Prasanth: ‘Do you hear any good news from your DNC friends or am I correct in feeling that there is a sense that this election, which seemed so winnable, is getting away from them.’

☞ I would give odds that John Kerry will win, but every time I start to lay out the case, something comes up (like 5 million fundraising calls or proofing the galleys of the next edition of my investment guide) and I put it off – because I want to do it well. So bear with me just a little longer, and accept these tidbits instead:

WHAT JAY LENO REALLY THINKS

According to this interview in LA Weekly, he ‘really worries’ what a Bush win would do to the makeup of the Supreme Court . . . believes ‘the wool was pulled over our eyes’ with the Iraq war . . . thinks the White House began using terrorism ‘as a crutch’ after 9/11 . . . and believes ‘the media is in the pocket of the government, and they don’t do their job.’

If you frequent any motorcycle web sites – Leno is a famous enthusiast – link them to the interview. They won’t hear him say it on the ‘Tonight Show,’ but it sounds to me as if Jay’s voting for Kerry.

WHAT IS RSS?

Who the hell knows. But I have it now, as some of you have requested – click the link at top right, just above the Quote of the Day, to install it.

CHRISTMAS IS COMING; SONY CHANGED ITS EARBUDS

For the iPods among you, or the audible.com listeners, I have previously recommended Sony’s expensive-but-worth-it ‘earbuds,’ the MDR-EX70’s. Well, now they are the EX-71’s (you can’t stop progress), and you can use this link to find the best price if you have a stocking that needs stuffing.

THE CBS DOCUMENT MYSTERY

You are really a remarkable lot, which is one of the reasons it is a privilege to have your eyeballs (even when you squint skeptically at what I have to say). I was reminded of this when one of you wrote in to say that the ’60 Minutes’ memos, allegedly from Lieutenant Bush’s commanding officer in the Air National Guard, were ‘obvious fakes.’

I had just watched Dan Rather answer those charges – it turns out superscript was available on typewriters of that era – indeed, had been used in materials the White House itself had released from Bush’s file – and that far from not having yet been invented in 1972, the Times New Roman type face, according to its owner, had been introduced in 1931. CBS had engaged a leading document expert to verify authenticity.

So I was feeling pretty confident when I replied, ‘They may be obvious fakes to you, but Dan Rather makes a very good case that they are real. What is your expertise in determining them to be fake?’

I wasn’t haughty, exactly (I hope), but here was a well-meaning Rush Limbaugh ditto-head (as they are proud to call themselves) whom I thought I was making a pretty good effort to treat respectfully (since he obviously knew nothing).

And then, in a wonderful ‘Well, I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here‘ moment – and if you have never seen Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ you need to rent it for that moment alone – Scott Nicol replied:

I’m a programmer. I have no formal education in typography and publishing, but I picked up much through osmosis.

I have played around with a few old typewriters, and have read lots of stuff typed up on them (academic papers, military records, government records, etc). I have done technical writing, a little of which has actually been published. I used to work for a small company called Mortice Kern Systems (think of the significance of those words), whose founders tried to produce a desktop typesetting system in the early ’80s (and failed, microprocessors of the time weren’t up to it) but then went off to do other things. Had many beer-and-pizza lunches with said founders. For a time I also had an interest in TeX, a digital typesetting system by Donald Knuth. I even read the history of the letter “S” (which you can now find here).

So I know a little of this and a little of that. Enough to be dangerous.

There are plenty of obvious problems in the documents.

1. The font. It lines up perfectly with Microsoft’s 12pt TrueType Times New Roman, reduced about 1.5%. You could say “but Times Roman has been around for ages,” and you’d be correct. It is the font used by the Times of London for printing Roman characters. However, there are many different versions of Times Roman, all are slightly different. There are differences in spacing and shapes of letters. It’s very curious that these early ’70s documents line up so well with a variant of Times Roman that was created in the early ’90s.

2. It uses proportional spacing. Not terribly common on typewriters, especially those from the early ’70s.

3. It backspaces after f. This is a feature of Times Roman. I’ve never seen it implemented automatically on a typewriter. It has to print the character, then half-backspace. Look at all instances of “flight” for examples — note how the “f” and “l” run together at the top? Doing this in software is easy. Doing this in hardware, like a ’70s typewriter, is hard. If the typewriter has a fixed typebar, then you could design the typewriter to automatically half-backspace after typing “f” (but said typebar would probably be a typewriter font, not a book font like Times Roman). If the typewriter has a changeable type element (such as a selectric with the golfball typeheads), then it is pretty difficult, since you have to change the behavior of the f key based on the typehead installed. You can fake it by using a half-backspace, however if you were faking it you’d forget occasionally.

4. You’ll also notice some instances of “st” and “th” that are separated by a space from the preceding number. If you are typing in MS Word and enter 147th or 9921st, Word will automatically superscript. However, if you type 147 th and 9921 st, then go back and delete the spaces, it won’t superscript. It’s curious that all 3 forms (superscript, regular, with space) are seen in these 4 short pages. The superscripted little “th” is possible on some typewriters, but generally a pain to do, and wouldn’t be done for a memo. The typewriter faces I’ve seen with “th” combinations have been much closer to the size of the non-superscripted characters.

So, in short, it looks typeset. It is quite possible to typeset things in the ’70s (hey, they had books and newspapers back then :-), but it wasn’t terribly common in an office. I’ve seen lots of small-volume books of that era (academic journals, mostly) that were horribly typeset — these memos look fantastic by comparison.

If CBS News’ experts claim the documents are likely authentic, give us the name of a least one typewriter of that era that could have produced the memos. Just a few lines of one of the memos, as a sample, would suffice.

A quick search turned up a site comparing the note to an IBM office typesetting machine. Close, but no cigar.

Using questionable documents throws the whole report into question, which isn’t good because most of the report (from what I’ve seen) can stand on its own.

I consider myself an independent, and vote on the candidate that best fits my ideals, fully aware that I’ll never find anybody that I completely agree with. However I’ve never seen a candidate I completely disagreed with, before W. I’d rather vote for a telephone pole than W.

So I guess he knows a little about typography after all. I have the best readers in the world.

Another reason to think the memos are fake is that, as you may have seen, Dan Rather had their deceased author’s secretary on TV last night, and she thought so. She never typed them, she says. But – and here is what makes it the stuff of a good mystery – she says they are accurate, and very much like the memos that were written at the time. They are consistent with the facts of the case, she says, and with the late Colonel Killian’s feelings.

So the big picture here is that – even without these memos, real or not – the CBS reporting appears to be fair and accurate. (Bush did get special treatment and lied in 1994 when he denied it. He did fail to obey a direct order and take the annual physical everyone else took. He was grounded for failure to take that physical and did fail to fulfill his duties. And thus he is misleading us now when he says otherwise.)

But the little picture delights with intrigue. Could this secretary have recreated the documents from memory and gotten them to CBS somehow herself? And now come on the show to debunk their authenticity but verify the contents?

Bush fans will say none of this is relevant anyway; it’s ancient history. But if it is truly Bush’s nature to take the easy way in – to Yale, to the Guard, to Harken Oil, to the White House – and to take the lazy man’s approach once there, grabbing short cuts, not feeling constrained by the rules (the Harken Oil insider trading episode springs to mind), then one can perhaps understand how it happened that he completely ignored the January 7, 2001, CIA warning that Osama bin Laden represented a ‘tremendous’ and ‘immediate’ threat to the United States . . . and subsequent warnings . . . and has taken more vacation time than any president in recent memory. (It was on the first day of his month-long August 2001 vacation, after six months in office, that his Presidential Daily Briefing was titled, ‘Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The U.S.’) All of which is charming in a bon vivant, but not necessarily what you want in the CEO of the most important, complicated endeavor in the history of mankind.

And just to finish this, here’s what troubles me about the cocaine, if it’s true. (You have surely by now seen Kitty Kelly and her book on TV?) Not that he may have done it when he was ‘young and foolish.’ Not even that he may have done it ‘and more than once’ at Camp David, although that would certainly fit the pattern of being above the rules. What gets me, if he’s done cocaine, is that during his term as governor, more than 20% of the inmates in the huge Texas prison system* were incarcerated on non-violent drug charges, and he did nothing compassionate that I know of to pardon or rehabilitate any significant number of them or reduce their sentences. (If I’m wrong about this, as I may be, I trust one or more of you will set me straight.) Indeed, in Florida, as reported here previously, his compassionate brother Jeb eliminated drug treatment programs in all but four of Florida’s 55 prisons.

*The population of which skyrocketed during his term, despite his record number of compassionate executions.

In none of this am I suggesting that George Bush should be impeached or imprisoned or even disliked – just that he should not be reelected. We can do better, and John Kerry will. Which brings me back to what I was supposed to be writing about.

Hang on, Prasanth! I haven’t forgotten you.

 

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