Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
October 3, 2007 - September 26, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


THE WOMEN. I'm sure our liberal friends would tell us that fantasies are normal, healthy, and harmless. Let's put it to the test. Yesterday's news produced two different fantasies involving women. Check them out and decide for yourselves which you prefer.

Here's the first one:

[T]he welcome House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got today on ABC's chick TV show "The View" was more than warm - it was downright steamy.

Even before Pelosi walked on stage to take her seat at the round table, the show's moderator, Whoopi Goldberg, and its co-hosts - with former news anchor Barbara Walters leading the pack - started flirting with the speaker's husband, Paul, who was seated in the front row.

"You wanna take a look at Nancy Pelosi's handsome husband?" Walters asked the audience. Yes, came the answer in the form of whooping and hollering.

Poor guy was actually blushing...

Whoopi got the pleasure of introducing Speaker Pelosi, who she noted is the first woman speaker of the House who, somewhere along the way, managed to raise five children.

But Walters was still stuck on Mr. Pelosi, unfortunately for Mr. Pelosi. And this is where a little blushing turned to a Code Red alert, four-alarm fire.

Trying to shout over Whoopi and her other gabbing co-hosts and excited audience members, Barbara turned to Guest Pelosi and said she has heard Whoopi say before that she'd "do Paul Newman."

"And I think she'd like to do your husband as well," Walters deadpanned in that quintessential accent that made her the subject of late-night lampooning over the decades.

Of course, Whoopi being Whoopi, she couldn't let that one go, which is where the speaker begins blushing.

Yes, Whoopi implicitly acknowledged, she'd like to do Mr. Pelosi - but she might take his wife while she's at it. "I would do her as well. But we should wait on that because you're still in office, I don't want to cause a problem."

And here's the second one, courtesy of Ann Coulter:

If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.

It also makes the point, it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it's the party of women and 'We'll pay for health care and tuition and day care -- and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?'

Did one of these strike you as vile, absolutely not normal, and maybe even downright disgusting? Most people do have this kind of bifurcated reaction. But that doesn't mean they're right. It means they're probably neurotic about sex, one way or the other.

Take advantage of this opportunity to get some professional help.

This has been a public service message from InstaPunk.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Another New York Presumption

Genuine 1964 World Series Tickets (unused)

PSAYINGS.5S.1-8. I know New York Mets fans are grieving over the catastrophic end of their 2007 baseball season. It hurts to have your hopes and expectations dashed like that. But I'm getting irritated with the current iteration of New Yorkers' tendency to make everything about them -- i.e., the way they always have to see themselves as the record setters for bests and worsts. It's not bad enough that half the televised baseball games broadcast by the NY-centric networks feature the Yankees playing the Red Sox. Now that the Mets have collapsed, the New Yorkers on the tube keep repeating the claim that the Mets collapse is the worst in baseball history. The few who are trying to be technically honest qualify the statement by adding "since the advent of divisional baseball."

Why do they do that? Because the Mets collapse is not the worst in baseball history. That designation belongs, ironically, to an ancestor of the team that clawed past the Mets (winning 11 of their final 14 btw) to win the 2007 National League Eastern Division Championship. The Mets had a 7 1/2 game lead with 17 games to play and lost. The 1964 Phillies had a 6 1/2 game lead in the National League pennant race (no divisions, no wildcard consolations, just one World Series berth) with 12 games to play and... well, here's an account from someone so close to my age that he could have been writing my own personal experience of it:

A crushing choke is an especially painful thing for a young sports fan, which is exactly what I was in 1964. That was the first year I started watching baseball, and it was the first year I was able to fully comprehend box scores and standings and batting averages. Little did I know that I was becoming emotionally involved in a team heading for one of the most legendary and painful chokes of all time.

In '61, the Phillies set a major-league mark by losing 23 straight games and finished with a terrifyingly bad record of 47-107. But the Phillies brass saw potential in the core group of young players and wisely kept them together. In '63, the Phils actually had a winning season. Enthusiasm for the team was growing.

By '64, it was cool to be a Phillies’ fan. The team called up slugger Richie Allen to play 3rd and had future Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning at the top of the rotation. But their biggest asset was their core of solid veterans: Chris Short, Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Taylor, Art Mahaffey, Cookie Rojas, and shortstop Bobby Wine (whose ability to throw a runner out at first while falling toward third was a thing of beauty). They may not have had the stars of other teams, but they played sound baseball.

"We executed better than any team in the league," Jim Bunning has said about the team. "Moving base runners, turning the double play. We seemed to do everything perfectly."

Manager Gene Mauch was a genius of situational baseball. He was the father of what is today called "small ball." He'd manufacture runs with bunts, grounders to the right side, and the hit-and-run. He also platooned at six positions, something unheard of in today's game.

The Phils won eight of their first ten games that season and fought for first place through most of the first half of the season with San Francisco, which had prodigious talents like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda.

At the All-Star break, the Phils were in first place. Everything was going right. Allen was headed for the Rookie of the Year award. Bunning pitched a perfect game at Shea Stadium on Father's Day, the first perfect game in the National League since 1880. When outfielder Johnny Callison hit a dramatic three-run home run in the ninth to win the All-Star game, the Fightin's seemed destined to win it all.

The Phils kept winning, and on September 20, they returned home from a West Coast road trip with a 6 1/2-game lead on second-place Cincinnati with only twelve games remaining. The city was buzzed. The World Series tickets and programs were printed. [see photo above] "Go Phillies Go" bumper stickers were everywhere. All they need[ed] was another four or five measly wins to clinch the pennant.

Then the Reds came to town. The first game of the series was scoreless in the 7th inning. With two out, the Reds had managed to get backup infielder Chico Ruiz on third. As pitcher Art Mahaffey went into his windup, Ruiz inexplicably broke for home. It was a crazy stunt, and Ruiz should've been out by 20 feet, but the shocked Mahaffey uncorked a wild pitch. Ruiz scored, and the Phils lost the game 1-0. The Phillies went on to get swept by the Reds. And then Milwaukee. And then St. Louis.

During the losing streak, Mauch panicked. He ignored half of the pitching staff and pitched Bunning and Short every other day. It didn't work. As good as they were, Bunning and Short couldn't do it alone. Their arms were spent. The clutch hitting disappeared. The bullpen failed. They lost late inning leads in several games. The infamous Philly boo-birds turned on the team. The normally red-faced, screaming Mauch became withdrawn and sullen.

The excruciating losing streak stretched to ten games. It was a nightmare that just wouldn't end. The Phils managed to win the last two games of the season, but it was too late. As everyone says about 1964, the season was just twelve games too long for the Phillies.

It is an understatement to say it hurt. I was naive and vulnerable, and I paid the price. Even my grandfather, with whom I watched many of the games, didn't know what to say. We were shell-shocked. And forty years later, it still hurts. I learned a valuable lesson the hard way -- life isn't fair.

That's the crux of the matter. It hurts and life isn't fair. The curse of 1964 hung on throughout my prime fan years; even the World Series Champion 1980 Phillies of Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt needed four tries to get past the divisional playoffs to the series, and the post-season losses in '76, '77, and '78 were so pitiful they evoked memories -- and even local TV exorcisms (attempted, anyway) -- of the Ghosts of '64.

What it took finally to defeat the past was a nearly superhuman performance by Mike Schmidt in 1980, when his bat carried the Phils from far back in the pack to first place in a late-season 22-of-24 win streak and thence to the series after one of the most exciting sudden-death baseball games ever played, against an inspired Houston team led by (shudder)(even now) Terry Puhl. After that, the World Series itself was an anticlimax, despite being the first ever won by a National League Philadelphia team.

(Real baseball historians will know that the AL Philadelphia Athletics of 1929 are still considered superior by many to the more famous 1927 Yankees... but that's a whole different New York-Philadelphia beef best saved for another post.)

If you're a Phillies fan, you never had all that much sympathy with the whiny Red Sox and their all too literary 'Curse of the Bambino.' Or the ostentatiously yuppified suffering of the Chicago Cubs. The anguish of baseball fans in Philadelphia was not a public lamentation that glutted the airwaves of the nation with borrowed bathos. It was a private thing, an ordeal that had to be faced and overcome within the family. As it was. The 1980 triumph banished the ghosts but not all the memories. Such is life.

This year, plenty of Phillies fans were pessimistic about the team's chances. But not because of 1964 or other defeats before and after that vortex of horror. They had good baseball reasons for fearing the worst, principally a cheap and inept team ownership that refused to invest in the pitching talent a murderer's row hitting lineup like the Phillies have deserves. And we're all the more delighted and proud of the 2007 Phillies because they won anyway. In other words, we're grownups now.

That's my advice to New York and to Mets fans in particular. Do NOT make the idiotic and arrogant mistake of transforming the Mets '07 collapse into one of your New York things, believing perhaps that it's some way to best Boston in the "pity me" sweepstakes. You lost. Very dramatically. It happens. But you don't own the record, and there's no point in pitching a narcissistic fit about it (pun intended).

Deal with it. Support your team. And we'll see you again next year.

Go, Phillies, Go.

Can't Let This One Go.

LEGAL WISDOM. Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy is a lawyer. He likes to be objective. He thinks it's significant that conservatives tend to believe Clarence Thomas and liberals tend to believe Anita Hill. He dares to draw inferences from his observations. He's full of it. And the way he's full of it is instructive about why we can't trust lawyers to guide our responses to events. He says, in full:

The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Controversy and Irrational Hatred of Ideological Adversaries:

The publication of Clarence Thomas' memoir will focus new attention on the controversy over who was telling the truth about Anita Hill's charge that he sexually harrassed her. To my mind, the most interesting aspect of this debate is the way in which nearly all conservatives seem to believe Thomas, while nearly all liberals believe Hill. The few exceptions are striking precisely because they are so unusual.

Since only Thomas and Hill themselves really know what happened with any certainty, this degree of polarization is striking. Nothing in conservative ideology precludes the possibility that individual conservatives might engage in boorish and morally reprehensible private behavior of the sort Thomas is accused of; similarly, liberal ideology does not deny the possibility that a person in Hill's position might lie for political gain. Given the murkiness of the underlying facts, unbiased observers would not split so sharply along ideological lines on this issue. You would expect to see at least some significant number of liberals who believe Thomas, some conservatives who believe Hill, and many in both camps who aren't sure who to believe.

Some of the polarization was probably just a matter of political posturing. Conservatives did not want to lose a valuable Supreme Court seat (as they might have, if Thomas' nomination had been defeated and President George H.W. Bush were forced to nominate a centrist or liberal replacement comparable to Souter or Anthony Kennedy). Liberals, of course, sought Thomas' defeat for similar reasons.

However, most of the polarization over Thomas-Hill probably wasn't feigned. It was instead a consequence of the all-too-common assumption that our ideological adversaries are not only wrong but also evil - or at least far more likely to be so than those who agree with us. If you believe that liberals are, on average, likely to be morally corrupt, then it would be rational for you to assume that a liberal is more likely to be lying than a conservative and thus to automatically believe Thomas over Hill even in the absence of clear proof. And vice versa if you hold the reverse view.

I have previously criticized the unthinking equation of political ideology with moral virtue here, in the context of explaining why many people are excessively hostile to the idea of dating someone with a different political ideology. The two situations are very different, but the same phenomenon may be at work in each case. Both blanket condemnation of cross-ideological dating and the Thomas-Hill polarization are in large part the result of our unhealthy tendency to equate ideological disagreement with moral depravity.

UPDATE: Various commenters point out that the Thomas-Hill polarization can be explained by the possibility that conservatives are, for ideological reasons, generally less inclined to believe accusations of sexual harrassment than liberals are. There is some truth to this. But it fails to account for the fact that, just a few years later, most conservatives tended to believe and most liberals denied Paula Jones' sexual harrassment accusations against Bill Clinton. In such politically charged cases, the ideology of the accuser and accused seems to determine ideologues' reactions far more than their general perceptions of sexual harrassment.

His whole argument is lawyerly bullshit, and so are those of the commenters he chooses to acknowledge in his update. He omits what lawyers always omit, the human capacity to read character from mien. He also omits the demonstrated liberal propensity to define character as political posturing rather than personal behavior. To put it simply, his (rational) default position is that liberals and conservatives interpret each other's behaviors based on the same criteria -- i.e., ideological agreement. This might be a reasonable assumption if the ideologies in question did not reflect fundamentally discrepant moral perspectives. But they do.

We have seen time and again (and again) that so-called liberals can forgive any personal failing in people who express support for the rights of those who cannot be expected to meet any ethical or legal standard, especially if they are black, brown, female, criminal, or incapable. Name a Democrat who has publicly condemned the behavior of Kennedy at Chappaquiddick, Clinton with Lewinski, Jackson with his mistress-on-payroll, or Barney Frank with his prostitute lover as somehow disqualifying in terms of the right to hold public office. But the very same people who defend these behaviors are appalled at the unproven possibility that Bork rented X-rated videotapes or that Clarence Thomas joked about a pubic hair on a Coke can? Their position cannot be described as seeing moral depravity in a political foe. It is about seeing political depravity in someone who disagrees with their politics.

Since the response of Democrats and liberals is a political calculation based on ideology, we are also expected to believe that the response of Republicans -- who express far more interest in personal responsibility and good personal conduct -- is similarly corrupt. But this expectation facilely substitutes the liberal abstract judgment system for the personal judgment system one might reasonably look for in people who profess to value personal judgment over political posturing. Why would conservatives believe Clarence Thomas? Because it is almost impossible to find a man more intent on maintaining a faultless dignity in the field he has chosen to pursue. In every interview, every public statement, every facial expression, every uttered word, we confront a man who is determined to be the opposite of the stereotypes his race has been demeaned for. Even at the emotional extremity of the hearings in which he was accused of humiliatingly vile trivialities, he did not abandon that dignity for a moment. We can feel that it is an armor which he never takes off, even at considerable cost to his his opportunities for intimacy. We can draw  an entirely personal, entirely non-ideological conclusion that Clarence Thomas would not make a joke about a pubic hair on a Coke can. It doesn't fit.

Could Bill Clinton? (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Could Jesse Jackson? Could Al Sharpton? Could Newt Gingrich? Could we? Yes. But not Clarence Thomas. He has more invested in his dignity than anyone else we have seen.

And note the necessary next step from this reasonable personal inference to the lawyerly position that equates liberal and conservative. Sure he could. Why? Because we are all corrupt. Everyone has that bad streak which can't be controlled. But if that's where your argument goes, I contend that says more about you than Clarence Thomas. It's liberals who want this damning indictment of human nature to be true, an original sin that can only be mediated by beneficent government designed to save us from ourselves. Never mind that the saviors have no expectations that anyone, including themselves, can rise above the deadly sins.  Prosecutors have orgasms about the implications of such a social contract.

But there's a problem with the legalistic hypothesis.

It's not true that absolute self-discipline is impossible. It may be impossible for you, and you, and me, but I'm also old enough to remember people for whom it was second-nature. My grandfathers mostly. Odd that Clarence Thomas chose as the title of his new book, My Grandfather's Son.

Curiously, what's easier for me to imagine than Clarence Thomas harrassing Anita Hill is imagining how contemporary liberals would have responded to my two intransigently moral grandfathers. It's not hard to conceive of an angry young woman with an inferiority complex concocting stories to topple them from their high dignity and natural authority. Easy to envision the vengeful envy that might have driven such an act. I'm sure they'd find a lawyer like Somin to argue the egalitarian imperative represented by their charges. But everybody who really knew my grandfathers would have laughed the plaintiff and her dirty-minded lawyer out of court.

I believe Clarence Thomas because he reminds me of my own grandfathers. Not because he's a conservative. Truth is, he's a conservative because he's so like my grandfathers.

Write a brief about that, Mr. Somin.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Bin Laden Mystery

OBL REVISITED. Sometimes the other shoe doesn't drop before something else does. Case in point: a second hanging question about Osama bin Laden that plumped softly to the floor between the lines of this story in Monday's Washington Times:

Seemingly untroubled by the worldwide search for Osama bin Laden and his allies, al Qaeda maintains a state-of-the-art multimedia production facility [as-Sahab] that is pumping out increasingly sophisticated audiotapes and videotapes at a rate of two or three a week....

Ben Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter, said the amount of computing power required for the fast turnaround is considerable, and that the group appears to be using the latest widely available off-the-shelf hardware and software.

"They are right on the cutting edge of the adoption of new technologies," he said. "They grab hold of the new stuff as soon as it becomes available and start using it."

He said the latest bin Laden video was made available in five different versions, ranging from high-definition to a special format called 3GP that can be downloaded to mobile devices....

Al qaida has swift, efficient, "cutting edge" video production facilities? Interesting. Then why was the most recent bin Laden video so, uh, cheesy? (see it all here.) I don't mean just cheesy looking, but fundamentally cheesy in terms of its being immediately convincing that bin Laden had delivered a live video performance. That's the first shoe that dropped a couple weeks ago. People who are conversant with cutting edge video production were instantly suspicious. For example, Neal Krawetz of Hactor Factor, an expert on digital image forensics, studied the video in detail and reported in detail: (emphases added)

At roughly a minute and a half into the video there is a splice; bin Laden shifts from looking at the camera to looking down in less than 1/25th of a second. At 13:13 there is a second, less obvious splice. In all, Krawetz says there are at least six splices in the video. Of these, there are only two live bin Laden segments, the rest of the video composed of still images. The first live section opens the video and ends at 1:56. The second section begins at 12:29 and continues until 14:01. The two live sections appear to be from different recordings "because the desk is closer to the camera in the second section."

Then there are the audio edits. Krawetz says "the new audio has no accompanying 'live' video and consists of multiple audio recordings." References to current events are made only during the still frame sections and after splices within the audio track. And there are so many splices that I cannot help but wonder if someone spliced words and phrases together. I also cannot rule out a vocal imitator during the frozen-frame audio. The only way to prove that the audio is really bin Laden is to see him talking in the video," Krawetz says.

The obvious rebuttal to Krawetz's implications is that clumsy edits and awkwardly interpolated freeze frames might be proof of nothing but crude technology. One imagines the hand-held camera, the outdated editing console gradually succumbing to mould... and, well, that's the best they could do under trying circumstances. But apparently that's not right. They have all the slick techno stuff a body could want.

Which brings us back to the first hanging question: Why were the producers unable to provide incontrovertible proof that bin Laden was very much alive on the date the video was produced? If you're going to show videotape of bin Laden talking in the first place, surely the most elementary goal of the whole production would be to show him speaking the current, up-to-the-minute content live. Yet they do it only in freeze-frame. Is that a remarkable coincidence or a smoking gun?

Yet, we have been assured by the usual vaguely described "intelligence sources" that after studying the video, the experts have concluded bin Laden is alive.

Initially, I reconciled the discrepancy between Krawertz's analysis and the affirmations of U.S. intelligence sources by assuming that voiceprint technology probably proved what mere video analysis could not: that the voice on the tape was definitely bin Laden's. Call it the CSI effect. We've been conditioned to accept that computer-based voice recognition technology can make precise identifications. We've seen it done by Grissom and his acolytes.

On the other hand, we've also seen all the CSI shows blow up low-resolution 7-Eleven surveillance photos to the point where it's possible the read the gate number on the airline ticket poking out of the perp's pocket. Which is nonsense.

Just how good is voice recognition technology? I'm obviously an amateur and can't say for sure, but here's an interesting discourse on the state of the technology and its acceptance in courts of law (emphases added):

In 1979, an influential report from the National Research Council slowed the acceptance of voiceprint specialists as experts. The report determined that voiceprint analysis, while accurate under ideal laboratory conditions, was not reliable enough for courts to depend o­n the technology when a recording was made under "real-world" conditions, where voice signals are degraded by problems like poor recording quality, background noise, and telephone transmission.

Occasional battles over voiceprints have continued to surface during the past 20 years, but most law enforcement agencies have stopped trying to get them into court. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court tightened the standards for admitting scientific evidence in federal court, further reducing the motivation to use the technology. The voiceprint's demise as a valuable forensic tool has resulted in a broader decline in the interest in voice identification techniques generally. To many judges and lawyers involved in the criminal justice system, including leading experts o­n scientific evidence, voice identification has been equated with voiceprints and voiceprints are too unreliable.

I also found an online document designed to help attorneys and technicians obtain the maximum possible leverage from a technology that is far less accepted than fingerprints:

"Now law enforcement primarily uses the aural spectrographic method, which means we listen to the tape first and then do the spectrograph.  The American College of Forensic Examiners, which now controls who gets certified, has taken the position that the only way to do this is the aural spectrographic method.  You have to actually listen to the tape, not just look at the graph."

Certain precautions are observed during trials that provide clear context for the evidence and that work to ensure that all such testimony is properly understood.  Juries are allowed to see the voiceprint and hear the tape recordings.  The other side scrutinizes the expert's qualifications and the machine's quality.  In the end, the jury is generally instructed to assign whatever weight they want to the evidence.  That means that a lot will depend on the experience and demeanor of the voiceprint expert.  To be convincing he or she needs proper training.

The author of the article clearly believes that voiceprints have value and can be persuasive, but why the need for an exhaustive "how to" section on submitting and presenting voiceprint evidence (which is the subject of the rest of the article)? Because voices, and therefore voiceprints, are dynamic, variable, and therefore subject, always, to interpretation.

The intelligence sources which blandly inform us that the latest bin Laden video does prove him alive are guessing. How many sons does bin Laden have who might be able to speak for him on an audio recording?

Now we have two more interesting questions. Since there must be doubt to some degree about whether the September 2007 bin Laden video is an authentic presentation of bin Laden himself, why has so little doubt been expressed by official sources? Who is helped by confusion on this vital point?

It doesn't seem to be al qaida that benefits. The same Washington Times piece that lauded al qaida's technical expertise also provides a dismal report card on al qaida's propaganda effectiveness in the muslim communities where it is recruiting terrorists:

Ironically, however, there is evidence that Muslim audiences are tuning out the al Qaeda propaganda even as the quality and frequency of the offerings increase...

Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, noted in an opinion article this month that support for al Qaeda has tumbled in Pakistan to just 34 percent, compared with more than 75 percent five years ago.

Recent polling has shown a similar trend in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 90 percent of respondents reported unfavorable views of al Qaeda and of bin Laden himself, Mrs. Hughes wrote.

Violence of the sort used by al Qaeda is considered a violation of the principles of Islam by 88 percent in Egypt, 65 percent in Indonesia and 66 percent in Morocco, according to polling by, Mrs. Hughes said.

Did you get that the source for this evidence is Karen Hughes of the Bush administration? Are you sure? Good. I would hate to mislead you. But despite the article's assurances elsewhere that al qaida videos are aimed at a primarily western audience, thus accounting for their ineffectiveness in the muslim world, does it really make sense that al qaida videos are not also conceived of as recruiting tools in the western countries where they want volunteers to organize their own autonomous terrorist cells? And when you're recruiting for an organization that was conceived and brought to prominence through the force of a single charismatic leader, wouldn't you do everything in your power to refute, decisively, rumors that that charismatic leader was dead?

Of course you would. So why didn't they? If he really is alive, they're fools not to demonstrate this fact to the whole world.

And more importantly, what contingent of the intelligence community or the Washington establishment, including the Bush administration, finds it preferable to perpetuate a general certainty that bin Laden is alive when it's entirely possible that he's dead as a doornail? Here's a final pertinent quote from the Washington Times piece:

U.S. officials are reluctant to talk in detail about as-Sahab, perhaps because a careful monitoring of its operations could offer the best chance of finding bin Laden.

Again, the implied certainty that he's alive. Why? It can't be just that past rumors of bin Laden's death have been proven to be untrue and they're afraid of still another PR hit. Mostly, the rumors haven't been proven untrue. Not in public anyway. But even if this is their fear, it makes no sense to declare that he is definitely alive based on the evidence of an ambiguous videotape when it would be equally free of consequence to say, "We just don't know."

There's the mystery. The lamebrain Democrat default position in the War on Terror is that we should abandon every overseas activity but hunting down bin Laden. Keeping bin Laden more alive than dead therefore doesn't seem to help the administration any. Does it serve the anti-Bush crowd at the CIA? Does it serve the military? Does it serve anyone?

Or is there some much bigger game that's being played here? You tell me. My only conclusion is, that's why this is a mystery.

You have to love us.


CONSOLATION. Every movement goes through stages. First, there is the raw creativity of rebellion. Then there's a period in which key ideas are refined and consolidated to establish a vocabulary and grammar for what follows. Next, a mature phase in which masterpieces employ the settled conventions to reach extraordinary heights of accomplishment. This is usually succeeded by a rococo phase in which style becomes more important than substance. Finally, there is a period of disintegration, in which all the conventions are turned on their heads and irrational destruction of the status quo leads to a new and far different incarnation of rejuvenated creativity.

The American civil rights movement is, and has been for a while now, in the fifth stage. Resistance to Jim Crow laws and spontaneous challenges to segregation in the south were the beginning. The rise of leaders like Martin Luther King who were able to convey the trauma experienced by black Americans to white Americans was the second stage. Landmark legislation by federal and state governments, broadly accepted by the American people in the wake of King's assassination, were the height of the movement. Then came the rococo era: civil rights bureaucracies led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, affirmative action that overturned the quintessential value of the King era in favor of race privilege and political correctness. The suffocating nature of this extremity led directly to disintegration -- the blatantly self-destructive and reactionary expression of a slave value system that prided itself on its violence, its anti-intellectualism, and a physical, bauble-oriented, instant-gratification mentality so degenerate that even its most hateful opponents couldn't have envisioned a better argument for racial prejudice.

My hope is that gangster rap and all the permutations of it that have invaded the general culture are merely the precursor of a new generation of African-Americans who will mount a revolt of their own. I've spent enough time in the Caribbean to know that anti-intellectualism is not a black thing; it's a uniquely black-American thing, perhaps the worst single affectation any culture has exhibited in recorded human history. But it's a real thing. And a tragedy. The smartest guy I knew at Harvard -- a black graduate of Middlesex School -- was also the loneliest; he tried to teach me chess because he thought I could learn and be his friend. I couldn't get the chess (never have), and over the years I have gradually come to understand the opportunity I lost thereby. The smartest and ablest guy I knew at the Cornell Graduate Business School was nonplussed by the prejudicial reactions he got from Africans, not from the Americans who readily accepted his boldness, experience, charm, and judgment. I'm pretty sure he's rich by now, which I most assuredly am not.

All of this is context for what I'm sure will be decried as hate speech. In the space of the past few years, black people in America have done more to perpetuate the culture of racism in this country than at any other time in my life. Black Americans have failed utterly to celebrate the careers of Colin Powell and Condi Rice. They have allowed Democrats who promise everything and deliver nothing but more dependency to brand them with racist epithets and dismiss their achievements. They have stood still while Democrats use the crudest of minstrel imagery to sabotage the senatorial campaign of Michael Steele in Maryland. They do not stand up for their own military heroes in the Marines and the U.S. Army, who died for them as well as the rest of us, which is the very definition of principle and courage. They did not rise to defend the Duke lacrosse players -- despite the clear parallels with cases in their own experience that were decided based on race first, facts second. They continue to elect and reelect disgraced, corrupt idiots like William Jefferson and Ray Nagin, regardless of their competence or integrity. They have consented in the minstrel parody being enacted in Louisiana around the Jena 6. They reflexively defend a rap culture that Louis Armstrong, one of the great artists of human history, would have damned to hell. And they disgrace themselves in the most personal, moral sense by defending Michael Vick -- and even dogfighting -- as if white people were offended because of their racial prejudice rather than their love of defenseless creatures almost all of them have known.

So I'll say what no one else will. Not EVERYTHING is about race. Some things are about humanity. Other things are about character, aspiration, responsibility, and morality. Equality occurs when morality is no longer situational -- based on which of them is accusing which of us of something we won't concede to be a crime, no matter how unspeakable, because they have no right to hold us accountable. We really do have to agree that some things are beyond the pale, beyond explaining away in terms of demographics and past injustice.

It's not enough to have been injured in the past. That doesn't excuse everything that happens now. I have been privileged to know black people who have a sense of morality that would stand the test of any time. Most of them are dead now. I hate to think what their response would be to so-called men who wear their pants so far below their genitals they couldn't run -- even if they wanted to -- to save another person's life. They'd be embarrassed to hear of it. And about the dead dogs of Michael Vick. Not to mention defending thugs as if they were -- shudder -- men.

With any luck, there will be a new phase in which African-American men discover they want to be men. It's called the American Dream. At the moment I'm more wistful than hopeful about that.

Still, LaShawn says she enjoys the discussion. I hope she doesn't mind an interloper.

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