Political Animal

Poltiical Discourse

POLITICAL DISCOURSE….Jeff Cooper has some good posts up right now. For starters, he has some thoughts about the current level of political discourse: if Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan of all people can get ripped by their readers for being insufficiently obsequious toward George Bush’s jet-assisted speech on the Abraham Lincoln yesterday, what does that say? “We’re all in serious trouble,” that’s what.

Next he wonders how the Republican party managed to switch from support for a balanced budget amendment in the Contract With America in 1994 to support for deficits as far as the eye can see today. Bad news, Jeff: it’s even worse than that. Here’s the Republican party platform from 2000:

Over a five year period, as surpluses continue to grow, we will return half a trillion dollars to the taxpayers who really own it, without touching the Social Security surplus. That?s what we mean by our Lock-Box: The Social Security surplus is off-limits, off budget, and will not be touched. We will not stop there, for we are also determined to protect Medicare and to pay down the national debt. Reducing that debt is both a sound policy goal and a moral imperative. Our families and most states are required to balance their budgets; it is reasonable to assume the federal government should do the same. Therefore, we reaffirm our support for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

Hell, they ought to have whiplash making a U-turn that fast.

Finally, Jeff wants to sell his Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but apparently it’s one of the all time marketing turkeys of the computer age. Let him know if you’d like to be its proud new owner.

Gamblers Anonymous

GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS….In my continuing seach for dumb but entertaining ways to abuse arithmetic (and waste neurons in the process), I’m going to try to answer a question that Justene Adamec asked in comments below: is it really possible that Bill Bennett lost $8 million playing slots over the course of ten years? Let’s try to find out:

  • He plays the $500 slots, apparently for 3-4 hours at a crack.

  • Let’s say that a serious gambler can feed the machine ten times a minute. That amounts to about 2,000 pulls, or $1 million.

  • The article says he visits casinos for “two or three days at a time,” so figure he can bet $3 million per visit.

  • If he does this once a month, that’s $36 million per year.

  • Over ten years, this amounts to $360 million in total bets.

  • If the machines pay off at 98%, he would have lost about 2% of $360 million, or $7.2 million.

I don’t know if my guesses are right, especially the part about feeding a slot machine ten times a minute (Vegas junkies are invited to comment on this), but it shows that at least the order of magnitude is plausible.

Of course, the article also says that he’s lost as much as $500,000 in a single visit. The same arithmetic I used above indicates that this would require about 40 hours of gambling, and I’m not sure what this means. Does he play multiple machines at once? Do some casinos have slots even bigger than $500? Does he play for longer periods than the article says?

More investigation is needed! Somebody get cracking out there!

Hezbollah

HEZBOLLAH….A couple of weeks ago I wrote a throwaway line about the “odious Hezbollah terrorist group” and received several emails telling me I was mistaken: Hezbollah, they said, unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad, was not really a terrorist group. It targeted military sites, not civilians, and has been fairly quiet for the past decade anyway.

I didn’t think too much more about it, but Adam Kushner wrote me an email yesterday saying that he had written an article about Hezbollah for the Columbia Political Review. “I’m shocked by my own conclusions,” he said, and while his article does not entirely exonerate Hezbollah, it does make a pretty good case that over the past dozen years Hezbollah has evolved into a pragmatic organization that performs a valuable social role in Lebanon. Its military arm is still active at a low level, but even the Israelis apparently agree that it’s a guerilla group, not a terrorist organization, and stays active only due to pressure from Syria in any case.

And speaking of Lebanon, Jacob Levy points to an article in The American Conservative arguing that the American occupation of Iraq has eerie parallels to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. I had the same thought myself a while back, but, like Jacob, I’m not sure the parallels are actually that close. Still, it’s a worthwhile precedent to consider and the article is worth reading.