Sep 302004

Someone has to step in and apply some rigor to the definition of the term “flip-flop,” which is being broadly abused. Republicans are applying the term to Kerry when he changes his mind and decides he’ll have some milk in his coffee after all. Democrats, attempting to offset their candidate’s propensity for self-contradiction, claim that Bush is also a flip-flopper.

So what is a flip-flop? Hey — let’s look in a dictionary! Turning to Merriam-Webster, we see that a flip-flop is commonly described as “a sudden reversal (as of policy or strategy)”. (Also, “a rubber sandal loosely fastened to the foot by a thong.” Hey, yeah! I forgot about that one.)

A sudden reversal. And allow me to add a little something to the definition: A sudden reversal, uninformed by any obvious change in circumstances. CBS, in a bald attempt to make the two candidates seem equally flip-floppy, uses the following example for Bush:

During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush argued against nation building and foreign military entanglements. In the second presidential debate, he said: “I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, ‘This is the way it’s got to be.'”

The United States is currently involved in nation building in Iraq on a scale unseen since the years immediately following World War II.

Now, gosh — what might have happened since the 2000 debates to have caused Bush to reconsider his priorities? Any guesses?

I like this one, too:

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush said he was against federal intervention regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, he said, states “can do what they want to do” on the issue. Vice President Cheney took the same stance.

Again, years later, with gay-marriage movement making huge strides, his position was put to the test, and Bush found it necessary to amend his thinking. You may disagree with that new thinking. I certainly do. But the process of moving from one position to another can hardly be called a flip-flop.

Here’s another from CBS, both quotes from Bush:

“We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” (May 29, 2003)

“I recognize we didn’t find the stockpiles [of weapons] we all thought were there.” (Sept. 9, 2004)

Here we are confusing “flip-flopping” with the entirely different concept of “being wrong and correcting oneself.” By listing these statements as a flip-flop, CBS seems to be demanding that a politician, to avoid charges of weakness, stick by incorrect statements no matter what. (And, incidentally, isn’t Bush charged frequently with his stubborn inflexibility? How can he be a flip-flopper and inflexible?)

Has Bush ever flip-flopped? Of course he has. His dance of rejection and acceptance with the Department of Homeland Security might well qualify as a flip-flop. (And I think he came down on the wrong side of that one, too.) But attempts to equate Bush to Kerry on the fabled Scale of Flip-Floppery are doomed to fail.

Now for Kerry. Republicans have been highly successful at painting the Democrat as a serial flip-flopper, often abetted by Kerry himself. Personally, I don’t think Kerry is as bad as the Pubs make him seem — there are many issues where Kerry is straight as an arrow. On Iraq, however — which for me is the number 1 issue in this campaign — Kerry is a freshly-caught fish on a very hot sidewalk. Still referring to CBS:

“We should not have gone to war knowing the information that we know today,” Kerry said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Knowing there was no imminent threat to America, knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, knowing there was no connection of Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, I would not have gone to war. That’s plain and simple.”

But on Aug. 9, 2004, when asked if he would still have gone to war knowing Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Kerry said: “Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have.” Speaking to reporters at the edge of the Grand Canyon, he added: “[Although] I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has.”

In the course of four weeks, Kerry completely reversed direction. Did any major events force him to reconsider his position? Not that I can see. The only thing different was his audience. Now, CBS continues, “The Kerry campaign says voting to authorize the war in Iraq is different from deciding diplomacy has failed and waging war.” In other words, since Kerry believes the president should have the authority to go to war when he sees fit, he voted to allow Bush that authority. But this is after-the-fact rationalization, unless you think Kerry would now vote in favor of Bush having the “authority” to wage war against, say, Iran or North Korea.

In September 2003, Kerry implied that voting against wartime funding bills was equivalent to abandoning the troops.

“I don’t think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running,” he said.

One month later, of course, he voted against the $87 billion supplemental funding bill, primarily because the money wasn’t coming from his preferred source: Repealed tax cuts. But surely he knew, four weeks earlier, when he made the above quote, that funding for the troops was unlikely to come from that source. That he chose to “abandon our troops” to make a stand on tax cuts is probably a flip-flop. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, it may simply be exceedingly lame.

Still, as with Bush, CBS applies the flip-flop label to Kerry in ways that are unwarranted. In 1996, Kerry was apparently against the death penalty for terrorists. Now he’s in favor of it. Again, might there have been any events between then and now that might have altered his thinking on the subject? Flip-flops cannot, by definition, take eight years to complete. Similarly, CBS calls Kerry a flip-flopper for daring to change his position on affirmative action between 1992 (!) and the present day.

Sheesh. Next time you hear the phrase “flip-flop,” apply this simple test: Was the first position made in the previous damn century? If so, it isn’t a flip-flop. Have major, thought-provoking events occurred since the first position was expressed? If so, a new position isn’t a flip-flop. If, however, a candidate says one thing yesterday and a new one today, then you have every right to stand up, point at that candidate, and say, “You, sir, are a rubber sandal loosely fastened to the foot by a thong!”

Sep 292004

Online bill payment is no longer anything to get excited about, but I still get a kick out the fact that I can also update my son’s lunch money account.

Also: Yesterday I had a question about “Company,” the Sondheim musical. (There’s a line in one of the songs that always struck me as an absurd non-sequitur, and suddenly I felt an urge to understand what it could possibly mean.) A Web search turned up nothing. I e-mailed a friend of mine who I thought might know the answer. He didn’t, but he said he’d ask around.

Less than 24 hours later, he forwarded me an e-mail from George Furth, the co-author of the show, with a precise answer to my question. Maybe the people who insisted on calling the Internet “the Information Superhighway” were right after all.

Sep 292004

Democrats think only Republicans are capable of massive voter fraud. Republicans think it’s only the Dems. I think both parties are more than capable of it…

Some 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both the city and Florida, a shocking finding that exposes both states to potential abuses that could alter the outcome of elections, a Daily News investigation shows.

Registering in two places is illegal in both states, but the massive snowbird scandal goes undetected because election officials don’t check rolls across state lines.

The finding is even more stunning given the pivotal role Florida played in the 2000 presidential election, when a margin there of 537 votes tipped a victory to George W. Bush.

Computer records analyzed by The News don’t allow for an exact count of how many people vote in both places, because millions of names are regularly purged between elections.

But The News found that between 400 and 1,000 registered voters have voted twice in at least one election, a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

One was Norman Siegel, 84, who is registered as a Republican in both Pinellas Park, Fla., and Briarwood, Queens. Siegel has voted twice in seven elections, including the last four presidential races, records show.

Officials in both states acknowledge that voting in multiple states is something of a perfect crime, one officials don’t have the means to catch.

“I can’t imagine how the supervisors would have access to that information,” said Jenny Nash, spokeswoman for the Florida secretary of state. “As far as I know, cross-state registry has not been discussed.”

The News’ investigation also found:

Of the 46,000 registered in both states, 68% are Democrats, 12% are Republicans and 16% didn’t claim a party.

Nearly 1,700 of those registered in both states requested that absentee ballots be mailed to their home in the other state, where they are also registered. But that doesn’t raise red flags with officials in either place.

Efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system.

There’s more, including fun attempts at getting double-voters to own up. I like person who said to the reporter, “I’m not here today” before hanging up.

Sep 272004

This story from Legal Fiction deserves wider play, and so far I’m not seeing any. In sum, an updated list of felons from Florida — who are thus ineligible to vote — included a whole lot of (left-leaning, as a group) black people but practically no (right-leaning, as a group) Hispanics. Deeply suspicious. Legal Fiction has waaaay more detail on this.

It sure would be nice if a right-leaning blog somewhere contributed to the demand for an investigation, just to show how committed they are to fair play.

Sep 272004

As I noted in my (new) first entry, the point of starting up this blog again is primarily so I can chart the progress of my kids — years from now, I’m going to want to know when, say, Lea asked me “Why?” for the first time. (Hasn’t happened yet. Give it a week.)

There were many such firsts during my hiatus, but none more charming than Alex’s newfound ability to sing. This started about a month ago, I guess. He’ll lay in bed and sing himself to sleep, or just break into song while playing with his toys: The Alphabet Song, primarily, but also a new one that he must have learned in school — something about “goodbye, friends,” the only two words we can understand clearly. His singing is tuneless and hesitant and exceptionally sweet.

He had a play date this past weekend — his first. There is a boy in Alex’s class and on his school bus named Atul. Atul basically flips out whenever Alex gets on the bus in the morning — he acts like someone on a Hollywood tour bus seeing his favorite celebrity. Their teacher, Susie, confirms that they play together often in class as well. So, I thought, let’s invite the little tyke over.

For the first five minutes or so after Atul and his mom entered the living room, neither child could freakin’ believe his luck. The two of them were shrieking like lottery winners. The two boys and their moms retired to the playroom downstairs while I played with Lea upstairs.

If you had entered my house soon after that, you would have found me casually playing ball with my daughter, which perhaps would have allieviated your fears at the hellacious sounds come from the basement: Screaming, laughing, crying, crashing, more screaming. It would have been only a matter of time before you asked if I was running a sanitarium down there, to earn extra income.

Eventually the mothers figured out that our playroom was, as they say in the Westerns, not big enough for the two little boys, and went out to the playground down the street.

Atul, it turns out, is also Fragile X. Almost exactly Alex’s age, Atul is not yet speaking, and has a tendency, when excited, to take the nearest thing he can get his hands on and throw it just as hard as he can. Which is plenty hard indeed. But he’s a sweet little boy, and it became clear that he has no social outlets — he’s just a little too wild to go to the community playgroups — so our invitation was highly welcome. His mother, Grace, made it clear we could do this every Saturday as far as she’s concerned. I don’t think we’ll be doing it every weekend, but we’ll have Atul back soon.

That was Saturday, which between Atul’s visit and various errands, was a long day, and we crashed to bed early and slept for, oh, 90 minutes. Maybe even two hours! Sometime around 11:00, though, Lea decided she had had it with the whole idea of “sleep”. We let her cry for a while, praying it was just a momentary awakeness and she would pass out again. But no. She was up for good. I stepped into her room and she stopped crying immediately and said “Play?”

“No playing. It’s late.”

Plan B, then: “Tewwetubbies?”

“No Teletubbies. No television of any sort. Lay down!” And I put her down, and continued to put her screaming form down every fifteen minutes for the next two and a half hours, and at 1:30 a.m. we finally sat to watch Teletubbies.

You say: Dad, you caved. And so I did. But at least Teletubbies is a surefire way to get her to sleep. The final segment of the show is the Tubby Bye-Bye, and she long ago mentally connected this to the idea of the Lea Bye-Bye: After the Teletubbies go to sleep, then so does she.

Half an hour later, I put her down. Half an hour after that, she brazenly broke our tacit agreement that Teletubbies = Peace For the Rest of the Night. I stumbled into her room again. She was once again standing up, holding on to the side of her crib, snuffling.

“Mister Do?” she said.

I must have the only two-year old, born in the year 2002, whose list of requests includes a video game that debuted in 1982. I have Mr. Do and hundreds of other classic games of that era emulated on my computer. She and Alex are both mesmerized by them. When I’m on the computer, she inevitably wants to see three things: My friend David Lumerman’s excellent site for kids, the Teletubbies Web site… and Mr. Do.

But not at 2:00 a.m. I put her back down and sat on the couch and listened to the screaming for the next half hour. Then silence. Then sleep. I woke up five hours later feeling like a frozen caveman that had been brought painfully back to life. Wife and kids were already having breakfast in the kitchen. I walk in, wishing I drank coffee.

Lea looks up, greatly pleased by my entrance, and says: “Hi Daddy!” And smiles hugely.

Pretty smart kid.

Sep 262004

Hours of futzing later, the sidebar is where the sidebar should be, although it’s the wrong width. And all my fonts are back the way they used to be. I’m sticking with it.

Sep 262004

My upgrade to Movable Type 3.1 went smoothly enough, except that it looks like hell. Why is the sidebar, with all my links and my blogroll, below my entries? What the hell happened to my fonts? And every step I take towards improving things just makes them worse. All right, we’ll get there eventually.


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Sep 262004

Let’s introduce you briefly to the people who will be discussed on this blog:

Eric Berlin. Me. Former game designer, former freelance writer, former playwright. Former McDonald’s employee, although that’s going back quite a ways now. Currently I am the assistant publisher for Penny Publications, creators of something like 75 different puzzle magazines. I also construct crosswords on the side, and you can see them in The New York Times and elsewhere. My family and I live in Milford, Connecticut.

Janinne Berlin. My wife. Former secretary for various institutions, most recently The Jewish Museum in New York City. She is presently a stay-at-home mom.

Alexander Berlin. Age 4. Currently in a special-ed pre-school. Alex has a genetic condition called Fragile X and is developmentally delayed. The care and feeding of the Fragile X child is going to be a constant theme on this blog.

Lea Berlin. Age 2. Lea does not have Fragile X — indeed, miraculously, she is not even a carrier. A healthy baby girl is the brass ring of many a Fragile X family, and we count our blessings daily.

Various Pets. Toby, a border collie, age 8. Cat, a cat, age 15. Fish, a fish.