WAYGTB-MOYOE* Update No. 99

Bush in Washington yesterday: “We’re seeing progress on the ground. And we’re also seeing political progress on the ground. The constitution has been written; folks will have a chance to vote it up or down here this month. And then there will be elections, if the constitution is approved, for a permanent government.”

Here’s how that progress looks to a Knight-Ridder reporter from the ground Bush is talking about:

“1 p.m. – On phone with the major, who’s apologizing for being late when a car bomb explodes at Checkpoint 3 entrance. Gunfire ensues.

“1-3 p.m. – Locked down in National Assembly building with legislators while bomb debris and bodies are cleared from the street.

“3:15 p.m. – The major calls back. Come on out, he says. I join him walking to Checkpoint 3.

3:25 p.m. – We step around football-sized chunks of bomber hanging like gruesome Christmas ornaments from the razor wire. I point out the journalists’ security fears, being forced to walk through a dangerous area to get to Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy briefings. He is concerned. “Wow, that’s dangerous,” he says, pushing aside a smoking piece of car interior with a booted toe. …”

*Who are you going to believe — me, or your own eyes?

Armchair Entertainment: Conservative Rage

It’s always been a challenge to not simply write Bush off as a moron, someone who graduated at the very bottom of his Village Idiot class. And I still think it’s a mistake to make that belittling assumption. We’re not living in “Being There,” and Bush is not Chance. But he has the knack of coming up with new brainstorms — the latest represented by Harriet Miers — that are sort of breathtaking for their pure defiance of opinion, of common sense, of the way the rest of the world might weigh reality. It’s not so much that he chose Miers, really; it’s that after choosing her, he could stand up and declare, “I picked the best person I could find.” He acts like he’s explaining why he chose Sam the plumber over Roto-Rooter to unstop the presidential plumbing.

Anyway, that’s all predictable liberal froth. What’s entertaining is to listen to conservatives voice their pique at the chief’s caprice (Bush’s insistence on war as the answer to the Saddam problem, and getting 2,000 Americans and 20-some thousand Iraqis blown to pieces over the last 30 months, hasn’t been quite enough to ignite their outrage). Here’s George Will in today’s Washington Post:

“The president’s ‘argument’ for [Miers] amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.

“He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections.

“Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers’s nomination resulted from the president’s careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers’s name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.”

Here’s the thing: Bush can choose whom he wants. He’s not compelled to pick from the 10,000 names on Will’s imaginary lists. In fact, it’s possible to imagine him winning praise for going outside the conventional wisdom to find an original thinker, and for acknowledging that that’s what he’s doing and explaining in detail why he’s doing it.

One of the memorable phrases at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence states that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires” the American colonies to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation” from Great Britain. That’s what’s lacking in Bush — ” a decent respect to the opinions” of those who must live with the effects of his decisions.

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Tammy: Here and Gone

Yesterday, I wrote in reference to almost-unknown Hurricane Stan (now in a much reduced state over southern Mexico, dumping possibly ungodly amounts of rain) that Tammy was next up on the list of Atlantic hurricane names. “Bring it on,” I brightly wrote. And less than 24 hours, the tropical cyclone gods responded — they’re big fans of this blog — and Tropical Storm Tammy spun up out of nowhere just off the northeastern Florida coast. Now, less than 18 hours after the National Hurricane Center put out its first Tammy advisory, the storm has already moved inland to squall for a while before dissipating.

The reason I’m so excited is that there are only two names left in the 2005 list: Vince and Wilma. In the event they’re used, any subsequent storms will be named for letters of the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, etc.).

According to a not-entirely-clear (to me) table on the NOAA website, the last year there were as many as 19 named storms (Tammy is this year’s 19th) was 1995. The only year on record with more Atlantic tropical storms was 1933, when 21 were observed. The NOAA report on darned interesting hurricane facts also notes that the latest observed hurricane in the Atlantic was Alice, on December 31, 1954.

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Stan, We Hardly Knew You

Hurricane Stan has come and (almost) gone, with hardly a peep of media concern. No CNN or Fox News or MSNBC talent getting blown around the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico (OK, I admit I haven’t been watching any of the above since Hurricane Rita). That’s probably because Stan isn’t threatening any U.S. life or property: The storm has gone ashore in Mexico. That’s bad news for people there — “LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS AND MUD-SLIDES ARE VERY LIKELY,” the National Hurricane Center says in all-caps urgency” — but, without an NFL game to cover, that’s hardly a reason to send a TV crew.

Next up on this season’s Atlantic hurricane roster: Tammy. Bring it on.

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Keeping the Cronies Out

By way of Volokh.com: A nice piece of historical analysis of the Miers nomination appears on the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal. The author, Randy E. Barnett, a law professor at Boston University, argues that the founders envisioned the Senate’s advice and consent as an effective barrier to a president nominating his buddies to high office, including the court. Barnett quotes Alexander Hamilton on this proposition:

“To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.”

Barnett then states the obvious question about the new nomination:

“Given her lack of experience, does anyone doubt that Ms. Miers’s only qualification to be a Supreme Court justice is her close connection to the president? Would the president have ever picked her if she had not been his lawyer, his close confidante, and his adviser?”

Alexander Hamilton looks like a real idealist, though, in imagining that the Senate might provide an effective check on a president who doesn’t care about the appearance of cronyism in appointments or of deadly incompetence on the part of those who have been installed in the executive branch (I’m thinking more of the architects of the Iraq war than those who botched the post-Katrina operation).

Supreme Court: The Norwegian Factor

First: It’s not true that Bush’s new nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, has no judicial experience. A Legal Times article from last December disclosed that she’d been dating a member of the Texas Supreme Court for years.

Thank you thank you very much.

Second: It’ll be fun to watch journalists and analysts and partisans pore over her life to find the places she has at least suggested opinions on The Big Issues (the process is well under way: Note the AP story on Miers’s role in trying to get the American Bar Association to back off its support of abortion rights in the early 1990s; and also a New Republic blog post on a general sort of piece Miers wrote regarding gun control, crime and other social ills and their cures in 1992). We may well find out, and find out very quickly, that her nomination is the product of Lone Star cronyism and that she simply isn’t fit for the court.

But the one reason that should not disqualify her is her lack of judicial experience. The dean and several faculty members of Boalt Hall participated in a Constitution Day panel at the law school a couple weeks ago, and one of the points eloquently made by one of the professors — Jesse Choper — was how the court has gradually become unbalanced through the absence of justices who have come from backgrounds other than the bench. Choper pointed out that the current Supreme Court has shown a degree of misunderstanding and distrust of the political process and the workings of Congress. He suggested that the presence of someone like Walter Mondale, rumored to be under consideration during the Clinton years, would be immensely useful to the court’s deliberations. Of course, there’s a more direct exhibit of how effective a non-judge can be on the court: Earl Warren, who became chief justice from a purely political and prosecutorial background.

Warren, though, had been involved in electoral politics for decades by the time he went to Washington and was attorney general and governor of a key state (California) during an extremely difficult period (just before and during World War II;). Plus, he was a Norwegian American, which is an important personal attribute regardless of anything else.

Miers? I kind of doubt her people hail from the fjords, somehow. As to the rest: It’s hard to see how her resumé adds up to a Supreme Court spot. We’ll see.

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Empty Nest Report

Kate and I have just finished Week One of our Empty Nest era. Kate said today that sometimes when she hears the front door open and close here, she finds herself thinking it might be Thom. The other day, when it got to be 4 o’clock, she had the impulse to call home from school and check in with him.

Me, every once in a while — just looking at Thom’s car or his room or sometimes out of nowhere at all — I’ll have a sudden "he’s not here" moment that fits right in with other times I’ve really missed people; it’s like a blow to the solar plexus that comes with no real weight behind it; I can feel my breath catch for an instant, just enough to get my attention and register the sensation. Then it’s back to picking up my underwear or taking out the coffee grounds to the compost.

So. That’s our first week. We talked to Thom tonight. What was his take?

Beyond details like classes (there’s a heavy emphasis on grammar, of all things, in his Journalism 101 class), how he managed his meal-plan points for the first week (he bought a pack of Nutter Butters at one point because "every once in a while, you just need to have some peanut buttery goodness"), and the fact the floor he’s living on is fairly tolerant of a wide selection of musical tastes and volumes, he offered this summary:  "I’m making a bomb-ass transition to college." (For the uninitiated, that is a good thing.)

So: a little perspective on our parental drama. (And, I can’t help thinking: Man, am I glad I’m keeping track of what my kid’s doing in Oregon, as opposed, say, to al Anbar Province).

Junkmail, Joys of


Two things about this recent mailing from the National Audubon Society (which isn’t strictly junkmail, except for its execution):

First: The brand-new permutation of my name. I usually use my middle name (Daniel), and have a "Jr." appended to my official full name. Also, Kate uses her pre-Dan-era family name, Gallagher. The combination of those factors leads to lots of entertaining (to us) permutations, Dan B. Gallagher being only the most recent. We get lots of mail for Kate Brekke and Kate Brekke Jr. We get the occasional mailing for Stephen and Dan Gallagher. Once not too long ago, an offer arrived for Gallagher Gallagher. If nothing else, it makes it easy to spot the obvious unrequested garbage.

Second: I like the Audubon Society, or the idea of the Audubon Society. They seem reasonable, too. Their mailing said that joining at the $15 level would really help. That’s less than a quarter-tank of gas. But the nobility of the cause and the modest expectations of the direct-mail appeal aside, what attracts my attention is the name of the society’s president: John Flicker. Remarkable because the flicker is one of the more familiar birds from the woods back in Illinois (and one that Audubon himself painted; compare that to the painting of the same species by 20th century master ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson; and just for fun, check out the flicker photographs on a U.S. Geological Survey resource page).