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The Strange Life of Me
 
Sunday, March 07, 2004  
Get your Hans off my Blix ...

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, has written a book about his experiences. I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet (I actually don't think you can get it yet) but there were excerpts in the weekend papers here in London. Amazingly enough, from the little I read, I am in total agreement with him.

Blix says that the presumption was indeed that Sadaam had WMDs as he certainly had had them before but that the standard for going to war should not be based on presumption. Every bit of intelligence they were given by the US and UK turned out not to pan out. Because of that he suspected that those who were looking to overthrow Sadaam from the outside were feeding the intelligence agencies either dated information and passing it off as current or passing bad info on. Most of the checks that intelligence agencies use were not in place in this case. That's what Blix criticizes most. The leaders of the US and UK passed the info off as fact (he goes through that issue apparently in detail as the latest strategy is for Bush and Blair to say that intelligence is never perfect and they did the best they could with the info they had. The fact is they passed the info off as fact.) Blix further goes into detail about how the US tried to discredit him when he didn't tell them what they wanted.

This should make for a very interesting read. Effectively Blix says Blair and Bush believed so much they didn't do the analysis they should have in order to justify the war, they accepted what helped their case and either ignored or discredited information that didn't help their case. This is chilling if one thinks of the implications of the future. As a side note both the AP and Harris just did a survey across most countries in Europe that showed the same thing. Only 10% of Europeans thinks we are safer due to the war, 70+% think was are less safe. I fall in the latter camp.

1:07 PM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004  
New York, New York, a helluva town...

Just got back from a three night stay in New York and I reminded myself of a few things while I was there.

1.) New York is a great place - I used to say I could never live there but after having lived in London and having loved it, I can now officially say I could overcome all of my issues pertaining to NY and live there.

2.) Friends make for the best time wasting activities - Saturday, I spent the day with two of my closest friends and SUnday I spent it with a good friend and his new girlfriend. In both cases we did nothing but sit, talk, and eat. On Saturday we stayed in the same diner for four hours just talking about politics, life, and the meaning of everything. It took me back in some ways to freshman year in college. (Colin was in fact my roommate in college.) I worry in some ways about not doing anything exciting with these folks as we didn't go out and tear up the town. But I remembered that the best experiences you can have are when you baring yourself to the core. There are no layers in between you and your friends in those times. Colin, Alison, and Vincent you are all the best.

3.) Tearing up the town can be fun too - Friday night I went out drinking with some truly great friends from work. We ended up at my favorite place in New York, the Duplex, a piano bar. We sang our lungs out. Thanks for having fun with me Uma, Kim and Julie. A big woo hoo to you all.

4.) I am not a late night person in the US anymore. We were out until 1 on Friday and I was a zombie. (It was basically the same as having been out until 6 in the UK.) On Saturday I fell asleep before 9:30 and on SUnday I fell asleep before the plane even took off. I was asleep until 30 minutes before we landed and am ok sleepwise now.

2:41 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  
I'm a Bad, Evil Man ...

According to the official pronouncement of the US gov't, I am going to cause the downfall of this great country of ours. After having turned their attention from the evil that is Saddam Hussein and the apparent horror that is Janet Jackson's breast, the potential that I might fall in love with someone and demand the same rights and protections afforded to other Americans, comes up on the agenda of the policymakers in DC as the next, greatest threat to American civilization. I have been deemed such a great threat that mere legislation alone cannot stop me, the nation is going to edit its constitution and make sure I know my place in society. I could understand a constitutional amendment if I threatened to show my breast on TV but for love? Seems like they have given me way too much power. Needless to say I felt pretty powerful as I strode into work today secure in the knowledge that at any minute I can destroy society.

All kidding aside, we all knew the announcement that President Bush made yesterday was coming. My response should have been congruent with that knowledge, this wasn't a surprise. I have to admit though, it is hard to hear from the highest government official in the land that I shouldn't be considered equal to other Americans and we are going to codify that feeling in the Constitution, a document I hold dear. That sentiment really hurts.

I am of several minds on this announcement, from the emotional to the rational/political science viewpoint. As you have read in my previous blogs, I knew a back lash was coming. Again, there is no surprise in any of this but it does not make it any less poignant. From a political perspective, we really are talking about love. The far right have never liked GLBTs. They have concentrated on the physical acts that take place between consenting adults and can't imagine themselves engaging in those acts. In addition their docterines inform them that the particular acts they find distasteful are also immoral. The interesting thing about the marriage backlash is that it is no longer about the sexual acts people engage in, what those that are proposing this amendment find so offensive is the concept that love can grow out of relationships between people of the same sex. The great line in the sand has not been drawn over the actions of people but the feelings of people. It is acceptable in some sense for those on the right for GLBTs to be seen as the actors in a bizarre carnal play but the concept of love makes these relationships something more real, deeper in meaning. The far right can't have that happen as you can't demonize someone who there is a connection with.

The first couple married in San Francisco were two women who have been together for 60 years. Their's is clearly not a relationship of sexual desire, it is a relationship of genuine love. That being said without protections afforded by marriage, if one of these two women were to get ill, there is no guarentee that the other would even have such basic of rights as visitation. To be sure, given the nature of their relationship and where they live, the hospital administrator would probably grant the other one full visitation rights but why should one have to depend on the benevolence of others in these situations? This isn't Blanche depending on the "kindness of strangers" and being happy. This is real life and strangers are often not so kind.

From the political science standpoint, I am equally offended. The constitution has been amended only 17 times in the past. (The bill of rights, the first ten amendments, were originally intended to be included in the constitution itself but due to arguments over them and the need to produce a document immediately, they were added later so I don't include them in my count, they were pretty much a done deal from the get go.) Of these 17 amendments, only one has restricted the rights of the public, prohabition and that amendment was eventually undone. There are no new rights granted by the proposed amendment. The only effect of this amendment is a restriction of the constitution to one class of people, therefore restricting it from all other classes. There is something offensive about that.

I am not pretending that gay marriage is an easy subject to deal with. I know that as a society we have to grapple with these issues. But consider why we have reached the point we have. America has based much of their culture on the basis of equal rights for all. (Note this is different than a concept of equal outcomes for all.) Many states have codified this basis into their laws. Hawaii, Vermont, Massachussetts, and San Francisco have all decided that their belief in equal rights contradicts their actions at least when it comes to denying rights to the GLBT community when it comes to marriage. None of these states/communities that has faced the inherent contradiction in our cultural basis and our public policy has come up with the same solution. This points to how difficult an issue this is and furthermore it points to a deeper societal debate over public policy. The route that is being taken on this issue seems to address nothing.

It is pretty clear where I stand. I will probably never have the need to exercise my right to get married. I enjoy my life as it is and it would be pretty hard to give up being on my own. But there is always at the back of my mind the dream of Prince Charming sweeping in and falling in love with me and vice versa. The dream without the opportunity is no dream at all.

3:20 AM

Thursday, February 19, 2004  
Some Dean Thoughts ...

Yesterday a great moment in current political history came to an end, and maybe another chapter began, Howard Dean dropped out of the race for President of the US. I have been calling for him to do so for a while but don't let that be taken for a sign I don't know exactly how great a canadate Dean was and what an enduring figure he will become. The signs from a political science standpoint were clear to me. It is better for the ultimate canadate that he is out of the race and it is better for his legacy that he is out of the race.

If Kerry or Edwards wins the Presidency, the first person they should thank is Howard Dean. A year ago, having come off a disasterous midterm election cycle, the Democratic party was demoralized. No new ideas were being floated by the Dems, the only issue seemed to be, we don't like Bush, the dems in congress were acting passive, and in general no one was questioning claims by the Republicans that went the way of "If you don't agree with us, you are unpatriotic." At this point prospects for an election victory over Bush seemed bleak. In fact it reminded many of us of 1991 all over again. Most of you know that I volunteered for Dean and gave him money early in his campaign. Most of you know I worked as a lackey in the Clinton campaign in 1992 (in Texas of all places). At one Dean fundraiser, I ran into some of my old friends from the Clinton campaign in 1992 (I worked for him in 1996 as well but 1992 was by far more exciting). We all had a feeling about Dean we hadn't had since Clinton in 1992. Somebody was daring to talk for us and say things that most politicians wouldn't come out and say. In short we felt hope again.

Howard Dean gave the Democrats hope and made us feel good about ourselves again. He brought energy and excitement back to the party. (I actually would have preferred it if after the Iowa "speech" he hadn't apologized and said something of the nature "I don't see why more people aren't as excited about America as I am." The "speech" would have still hurt him to some degree but he would have been so much better for it.) If we come through in 2004, the party owes an awful lot to Dean and I for one intend to make sure no one forgets it. Thank you.

2:47 AM

 
Some Disconnected Thoughts ...

For those who are not a fan of taxes, the UK would drive you crazy. We actually have to pay about $200 a year to watch broadcast television. There seem to be taxes on everything. (OK I'm also feeling the pinch of the dollar's dramatic weakness against the point so I tend to concentrate on how much money I'm spending a lot more often now.) There are benefits that go along with this taxation, however. We get some channels on the digital broadcast spectrum that would be only on cable in the states. In particular we have a history channel that is very cool. Instead of going to the gym this morning, I watched a documentary on the Holocaust (I know, what a happy morning). But this was not a normal documentary, which is why it caught my eye. Most of the documentaries focus on Hitler and the military and the horrible things they did. This one looked at the issue from a different perspective. Someone had to design and build the gas chambers and crematoriums and it wasn't the military. The question is whether they were complicit in the horrors that went on. Documents presented during this show made it clear, they knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. Most of the companies that participated in the building of the camps and the apparatus within the camps still exist today. The official line from each of the companies interviewed is that they were just fulfilling a business transaction and they weren't responsible for how what they built was put to use. There are comments from today not 50 years ago.

This response is somewhat disconcerting and it also brings up a huge question: At what point does responsibility for a particular action begin? Are tobacco companies responsible for the deaths of many because they produce the instrument of their deaths? The courts have tended to say yes. Are gun companies responsible for deaths of many because they produce the instrument of their deaths? The courts have tended to say no. Why is the response "It was only business, nothing personal" enough to absolve someone of moral responsibility for actions taken with something the company one works for produces?

I am a bit of a walking contradiction in terms. I really believe that having a strong business base is vitally important for the country and policies should be taken to ensure that this is the case but I also believe that companies have to take responsibility for what they do when the meaning of what they do is clear. The response from the gentleman who runs the company that made the furnaces that burned millions of people alive that he doesn't have time to think of what was done because he needs to ensure that his company keeps making a profit is shocking. (That man was the son of the man who was head of the company in the times of the Holocaust.) We are all responsible for our own actions. Too often today, people tend to forget that, always looking to blame others.

Finally on a "lighter" note, I'm sure that Mel Gibson is happy that his father reaffirmed that he thinks the Holocaust was exaggerated and that Jews are in a conspiracy to run the global banking community.

2:32 AM

Wednesday, February 18, 2004  
The Swinging Hand of Momentum ...

Just as I had written that the momentum of Kerry was too strong for Edwards to catch him, the expectations game wins again. Shows how much I know. Edwards finished much better than anyone expected. Kerry won of course, but he's running into the problem that he was expected to win. So his victory is not news. What is news is that he won by just 4 points after being ahead by 20-30 points in the final polls before the election.

On a side note, Wisconsin showed why predicting primaries is a tough game and why Harris chooses not to do them unless we have a specific client who wants them done. The polls aren't wildly off because the survey methodology itself is bad. The polls are wildly off because it is hard to classify whether someone is going to vote in a primary or not. For the general election, we have a screen of three or four questions to determine whether a respondent is a likely voter. Included in this battery of questions are queries about their intent to vote and their past behavior. Many people intend in a general sense to vote, many more than actually vote. The model is used to further limit the base to those who not only intend to vote but are likely to follow through on that intent. Every high level organization has a screen of this sort and while they vary to some degree, inbreeding across companies has ensured that the screens all have similar elements. (Harris used to do the ABC News poll and as a result ABCs current screen is almost exactly the same as Harris' word for word.) These models have been thoroughly tested election after election. Primaries are much harder to predict turnout. Therefore you get the Wisconsin result wrong because you failed to predict that a large percentage of Republicans would vote in the Democratic primary and they heavily supported Edwards.

Edwards still has won only one primary and finished 4th or lower in two primaries in the last two weeks (behind Kucinich even) but he has the momentum behind him as he has bettered expectations. The big question is it too little too late? Surely he needs to win something unexpected soon. March 2nd is the next big round. Edwards is expected to win in the south so he has to win outside the south to really be back into the race. I will say that if he wins California, all bets are off. I don't think he'll win California, I still think Kerry has the nomination wrapped up, but that being said, things just got a little bit more interesting.

2:41 AM

Monday, February 16, 2004  
Campaigns, rumors and disarray ....

Well tomorrow is the latest in the series of meaningful elections, this time in Wisconsin. No secret, Kerry will win. He'll get 50% of the vote or so. The big question is whether this is the beginning of the end. (OK I've been saying that for a while.) This really might be the end of the Dean campaign. Dean is out of money, he has no travel plans on Wednesday (a bad sign for someone in the "middle" of a campaign,) his campaign staff are leaving (his national director was fired today), and finally he is directing all of his energy back towards Bush and not the other candidates.

The big question is what happens to Edwards. It looks like he gets his wish and it will be a two person race between him and Kerry but it seems as if Kerry is way too far in front to be caught. The machinations of momentum are too strong for Edwards to overcome. He looks like he'll take it as far as his money will allow but who knows at this point whether that even means anything beyond tomorrow. It will be interesting to see.

But given all of this, tomorrow should be a significant step in the coronation of Kerry as the nominee. Furthermore, it looks like the rumor of an affair with an intern might have been just that a rumor. Of course since it was splashed all over the Drudge Report everyone is talking about it like it is fact. (Looks like the woman in question might have had an affair with the Kerry finance chairman.) As I mentioned, it would be tough for Kerry if it was true.

Finally, Bush is doing some linguistic magic. He bashed the Dems on the economy. WHAT???? Yup. He is trying to claim that they would fiscally mismanage the country. WHAT???? Yup. Finally he is claiming that by not making his tax cuts permanent, the dems are raising taxes. WHAT??? Yup. Almost as good as his assertion that definitive proof was found the wmd planning programs were found. It's going to be a fun time for the next few months.

1:57 PM

Thursday, February 12, 2004  
One to Look Out For ...

This week in Orlando, they are holding swimming's Spring Nationals. This is about two months early and none of the top swimmers are tapered and shaved saving that until the Olympic Trials in July. That being said there have been some fast times swum in only the first two days. The fastest swim so far was by Michael Phelps last night in the men's 200 Back. If you ever get a chance to see Michael Phelps swim, it is an amazing experience. It's quite clear that he is going to be one of the greats of all time if he hasn't already earned that moniker.

At the age of 18, Phelps is a four time world champion. He made the 2000 Olympics when he was only 14, in an event where men tend to swim faster as they get older. (200 Fly). He set his first world record when he was 16 at the world championships in the same event. In 2002, he added the world record in the 400 IM to his resume and swam the second fastest 100 Fly of all time. Given his previous accomplishments it's tough to say this but its true, 2003 was his break out year.

Starting at a small, low key meet where he was unrested, he broke the 200 IM world record by one tenth of a second. The record had stood since 1994 and no one had come within a second of the record except for the record holder himself. (Jani Sievenen.) Note the record went from 1:58.0 to 1:57.9 at this point. Next up was the world championships, he swam four individual events there and two relays. The first event he swam was the 200 Fly. The record going in was 1:54.5 held by Phelps himself. Keep in mind, world records are usually broken by minute amounts, hundredths of a second in most case. In the semi finals Phelps went 1:53.9, a drop of six tenths of a second, a huge amount in the world of swimming. He won the finals in a slightly slower time. Next up was the 200 IM. In the semi-finals, he took the WR down to 1:57.2. An amazing drop for a record that had been previously seen as unbeatable just a few weeks before.

The next day, Phelps had the semi's of the mens 100 Fly right before the men's 200 IM finals. He could be excused for taking it easy, just coasting into finals. A funny thing happened, in the first semi, a Russian broke through and broke the world record taking the record from 51.8 to 51.7. Phelps couldn't help but notice. A funny thing happened though. He touched dead last at the halfway point of his semi. He then powered his way home, swimming by far what was then the fastest second half ever. He touched the wall at 51.5. Within an hour he was back on the blocks for finals of the 200 IM. Given how many events he was swimming, he could have backed off and still been crowned world champion. Nobody else was expected to swim under 1:59 so he could have won easily without breaking a sweat. That's not Phelps though. He swam an out of the world 1:56.04. Second place was the amazing Ian Thorpe at 1:59.58. Phelp's time was two seconds faster than the second fastest time in history. In addition, the field was the fastest 200 IM field ever and the second place finisher was over three and half seconds back and that time was the Commonwealth Record. He was the first man ever to set two world records in the same day.

The next day the question was would he lower the world record in the 100 fly and beat the Russian who set the world record in first final. The answer to both questions was yes. He was again in last place at the halfway point. In what was the best swim of the meet, another American had a breakthrough swim, strategicly swimming the exact opposite of the way Phelps did. Ian Crocker was out faster than anyone had ever swum the first half. Amazingly enough, Crocker held Phelps off. Crocker won in 50.98 and Phelps went 51.10. Both times crushed the world record coming into the meet by unheard of margins. I think Crocker is an amazing person not just an amazing swimmer so it was good to see him swim so fast. And this showed that Phelps was human and beatable, if only just barely.

The next day was an off day for Phelps. He only was swimming the 800 Free Relay. Having never swum a big time competitive 200 free, the coaching staff took a huge chance and had him swim lead off. Swimming lead off your time counts for record purposes. Phelps came through swimming a 1:46.6, a new American record. The relay finished second in a new American record as well.

Phelps' final swim was the 400 IM. Phelps had swum a 4:11.09 in 2002 and broke that with a 4:10.7 in early 2003. He actually had company in this swim, a young Hungarian. In a relatively close race, Phelps won and set a new world record of 4:09.09 two full seconds again off the previous standard. While breaking records by this margin may seem commonplace in writing this blog, its truly amazing.

But Phelps wasn't done. Two weeks later he showed up at US Nationals, an event most of the world championship team skipped. Given the fact that he was dominant in three events and the one person who beat him in the fourth wasn't there, he could have automatically won those four events easily. He chose to swim the maximum five events but only one of them was an event he swam at the world champs.

The first day he swam the 100 free and the 200 back. He won the 100 free in 49.1, a new national age group record and the fastest time anyone under 19 had ever swum. Next came the 200 back. He turned at the 150 under world record pace. He's not a backstroker. Aaron Peirsol, the world record holder swims the back half incredibly quickly. Phelps did not break any records with his swim but his 1:56.0 was the third fastest performer in history. This is particularly amazing given how many events he had swum in the past three weeks. As someone who has done this, one cannot sustain themselves at a high level over this time. He had to be tired. Plus to be able to say that you are the third fastest performer in history is an amazing feat. To be able to say this in your fifth or sixth best event is unheard of.

In the next two events he simply broke American records, 1:45.99 in the 200 free, making him the third fastest performer and 3:46.7 in the 400 free. His final event at nationals was in the 200 IM. I was in the crowd for all of nationals and people realized that Phelps was tired. There was no way he was going to swim fast in the 200 IM. We were all wrong. He was under world record pace from the very beginning, the crowd never sat down during the entire swim, it was amazing. He touched the wall in 1:55.94. At the beginning of the year no one in the history of the world had swum under 1:58. By the end of this rainy night in August, Phelps had swum under 1:58, 1:57, and 1:56 with a promise of swimming faster.

Fast forward to last night in Orlando. He is only swimming two of his best events here and three "off" events. Last night was the 100 free and 200 back double he did last summer. He won the 100 free in 49.0 a personal best and again the fastest ever by someone under 19. Next came the 200 back. He was slower than in August at the 150 by 6 tenths of a second. As he is not resting for nationals, no one was expecting anything amazing. Given that he was slower than he had been and the quickness of Peirsol's back half, there appeared to be no chance he would threaten the world record of 1:55.15. Well Phelps swam the final 50 faster than anythone had ever swum it. He fell short of the world record but only by 0.15. He swam a 1:55.30, by far the fastest unrested 200 back in history. These are his off events, its scary to think what's going to happen when he swims his best events.

He is the fastest swimmer in history in the 200 fly, 200 IM, and 400 IM. He is the second fastest swimmer in the 100 fly and 200 back. He is the third fastest swimmer ever in the 200 free. (He's swimming that tonight at nationals so that might change.) He's the American record holder in the 400 free. He is the fastest swimmer under 19 in the 100 free. These credentials are amazing. You need to see him swim and be awed.

1:53 PM

 
The Media Issues Start ...

Take a look at www.drudgereport.com, the Kerry campaign is fighting off a rumor of infidelity. Will be interesting to see if this thing has wings but wouldn't be surprised if this is the first wave of a dirty tricks campaign. If its real, the Dems are in a world of trouble.

12:43 PM

 
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