Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Things you find on the internet can make you want to sing and dance. My dog now thinks I'm nuts, and so would anyone else watching me at the moment.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Some kind reader or readers nominated BeldarBlog in the category of "Best Conservative Blog" in Wizbang!'s 2004 Weblog Awards. I placed ninth of the fifteen blogs nominated for this category, with 3.0 percent of the 20,801 votes — almost certainly better than I deserved, given the excellence of the other nominees. Captain's Quarters was the deserving overall winner in this category. Power Line took top honors for "Best Overall Blog," and my blogospheric friend Patterico nabbed first place in "Best of the Top 100-250 Blogs"; and skimming through the other winners and nominees, I was pleased to see many other friends and residents of my own blogroll, all very deserving of recognition, praise, and regular readership.
Although this one was relatively well set up and administered, like essentially all other online polls, readers must take this exercise with many large grains (cow-licking size) of salt. WizBang!'s traffic probably comes mostly from the right hemisphere of the overall blogosphere; had, say, dKos run the contest, I rather doubt that my blog would have been noticed at all. Unlike the product of those pernicious political opinion pollsters, however, this one neither takes itself too seriously, nor threatens any distortions of any meaningful "real-life events." So all things considered, I'm mildly tickled to have been nominated, and grateful to persons on the other side of the keyboards who clicked my blog's name approximately 624 times.
With no disrespect to Wizbang! or the other fine nominees and winners, however, I'm more grateful to the folks on the other side of the keyboards who navigate, through one means or another, to my [rarely-]humble online journal itself, even during times like the last few weeks when my blogging has been embarrassingly sparse. I count myself a "winner" of sorts with each such "vote," including those who regularly visit to voice civil but disagreeing viewpoints in my comments.
I do, however, repudiate in no uncertain terms the "support" BeldarBlog receives from the small handful of miscreants who visit only to leave behind their links plugging V!agr4, p0rn0 websites, and the like. Even those "readers," however, serve a useful function in one sense — they leave me feeling righteous and powerful as I slay their spam, feeding my fantasies that I am indeed the master of my own domain[-name], ruler of all that I survey [through my TypePad interface], and a legend [in my own bandwidth].
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
The Absent-Minded Democrats
The composite mental image I have of the Democratic Party's elites is pretty close to the cliché of Professor Brainard, the title character of Disney's two "Absent-Minded Professor" movies — but more Ned, the genuinely clueless-because-preoccuppied Fred MacMurray original, than Philip, the nerdy-hip Robin Williams sequel (a/k/a "Flubber"). A bunch of these folks write for The New Yorker, and one named Louis Menand has written another anguished examination of the 2004 presidential election in the December 6th print edition (not yet online) entitled, provocatively, "Permanent Fatal Errors: Did the voters send a message?"
Mr. Menand writes quite a bit about public opinion pollsters. I've stated before my view that pollsters, from the right or the left, are witch doctors practicing a pernicious brand of quackery; but politicians and would-be political savants from both the right and the left, and especially from the left, still take them seriously. Here's Mr. Menand on the analysis offered by Gary Langer, the "director of polling" (i.e., witch-doctor chief of staff) at ABC News:
Langer thinks that a key statistic is the change [between 2000 and 2004] in the votes of married women. Gore won the women's vote by eleven per cent; Kerry won by only three per cent, and he lost most of those votes among married women. Bush got forty-nine per cent of the votes of married women in 2000; he got fifty-five per cent this year. And when you ask married women whom they trust to keep the country safe from terrorists fifty-three per cent say "only Bush." (The really salient demographic statistic from the election is one that most Democrats probably don't even want to think about: If white men could not vote, Kerry would have defeated Bush by seven million votes.)
[Overworked metaphor alert:] Please, please spare me from this sort of demographic slicing and dicing. It's a Ginsu knife with a dull, dull blade, and we're all entitled to a refund. Here, the master ninja-chefs have tried to use it to explain the salad after it's already been prepared, served, and eaten — and all they've done has been to squash the left-over tomatoes.
"If we can only find the right — that is to say, the statistically and epistomologically meaningful, genuine, and paradigmatic — classifications into which we can identify and sort the participants in this
science project election," seems to be the premise, "we can then completely explain how and why it happened the way it did!" Um-hmmm. And if we could only find the Alchemist's Stone, we could transmute lead into gold! And then there's Flubber. The unspoken hope, of course, is that once the pollsters and their "really salient demographic statistics" get their act together, the political parties can custom-tailor their candidate selections to master, instead of merely observe, cause and effect. To John Kerry's bewildered question, "How can I be losing to this guy?" they promise a scientific answer, and a corrective.
To which Beldar says: "Piffle and balderdash." Or in the unabridged West Texas translation, "Ain't none o' yew boys got the sense to pee yer pants iff'n yer leg's on fire."
(Parenthetical discussion of the above-quoted parenthetical: What exactly is it that makes that statistic about white men "really salient"? And why don't most Democrats probably even want to think about this? Isn't the premise of it that most or all white men share some immutable and predictably-explanatory, therefore politically exploitable, common characteristic? "Professor," shouts Biff, "we're this close to finding the Y-chromosomal marker for the BushCheney04 gene!" [Cue the dramatic music, probably minor-key descending organ chords — bahm-bahm-BAHM!] "You mean ... ?" gasps the beautiful young coed, Betsy. "Yes," answers Prof. Brainard distractedly, "and with that marker, we can genetically engineer a microphagic viral silver bullet that will end the genetic disorder of Republicanism forever. Now where'd I lay that — heavens-to-Betsy, Betsy, my leg is on fire! Quick, Biff! Put down that fire extinguisher, and get me — a thermometer!")
But on to The New Yorker's Mr. Menand's concluding paragraph (boldface and snarky bracketed comments in blue added by Beldar):
Of course, it doesn't matter what the science of public opinion concludes. It only matters what the politicians conclude. [Umm, isn't the point of elections sorta that it matters what the voters conclude?] If Democrats believe that the lesson of the election is that the Party needs to move to the right, then, if it moves, that will be the lesson. [Huh? Too zen for Beldar, sorry. Are you saying "There is no spoon"?] It might be wiser for the Democrats to chalk Bush's reëlection up to 9/11 and stick to their positions. [Oh yes, please! Please!] The Democratic candidate did not lose votes in 2004 [no, just the election]: Kerry got five million more votes than Al Gore got in 2000, when Gore won a plurality [and also lost the election]. Unfortunately for the Democrats [and as The New Yorker sees it, the entire civilized universe, which it's up to Prof. Brainard now to save], Bush got nine million more votes than he did four years ago. But it wasn't because the country moved to the right. The issue that seems to have permitted an incumbent with an unimpressive approval rating [another poll; but the one "approval rating" that actually counts was pretty impressive, see above-referenced 9,000,000 voters] to survive reëlection [sic] was not an ideological one. The country did not change radically in the past four years. Circumstances did.
Ayup. Circumstances changed, alrightee — as a quick glance at Manhattan Island's south skyline pretty much confirms. But hey — maybe by 2008, either Prof. Brainard will have found that genetic marker or (more "encouraging" for the Democrats, but I hope no more likely) enough Americans will have forgotten about 9/11. The Internet Movie Database lists no less than eleven movies with the title "Amnesia." That may be a better hope for the Dems in the long run than Prof. Brainard and Flubber.
But I think Mr. Menand is guilty of a little amnesia himself. By the time he got to his article's end, he'd forgotten its very promising (to me) title: "Permanent Fatal Errors." Of course, that title might have been written by an unusually perceptive editor who didn't bother to read to the end of the article. But I suspect that the Dems' classic failure to recognize their fatal errors is a pattern that indeed might be permanent: By relying on opinion pollsters, they're completely missing those pesky little circumstances (like, say, a global war between real civilization and radical Islamic terrorists) that, in turn, tend to expose their candidates' magnificent intellects and ideological vacuity. And even Prof. Brainard knows — on an abstract and nonpractical level, anyway — that nature abhors a vacuum. So do lots of voters of all "demographics" — married women voters, white male voters, increasing numbers of black and hispanic and gay and Jewish and .... Well, let's just be blunt but accurate and say, "lots of voters, period."
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Beldar on Noonan on Rather
I have long been an unabashed fan of Peggy Noonan's skills as a speechwriter and a political columnist. The woman is sometimes a fuddy-duddy, as I suspect she'd be the first to admit. But she can do more than just turn a nice phrase. At its worst, her prose is still very readable and distinctively voiced; at its best, her prose absolutely sings, and angels gladly harmonize.
From 1981-1984, Ms. Noonan worked for Dan Rather, whom she describes in an op-ed column in today's Wall Street Journal as "a great boss." In this and many other respects, her column is respectful, sympathetic, sometimes even flattering, to Mr. Rather. It's almost certainly the most positive assessment of Dan Rather that's likely to be written by a prominent pundit of the right, and it's worthwhile reading.
Because in this column, as almost always in Ms. Noonan's writing, she allows her first-hand experiences to not only tint but fully color her opinions — and because, I think, Peggy Noonan is fundamentally a very kind and decent person — she therefore gives Mr. Rather the benefit of quite a few doubts. She paints Mr. Rather as a product of his times, which saw the rise and fall of TV network news as an oligopolistic shaper and maker of American public opinion. She ascribes blame to the eastern liberal elites, whose approval and recognition Mr. Rather coveted and who made political liberalism a prerequisite for his and his peers' career advancement. She analogizes Mr. Rather to Richard Nixon — well, that's one well-meant bit that bites rather than soothes, I'm sure, from Mr. Rather's perspective. And she emphasizes the need to weigh the accomplishments of his entire career on the way to, and then while he broadcast from, the network anchor's chair.
But Ms. Noonan's column also expresses ambivalence — both in the text of what she says, and in the shouting subtext of what she leaves unsaid. "Life is complicated," she begins her column, "people are complicated, and most of us are a jumble of virtues, flaws and contradictions." Of Mr. Rather's willingness, eagerness, to swallow whole the mindset his media bosses demanded as the price of his success, she acknowledges that her portrait is "not very nice but I think it is true." And she concludes with:
People are complicated, careers are complicated, motives are complicated. Dan Rather did some great work on stories that demanded physical courage. He loved the news, and often made it look like the most noble of enterprises. He had guts and fortitude. Those stories he covered that touched on politics were unfortunately and consistently marred by liberal political bias, and in this he was like too many in his profession. But this is changing. The old hegemony has given way. The old dominance is over. Good thing. Great thing. Onward.
This is very gracious and generous. It reflects well on Ms. Noonan. But it's far, far better than Dan Rather deserves.
The Rathergate forged documents scandal was not just an aberration as part of a long and otherwise distinguished career. It was simply the capstone of a long series of incredibly biased and dishonest incidents. This one was deliberately timed and intended by Mr. Rather and his co-conspirators, upstream and down, to change the outcome of a crucial presidential election. Mr. Rather and CBS News ignored — nay, brazenly flouted, and then tried to cover up their breach of — practically every fundamental written principle of journalistic ethics. Was he alone is this conspiracy? Of course not. Does that in any way excuse him? Of course it does not.
Dan Rather and his cohorts didn't just make a mistake. They didn't just have a lapse. They didn't just let their biases color their reporting. They didn't just make an error in judgment. Instead, they conspired together with should-be felons, with forgers, to pass off as genuine, as truthful "news," a set of bogus documents that defamed the record and the integrity of the President — and in so doing, they fundamentally betrayed the entire reason for their profession's existence. They actively hid the fact that their own hired experts were telling them — before the first broadcast — that the documents were fakes. Then they tried to demonize those (including me and my fellow bloggers) who'd helped expose their ploy, and to justify their lies as "fake but accurate."
If I tried to win a case, to earn a fee, to gain glory in the legal profession by poisoning the judge before whom my client and I were appearing — and if I were caught at it, red-handed in the way Mr. Rather and CBS News were caught — then my long and somewhat distinguished career as a trial lawyer would not just be tarnished. It would be forfeited, and deservedly so. For the rest of my life, the only law books I'd see would be those handed to me between the bars of my cell, with a big stamp on the spine reading "Property of the Texas Dep't of Corrections Law Lib'y."
Dan Rather didn't try to poison a judge, but he tried to poison an election. He tried to murder the truth. He got caught, and he's shown no remorse. If that's not the journalistic equivalent of a capital crime, I don't know what is.
Mr. Rather continues to insist that his departure from the CBS News anchor's chair is coincidental. CBS News' internal investigation, the results of which were ostensibly to be withheld until after the election, is still presumably pending. Justice delayed is justice denied.
And in the meantime, Dan Rather will continue to draw a seven-figure paycheck. As the "Sixty Minutes" second-hand ticks to the close of each hour, his treacherous face will still be on camera, and when they cut to commercial at each broadcast's end, Mr. Rather will pull a fine handkerchief from one of those expensive London-made pinstripe suits that Ms. Noonan's column tells us he learned to wear, and he'll wipe his brow and say to himself: "I got away with it."
I lack Peggy Noonan's graciousness and generosity. Grace is a gift from God that follows repentance and penance, and I'm content to let God decide in due course whether Mr. Rather has earned it. For now, I still want to see Dan Rather brought to earthly justice — political and commercial justice, at least. And I lack Peggy Noonan's eloquence to express just how deeply I despise CBS News for continuing to shelter him, and itself, from that justice.