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Ephemerides (June 2004)
June 23, 2004 Time for a change. Stromata was originally intended as a lumber room, but it has come to look more and more like a blog. Unfortunately, the software used to construct it was not designed for blogging. Useful features like permalinks and archives have to be jerry-rigged (so I mostly haven’t bothered with them), and posting can be tedious. Once in a while, for reasons of its own, the host will decide that altering a single page necessitates an hour-long republication of the entire 70+ megabyte site.
So, to make my life a trifle easier, I’ve created a separate Stromata Blog. I have to learn new software and will begin slowly and amateurishly. How I progress we will see. The first real post (after the mandatory brief explanation of the blog’s raison d'etre) discusses media bias and cash balance pension plans, noting the highly disparate treatment of two recent cases that reach opposite conclusions about their legality.
From now on, or until I change my mind, items like that will appear in the blog. Longer pieces will be posted on this site, and I hope that the savings in time and effort can be translated into more productive labor. [To comment, click here.]
June 22, 2004 The Democratic National Committee ought to take out a thousand subscriptions to The Chicago Tribune or find some other way to thank the paper for a Senate seat. For months, the Trib has doggedly pursued Republican candidate Jack Ryan’s divorce records. Yesterday they were unsealed by a California judge and contained what the paper headlined as a “Bombshell”: Ex-wife Jeri (“Seven of Nine” on Star Trek: The Next Generation) claimed that, on three or four occasions, Jack took her to “sex clubs”, where he proposed, without success, that they engage in indecent public acts for the titillation of strangers.
If Jack Ryan were a Democrat, we’d quickly hear that (a) nothing happened, (b) he only asked, then backed off when she refused and (c) anyway, what’s wrong with sexual activity between married, consenting adults, you puritan creep, you?
As I’ve said before, it doesn’t bother me that Republicans are held to much higher standards of personal conduct than Democrats. The other party’s true believers may rush to buy the memoirs of a President who, to cover up a liaison with a girl less than half his age, prodded members of his Cabinet to endorse his false denials. I would rather be associated with those who police their own ranks for scoundrels. If Mr. Ryan was an habitué of establishments where men and women, even if consenting, copulate in public, I don’t want him as my Senator.
On the other hand, the accusation is not so damning that innocence can’t be allowed as a defense. Uncorroborated allegations in a divorce proceeding are not a highly reliable form of evidence, though they will doubtless be accepted as conclusive by many people who contemptuously dismissed Monica Lewinsky’s story until the famous blue dress turned up.
What Jeri Ryan told to the judge is not, on its face, entirely coherent or probable. She has also stated that her ex-husband was neither abusive nor unfaithful. Perhaps I’m naive, but I doubt that very many monogamous men have a strong taste for kinky sex. Certainly the accusation requires more proof than has been offered so far.
Such skepticism doesn’t matter, of course. Jack Ryan is finished as a candidate and, if he doesn’t abjectly withdraw, will go down to overwhelming defeat in November. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan would do no better under similar circumstances. I congratulate the Democrats on their good fortune. [To comment, click here.]
June 22, 2004 Last April the State Department issued its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism, showing a striking decline in terrorist incidents and deaths. Not surprisingly, many conservatives, including me (cf. my post of 4/29/04), flaunted it as evidence that the War on Terror was going well. In particular, the overthrow of the Iraqi Ba’athists had not, it seemed, unleashed the bloodbath that critics of President Bush had widely predicted.
Today’s revision of the report will, also not surprisingly, be flaunted by the Left as evidence that, in the words of a spokesman for Senator Kerry, the “administration is playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the war on terror” and “has now been caught trying to inflate its success on terrorism”.
So here are the corrected numbers, compared to 2002:
The number of attacks, instead of being the lowest since 1969, was really only the second lowest. During the Clinton Administration (1993-2000), the annual figure ranged from 440 (1995) to 274 (1998).
It still doesn't look to me like the “distraction” of Iraq has undermined our defenses against terrorism elsewhere. [To comment, click here.]
June 20, 2004 Andrew Sullivan, America’s foremost lavender Tory, has caused a disturbance in the blogosphere by declaring that, even though President Bush has done an excellent job of waging the War on Terror, he should not be reelected. The ostensible “deal breaker” for Mr. Sullivan is the President’s endorsement of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would Constitutionally define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, i. e., would preserve a broady popular status quo that is under increasing attack from the judiciary.
For reasons that I have outlined elsewhere, I don’t favor same-sex “marriage” and especially don’t favor its imposition by judges. If, however, I took the opposite view, or if, like some of the more fervent social conservatives, I regarded George W. Bush as a secret traitor to the traditional marriage cause (his backing of the FMA struck many as late and lukewarm), the world would have to be extremely placid before that issue would rise to the top of my concerns in choosing between Presidential candidates. The President plays no role in the adoption of Constitutional amendments. By exerting the full influence of his office, he might sway some Congressional votes, but there is no sign that he has made or will make any such effort or that doing so, on either side of the question, would be effective. All in all, making this issue decisive is an exercise in frivolity, on a level with voting on the basis of the candidates’ tastes in music or literature.
Mr. Sullivan’s frivolous approach to the election is far from unique; only his unusual candor makes it glaring. Much of the Left fervently pretends that we are not at war, that fighting terrorists in Iraq is not essential to our own safety, and that, if we merely become humble enough, our enemies will be magically dispatched through the good offices of France, Russia and the United Nations. From segments of the Right, meanwhile, we have a plethora of complaints about the budget deficit, immigration policy, the expansion of Medicare, embryonic stem cell research, increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and sundry other Bushian deviations from right-wing orthodoxy.
There is little point in trying to talk sense to the Left, which is lost in its dream world and would not be roused even by another 9/11, but I should like to pose a hypothetical to Bush-skeptical conservatives: Suppose that Al Gore had won the 2000 election, had reacted to 9/11 in exactly the same way as President Bush (not an impossibility, despite the fact that the real-world Algore has turned into an embittered demagogue) and were facing Pat Buchanan in 2004. A President Gore would, on every aspect of domestic policy, be far worse than President Bush, but would any sane conservative drop him in mid-war in favor of a passive approach to terrorism? Does anybody wish to validate Al Hunt’s assertion that “the narrow right” would have denounced an anti-terrorist crusade led by a Democrat? If not, why the griping about one under the command of a moderately conservative Republican? [To comment, click here.]
June 19, 2004 Quote of the Day:
You know, I can see a successful future for the Greens as a reactionary, leave us alone, conservationist party, anti-wind power, anti-development, anti-, well, progress. The Greens as Hobbits? Possibly.
 – Iain Murray
[To comment, click here.]
June 19, 2004 The prestige media have given John Kerry a huge campaign contribution in the form of partisan trumpeting of two 9/11 Commission staff reports that supposedly demonstrate beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein and al-Qa’eda were utterly unconnected. The reports don’t really say that, but they are determinedly agnostic on the subject. In particular, they take at face value the assertions of two unidentified al-Qa’eda prisoners that no links existed, flatly deny that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had a meeting with an Iraqi spymaster in Prague in April 2001, and pass over in silence the confirmed presence at a 9/11 planning session of one Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi whom captured records list as a colonel in Saddam’s armed forces. For more details, vide Andew C. McCarthy, “Iraq & al-Qaeda”; Stephen F. Hayes, “There They Go Again”; Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., “9/11 Commission Fails to Connect Terror Dots”; George Neumayr, “A Collaborative Big Lie”.
One point about the Atta story caught my eye. I haven’t given much credence to it before, but it is noteworthy that somebody made an extraordinary effort to plant false information discrediting it. As Mr. Hayes observes,
Articles in the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Washington Post had reported that the U.S. intelligence community has rental car records and hotel receipts that place Atta in the United States at the time of the alleged meeting. According to senior Bush administration officials, no such records exist, and the commission’s report mentions no such documentation. “The FBI’s investigation,” it says, “places [Atta] in Virginia as of April 4, as evidenced by this bank surveillance camera shot of Atta withdrawing $8,000 from his account. Atta was back in Florida by April 11, if not before. Indeed, investigation has established that on April 6, 9, 10, and 11, Atta’s cellular telephone was used numerous times to call Florida phone numbers from cell sites within Florida. We have seen no evidence that Atta ventured overseas again or reentered the United States before July, when he traveled to Spain and back under his true name.”
Since the conspirators passed around their cell phones, the evidence placing Atta in the United States between his $8,000 cash withdrawal on April 4th and his appearance in Florida on April 11th (a date presumably supported by more than just the cell phone records, though we are not told what) is tenuous. It would be interesting to know who tried to buttress it by leaking phony data to the major media.
As Bill Kristol notes, the media reaction to the 9/11 staff reports has led Senator Kerry to take a bold, unnuanced stand on the overthrow of the Iraqi Ba’athist regime: It was unjustified, undertaken only because the Bush Administration “wanted” to go to war. The Democratic candidate-presumptive is now very close in rhetoric to George Soros, Michael Moore and other conspiracymongers, claiming in effect that President Bush knew that Saddam Hussein was harmless and attacked him anyway, just as, four decades ago in Vietnam, American officials knew that the Viet Cong were an innocuous national liberation movement but nonetheless sought to suppress it.
A resounding refutation of the view that the U.S. should never act on less than perfect information came in former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission, when he discussed the decision to bomb a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan:
But to give you an example, this particular facility [al Shifa], according to the intelligence we had at that time, had been constructed under extraordinary security circumstances, even with some surface-to-air missile capability or defense capabilities; that the plant itself had been constructed under these security measures; that the – that the plant had been funded, in part, by the so-called Military Industrial Corporation; that bin Laden had been living there; that he had, in fact, money that he had put into this Military Industrial Corporation; that the owner of the plant had traveled to Baghdad to meet with the father of the VX program; and that the CIA had found traces of EMPTA nearby the facility itself. According to all the intelligence, there was no other known use for EMPTA at that time other than as a precursor to VX.
Under those circumstances, I said, “That’s actionable enough for me,” that that plant could, in fact, be producing not baby aspirin or some other pharmaceutical for the benefit of the people, but it was enough for me to say we’re going to take – we should take it out, and I recommended that.
Now, I was criticized for that, saying, “You didn’t have enough.” And I put myself in the position of coming before you and having someone like you say to me, “Let me get this straight, Mr. Secretary. We’ve just had a chemical weapons attack upon our cities or our troops, and we’ve lost several hundred or several thousand, and this is the information, which you had at your fingertips – you had a plant that was built under the following circumstances; you had a manager that went to Baghdad; you had Osama bin Laden, who had funded, at least, the corporation; and you had traces of EMPTA; and you did what? You did nothing?” Is that a responsible activity on the part of the Secretary of Defense? And the answer is pretty clear.
So I was satisfied, even though that still is pointed as a mistake – that it was the right thing to do then. I believe I would do it again based on that kind of intelligence.
Mutatis mutandis George W. Bush could say exactly the same about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.] [For a comment on this disclaimer, click here.]
June 15, 2004 Being in Las Vegas this week (not imitating Bill Bennett – I play only low-stakes blackjack and am right now exactly even), I’ve kept only half an eye on the news, but that half-eye did take note of Theresa Heinz Kerry’s oddball explanation of why she converted from Republican to Democrat: It was all because the wicked GOP questioned Max Cleland’s patriotism. Some commentators, e. g., OpinionJournal’s James Taranto have retorted with the obvious: Senator Cleland’s successful opponent in the 2002 Georgia Senate race attacked him for trying to add union-backed personnel rules to the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. In a state that is both unenthusiastic about organized labor and strongly conservative on national defense, that was an effective tactic, but it had nothing to do with patriotism or lack thereof. The Democratic counterattack, which Mrs. Kerry has now joined, is a classic example of trying to deflect attention from a real issue (how much authority should the President have over executive branch work rules?) by impugning the motives of those who hold different views.
Still, I am not going to doubt a lady’s word. If Mrs. Kerry says that, but for Saxby Chambliss’s “unscrupulous and disgusting” campaign, she would still be a Republican, I believe her. And I say that my party gains every time it loses a member whose allegiance swings so frivolously. If Mrs. Kerry considered herself a Republican as late as 2002, did her choice of party rest on any reasoned ground? Evidently not, if a single instance of political nastiness – in a state rather than a national contest, too – was enough to drive her away. Oddly, she didn’t desert the Democratic Party when a prominent Democrat overtly denounced Dick Cheney as “unpatriotic”. Perhaps she wasn’t paying attention to that “unscrupulous and disgusting” assertion. Maybe tomorrow she will notice that spokesmen (er – spokescritters) for her new party are given to occasional hyperbole and in revulsion will revert to the GOP. I hope not. George W. Bush has always been lucky in his choice of enemies, and, as they say in Vegas, his streak isn’t over yet.
Further reading: Jacob Laskin, “Mrs. Spin”
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
June 11, 2004 One key difference between Ronald Reagan and his successors is that he tried to change voters’ minds about how the world works. When he started talking about tax cuts in the late 1970’s, hardly anyone outside of think tanks had heard of the theory that the government could spur economic growth by reducing marginal tax rates. Similarly, he was initially alone in contending that the Soviet Union was inherently weak and could be pushed to implosion by mild Western intransigence. There were, of course, widespread sentiments for lower taxes and vigorous anti-communism, but they were mostly just sentiments, resting on popular prejudice rather than reasoned discourse. Republicans had invoked them for decades, without gaining much political traction. Voters have, after all, a plethora of sentiments and prejudices. They like lower taxes and balanced budgets and more government spending on their favorite programs. They dislike communism and large military establishments and deaths in combat.
Politicians generally take this mass of unreflective, conflicting impulses as a given. Their goal is to bring to the fore those that are most compatible their own (also often unreflective) views and deemphasize the rest. Reagan’s approach was the opposite: to change prejudices into convictions that could defend themselves against rival impulses. He didn’t say, Tax cuts are good; I propose these tax cuts. Rather, his argument ran, Tax cuts are good for these reasons, reasons that are important enough to make tax cuts preferable to balanced budgets; I propose not simply a set of miscellaneous tax reductions but cuts consistent with the rationale for lower taxes.
Trying to alter opinions instead of adapting to them has a large drawback: The public’s attention span and willingness to concentrate are limited. Office seekers who try to convince people of a new idea usually don’t become office holders. On the other hand, there is no viable alternative if, as was the case with American conservatism after World War II, the incumbent prejudices predominantly favor the other side of the political spectrum. Barry Goldwater failed, because he pitted conservative against liberal sentiments at a time when liberal sentiments were decisively stronger. Richard Nixon never tried, because he recognized the imbalance of forces and accommodated it. Ronald Reagan succeeded, because he (not single-handedly, I hasten to note) converted enough voters to shift the balance.
There is a moral here that extends beyond electoral politics. There is little dispute that the United States government does a poor job of presenting the American case to foreign peoples, whose attitudes are, by default, formed by the virulently anti-American local media. Most discussions of this problem center on the technical problems involved in reaching foreign audiences, but doesn’t a share of the fault lie with our public diplomatists’ unspoken assumption that it is improper to propagandize for the values of our country? Instead, they try to show that we are okay when judged by alien standards, e. g., pro-Islamic enought to please Islamists and social democratic enought to satisfy European socialists. If Ronald Reagan had argued that conservatism was satisfactory by liberal standards, he would have gone to his grave as a little remembered actor. His accomplishment was to win converts to a different yardstick. What the Gipper could do at home, George W. Bush might want to try doing abroad. [To comment, click here.]
June 11, 2004 The Bush Administration has done what the multilateralists wanted it to do: gone to the United Nations Security Council to obtain permission to remain in Iraq. The resolution was blessed by France, Germany and Russia. America is now acting like a good “international citizen”, in the manner that will, according to Senator Kerry and like-minded bien pensants encourage other nations to join in pursuit of our goals.
In response, M. Chirac announces that France will not send troops to Iraq and will block any NATO military presence there, while the nations that sold weapons to Saddam Hussein decline to ease the transition to democracy by forgiving or mitigating the massive debt burden that resulted from his economic folly.
What clearer demonstration could there be that soothing multilateralist gestures gain nothing, not even a cessation of foreign rants about “Yankee imperialism” (a big theme of Spain’s Socialist Party in this week’s European Parliament elections)? Would a President Kerry garner greater cooperation? His own hope seem to rest on the notion that foreign leaders like him more than they do George W. Bush and therefore will respond positively if he pleads for help; in other words, on the patrician delusion that relations among states depend primarily on the state of personal relations among their executives.
That was somewhat true in the age of kings, when a new Russian monarch’s infatuation with Frederick the Great could cause his country to pull out of the Seven Years’ War, but it is scarcely the case with contemporary heads of democratic or semi-democratic polities, who are not free to base their decisions on the fluency of the U.S. President’s French. Even if they were, John Kerry’s major appeal to the Chiracs and Schröders lies in their expectation that he will not ask them to do much in the War on Terror – not much of a foundation for getting their material support, no matter how many U.N. resolutions a Kerry Administration might reap.
It is our good fortune that we do not actually need foreign assistance in Iraq. Whatever problems we face there are not due to a lack of overwhelming superiority in men and firepower. Adding a few thousand French, German or Russian troops would not enhance the effectiveness of the Coalition forces. In light of those nations’ dubious performances in Côte d'Ivoire, Kosovo and Chechnya, their “help” would probably detract, all the more so if, as Senator Kerry desires, their ill-trained and under-equipped soldiers replaced, rather than reinforced, our own.
What such countries can most usefully contribute to the war effort is what they already are doing out of pure self-interest: policing their own territories and disrupting terrorist networks. That effort is not sufficient, because it does nothing to drain the Middle Eastern swamp in which Islamofascism breeds; still, it is necessary and has not been hindered by European carping at the liberation of Iraq. There’s no good reason to imagine that it would grow more vigorous if the United States elected a more conciliatory President, gave other countries a veto over our actions and let quasi-Ba’athists return to power in Baghdad.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
June 8, 2004 In case I’m not the last to have heard these:
Q. How many John Kerrys does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Four. One to unscrew the old light bulb. One to simultaneously announce his courageous commitment to replacing the old light bulb. One to vote against funding the new light bulb. And one to denounce George W. Bush and America’s Benedict Arnold CEO’s for leaving everyone in the dark.
Q. Why did John Kerry cross the road?
A. He didn’t cross the road. He crossed to the middle of the road to demonstrate his grasp of the nuances and subtleties involved in crossing the road – and was still explaining them to the New York Times reporter when the logging truck hit him.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
June 7, 2004 David Frum has five ideas for honoring the Gipper, all of them better than any carried out so far, though none quite on a par with adding his image to Mount Rushmore. I particularly like the “side benefit” of this one:
Put Reagan on the quarter. Some Reagan admirers have suggested that he be placed on the ten-dollar bill in place of Alexander Hamilton. Reagan of all people in the world would never wish to achieve glory by elbowing aside somebody else. But Lincoln and Washington are doubly commemorated in US money. The penny is probably not long for this world; putting Reagan on the quarter leaves Washington where he should be, on the dollar. As a side benefit, a Reagan quarter will prevent future Treasury Secretaries from tampering with the paper bill.
[To comment, click here.]
June 7, 2004 Adding my praise to what others have bestowed on Ronald Reagan would be both presumptuous and superfluous, but I do have one observation.
When President Reagan took office on January 20, 1981, only a fantasist would have forecast that, within a decade, the Berlin Wall would be history and the Soviet Union in the final stages of dissolution. Soviet communism was a long-term fact. Conservatives, as well as liberals, conceded that it would fade away only in the distant future. Realistic statesmen of all parties agreed that America would have to accommodate itself to that given, which is why hard-headed figures like Henry Kissinger saw détente as our only viable policy.
Nowadays it is easy to say that the Soviet Union faced intractable economic difficulties that doomed it to extinction, but almost nobody thought so back then. Communism wasn’t a very efficient system, but it seemed to be slogging along well enough to survive. It certainly wasn’t going to be overthrown by workers rising up to demand year-round fresh fruits, more reliable automobiles and a TV set in every living room. The state had what a dictatorship needs for longevity: confident leaders and a cowed populace. Détente – the steady state of aid, trade and occasional mutual recrimination – would never have altered those conditions; the Reagan Administration overthrew them. A fairly gentle shove was all that it took, but, before Ronald Reagan, no American leader wanted to apply that pressure. Nor was doing so universally popular. President Reagan was reviled – not quite so bitterly as George W. Bush is today, but bitterly enough – for expanding and modernizing the U.S. military, introducing cruise missiles into Western Europe, initiating the Strategic Defense Initiative, aiding anticommunists in Poland, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and elsewhere, and antagonizing our partners in détente with rhetoric about how they maintained an “evil empire” destined to disappear from history. Plenty of liberals professed fear that a continuation of his policies would lead to nuclear holocaust.
Those policies were likewise unpopular with most of our allies; they were “unilateralist”, as we say these days. Restrictions on technology transfers to communist countries hindered Western European trade; the Administration worked to block the proposed Soviet gas pipeline; the deployment of Pershing missiles caused political headaches for host governments; American support of Israel clashed with Europe’s philo-Arabic tendencies. Even Margaret Thatcher objected to unilateral U.S. intervention to oust the communist regime in Granada.
Maybe Ronald Reagan was too dumb to appreciate the cogency of domestic and foreign critiques. It is highly doubtful that any other man who might have been President between 1981 and 1989 would have ignored them. As a result, the Soviet rulers lost their certainty that history would waft them safely to ultimate victory in the Cold War, while their subjects lost their sense of terror and gained hope that the world had not forgotten them. As the rulers floundered, looking for ways to prop up the facade of their power, the populace grew less content, until the prison walls fell down of their own accord.
History did not have to follow that path. Hardly anyone but Ronald Reagan imagined that it would. Happily for the world, all of the brilliant intellects who scoffed at him were wrong, and he was right.
Further reading: Dinesh D'Souza, “There They Go Again”
[To comment, click here.]
June 4, 2004 In 1996 welfare reform was a big issue, so big that Bill Clinton signed legislation replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (“TANF”) program. That he acted under electoral duress was obvious. At the Democratic convention that year, Hillary Clinton drew rousing cheers when she promised that her husband’s second Administration would gut this Republican monstrosity.
Happily, Mr. Clinton’s general lack of interest in anything beyond playing the part of a President led him to break his wife’s pledge. He left TANF free to flourish, and it has been, according to all but the most intransigent liberals, an outstanding success. (Vide Robert Rector & Patrick F. Fagan, “The Continuing Good News About Welfare Reform”.) Now, however, its mandate needs to be renewed, and, as Gary Andres laments (“Counterfeit Compassion”), Senate Democrats have determinedly blocked legislative action, making it quite possible that the bad old system of “cash payments to the poor, without any obligation to work or seek training [that] fostered government dependency; undercut marriage; and promoted illegitimacy” will return in the near future.
Many complaints about Democratic obstructionism have an inside-the-Beltway ring, but this instance surely deserves to be a campaign issue. The White House should challenge Senator Kerry to take the lead in persuading his party to let welfare reform renewal come to an up-or-down vote.  He’ll doubtless respond by complaining that Republicans are “questioning his patriotism” and won’t secede from the blockage brigade, but voters will see the point. [To comment, click here.]
June 4, 2004 If the public story about Ahmad Chalabi’s alleged disclosure of American secrets to Iran is substantially true, it involves four acts of stupidity:
1. An American official drunkenly disclosed to Mr. Chalabi that the U.S. had cracked the Iranian diplomatic cipher and was reading secret Iranian correspondence.
2. Mr. Chalabi revealed this highly important fact to an Iranian contact.
3. The Iranian, using the compromised cipher, informed Tehran of the American capability.
4. American officials told reporters all of the above.
The stupidity of 1 and 2 needs no comment. Stupid actions 3 and 4 are only slightly more subtle. If you know that an enemy can read one of your ciphers, it is stupid to let him know that you know. The smart course of action is to switch to different ciphers for real messages and use the compromised one as a channel for disinformation. Similarly, it is stupid to admit one’s own cipher-reading capabilities. There is always a chance that the enemy, through carelessness or overconfidence, won’t act on warnings. (If I recall correctly, the Germans ignored signs that Enigma messages were being read by the Allies, because they were certain that its decipherment was a mathematical impossibility.) Even if there is a prompt switch to a new cipher, the flurry of activity accompanying the change may be informative.
Four successive stupidities would not be unprecedented in human history, needless to say, but there are plenty of other possibilities. The theory favored by Mr. Chalabi’s friends – that Iran already knew about the weakness of the cipher and planted a false story to destroy the political prospects of a secular, democratic leader – is not implausible. In fact, it vies with serial stupidity as the most credible explanation. Its weakness is that, while it explains 1 and 2 (never happened) and 3 (a deliberate falsehood), the putative plot depends crucially upon 4, and the mullahs could not count on U.S. intelligence agencies to commit a palpable blunder – unless, that is, an Iranian mole was in a position to arrange a leak of the whole contrived story.
The saw “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence” is worth remembering here, but one does hope that the FBI, in the course of its investigations, is probing the hypothesis that the mullarchy could have agents within our own intelligence corps. That might explain more than just this single, strange incident. [To comment, click here.]
June 2, 2004 Yesterday’s South Dakota Congressional election should serve as a salutary caution to those who Live By The Poll. A Zogby survey completed on May 20th showed Democrat Stephanie Herseth with an 11 point lead (52%-41%). No earth-shaking events occurred during the next 12 days – the conventional wisdom is that it was a bad stretch for Republicans – yet she barely squeaked through, with 50.53 percent of the final tally. Republican Larry Diedrich needed a switch of only about 1,500 votes to win. He might have gotten them if President Bush had taken a day to campaign in his behalf, but the White House, I suppose, believed the polls and thought that the race was hopeless, not a rational investment of precious “political capital”.
I haven’t done a close analysis but have a distinct impression that polling in the U.S. is losing its predictive power, especially when pollsters report big leads for Democrats and liberals. Is anyone studying whether polls have a measurable left-wing bias and what factors might cause it? Regardless of the answers, I’m going to remember June 1st whenever Gallup's or Zogby's numbers between now and November impel me toward excessive optimism or gloom. [To comment, click here.]
June 1, 2004 When I posted the last item of last month, my vacation was, as I neglected to mention, only halfway over. Now the other half is finished, and I can begin catching up with the world in earnest. I will in the interim pass along a tidbit that I heard on the car radio somewhere between Cannon Beach and Olympia: Last year Washington State had its lowest number of traffic fatalities since 1961 and its lowest rate of fatalities per million miles driven since the internal combustion engine became the vogue. This news reached me in a vehicle traveling just slightly over the 70 mph speed limit. Do you remember the dire predictions about how repealing the 55 mph maximum was going to lead to a bloodbath on the highways? Another leftish prophecy down the memory hole.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
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