Oct 19, 2007

No good reason to leave New Jersey? [LINK]

The editorial board of the New York Times now has a blog. If this post offers a fair sample, it may well become the biggest "kick me" sign in all the Internet.

This post concerns the large number of New Jersey residents who, in a poll, expressed a strong desire to leave, one of the big reasons apparently being New Jersey's high tax rates. But the editorialists think they should stay put:

[T]here is a flaw in the grass-is-greener thinking. As more and more people needing more and more government services head to less populated areas, over-development, and congestion, and taxes are likely to increase there as well.

Adhering to this logic, I can scarcely think of any good reason to leave New Jersey. If I want to leave because, say, the air is polluted, the response would essentially be that wherever you're moving to is likely to also become polluted eventually as a result of the influx. So whatever you do, don't move!

Key word is "eventually", since if it becomes unbearable there, you have the option to move yet again. There may also be good reason to believe that the place you're moving to won't become nearly as polluted -- maybe New Jersey is unusually polluted.

Same for the tax issue. If other states provide basic services for much less, then the sooner you leave, the sooner you can enjoy those low rates. Even if taxes there eventually do rise (i.e., to build new schools and subdivisions), they may still be able to keep overall costs lower than New Jersey's presumably over-market rates. After all, low tax rates are not necessarily a function of low population.

Note the overwrought, imprecise language: "As more and more people needing more and more government services head to less populated areas..." Yes, "more and more" people are leaving, but they do not need "more and more" services than they did in New Jersey. The opposite may well be the case: they may be happier with a smaller set of services. (I understand: the places they're moving to need to provide more services.)

Another paragraph states:

There's an irony here. If more and more relatively high-income residents leave New Jersey, the tax situation will only get worse. The reason: many of the costs, such as local schools and debt, will remain the same, but there will be fewer people to share the burden.

There's no "irony" at all. Saying "the tax situation will only get worse" for those who remain assumes there's absolutely no way to lower the cost of government to keep New Jersey competitive, and at any rate is irrelevant to those who decide to leave.

Oct 5, 2007

Diversity for Diversity's Sake [LINK]

Today's letter:

John Sperber argues that, to achieve greater diversity, elite universities such as Harvard should admit academically underachieving students on the basis of "pedigree." Arguments about the benefits of diversity now appear to be orbiting Neptune. To be truly diverse, Harvard should scrap its admissions process altogether and institute a random lottery.

Oct 3, 2007

Return of the Son of Rathergate [LINK]

George Pyle, editorial writer for the Buffalo News, packages up an exceedingly stupid old meme about Rathergate for the benefit of a whole new set of innocents. At least he says he has "no proof," but then why bother?

Here is my theory, for which I have absolutely no proof: Those documents that supposedly proved that George W. Bush ditched much of his service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, the ones that were attacked as fakes and eventually got Rather ousted as anchor of the CBS Evening News, were indeed forgeries. They were forged by the Bush campaign, floated second-hand to some overly eager producers at CBS, who put Rather's voice-over on their report and went with it. When the documents were later widely seen as fakes, the story stopped being about Bush and his service and started being about Rather and CBS.

He says that while he usually doesn't go for conspiracy theories, "I like this one mostly, I think, because I invented it." Instead, the text should read: "I like this one mostly because I think I invented it." No, this suggestion that Rove was behind Rathergate is hardly new. At the time, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe made the same suggestion, and most recently Sidney Blumenthal repeated it in a Salon article. It's a wonder the planets continue in their course now that Rove no longer serves as Bush's adviser, but I suppose he still pulls the strings from the shadowy background.

Pyle's theory is interesting not only for its lack of evidence, but for the main assumption it relies upon: that not only Dan Rather but all the journalists who worked with him on the story -- for the producer Mary Mapes, years -- were so reckless and gullible that they could be relied upon run with such a transparent forgery.

If Rove were to engineer such a scenario, I would think he'd put a couple of tiny, esoteric details that would make it more likely to get past CBS's formidable fact checking apparatus [ha!], but later be exposed as a fraud.

As it transpired, the documents CBS presented were bogus in so many immediately obvious ways that it became difficult to keep track of them all as details emerged in the wake of the broadcast. Anybody who's glancingly familiar with military jargon would have recognized errors in the terminology used. Anyone who has even a weak grasp of typography would have realized that nothing short of an enormous, expensive typesetting system could have produced those documents during the early 1970s, when they were supposed to have been written on an IBM Selectric. Even a little bit of digging would have revealed them to be inconsistent with every other document that genuinely did come from the same Texas National Guard office during the same period, and would have revealed that the officer who supposedly wrote them (since deceased) had retired by that point.

So the Killian documents were effectively on par with a hand-drawn $100 bill. The only reason they made it on the air is that the CBS team, in a transparent effort to affect the 2004 election, desperately wanted to make a scandal out of what otherwise consisted of some gaps in records on Bush's national guard service. (Note that there were similar gaps in records on Kerry's service.)

The current (stupid) discourse has it that these memos were not essential to establish the main story that Bush had been "AWOL," but the fact remains that while his attendence was lower towards the end of his service than before, Bush was certified to have completed his service. Aside from these bogus memos, I'm aware of no evidence that Bush's superiors were actively displeased with his service or that they regarded him as having been "AWOL."

So it's thoroughly appropriate that "the story stopped being about Bush and his service and started being about Rather and CBS," because of the latter's manifest bad faith in presenting the bogus documents as evidence in the first place (against the advice of CBS-hired document experts), and for later stone-walling efforts to validate them. Long after a mountain of evidence had been produced establishing the memos as fakes, it took two weeks for CBS to admit to the possibility.


UPDATE: As proof of how stupid all this has become, here's the relevant portion of Sidney Blumenthal's article in Salon:

Within minutes of the conclusion of the broadcast, conservative bloggers launched a counterattack. The chief of these critics was a Republican Party activist in Georgia. Almost certainly, these bloggers, who had been part of meetings or conference calls organized by Karl Rove's political operation, coordinated their actions with Rove's office.

How could it be possible that such a complex set of information could circulate among so many people so quickly, from which emerged a quick consensus, without prior planning from a malefactor such as Karl Rove? How can one even imagine the possibility? Sarcasm aside, Blumenthal appears utterly ignorant of the Internet's defining feature.

"The chief of these critics" apparently refers to Atlanta attorney Harry MacDougald, who under the name of "Buckhead" was the first to question the memos' veractity on FreeRepublic.com. Thereafter he played no perceivable part in advancing that idea. That he is a "Republican Party" activist, of course, does not imply coordination with Rove.

Oct 2, 2007

The Anti-Having-Fun Crowd [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

H. Knuttgen complains that Red Sox players should not spray each other with champagne after clinching the AL East title, at least not while Somalians are going hungry. Please, I implore you: there is far too much self-righteousness in this great land of ours. Let's send it somewhere in the world where it is desperately needed.