Archive:

June 2003, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The New York Times  persistently attacks concentrations of power in business and in politics, at least conservative politics.  The newspaper never seems to feel that its own political power is improper.  The executive editor of the Times, who is not elected, but chosen by a man who inherited his position, has more power to set the national agenda, through his influence on the major networks, than any man, except the president.  Howell Raines exercised that power with increasing arrogance during his time as running the newspaper.  Collin Levey, writing for a competing newspaper, says Howell's downfall was a victory for the little guy.   I agree, and I hope his downfall will lead to less power for the unelected men who control our newspaper of record.
- 3:20 PM, 6 June 2003   [link]


Nonviolent Norwegian Criminals  often wait years to serve their sentences, I learned from an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.   (Not available on line without a subscription.)  Norwegians call those waiting to serve their sentences, the "prison queue".  There are now 2,762 in the queue, almost as many as there are in Norway's prisons, 2,900.  The length of time they must wait is unpredictable, so those in the queue have difficulties planning their lives.  Norway has been reluctant to build new prisons, in spite of rising crime.  (Of course their crime rate is still far lower than that in the United States or Britain, for that matter.)  Perhaps, like authorities here in the United States during the 1960s, the Norwegian government has been unwilling to accept the increase in crime as real and permanent.

(Though the article does not mention it, one wonders whether some of the rise in crime is caused by their small Muslim population.)
- 3:04 PM, 6 June 2003   [link]


Foreign Elites Hate the US:  At least the foreign elites who are published in foreign newspapers.  This column, published last December, describes how negative the world's press is toward the United States, much more so than the populations of most countries.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project's recent gargantuan survey, which stretched its tentacles across 44 countries and included some 38,000 people, found that America's rating has slipped, but "a reserve of goodwill toward the country still remains."

That seems a windfall for America's image abroad compared to the decisively negative views we discovered in our own yearlong study of foreign elite opinion.  While the Pew project focused on the masses, our study measured the reaction of foreign elites—that is, people who shape the foreign and domestic policies in their countries—to the events of 9/11, as reflected in the international press.  We analyzed more than 4,000 articles from the 10 largest newspapers in China, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, India and Russia, most of them published Sept. 12-15, 2001.  While many of these articles were written by pundits who are paid to be provocative, we also separated and measured the opinions of political, business, cultural and religious leaders.

Our major finding: Elites in much of the world hate the USA.  Even the so-called outpouring of sympathy for America following 9/11 never really materialized among most foreign elites.
The elites hate us because of our power.
Power is the prism through which elites overseas view America.  The "superpower status" of the USA is the leading characteristic in foreign elites' descriptions of America.  The country's power is indeed the main cause of anti-Americanism in the world.
It is the exercise of American power that offends them, more than our objectives.

I'll see if I can find this study and give you more of its results.
- 9:39 AM, 6 June 2003   [link]


Misinterpreting the Pew International Survey:  Yesterday's USA Today article on the Pew Survey of opinions in 20 nations began with this lead paragraph:
As President Bush plunges into Middle East diplomacy, a survey of 20 nations and the Palestinian Authority shows widespread distrust of his leadership, skepticism in the region about his plan for peace and less regard for the United States around the world.
This is, at the very best, misleadingly incomplete.  Suppose a weatherman was reporting temperatures and had the following four daily highs (in Fahrenheit), 83, 75, 48, and 70.  Would you think it a fair summary if the weatherman said that the weather was getting colder?  But that is precisely what USA Today does in the article.   Here is a table with the data for all 20 nations:

Favorable View of US (per cent)
1999-SummerMarchMay
2000200220032003
Israel79
Great Britain83754870
Kuwait63
Canada717263
Nigeria467761
Australia60
Italy76703460
South Korea585346
Germany78612545
France62633143
Spain501438
Russia37612836
Brazil565234
Morocco7727
Lebanon3527
Indonesia756115
Turkey52301215
Pakistan231013
Jordan251
Palestinian Authority141


If you look at the table, you will find several patterns, with a few interesting exceptions.  In the first two blocks of countries, Israel through Brazil, positive feelings toward the United States fell a bit between 2000 and 2002 in most countries, fell sharply just before the war with Iraq, and have already recovered to near pre-war levels.  In the Muslim countries in the third block, positive feelings collapsed somewhere between 2000 and 2003.  This change in Muslim views is so important that I will analyze it in a separate post, and will limit this discussion to the opinion in the other nations.

The most important pattern that I see is this:  In every single nation for which we have March and May data, the image of the United States improved in that period.  In other words, the trend is in our favor.  Would you have guessed that from reading the lead paragraph I quoted?

Two exceptions in the table are significant.  Views of the United States in Russia now seem to be back to where they were in 2000, after a remarkable rise in 2002.   One wonders if there wasn't some systematic problem in the Russian polling that year.   Nigeria, a country about half Muslim, now has a higher opinion of the United States than it did in 2000.  Since Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, that probably says something about how we are viewed in the sub-Saharan part of Africa.

The USA Today article was misleading, but other newspapers were simply wrong.  I found the same negative spin in the New York Times, the Seattle PI, and the Washington Post.   The headlines for their three articles were, respectively, "World's View of U.S. Sours After Iraq War, Poll Finds", "Worldwide opinion of U.S. drops since Iraq war, poll finds", and "Arab Hostility Toward U.S. Growing, Poll Finds".  The Seattle PI and New York Times headlines are directly contradicted by the data.  There is no data to support the Washington Post's headline, but, since opinion in every nation for which we do have data is shifting toward the United States, it is likely that opinion is shifting in that direction in Arab countries, too. (If you have seen articles with similar errors in other newspapers, let me know so I can add to this list.)

If you want to do your own analysis, you can download the report from the press release here.
- 6:42 PM, 5 June 2003   [link]


More Evidence We Need to Improve Science Teaching:  The controversy over Sammy Sosa's corked bat immediately made me wonder, as I have before, whether corked bats actually improve hitting.  Slate's Explainer has the answer:
The theoretical edge seems infinitesimal.  Assume a corker reduces his bat's weight by 1.5 ounces.  An average major league pitch travels from the pitcher's hand to the plate in a hair under half a second.  The corked bat will give the hitter an additional five-thousandths of a second to see the pitch, judge it, and get the bat head moving through the strike zone.

A quicker bat may help a struggling hitter catch up with pitches, but it actually reduces his ability to smack long drives.  The primary equation that determines a batted ball's distance is p = mv, where "p" is momentum, "m" is mass, and "v" is velocity. Though a corked bat will travel at a greater velocity, the tail-off in weight lessens the mass.  As a result, sluggers like Sosa will actually see the length of their moon shots decrease.  In his book The Physics of Baseball, Yale physicist Robert K. Adair estimated that a corked bat will shave about a yard off a 400-foot tater.
So, a corked bat won't help physically.  (It might, like a placebo, help if the batter believes it will help.)  If Sosa had had better physics instruction, he would know this.
- 8:23 AM, 5 June 2003   [link]


Two Decades Ago  there were just 22 California condors left.  All were captured and put in a captive breeding program, which has raised their total numbers to 221.  Most are still in the captive breeding program, but we are now returning some to the wild.  Since they did not grow up in the wild, being taught by their condor parents, they have much to learn about avoiding people, coyotes, and power lines.  Sandra Blakeslee gives us this entertaining account of how biologists are teaching these adolescent condors to "Straighten Up and Fly Right", as the title of the print version puts it.  Anyone familiar with middle schools will sympathize with the biologists.

There are some general lessons here, too.  As this, and many other examples, illustrate, the United States is improving our environment and helping our endangered species.  Sometimes these efforts have surprising opponents; as Blakeslee delicately puts it:
But the idea of breeding condors in captivity has its opponents.  Some say the birds—decimated by lead poisoning, power lines and other environmental insults—should be allowed to disappear with dignity.
The opponents of saving the condors, whom Blakeslee does not identify, are extreme environmentalists, who prefer to have an extinct condor and an issue, to having the live bird.
- 8:10 AM, 5 June 2003   [link]


Marvin the Martian  will be returning to Mars.   The Warner Brothers cartoon figure is on the official logo of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, along with Daffy Duck.  This shows how forgiving we earthlings are, since Marvin tried to destroy our planet, in most episodes of the cartoon.
- 7:39 AM, 5 June 2003   [link]


Deducing Email Addresses:  In this post, Eugene Volokh explained how to get a partial list of email addresses from the New York Times.   There is another way to get an email address for a journalist, even if they don't list them openly.  It won't work in every case, but should for most.  If you look at the some email addresses from the New York Times staff list, you can make an intelligent guess at those they don't list:
Len Apcar........................apcar@nytimes.com
Peter Applebome...........peappl@nytimes.com
Eric Asimov.....................asimov@nytimes.com
Steve Bailey.....................stbailey@nytimes.com
Deborah Baldwin..........Baldwin@nytimes.com
Carla Baranauckas.......carlab@nytimes.com
Josh Barbanel.................barbanel@nytimes.com
David Barboza................barboza@nytimes.com
Felicity Barringer..........febarr@nytimes.com
Dan Barry.......................dabarry@nytimes.com
David Barstow................barstow@nytimes.com
You can see that most of them are formed using one of three rules.  For short names, the personal part of the address is formed either from the last name, or from the first two letters of the first name and the last name.  For long names, the personal part of the address is formed from the first two letter of the first name and the first four letters of the last name.  So, if you wanted to email Howell Raines, who is not included in the list, you could try either "raines@nytimes.com", or "horaines@nytimes.com".  (I haven't tried either, and suspect that, as an executive, he has a special email address.)

Other organizations have similar rules, usually less complicated than those at the Times.  For example, if the Guardian were intelligent enough to hire me, my email address there would probably be "j.miller@guardian.co.uk".  Often seeing a single email address in an organization will be enough to let you deduce the rule they use.
- 5:35 PM, 4 June 2003   [link]


Progress Against Al Qaeda:  This comprehensive report from U. S. News is not just worth reading, it is worth going to the library to study so that you can see the pictures and diagrams unavailable in the web version.  Al Qaeda is now:
On the run.  Al Qaeda's wounds run deep.  Over half of its key operational leader is are out of action, officials tell U.S. News.  Its top leaders are increasingly isolated and on the run.  Al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary is largely gone.  Its military commander is dead.  Its chief of operations sits in prison, as do some 3,000 associates around the world.  In the field, every attempt at communication now puts operatives at risk.  The organization's once bountiful finances, meanwhile, have become precarious.  One recent intercept revealed a terrorist pleading for $80, sources say.
Read the whole thing, to see how these good things were done.
- 4:59 PM, 4 June 2003   [link]


You Read It Here First:  I was amused to see this Thomas Friedman column, which quotes Michael Mandelbaum about the efforts to "Gulliverize America", to tie us down with rules and agreements, since I had made just that argument months ago, in this post, though more succinctly.  (Often columns do not have enough space for their ideas; Friedman's column has the opposite problem.)  And, then just a few weeks after I had written the post, I was astonished to see the Mexican foreign minister explicitly call for other nations to treat us as the Lilliputians had treated Gulliver, as I mentioned here.

And I was pleased to hear, on PBS, no less, the frank admission of something I have often argued here, that the first Baghdad looting stories were much exaggerated.  The admission came yesterday from Steve Scher on his KUOW Weekday program while he was interviewing a group of experts on the subject.  I put up my first skeptical post on the looting on April 21st, so KUOW is only weeks behind, unlike Friedman.

(I should add, given the troubles at the New York Times, that I am sure that Friedman knows nothing about this modest site.  Though Scher was kind enough to mention my site on the air once, I am almost certain that he does not read it—though he should.)
- 4:49 PM, 4 June 2003   [link]


Pollsters Tell Us  that our image in foreign nations has declined, and that many abroad have a particularly bad view of President Bush.  If you wonder why, look at this Steve Bell cartoon, one of three "picks" in today's Guardian.  The depiction of President Bush as an ignorant chimpanzee is Bell's standard theme, and an idea that draws little or no protest from readers of the Guardian, judging by the letters they publish.   (He doesn't give the same treatment to all world leaders.  As I have mentioned before, Saddam got quite respectful treatment from Bell.  Dictators who have killed a million people get his respect; the elected leader of the world's leading democracy gets depicted as a chimpanzee.)  The cartoon is similar to many others Bell has drawn; it is empty of any policy content.  One can't tell whether he approves of the road map that Bush has presented, or even if he wishes the effort well.

(Today's Guardian editorial on the Middle East does wish Bush well:
One summit does not make a peace process. But by meeting Arab leaders in Egypt yesterday and the prime ministers of Israel and Palestine in Aqaba today, President George Bush has taken a first, hope-filled stride towards demonstrating that his "vision" of Middle East peace has a practical, workable aspect.
But, it isn't a "pick", and is less likely to influence ideas on President Bush than Bell's cartoon.)

You can find equally nasty cartoons in Le Monde and, I suspect, many other European newspapers.  The blind hatred in them has reached a point that requires not political but psychological analysis.  Some psychiatrist needs to sit down with Bell and ask the obvious question:  "Tell me, Mr. Bell, why do you feel compelled to draw President Bush as a chimpanzee?  Once we understand that, we may be able to help you with your problems."
- 7:22 AM, 4 June 2003   [link]


The Bible in Australian?  Parts of it, anyway.  Here's some samples from the Telegraph article:
The Virgin Mary is a "pretty special sheila" who wraps her nipper in a bunny rug and tucks him up in a cattle feed trough, according to a new Australian version of the Bible.

The Three Wise Men are "eggheads from out east" who follow a star to find the baby Jesus and announce their arrival with: "G'day, Your Majesty!"  The Good Samaritan is a "grubby old street sweeper" who patches up the victim of a highway robbery with his first aid kit, then drops him off at the nearest pub.
The man who started the project isn't sure why he did it.
The project was devised by Kel Richards, a journalist and broadcaster.  He admitted his motivation was unclear: "I don't know if it was a brainwave, a seizure, or a bad oyster."
- 6:51 AM, 4 June 2003   [link]


European Journalists  have been sympathetic to Palestinian terrorists for years.  Now one appears to have acted as an accomplice in a suicide bombing, driving the bombers to their targets.  I think the Israelis were mistaken just to expell her.
- 6:42 AM, 4 June 2003   [link]


Princeton Economics Professor Alan Krueger  gets the first half of his analysis right, but the second half wrong.  He is right when he asserts that poverty does not create terrorists.  This idea, which we might call, after one of its most prominent proponents, the Patty Murray theory of terrorism, has been refuted, again and again.  Terrorists actually tend to be better off than others in their group.   Moreover, though terrorism is not expensive compared to conventional warfare, it does cost money, and only those with a certain amount of resources can engage in it, especially if a foreign nation is the target.  It should not surprise us that a millionaire like the late Osama bin Laden founds a terrorist organization, or that a billionaire like the late Saddam Hussein sponsors terrorism.  A goat herder in Somalia might despise the United States, but there is little he can do about it.

Having shown, as many other have, that deprivation does not cause terrorism, Krueger then tries to determine what does, and misses the obvious.  After noting, correctly, that terrorists are better educated than non-terrorists, he then argues that it is the absence of political and economic freedom that causes terrorism.  In Krueger's theory, which he supports with some dubious statistics, men become terrorists when they lack legitimate ways to protest.  Support civil liberties, he thinks, and you will end terrorism.  This is attractive for two reasons; civil liberties are desirable in themselves, and it gives the current governments in the Middle East considerable control over their levels of terrorism.

Though attractive, the idea is nonsense, as a few minutes thought will show you.  Which Middle East nation has the best record on civil liberties, and which Middle East nation has been the main target of terrorists?  The answer is the same for both questions, Israel.  When Israel moved back from the West Band and the Gaza strip, giving more freedom to the Palestinians, did terrorism increase or decrease?  Or consider some of the individual cases.  Osama bin Laden, with his family's wealth, could easily have made his arguments against the Saudi regime from the safety of a Western country, as some Saudi dissidents do even now.  The shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and Seattle's own James Ujaama, grew up in nations that are among the most free on the planet.   Unfortunately, it is also true, as disagreeable as this may be, that a competent government can suppress much terrorism by stringent controls on the population.  One only need compare the quiet of the Chechens under Stalin to their open revolt today to understand this point.

If extending civil liberties is not the answer to discouraging people from becoming terrorists, what is?  Krueger flirted briefly with the essential point, but then passed over it to his own theory.  Terrorists, he noted, are better educated than non-terrorists.  Since Princeton sells education, one can understand why he does not explore what would seem to a logical policy, closing schools.  Nor do I advocate this policy, since it is not education, but a certain kind of education that creates terrorists.  Much of this education now comes over satellite dishes, from al Jazeera and its competitor, al Arabiya.  Patrick Sookhdeo gives this sobering description of how these channels continually broadcast propaganda intended to create terrorists.   He thinks they may have caused two British citizens to leave comfortable homes and become suicide bombers in Israel.  Pakistani TV, which has a considerable audience in Britain, has content similar to that of al Jazeera and al Arabiya.

To defeat those who are working to create terrorists, we must refute the propaganda coming from these outlets.  We must also try, in a quiet way, to encourage Muslim schools all around the world to teach values that would allow Muslims to live in peace with others.  That will, as I fully understand, not be easy.

(Parting shot:  Grade inflation has hit Ivy League schools, too, but would half right on an essay question be a passing grade at Princeton?)
- 6:42 AM, 3 June 2003   [link]


If You Were Choosing a Foreign Correspondent  for a newspaper, would you choose one who disliked the country he was being sent to, who expected the natives to conform to his customs, who refused to learn about local hazards, and who hated one of the political parties he would be covering?  You would if you were running the Guardian.  Their American correspondent, Matthew Engel, is leaving after two misspent years.  His dislike of the United States came through in every column.  After nearly two years, he was still offended that Americans did not follow British practice and offer him a beer when he visited.   (Mr. Engel would sneer at an American who expected Britons to follow American customs.   Actually, many Americans do routinely offer visitors a drink.  Perhaps his American hosts found him so unpleasant that they did not so as to encourage him to leave sooner.)   He was so out of touch that he bought a trampoline for his home here, not realizing that trial lawyers have made them impractical in most areas, something any of his neighbors could have told him.  His hostility to the Republican party was far beyond reason, far greater than he would show to, for example, Saddam's Baath party.  Goodbye and good riddance.

Even with all these faults, Mr. Engel might have done better had he shown any willingness to learn from his American critics, like me.  There is much that he could have learned from, for example, this post.  Instead, he dismisses his critics as "cybermorons".  Unfortunately, like all too many journalists, he is far too thin-skinned to consider that, from time to time, those who disagree with him might be right.
- 9:22 AM, 3 June 2003   [link]


When President Clinton  used a threat of force to restore Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, most applauded.  Aristide had been elected and had wide popular support.  If some of his supporters were brutal, that did not differentiate them from some of his opponents.  And, the restoration had been done without shooting, thanks, perhaps, to some convincing talk from Colin Powell.  I was skeptical at the time, because Aristide's previous time in power had been so destructive.   This article, originally from Reuters, shows that my skepticism was warranted.  Aristide has been brutal, without being effective, and Haiti is worse off for his rule.  Given the massive problems in Haiti, it is hard to say what the solution there might be, but Aristide is not part of it.
- 8:09 PM, 2 June 2003   [link]


Compare and Contrast:  Conservative columnist Mark Steyn visits Iraq and finds things going well, considering that it has been ruled for years by a brutal dictator, and just went through a war.  According to Steyn, there's plenty of food, the hospitals are uncrowded, and the security is no worse than some slums in Europe.  The only long term trouble Steyn sees is the growing plague of international bureaucrats.  Leftwing Seattle PI foreign desk editor Larry Johnson visits Baghdad and finds chaos.   According to Johnson, hunger threatens, the hospitals are in bad shape, and the security is terrible.  There is hope, he seems to think, in the help coming from the international bureaucrats.  Johnson and Steyn both drove from Jordan toward Baghdad, but they seem to have taken different roads, if you compare Steyn's account to Johnson's.

Who is right?  They both could be.  There may be more problems in Baghdad than in the parts of Iraq that Steyn visited.  I suspect, however, that Steyn is closer to the truth.  Before the war, Johnson did a series of reports from Iraq that could have been written by Saddam's propaganda operatives.  Even at the time, I found them so suspicious as to raise questions about Johnson's motivations.  I plan to go back to them soon to see if, as I suspect, many of his assertions have been disproved by events and later reports.

Finally, here's another report, this one from the Washington Post, describing conditions in a Baghdad neighborhood that is a Baath party stronghold.  Even here, many residents are friendly to the Americans and are grateful for the security their patrols are bringing.  If this is one of the worst neighborhoods, then most likely Steyn is right about the more friendly parts of the Iraq.
- 7:46 PM, 2 June 2003
Update:  Assyrian minister Ken Joseph is visiting Iraq and has this report on Iraqi opinion:
"What do you think about the Americans? How long do you think they should stay?  Are they doing a good job?" I ask.

The answer is very complicated while at the same time very, very simple.  It is the "politically correct" thing to do to complain about the Americans, say they are not wanted and tell them to "go home."

The reality, though, is very different.

As usually happens throughout Iraq, people look around before they tell their true feelings.   Simply put they are still afraid to speak the truth.  Before it was Saddam, now it is the Shiites and others who frighten them.

"The Americans are doing wonderfully. We want them to stay forever," I hear.
Not quite the picture one gets from Larry Johnson, is it?  (Via the Instapundit.)
- 8:40 AM, 3 June 2003   [link]


It's al Qaeda:  Thanks to several people, notably Joanne Jacobs, for their suggestions on this spelling problem.  Since there are so many spellings for the terrorist organization, I have been puzzled over which one to use, especially when I am quoting from a news story that uses a different spelling than the one that seems most common in American newspapers, "al Qaeda".  I would rather not change the spelling in direct quotations, but I don't like the inconsistency of spelling it one way in one post and a different way in one post.  The best solution, I think, is to keep the spellings in direct quotations, but use "al Qaeda" in the rest of the site.   Rather than be too pedantic, I'll just ask you to imagine a little footnote where the two conflict in a single post.

Two emailers reminded me that the Libyan dictator, Qaddafi, has a name that has an even worse set of variants.  I have seen spellings of his name that start with "K" and "G", as well as "Q".  The first times I saw those, I was genuinely puzzled.

Finally, Hank Bradley passed on this wonderful bit from T. E. Lawrence:
"There are some 'scientific systems' of transliteration, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a wash-out for the world.  I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are".

Sherif Abd el Mayin becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el Muyein.   Said Lawrence, "Good egg.  I call this really ingenious".
(Google, by the way, takes the practical approach of treating several variant spellings of al Qaeda as the same.  Lawrence would approve.)
- 1:31 PM, 2 June 2003   [link]


It's Howell Raines' Fault:  Blogger Gary Farber has been trying, eloquently, to increase interest in the human catastrophe going on in the Congo.  Perhaps three million people—no one knows for sure—have died in a the multi-sided war going on there for the last few years.  (If you want some background on the war, this Economist article would be a good place to start, though it does not mention, as it should, the French part in helping the Hutu rebels, both before and after the genocide in Rwanda.)  The human disaster in the Congo may be even larger than that in the Sudan, where some estimate that two million have died.

One reason the Congo story has received little attention in the United States is that our newspaper of record, the New York Times, has given it relatively little coverage.  Two quick searches at the the New York Times site show what stories are important to the Times.   In the last year, there were 217 articles on the Congo, and 341 articles on Augusta, nearly all on the controversy over the male only golf course.  For Howell Raines, getting a few very wealthy women membership in an exclusive golf course is more important than the deaths of millions of Africans.  (The Augusta club has, as I understand it, just a few hundred members.  If it were opened to women, one would expect 50 to 100 to become members in time, all of them very wealthy.)  A blogger with media credentials, like Andrew Sullivan or Mickey Kaus, should ask the Times why they think the Augusta story more important than the disaster in the Congo, just to get an answer on the record.

My title for this post goes too far, I admit, but it is partly Raines' fault.  The New York Times is important, not just for its own readers, but because it often sets the agenda for the networks.  If the Times had given this story the coverage it deserves, the networks might have sent a crew or two to the Congo.  (The same argument applies to the Sudan, which has been undercovered for years.)  When the New York Times emphasizes the petty and frivolous, the networks are likely to follow.
- 12:56 PM, 2 June 2003   [link]


The Watchmaker is Back:  Check out his latest thoughts here.
- 9:03 AM, 2 June 2003   [link]


If Younge's Column Made You Wonder What Sean Penn had to say in his New York Times advertisement, you can read it here.   Or better, you can read it, with a detailed critique, here.  (Via Tim Blair.)  The critique should convince you that there are good reasons actors do not usually write their own scripts.

It is a minor point, but if you look at Penn's original, you will see that he should not design sets, either.  The full page ad uses an all caps font, without serifs, resembling nothing so much as an old fashioned telegram, except that it's in columns.   It looks like he was trying to make it unpleasant to look at, and difficult to read.   (Generally, serifed fonts make large blocks of text easier to read, which is one reason I chose Georgia for the main font on this site.  This is not true for very small font sizes, which is one reason I chose Verdana for the links text.)
- 8:58 AM, 2 June 2003   [link]


Routine Anti-Americanism, Example 7:  It is an article of faith among leftwing British journalists that the press in the United States is less free than their own, that only a few, often persecuted, American journalists dare to speak or write dissenting ideas.  To hold this view, they have to ignore both our greater legal protections for free speech, and the content of nearly all our newspapers and television and radio programs.  Journalists who can ignore all this evidence could fall into the ocean and claim that they were dry.  The Guardian's Gary Younge could do just that, as he shows in this column.   After noting a clumsy attempt by journalist Ted Koppel to sell the ideas of Indian novelist, Arundhati Roy, to his audience, he has this foolish quotation from New Republic editor Peter Beinart:
"This nation is now at war," said Peter Beinart, the editor of the liberal magazine New Republic.  "And in such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides."
And then he summarizes the terrible state of American journalism as follows:
Dissident voices do exist.  While you will rarely hear them on television, most big newspapers have at least one columnist who was opposed to the war, and several magazines have published articles that are critical or revelatory.  The problem is not so much that such views are unavailable as that they have been effectively marginalised.  Only those sympathetic to them might seek them out, while others looking to form opinions are unlikely to stumble across them.  Presumably Sean Penn would not have paid around $125,000 (£76,000) to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times on Friday to write an essay against Bush if he thought he could read it elsewhere.
By dissident voices, Younge means those who opposed the liberation of Iraq.  By that standard, the ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, NPR, and PBS networks have been "marginalized".   Readers, he thinks, would be unlikely to "stumble across" minor newspapers like the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, or low circulation magazines like Newsweek, the New Yorker, and Time.

Dissent from our policy of overthrowing a fascist dictator has not been restrained in language either.  Mainstream columnists have used terms like "Taliban" and "Shiite" to describe the Republican party, and Molly Ivins even slipped in "fascist".  It has gone so far that a writer for a community paper can joke about machine gunning Republicans, as I discussed in this post.   On the left, the absurd comparisons of Bush to Hitler have now become so common that James Traub, a man of the left, felt it necessary to protest the idea in this article.  There are restraints on free speech in the United States, but most come from leftists on college campuses, not Republicans in government.

To ignore all this evidence is an impressive feat, though not one I can admire in a journalist.  After reading this column, I keep seeing this picture of Mr. Younge in my mind:  Having been rescued from a fall into the ocean, he is vigorously proclaiming that he is dry, except for a tiny spot or two.  He could do it, I am sure.
- 8:11 AM, 2 June 2003   [link]


Suppose You Were a French Official, looking for an American actor to represent France to the United States.  (The loss of tourism is beginning to hurt.)   Who would you choose?  An actor with a reputation as a tough straight-talking guy, since that's how Americans are feeling these days, right?  Some one like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.  The French have chosen Woody Allen.   Now there's a man whose values will appeal to the heartland.  The only explanations, that I can think of for this choice, other than sheer stupidity, is that an American advertising agency is deliberately sabotaging the French effort, or that the French are trying to insult us.
- 5:58 AM, 1 June 2003   [link]


Good Posts:  
  • N. Z. Bear proposes to share the wealth, by offering a place for unknown bloggers to be seen.   Commendable.

  • Sylvain Galineau, one of the Chicago Boys, describes Bernard-Henri Levy, a French author who, despite his slick appearance, is a man of character and substance.  Levy's book, Qui a tue Daniel Pearl? (Who killed Daniel Pearl?) about the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter, sounds like a must read.

  • "Jane Galt" gives a detailed critique of one of those laundry lists of things we could buy if we did not have an evil tax cut.

  • Bill Hobbs describes election night in 1994 at a "mid-sized metropolitan daily newspaper".  Not many in the newsroom were happy about the Republican sweep.

  • Donald Luskin demolishes a much publicized Financial Times article on the deficit.

  • Jay Manifold describes the discovery of a new, very small and dim star, now identified by the not very poetic coordinates "SO25300.5+165258".  It is the sixth closest star to the earth, following the sun, the three stars of the Alpha Centauri system (Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B), and Barnard's star.  Scroll up for another post on the star, describing what it would look like if it were our sun.

  • Alec Saunders describes, from a Canadian perspective, American political values.  He may be over-generalizing from his own experience, since the software people he worked with here have values rather different from those of most Americans, but he's right about the direction of the differences.
- 4:38 AM, 1 June 2003   [link]