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Saturday, December 14, 2002

e-Bay scam

Had it not been for an angry and determined band of Macintosh users, Christmas might have ruined the holidays for more computer sellers using eBay.

Melvin Christmas, that is, according to police.

Markham police on Thursday charged the 38-year-old local man with two counts of forgery for allegedly bilking thousands of dollars from eBay users. Police said Christmas confessed and that more charges are forthcoming. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Markham police Sgt. Jim Knapp said of the Apple computer users nationwide whose teamwork led police to Christmas. “They have this strong bond that’s about a lot more than their computers.”

Last month, Eric Smith, a 21-year-old student at the University of New Orleans, set off the frantic search for Christmas after receiving a bad $3,000 check for the Apple laptop computer he’d sold on eBay and sent to a Chicago address.

Smith posted pleas for help on Internet message boards and chat rooms popular among Mac users. He explained that he had only three clues to the thief’s identity: An e-mail address, a cell phone number and the street address on the city’s South Side where he’d sent the computer.

More than a hundred Apple users, many from the Chicago area, responded with tips...

....But Smith received little help from law enforcement. He said the FBI and three offices of the Secret Service he contacted turned down the case because it didn’t involve a significant loss, and the Chicago Police Department took a report but never called back.

Fed up, the Mac users decided to take matters into their own hands. Smith set the bait by using his girlfriend’s eBay account to put another Macintosh up for sale. He received an offer worded almost identically to the others — only this time, the buyer asked that the machine be sent to a home in south suburban Markham.
Fortunately Markham is outside of Chicago, and the Markham cops were happy to bust this creep, so vigilante action was not necessary. The thief is apparently part of a larger ring of e-Bay computer scamsters. The story is here.

Friday, December 13, 2002

...some ferocious beast as it wheels at bay and stiffens its bristles ... –Plutarch

Victor Hanson has a good article on aircraft carriers. He tortures history a bit to make it fit his thesis (that just as the phalanx was the symbol of Greek freedom, the carrier is the symbol of American freedom.) In fact the Japanese were unbeatable at carrier-warfare until they blundered at Midway. And the Germans could have managed it with their usual efficiency if they had been contesting the open seas. Still, I think his points are clearly true, and well worth reading

USS Abraham Lincoln
USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72), now deployed in the Gulf.
... At Stanford University, where our wealthier and supposedly more educated reside, silly theme houses exist with names like Casa Zapata and Ujama, as upscale students are segregated by race in a balkanized and separatist landscape. My own university in California has auxiliary but separate graduation ceremonies for Mexican Americans.

By contrast, in the far less comfortable but much more real world of the Kennedy [USS John F. Kennedy, (CV-67) which Hanson recently visited], blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whites are indistinguishable in the manner in which they eat, sleep, and work, united as they are as Americans in a common cause, not separated by race, class, and tribe. African-American officers supervise whites, and vice-versa in a meritocracy where equality is a natural, not an induced, phenomenon. Women fly planes that men service or the other way around or both. And recently graduated Naval Academy ensigns learn from tough men with tattoos and calluses who inhabit primordial places of fire and oil in the ship's bowels or who work on the flight deck where a momentary lapse in concentration can get one disemboweled or vaporized in seconds. Our universities might do better to mothball Ethnic Studies and send the entire freshman class to the Kennedy for a semester...
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P. Krugman
#65, pt 1: Tip-of-the-Iceberg!

Paul Krugman is at it again! And this time it's with all guns are blazing, as well as with some hair pulling, biting, scratching, eye gouging and knees to the groin. In The Other Face (12/13/02) Paul Krugman finishes the job he started in his last column, "All These Problems"(12/10/02) and he may have written what is destined to become the Democratic Manifesto on the Trent Lott affair. He puts all the dirty issues on the table and then frames them in a manner that Democratic politicians would love to discuss, but would have been afraid to raise directly themselves.

Basically, Krugman takes the tip-of-the-iceberg approach. Lott is the tip, but what kind of a party, he asks ominously, allows a person like that to reach such exalted status? The answer, of course, is a two-faced party that condones latent racism in the South as a means to gain national power and to promote a conservative agenda. This reminds us of the format used in high school deductive logic exercises:

Most Republicans are racists.
Conservatives are Republicans.
Therefore, most conservatives are racists.
Krugman can't actually say this, of course, since it is patently untrue. But he can shape the issues and motivate the discussion in such a way that those who are so-inclined can connect the dots. Thus, it all comes down to a question of who are those folks "so-inclined?" Are they the "usual suspects" in a narrowing base of Democratic voters or do they include some noble and high-minded moderate Republicans who are so offended by Trent Lott that they may vote for the Democrats in the next national elections? Put another way, does Krugman's column represent a death rattle of a party headed to minority status, or is it a new and effective offensive aimed at regaining majority status. We think it is a death rattle and later this weekend, in Part II of this squad report, we will explain why.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find Paul Krugman's writings, including the latest columns, here]
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Thursday, December 12, 2002

small yet mighty

Dean Esmay has a nice piece on political journals...
...Compare that to, say, the nation's newspapers, or the big news weeklies (Newsweek publishes almost four and a half million copies per issue), the small political journals seem insignificant. Yet you could make a good case that the little guys have a stronger long-term impact on our history and our politics than any of the giants like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.

Political journals are where the great political debates of the age are often first conducted. You'd be surprised who reads them: Presidents, senators, cabinet secretaries, governors, diplomats, congressmen, ambassadors, corporate CEOs. It's not unusual to find letters or articles in these publications from people who later go on to become major political figures. Ronald Reagan and a few members of his cabinet (including Jack Kemp) read The National Review for many years before they got into politics. Al Gore used to read things like Mother Jones and The New Republic, and Martin Peretz, TNR's publisher since the 1970s, was one of Al Gore's campaign advisers. A few of the people over at The Weekly Standard have substantial personal contacts within the Bush White House...
Al Gore used to read?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


It's generally assumed that Saddam does have chemical and biological weapons, but is he also on the verge of producing a nuclear bomb as the president says he's tried to do in the past? ... Neither the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, nor any other investigative body has ever reported that Iraq was only six months away from the bomb."
--60 Minutes' Bob Simon

...[Iraqi officials] ...admitted there not only were plans to build a nuclear device, the Iraqis were tantalizingly close to having one."
--Simon's CBS colleague Mark Phillips one day later
(Borrowed from the Federalist newsletter)

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

some background info

It occurs to me that people may have read my post on Whittaker Chambers and have no idea who he was, or who Alger Hiss was. If they are Americans, this would rather like a Frenchman not knowing of Dreyfus. But we live in a notably amnesiac age, and of course not all my readers are Americans. And who knows, maybe the French have forgotten poor Captain Dreyfus.

I was born the year that Hiss was sent to prison for perjury. The lingering echos and reverberations of that event have been a vague background noise for most of my life. The trial of Alger Hiss was the focal event of the 'McCarthy Era,' and deeply divided the country.

Hiss was one of the bright young men of Roosevelt's administration; and defended the constitutionality of many New Deal policies in court. He held important posts in the State Department, was involved in the Yalta Conference, and influential in setting-up the United Nations.

And, according to Chambers, he was a Soviet spy, part of a ring of Government employees who copied enormous numbers of documents for Moscow. Chambers had been a Communist during the 30's, and had broken with the party in 1938.

The accusation came in the late 1940's, just when the issue of Communists in government was becoming political dynamite. The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated, but it was mostly Chambers' word against Hiss. The case was going to be dropped, but a freshman Congressman named Richard Nixon insisted on pressing it to a conclusion. (Nixon was born a few miles from where I grew up--the old Nixon house in Whittier, California became a restaurant we used to eat in)

The Statue of Limitations had run on the espionage, but, after two trials, Hiss was convicted of perjury for testifying under oath that he was not a spy. He was very much the darling of the Left, which believed steadfastly that he was innocent. Many still do. The Venona Archives, made available by the fall of the Soviet Union, provided strong, but not quite conclusive, evidence that Hiss was indeed one of Stalin's agents.

This is a quote from At Random, the memoirs of Bennet Cerf, of Random House (another book I very much recommend)
When Witness came out, some of my liberal friends reacted just as I had at first, and wouldn't even read it. They said we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for publishing it, so I decided to give a dinner party at our house to which we would invite the ones who wished to question Whittaker Chambers. He agreed to face this veritable inqulsition...

...After dinner Chambers sat in a big easy chair and everybody sat around him in a semicircle on the floor. They threw their questions at him, and he answered every one without the slightest hesitation. This man—I'm convinced—was telling the truth. Several of the things he told us were proved later on...

... He summarized, "You know what the trouble with this case is? We're cast wrong. I look like a slob, so I should be the villain. Hiss, the handsome man who knows all the society people, is the born hero. It's bad casting. If it was the other way around, nobody would pay any attention to the story; but because of the way we look, all of you people think he must be tclling the truth. That's what has made him so valuable to the other side."

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P. Krugman
#64: Where angels fear to tread...

Southern politics in America is one of those places where it is often said, "angels fear to tread." But Paul Krugman has no such fear. In All These Problems (12/10/02) he plows right in by asking why Southern states elect so many Republican representatives who then vote to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society legislation from which these states benefit? His answer is that Republicans win by systematically suppressing the black vote.

This conveniently ignores some important history. For one thing, the New Deal and the Great Society were implemented through a turbulent alliance between liberal Northern Democrats and segregationist Southern Democrats. The original black suppressant, the poll tax, was a Southern Democrat invention. Moreover, when this alliance finally cracked it was with the indispensable help of Republican votes in the Senate. The 1964 Voting Rights Act is a case in point.

Krugman would leave the impression that Southern Republicans today are merely reconstituted Southern Democrats of old– in other words, racists who just switched armbands. Trent Lott's idiotic remarks gave him the pretext to promote this view.

We think Krugman is totally wrong about all of this. The South will rise again, but it will be through Republican backed educational reform centered on school choice. This is the Democrats' worst nightmare. It pits black parents who desperately want better schools against the teachers' unions that are pillars of the Democrats' financial architecture.

We expect the Bush administration to push hard on this issue in the coming months. In a few more years it may be Krugman who is wishing the Southern black vote were suppressed.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find Paul Krugman's writings, including the latest columns, here]

Monday, December 09, 2002

one of the great American books ...

Somewhere among the drifts of notes and papers in the back of my head are old to-do lists, with things I really must get around to one of these decades. One of them was to read Witness, by Whittaker Chambers. (Thanks for prodding me, Dave .)

I've started reading it (And Charlene's started reading it, we grab it from each other.) I'm stunned. Splendid book, beautiful writing, powerful.
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. "He was immensely pro Soviet," she said, "and then—you will laugh at me—but you must not laugh at my father—and then—one night—in Moscow—he heard screams. That's all. Simply one night he heard screams."

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind's. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
We know now that when Chambers wrote of Western Civilization locked in a death struggle with Communism, he was wrong--Communism was already dead, though still outwardly formidable, and idealistic young men like Chambers were no longer becoming Communists in hope of changing the world. But the serpent had merely shed its skin, and was, and is, still with us in ever-more slippery and mendacious forms...
...Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man's relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God...
This is from the preface, which takes the form of a letter to his children, Ellen and John:
...I waited until the last cow was stripped and the last can lifted into the cooler. Then I stole into the upper barn and out into the apple orchard. It was a very dark night. The stars were large and cold. This cold was one with the coldness in myself. The lights of the barn, the house and the neighbors' houses were warm in the windows and on the ground; they were not for me. Then I heard Ellen call me in the barn and John called: "Papa!" Still calling, Ellen went down to the house to see if I were there. I heard John opening gates as he went to the calf barn, and he called me there. With all the longing of my love for you, I wanted to answer. But if I answered, I must come back to the living world. I could not do that.

John began to call me in the cow stable, in the milk house. He went into the dark side of the barn (I heard him slide the door back), into the upper barn, where at night he used to be afraid. He stepped outside in the dark, calling: "Papa! Papa!"—then, frantically, on the verge of tears: "Papa!" I walked over to him. I felt that I was making the most terrible surrender I should have to make on earth. "Papa," he cried and threw his arms around me "don't ever go away." "No," I said, "no, I won't ever go away.' Both of us knew that the words "go away" stood for something else, and that I had given him my promise not to kill myself. Later on, as you will see, I was tempted, in my wretchedness, to break that promise.
Thrilling prose. Words echoing and repeating with hypnotic power. Call...calling...called; go away...go away...don't ever go away; voices moving and repeating in the dark, and even the path he walked repeated, from the cows, through the upper barn, into the orchard...

Or the word vision repeated 6 times in 4 sentences! A delight. So far, it seems to me to be what would be considered one of the great autobiographies of the 20th Century, were the author not disqualified for acclaim by being both a Christan and a conservative.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

to vindicate ourselves and our values in the world...

Orrin Judd wrote this a few weeks ago, and I'm just now getting around to quoting it.
...Perhaps we see here the most important difference between the internationalism of the Left and the internationalism of the Right. For the Left the point of the whole exercise seems to be the internationalism itself, the working with other countries towards a common goal, irrespective of what that goal may be: international courts, Kyoto Accords, birth control, arms inspections, whatever.

But for the Right--mostly Jacksonian and dragged into internationalism only reluctantly--all that matters are the results, the enhancement of our own security and, wherever possible, the extension of our freedoms to the world's oppressed. The Right cares not whether America has to go it alone, or has the rest of the Anglosphere riding along, or has some unwieldy and counterproductive coalition, as in the first Iraq War. It suffices that the job gets done and that job is no more and no less than to vindicate ourselves and our values in the world. When we saw the joy in Kabul, we knew we were seeing such a vindication and our hopes were kindled in no small part because we were so happy to see that the Muslim Afghanis shared our love of freedom. That's why there's reason to be hopeful, not because some government functionaries at the UN were finally prodded into doing the right thing, but because, as the Afghanis showed us, the peoples of even the most remote and repressed countries share our yearning to breath free...