December 2005, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Site Improvements: Over the next year, I hope to make a series of improvements in this site, some visible, some not. I have a rough plan, which I lay out below. If you have any suggestions on any of the points, please email them to me. (Or on any other improvements, for that matter.)
(If you have even a little bit of geek in you, you may want to know that I run a triple boot system, with one hard disk for Windows XP, and a second hard disk partitioned to support two Linux installations, one working and one experimental.
And I should mention that one reason I do this site is the pleasure I get from designing and building it myself. That's why I haven't used the systems from Blogger, or Moveable Type, or the like, and don't plan to in the future. Doing it myself adds, sometimes considerably, to the work in building the site, but it adds even more to my enjoyment.)
- 2:38 PM, 30 December 2005
More: I am now leaning toward getting my connection from Verizon (which is also my phone company) and my web site from a cheap web hosting company, such as 1&1. For just $4.99 a month, they will give me my own domains, hundreds of times more space than I need at present, and every tool I can imagine using. The combination of Verizon and a 1&1 site would be ten dollars a month cheaper than getting both from Earthlink. And, though it adds a little complexity, it separates the responsibility neatly; any problems with the connection are Verizon's fault; any problems with the site are 1&1's fault.
Haven't chosen a domain name, though I promise it will be shorter and easier than the name I am now using. (Using my name, jimmiller.com, is out, since that domain name is already taken.)
- 5:53 AM, 2 January 2005 [link]
Biased BBC, Example 8: By way of a comment at this Biased BBC post, I found this BBC story on changes in the internet during 2005.
In the middle of this rambling (and not very well written) piece, there was this entirely gratuitous slam at the United States:
Still, it is good to see some second-generation internet plays finally coming good after the years of caution which followed the dotcom implosion.Why is that a shame? Bill Thompson, who is a "regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital", never explains. Nor does he thank the US innovators, even though he is happy to use their work.
(I said the article was poorly written. Here's an example:
We are already seeing new business models emerging on top of the growing number of home and small office wireless networks. Martin Varsavky's FON, for example, offers you software that can turn your network node into a shared wi-fi access point, either free to use if you're a "Linus" or charged for if you're a "Bill".There are lots of problems with that paragraph. Perhaps the worst is his assumption that all his readers will know what those references to "Linus" and "Bill" mean. Rather than trying to be cute, he should just have said users of Linux or Microsoft operating systems.)
- 7:27 AM, 30 December 2005 [link]
Everyone Else Is chuckling over this story.
The Washington couple at the heart of the CIA leak investigation had their cover blown by their small son as they tried to sneak away on vacation on Thursday.So I might as well join in the amusement. But I will add a serious point: This gives us one more reason to believe that the people most responsible for"outing" Valerie Plame were — Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. I seem to recall reading that Valerie Plame outed herself to Joe Wilson on their second date — which must have been, at the very least, a violation of CIA regulations. And from what we know of Wilson, there is every reason to believe he spread the story to everyone from his young son to gossipy journalists.
- 6:48 AM, 30 December 2005 [link]
Huge < Small? In this editorial, the Seattle Times said the amount of oil in ANWR, commonly estimated at 7 billion barrels, was "small". But in this article, the BBC describes a new Brazilian oil field, with perhaps 700 million barrels, as "huge".
Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobras, says it has discovered a huge new offshore oil field off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.I had always thought that "small" was, well, smaller than "huge". But the editorial writers at the Seattle Times are, I am sure, experts with words, so perhaps I am wrong, though my dictionary does not support them. Or perhaps the BBC and the Seattle Times have different definitions of these common words.
(Being serious for a moment — though it is hard when faced with this kind of nonsense — I'll just add that only "large" oil fields in the Arctic would interest drillers, because the fixed costs, even for a single well, are so high is such areas.)
- 8:46 AM, 29 December 2005 [link]
Don't Believe Everything You Read On The Internet: Everyone has heard that advice by now. Well, almost everyone. A Los Angeles Times reporter picked up an April Fool's joke from the internet and put it in a story without checking it.
A quote in a fake news release that was intended as an April Fool's joke ended up in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times. The story in Tuesday's editions of the Times noted how successful the reintroduction of wolves had been 10 years ago, but said the predators remained controversial.A hoax that started with an emailed April Fool's joke from a Wyoming outfitter, Maury Jones.
You don't have to be terribly suspicious to realize that the Freudenthal quote needs checking. The Endangered Species Act is federal legislation and cannot be abrogated by a state governor, a point established decisively in 1865. Nor does the language sound right to me.
But the reporter, Julie Carl, accepted the quotation without checking it and so, I suppose, did at least one editor at the Los Angeles Times. Why? I suspect they belong to the group I have begun calling urban imperialists; Carl and the editor or editors think they know what is best for rural areas and are not the least bit interested in listening to people in those areas, or the politicians that represent them. And so they don't have a very good feeling for what is real, and what is not, on rural issues.
(Here's the article, with the correction, if you want to read the whole thing. Are there other mistakes in the article? Most likely.
Two frequent critics of the newspaper, Mickey Kaus and "Patterico" were, naturally, delighted by this error.)
- 7:58 AM, 29 December 2005 [link]
Good News On Global Warming: Consider the following assertions: Concentrations of carbon dioxide and other other greenhouse gases were far higher in the past. Both the Arctic and the Antarctic were once much warmer than they are now. Or, to put it more generally:
In fact, the planet has nothing to worry about from global warming. A hot, steamy earth would be fine for most forms of life.And they also assert that the last time it was this warm, there was a big mammal radiation, with many new species.
So, who is making these cheerful assertions? Some crackpots employed by the oil companies? No, it is the good, grey New York Times, relying on scientists who know something about past climates. (And the reporter is Andrew Revkin, with whom I have had a disgreement or two in the past. From his record, I think it is safe to say that he is not a shill for the Bush administration.)
Earth scientists with the longest frames of reference, particularly those whose specialties begin with the prefix "paleo," often seem to be the least agitated about human-caused global warming.To be fair, Revkin goes on to argue that the pace matters, and that a fast warming might cause us far more problems than a slow warming. But the also admits that polar bears, which are often said to be threatened by global warming, survived a climate several degrees warmer 120,000 years ago. (My own view is that all large predators, from wolves to killer whales, survive only because we allow them to survive, often in zoos, or in protected areas.)
Will these arguments make the discussion of global warming more sensible? Probably not, because global warming is so useful as a cudgel with which to beat President Bush and the United States. But we can hope. (As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 10:02 AM, 28 December 2005 [link]
Idiotarian And Anti-Idiotarian Of The Year: Charles Johnson is seeking nominees for those two awards here and here. It is a little dismaying to see how many deserving nominees there already are for the first award.
Some have already picked a favorite for Idiotarian of the Year. Paul Mazur likes Cindy Sheehan, presumably for the bizarre way she has exploited her son's death. Michelle Malkin nominates the New York Times, presumably because the Times has done the most overall damage this last year. (Though my friends at the Biased BBC could make a good argument that another news organization has been even more destructive.)
The nominees for that award all seem so deserving that I can't really choose. What I may do is pick nominees for different categories: elected officials, journalists, actors, and so forth.
- 9:12 AM, 28 December 2005 [link]
Want To Know What Really Determines Gasoline Prices? Then you may want to look at this explanation from How Stuff Works, a fine reference site. Their examples are a bit dated, but their explanation is still correct. Among other things you will learn that, in the United States, the second largest component of gasoline costs is — taxes. (In most European countries, taxes are the largest component by far.)
And you will learn that the best guess about the amount of oil in ANWR is 7 billion barrels. The price of oil per barrel, as I write, is between 55 and 60 dollars. A quick multiplication will tell you that the oil in ANWR may be worth roughly 400 billion dollars. In this editorial, the Seattle Times said that was "only a small amount of oil". They have, I must say, a different definition of small than most of us.
(Of course, no one really knows how much oil there is in ANWR. But the potential is so large that it is silly not to find out.)
- 11:02 AM, 27 December 2005 [link]
Does Senator Cantwell Hate The Inuit? Probably not, but the Inuit who live in Kaktovik have good reason to think that she does. More than anyone else, those native Americans would benefit from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Many would be able to find jobs with the oil companies, which they need, if they are to have better lives in Kaktovik. A poll shows that a large majority of Kaktovik residents favor drilling in ANWR.
But Washington's junior senator blocked those jobs, and progress for the Inuit of Kaktovik, when she helped kill drilling in ANWR. Why does she favor blocking something so much in the interest of this small, poor native American village? I don't think that she was motivated by racism, though I would not exclude a related sin, which I call "urban imperialism". Urban imperialists do not live in rural areas, but are quite willing to set the rules for those who do, and are generally unwilling to listen to the residents of rural areas. Urban imperialists would be enraged if, for instance, the loggers of the Olympic peninsula and the farmers of the Columbia Basin were to make detailed regulations for the inner city residents of Seattle and Tacoma, but they feel quite comfortable doing the reverse.
A more important reason for Cantwell's actions was, most likely, electoral calculation. A large proportion of Washington's voters hold religious views* about the environment and by blocking drilling in ANWR she will delight those voters. And I would not be completely surprised to learn that Cantwell shares those religious views, in part. She claims to be a Catholic, but then so does John Kerry.
Cantwell's actions will also please many who believe that the oil companies are wicked, and that anything that thwarts the oil companies is good. (These same people often believe that gas prices are too high — and that oil companies should be blocked from drilling in ANWR and other "sacred" areas. I have never quite figured out how to respond to that combination.) It is no accident that Cantwell justified her actions in part with a demagogic attack on the oil companies — or that she ignored the immense sums that would go to the federal government if drilling in ANWR was successful.
And Cantwell may have still other motives. Extreme environmentalists often are large contributors to the Democratic party and its leftwing allies. Blocking ANWR will not hurt her fund raising.
Whatever Cantwell's motives, one thing is certain: She helped keep the Inuit of Kaktovik poor. I hope a few of them will come to Washington and campaign against her next year.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(*There's nothing original in this argument. John McPhee titled his 1971 book on the longtime head of the Sierra Club, David Brower, Encounters With the Archdruid, because Brower's opposition to almost any kind of development was essentially religious. You can see the religious nature of the opposition to drilling in ANWR in the language often used by opponents. The refuge, we are often told, is "sacred" and would be "desecrated" by those profane oil companies.
When discussing environmental issues, I have begun calling those with essentially religious motives, "preservationists", and those who just want cleaner air and water for people, "conservationists". The terms aren't perfect, but they fit historically. (A few who support the preservationists do so for entirely selfish reasons; they want to keep wild areas for themselves.) I am a staunch conservationist, but not at all a preservationist.
Once you recognize the religious motives of the preservationists, you will realize that what they want may often be unconstitutional. The 1st Amendment prevents the federal government from building cathedrals for the Catholic church; it also prevents the federal government from providing sacred groves for the Sierra Club.
The Seattle Times, which supported Senator Cantwell in 2000, ran an embarrassing editorial applauding her efforts to keep the Inuit of Kaktovik impoverished. As is true of most city newspapers, the Times is full of urban imperialists. And so they have no trouble in keeping the Inuit of Kaktovik too poor even to have indoor plumbing.
You will sometimes see the claim that Alaskan natives do not support the drilling. Those who make that claim support it by referring to the Gwich'in, who do oppose drilling. What those people almost never tell you is that the Gwich'in live hundreds of miles from the drilling site, and favored drilling on their own lands in the past.Need to brush up on the Inuit? Here's the Wikipedia entry, where you will learn, among other things that the singular of Inuit is "Inuk" or "Inuq".)
- 9:52 AM, 27 December 2005 [link]
The Curious "Ethics" Of Journalists: Betsy Newmark has a post worth reading on the curious ethics of journalists, who — sometimes — believe that they should tolerate immoral, and even criminal, actions so that they can be objective reporters. They say that a journalist should be, in Walter Lippmann's famous phrase, like a fly on the wall, seeing all, but having no feelings about it.
What sparked Newmark's interest in this debate over the role of a journalist is the actions of New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald in covering a internet child porn story. Eichenwald helped a young man who had been drawn into internet pornography as a minor escape from that world, even providing him with legal help. For that, most of us non-journalists would say that Eichenwald deserves praise. But if you adhere to the fly-on-the-wall theory of the proper role of journalists, then Eichenwald behaved badly, and deserves the criticism he gets from Slate's press critic, Jack Shafer.
The fly-on-the-wall theory never made sense to me. I see no reason a person can not be an objective observer and react as any decent person would to wrongdoing. In fact, to react effectively, a person usually must first observe objectively. And, of course, though journalists often use the theory to justify ignoring criminality, they are remarkably selective about their adherence to the theory. It is no secret that, to take an obvious example, NPR's Nina Totenberg is more an activist than an objective journalist, especially when covering abortion stories. And it is easy to find many similar examples. Far from being flies on the wall, many journalists are combatants in the arena, sometimes even open combatants.
(Former journalist and author Tony Hillerman used Lippmann's phrase as the title for a detective story with a journalist as protagonist. I like it better than any of his Navajo detective stories, even though I disagree, to say the least, with the moral argument he makes in the story.)
- 7:36 AM, 27 December 2005 [link]
Will The New York Times Cover This Story? Our newspaper of record likes to boast that it gives us "All the news that's fit to print". But there is a story, a big story, that I do not expect them to cover — at least not more than superficially. And that is the negative reaction to their efforts to uncover our intelligence operations discussed below.
I am hardly the only person in the United States who is appalled by the damage they may have done to our security, or the only person to be disgusted on the way they have abetted law breaking. The Times could not have published these stories without illegal leaks from former and current government employees. (And the same is true of most similar stories by other news organizations.) One can argue that abetting such leaks is in the public interest in some cases, but no such argument can be made here — at least not by anyone not in the grip of "Bush Derangement Syndrome".
Here's how Tom Maguire, a reasonable and very well informed man, begins his latest post on the subject:
The NY Times escalates its war on America with its latest revelations about the high-tech capability of the NSA to monitor and data-mine international communications.I haven't accused the Times of making "war on America", but I can understand why Maguire does.
If anything, the editorial pages of the Times are worse than their news pages, and Robert Musil, another reasonable and well informed man, has this to say about a recent editorial:
Buffalo Springfield sang with eerie, unknowing prescience about the future of the New York Times when they trilled: Paranoia strikes deep, Into your life it will creep, It starts when you're always afraid ... Many at the helm and keyboards of the New York Times have long teetered on the very edge of full blown paranoia, but yesterday's Times editorial "Mr. Cheney's Imperial Presidency", which says the vice president is literally attempting to make the United States into a dictatorship (among many other nefarious purposes) is a headlong plunge into the abyss:I haven't accused the Times of "full blown paranoia", but I can understand why Musil does.
How many people would agree with the three of us on these criticisms of the New York Times? Without a poll on the subject, I can't say for sure. But I would give high odds that at least one in ten Americans would agree with much or all of those criticisms. And that more would if they were aware of the facts. And that's a big story, though it may never be published in the New York Times.
The story may not even make the letters page. The letters editor at the New York Times protects the newspaper from criticism far more than letters editors do at most other newspapers. He is unwilling to print criticism of the Times nearly as harsh as the criticism of the Bush administration found routinely in the editorial pages. (As I have said before, the newspaper can dish it out, but can't take it.) Their star columnists can routinely say that Bush lied, but even when there is strong evidence that these same columnists deceived the public, letters to that effect will not be published in the Times. So, a large segment of the American public may agree with the criticisms of the Times from Maguire, Musil, and myself, but you are unlikely to see that in the Times — even in letters to the editor.
(I first wrote about the New York Times policy on letters here, and noted that the Times confirmed my diagnosis here. Strangely, I recently saw a piece describing an appearance by editorial page editor Gail Collins, in which she bemoaned the fact that the newspaper did not get many conservative letters. Maybe they would get more if they didn't censor them so severely.)
- 1:08 PM, 26 December 2005 [link]
Why No Attacks On The US Since 9/11? After the 9/11 attack, I expected more, as I think nearly all of us did. But, with the possible exception of the anthrax letters (which may have been perpetrated by the same people who did the 9/11 attacks), there have been no significant Islamic terror attacks on the United States since 9/11.
We don't know — and we may never know — all the answers to that question. But we do know one answer: Our intelligence operations have uncovered a number of plots before the Islamists could strike. Intelligence allowed us to prevent attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and an assassination attempt against President Bush. And we can be reasonably certain that we have had other successes that we have not heard about, since it is in the nature of intelligence operations in war time that, though we may sometimes hear about the failures, we almost never hear about the successes.
These intelligence successes should encourage all of us. Success in the war against terrorism depends, tactically, almost entirely on intelligence. If we know where the terrorists are, we can kill or capture them. If we know what they plan, we can stop them. In that, it is unlike a conventional war, where the balance of forces is — usually — what decides the outcome.
And so what is much of our press doing? Trying to reveal as many of our intelligence operations as possible. Which can not help us, and may help the terrorists.
Why are the New York Times, the Washington Post, the US News and World Report, and other news organizations running these stories? I do not for a moment think that they are doing it to help the terrorists, even though that may be the effect. And I do not think that they have a single motive. Some of the journalists —Dana Priest of the Washington Post comes to mind — seem to be motivated by a childish desire to share any secrets, just because they can. (And I think she is also working quite consciously with a CIA faction that is opposed to President Bush.) Others — Bill Keller of the New York Times comes to mind — appear to be motivated by a general opposition to President Bush. That explains, for instance, why the stories on the NSA operations in the New York Times did not give us what I think is essential background, the fact that President Bush was doing what Presidents Carter through Clinton have also done.
And there is one more motive that might explain these stories. Journalists are generally on the left, sometimes on the far left. And much of the far left considers the use of force by the United States undesirable, or even illegitimate. They are not, generally, pure pacifists; they do not oppose the use of force in all cases. Rather, they oppose force when it is used by a guilty nation, which is how they see the United States.
There is a remarkable example of that kind of thinking in Byron York's The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy*. Here's how one leftwing activist reacted to 9/11:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a young man named David Pickering was at his parents' home in Brooklyn — he had graduated from the University of Chicago a few months earlier and was looking for a job — when he heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center. He went outside to see what was happening. Astonished by the sight, Pickering, an aspiring filmmaker, grabbed his video camera and hopped on the subway; unlike the thousands of people struggling to flee Manhattan, he was actually trying to get closer to Ground Zero. He got as far as an elevated train platform with a view of the burning towers. And there he stood as the buildings fell.And what was Pickering feeling at the same time? You can tell from what he did:
The next day, Pickering put his thoughts in writing. he drafted a petition imploring President George W. Bush and other world leaders to show "moderation and restraint" in responding to the attacks. He asked Bush "to use, wherever possible, international judicial institutions and international human rights to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks, rather than the instruments of war violence or destruction."I am not arguing that many American journalists shared Pickering's views, at least not immediately after 9/11. But I do think that many of our journalists have more moderate versions of Pickering's views. They may not think that the United States is always guilty and that the use of American force is never justified, but they are far more dubious about such things than the average citizen. And that leads them to be dubious about intelligence operations, too, despite the evidence that these operations have saved American lives.
How do our journalists deal with the possibility that their exposes may cost lives? As far as I can tell, they simply don't think about that.
(*The title is partly a joke, and a joke that originated on the left. Leftist meant by it, not exactly a conspiracy, but organizations that could respond to the right, which was as they saw it, far better organized. As I have mentioned before, activists on both ends of the spectrum tend to believe that the other side is tougher and better organized.
We don't know how effective these intelligence operations have been, but there are some hints in this Weekly Standard piece.)
- 8:23 AM, 26 December 2005 [link]
More Christmas: If you need more, Michelle Malkin has (naturally) a link-filled post. And the Medpundit, who was on call Christmas Day, tells us about the dark side of the holiday. For many, Christmas is a time of increased emotional suffering. To avoid that, it may be well to take Tony Snow's advice and celebrate Christmas as children do.
A child experiences Christmas as magic -- as a shimmering moment when the impossible becomes possible through means youngsters don't dare try to understand, and cannot afford to doubt.And if we allow ourselves to appreciate Christmas more as children do, most of those around us will be grateful.
(Happy Boxing Day to all our friends in Australia, Britain, Canada, and anywhere else it is celebrated.)
- 6:17 AM, 26 December 2005 [link]
Merry Christmas!(Or Happy Hanukkah, if that is what you are celebrating today.)
- 5:08 AM, 25 December 2005 [link]