medicare in the 21st Century,” in which run starts with J.S. Mill and ends with a curious trade report from the health-care financial management association. Scott_TOO here, and PhilfromCalifornia here are in on the discussion. Follow along, won’t you? A Deafening Blow: As a Los Angeles Clipper season-ticket holder, Fray Editor is routinely charmed by the playing of “Hava Nagila” and samples from “Car Wash” at Staples Center while the ball is in play, but I have to agree with Dilan_Esper that arena shenanigans perpetrated by the zealous whack jobs manning the public address systems at NBA arenas are harshing on my basketball nirvana when I’m at a game. DE’s Sports Nut post can be found here. Memorial Day Backlog: Due to the early filing on Monday afternoon, Fraywatch missed some stellar Memorial day posts, most notably MsZilla’s “Memory Day” and slipstream’s “I Carry Your Name.” Thanks to WVMicko for making sure that they made the late edition … KA10:20 a.m.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day musings from Best of the Fray…

Subject: “Paying Homage to Family Veterans
From:     Hauteur
Date:     Sat May 29 2044hI guess that because I am a veteran I have seldom paid attention to Memorial Day in the past. Sounds strange? Understand that up to my generation, every male for as long as memory serves was at one time or another in uniform. We did not attend parades or celebrate. If you were a reasonably healthy male, it was just what you did either at a certain age or during wartime. It was just that simple. Having served there was no feeling that one needed to make a particular fuss about Veterans’ or Memorial Day.

That tradition of service has ended. Although my son entered the military, not a one of my nephews saw fit to pay homage to an old tradition, and I doubt that any of their sons or daughters will join up. Times, they changeMy brother and I live relatively far apart, but we met and spent most of today together reminiscing about military life in general and our father in particular. Then it finally hit me, I had found a personal use for the holiday rather than simply observing it as an obligation to my fellow veterans. It was fitting that we should use the day to pay homage to our father, as the war [World War II] had been the central point of his life.

He had been a destroyer sailor during many Pacific Ocean battles. My brother and I grew up listening in gape-mouthed awe to a plethora of exciting, colorful, and terrible war stories. When our father got together with his veteran brothers, the excitement was nearly more than we could bear. Those old men had stories to share! Awful, tremendous, scary stories. Stories to make young boys look forward to their days in uniform in dread and anticipation.

When the day was done and my brother and I parted as friends [a great accomplishment for brothers] we looked into one another’s aged and weather wrinkled eyes and saw our father in each other. The veteran died many years ago now, but his sons recall him fondly and remember his time in service with a day of honor. Tomorrow I shall spend the day worrying about my son. It’s both a father’s duty and a fellow veteran’s respect.
Subject: “Memorial Day—A day for forgetfulness?
From:     Unmanned
Date:     Sun May 30 2223hI’m interpreting Memorial Day through a lens that reflects the time I’ve spent in Japan. So when it’s suggested that I use the day to remember all our war dead, I don’t disagree, but I am curious as to what that means. In particular, a question: How well do Koizumi in particular, and Japan more widely remember their war dead, if they are unaware of or unconcerned with the criminals in their midst?
Subject: “My dad the hero
From:     DrNon
Date:     Sun May 30 2111hI knew my father had served in the merchant marine during WWII. I knew he was an engineer, specializing in refrigeration. I didn’t know how ironic that specialization was to prove. He had mentioned the infamous Murmansk run but I knew little about his seafaring days. I was a kid; what did it matter to me?  I remember him only as an engineer for the British Columbia power commission. He rarely spoke of ships and I thought his merchant marine career uneventful, unlike the careers of those who served in the RCN, RNZN, RN.

He had emigrated from New Zealand in his late twenties and rode the rails across Canada, ultimately ending up in the B.C. interior, where he panned gold, hunted deer with a German Luger (sit, knees raised, Luger steadied, fire; apparently very effective) and where he married a breed 16 years his junior; my mom. My father was near 50 when his eldest was born, and that child was me.Upon retirement, he was required to verify his age and wrote to the New Zealand office of statistics. Some ancient ex-employee of that department actually remembered him and asked simply he prove his bona fides with a bit of checkable history. I still have dad’s letter of response somewhere in my old files; a powerful bit of history I discovered only after his death, but I can remember the crucial sentences without digging through those files:
“Served on…sunk at sea. Most hands lost.”
“Served on…sunk at sea. Most hands lost.”
“Served on…sunk at sea. Most hands lost.”

Three. He never mentioned any of these episodes and only his death revealed their documented reality. On this Memorial Day we need remember not only combatants, but also those who supplied them and entire countries, and ended up combatants themselves.Subject: “Fuck Memorial Day
From:     Judah_ben-Hur
Date:     Sun May 30 1738hI came back from Vietnam. Some of my friends didn’t. Or they came back minus a few things. They died or were crippled in a holding action to make Dick Nixon look good, just as our soldiers (and quite a few other people) are suffering now for the private political and business agenda of a small group of men in Washington, D.C.

Only, my friends were draftees, not professional soldiers. They had no choice at all. Some of them had no chance at all, like the ones who went down in a helicopter. Another man died because he lost his glasses and couldn’t see shit when we got hit. Ah, fuck.

War is puke, shit, pus. No, it’s worse. Those are natural if disgusting. War is something we make on purpose. We do it because we want to. We do it because we are proud of it. That’s why we give medals and have holidays like Memorial Day. Would you fuck a baby and expect a medal for it? Well, people, that’s about the level of human behavior in a war. And I’m here to tell you, Americans in war are no different from any other hate-and-fear-crazed bipedal apes.

Do you want an image that reflects the reality of war? In those great battles of yesteryear, where many thousands of men died and were buried in one place, the gases of decomposition blew geysers of dirt, bone and decaying flesh into the air for months afterwards. Ghostly explosions split the air. In hot weather the stench was literally unendurable. That is war, the ultimate, undeniable reality of it: young men rotting. All the Memorial Days for all of time cannot cancel that reality out, nor even cover it up.

We say all the right stuff about hating war, blah, blah. Bull shit. We spend more money on war than on anything else, more than something like the next 20 nations combined. We also sell more arms, to ourselves and to the rest of the world, than anybody else. (Defense stocks are a good investment right now, ay?) We glorify our wars, our soldiers, our presidents who take us to war. We fucking love war…

Friday, May 28, 2004

Once again, a Stephen Landsburg Everyday Economics entry generated a stream of quality traffic in the Fray. Yesterday, Landsburg posited the idea of sending vermiscripters—those who author computer worms—to the chair for their crimes. Not everyone who read the piece grasped its rhetorical conceit, but after running into countless Naderites with clipboards on the streets of Austin prior to the candidate filing deadline, I realized that nuance isn’t a national virtue—even in the age of irony.  Among those who got it, but still love a good policy debate is GeoffsPneuma (by the way, check out Geoff’s blog here) who points out that Landsburg fails to account for the fact that “the costs of computer hacking do not distribute evenly across the populace. They fall most directly on the heads of the wealthiest.”Fozzy brings up a great point — humans factor risk on a perceptive calculus:

How a person values risk is largely dependant on how they’ve been conditioned. For example, most coal miners are not people who have explicitly weighed the actuarial risks of the job against the pay scale. Rather, they are carrying on a family tradition in a community with limited other options. There is often little calculation.

A study that determines that people are more afraid of flying than driving does not prove that flying is more dangerous than driving. Humans operate off of perceptions, not necessarily truth. Economists must be careful to enlighten, not to simply enforce observed ignorance.
Here, TheFiend79 delves deeper into computing a statistical value for a human life (an exercise that la_rana elevates to parody here with a government regulated marketplace), then in a separate post, here, wrestles with the deterrence argument:
if deterrence is the ONLY reason for executing people, then we are saying executing one person is worth the deterring of the death of somewhere between 0 and 100 statistical lives, which society value at 0 to say 1 billion dollars. But if other crimes cause more damage (1 billion is not chump change, but relative to a 10 trillion GDP, it’s pretty small), then on the grounds of deterrence, those crimes should be capital as well in the name of deterrence. For example, if second-hand smoke kills 50,000 people a year as is claimed, or 500 billion dollars of statistical value, then if we started executing smokers on the spot for holding cigarettes near non-smokers, not only would it likely be an effective deterrent (who wants to die for carelessly smoking near a non-smoker?), but our deterrence would be far more beneficial to society (moral and legal qualms notwithstanding). Clearly that is absurd, so we’d better find a better reason to support the Death Penalty if we’re going to keep it.
Another regular Fraywatch contributor who has issues with deterrence is post_hoc_prior here
[Landsburg] is assuming that the effect of executing hackers on future hacking has a lower bound of zero. What reason is there to believe that executing one hacker will *deter* the rest of them?

This is logically equivalent to asserting that killing some Iraqis will make the rest of them *less* likely to want to kill us. Or that the Israelis and Palestinians can solve their problems by escalating the level of violence indefinitely. Meanwhile, back in the real world, history tells us that violence and brutality beget violence and brutality in a classic vicious circle, in which the only achievable “stable equilibrium” is that of genocide.
Finally, HopefulCynic laps up the satire in his economic argument for offing Landsburg — giving new meaning to the ol’ “publish or perish” aphorism … KA3:45 p.m.