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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hugh Hewitt on why the CBS forgery controversy is hurting Kerry, even though there's no reason to suppose his campaign had anything to do with the forgeries. There's too much psychologizing in there for my taste.

Here's a much simpler explanation. John Kerry has always been a poor candidate; on an even playing field he wouldn't have a chance. This playing field, though, has been anything but even: The "unbiased" mainstream media have been doing everything possible to push Kerry into the White House, and even with all the stops pulled out the best Kerry could manage was to break even every now and again. Without this substantial tilt to the field, Kerry is doomed; he needs the artificial high ground the media have been providing him. The last thing he wanted, of course, was an enormous sinkhole suddenly collapsing underneath him; for that, he (and we) can thank Dan Rather.

-- posted by Clayton 9/19/2004 08:38:00 PM | comments (0)

Friday, September 17, 2004

This is something that has worried me for a very long time, now. This needs a much longer post, which I do not have the time to write just now, especially as I would need to be very careful about what I can and cannot say. For now, I will note, market pressures are producing new business practices that will increasingly sap the accuracy and reliability of the public records, and it will go on until enough buyers-in-good-faith get burned that they move the State legislatures to "do something about it." It's that last part that has me really worried: It's been a long time since legislatures were known for thinking out the consequences of the laws they passed.

About this specific fraud: Let's say you're a lender, and you're looking to cut costs. Well, those drive-by appraisals cost something, don't they? After all, the person doing the driving wants to get paid for it, and he spends a lot more time unproductively driving between properties, than productively appraising the properties as he drives by them. So instead you derive a "probable value" from the transfer tax on the most recent deed, and you call it good. Well, here's some news for you: County recorders are happy to accept more transfer tax than is actually owed. Here in California, each additional $1.10 of transfer tax stands for an additional $1000 of supposed property worth, so every extra dollar you "invest" in transfer tax can bring a return of over 90,800%; all it takes is a lazy lender, and as long as you're not too greedy, no one will ever notice. Then, of course, if your neighbors are doing it too, there are artificially-inflated comps all over the place, making the fraud even more undetectable.

-- posted by Clayton 9/17/2004 01:45:00 PM | comments (0)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A couple of things.

First, re-reading that last post, something in the back of my mind said, "The model number on that Linotron was 202, not 200." Hey, this was twenty years ago; for all I know, it may be right. In any case, it's not important enough to go looking it up.

Second, I've decided to experiment with the comment facility here. I have decided its tenure, like that of Federal judges, shall be dum bene se gesserit, so behave. I do not hold with the promulgation of rules for such things, as there are too many persons nowadays for which a rules list means only, permission to push the boundaries to the limit. I will, however, delete anything I choose, without warning and without appeal. Comments are currently open to everyone, since I find registration just as annoying and intrusive as the next guy. If I see spam, though, or anonymous abuse, I will start locking things down.

-- posted by Clayton 9/15/2004 10:51:00 PM | comments (4)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My input, for what it's worth, on the Dan Rather forgery flap.

In the early and mid-Eighties, I worked Summers and Christmases as a computer programmer in the ADP department at Sigonella, Sicily. For those that don't know, Sigonella is a Naval Air Station. The office considered itself more or less high-tech, but, being a military base overseas, this must be taken with a grain of salt. Fully ten years after the supposed date of composition of Rather's forged memos, what did the military have available to it in its data processing center? Our office had two IBM DisplayWriters, sharing a single daisy-wheel printer. The DisplayWriter, and the printer, were barely capable of primitive proportional-font printing; the wheel for this stayed locked up in the department secretary's desk drawer, partly because it was more expensive, but mostly because it was so much trouble to use that no one (including the secretary) wanted to haul it out. The problem had nothing to do with printing; instead, it was, that the monospaced DisplayWriter screen made it more difficult to judge the result one would get once it were sent to the printer. The proportional wheel, after the secretary's few experiments in trying it out, wound up not getting used at all: It just wasn't worth the bother. And the quality of print, using that proportional wheel, wasn't anything wonderful; any laser printer these days can produce much better output.

Keep in mind, this is what was available to the Navy. The National Guard would not have been as well equipped. I find the idea that a National Guard unit, ten years earlier, would have had even better equipment, very difficult to believe.

In the same time period, I was also production editor for a college newspaper, which meant, I created the layout, and then typeset all the stories to fit the layout. So I'm also familiar with what it took, ten years after the supposed time of composition, to produce output such as we see in these "memos." In our case, it took a Linotron 200 H&J typesetter sitting in the basement of the university Admin building, which produced its copy by rolling photosensitive paper past a high-quality cathode-ray tube, which paper must then be run through developing fluid, allowed to dry, then cut, waxed, and pasted onto the flats for the day's paper.

Since I could make that Linotron sing for its supper, I also wound up typesetting resumés for graduating Journalism majors. Here's what it involved: I would typeset the text; the production department would then run it through the Linotron, develop the paper, and dry it; the result would be cut, waxed, and pasted on an ordinary 8½-by-11 sheet of paper, and the whole finally Xeroxed onto good stock. This is what it took to get high-quality print in the mid-Eighties. Even assuming such things were possible in the early Seventies (and that a National Guard installation would have all the necessary equipment), the idea that anyone would go to such bother for a simple file memorandum is ludicrous. Also, I can assert with full confidence: Any military personnel that did go to all that bother (and expense!) for a simple memorandum would be risking court-martial for fraud, waste, and abuse.

It is obvious that these documents are forgeries. It is also obvious, the forger is either young enough, or self-centered enough, that the idea that the cheap-and-easy desktop publishing capabilities we have today are of recent vintage didn't even register. It is impossible to defend these documents from a position of knowledge; they can only be defended by the deliberate cultivation of a studied ignorance.

-- posted by Clayton 9/14/2004 02:01:00 AM | comments (0)




For the more forensically inclined