Monday, January 31, 2005

So Much Good News...'s hard to know where to start. I guess this photo gallery is as good a place as any. It is interesting that the shots of people celebrating are interleaved with shots of Coalition forces preparing to take out insurgents. Puts the whole thing into perspective, doesn't it?

Pastorius has several good links on the subject. Just keep scrolling. (This was my favorite.)

Via American Digest -- This lovely meme:

On January 31, 2005, in a show of solidarity with the bravery of the Iraqi people, all Americans should color their index fingers blue or purple, and give terrorism the finger.

The Iraqi elections have been a resounding success. Nearly 70% of eligible Iraqis braved threats of terrorism and voted on January 30. On January 31, we can all show our solidarity and give terrorism the finger just as nearly 10 million Iraqis did.

Send your pictures!! Send in your pic of you joining thousands across the country in giving terror the finger, and I will add a picture page. E-Mail them to

UPDATE (2/2/05): I got interrupted in the middle of this post and there doesn't seem much point now in reiterating what everyone else has already said. But I did want to give Zeyad the last word:
The turnout in Iraq was really like nothing that I had expected. I was glued in front of tv for most of the day. My mother was in tears watching the scenes from all over the country. Iraqis had voted for peace and for a better future, despite the surrounding madness. I sincerely hope this small step would be the start of much bolder ones, and that the minority which insists on enslaving the majority of Iraqis would soon realise that all that they have accomplished till now is in vain.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Thank Our Troops

Here is a link to a DoD website where you can send the following short but sweet thank you card to the men and women of our armed forces:

Dear member of the U.S. military:
Thank you for defending our freedom.

(Via the Commissar)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Muslims Against Terrorism

The Immam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca:

As millions of faithful marked Eid Al-Adha yesterday, Muslims were warned against heeding militant calls to wage terrorist attacks in the name of Islam.

The warning came, amid a surge in militant attacks in Muslim countries and beyond, from Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, while addressing Haj pilgrims in a customary Eid sermon. The imam also advised Islamic scholars to preach moderation to confront this “rotten” phenomenon.

“Islam is the religion of moderation. There is no room for extremism in Islam,” he said.

He called on Muslims to “protect non-Muslims in the Kingdom and not to attack them in the country or anywhere. Islam is a religion of peace that abhors attack on innocents.” Militants were using misguided interpretations of Islam to justify violence, he added.

“Because Muslims have strayed from moderation, we are now suffering from this dangerous phenomenon of branding people infidels and inciting Muslims to rise against their leaders to cause instability,” Al-Sudais said.

“The reason for this is a delinquent and void interpretation of Islam based on ignorance ... faith does not mean killing Muslims or non-Muslims who live among us, it does not mean shedding blood, terrorizing or sending body parts flying.” [Elipses in the Arab News Article]
I am not sure that I quite buy this; my limited reading of the Koran seems to suggest that the terrorists have as strong a case that their views are justified by that document as the immam does that they are not. I would like to see a more peaceful ideology prevail, of course, but I suspect that this is only possible by conversion from Islam, not reformation of it. I am unabashedly basing this prdiction on the premise that Islam is a false religion and, being at war with both God and the truth, cannot help but be at war with fellow men. But that does not mean that I don't hope for some positive results from the Immam's sermon. Just sceptical, that's all.
(Via: Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Todd at Pro-Life Rally

My friend Todd Aylard attended a March for Life rally in WA and has pictures and comments:

On the steps were several hundred people, many of them carrying pro-life signs. Various churches and organizations were represented. Facing the steps were a few dozen abortionists, also bearing signs. Law enforcement officers patrolled the area.

Several state officials - including a pro-life Democrat - presented overtly Christian speeches. We even prayed, right in front of the capitol building! And, of course, the abortionists jeered.

A Disturbing Study

Watching less that 4 hours/day of TV impairs ability to ridicule pop culture:

"An hour or two of television per day simply does not provide enough information to effectively mock mediocre sitcoms, vapid celebrities, music videos, and talk-show hosts—an essential skill in modern society," said Dr. Madeleine Ben-Ami, a professor of cognitive science and chief author of the study. "The average person requires a minimum of four to six hours of television programming each day to be conversant on the subject of The Apprentice or able to impersonate Anna Nicole Smith."

Tracking 800 individuals between the ages of 15 and 39, researchers found that people who watch fewer than four hours of television a day have difficulty understanding the references made on VH1's Best Week Ever, and are often unable to point out the absurdity of infomercial products or the cluelessness of American Idol finalists.
Even more disturbing:
Ben-Ami said study participants who watched fewer than 28 hours per week were unable to ridicule Paris Hilton "with any specificity whatsoever."

"By incorporating Paris Hilton into our oral interviews, we provided participants with an easy opportunity to 'riff' on the heiress," Ben-Ami said. "Nevertheless, non-TV viewers reacted to softball questions like 'What's up with Paris' hair extensions?' with monosyllabic shrugs or bemused silence. It was like they were completely ignorant of her many skanky attributes and laughable traits."
I have not noticed any such deficiencies in my own ridicule, but the Paris Hilton thing kind of bugs me. I mean, of course I know who she is and all, but I can't recall any specific details. I still don't think this is enough of a problem to merit turning on the tube, but you can believe I will be monitoring the situation more carefully from now on. You just can't be too careful, I guess.

UPDATE: I don't think James Dobson watches much TV. Is this a counter-example, or is Dobson the element of pop culture that we should be mocking? I really can't tell. Maybe I'm at higher risk than I thought...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Trying to Save the Democrats from Themselves

My friend Pastorius at CUANAS echoes my thoughts below about saving the party from flaming out in utter craziness. But he is talking about the other party...

Now, listen up Dems, because you really need to hear this. Currently, you are like the guy down the street who is always beating his wife, and screaming at his children; everybody on the block knows, but you don't know they know.
Like I said, listen up Dems. Because this is what is really going on. You are being made fools of. You are being set up, and everytime you take the bait and set off into an insane temper tantrum. You look like crazy people. You know, like straight jacket time. Think Ophelia from Hamlet. Think Daffy Duck running away tearing his feathers out. You look like you are out of your freaking minds.

Get a grip on yourselves. It's unbecoming. It's embarassing. Especially to someone like me, who used to be one of you, and would still be, if you hadn't gone completely off the edge.

The net effect of your behavior is that the sane people will not want to be around you anymore. As you lose your minds, you will lose all the real brains among you (I'm not counting myself in that group). You will lose your ability to function at a high level. You will lose your power.

This state of affairs is not good for America. I do not share Rush Limbaugh's merriment at the oncoming demise of the Democratic Party. I believe the two-party system is essential to progress, to fairness, to ensuring that the whole country doesn't go bonkers, frankly.
Now Pastorius and I have this in common, that we are both ex-Democrats. I am a little more ex that he is, but we both maintain a certain wistful affection for the Less-than-grand Party.

I wonder, however, if this may be misplaced. I suspect that the Democratic party isn't really going to crash and burn, but if it did those people who are still sensible would wind up migrating to the Republican side and causing problems over there. Eventually the Repbulicans would wind up splitting into separate factions (currently it looks like Neocons vs Theocons, but who can say for sure). This happened during the slavery debates in the 1850s which is how the Republican party was born. I can't say whether this would be a better effect than saving the Dems. I can really argue both sides of the issue. But I do know from history that there frequently comes a point past which the old system cannot be saved and a new system inevitably evolves to take its place. Being a Hayek-geek, I tend to trust such processes of muddling through more than I do having some theoretical ideal. But I am fully cognizant that the details of such shifts can often be very distressing.

UPDATE: I had a real problem narrowing down Pastorius' rant to a quotable size. Read the whole thing and also the original post from the Anchoress that he was keying off.

Have the Neocons Saved Us from Ourselves?

Andrew Sullivan is relieved that Bush will not use the White House to push for a Marriage amendment:

The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the situation in the last session -- well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary; many in the Senate didn't, because they believe DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] will -- is in place, but -- they know DOMA is in place, and they're waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge.

The Post: Do you plan on trying to -- using the White House, using the bully pulpit, and trying to --

THE PRESIDENT: The point is, is that senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously.
I'm extremely relieved. The FMA has gone unmentioned by Bush since the election - and it appears more and more like a pre-election ploy rather than a principled stand. (Of course, that's a relief but it's also an indication of how bald-faced a political maneuver this was in the first place). But this piece of sanity from the President deserves praise and reciprocation from those of us who support equality in marriage. [...]
I never really thought that Bush was all that keen on supporting the amendment. I don't think the FMA was a political maneuver as such -- it was more an ill-considered response to judicial activism in Massachusetts -- but I do think the president's support for it sprang more from an attempt to placate the social conservatives than from any deep conviction. In the quote above he is still trying to cover that base ("well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary") but he is clearly positioning himself for a passive role on this issue.

I don't particularly like that sort of political calculation, which looks weak and unprincipled from any point of view. The proper thing for Bush to have done last February was explain to Mr. Dobson and anyone else who tried to pressure him for an endorsement that the office of the president does not have a direct role in constitutional amendments and that the argument would have to be made on its own merits, not as a test of party loyalty. But if we have to put up with triangulation, I am at least glad that it seems to have produced a viable result. I haven't quite given up on hoping for heroes and geniuses in politics, but I can live with muddling through.

An interesting question is whether the left will allow Bush to let the matter be. Matthew Yglesias is already sneering at "Bush's sudden betrayal of the gay-bashing movement":
This is what social conservatives deserve to get sneered at for. They're the great suckers of American politics, whipped into a frenzy every two or four years and ordered to vote Republican in order to hold back the tide of libertinism, and then the Republicans don't lift a finger to do so. For one thing, their financers don't support the social conservative agenda. For another thing, if social conservatives ever had anything done for them, they might not be so mad all the time. But last and by no means least, social conservatives get screwed every time because their willingness to get screwed and then come crawling back begging for more next time there's an election on is well-established.
I am chagrined to admit that Yglesias has a point, but fortunately -- and typically -- he misses the true significance of the data he is processing. It is true that social conservatives are often subject to manipulation, but not by their Republican masters. It is our reactive stance toward the left that gets us into trouble. A case in point would be fellow Reformed blogger Upward Paradigm, who takes Yglesias at face value:
While I would not go so far as to say that social conservatives are the “great suckers” of American politics, I have believed that Christians in general, were used by the administration and the campaign in order to gather the votes needed to win a tight election. The folks that Bush surrounds himself with are not exactly social conservatives; ala Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

I think the fact that Bush's early 2nd term agenda seems to be devoid of any concern for the issues that social conservatives voted on is a testament to the point made by Yglesias. Politics is no savior -- and as Christians, we need to learn to engage the world at all levels with better ideas, abundant hope, and stronger conviction. Christians need to be able to see through the obfuscating murk put forth as reality. To date, we seem unable to do so, blinded by what sadly seems as a more tangible and immediate victory than that promised by Scripture: legislation which governs and enforces "Christian" morals. Perhaps in thinking that we have heeded Christ's call to be "salt and light" we have actually become of the world and not just in the world.
In fairness, I think that the theological point is a valid one and consistent with Upward Paradigm's general philosophy. I particularly like his (her?) point about "better ideas, abundant hope, and stronger conviction". But in conceding that we have been betrayed by Bush (or at least "used" by him) I think the author is falling into the trap of allowing the left to set the terms of the debate. No, politics is not salvific, but we Christians have a responsibility to use our gifts to benefit our fellow men and this applies to political spheres as well as any other.

But the excellence of politics consists in establishing justice and peace by exercising wisdom. This is not achieved by merely reacting to issues and applying the first solution that presents itself, but by a careful, thoughtful and prayerful attempt to get at the root of the problem. I promised in August that I would present some alternatives to the FMA that would better promote the cause of conservatism. I dropped the issue because the FMA didn't seem to be playing as big a role in the campaign as I had feared it would, but I think it is time to dust off that argument. Now that the FMA looks, God willing, to be permanently moribund, we should start considering things we should do to improve the moral and political health of our nation.

The Good, The Bad and the Fundy

Jack Chick Parody archives. Not exactly fair, of course, but a part of me says he had it coming.

(If you don't know who Jack Chick is, all I can say is you won't find out from me!)

Via: Digitus, Finger & Co.

What Iraqi Infrastructure?

Lance Frizzell has photographic documentation of the pristine civiliztion living hell that was Iraq under Saddam. Devastating.

(Pay special attention to the superior medical facilities.)

Via: Instapundit

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Interview with Major Bob

Gabrielle Reilly interviews Major Bob Bevelacqua, author of Major Bob Unvarnished: Why We Keep Making The Same Mistakes:

Gabrielle: What good news is there from Iraq?

Major Bob: Well let me see………New schools have opened, new water lines and sewerage lines are being dug in Sadr city and there has been NO fighting in the city for weeks. Sheep and Chickens were handed out by the thousands to smiling Iraqis, local civilians are starting to turn in and report on insurgents, tons of grain has recently been handed out to farmers, thousands of book bags, pencils, soccer balls, shoes, note books have been given out to Iraqi school children, heaters are being supplied to schools and poor families, food packages have been handed out to the needy, the Al Farat medical clinic has been reopened and repaired after rocket attacks, insurgents have been arrested and killed by the hundreds in the past week…………. How much of that did you see on the news………..??

Gabrielle: How is it being on the ground in Iraq compared to the coverage you see on American TV?

Major Bob: There is no comparison, the news has it all upside down. Yes there is killing here, yes there is corruption in the government, yes security is poor at times, but that is only 25% OF THE STORY! I have run the streets of Baghdad for 6 months and have mostly seen prosperity, commerce and a buzz on the street corners and store shops in the city.. the problem is the news crews don’t find any of that SEXY and it does’t support their agenda.
Nothing terribly surprising, but more ammo for those of us trying to make the case that post-war Iraq is not the unmitigated disaster that the media are portraying.

Tyranny in Burma, No Thanks to Malaysia

164 protestors, mostly Christians, were arrested in Malaysia for protesting the Burmese military's destruction of a cross, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma:

More than 160 Burmese nationals, mainly Chin Christians including three women, were arrested on 17 January for holding an “illegal” protest against Burma’s military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) outside its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, according to the Malaysian police.

But they were protesting against the destruction of a cross planted on a Calvary Hill in Matupi Township, Chin State in northwest Burma, on 3 January by the soldiers of the junta.

A Chin national who took part in the protest but escaped the arrest, Ko San Aung told DVB that, to add insult to the injury, the soldiers celebrated the destruction of the cross on 4 January, Burma’s Independence Day by planting a victory flag where the cross used to be. He added that the protesters also tried to highlight the religious persecutions carried out by the Burmese junta against all religions in Burma.

Any gathering of three or more people without a permit is illegal in Malaysia. If convicted, the protesters could be jailed for up to one year or fined. “They tend to send them (protesters), be they refugees, legal or illegal migrant workers, to Thailand. I think they could do that,” said San Aung.

Some of the protesters are registered as refugees at the local UNHCR office and some of them are staying in the country as illegal migrant workers.
The persecution of Christians (and other non-Buddhist minorities) in Burma has barely been reported, despite the fact that the tactics, if not the scale, of the oppression is similar to those in Sudan. Burma has neither a free press nor an independent judiciary. The Christian Post, with regard to the above story, notes:
Persecution watchdog groups such as the Voice of the Martyrs have reported that Buddhism is strongly entrenched in the Burmese majority. Only about five percent of Christians in Burma are converts from Buddhism. VOM also reported that Christian sites and graveyards are frequently demolished and replaced with pagodas, often using Christians as forced labor. Christians have been raped, tortured and murdered.
The arrest of the protestors by the Malaysian government is sad, of course, but only marginally sadder than the failure of the Western press to take note of the crisis. Many on the left have said that one of the weaknesses in the Bush doctrine is that there are other forms of tyranny besides terrorism. However, the crises in Sudan and Burma do not necessarily require military intervention. If Western leftists were one tenth as interested in these people as they are in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, their suffering could be greatly reduced.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pink Storm Rising

Reading Andrew Sullivan's review, Log Cabin Republican of C. A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln one is almost convinced that the case has been definitively made that Lincoln was gay. The crux of Sullivan's defense is the following two paragraphs:

That Tripp has an "ax to grind" is to my mind unfair. Yes, he sought to understand the homosexual experience better. But he was a Kinseyite social scientist, not a New Left propagandist. His database of Lincoln material is regarded as superb and invaluable to Lincoln scholars everywhere. He had a PhD in clinical psychology; and a mastery of the facts of Darwin's life as well. Yes, he [Tripp] was gay. But being gay can also be an advantage in this respect. The contours of a closeted gay life - the subtle effects of concealed homosexuality on behavior, public and private - are most easily recognized by other gay men, for the simple reason that many have experienced the same things. And the very nature of a closeted life is that it is hard to discern from the surface. I don't doubt that my own view that Lincoln was obviously homosexual is affected by my personal recognition of some aspects of the story, especially in his early years. The danger, of course, is over-identification and projection. But the danger of under-identification is also there - and it may well have impeded real research into what made Lincoln tick. Certainly if you're looking for clear evidence of sexual relationships between men in Lincoln's time in the official historical record, you'll come to the conclusion that no one was gay in the nineteenth century. But of course, many were.

But was Lincoln? Here's what I'd say are the most persuasive facts. Lincoln never developed deep emotional relations with any women, including his wife. Even the few snippets we have of early romances, or his deeply strained courtship of Mary Todd, suggest a painful attempt to live up to social norms, not a regular heterosexual life. His marriage was a disaster, by all accounts. Why? Well, ask Brookhiser in the NYT, who tries to exonerate Todd from charges of being cruel and psychopathic as well as corrupt: "Explosive, imperious, profligate, she may well have been mad. But in fairness to her, Lincoln was maddening -- remote and unavailable, when he was not physically absent." Hmmm. Remote, emotionally unavailable, running away to hang with men whenever he could. Ring a bell? Not in Brookhiser's mind.
I am always very leary of arguments that turn on insight rather than evidence, but I am willing to concede that I am not really in a position to judge, not having read the original book and not being particularly interested in the subject in general. It does strike me that, given the circumstantial nature of the case, which both Sullivan and Tripp concede, it is unfair to conclude, as Sullivan does that the primary motivation for dismissing it is prejudice:
But today's right-wingers are right about one thing. The truth about Lincoln - his unusual sexuality, his comfort with male-male love and sex - is not a truth today's Republican leaders want to hear. They are well-advised to attack and suppress it. They are more closely related to the forces Lincoln defeated than those he championed; and his candor, honesty and brave forging of a homosocial and homoerotic life in plain sight would appall them. The real Lincoln is their greatest rebuke; which is why they will do all they can to obscure the complicated, fascinating truth about the man whose legacy they are intent on betraying.
However, this is the sort of diatribe one has come to expect from Sullivan on this issue and I really have begun to despair that anyone in the public light is still capable of judging a case on the merits rather than looking for ideological use. Spin is in, truth is out, even among conservatives whom I otherwise respect.

But this piece by David Greenberg suggests that I may have been too quick to concede the factual side of this case:
The most surprising thing about The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, the new book that claims the Great Emancipator was bisexual, is how charitable the reviews have been. Even skeptical reviewers have allowed that the author—the late psychologist C.A. Tripp—may have a point and have retreated to the safer position that Lincoln's sexual orientation doesn't really matter anyway—that Tripp's project is a trivial one.
Alas, both notions—that Lincoln's sexual orientation is unimportant; and that Tripp's book raises powerful circumstantial evidence to support his claims—are wrong. On the one hand, if it could indeed be shown that Lincoln was "predominantly homosexual," as Tripp puts it (after all, Lincoln was married and had four children), this would be significant. No, it wouldn't directly alter our understanding of his political opinions or actions as president. But it would give us a fuller sense of the private man and thus in indirect ways might revise our understanding of his psychology. Tripp, however, doesn't even begin to make a persuasive case in this tendentious, sloppy, and wholly unpersuasive farrago. In more than 300 pages, he gives us no convincing reason to believe his central claim.
To bolster the case for his preferred interpretation, Tripp willfully reads fact after fact to support his conclusions and to ignore or explain away other possibilities. So, for instance, Tripp insists that the anxiety that Lincoln and Speed expressed to each other about their wedding nights proves they had a sexual relationship, when such worries were hardly unusual in the days before widespread premarital intercourse. Likewise, Tripp finds what he calls a "smoking gun" in the way Lincoln signed one letter to Speed: "Yours Forever." But in an honest afterword to the book, historian Michael Burlingame reminds readers that David Donald found cases of Lincoln using the same closing in letters to at least a half-dozen other friends. One could go on. Tripp produces not circumstantial evidence but facts that resemble evidence only if one starts with a closed mind.
I am, for the record, equally troubled by the assertition that "one could go on". My usual response to this is, "Well, why don't you?" Such assertions usually indicate that the author wants to suggest a large body of supporting evidence, but lacks the confidence to actually produce it for scrutiny. I obviously don't know the details of Slate's editorial policy nor of Greenberg's obligations as a columnist, but it seems that a bit more detail would have been much more persuasive.

Nevertheless, this is the sort of argument I like to see. Facts are extremely important in historical assessments, especially when the subject matter is expected to be controversial. If Tripp lacks the facts to support his thesis conclusively, he should not have foisted this issue onto the public forum. Greenberg makes telling contrasts with other controversial issues such as the bisexuality of Eleanor Roosevelt and the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. In both arguments the case is based on concrete evidence, not interpretations based on priveleged insight. Again, I haven't read Tripp's book and don't really feel inclined to, but it sure would be nice if the scolarly world would return to a more rigorous standard of evidence. I don't care if Lincoln was gay or not. But integrity is vastly important.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Good Catch

What is wrong with this statement on the ACLU's home page?

It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The Constitution’s framers believed that freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society.
If it isn't immediately obvious, go to American Digest.

UPDATE: Interestingly, an online ad on their page has this statement from Holly Hunter:
I AM NOT AN AMERICAN who believes that questioning or criticizing my government is unpatriotic.
I wonder how much trouble we would get in if we elided all but the words in capital letters:
Not that we would do that or anything. Just, you know, asking.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Don't Tease Us Josh...

I don't know whether or not to take this announcement by Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo seriously:

Coming soon: Below-the-radar Social Security phase-out advocacy by corporate benefits providers?
On the one hand, he has a penchant for irony and has been flogging the Cato Social Security Conference in recent posts. So he might just be trying to be clever. On the other hand, he usually has his facts straight, even if his interpretations are a bit hysterical at times.

Somehow I can't quite believe that anyone in a position of influence will have the courage to suggest that we actually put Social Security out of its misery for good. But, we can always hope, eh?

(I'll try to remember to follow up on this, but I confess that I find TPM the least appetizing bite of my blogroll. But if this turns out to be a serious scoop, it will have been worth the trouble.)

UPDATE: Alas, the game wasn't worth the candle:
Today, for instance, I received a copy of a flyer posted around one firm letting everyone know about an upcoming special presentation on the Social Security 'crisis' for the benefit of the company's employees.

The presentation is being put on by a representative from a certain financial services company.

The flyer reads "Social Security ... Find out: How it works, Why it is in crisis What to expect."

Of course, there's also details with date and time and even the munchies that they'll serve. You can even get an individual consultation if you want, it says -- no doubt to tell you that the Social Security Administration is set to auto-destruct and that anyone who thinks they'll ever collect a Social Security benefit is certifiably insane.
So this isn't a new initiative to get rid of SS, just more spin. Most of us in our Thirties and Forties have known for decades that we won't be inheriting anything from Uncle Sam and have already made other plans. For a minute there, I thought Marshall knew something I didn't...

Monday, January 10, 2005

RatherGate Panel Falls Short

Despite raising some pointed questions about the reliability of CBS and Dan Rather during the September 8 Sixty Minutes segment and its aftermath, the independent panel charged with investigating the issue has failed to draw the obvious conclusions on the crucial issues:

The Authenticity of the Documents:

The Panel has not been able to conclude with absolute certainty whether the Killian documents are authentic or forgeries. However, the Panel has identified a number of issues that raise serious questions about the authenticity of the documents and their content. With better reporting, these questions should have been raised before the September 8 Segment aired. [From the Executive Summary]
But, as I pointed out earlier, absolute certainty is not the standard by which investigative journalists judge the quality of their conclusions. In Section F of the Executive Summary (pp 18-19) the panel details several pieces of evidence that were more than sufficient to draw the conclusion that the documents were forgeries. This evidence is examined in greater detail in pages 133-150 of the body of the report.

The Panel observes at the outset, however, that what was at first asserted by Mapes prior to the broadcast of the Segment to be a good meshing without any apparent qualification has now been transformed into an argument that there is nothing in the official Bush records that would rule out the authenticity of the Killian documents. This is similar to statements made by Matley, one of the document examiners, before the airing of the Segment that he could not see anything in the Killian documents that would rule out the possibility that they were authentic. While such an argument may have legitimacy in an advocacy proceeding, the Panel does not find it to be a sufficient standard for journalism, which should not stand on a “nothing to rule it out” foundation. [p 133]
I acknowledge that the point being made here is a good one, but the subsequent analysis is too timid. There are too many details to cite here, but this should serve as a representative example:
The Panel concludes that while certain of the Killian documents mesh well with the official Bush records in terms of content, there are several significant inconsistencies that undercut the meshing notion. At a minimum, the inconsistencies should have prevented an unqualified assertion as of September 8 that the Killian documents fit precisely into the pattern of the official Bush records.
The frequent use of the formula "at a minimum" indicates that the panel wants to suggest greater deviance than it is willing to actually state. I suspect that this formula is being used to mollify the critics of CBS without actually agreeing with them. That is not good enough.

Political Bias:
The Panel is aware that some have ascribed political motivations to 60 Minutes Wednesday’s decision to air the September 8 Segment just two months before the presidential election, while others further found political bias in the program itself. The Panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges. However, the Panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at 60 Minutes Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the Segment or its content.

Given that the Panel does not believe that political motivations drove the September 8 Segment, questions likely will be raised as to why these massive breakdowns occurred on this story at an organization like CBS News with its heritage and stated commitment to the highest standards of journalism. The Panel heard from many that the Rather/Mapes team was a formidable force at 60 Minutes Wednesday. Great trust was placed in Mapes, a highly respected producer who had just produced a widely acclaimed segment on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, and vast deference was given to Rather, the “face” of CBS News. These factors, along with the “crash” of the production, contributed greatly to the failures of the September 8 Segment and the Aftermath.
Two words: "smoke screen". The second paragraph does not show any evidence that the panel understands the question that it is attempting to answer: how the failure of respected journalists in light of the highly charged political context of the segment can be explained other than by the a political agenda. The answer seems to be that they failed because they were highly respected and influential, which is nonsense. Elsewhere in the Executive Summary and the main body, the failure is characterized as "myopic zeal to be the first news organization to broadcast what was believed to be a new story about President Bush’s TexANG service" which at least makes more sense, but still does not support the conclusion that political bias was not a factor.

Hugh Hewitt rightly points out that this second deficiency of the panel's report obscures (or, in his words, "whitewashes") the crucial question that the report should have answered: to what extent can we trust CBS (and I would suggest the mainstream media at large) given their utter failure to correct or even admit their bias?
This is an abdication by the Panel of the central question. The report ends with this absurd conclusion:

"Inevitably, some inside and outside CBS News will fault a few, if not many, of the Panel's findings and conclusions. We will have been too tough, too easy, intrusive, timid, unfair, naïve, gullible or more. This is not a simple story, but we are confident that we have told it fully and fairly."

"Too tough?" With a punt on the central question of the controversy? CBS got what it wanted --a slap on the wrist, an apparent wrap-up with the dismissal of some underlings. The culture of undisclosed bias gets a pass, and the obvious corruption of the "news" process in the service of the Democratic Party is classified as "unknowable" because Dan Rather and Mary Mapes said they weren't partisans? What a joke, as transparent a whitewash as the documents were forgeries.

To their credit, the Los Angeles Times partly acknowledges that this report is insufficient. Though it focuses on the firing of Mary Mapes, while Dan Rather is allowed to retire with dignity, at least the Times seems aware that there is more to this story.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Never Caught a Rabbit, Aint No Friend of Mine

The Daily Standard's Jonathan Last is disappointed with self-proclaimed media watchdog Corey Pein of Columbia Journalism Review:

THE COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW has a long, proud history of ignoring the story of the forged documents used by Dan Rather and CBS News. You'll recall that the scandal first broke on September 9, 2004, when a group of bloggers publicly questioned the validity of the four CBS memos. In the ensuing media scramble to get to the bottom of the story, blogs and big journalistic outfits such as ABC News, the Dallas Morning News, and the Washington Post took turns breaking news about the forgery, and then about the real source of the documents. (For a full history, click here.)


BUT NOW CJR'S flagship magazine has waded into the fray, albeit four months late, with a long analysis of the story by Corey Pein.

Pein's article, "Blog-Gate," posits, somewhat counterintuitively, that the lesson of CBS's "forged" documents is that the media are allowing themselves to be manipulated by a throng of right-wing bloggers. Says Pein, "on close examination the scene looks less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule."

The case Pein makes against bloggers rests largely on one point: That the CBS documents were not forged. Pein says that the memos "it turns out, were of unknown origin."

"We don't know enough to justify the conventional wisdom: that the documents were 'apparently bogus,'" Pein says. He adds, "We don't know whether the memos were forged, authentic, or some combination thereof." (Authentically forged, perhaps?) And finding proof for Pein may well be impossible. "The bottom line," he says, "which credible document examiners concede, is that copies cannot be authenticated either way with absolute certainty." Which suggests that, to Pein's mind, it is actually impossible to prove that the documents are forgeries.
Last's criticism focuses on the radical agnosticism of Pein's article, the epistemological equivalent of moral relativism, concluding with the biting punch-line:
So goes it at the Columbia Journalism Review. The university's motto may still be "In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen," but over at the j-school they have a new slogan: You can't prove anything.
But I think there is more to be said here. Pein is not merely sceptical about the possibility of knowing whether or not the documents were forged. He has seriously mischaracterized the argument that Newcomer and others involved in the debate were making. Consider this excerpt, which is the most coherent part of Pein's article:
Newcomer gave the press what it wanted: a definite answer. The problem is, his proof turns out to be far less than that. Newcomer’s résumé — boasting a Ph.D. in computer science and a role in creating electronic typesetting — seemed impressive. His conclusions came out quickly, and were bold bordering on hyperbolic. The accompanying analysis was long and technical, discouraging close examination. Still, his method was simple to replicate, and the results were easy to understand:
Based on the fact that I was able, in less than five minutes . . . to type in the text of the 01-August-1972 memo into Microsoft Word and get a document so close that you can hold my document in front of the ‘authentic’ document and see virtually no errors, I can assert without any doubt (as have many others) that this document is a modern forgery. Any other position is indefensible.
Red flags wave here, or should have. Newcomer begins with the presumption that the documents are forgeries, and as evidence submits that he can create a very similar document on his computer. This proves nothing — you could make a replica of almost any document using Word. Yet Newcomer’s aggressive conclusion is based on this logical error.
This would be a logical error if that were what Newcomer had been claiming but it was not. His claim was that Killian could not have produced the documents given the existing technology at the time. The fact that they could be easily produced on MS Word is not in itself damning, but it corroborates the theory that it was a modern forgery. By analogy, if the glove had fit OJ's hand, it would not prove the was the murderer, but it would have supported the prosecutions theory in combination of the other evidence. (Meryl Yourish evidently has a similar defense of Newcomer here, but her site seems to be overwhelmed by the Daily Standard's link.)

Pein then tries to support his agnosticism by calling into question the suggestion that the typography could not have been produced on period machines:
The specific points of contention about the memos are too numerous to go into here. One, the raised “th” character appearing in the documents, became emblematic of the scandal, as Internet analysts contended that typewriters at the time of the memo could not produce that character. But they could, in fact, according to multiple sources. Some of the CBS critics contend they couldn’t produce the specific “th” seen in the CBS documents. But none other than Bobby Hodges, who was Colonel Killian’s Guard supervisor, thinks otherwise. He told CJR, “The typewriter can do that little ‘th,’ sure it can.” He added, “I didn’t think they were forged because of the typewriter, spacing, or signature. The only reason is because of the verbiage.”
The problem is that no one has actually been able to reproduce such a document on a period machine. Jeff Harrell at The Shape Of Days did a thorough analysis of the IBM Selectric Composer typesetting machine that is the most viable possibility suggested and could not experimentally reproduce even a close approximation of the memo in question. The fact that Bobby Hodges or any of the other "multiple sources" thinks otherwise is not really impressive in the absence of actual evidence to support his assertion.

So the argument comes down to three basic propositions:
1. We can show that the documents could be produced on modern software.
2. No one has shown that the documents could have been been produced on period hardware.
3. Even if they could have been so produced, it is not likely that Killian would have had access to such hardware.
The most likely conclusion, therefore is that they are late forgeries. Would this argument satisfy Rene Descartes? Possibly not. But who cares? It isn't strict logic but an application of our intuition of what is likely that drives our day to day conclusion that we are not merely butterflies dreaming that we are men.

Some watchdog!

UPDATE: Yourish's site is now back up. In addition to the post noted above, she also responds to critics here. She isn't making precisely the same argument as I am, but it is well worth reading. Here is a brief excerpt:
When I first started in typesetting, Harper's Bazaar was still being set by a hot lead type shop in New York. I know this, because shortly after I joined Publisher's Phototype (now Applied Graphics Technologies), we got the Harper's account. It tooks us weeks of painstaking work to match our computer typefaces to the ones in the magazine.

I was assigned to the team that set up new accounts. I would sometimes spend an entire shift matching the type in a single article. I never—never—got a clean match on the first try. Nobody ever did. Matching type was and is the most frustrating, exacting, painstaking, time-consuming process that exists in any aspect of publishing. Imagine having to take the same few paragraphs and incrementally increase or decrease the spacing between characters, words, even between kerning pairs such as ff or WA. (If you ever want to torture me, just sit me down and make me match type. You'll get anything you want from me in an hour or two.)

Remember this when you realize that Charles Johnson typed the Killian memo into Word using the default settings and came up with a near-perfect match—the first time.
Her punch-line is also memorable: "Shoddy, slipshod research, false accusations, and ignoring important facts—isn't that what caused Memogate in the first place?" Heh.

Speaking of Allah and Tsunamis...

It appears that the False God is not gone for good, as some of us had feared. It is not clear if he has come to terms with his recent ennui, but I hope he gets over it before it incurs any more casualties.

To be honest, I have been kind of pissed at him for his jaded comments, but I didn't want to kick him when he was down. It may be because I look at this whole enterprise as a sort of evangelism -- not in the strictly religious sense, but still as a kind of bearing witness to the truth on a lower level. So I hate to see someone whom I had considered as some sense on my side turn out not to share my commitment to the cause. Not that my own slothful posting really qualifies me to criticize someone else's lack of enthusiasm. Sometimes we all need a break, but I really don't see that cynicism is warranted.

...Anyway, glad to see that he's still around (and photoshopping for a worthy cause). Life was a little less sunny without his wit and talent.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Tsunami and the Will of Allah

I haven't had much to say about the tsunami, largely because I have a certain horror of stating the obvious. What can you say about a death toll in multiple thousands that climbs faster than it can be reported? I had thought of commenting, when the toll was only around 20,000, that natural disasters don't seem to have as devastating effects in free countries: Florida was recently hit by four successive hurricanes and the damage is measured in dollars, not bodies. (I don't believe the Florida death toll has risen above 100, but I cannot find a comprehensive report. Charley seems to have accounted for 19 deaths but that includes accidents after the fact due to damaged infrastructure.) But, while true, it seems a little callous to be making such points in the face of such enormous tragedy. A big part of the horror of natural disasters comes from the fact that there don't seem to be many moral lessons to be drawn.

However, this story from Ralph Peters of the New York Post caught my attention:

The key outcome of the disaster is going to appear in Indonesia, especially on the ravaged island of Sumatra, where Aceh province suffered the worst effects of the tsunami. [...]

Aceh lies in the far northwest of Indonesia's mini-empire of 17,000 islands. Islam penetrated there six centuries ago, arriving with traders from the Arabian peninsula. Early ties with Mecca gave the faith of the Prophet deeper roots and stricter tenets in Aceh than elsewhere in Indonesia, where Islam came later and Muslim beliefs are wonderfully muddled with folk religion, Buddhist strains and even hints of Hinduism.

As a result, Aceh has suffered under a long Islamic insurgency that means to establish an independent state closer in spirit to Riyadh than to Jakarta. Wandering through Indonesia, I was struck by the complexity and humanity of the many local variants of Islam -- and by the lack of interest in the Aceh-style intolerance the Saudis were anxious to spread throughout the country.
Since the majority of my prayers regarding Indonesia had previously been with regard to the oppression of the church by these very people, I feel somewhat mixed emotions on reading this. I suppose my feelings may be somewhat akin to those of relatives of survivors of 9/11. On the one hand you are devastated by the destruction, but still overwhelmingly relieved that your people made it through. It is not altogether a comfortable reaction to experience, but I would be dishonest if I tried to say anything else.

But Mr. Peters has some further insights:
At present, the United States is doing the right thing -- and the wise thing -- by hurrying aid to Aceh. The efforts are critical in purely human terms, and they also help polish our tarnished relations with Indonesia, the world's most-populous Muslim country. But we need to have realistic expectations. The Acehnese may remember our help fondly, but aid alone will not change the province's centuries-old prejudices.

Such change must come from within. We can play a constructive role on the margins, but the dynamic that matters is already at work within the local society. The question that matters is this: How will Indonesians interpret the disaster that has befallen Aceh?

Earthquakes, plagues and famines can either drag a population backward into superstition -- or thrust it forward into a new spirit of inventiveness and creativity. Disasters sharpen the popular intellect, loosen social structures and pose fundamental questions: Why did God do this? What is the meaning of our suffering? Is there a meaning?

Given Aceh's fundamentalist tradition, the response from local mullahs (whose authority is threatened) is apt to be the age-old claim that Allah punished Aceh because it had already become too liberal. The popular interpretation of events is unpredictable for now, but we could see Aceh becoming even more devout -- or opening up.


The crucial strategic results actually may appear elsewhere in Indonesia, where Saudi-funded agents have been struggling to destroy liberal Islam. On Java or Sulawesi, the lesson is that Aceh's oppressive religion didn't protect it; on the contrary, Allah struck those who were most prideful about their faith. The earthquake and tsunami may have drowned Saudi-funded extremism as surely as it did the Sumatran countryside.
I try not to have too superstitious a view of world events. While I believe that God orders all things, great and small, according to his providence, I don't like to assume that there is any particular message in a given occurrence. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that fundamentalist Islam does indeed tend to have such a superstitious outlook so it will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

One great advantage the forces of civilization have in this struggle is that the Saudis, while glad to fund hate-dripping extremists, are stingy when it comes to relieving human suffering. Just as they have kept the Palestinians on the verge of poverty for decades, they've been slow off the mark in assisting their fellow Muslims struck by the tsunami.

Even when the Saudis do make a half-hearted attempt at relief efforts, they fail miserably. The worst-run refugee camp I've ever entered was a Saudi-sponsored plague-pit in Azerbaijan. When the local Muslims resisted the harsh Wahabi codes of behavior, the Saudis abandoned them. All that remained were a few corrupt contracts, a broken computer and cholera.

Despite early U.N. trash-talk that U.S. aid is inadequate, we're the force on the scene. Only we have the ability to reach out and help with such alacrity and power. It's a shame we don't know how to fight the public-relations battle.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is going to be a fascinating country to watch. The tsunami's ultimate effects, beyond the dreadful human toll, are unpredictable. But the opportunities for a troubled region to stride ahead are far greater than the current devastation suggests. This tragedy may mark the start of a new, more-hopeful era.

It's not about the buildings, but the souls.

UPDATE: Arthur Chrenkoff notes that the Aceh separatists are already trying to make political use of the disaster:
In Indonesia, the hardest hit province of Aceh has also been the most troublesome for the central government for the past three decades, with its own dreams of independence. And post-tsunami the problems continue. As if chaos wasn't bad enough: "Separatists in Aceh, the Indonesian province ravaged by tsunamis a week ago, today accused the military of using the disaster to step up its campaign against rebels."
Doesn't seem like a good sign.

Good News News

Jack Kelly laments the decline of main stream journalism:

Last year was a lousy year for newspapers. Circulation was stagnant, or dropped, at two thirds of all dailies in America, including such biggies as the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, where readership is in free fall.

Most years recently have been bad years for newspapers. In 1950, 123 percent of households subscribed to a newspaper. (One household in five subscribed to more than one paper.) Today the figure is less than 53 percent.

Circulation declines may be larger than these numbers indicate. Four big newspapers -- the Chicago Sun Times, the Dallas Morning News, Long Island's Newsday, and the Spanish language newspaper Hoy -- have admitted supplying bogus numbers to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The evening newscasts on network television have been losing viewers even faster than newspapers have been shedding readers. Audiences for the nightly news on ABC, NBC and CBS have fallen 59 percent from their peak in 1969. At dinner time in 1980, 75 percent of all television sets in use were tuned to one of the three nightly newscasts. Last year, barely more than one in five were.
Why do I call this news "good"? Because it indicates the breakup of one of the two major elites that have come to dominate American culture (the other is the education system).

In the early days of journalism, newspapers were run by entrepreneurs who were more or less independent and competitive. But like other aspects of the Industrial Revolution, journalism went through a period of consolidation that resulted in the dominance of a few mega-corporations by the end of the 20th century. A good history of this trend can be found here. Now that online sources are beginning to challenge that dominance, there is an opportunity for increased freedom unprecedented in history.

Of course, the caveat remains that just as the print media went through a period of consolidation, so too can the online world be dominated by a few influential voices. Right now, the top bloggers have an ideology that embraces competition and free debate but that isn't necessarily a guarantee that future generations will continue to do so. As Mr. Kelly points out:
If our only problem were technological, newspapers would still be in pretty good shape. Radio and television deprived us of the ability to give you breaking news first. But since all you can get in a couple of minutes on the hour and half hour is the headlines, and all the copy in a half hour television newscast would barely fill a single newspaper column, we still had a large lead in providing depth and context to the news.

That's where our trust problem kicks in. Journalists rank near the bottom of the professions in honesty and ethical standards, according to Gallup's annual survey. Last year, only 21 percent of respondents said newspaper reporters had high or very high ethical standards.
So, although technology is driving the current trend, the ultimate issue is, as usual, a moral one. And betting on the continued moral excellence of people is usually a losing proposition.

On the other hand, there is a ratcheting effect to freedom. Once a new level of freedom is reached, it tends to be resistant to subsequent restrictions: our access to information even under the most monopolistic of mainstream media is greater than those places that do not have a free press. A can of worms having been opened, the only way to re-can them is with a larger can.

I am pleased to see this window of opportunity open, even if in retrospect it turns out to have been brief.

(Via Instapundit)

Water Meters for Conservation

Andrew Morriss of the Commons notes that Massachusetts has finally passed legislation allowing landlords to bill their tenants for water usage:

Amazingly, "consumer advocates" opposed the idea as an "unfair" attack on tenants. For example, the National Consumer Law Center (which bills itself as "America's Consumer Law Experts, Protecting Vulnerable Consumers and Promoting Marketplace Justice") set out the case against "submetering" in a 2003 position paper. For a "pro-submetering" analysis from EPA, see here.

It is a remarkable thing that the notion of charging for use of scarce resources is actually controversial and yet another example of how interfering with markets harms the environment.
I would further point out that if people were truly concerned about the effect on the poor who cannot afford to pay their water bills, some other form of assistance could have been offered. Making it illegal to bill tenants subsidizes waste by all economic classes, not just the poor. Similar issues occur with rent control which subsidizes upper income tenants and ultimately make less housing available.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Self-Correcting Bloggosphere

Ali, (formerly of Iraq the Model) offers an explanation and apology for his ominous-sounding final post. Not as big a story as people were speculating.