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Saturday, November 23, 2002

what's really going on ...

Anthony Parisi has written an alarmed blogpost about that 'reporters bootcamp,' and about embedding reporters into military units, and similar matters (His links didn't work, but the picture is clear)
...Make no bones about it this makes the media an official propaganda arm of the US government. Sure, Saddam is doing it, but should we be following his example? Sure, the media has over stepped its bounds, but isn’t there a danger to only knowing what the government wants us to know? What if we start bombing Kuwait, or reinstate the draft, and the media isn’t there to tell us? If the military blunders, I want to know why it happened, and what is going on to insure that it won’t happen again...
Seven days of boot camp is going to turn reporters into zombies? Mindless robots? Give me a break.

There has NEVER been so much media coverage of American wars as now. We've got reporters counting civilian casualties one by one! There has RARELY been so little censorship. Anthony should study the history of wartime censorship, he'd be shocked. In WWI, American reporters couldn't even mention the name or number of any unit, or even whether they were Army or Marines.

Nor is the US military the totalitarian world that Anthony seems to imply. It's full of educated men and women who often speak their minds and disagree with policy and write books and articles (and blogs); and who will try hard to help poor hapless reporters understand what's going on. (As our Punning Pundit knows full well; but an interesting post is worth some sacrifices)

If the government wanted to control what we know, they could and would just keep the reporters out altogether. (Reagan did exactly that in Grenada.)

Also, reporters today are all almost totally ignorant of military affairs. Their questions at Pentagon briefings are laughably naive. If the Army can stuff a little knowledge into them, they will be much MORE effective at covering the war. Most of them won't have a clue whether the military is blundering or not.

I'm going to tell you what's really going on here. Don swore me to secrecy, but you RJ readers are an elite group, and can be trusted. Don't spread this around.

George Bush is, as usual, planning the chess game many moves in advance. As you've probably noticed, the news media don't report much on conditions in Iraq. (And when they do they go so easy on Saddam that they actually play along with the ludicrous fiction that Iraq is a democracy!) Why strengthen those warmongering Republicans? Why risk arousing the stupid and bigoted American public?

But if reporters are going to be embedded into combat units, guess who's going to be right there on the spot when our soldiers discover (as we are pretty sure they will) horrors to rival things found when we invaded Hitler's Germany? It will be hard to ignore reality when you are waist-deep in hideous suffering. And guess who's going to be discredited when the world gets a clear look? Well, I could make a loooong list, and so could you.

* (Response to Anthony's response) Well I suppose there is still some danger of censorship, but I don't rate it as very high.

There are going to be thousands of reporters milling around, with satellite phones and links; tens of thousands of military and other people, many with Internet connections ... And any attack we make against an Arab country will be over so fast that reporters will be able to interview people while the rubble is still smoldering.

Probably the government will present things in a favorable light, but that's what's always done. Bush says the economy is basically sound and getting stronger (I agree). Is that 'censorship?' Of course not.

I was just reading about the first weeks Afghan campaign. It was shocking to be reminded of the torrent of abuse that the press heaped on the administration when nothing seemed to be happening. Accusations of incompetence, 'Quagmire,' huge civilian casualties, and dire predictions that 250,000 troops would be needed. Then when the Taliban collapsed, many journalists immediately flipped to the view that we were in trouble because the sudden collapse had caught us unprepared! This is NOT a climate where censorship is likely to work well.

AND, in hindsight, the administration was quite open and honest all along.

AND, I think Lord Acton's dictum is valueless. People often wield power without being corrupted by it.

Friday, November 22, 2002

a truly great day

Some words I liked by David Frum:
Lithuanians and Letts Do It: I thought of that old Cole Porter lyric as I absorbed the news that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania have been formally invited to join NATO.

Every once in a while there is a truly great day – a day that vindicates all the work and struggle of millions of people over thousands of days: undaunted Cold Warriors on our side of the Iron Curtain and brave dissidents on theirs; the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who risked their lives– and the American taxpayers who ungrudgingly paid the bills; émigrés, defectors intellectuals, journalists, and other truth-tellers; of the heroic pessimists like Whittaker Chambers who despaired but fought anyway – and the gallant optimists like John Paul II who never doubted that regimes that offend human dignity must collapse, and soon.

We are now again locked in a protracted conflict, one also fraught with terror and uncertainty. But let’s take a moment to celebrate that last victory – and to draw courage from it.
Yes indeed. There were many heros in that long stubborn struggle, and few of them were ever greeted with brass bands and cheers. Many were like the rangers in Lord of the Rings, grimly watching and guarding through the decades so Hobbits could be safe and comfortable (and turn into petulant leftists enjoying the fat years and yet fawning over Marxist dictators and freedom-hating professors.)

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia ... time was, I thought of them as, well, gone. Names from the past only. But they're still there! Made new. Marvelous. We might visit them someday. While Lenin and Marx and Mao and Stalin and Castro and PolPot are on the big ash-heap...though their foul ideas are like a crabgrass that sprouts ever and again.
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P. Krugman
#59: Sons also fall ...

In The Sons Also Rise (11/22/02) Paul Krugman puts his intellectual dishonesty on display for all to see. He begins with the obvious fact that children of the wealthy have advantages in life and then tries to twist this into some growing malignancy that is ruining the country. He then drags his colleague, Professor Alan Krueger, into the fray by citing a Krueger column on intergenerational income mobility.

As we have pointed out before, when Krugman cites research in support of a point, it is a good idea to actually read the citation. In this case, he completely misses (deliberately we suspect) an essential point. The data show there is no bias in intergenerational income mobility. A child with parents in the top 10 percent of income is just as likely to fall, and fall just as far, as a child born to parents in the lowest 10 percent is to rise. This means that for every Krugman anecdote showing how well a rich kid is doing, other anecdotes are statistically available showing that symmetrically other rich kids have moved down and poor kids have moved up.

Bottom line:

Krugman could just as well have entitled this column "The Sons Also Fall." But that would not have sufficiently ground his axe.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find Paul Krugman's writings, including the latest columns, here]
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live at the homage to Mario...

Richard Bennett has an on-the-scene account of Christopher Hitchens speaking in Berkeley
...Judging by applause, about 10% of the audience had their heads on straight, and the rest were either watching acid flashbacks from the 60s or busily conjuring up rationalizations for staying as far away from any battlefield as humanly possible. Hitchens had an interesting response of the oft-repeated rant about blood for oil, asking for a show of hands of those who felt that fighting a war for oil wasn't justified. Six people, out of a couple thousand, responded, and the rest were shocked by the question, probably because they're used to people stressing the direct danger that Saddam poses to the US with his genocide weapons instead of acknowledging the role of oil in the world economy. (Incidentally, after the Gulf War, oil prices rose and supplies shrank in the Third World, causing no end of economic pain; we're much less dependent on Mid-East oil than the world poor are, and it's no joke to them when a madman takes major portions of world oil production off the market.)...

Thursday, November 21, 2002

the Kurds speak

Mike Plaiss sent me this article, from Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). It's not available on the Net, so I'll just post the whole thing.


By Farshid Motahari, DPA
Suleymanieh, North Iraq (dpa) - The vast majority of the Kurdish population of northern Iraq wants nothing more than to see the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime. "I want him dead, even if I or my family lose all our belongings and our whole existence," said Farugh, a 39-year-old trader in Suleymanieh. "And believe me, I mean it," he added.

The bitter hatred towards the Iraqi president in the Kurdish regions is unanimous. No Kurd can forget the genocide in 1988 when Saddam brutally killed hundreds of families in the northeastern Kurdish town of Halabja by dispersing toxic gas. "The hatred is genuine and justified. What he did to us (Kurds) in 1988 is unimaginable," said Saadi Pireh, the foreign policy spokesman of Suleymanieh, the centre of the Patriotic Union (PUK) governed Kurdish autonomy. "He should be on trial at the Hague Tribunal as war criminal at least," said the spokesman.

The Kurdish people however are less diplomatic and call for Saddam's assassination either by United States military intervention or a coup within the ruling Baath party. "I want to see his death live on CNN," said Rahman, a member of the PUK Peshmargas (Kurdish military forces) and one of the few survivors of Halabja, where he lost his parents and his younger sister. "Only then might I forget Halabja and only then might my recurring nightmares of the massacre of so many innocent Kurds come to en end," he said.

Suleymanieh, with a population of about 750,000, is regarded, even by the rival group Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), as the city of resistance. More than two decades of uncompromising conflict with Baghdad has made the city the priority target of the Iraqi leader. "Saddam goes crazy when he hears the word Suleymanieh," noted Bakhtiar Ahmad, a member of the PUK foreign relations office. "And that is why we fear that after an American attack, the first thing Saddam will do is vent his anger and frustration on Suleymanieh." This theory is shared by many Kurds in Suleymanieh but the prospect of a U.S. attack, which would topple Saddam, overshadows the fear of retaliation.

The arrival of the United Nations Inspection team in Baghdad was broadcast live on the state-run Kurd SAT (belonging to PUK) and Kurdistan TV (belonging to KDP), with the majority of Kurds following every step with joy. "The fact that Baghdad has weapons of mass destruction is an open secret so the results of the U.N. inspection team are not important," said PUK spokesman, Pireh. "The important thing is that the U.S. policies and U.N. resolutions have de facto deprived Saddam of any further excuses and have paralyzed him politically," the spokesman added.

One of the most popular topics of conversation among Kurds in northern Iraq at the moment is the post-Saddam political landscape. They believe a smooth switch to democracy may be too optimistic and they predict a U.S.-imposed administration. "The only political groups in Iraq with a popular base are the two Kurdish groups (PUK and KDP) and the Shiite group of Ayatollah Mohammad-Baqer Hakim, which has supporters in the south. Other opposition groups only exist on paper"' said Ahmad.

"The prospect that oil revenues in Iraq could one day be used for development, education and health rather than military warfare is more important than Saddam's successor," said Pireh. "In 1989, Saddam spent almost ninety per cent of an estimated total oil revenue of 15.5 billion dollars on military warfare and we saw the consequences the following year with the occupation of Kuwait," Pireh said. "Just imagine the extent of development if the country had no need for such expenditure and what an impact that would have on world peace," the spokesman added.
I could make many a comment on this, but RJ readers will be able to fill in the blanks on their own.

Mostly, I think of the people who endlessly fawn over the 'Palestinians,' and express boundless concern over their sufferings (unless they are suffering at the hands of fellow-Arabs; that doesn't count) and are perfectly content to see them murder Jews. Well, here is a Middle Eastern group that has been treated a thousand time worse than anything the Israelis have done to the Palestinians. Where's the concern now? Where is your concern, you bleeding-heart phonys?

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

reforming impulse ..

There was a bit of confusion in the latest Squad Report. Things got switched around, and somehow Andrew Jackson was ending the Spoils System. (Under the Spoils System, as you probably know, government jobs went to the victorious political party. If the Whigs defeated the Democrats, postmasters or customs collectors who were Democrats would be replaced by Whigs.) It made me think of one of those alternate history novels, where the South wins the Civil War, or Carthage defeats Rome.

Anyway, the Spoils System ended in the late 19th Century, when Progressives battled for Civil Service reforms. Government employees would henceforth be selected by examinations, and would be free of political interferance.

Conventional history labels this a great victory for reform and good government. But looking at what we ended up with, I'm not sure ... Suppose thousands, nay tens of thousands of Federal employees were replaced whenever the White House changed hands. The continuity of well-established procedures would be broken. But, so would the continuity of entrenched lethargy and indifference. The new people would lack much of the knowlege needed for their jobs, but they would also be willing to try new ideas, and would know how things are done in the private sector. Some of the new people would be incompetent or venal, but ... well, you know where that one's going.

And in truth we currently have a de facto spoils system, but one that only benefits one party. Now, almost all public employees are Democrats. Just by chance they all happen join the party of big Government. (My Libertarian friends will hasten to say, "Republicans are the party of big government, Democrats are the party of VERY big government.") Wise up, Republicans. Every time you go along with some expansion of government, you just create a passel of Democrat activists.

Anyway, I'm far from sure that the Spoils System would be be worse than what we have now.

The question reminds me of another "great reform." In the 18th Century, commissions in the British Army were purchased. A father might provide for a younger son by buying him an Ensign's commission. Promotion meant selling that commission and buying one of higher rank. The conventional wisdom is that this was a great evil, and corrupted the army.

But, the age of purchase was also the age of the great British victories; battles that still stir our imagination and pride. Minden and Quebec, Blenheim and Ramillies, Plassey, Salamanca, Waterloo... Eventually reformers reformed things, purchase ended, and then where were the comparable great and splendid victories? Try to name a few. (Of course I'm oversimplifying a complex subject , but still ...)
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turn, turn, turn ...

Perhaps we Republicans are being a bit too hasty in rejecting Jim Jeffords' offer to return to the GOP. We have our pride of course, but there is a lot of work to do. According to Jeffords, we are going to destroy: "education funding, child care, rights for the disabled, environmental protection, choice, campaign-finance reform..." (Via Brothers Judd) That's a big project. And he didn't even mention destroying Social Security, and reducing minorities to peonage.

If his offer to turn his coat yet again is real, he is utterly without conscience or shame. Just the kinda guy we need. Put him in charge of exterminating the whales ...
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Big demonstration in SF

Our usually quiet neighborhood is suddenly swarming with cops. I asked one what was happening, and he said students from City College were protesting in front of the Marine recruiting office on Ocean Ave. (about 1 block away.) I walked up to see the scenes of carnage and destruction, and found six fuzzy young people blocking the street and chanting "military off our campus."

Phooey. If you children are to recapture the glories of the Sixties, you've got to do better than that. The job of the Left is to support totalitarian dictators, and poor Saddam isn't geting his money's worth here. Hmmm, lets see ... he pays $25,000 to families of Suicide bombers. Maybe he'll pay college tuitions ... send him an e-mail, kids ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

P. Krugman
#58: Whose Spoils System?

In "Victors and Spoils" (11/19/02) Paul Krugman begins his column with a somewhat ambivalent critique of the Bush administration's plan to open some 850,000 federal jobs to private competition. For the first several paragraphs we were wondering if this was really written by Krugman–he even admitted the plan might save a few bucks.

Then, in the seventh paragraph, he finally got down to business and told us what he really doesn't like about the plan. As he put it, "privatization is a way to break one of the last remaining strongholds of union power." In "Krugmanspeak" this can mean only one thing–it's bad for the Democrats! What follows is a highly partisan column alleging Republican duplicity in an attempt to re-politicize government service.

Here is Krugman's reasoning. Andrew Jackson, way back in the 1830s, supposedly began what had become known at the time as the "spoils system" under which federal jobs were reserved for political supporters. It was replaced by the federal civil service which was intended to correct such abuses. Krugman, however, laments that the Bush administration has found a way around those constraints on political hirings and firings by way of privitization. Moreover, the principle architect of aggressive privatization has been none other than Jeb Bush, who has blazed the trail to bring back the spoils system in Florida.

Krugman's Florida claims are based solely on a Miami Herald story and probably (just our guess) will not stand close scrutiny. But his larger point is just as flawed. The spoils system didn't really end with the federal civil service. By the 1930s it was alive and well again and safely housed within the Democratic party. Today the Democrats' largest and most powerful constituencies are public employee unions. When the Democrats win; they win. Government expands, jobs are created and bureaucracy becomes more intrenched. This is what "spoils" means.

Ever wonder why the Homeland Security Act was held up so long by the Democrats? They wanted to add the stultifying job security measures for employees that plagues most government bureaucracies now. Ever wonder why inner city schools are so full of poor teachers and top heavy administrations? State and local Democratic parties are dominated by teachers' unions that oppose any changes to the status quo–except, of course, for smaller classroom sizes which translates into more jobs for teachers. Ever wonder why we had such a hubbub over federalizing airport security (a move that will have to be undone at some point down the road)? Obviously, it was the Democrats desire to expand the public payroll with Democratic voters.

So Krugman is right to be upset. Competitive bidding for government jobs is a dagger pointed at the heart of latest incarnation of the spoils system and it is about time.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. You can find Paul Krugman's writings, including the latest columns, here]
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ugly things down the road ...

TidBITS, a Mac newsletter, has a good article on The Evil That Is the DMCA, by Adam Engst.
... the Content Cartel is using the legal force of the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] to direct us down a path where content cannot exist outside of a "trusted system," which is a set of hardware, software, and file formats that all agree on what the user is allowed to do with a piece of content. (The trust here is between the pieces of the system, because the content owners don't trust their customers at all.) The trusted system's goals are simple - to eliminate all unauthorized uses and create a situation where we pay more for the content we consume.

A trusted system could prevent you not only from copying a CD or DVD, but also from listening to the CD more than a certain number of times in a day or skipping commercials on a DVD or on broadcast television. Along with requiring us to buy new hardware to play such content and buy new protected versions of the content we already own, a trusted system could have another ill effect. That's because it could prevent us from working with content we would create, using tools such as those Apple kindly provides in iMovie, iDVD, iTunes, and iPhoto..

- - - - - - - - - -

...Here's where Professor Gillespie's argument becomes a bit more speculative. Although the court went no further in this case, he suggested that in any future cases in which the legitimacy of linking was called into question, he felt that the court would include in its deliberation the nature of the publication in question. For example, if the New York Times chose to link to DeCSS or some other technology that violated the DMCA (as in fact the San Jose Mercury News and Wired News have, in making the point that a ban on linking is seriously problematic), he felt that the court would have little trouble accepting the journalistic intent of the link. On the other hand, if some silly little electronic newsletter aimed at Macintosh and Internet users were to perform the same action, he was concerned that it would be more difficult to make the same defense. And if TidBITS wouldn't match up to the journalistic level of the New York Times in the eyes of a theoretical court, what about a blogger?

The end result would be that this court's interpretation of the DMCA could have the same effect of stabilizing the large news organizations in favor of the small newsletters and bloggers who are redefining what journalism means in today's Internet-enabled world. Speaking as someone who has done some of that redefining over the last 12 years, that worries me.....

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... I have to admit, I'm worried that none of this will be enough. The Content Cartel has the aura of celebrity on their side - they're "protecting" the rock stars and movie stars who sit at the pinnacle of today's society. They're the cool kids, whereas the people who campaign for civil liberties are often considered dull and overly earnest. My main ray of hope is that the reason most of the software industry voluntarily gave up copy protection technologies - primarily that consumers hated copy protection - will rise again, but unless we speak out now, all of our content may be locked up in a trusted system protected by the DMCA.

Monday, November 18, 2002

In time for Christmas ...

Amazon is now taking orders for the Segway Human Transporter. Talk to Santa.
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Passsionate. Yes, yes, yes ...

"I loathe Kim Jong II. I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people," Bush told reporter Bob Woodward. "It appalls me. I feel passionate about this. They tell me, well we may not need to move too fast, because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if this guy were to topple. I just don't buy that."
I feel exactly the same, and I'm proud that our President has his head screwed on the right way. Passsionate. Yes,

But my question is, does Bob Woodward feel any visceral response to a leader who starves his own people? Do all those sophisticated, nuanced lefties who call Bush a cowboy feel any abdominal pangs?

Does the Archbishop of Bormeenia burn inside to succor starving Koreans? Hmmm? How about my neighbors who have a bumper sticker that reads Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld. The real Axis of Evil. What do they think? Is a little starvation just one of those eggy-wegs you always have to break to cook the Omlet of Socialism? Gephart? Pelosi? Earth to Pelosi...Do you read me?

Is there anyone in France or Germany who cares? I'd guess plenty of people care in the former Soviet Union. They know exactly what's going on. I bet Ukrainians can get passionate about this one.

How about our State Department? Any passion there? Of any kind? Are they the ones who say, "the financial burdens on people will be so immense...?" Lordy, what a load of BS. And why are people on the left so quick to say that various strongmen are holding things together, and toppling them would only bring chaos and the four donkey rides of the Apocalypse? One wonders just how reluctant they themselves would be to assume the selfless burden of holding things together right here at home?

The question I keep asking of Right, Left, Center, what-have-you, is Why aren't you thrilled to be living in such times?? You who grow passionate and angry over, say, a prisoner wrongly condemned (or wrongly not condemned) now have a chance to be part of freeing millions of people from murderous tyrannies. Our team is trying to do great things. We may drop the ball, we may fail, but we are trying. Even if I'm only standing in the bleachers screaming and cheering when we score, I'm part of it! Little me! So why do you all seem so blasé?
We have discovered that the scheme of 'outlawing war' has made war more like an outlaw without making it less frequent and that to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant. --C.S. Lewis

Sunday, November 17, 2002

link to Delphi

Anthony Parisi pointed out that the Krugman Squad doesn't link to the columns it discusses. We've corrected this by adding a link to the Unnoficial Paul Krugman Archive. It's a sort of shrine or reliquary, where the very hairs and nail-clippings of the saint are preserved.
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Rush to judgement ...

This is an interesting article by a professor who decided to write a study debunkng Rush Limbaugh's Right-Wing-Extremist views on the environment, and found that things were not quite as he supposed....
...In short, wherever I unearthed arguments and analyses that dissented from the "ecologically correct" views of the environmental movement, I found another side that could not be dismissed easily as environmentalists often tried to do, as representing only ignorance and greed. Dixy Lee Ray and Ronald Bailey, for example, certainly back their arguments with plenty of scientific evidence, and they also raise larger political questions which seem to me legitimate. To simply denounce them, as some environmentalists do, for being "conservative" or "right-wing," is to beg the question. Such attacks by political labeling might appeal to the left-liberal political tendencies of the intellectual class, but they evade the real issues critics are raising.

Feeling ambivalent and a little disconcerted by this realization, I changed my environmental course from a lecture format to one emphasizing research and discussion. Actually, I wanted students to explore some of the many pathways of research I didn't have time for. I drew up a list of over 20 different environmental issues that were controversial, and asked each student to pick two of these topics on which to do research and write papers during the semester. I insisted that they dig out different and conflicting points of view on each topic, and I helped them from my own swollen lists of references critical of environmental orthodoxies. For course background, I asked everyone to read Dixy Lee Ray's Environmental Overkill and Ronald Bailey's Eco-scam, as well as Paul and Anne Ehrlich's Healing the Planet; and we watched in class much of the environmentalist film series Race to Save the Planet for which the Worldwatch Institute was a consultant.. .

... The new course was a success. Students enjoyed it, especially the fact that they were hearing both sides of the issues fully and fairly presented .... Most students, in researching the topics they had chosen, repeated my experience. They discovered there were two sides to environmental issues, and that all virtue and good science are not to be found exclusively in the environmentalists' camp. Some students, after they had compiled the evidence and arguments from both sides of an issue, found that they couldn't make up their minds about which side was right. Others did make up their minds, but were humbled in their opinions by the difficult process of confronting honestly the opposing view. There were students who clung to environmentalism, to which they admitted they were predisposed before entering the class. Other students, who had been equally predisposed, claimed that the wool had been pulled from their eyes: the environmentalist movement now lacked credibility for them.

Individuals reacted differently; but we all learned.