Saturday, December 17, 2005

What changed?

That's the prevailing question I had after reading yesterday' piece in the New York Times about the NSA's efforts since 2002 in monitoring some international phone calls. One section of the piece took me by surprise:

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted. (emphasis mine)
If this is such an earth-shattering story now, why wasn't it one a year ago? The Impolitic chalks it up to the corporatization of the mass media:

US newspapers wonder why they're becoming irrelevant? It's because they stopped functioning as news sources and focus on infotainment in an attempt to raise profits. Any one who cares about news, is getting it from sources that still employ the methodology of investigative reporting and the readers that only care about news that amuses already has Fox. That crowd only looks at the pictures anyway. If the US press wants its readers back, it should try giving us something worth reading.

I think she's half right. While I don't think the New York Times qualifies as an administration lapdog -- when did they last actually support Bush's position on a civil liberties/national security issue? -- I do think this is to some degree about influence-peddling.

I have a hard time buying that this is solely about a matter of principle. If yesterday's report is true, not only in the broad strokes that the President acknowledged and defended today, but also in the further implication that this monitoring is a new and gross violation of Americans' civil liberties, then was this not also true a year ago. What was the incentive to delay?

And then it occured to me: this story broke just hours before a closely-divided Senate was due to vote on the renewal of the PATRIOT Act. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that Captain Ed had reached similar conclusions, with an additional rationale that I had not really considered:

It published now for two reasons, one a typical media convention and the other to beat its own reporter to the scoop. With the Patriot Act up for renewal, the current headlines finally provided a political context that would make this story a blockbuster -- not because it describes illegal activity, but because it plays into the fears the Left have of the rise of an Orwellian Big Brother government from the Bush administration. Ironically, this comes less than a month after the same newspapers giving this story red headlines provided breathless coverage to the 9/11 Commission's "report card" on the government's progress on counterterrorism -- which condemned the White House and Congress for not doing enough to protect Americans from attack.

The second impetus to publish came from the upcoming release of James Risen's book, "State of War", due to be released in less than a month. The story would lose its impact and the Times would lose its investment in the development of it if the book came out first. Also, it doesn't hurt to have its reporter on the best-seller list, and the explosive nature of this leak will almost certainly propel the upcoming Risen tome to the top of those lists, at least briefly.

Now, I don't know if I endorse Captain Ed's theory completely, but on the first point this timing does seem to give the story more impetus if the Times thought it was realtively weak to start. Also, it does put a little more pressure on Senators who might have been on the fence before yesterday's PATRIOT Act vote. While I don't believe for a moment that Senator Chuck Schumer was undecided up until the morning of the vote, other senators almost certainly were.

As to the second point, I dismissed it when Drudge noted that a Times reporter on the NSA piece, James Risen, has a book coming out next March on this very topic. But, putting The Impolitic's piece next to Captain Ed's, there may really be something here. (I know -- who knew?)

The Times, as the keeper of all the resources that went into this reporting, had an obvious interest in being the first news outlet to break this NSA story, whatever it may be in the end. With one of the reporters on this piece set to publish a book in the coming months, the question of whether the Times would print it was never one of "if?" but rather one of "when?"

So, when would this article go to print? Of course, when it would make the biggest spash. Passage of the PATRIOT Act renewal in the House was a foregone conclusion, but much more uncertain in the Senate. That yesterday's Times piece included a few bits of meta-reporting compels me to ask:

Is the New York Times descending in to the pits of "infotainment" for the nation's Democrats and other self-identified civil libertarians?

You decide.

In anticipation of the inevitable question, I'm sure someone will ask: But aren't you missing the point? Isn't this a gross violation of our privacy rights? Shouldn't our focus be on the administration instead of smearing the messenger?

My answer: To take the questions in reverse order, I hope the Senate undertakes a thorough investigation of this whole affair, and let the chips fall where they may. As to whether there is a civil rights violation here, I don't know. If this were purely domestic monitoring, I have little doubt that there would be. That said, the international element of this monitoring pushes it into a realm miles away from any expertise I might have, so I can't in good conscience give an informed opinion on that point at this early time. Captain Ed thinks that the lawyers at the Times didn't find anything illegal here; I'm not convinced that their actions necessarily reflect that, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

All the same, I'll be keeping an eye on this.

Related posts:
Follow-up on FISA

Friday, December 16, 2005

And the Webbie goes to. . .

Someone else (Garfield Ridge, to be exact). Congratulations!

Thank you to all who voted for The Exile in this year's contest. We came in better-than-last, which exceeded expectations.

Also, thank you to all who visited for the first time during the last ten days, and saw enough here to return. Since the nomination, my daily traffic has doubled, so welcome!

Gratuitous Friday Quiz Link - Deity Edition

Indeed, you are 83% erudite, 79% sensual, 70% martial, and 45% saturnine.
The God Lug certainly cut an impressive image. Lug was a mighty hero, often portrayed as a blond muscle-man, all decked out in magnificent armour complete with helmet and shield of gold.

As the story goes, Lug came to the glorious palace of The Dagda expecting to be welcomed as a full fledged member of the "God Fraternity" right there on the spot, no questions asked. But the palace guard did question him. In order to take a seat among the immortal Gods, one had to possess a skill not already covered by one of the deities. When the guard asked Lug to name his unique specialty, the mighty hero declared that he was particularly competent in the art of war. The guard shook his head. They already had a War God. Lug then called out several of his many expert abilities. Could they use a God of healing? Nope. A Water God? Nope. How about a God of magic? Of music? Commerce? Nope, nope, and nope. Finally reaching his wits end, Lug lashed out at the guard and demanded to be admitted since none of the Gods were masters of all skills like he was. This worked. Soon he became the greatest of all the Celtic Gods.

The Fifteen Gods

These are the 15 categories of this test. If you score above average in …

…all or none of the four variables: Dagda. … Erudite: Thoth. … Sensual: Frey. … Martial: Mars. … Saturnine: Mictlantecuhtli. … Erudite & Sensual: Amun. … Erudite & Martial: Odin. … Erudite & Saturnine: Anubis. … Sensual & Martial: Zeus. … Sensual & Saturnine: Cernunnos. … Martial & Saturnine: Loki. … Erudite, Sensual & Martial: Lug. … Erudite, Sensual & Saturnine: Coyote. … Erudite, Martial & Saturnine: Hades. … Sensual, Martial & Saturnine: Pan.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

You scored higher than 68% on erudite
You scored higher than 51% on sensual
You scored higher than 81% on martial
You scored higher than 23% on saturnine
Link: The Mythological God Test written by Nitsuki on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Thursday, December 15, 2005

We needed a federal investigation to reach this conclusion?

NTSB: Plane at Midway Needed More Runway

CHICAGO - A jetliner that skidded off a landing strip and into a city street needed about 800 more feet of runway to come to a safe stop, federal investigators said Thursday.

The Southwest Airlines jet crushed a car, killing a 6-year-old boy, after it skidded off a 6,500-foot runway and crashed through a fence at Midway International Airport earlier this month.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the airplane touched down with about 4,500 feet of runway remaining, but snowy conditions and other factors meant the plane ideally needed about 5,300 feet of runway, according to a report released Thursday.

   On the few occasions I have flown in and out of Chicago - Midway, I have seen just how close the end of the runway is to the surrounding neighborhood. It's really a wonder that this kind of thing has not happened before.

   And yet, a Southwest pilot who has no doubt flown into Midway countless times (it's a Southwest hub) decides to set his plane down a little long in inclement conditions, no doubt aware on some level that he has absolutely no room for error.

   I smell a lawsuit brewing...

Bush, McCain agree on torture ban

   It seems that the White House and the Senator from Arizona have finally come to an agreement on McCain's torture ban. I have not been able to find a copy of the compromise text, so I'm reserving judgment in light of the concerns I raised last week. I just hope we have done enough.

   Nevertheless, I think that Howie at The Jawa Report probably has the right idea:

I’ve never been more proud of Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain. John McCain for sticking with it and Mr. Bush for proving he is a reasonable man. Look out for the “me too” on the left. But no this is Moderate and Conservative Republicans working together and coming to an agreement. Also notice the forward looking let’s solve a problem attitude. Rather than stomp on America these men got together and worked out a good solid compromise. So if the left hopes to cut the moderates from the Republican herd I say to them, “Fat Chance”!

If he runs, I can see myself backing John McCain for president (especially compared to the rest of the apparent field this early and his campaign finance position notwithstanding). As badly as Bush needed this deal, McCain needed it, too, if he was to have any hope of laying the foundation to draw votes from the hard-liners in the party during primary season.

   I can see it now: Moderates turn out to vote for McCain; Conservatives turn out (if nothing else) to vote against Hillary (or someone to her left).

   I can dream, can't I?

   Here's hoping we see more cooperation like this over the next few years.


I started reading The Genealogy of Morals the other night before bed. As a result, I pose the following question:

Is it at all possible to read Nietzsche without coming away with the oddly and viscerally unsettled feeling one might experience having just read the diary of another who is severely mentally ill?

Perhaps this is not the best possible introduction to this particular philosopher - and I know that he suffered a mental breakdown later in life and also that some people say that he has been misinterpreted and misunderstood - but I've come away from it both nights feeling a little disturbed at this particular display of the human experience: whether of Nietzsche's view of the world or of Nietzsche himself.

If anyone has read this book, or any other by him, your comments are particularly welcome.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A little lawyer humor

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal, a letter:

Martini's Founding Fathers: Original Intent Debatable

Eric Felten's essay on the dry martini is itself near-perfect ("Don't Forget the Vermouth," Leisure & Arts, Pursuits, Dec. 10). His allusion to constitutional jurisprudence is faulty, however, since neither in law nor martinis can we know the subjective "original intent" of the Founding Fathers. As to martinis, the intent may have been to ease man's passage through this vale of tears or, less admirably, to employ the tactic of "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

What counts in mixology is the "original understanding" of the martini's essence by those who first consumed it. The essence remains unaltered but allows proportions to evolve as circumstances change. Mr. Felten's "near-perfect martini" is the same in principle as the "original-understanding martini" and therefore its legitimate descendant. Such latter-day travesties as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini, on the other hand, are the work of activist bartenders.

Mr. Felten lapses into heresy only once. He prefers the olive to the lemon peel because the former is a "snack." Dropping a snack into a classic drink is like garnishing filet mignon with ketchup. The correct response when offered an olive is, "When I want a salad, I'll ask for it."

Robert H. Bork
The Hudson Institute

Somehow, it's refreshing to see that the man whose name became a verb has a sense of humor.

[Hat tip: The Llama Butchers]

Canadian PM Quacks Loudly in Run-up to Elections

   I seem to remember this tactic not working so well for Schroeder in Germany.

   Just a thought . . . what with having already suffered an historic no confidence vote and all.

UPDATE: It seems that Captain Ed has some similar thoughts on the matter, albeit stated more fully.

Jousting on another Knight's Turf

   I've been tied up elsewhere today.

   Twice today, in fact.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday Shopping

   (Apologies in advance to my more liberal friends.)

   I was going to take this evening off from posting, but I found something that struck me in just the right way: From the Six Meat Buffet's Last Minute Gift Ideas for Liberals, Stratego for Democrats.

   Now, this satire would not even be half as funny to me if The Lady Exile, my much more progressive better half (see also "The Vote Canceller"), had not won every God-forsaken game of Stratego we had ever played.

   Every game.


   That is, while I dominate our chessboard, when it comes to Stratego even St. Jude shrugs his shoulders and says, "Hey, there things even I can't pull off."

   It's so bad that I eventually reached the point of declaring her "Champion for Life", never to return to the cardboard battlefield; the cause really was that hopeless.

   It's almost a shame I can't really get my hands on a copy of Stratego for Democrats. It would be a great gift this year.

   Maybe I could actually win. (I can't believe I just said that.) Nah.... Probably not.

[via The Llama Butchers]

Monday, December 12, 2005

Calling it a night

   Post-flu fatigue is setting in early this evening.

   Before turning in, I direct you to Professor Bainbridge's thoughts on the state of conservatism. It seems that conservatives of differing persuasions can't quite agree on where we are, let alone where we are going.

Monotheism the worst idea ever? Please!

Frist's Nuclear Option

The ever-astute Joe Gandelman presents some thoughts on how Bill Frist could bungle the Alito nomination - and unwittingly cause damage to the GOP's positional advantages - by banging the "nuclear option" drum unnecessarily.

Indeed, this whole thing is pretty silly. Perhaps Mr. Frist has already seen the new version of King Kong, and thought beating on his chest will scare his enemies away. But there are few signs so far that the Democrats intend to FILBUSTER Alito: vote against him, perhaps...but there doesn't seem to be any groundswell to use the filibuster.

* * *

Left to their devices, the Democrats --divided, showing increasing signs of impending intraparty warfare and buffeted by demands from some to decrease the size of the Democratic tent (after all, in 2006 and 2008 it CAN'T hold Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton) — can damage themselves. But hit them with a nuclear option — or threaten them with elimating the filibuster when that issue has not seriously arisen yet — would be the GOP's WORST political strategy in terms of helping solidify Democratic unity and further alientate independent voters.

Check it out.

Pandora's Music Box

   Many thanks to The Impolitic for pointing us to Pandora, a great music recommendation site.

   For those looking for a way to help time fly at the office, this site is in a class by itself.

RINO Sightings

   This week's edition of RINO Sightings is up at the Countertop Chronicles.

   Check out the best of opinion this week from the conservative-leaning individuals Tom DeLay doesn't want you to know about.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Weblog Awards Campaign Continues

   As the Weblog Awards enter their final days, more RINOs step up with their endorsements:

Lastly, there is a RINO still within striking distance if we all band together. In the "Best of the Top 2501-3500 Blogs" Category, I'm throwing my full support behind The World According to Nick, and I encourage you to do the same.

Back in the saddle

   Thanks to those who sent get well wishes yesterday. Thankfully, my illness was brief; it seems to have been unrelated to the weather and if it's the only brush I have with the flu this winter, I'll be very fortunate. After spending pretty much all of yesterday in bed, I seem to be back to normal.

Now, where were we?