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December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

By Ezra

You know you're getting a bit older when you channel some of your holiday cash into a rice cooker and are damn excited about it. Creeping mortality aside, it's been a good year for me on a variety of fronts, most notably professionally, where I escaped college in three years and was hired by my first choice: The American Prospect. That, of course, was a direct result of all you folks in blogland who keep pinging my hit counter and making me look much more successful, intelligent, and nerdy than I really am. So thanks for that, I owe ya one.

We're also rounding on the one-year anniversary of this site. It was January 25th, 2005 when ezraklein.typepad.com opened it's doors, and the solo venture has been all I could hope for. Much thanks also to my weekend guest bloggers, who allow me to keep up pretenses of social life and infuse the blog with a vitality that carries through the week, and particularly Shakespeare's Sister, who carried out the redesign and made the place feel much homier.

Looking forward, 2006 will see some significant changes to the site, which you'll be hearing about soon. I also hope to expand the list of weekend bloggers and attract some expert voices when events make them valuable. We'll see. In any case, thanks -- folks like to say that they blog just for themselves, but it's rarely true. A blog for my eyes only wouldn't have created anything near the intellectual or professional growth this one set in motion, and I'm profoundly grateful for all it, and you, have given me.

Happy New Year. And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go get drunk.

December 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

DC Question

So uh, what do you do when you leave your wallet in a cab?

December 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Pepper-o-Meter 2005!

By Pepper of the Daily Pepper

UPDATE: Size of file is now greatly reduced! Microsoft Paint is definitely "bell"!

I'm in the mood to spice up the typical end-of-year lists with a chart. In honor of what was hot and what was not in 2005, the Daily Pepper presents a Pepper-o-Meter to reveal what is truly habanero, just jalapeno, or flat-out bell. And, yes, you are supposed to read across for the full effect.


Any other suggestions as to what was spicy and not-so-spicy?

December 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Raisins in Paradise

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Recent scholarship on the Koran suggests that the 72 virgins promised to Islamic martyrs may actually turn out to be 72 raisins:

For example, the famous passage about the virgins is based on the word hur, which is an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply "white." Islamic tradition insists the term hur stands for "houri," which means virgin, but Mr. Luxenberg insists that this is a forced misreading of the text. In both ancient Aramaic and in at least one respected dictionary of early Arabic, hur means "white raisin."

Mr. Luxenberg has traced the passages dealing with paradise to a Christian text called Hymns of Paradise by a fourth-century author. Mr. Luxenberg said the word paradise was derived from the Aramaic word for garden and all the descriptions of paradise described it as a garden of flowing waters, abundant fruits and white raisins, a prized delicacy in the ancient Near East. In this context, white raisins, mentioned often as hur, Mr. Luxenberg said, makes more sense than a reward of sexual favors.  

Somebody's going to be disappointed in the afterlife.  (Unless those raisins are really good.) In this vein, it's interesting to consider the commentator al-Suyuti, whose more traditional views of heaven were recorded over 500 years ago:

"Each time we sleep with a houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [ie Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetising vaginas." 

It seems that al-Suyuti may be due for an appetising experience either way.  I haven't found scholarship on the fate of female martyrs, but here's one female Islamic fundamentalist's opinion:

MD:  According to the Koran, male martyrs are welcomed to paradise by 72 beautiful virgins; and women martyrs?

A: A woman martyr will be the person in charge, the manager, the officer of the 72 virgins, the fairest of the fair.

Administrative authority might appeal to some people, but to me it doesn't seem like quite as good a deal.  Especially if you only end up being in charge of 72 raisins. 

December 31, 2005 in Religion | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack


Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Bar none, the best Christmas present I got this year was a copy of Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas. And while I'm still a big fan of Bobby Kennedy, he's starting to make George W. Bush look like a civil libertarian.

During his tenure as attorney general, RFK routinely authorized the wiretapping of telephones and "bugging" of households and hotel rooms, all without a warrant. These wiretaps recorded domestic calls, and the FBI's bugs taped the personal conversations of their targets. Most of the time, the Feds were  monitoring mobsters like Sam Giancana -- the Chicago boss who replaced Al Capone -- but they also kept a close eye on such subversives as Martin Luther King and several of his aides. In some cases, particularly with King, Kennedy seemed to request the wiretap only for the purpose of obtaining knowledge of King's planned act of civil disobedience, and not for any legitimate law enforcement purpose. He also spent much of his spare time figuring out how he could get the CIA to overthrow and/or "eliminate" the Castro regime in Cuba.

In Kennedy's defense, the fourth amendment implications of wiretapping and bugging were not yet settled, and in many cases he authorized the wiretaps to placate Hoover, who used the FBI to gather intelligence he later used to threaten RFK, JFK, and many others with blackmail. Still, Kennedy's biography provides a great deal of perspective on how far we've come as a country. It's easy to think that under President Bush, our civil liberties, the environment, the rule of law, and unchecked executive power are more threatened now than they ever have been. But forty years ago, there was no EPA; the Warren Court had yet to establish Miranda and many of its other cases constraining police powers; and no one really seems to have thought twice about the way wiretapping might interact with the fourth amendment. For that matter African-Americans were completely disenfranchised rather than partially so, and efforts to integrate all-white colleges in the South resulted in actual riots that make the WTO protest of 1999 look like childs play. Now, that's not a reason to stop trying to improve the situation, and I think the biggest scandal in this whole snoopgate bruhaha is that FISA pretty clearly says "the United States shall not engage in X" and a fair reading of what the President has done shows that he has engaged in X, but in terms of the real, physical consequences of a President's actions, there have been much more serious consequences in the country's recent past.

December 31, 2005 in History | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

In Praise of Fighting Dems

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

People at Daily Kos and elsewhere are getting all excited about congressional candidates with military records. Dadahead isn’t. He says, “Why anyone would think that being a veteran is an advantage for a Democrat, after the the flame-out of Wesley Clark and the swift-boating of John Kerry, is beyond me.” I happen to think that running a bunch of congressional candidates with Iraq War records is an excellent idea, and I'll respond to Dadahead’s arguments.

There’s a world of difference between a presidential candidate who has the mannerisms of a Senator invoking his Vietnam service, and a congressional candidate who actually sounds like a soldier invoking his Iraq service. Kerry had a long public record, and there were more things that could interfere with his attempt to cultivate a military image. One of these things was his own speaking style, which sounded nothing like the stereotype of a military man. The war he fought over 30 years ago was against a different enemy. By contrast, congressional candidates who served in Iraq – especially if their bearing, like that of Paul Hackett, fits some military stereotype – will get instant credibility on a huge issue in contemporary American politics.

Which brings me to Hackett. He polled 48.3% in a district where Republicans held a 3-1 registration advantage and no Democrat in 12 years had surpassed Lee Hornberger’s 29.1% score from 1993. Jean Schmidt’s weakness and Hackett’s donations from werewolves are part of the explanation. But there’s no doubt that Hackett’s military background, around which he built his campaign, accounts for a big chunk of the improvement. If you’re looking for data to predict how Fighting Dems will do in congressional races, he’s the best comparison case.  

The vast majority of the Iraq veterans in the primary won’t face anything close to the Swift Boating that Kerry faced. Remember that Kerry had a Nixon-appointed stalker, John O’Neill, connected to a pool of 527 money and a network of veterans who hated him for his part in the Winter Soldier investigation. Most congressional candidates won’t have anything like that against them. And if they do, they can still respond as Kerry should have – by thrusting out their chests on TV and using the allegations as a platform to boast about what they actually did. Furthermore, as Jean Schmidt has recently learned, actual politicians slander ex-soldiers at their peril.

Dadahead is wrong to criticize Hackett supporters for past strategic incompetence, and use this to attack their reliability. The Kossacks who love Hackett so dearly aren’t the people who brought you John Kerry – they’re the ones who wanted to bring you Howard Dean. (Okay, that doesn’t support my point as well as I hoped. But it’s more a case of throwing strategy to the wind than strategic incompetence.) So I'll be self-aggrandizing here and ask Dadahead to take it from me. I’ve done reasonably well at this – thinking that Hackett would do very well but not win his House race, and arguing against Kerry’s electability (at least, relative to Edwards) since my first blog entry ever on Kos. Being an Iraq veteran should be worth a few extra points to House candidates, possibly more if they play it right. One shouldn’t automatically vote for veterans in primaries, but it is something worth getting pretty excited about. 

December 31, 2005 in Strategy | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

December 30, 2005

No Time For Partisanship

Here, in a nutshell, is what's so weird about the NSA scandal. This is Jonah Goldberg responding to my post on the Rasmussen Poll (Italics his):

Klein offers what he says is a better poll question: "Do you believe the NSA should be able to listen in on your phone calls and read your e-mails without oversight, probable cause, or a warrant?"

I can see his point. But surely there's plenty of bias built into this question, too. No one is talking about tapping run-of-the-mill phone conversations. Suggesting otherwise in a poll comes pretty close to push-polling.

Wouldn't a more fair question be: "Do you believe the NSA should be able to listen in on your phone calls and read your e-mails without oversight or a warrant if you are communicating with known al Qaeda associates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Europe or the Middle East?"

Phrased that way, I'm with Goldberg. The only problem is that I have no reason to believe his question comports with reality. How do I know the NSA is only tapping conversations including al Qaeda associates? Because the president tells me it's so? There is, after all, absolutely no agency independent of the White House exerting even cursory oversight in this process. The FISA courts were abandoned because something Bush was doing prompted the legendarily lax agency to start rejecting and amending warrants. And yet, with absolutely no independent assurance, I'm supposed to simply trust that the net isn't being incompetently, mendaciously, or accidentally widened? Why?

Blindly trusting a politician's good intentions and a bureaucracy's sound judgment hasn't historically proven the best of ideas. And Goldberg knows that. He's a leading advocate of a political philosophy that takes, as one of its tenets, a reflexive mistrust of government. And yet here he'll throw it all the way because a second set of classified but independent eyes is too much red tape on the executive? The position isn't logical. Goldberg, I assume, is simply taking his own advice and playing the role of partisan. But while partisanship is good, blind partisanship when there's no empowered counterforce is dangerous. If partisans don't possess near equal power yet all remain in their roles as apparatchiks, the whole system breaks down. And that's what's happening here. Jonah and I agree that the NSA should wiretap anyone and everyone chatting with known al Qaeda associates. What I can't understand is why we don't agree that an independent watchdog agency should be deployed to ensure that the NSA is following and accomplishing that mission.

December 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Crystal Ball

Here are my predictions for 2006. What're yours?

December 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Family Values (Apparently, We Have Them)

Now here's something I didn't know:

How many American marriages end in divorce? One in two, if you believe the statistic endlessly repeated in news media reports, academic papers and campaign speeches.

The figure is based on a simple - and flawed - calculation: the annual marriage rate per 1,000 people compared with the annual divorce rate. In 2003, for example, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people and 3.8 divorces, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

But researchers say that this is misleading because the people who are divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying, and that the statistic is virtually useless in understanding divorce rates. In fact, they say, studies find that the divorce rate in the United States has never reached one in every two marriages, and new research suggests that, with rates now declining, it probably never will.

The method preferred by social scientists in determining the divorce rate is to calculate how many people who have ever married subsequently divorced. Counted that way, the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent, researchers say. Although sharply rising rates in the 1970's led some to project that the number would keep increasing, the rate has instead begun to inch downward.

More interesting yet:

As the overall divorce rates shot up from the early 1960's through the late 1970's, Dr. Martin found, the divorce rate for women with college degrees and those without moved in lockstep, with graduates consistently having about one-third to one-fourth the divorce rate of nongraduates.

But since 1980, the two groups have taken diverging paths. Women without undergraduate degrees have remained at about the same rate, their risk of divorce or separation within the first 10 years of marriage hovering at around 35 percent. But for college graduates, the divorce rate in the first 10 years of marriage has plummeted to just over 16 percent of those married between 1990 and 1994 from 27 percent of those married between 1975 and 1979.

That the divorce rate isn't actually approaching 65 percent doesn't get a whole lot of attention, but it's easy enough to see why. The incentive for the media is to continue their family-is-flailing narrative, saying we have a more moderate divorce rate just doesn't lend itself to hysterical specials during sweeps week. And woe to the family values politician who inveighs against our culture of sin and then admits that it's a little less sinful than previously thought. It's like with video game violence -- no one gets any traction out of correcting the record on their links to violence, but plenty of folks make careers out of hyping it.

December 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack


For all you horseracers terribly excited by the fact that 2008 is only two years away, the WaPo's Chris Cillizza has big ol' sugar cube waiting for ya, a comprehensive rundown of how good and/or bad each potential candidate did this year. As always, normal disclaimers about it being too goddamn early apply, but nevertheless, here are a few thoughts:

  • He forgot Clark.
  • The Warner love strikes me as misplaced. The guy propelled Kaine to an impressive win, to be sure, but that doesn't make him charismatic, highly experienced, or highly accomplished. If Warner thinks a straight appeal for bipartisanship and moderation will win him the election, he's going to finish up in Joementum territory. As it is, an obsessive focus on his tech background might feed into a powerful narrative about global competitiveness, but I've not seen him even toeing those waters.
  • George Allen simply isn't ready for the prime time.
  • Mitt Romney is, particularly if he passes this massive health reform plan in MA. That's the sort of problem-solving, compassionate conservative stuff the punditocracy swoons over.
  • While I like many of the Democrats (Edwards, Clark, Feingold, etc.), the only one I really see a clear path to the presidency for is Gore. I'm not going to get too deep into this now, but it's easy to sketch out a scenario where the primaries are looming, support for Hillary is lackluster but none of the other contenders are attracting real attention, a robust draft movement emerges, and Gore enters with an elder statesmen, party unifier message. He'll have no trouble raising money, no trouble uniting the base, no trouble attracting cameras, and no trouble achieving threshold credibility. He's been consistently against the war, has the loyalty of both Deaniacs and MoveOn members, has endorsed single payer, and has already been second-in-command of the country.
  • John Edwards, if he's going to gain traction, needs to go big. Making poverty the center of his campaign is awesome, but unless he's going to propose huge solutions, it's simply not going to cut through the more "pressing" issues of the day. If I were his advisors, I'd be whispering about a revival of Big Government liberalism, a veritable New Deal of major social programs meant to solve health care, explode asset ownership, strengthen the safety net, and ensure security for American workers so they can better navigate the choppy waters of the globalized economy.
  • Man, that Huckabee buzz has sure died down, didn't it?
  • Question for comments: who are the dark horses?

December 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack