October 17, 2003

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Don't forget!

Blogger bash tonight at 6:30 at the beautiful Shalel Lounge on the Upper West Side. Featuring special guest bloggers from Libertarian Samizdata!

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!

You know, Yankees fans get a lot of grief.

I'm no fair weather fan; I've been with the Yankees since 1981. At my first live game Dan Pasqua hit three home runs and won the game, and my heart was utterly lost. (He never made much of himself and got shoved down to the minors a few years later, but in my heart, he's forever a shining star.)

This was about like deciding to go into the market in a big way on October 1, 1929.

I suffered with the Yankees for years. Was I bitter? No. When their time came, I rooted for the Mets like a dutiful citizen. I didn't need to drag others down to our (pitiful) level to feel vindicated. I loved the Yankees because they were OUR team, the team my grandmother has watched or listened to faithfully for years, not because of some win-loss record.

Now I know that Red Sox fans are hurting right now. Really, I do know. Remember when y'all were in the series and we weren't? Because I sure do.

I confess, I nearly gave up in despair last night. It seemed hopeless; I thought to go to bed, and take the bad news in the morning, when I'd be more emotionally able to handle it. And then . . . a miracle happened. I don't want to sasy that God loves the Yankees more than other teams . . . but clearly, much of His Special Plan revolves around a victorious squad of Bronx bombers.

Sox fans, please understand that when you see me careening around singing "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee are the champions, my frie-ehnd . . . . !" I mean it in the most loving way possible.

October 16, 2003

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Question of the day

I've heard of a supposedly foolproof system of winning at roulette, as follows:

1) Put down your stake on either even, odd, black, or red
2) If you lose, double what you had on the table and bet again on the same thing.
3) If you lose again, double again.
4) Repeat until you win
5) Then stop.

You can only win the amount of your original stake, of course. Can any budding mathematicians find the hole in this theory?

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Just how bad is the 9th circuit?

I've heard a number of people argue that the 9th Circuit isn't really wacky -- it's just so big that, unsurprisingly, a lot of its cases get reviewed. Dahlia Lithwick, no rock-ribbed conservative, seems to disagree:

as you'll recall from Wednesday nights, that Lennie and Ed and must usually knock, yell, "Police! Open the door," then wait some respectful interval before summoning the guys with the battering ram. How long? Well, the boys on the 9th Circuit seem to be of the opinion that one should give the drug dealer in question the opportunity to flush the coke, touch up his highlights, purchase a ticket from Orbitz, then climb out the fire escape, as the cops (to quote Ross from last week's Friends) count Mississippi-ly in the hall.

The 9th Circuit judges in question—one of whom was, in fairness, a 6th Circuit judge sitting by designation (who died shortly after authoring the opinion in question, so one wants to be careful with the sarcasm)—were particularly moved by the fact that Mr. Banks was in the shower when the police only waited 15 to 20 seconds before bashing his door in. The word "soapy" appears several times in the opinion. Unclear if they might have decided differently had Banks been given an opportunity to rinse and repeat. The soapiness is clearly cause for heightened constitutional scrutiny. The panel, ignoring reams of precedent, chose to set up an elaborate decision matrix, with level of exigency on one axis and the need to damage property on another. It would take a team of NASA scientists to calculate when a no-knock entry or a brief wait would be appropriate using this calculus. The result is a rigid, yet incomprehensible, rule that would have cops waiting some unspecified "longer" period of time than 15 to 20 seconds in non-exigent cases where doors will be bashed.

Defendant Banks, by the way, wants to suppress the evidence found as a result of that search, including the three guns, 11 ounces of crack, a scale, and $6,000 in cash. Even though, as the 9th Circuit dissenter points out, the cops could have waited 50 seconds and Banks still would have been in the shower, unable to hear them knock.

October 15, 2003

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Breaking news

The Staten Island Ferry just crashed into the dock, killing at least a dozen people.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

We aim to please

Readers have requested more pictures. Here's a black and white snap that didn't make the head shot cut.


As you can see, my desk is not going to be nominated for any Good Housekeeping awards.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

How much will a Democratic President be able to raise taxes?

David Broder makes a very good point, and not one that I've seen made quit this way before:

All nine [Democratic presidential candidates] agree on one thing: President Bush's tax breaks for wealthy Americans must be rolled back, either to reduce budget deficits or to finance new health care benefits or both.

Some would go much further and eliminate all the reductions Bush has pushed through Congress in the past three years. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri take that position, while retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut would let middle-class families keep their tax cuts and limit the rollbacks to high-income households.

Yet none of the candidates -- or their policy advisers -- is asked the obvious question: What if the House of Representatives, which must originate revenue bills, remains under Republican control in 2005?

That is the likelihood, after all. None but the most upbeat of Democrats holds out much hope for reversing the majorities Republicans have held in the House since 1994. With few open seats and few seats where incumbents appear to face serious challenges, the most optimistic Democratic prospect is to shave a few seats off the GOP's margin.

And few things in political life are more immutable than the opposition of House Republicans to any talk of tax increases. The last time rates were raised on anyone, in 1993, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for President Bill Clinton's tax bill.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Why I'm against making drugs illegal

Not because I use drugs; I'm afraid my worst chemical addiction comes in two liter bottles and has a pleasantly fizzy taste. But because, as Mark Kleiman points out, it's so damn hard to get rid of them, and the costs of trying -- and failing -- to do so are considerable:

One idea about drug law enforcement is that by making the illicit traffic more expensive and dangerous for the people who sell drugs, enforcement can push up the prices of drugs and therefore reduce consumption.

The old criticism of this approach, based on the notion that demand for illicit drugs was highly inelastic, turns out to be incorrect; cocaine and heroin, at least, seem to have greater-than-unit elasticity, so a price increase will actually decrease the total amount consumers spend. So increasing drug prices would seem to be a useful goal.

The bad news is that, in the face of mass distribution, enforcement has a very hard time increasing prices. When I learned about the illicit drug markets around 1980, heroin traded at wholesale for about $250,000 per kilogram and at retail in New York for between $2 and $2.50 per pure milligram, reflecting a kilo-to-street markup of about 10x.

Now, after twenty years of intensified drug law enforcement, the wholesale price is about $70,000 a kilo and the retail price in New York about 20 cents per pure milligram. [*], a factor-of-three reduction at wholesale and a factor-of-ten reduction at retail, reflecting a greatly reduced markup. The general price level, as measured by the CPI, has roughly doubled over that period, so the inflation-adjusted price of a pure milligram of heroin is actually down about 95%.

The price drop for cocaine has been a little bit smaller: from about 80 cents per pure milligram in 1980, the price fell very rapidly until about 1988, and has since stablilized (in nominal-dollar) terms at about 15 cents per pure milligram, which adjusted for inflation is a deline of about 90%.

All of this happened in the face of an enforcement effort that increased the number of drug dealers behind bars from about 30,000 in 1980 to about 450,000 today.

Mr Kleiman, who is not in favor of legalization, suggests other policy alternatives to attempting to increasing the price through interdiction. These are mostly focused on minimizing the community disruption caused by drug dealers. But since the criminal behavior is enabled, and indeed often created, by black market premiums and black market practices, it seems to me that making drugs legal would remove the disruption entirely, at much less expense than mitigation efforts.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Things that make you go huh?

Mickey Kaus writes the following about Rush Limbaugh:

I've never shared the liberal animus toward Rush Limbaugh. The few times I've listened to his show it has been conducted on what seems like a pretty high level. But I don't understand why conservatives are attempting to mercilessly deprive liberals of their enjoyment of Limbaugh's current troubles. Even the wisecracking Lucianne has gotten all earnest all of a sudden. I say show some compassion: Let the liberals gloat. ... P.S.: One who is not afraid of gloating is Harry Shearer. If you can listen to his "Rush to Recovery" without even once cruelly laughing at Limbaugh's expense, you have no humanity at all. ...

I should preface this by saying that while I think it's somewhat unseemly to openly gloat at one's opponents misfortunes . . . ostentatious kindness is ever so much more cutting . . . I haven't been among those urging Rush-haters to back off. To the extent that he's been a hypocrite about drugs -- although to be fair, I'm not sure he talked about drugs all that much -- well, payback's a bitch sometimes, and turnabout is fair play.

What flummoxed me was the allegation that Rush Limbaugh conducts his shows at a fairly high level. The few times I've tuned in, it seemed to be a decent enough collection of news clippings that hadn't made the national media the way they perhaps should have . . . but so heavily embroidered with terms like "Feminazi", and allegations that Mr Limbaugh was one of the lone voices of reason in a world full of lying liberals who spend their days plotting the overthrow of all that is good in the world, including Mr Limbaugh, that I couldn't make myself pay attention for very long. But in all fairness, I've only heard his show four or five times, so I might well have just caught him on his bad days.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Just how badly are we doing on civil liberties?

Very interesting defense of the DoJ's actions in the wake of 9/11, based on a talk by somewone who was there.

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Speaking of economic problems. . .

Outstanding column by Paul Krugman.

Update Same thing, said better and earlier, and less alarmist, by Arnold Kling.

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Jane Galt:

Tilting at geriatric windmills

I have a column up on Social Security and Medicare at Tech Central Station, complete with flashy new head shot taken by a beloved co-worker.

October 14, 2003

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Mindles H. Dreck:

I meant to do it last week but I had to clip my nails

Have you ever been reading along in an article and stumbled on something that just didn't seem right? It's unfortunate when little things in a news story aren't right, because you begin to doubt the truth of the whole narrative.

Today's WSJ features a front-page article titled "Behind Dean Surge:A Gang of Bloggers And Webmasters" (unfortunately, you need a subscription). It's an interesting piece that supposedly covers how the Dean campaign got into blogging, etc. I enjoyed reading how Joe Trippi came to manage Dean's campaign, and how his affinity for a particular blog, MyDD, guided hiring and 'grassroots' decision making. Furthermore, the article illustrates part of Dean's appeal - he seems to be adaptable, open, and willing to give up control. Especially relative to his competition. But then this -

The new hire's first assignment: create a campaign blog. That took a week and it wasn't fancy -- readers couldn't directly post comments yet -- but it was the first official campaign blog in presidential election history.
A WEEK? Someone with experience can set up a blog in an hour (yes, with comments). A week? This is really going to hurt with the blogging audience.

Dare I ask - what kind of planning went into this if it took a whole week?

Anyway, here's the context. Another observation I made is that the internet may not be a great place to get paid for things, but it sure seems like a great place to get donations.

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Two years ago, Joe Trippi was a burned-out Democratic operative who had fled Washington for California. Working as a marketing consultant for dot-coms, he was awed to learn how millions of computer whizzes had designed the Linux operating system through a free-form grass-roots collaboration and taken on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. He wondered if a political campaign could work the same way.

Today he is managing Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's campaign and he's stopped wondering. The former Vermont governor is using the Internet to transform political fund raising. About half of the campaign's $25 million take so far was raised over the Web, mostly in small donations -- a funding base the Democratic Party all but abandoned in recent decades.

Mr. Dean's Internet-fueled rise from backbencher to front-runner is a story of desperation, risk and luck. "This thing kind of evolved because of the Internet community, not us," Mr. Dean said in an interview. "The community taught us."

Politicians have been mining cash from cyberspace since 1996, when Bob Dole blurted out an incorrect home-page address while debating Bill Clinton. Despite the goof, the site raked in $200,000 overnight. Two years later, the Internet helped Jesse Ventura fund and promote his bid to become Minnesota's governor. In 2000, John McCain got a two-day, $2 million windfall in Web donations after beating George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Dean's Internet donations have propelled him way ahead of his rivals; in all, he has collected about $5 million more than the second-place Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose fund-raising pace slowed as Mr. Dean's accelerated. Everyone else is $10 million or more behind.

"Jesse Ventura was the hop. John McCain was the skip. And Howard Dean is the quantum leap," says Michael Cornfield of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

During his California exile, Mr. Trippi couldn't completely disengage from Washington and got addicted to political "blogs." Blogs are Web soapboxes where hosts post news and opinions and readers respond, often rapidly. The effect is a never-ending virtual town-hall meeting.

Last fall, Mr. Trippi was lured back East to run the Dean campaign. Mr. Dean had become the party's most outspoken critic of the war with Iraq, and crowds flocked to his events. But by January, the campaign had just $157,000.

"We will never have any money," the governor complained, according to Mr. Trippi.

"We have to use the Internet" to build a base, Mr. Trippi responded.

Mr. Dean understood the concept, but the details escaped him. "What's a blog?" he asked.

At the time, the blog buzz about Mr. Dean was growing, and William Finkel saw a business opportunity. Mr. Finkel, 24, had just joined New York-based Meetup Inc., which sets up gatherings for people with common interests in bars and restaurants that pay fees to have business steered their way. The company, which started last spring and expects soon to turn a profit, had focused on nonpolitical get-togethers, soliciting names of, say, breast-cancer survivors, sorting them by zip code and setting up local "meetups" for them.

On Jan. 10, Meetup initiated gatherings focused on the three Democratic presidential contenders whom Mr. Finkel felt had Internet drawing power: North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Kerry and Mr. Dean. Within a day, 150 people had signed up for each of the two senators. More than 400 registered for Mr. Dean.

The response was helped by a Dean devotee in Oregon, Jerome Armstrong, a graduate student who promoted Meetup's Dean invitation on his blog, "MyDD," for "my due diligence." MyDD, as it happened, was one of Mr. Trippi's favorites and he had debated Mr. Armstrong via e-mail about an Internet-based presidential campaign. Mr. Armstrong figured Meetup could help Mr. Dean and urged Mr. Trippi to hire the company. On Jan. 27 he did, bargaining the company's proposed monthly fee down to $2,200 from $10,000. The deal allowed the campaign to sponsor its own meetups and, most important, collect e-mails from anyone who expressed interest.

A couple of weeks later, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a 51-year-old environmental writer in rural Maryland, bought a $50 ticket for a Dean fund-raiser in Washington, at the suggestion of friends from Vermont. She had been fuming over the impending war and the Democrats' meek opposition to President Bush. The campaign asked for her e-mail address, as it did with every prospective supporter. This would become key to its fund-raising success as the campaign's list of 8,000 addresses grew.

On March 5, the campaign held its first official meetup in New York. The Essex Restaurant was told to prepare for 200 people, but 500 mobbed it, with more in a line outside. Mr. Dean emerged from his taxi and froze. "I was just shocked, stunned," he recalls. "I didn't understand the implications of [the meetups]. Trippi understood it immediately."

The campaign still lacked money or manpower and had only one Internet expert. But virtual-world supporters soon showed up on the campaign's real-world doorstep.

Mathew Gross, a 31-year-old environmental activist living in Moab, Utah, had been praising Mr. Dean on blogs for months. In March, he quit his job serving burritos and flew east to join the Dean campaign -- without calling ahead.

After stopping to buy a $10 tie, he took a cheap motel room in Burlington, near campaign headquarters. On his first day as a volunteer, he stuffed envelopes. That night he stayed up late writing a memo on the importance of blogs. The next morning, he marched toward Mr. Trippi's office to deliver it, pausing at the door just long enough for senior aides to start escorting him away. Mr. Gross threw the memo toward the boss. "I write on MyDD!" he shouted, guessing Mr. Trippi would understand.

Mr. Trippi's head shot up. "You're hired!" he yelled back.

The new hire's first assignment: create a campaign blog. That took a week and it wasn't fancy -- readers couldn't directly post comments yet -- but it was the first official campaign blog in presidential election history.

Like most campaign Web sites, Mr. Dean's had a donation mechanism. Four days before the first financial quarter ended on March 31, the finance team sent a sheepish appeal for money to the 25,000 people now on the campaign's e-mail list. Mr. Trippi was astounded when about $83,000 arrived via the Web on the last day. He wondered if aggressively soliciting money over the Internet could yield more.

October 12, 2003

silhouette3.JPG From the desk of Mindles H. Dreck:

Comment Spam - sending IPs

[last update and horrible question of the day - anybody want to make odds on when these guys figure out trackback?]

Here is a list of IPs from whom I/we have received this sort of thing. The first one was eight months ago or so:

The last one was the "preteen lolita" spam. If you have any others, post 'em in the comments. I've banned these here.

UPDATE: also a few brain damaged insult specialists.

UPDATE: according to an unfindable trackback on Winds of Change, these also: (and 4 more not in the excerpt)

Looks like a whole block of 'em from (just type in 209.210.176. in your IP banning)

UPDATE: from Cronaca

Perhaps it is time to show the IP of every commenter. There is a tag in MT to do exactly that.

SOLUTIONS UPDATE: Here is the most direct solution I've seen. I can't get to it tonight, but this would get rid of any automated spambot, as opposed to blocking each IP as it comes up.

Beyond this, the "spider trap" technique seems attractive. As I understand this, you hide a few forms in the page that trigger the "comment.cgi" script. robots will trigger the form, but humans will not. An entry from a hidden form will take their IP and add it to a banned list. Thus they only get you once. I assume this is what MT will do in a forthcoming patch. This could be done in PHP or PERL now, I suppose.

Steven Den Beste (see the comments) sought out the owner of the 209.210.176 block, responsible for some of the more disgusting spam -

OrgName: SISNA, Inc.
Address: 265 East 100 South Suite 310
City: Salt Lake City
StateProv: UT
Country: US

NetRange: -
NetHandle: NET-209-210-176-0-2
Parent: NET-209-210-176-0-1
NetType: Reassigned
RegDate: 1998-12-02
Updated: 1998-12-02

TechHandle: PN44-ARIN
TechName: Ngai, Peter
TechPhone: +1-801-924-0900
TechEmail: pngai@sisna.com

I'm not suggesting you write to Pete, or turn these folks in or anything, but there you are...