July 2003, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Par 11,880:  Andre Tome is golfing across Mongolia.   If you want to follow him, here's his site.   Tome thinks that "Genghis must have been ferocious off the tee back in the day."  No one who knows about Genghis Khan's career could argue with "ferocious", though I find it hard to visualize him on the golf course.
- 8:24 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

Reverse ATM:  The inventor calls it "Aunty IBM", a lawyer specializing in banking patents calls it a "funky ATM", but I think the simplest term for it is a reverse ATM, since it lets you put cash in a machine and send it electronically.   The invention has many potential uses, including some illegal ones, obviously.  (The article is the weekly survey that the New York Times does of new patents.  This is the first time I remember them including a picture a picture of the inventor, for reasons that should be obvious.  Someday, journalists may lose their obsession with race.)
- 8:08 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

Stormy Weather:  The record of ice cores from Greenland reveals that the transitions between glacial and interglacial periods had wild swings in climate.
If the past is any indication, the earth is at the end of another such warm period, poised to descend into a new ice age.  Earlier ice cores showed that the transition from glacial to interglacial was rocky, marked by a "flickering" climate that swung drastically back and forth several times, in some instances 15 degrees Fahrenheit in a decade or less.
This enormous natural variability in climate is one of the main reasons for my skepticism about the claims that current global warming is entirely caused by man.

These cores contain a warning.  Even now, it is hard to see how the majority of people on earth could survive a decade of "flickering" climate like those we know have occurred in the past.  In principle, we could control climate even through episodes like that, but it would, I suspect, require far more power than we have now.  
- 7:48 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

Seattle From the Water Taxi:  

My brother and sister-in-law are visiting from San Diego, so we are seeing some of the standard Seattle sights.   This view is from the Water Taxi, a little passenger ferry that goes between downtown Seattle and West Seattle, giving you a quick and cheap way to see Seattle's waterfront.   The trip takes about 20 minutes and costs just two dollars, each way.  The Water Taxi is, by the way, part of the Metro Transit system, but a lot more fun to ride than the average bus.  It leaves from Pier 54, which is about a 10 minute walk from Seattle's Public Market.
- 5:39 AM, 26 July 2003   [link]

America's Own Scandal Plagued news organization, the New York Times, shows how blind it is to its own bias in this small example from their editorial board.   Here were Carolyn Curriel's latest positions before joining the board:
She served as special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter in President Clinton's first term, focusing on race relations, and later became ambassador to Belize.
A Clinton speechwriter!  How could anyone expect her to treat Republicans fairly?   Does editorial page editor Gail Collins care about their credibility?  Or does she live in such a small world that she does not see the obvious objection to this choice?
- 8:28 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

Irish Journalist Eoghan Harris has direct experience with the BBC and has come to much the same conclusions that I have.
Politically, I would call myself a conservative social democrat in Irish terms:  I loathe the IRA, have a lot of time for David Trimble, and wanted to smash Saddam Hussein's regime.  Yet I am forced to approach any appearance on current affairs programmes for the BBC as an appearance before a hanging judge.  From start to finish I know the only way to survive is to accept that I am among enemies.

As I am usually going on to attack a terrorist organisation, defend a decent man like Trimble, or to support a war against a gangster like Saddam, you would think I could feel myself among people who, though they might want to put tough questions, basically shared my assumption that the IRA is morally delinquent, that Trimble is trying to do his best, and that Saddam should be shot on sight.

You would be wrong.  By and large, the researchers and reporters I will meet in any branch of the BBC find these beliefs revolting.
American conservatives will find the BBC's methods familiar:
Let me make it clear that I am not accusing the BBC of anything so minor as not giving adequate air-time to the Government.  BBC bias works by agenda-setting, by angle of approach and by ideological attitude.  All you have to do is decide to do a daily update on, say, child casualties in Iraq, and put on a compassionate voice, and no number of government spokesmen and no amount of airtime will wipe out an indelible public image of dead children.
Harris is not hopeful that the BBC can be reformed:
So what is to be done about the virtual political party based in the BBC?  If the Irish experience is any guide, things will go on getting worse.  The BBC is adept at blackmailing politicians with the implied threat of giving them a bad image.
Americans, like the Irish, have a stake in this quarrel because the BBC has done so much to damage our image around the world.  There is, perhaps unfortunately, no way a nation can sue the BBC for slander.  If we could, we would have an open and shut case.
- 7:52 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

More on BBC Reporter Andrew Gilligan: The reporter whose story intensified the quarrel between the BBC and the Blair government, and may have led to the death of David Kelly, has a record of inaccuracy.   As Andrew Sullivan notes: "Yep, it was Gilligan who refused to believe that U.S. troops had reached Baghdad the day they did.   Gilligan kept a web log during his time reporting from Baghdad, and blogger David Steven found some interesting patterns in it, notably these two:
Point 2: Gilligan believes Iraqis prefer Saddam to the US. "I do get the impression that people are sincere in a lot of their denunciations of the US," he writes on 27 March.   'They may not like Saddam a whole lot, but they may dislike Americans even more."
. . .
Point 8, Gilligan never apologises.  One of the beauties of blogging is the ability to use later posts to comment on, reshape or even correct earlier ones.  'That's what I thought was happening then, but this is what I now know . . .'  That sort of thing.

Gilligan doesn't go in for any of that.  He never tells us what went wrong with the airport story.  We don't hear why he thinks Iraqi support for Saddam, 'stronger than we thought' on April 1st has evaporated a week later.
And, though this has drawn far less attention than it should, Gilligan was directly contradicted by David Kelly in his testimony to parliament.
It [the BBC's story] is not a factual record of my interaction with him [BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan], the character of it, which is actually difficult to discern from the account that is presented there....From the conversation I had with him, I do not see how he could make the authoritative statement he was making from the comments that I made.
Kelly was equally direct in his support for the Blair government's position:
Later Dr Kelly was asked if he had suggested to Mr Gilligan that the dossier had been embellished. Dr Kelly replied: "No, I had no doubt that the veracity of it was absolute."   He went on: "All I can say is that the general tenet of that document is one that I am sympathetic to."
Of course it is possible that Kelly told Gilligan something different in the interview, but, given Gilligan's record, this seems unlikely.  More and more it appears that the BBC has been caught in a giant scandal and is digging in deeper.
- 7:41 AM, 23 July 2003   [link]

Nazi Planes and Bombs Under Berlin Runway?  Maybe.  Here's the story, which shows, yet again, just how easy it is to hide weapons.
- 7:03 AM, 22 July 2003   [link]

If You Thought I Was Imagining Things when I said some journalists were pleased by the death of David Kelly, read this Aaronovitch column, particularly this paragraph:
Now one from the other side of the divide [between the press and politicians].  The Mirror journalist Paul Routledge, after lambasting Hoon yesterday for allegedly "throwing Kelly to the wolves" and demanding his head, nevertheless added that "the untimely death of Dr Kelly could just have one marvellous outcome: the death of spin and the fortunes of New Labour politicians who invented it and live by it".  Marvellous, Paul, that's the only word.
There are American journalists who share that view, though they may not be as frank.
- 6:54 AM, 22 July 2003   [link]

The "Fascist" Bush Administration: The "Watchmaker" has been arguing, starting with this post, that leftist bloggers should "go after their idiots with the same vigor that we on the right beat down ours".  I would like to extend the Watchmaker's argument.  Leftists of all kinds, but especially journalists, should criticize absurd ideas coming from other leftists.  (Credit where due:  The Spinsanity site, run by two people on the left, has many times debunked absurd claims from Michael Moore and similarly irresponsible people on the left.)

Here's an example from last Saturday.  While listening to the Rewind program on Seattle's NPR station, KUOW, I heard the editor of the Seattle Weekly, Knute Berger, describe the Bush administration as "fascist".  (Rewind is supposed to be a light-hearted look at the previous week's news, if you are wondering what the name means.)  This is not new for Berger; he has described the Bush administration as "fascist" in the Seattle Weekly more than once.  (Digression:  Do alternative papers in other cities rely on ads from entrepreneurs like "Luscious Lips" or "Asian Delight" as much as the Weekly does?  The latest issue has almost four pages of ads in its "adult entertainment" section.)  What was interesting was the reaction of the program's host, Bill Radke.  He seemed to think that Berger had said something mildly amusing.   (The show also had a woman commedian, whose name escapes me.  She, too, seemed to find nothing to object to in Berger's use of "fascist" for the Bush administration.)

Berger's use of "fascist" for the Bush administration is as crazy as the John Birch society's claim that President Eisenhower was a Communist.  (William Buckley had the best reply to that nutty idea.  Eisenhower, he said, was not a Communist, but a golfer.)  The Bush administration is so far from being "fascist" that it has not bothered Berger or his newspaper in any way.  It even provided money in the budget for NPR so Berger, and others like him, can slander the administration.  And, although Berger opposed this, Bush just overthrew a regime in Iraq that could be called fascist, without exaggeration.  People in the real world would consider that anti-fascist.

What I am going to do is this:  Starting with Mark Trahant, the editorial page editor of the Seattle PI, I am going to try to get a Seattle area leftist to criticize Berger and others who use "fascist" to describe the Bush administration.  If you can think of other leftists who should help clean up the political environment in this area, feel free to send their names to me, or to contact them yourself.

- 2:08 PM, 21 July 2003   [link]

The Real Credibility Gap: The absurd media chase after the Bush administration for the now famous sixteen words in the State of the Union speech has opened a real credibility gap, but not for the Bush administration.  After all, the British government stands by its claim that they have evidence that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa, just as Bush said.  That our CIA has not been able to absolutely confirm this does not make it false.  In fact, most people in our intelligence agencies believe it to be true; it was even in the latest relevant National Intelligence Estimate, as this Wall Street Journal editorial mentions.  Note that we had reason to believe that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from several African countries, not just Niger.  (There might be a small advantage for Saddam in getting uranium from Niger, since he already had supplies of yellowcake from that country.  I suspect that experts can identify the sources of ore by the trace elements in it.  It would be easier to disguise new supplies if they came from the same mines as the old.)

So what Bush said was true, though not necessarily appropriate, since we could not confirm the British intelligence.  What about what the media has been saying?  In many cases, it has not been true.  I do not often watch the national news programs, but I do watch the local news programs for the sports and weather.  I have yet to see a story on the controversy that was not at least misleading.  Diana West does follow national news programs, and she has collected dubious statements by ABC's Claire Shipman, CNN's Aaron Brown, and NBC's Brian Williams.  National columnists, including Michael Kinsley, Nicholas Kristof, and Paul Krugman have also gone over the line, as have presidential candidates like Howard Dean and Bob Graham.  It is not difficult to find valid reasons for criticizing President Bush.  That his critics have chosen this issue, instead of something real, shows their indifference to the credibility of their own statements.

Aaron Brown's recklessness deserves additional comment.  He put a story on the air, based entirely on a Internet rumor, which was discredited within hours.   Here's the Media Research story.   (Somehow I don't think Brown will ever get around to putting some other stories from the Capitol Hill Blue site on the air.  Their most famous stories are probably their reports that Bill Clinton had raped several women, including one in Britain while he was a student there.  I have no idea whether those stories are true, if you are wondering.)
- 6:51 AM, 21 July 2003
Update:  I should have added this column by John Leo, which makes similar points, crediting blogger Bob Somerby for some of them.
- 10:04 AM, 21 July 2003   [link]

The Caricatures of the Bush Administration foreign policy common in much of the world assert that the administration ignores the wishes of its allies, wants to spread bases all over the world, and that no one can withstand our unlimited ambitions for dominance.  This small story on our relations with Iceland shows how false those caricatures can be.  The Bush administration has wanted for some time to withdraw the last few Air Force fighters we have based in Iceland, a decision that is entirely sensible militarily.  But, the proposed withdrawal has angered the government of Iceland, which sees the planes as a token of our commitment to defend them.  We have delayed the withdrawal and tried to soothe their feelings, so far without much success.

Who is winning so far in this disagreement between the United States and Iceland?   Consider the evidence.
"We haven't moved anything yet, and no final decisions have been taken," a senior administration official said.  "What we want is to have a serious discussion with the Icelandics about this.  This is going to be a transparent process where we consult with the Icelandics at all stages."
Iceland, with a population of 284,000, is obviously winning so far.  Remember this the next time you see arguments about unchecked American power.
- 5:27 AM, 21 July 2003   [link]

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, says William Buckley to Peter Jennings.  Buckley had the same reaction to an ABC interview with several US soldiers in Iraq that I did.
- 4:59 AM, 21 July 2003   [link]

More on the Lost Tribe: Here's the latest story from Tucson on the "lost tribe" from Africa now being re-settled in the United States.  
The white wooden door swung open and the dazed African villagers stepped into their new home.  It was a modest apartment with secondhand furniture and a stove in need of repairs.  But to Osman Yarrow, his wife and five children, refugees from Somalia's civil war, it seemed like a place of miracles.
As it should to us, though we often forget just how miraculous our lives are to much of the world, or would have been to our own ancestors.
- 10:06 AM, 20 July 2003   [link]

The Sad Death of David Kelly has lessons, but what are they?   The British scientist got an unwanted prominence after he was a source, or, most likely, the source for a controversial BBC piece by journalist Andrew Gilligan, claiming that the Blair government had "sexed up" the evidence of Saddam's chemical and biological weapons.   Kelly's apparent suicide Thursday night left nearly all the players in the affair looking for someone else to blame for his death.

Let's review the basic facts, as they are now known.  Britain's Ministry of Defense, like nearly all organizations, has rules against its employees speaking to reporters without authorization.  Bureaucrats there, as here, routinely break those rules, especially when they oppose government policies.  Reporters encourage this because it gives them "scoops", even though it is an attack on representative government; elected officials, not bureaucrats, should make policy.  (Often the "scoops" are not in fact scoops; they may be false in whole or part, like Gilligan's story, or they may be seriously misleading by presenting only one side of the story.)  One of the worst aspects of this reliance on leaks is that the reporters almost never can tell us the motives of the leakers, since that would offer too big a clue to their identities.

Sometimes, and this seems to have been the case with Kelly, the leaker is the pawn of a reporter with his story already written.  The leaker is used merely to provide a plausible "source" for the argument that the reporter wants to make.  So long as the leaker does not publicly quarrel with him, the reporter can probably get away with exaggerating and distorting what the leaker said.  Indirect reports of what Kelly told friends after his interview suggests that this was exactly what happened.  Gilligan's BBC story had rather little to do with what Kelly had told him, even though he was, ostensibly, its source.

Gilligan was trying to discredit both the dossier that the Blair government had used to justify the war to liberate Iraq, and the Blair government.  How much space did the BBC give to this story that nearly all now agree was false, at least in part?  Here's what Gerald Kauffman, chairman of a parliamentary committee that supervises the BBC, said:
I do not see how a board of governors that responds in the way it did to this dossier issue can be really expected to carry out the function of making the BBC accountable.  On 17 out of 34 days, the dossier was either the first or the second story on the Today programme, and that is obsessional.
Given this obsessional coverage and the obvious breach of rules by David Kelly, the only responsible course for the Blair government was to have a parliamentary inquiry and ask Kelly what had happened.  After a rather brief inquiry, and some vigorous defense by Blair's allies, the BBC was beginning to lose its argument with the Blair government, although I saw no sign that it might feel inclined to confess its errors and cut its losses.  Kelly's apparent suicide has bailed them out, and I swear I heard satisfaction in the voice of the BBC announcer describing the effects of Kelly's death on Blair.

That Andrew Gilligan and the BBC share some blame for Kelly's death seems obvious to me.   One can understand why journalists would prefer not to admit this.  Even so, it is disgraceful that most of the American accounts I have seen do not mention the falsity of the original story and the charges by Blair allies that the BBC was partly responsible for his death.  One of the worst examples I have seen was this morning's story on King 5, by anchor Carolyn Douglas.  (She was consistently the most biased local announcer during the liberation of Iraq, more than once presenting stories that could have been written by Saddam's propaganda ministry.)  She gave all the charges against Blair and none of the defense, even quoting the outrageous question from a British journalist about Blair having blood on his hands.  Did Douglas, like the BBC announcer, appear to take some pleasure in the cost to Blair of Kelly's death?  I thought so.  And I don't think she is the only American journalist who does.
- 9:48 AM, 20 July 2003   [link]

Bulwer-Lytton Winner: The professors who create the "pomo-babble", described here, may not realize how bad their writing is.  (I think some know and are just doing what they feel they must to get tenure or promotions.)  Winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, in contrast, are deliberately trying to create bad opening sentences.  Here's the latest winner, along with a history of the contest.  And from this list of past winners, here are two of my all time favorites:
The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior-chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, "Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you'll feel my steel through your last meal." --Steven Garman, Pensacola, Florida (1984 Winner)

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably--the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career. --Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut (1985 Winner)
Now, who would you rather have as English professors, people who can write like that, or who can only write in pomo-babble?
- 10:52 AM, 18 July 2003   [link]

Iraqi Public Opinion on the War: Way back in March, I went out on a limb and argued that most Iraqis would favor a war to remove Saddam.  (You can see the analysis here.)  Nearly all the evidence that I have seen since the end of the war supports that argument.  Now the British Spectator magazine has done a poll which has the strongest evidence yet for my argument.  The poll has obvious problems, as the Spectator admits.  It was done just in Baghdad, not the entire country.   (My guess is that support for removing Saddam was lower in Baghdad than the country as a whole, since Baghdad had many who owed their positions to him and more Sunnis than the nation as a whole.)  It was impossible to do a true probability sample, which is the gold standard for polls, even in Baghdad.

Despite these flaws, the poll is probably the best measure we have so far of public opinion in Iraq.  Half say that the invasion was right, another 27 per cent say it was wrong, and the rest are not sure.  (I had concluded that somewhere between 50 and 90 per cent of Iraqis would favor an invasion to remove Saddam.)  They say this, even though most think their lives have been made worse in the short run by the invasion.  Most expect much better lives in the next few years, and the great majority favor British and American troops staying in Iraq for a time.  Just 13 per cent want the troops to leave immediately, while 56 per cent want them to stay a year or more.

Middle East expert Amir Taheri didn't take a poll while he was visiting Iraq, but he did come to broadly similar conclusions.   Most Iraqis welcomed the troops, and nearly all are happy that Saddam is no longer in power.  Attacks on our troops are limited to a small area of Iraq, where Saddam had the strongest support.
Elsewhere, the coalition presence is either accepted as a fact of life or welcomed.   On the 4th of July some shops and private homes in various parts of Iraq, including the Kurdish areas and cities in the Shiite heartland, put up the star-spangled flag as a show of gratitude to the United States.

"We see our liberation as the start of a friendship with the U.S. and the U.K. that should last a thousand years," says Khalid Kishtaini, one of Iraq's leading novelists.  "The U.S. and the U.K. showed that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Nothing can change that."

In the early days of the liberation, some mosque preachers tested the waters by speaking against "occupation."  They soon realized that their congregations had a different idea.   Today, the main theme in sermons at the mosques is about a partnership between the Iraqi people and the coalition to rebuild the war-shattered country and put it on the path of democracy.
I rarely watch network TV, but I doubt that any of this has been shown on ABC, CBS, CNN, or NBC.  I know that it hasn't got much time on PBS.

And there are small, but significant, changes.
The flower stalls along the Tigris are also making a comeback.

"Business is good," says Hashem Yassin, one florist. "In the past, we sold a lot of flowers for funerals and placement on tombs.  Now we sell for weddings, birthday parties and gifts of friendship."
Here's Taheri's conclusion:
THERE are two Iraqs today: One as portrayed by those in America and Europe who wish to use it as a means of damaging Bush and Blair, and the other as it really exists, home to 24 million people with many hopes and aspirations and, naturally, some anxiety about the future.
You won't see that second, real Iraq on most TV news programs in the United States or Europe.
- 9:54 AM, 18 July 2003   [link]

Worth Reading: Anne Applebaum spots hypocrisy in Britain and Canada.  Many in those nations claim to be outraged that we are holding their citizens at Guantanamo, or have deported one of them to Syria.  But both governments have cooperated with us, perhaps because they see no better alternative.   Canada actually asked us to pick up the man we deported.  As I have argued before, we have no sensible alternative to holding these terrorists indefinitely, or deporting them to nations that may treat them badly.  One terrorist held at Guantanamo illustrates the problem.  When we took him into custody, he was sick and emaciated.  We fed him, treated him, and restored him to health—and he cheerfully tells us that, if he is released, he will go back to trying to kill Americans.

Commonly in a war—and this is one—prisoners are held until the end of the war.  Since this one is likely to last decades more, we should plan on holding these men until it ends, they die, or we can show that they are no longer dangerous.
- 8:06 AM, 17 July 2003   [link]

The Major Problem of Anti-Semitism in France: In contrast, Jews in France, a much smaller group than Muslims in the United States, are frequently attacked by Muslims.
The file grows almost daily: 309 incidents in the past 15 months in the Paris region, according to Jewish council officials, and more than 550 since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, broke out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000.  The National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, a government-funded body, reported a sixfold increase in acts of violence against Jewish people and property in France from 2001 to 2002.

Many incidents involve verbal assaults -- a taxi driver making an anti-Jewish remark to a passenger, a student harassed at school -- but nearly half involve violent acts of some kind.   Most of the perpetrators are not the ultra-rightists and neo-Nazis who once were responsible for anti-Semitic acts, but young North African Arabs of the banlieues, the distant blue-collar suburbs where Muslims and Jews live and work in close proximity.  Many of the victims are Sephardic Jews who themselves originally came from North Africa.
So, the Jewish community in France, about 600,000 altogether, has been the target of far more violence than the much large Muslim community in the United States.

One of the more recent attacks was particularly brazen:
A gang of 15 North African teenagers, some of them wielding broom handles, had invaded the grounds of a Jewish day school on Avenue de Flandre in northeast Paris the previous evening.   They punched and kicked teachers and students, yelled epithets and set off firecrackers in the courtyard before fleeing.
Another reason for Americans, whatever their religion, not to visit France, at least until the French government does more to control these attacks.
- 7:42 AM, 17 July 2003   [link]

The Minor Problem of Discrimination Against Muslims in the United States: In this post, I argued that it was absurd for Guardian writer Gary Younge to claim that anti-Arab discrimination has "greatly intensified" in the United States since 9/11.   (He meant anti-Muslim, not anti-Arab, as the rest of his piece showed.)  Now, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has issued a report that shows just small a problem it is.  There are, as far as I can tell, somewhere between 2 and 3 million Muslims in the United States.  Last year, CAIR collected a total of 600 alleged incidents of discrimination, including such minor things as name calling.  And, of course, that is "alleged" incidents.  Many of them may not have occurred, or may not have been discrimination.  Only 42 of the alleged incidents were violent, mostly vandalism apparently.  Here's the Washington Post story summarizing the report.  (I should add that we have no way of knowing whether discrimination has increased, as claimed by CAIR, since they rely on self reports.   Maybe more Muslims are inclined to think that random vandalism is directed against their religion, or that an unpleasant clerk is not having a bad day, but dislikes all Muslims.)
- 7:24 AM, 17 July 2003   [link]

The Congressional Black Caucus complained that President Bush had not consulted them before his trip to Africa.  So, when Bush invited the chairman of the caucus, Congressman Elijah Cummings, to a meeting to discuss the trip to Africa, what happened?  Cummings turned down the invitation.  It is hard to please some people.
- 4:46 AM, 17 July 2003   [link]