Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Assurance that you'll get your money

Day 3 of the contest to win $200 for proof that Joe Wilson lied. From day one, there was a serious problem: Several of my estimable correspondents have insinuated that I'm not good for the money, therefore it's not worth their effort to demonstrate to me what they find so patently obvious.

Please understand: I don't mind the insult. I'm just some random spamming stranger to them - why should they trust me? What I'm worried about is credibility. I regard these comments about my ability and willingness to pay as considerably more serious than the insinuations that I spend my spare time performing unnatural acts on rabid squirrels. [*] I can get back to those later; this payment credibility issue is paramount.

I meant to incentivize a display of proof that Joe Wilson lied, proof provided in a very specific manner. But ... will you get paid? I have to be credible here. Escrow service? Could get messy. But at least you'll have the satisfaction that, if I don't pay up on your proof, I can't get my own money back either. At least, not any time soon.

I think I've hit on a solution. Bear with me here for a minute.

You know Bob Somersby of The Daily Howler? To my mind, of all the critics of Joe Wilson, Bob skewers Wilson better than anyone. Now, really - how can you accuse Bob of pro-Wilson bias? He lays into what he calls Wilson's 'illogic', his 'overstatements', his 'dramatics', and his 'persistent love of fudge'. I don't necessarily agree on all that. I don't necessarily disagree, either. However, from reading so far, Bob never actually calls Wilson a liar. He certainly he never calls Wilson a liar by my admittedly-stringent definition for this contest.

But you know what I really love about Bob? He's pretty good with those full-context, direct quotes. He appreciates these things. That probably means he knows them when he sees them. Professionally, he may be a comedian, but in his avocation, he beats the pants off some journalists out there. Not to mention some of you would-be journalists.

So here's what I propose:

(1) I'll write Bob Somersby him asking if he's game.

(2) If he agrees to my definition of 'liar' for purposes of this contest - or if he and I can negotiate a better definition (probably a looser one, so that I don't get that 'you moved the goal posts' accusation again), I'll send him a check with the payee line left blank.

(3) I'll let Bob decide if a submission of proof meets the requirements.

(4) However, I will require that Bob first inform me by private e-mail of his provisional decision and that he allow me to make ONE appeal - if I think the decision merits appeal - an appeal to which he must respond. That response can be 'sorry, no dice. End of story.' But he has to respond. Furthermore, by the act of responding, he gives me permission to quote his private e-mail response in full.

(5) If I don't get back to Bob on his opinion within three working days, he can go ahead with his decision. I won't filibuster, I won't play the 'no-quorum' game.

(6) If it later turns out that the definition of 'liar' requires change, and Bob and I can't agree on the change, I'll leave the issue of definition - and judgment, and payment - in Bob's hands.

I think this is almost bend-over-backwards reasonable. Now here are my current conditions, just to be clear.

Rules for submission:

(1) submissions must be made by e-mail to both me and to Bob (in the case of Bob, no sooner than he announces agreement. In my case, whenever. But see deadline, below.)

(2) that e-mail must be identical for both of us.

(3) each submitter gets ONE SHOT. I may have time for arguing in circles, for your emendations, corrections, multiple submissions, and best of all, for scurrilous comments at my expense that make for great blogfodder. However, I doubt that Bob does.

Rules for Wilson quote:

(1) e-mail must include a direct, in-context quote from Wilson

(2) said quote must be supported by a live URL to the cited text. Don't turn us cross-eyed Googlehounds verifying your quote. You're the one making the money. DOUBLE-CHECK.

(3) said quote must match the web page cited. When in doubt, include more context, not less. DOUBLE-CHECK.

(4) said quote must relate closely to either Wilson's role in the Niger yellowcake affair, or Plame's role in the decision to send him to Niger.

(5) since this is, among other things, a "what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it" issue, consider the moment the words were spoken as the time of quote if it's from an interview or live testimony or a speech, and consider the hour the publication appeared as the time of quote if it's from any written media source. If it's from a transcript of a broadcast or testimony since made public, the time of quote is still when the words were spoken.

Rules for proof that Wilson lied:

(1) same e-mail must quote from primary sources demonstrating that Wilson knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was not telling the truth when he wrote or said what's quoted above.

(2) Same quoting and URL rules as for the Wilson quote.

(3) no added argument or other inferential verbiage beyond a subject line, a signature line, live URLs, and brief, neutral captions identifying the elements. The quotes alone must make the case.

Rules for Reward:

(1) Payment must go out within three working days after the decision.

(2) In the event of virtually identical proof, payment goes to the earliest of the submissions, as measured by the time it was sent.

(3) offer expires November 1st. Proof after that point doesn't get you the money. Bob returns my check - or, if he and I agree that the whole process has been cruel and unusual punishment for him, he puts his name on the payee line.

Readers, you can help with this. Bob's undoubtedly a busy guy - he's a professional comic and he edits a website. I.e., he's a laughably underpaid slave. I might send him e-mail only to have it presumptively deleted as spam, no blame on Bob. Here's how you can help: no later than July 30th, 2004, send him the Transcendental Bloviation URL, directing his attention to my proposal (blog entry title: "Assurance that you'll get your money.") Once and only once. I don't want him swamped. If and when he says "enough!" I'll post that on my blog so you'll know to not prod him further.

Of course, Bob may decline my offer, and then we're back to square one. I will need a backup plan, after all.

So here's another way you can help: propose ideas for getting payment into the hands of somebody like a neutral intermediary bursar. Also propose plans for fair adjudication - for example, three lawyers who have might or might not have strong opinions one way or the other on Joe Wilson, but who don't yet have a firm belief that Joe Wilson actually lied according to my provisional definition. I really don't want to go that route - it's complicated, and I'd really like to get this money out, if it's possible to do it sooner rather than later.

Finally: I doubt my rules are perfect. Help me debug them. I promise not to 'move goalposts' in any direction except closer to you, if I can possibly help it.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my dream for how this issue would be more reasonably adjudicated in a better world. Point your browser at the home page for Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy. It's an appealingly simple idea: randomly select a highly representative sample of citizens, put them together in rooms with the required source materials, and let them talk out a decision.

Deliberative Polling is nowhere near being a vital organ of the body politic at this point, unfortunately. But I think if they could pull it off, it could counterbalance dangerous tendencies within the current system by which democracy is bought: lobbies left and right, PACs left and right, paid-placement journo-lobbying that masquerades as journalism, soft-money campaign contributions, and the mud-slinging primetime TV and radio ads both left and right that any campaign seems to entail these days.

One of the better papers I've seen come out of Deliberative Polling research looked at how damage awards tend to self-inflate over time. It seems that few juries feel comfortable awarding any less than has been awarded for similar injuries in the past. John Edwards' wealth probably derives from this cycle of awards inflation. Would Edwards be a contender in this race if he didn't have the career break that his $38 million brings?

Lest you assume I was drawn into my interest in Deliberative Polling only by some leftward lean in politics ... well, just yesterday I was hanging out here in Tokyo with my good friend Michael Phillips. Check out his blog, Gods of Commerce, and in particular this fairly recent piece on "Hysteria on the Left.". I'll be forever grateful for A Citizen Legislature, which Phillips co-wrote with Ernest Callenbach. This book was the subject of some debate in my hometown of Berkeley years ago, and I was appalled at the elitist snootiness of some of the liberal intelligentsia in city politics there, including some I used to respect. So was Michael Phillips.

Phillips is a good guy. We argue a lot, but he's a fine friend. He is also a stinking brainwashed neo-con, but he is so often right when I think he must be wrong.

OK, enough topic drift. Resume firing.

[*] I lied about the rabid squirrel comments. Most e-mail has been relatively civil, considering the provocations I've used.


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