May 2003, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
You Say al Qaida, I Say Al Qaeda: Since I am my own copy editor (though not a very good one), I have had to try to establish standards for the site. There is one matter that still has me puzzled, the variation in spelling of Arabic names like Al Qaeda. I have seen at least a half dozen variations for the name of the terrorist organization. Some newspapers capitalize the first "a", though others do not. Some hyphenate the two words and write, for example, "al-Qaeda". I have seen at least three different spellings for the second word, Qaeda, Qaida, and Qa'eda. The simplest procedure would seem to pick one spelling and stick with it. (As software people like to say, the great thing with standards is that there are so many to choose from.) But this runs into a small practical difficulty and a larger aesthetic problem. Since I often quote from newspapers with different standards, I would have to either "correct" their spelling if I want to be uniform, or use different spellings in the same post if I want to keep the quotation exact. Neither seems like a good alternative, so I have been aligning my spelling with the quotation within the posts, which means different spellings for different posts. That doesn't look right either. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
- 8:39 AM, 15 May 2003 [link]
- 8:13 AM, 15 May 2003 [link]
Yet Another Baghdad Looting Was Exaggerated Story: Like the Museum of Antiquities, Iraq's National Library was reported to have been destroyed by looters. In fact, most of its antique books and manuscripts were saved in a Shiite mosque.
Now that coalition forces are arresting looters in the streets, the mosque's leaders say their story can be told: Contrary to widespread belief, the antique books of Iraq's National Library were not stolen by thieves last month but were removed for safe keeping by self-appointed guardians of Iraq's cultural heritage.Here's the full story.
- 7:25 AM, 15 May 2003 [link]
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agrees with my argument that Chretien's government could get along with the Bush administration, if it made an effort to do so. Though Mulroney never criticizes Chretien directly in this column, adapted from a speech he made in Montreal, his message is clear enough. If an American government is approached respectfully, it will respond in kind, even if the two nations disagree on policy. Happily for both countries, Chretien will be out of office in less than a year. It is easy for people with a certain mind set to "blame America first"; it is even easier for people with another mind set to blame Bush first when we are not getting along as we should with another nation. Neither is always wrong, but in this case, most of the blame for the strained relations between Canada and the United States belongs to Prime Minister Chretien, not President Bush.
One last point. The advice that Mulroney gives, while directed at Canadian governments, is good advice for the governments of most democratic nations when dealing with other democratic nations. Some details differ, of course. Canadian governments are tempted to lecture the US on morality, while US governments are tempted to point out the disparity in power. Both are better off in the long run if they resist those temptations.
- 7:14 AM, 15 May 2003 [link]
Howell Raines Confesses: As the Jayson Blair scandal unfolded at the New York Times, most outside observers attributed Blair's special treatment to "affirmative action", to different standards for black reporters than for others. The New York Times denied this at first, but now executive editor Howell Raines has confessed.
"Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts he appeared to be a promising young minority reporter," Mr. Raines said. "I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities."Two comments: First, Raines says "by all accounts", which is utterly false. From the beginning, according to the paper's own reporting, Blair was criticized by many in the newsroom. Raines named Blair to the sniper team after a prominent editor had called for Blair to be stopped from writing for the Times immediately. Second, Raines may be attempting to avoid legal problems when he says "not consciously". Although discrimination against whites is common in organizations like the New York Times, it has been illegal at least since the federal civil rights laws passed in the 1960's. (Possibly even before then, since some states passed their own civil rights laws before the federal government did.)
This widespread evasion of the civil rights laws on hiring has led to fancy verbal footwork, as the history of the term "affirmative action" shows. Originally, it meant reaching out to blacks by measures like aggressive recruitment at black colleges. It did not mean, as it now often does, different standards for different races, or even thinly disguised quotas. Originally it described practices that were legal; now it usually does not.
- 6:37 AM, 15 May 2003 [link]
When Tacoma Police Chief David Brame killed his estranged wife, Crystal, and then himself, most of the story seemed sadly familiar. A violent, controlling man was unable to accept that his wife would leave him. However, as more and more came out about the chief's troubled history in the Tacoma police, one aspect became more and more puzzling. Why had he ever been accepted as a police officer, much less made chief? A psychologist had judged him unfit to be a police officer before he was hired. A woman had accused him of date rape, a story known widely in the police department. And there was more in his record that raised doubts about his fitness.
Now we have what seems to be the answer to part of the puzzle, why he was made chief. The city manager who promoted Brame, Ray Corpuz, Jr., owed him a very big favor. A few years before, when Brame was chief of detectives, he had suppressed what looked like an open and shut case of insurance fraud by Corpuz and his wife. Corpuz owed Brame for other favors, as well, notably special treatment for his son. One wonders whether similar explanations will be found for Brame's hiring and promotions in the department. Tacoma and Pierce county, where Tacoma is located, have had many scandals, so more would not be surprising.
(Since this is pick on journalists week, I must mention that journalism professor Floyd McKay, who writes a column for the Seattle Times, jumped to conclusions on the story and got it wrong, blaming the police department rather than city manager Corpuz for promoting Brame to chief. Mckay erred because wanted the police department to be guilty to illustrate an ideological point he was making. Wonder if the professor will correct his error in a future column? Looks like a "teachable moment" to me, and I'll bet his students would agree.)
- 7:25 PM, 14 May 2003 [link]
Christopher Hitchens wonders why British Prime Minister Blair is hated so. He rejects the reasons usually given and concludes that:
Here, I think, we approach the point. If you are right in politics, you will be hated by definition. If you are righteous in addition, you will be hated all the more.Blair has been both. Along the way, Hitchens makes a point that both Britons and Americans will find of interest:
Blair helped push a wavering Clinton into Kosovo and he was warning against Saddam Hussein when Bush was still campaigning for the isolationist vote against "nation-building". (By the way, for those with short memories, these two examples on their own will take care of the witless taunt about Blair being America's "poodle".)I should add, for those with short memories, that Bush explicitly favored regime change in Iraq during the 2000 campaign, though he did not lay out a plan for achieving it.
- 5:00 PM, 14 May 2003 [link]
The Spanish Green Party candidate in Granda has an unusual campaign promise, which he calls "Bonosex". He wants to offer half price coupons to young people for one night stands. And here I thought that Green parties were opposed to population growth.
- 4:43 PM, 14 May 2003 [link]
Skylab was launched 30 years ago and, after a rough start, was a great success as a research station. Allowing for inflation, it cost "one-ninth the projected cost of the International Space Station", which has yet to produce much in the way of research. It is infuriating for those who value our space effort to realize how much less efficient we are now, than we were 30 years ago, despite all our technological progress. One reason we are less efficient now is that we have chosen to make the "International" rather than the "Space Station" our first priority. For the Clinton administration, the important thing was to involve the Russians, not to build an effective research facility. (Given our worry about the spread of Russian rocket technology, this was not an unreasonable concern, though we might have been able to find a way to have both their involvement and better efficiency.)
Most people would read the comparison between Skylab and the International Space Station and conclude that the Skylab model was a better way to proceed. The author, ignoring his own data, comes to the opposite conclusion:
Whatever the space station's problems, it has demonstrated that human activities in space can no longer be the expression of a single nation alone, as they were in the days of Skylab and all of its Apollo-derived technology. Whenever a human sets foot on Mars, it will be a result of international participation.Judging by the International Space Station, it would be far cheaper for us to do it alone.
(By the way, if you would like to see a Skylab, you can. Two were built. One was sent into space and the other ended up as an exhibit in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C. You can walk through it and see what Skylab was like for the astronauts and scientists who worked and lived there.)
- 8:44 AM, 14 May 2003 [link]
Professor and Accused Terrorist Sami Al-Arian got support from many on the left, despite his history of violent statements. Now that the government has released part of the information it collected about the University of South Florida computer science professor, those who portrayed him as a victim of anti-Muslim sentiment, or an "overzealous Ashcroft Justice Department" have fallen into an embarrassed silence. If the information in the indictments is true—and I see no reason not to think so—Al-Arian was a paymaster for the terrorist Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has killed more than 100 Israelis and 2 Americans. Some were duped by Al-Arian; others deliberately ignored his connections to terrorism.
- 8:19 AM, 14 May 2003 [link]
Egyptian Pop Singer Shabban Abderrahim whose single, I hate Israel, did so well in Egypt, has some new songs that should be just as popular. His single, Saddam's hell is better than America's paradise, is likely to be another hit in Egypt, though not Iraq, and his forthcoming A man full of dignity about "Comical Ali", Saddam's minister of information may do well as a novelty song. Don't know whether his song on Saddam includes any verses on the mass graves being discovered almost every day in Iraq. (Via Real Clear Politics.)
- 7:51 AM, 14 May 2003 [link]
No One Believes the New York Times: This Guardian analysis of the Jayson Blair scandal contains a nugget I had missed in earlier reports. In many of his false stories, Blair simply made up interviews with people he had never even met. And how did those people react when they saw these false stories?
"What he did is on an epic scale," says Alex Jones, a former Times journalist, author of a monumental history of the paper, and now a professor at Harvard University. "But the thing that shocked me was the reaction of people when they read about [themselves] in the New York Times and knew it to be false. Their reaction seemed to be a kind of shrug - 'What do you expect?'" Not one person whom Blair claimed falsely to have interviewed contacted the paper to point it out.Not one. Professor Jones is shocked by that, but I'm not. If you try, as I do from time to time, to get an error corrected in a newspaper, you will find that it is difficult to get your correction acknowledged, much less accepted. Many readers know this, if not from personal experience, then from a friend's experience.
By coincidence, the Guardian currently provides a flagrant example of this problem. Like many other newspapers, the Guardian greatly exaggerated the scale of looting in the Baghdad museums. They have yet to print a single correction, though they owe their readers many. I've sent them one email on the subject, which they ignored. I'll send them another today.
- 1:48 PM, 13 May 2003
Update: In fact, several people did complain to the Times, with no success. For more, see this post.
- 4:46 PM, 19 May 2003 [link]
First Thoughts on the Saudi Terror Attack: The terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia has the marks of an Al Qaeda operation, from the first reports. Assuming it was, here are my first thoughts.
Until now, Al Qaeda had left Saudi Arabia alone, even though one of its biggest grievances was the American presence in Saudi Arabia. Most think that was because parts of the Saudi regime were backing al Qaeda, some out of belief and others as a bribe to be left alone. If Al Qaeda no longer is leaving the Saudis alone, then we can suspect that the Saudi government, perhaps for its own reason, perhaps in response to our quiet pressure, perhaps both, is no longer tolerating support for Al Qaeda. Whether we could have done even better by open pressure on the Saudis is something the experts will continue to debate. For now, we have to say that this terrorist attack does give some support to those who thought we would do better through quiet pressure.
The attack also shows how much we have cut back on Al Qaeda's reach—apparently. Before the 9/11 attack, Al Qaeda was spreading around the world and was able to do things like mount simultaneous attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Since then, they have been able to mount attacks only in Muslim countries and their scale has been much reduced. All this is promising, but I have to add the "apparently" because Al Qaeda has shown such ability in the past to wait for the best moment to strike. I think they are unable to hit us as they did before, but must admit that they may just be waiting.
The timing of the attack shows that, like Hitler, Stalin, and a host of other dictators, the Islamo-fascists often dissemble when they present their demands, especially to the Western news media. The attack came, as everyone knows, after we announced that we were withdrawing our troops from Saudi Arabia. The satisfaction of what Osama bin Laden claimed was one of his three principal demands did not cause the terrorists to call off their attack. (I assume that they were preparing for it before we made our announcement.) Those who think that we can satisfy this group of terrorists by some compromise need to look at their more honest statements of goals directed to potential Muslim recruits and supporters. As I concluded in this post analyzing one such statement, no compromise is possible. It is them or us.
- 10:49 AM, 13 May 2003
Update: Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post comes to the same conclusion I did about the Al Qaeda terrorists:
They kill Americans and others when Israel makes serious efforts to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, and when Israel makes no such efforts. They kill Americans and others when Washington stations troops in Saudi Arabia, and when it begins to withdraw them. They kill Americans and others when Bill Clinton leans over backward to avoid confronting Saddam Hussein, and when George W. Bush deposes the Iraqi dictator.No compromises are possible.
- 4:32 PM, 14 May 2003 [link]
Thanks to All who emailed answers to the question I posed here. The song that I was trying to remember is sung to Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, which accounts for some of its charm, since the gentle lyrics seem so out of sync with the martial music. Several of you remembered with fondness the joke at the end:
Now you may think that this is the end.And one emailer remembered that this was set up by an earlier:
Now you may think that this is the end. Well it isn't for there is another chorus.And there are still other variations, with more choruses.
Most remembered that Mitch Miller had popularized the song on his TV program in the 1950's, and one thought that it might have been written by Stan Freberg. Two of you sent in audio links to this site where you can listen to the song. (You'll need a plug-in that plays midi files.) From the same site, I also learned that the words are sometimes sung to another tune. And, I made one small mistake. It's not "that duck"; it's "a duck".
Some emailers gently wondered about this gap in my knowledge, though none put it that crudely. I was lucky enough to grow up without a TV in my home, and have never watched it much. Although I think I am better off for that, it has left big gaps in my knowledge of popular culture.
(Though less important, this is more fun than discussing terrorism, isn't it?)
- 7:26 AM, 13 May 2003 [link]
Lincoln Sailors on Bush Visit: All those attacks on the Bush visit to the Abraham Lincoln may make you wonder what the sailors thought. A reporter for the Lincoln's home port newspaper, the Everett Herald, has the answer. The Lincoln sailors loved the visit. And they didn't care for the criticism:
Word about the partisan sniping traveled fast throughout the ship.Bush already had most of the sailors' votes; now he has most of their hearts as well. He spent 18 hours on board the Lincoln, met nearly all of the sailors on the ship, ate privately with the enlisted men, and struck them as "real", "personable", and "genuine". Some are even using pictures of themselves with the president for their computer screensavers.
Not everyone on the ship was happy:
Perceptions on the ship differed with the uniform one was wearing, of course.(Via KVI talk show host John Carlson.)
- 5:22 PM, 12 May 2003 [link]
Did Saddam Influence Al-Jazeera? Maybe. Agents for the Iraqi National Congress retrieved intelligence documents that suggest he tried to subvert the network. The INC showed the documents to the Times of London, which answers the question with a tentative yes.
Some of the files the INC claims it recovered - seen by The Sunday Times - apparently reveal how Iraqi agents infiltrated the Al-Jazeera television station, dubbed "the CNN of the Arab world", in an attempt to subvert its coverage of Saddam's regime. The station, claim the documents, was an "instrument" of the regime.Saddam's agents certainly tried to subvert Al-Jazeera, and may have had some success.
- 2:58 PM, 12 May 2003 [link]
Half Empty or Half Full? British Major-General Tim Cross argues that the media is ignoring the progress made in Iraq:
It is a fact of life in the modern media age that it is the setbacks that will be noticed. In war steady progress rarely hits the headlines, and the same applies during peace. While many of the reports and commentaries focus on isolated incidents and difficulties, the unseen reality is that we are slowly but surely getting Baghdad and Iraq back on its feet.One interesting detail: "In the south, all five power stations are working, for the first time since 1990." That is, since before the first Gulf War.
- 7:50 AM, 12 May 2003 [link]
Mickey Kaus has had the best take I've seen on the latest New York Times scandal. (You may have to scroll down. As wealthy as Microsoft is, it apparently can not afford anchor tags for Kaus. An anchor tag, if you are wondering, allows a link to a specific place in an internet document, rather than the whole document.) Kaus rightly calls attention to the two factors that made Jayson Blair's long career of error and plagiarism at the New York Times possible, affirmative action and gross mismanagement by Howell Raines. I find the latter more interesting.
The NYT story itself makes out a prima facie case of editorial negligence against Raines. a) He allowed a reporter with a highly shaky record be assigned to a major national story (the sniper case); b) He didn't tell the relevant editor (in this case national editor Jim Roberts) about the reporter's shaky record-- because, Raines says, he didn't want to "stigmatize" the reporter for having sought "help"! c) He didn't ask questions when this shaky reporter suddenly came up with a big scoop that none of the dozens of other reporters on the case had come up with. ...Much of this happened, it seems clear reading between the lines, because Raines got too close to a low level employee, a common mistake for managers. During the same time period that he was coddling Jayson Blair, Raines lost or pushed out many veteran employees. Recently, he embarrassed the newspaper by his absurd over coverage of the Augusta golf course controversy. The Jayson Blair story, and others, make it obvious that Raines simply doesn't listen to many of the people who work for him, a fault in any manager, but especially bad in an executive editor. Maybe he would do better if he had a Harvard MBA, like a certain president I could name.
- 7:20 AM, 12 May 2003 [link]
You're Not Getting Older, you're getting better. Or at least nicer. A psychological study found that, as people aged, their personalities changed and they became more "conscientious, agreeable and extroverted".
- 6:54 AM, 12 May 2003 [link]
What Kind of Person Only Speaks Klingon? Just the kind you would expect. And there's a job available if you can translate between Klingon and English.
- 10:01 AM, 11 May 2003 [link]
Like Many Others, I have been amused by the Democratic attacks on President Bush's carrier landing, not only because they kept replaying a scene that shows him looking good, but because the attacks bring up the obvious comparisons to Democratic presidents, especially our most recent:
Anyway, since the topic is presidents and aircraft carriers, I was reminded of the 1994 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings. President Clinton used the aircraft carrier George Washington to ferry himself, various high-ranking officials, 40 White House aides, and 23 members of the Press Corps across the English Channel. He made remarks on the ship June 5, and the next day he and his entourage went ashore for the ceremonies in France (images of which were later used in campaign commercials). Along with them went dozens of towels and bathrobes lifted from the ship's stores. The Navy investigated and presented the White House a bill for $562. On June 16, 1994, the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance issued a memo to the staff asking that those who took the items please remit payment. No checks were forthcoming, so a member of the office paid the entire bill just to kill the issue. Nevertheless, by then "Towel-hook" had become another data point in the case for the Clinton administration's contempt for the military. And I'm guessing that after President Bush left the Abraham Lincoln no one felt it necessary to count the silver.If I were a Democratic strategist, I would not want to revive coverage of that issue. As a small "r" republican, I should add that I am uncomfortable with monarchical displays from any of our presidents. I thought Clinton was unwise to boast by taking the Washington to Normandy, and that Bush's carrier landing comes closer to the line than I like. As a campaign consultant, though, I would have urged him to do it. And then been delighted that the Democrats would make a fuss over it, especially Democrats like Senator Byrd and Congressman Waxman.
- 9:31 AM, 11 May 2003 [link]
"A Duck May Be Somebody's Mother" And, indeed she is. When I have counted I have seen nine or ten ducklings watched over by this mother duck, though not all of them are in this picture.
(By the way, can you tell me the song the phrase comes from? It followed a line urging us to be kind to our web-footed friends, but I can't remember the rest.)
- 9:10 AM, 11 May 2003
Update: For the answer, from many emailers, see this post.
- 7:34 AM, 13 May 2003 [link]
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. The holiday always seems a little awkward. How, after all, can you thank some one, appropriately, who literally gave you life? Those who are mothers themselves seem to do it best, as in this reminiscence on mothers as benevolent dictators, by Barbara Kay. (Of course, legal changes have made it much harder for mothers to be benevolent dictators, in the United States anyway. About fifteen years ago, I saw a story on a fourteen year old girl who had decided to live on the streets in the neighboring suburb of Bellevue. Though all responsible people agreed this was a terrible idea, there seemed to be no legal way her mother, a real estate broker, could stop it.) Susan Konig misses those benevolent dictators, and thanks her own mother for being one.
The New York Times always has problems celebrating Mother's Day, and today is no exception. They have no editorial on the subject, but do have this tendentious op-ed by Kathleen Gerson, arguing that, really, working mothers don't hurt their children. (Much depends, I think, like most Americans, on the age of the children.) They follow that with Harvey Fierstein's piece about getting "two shots at motherhood". Yes, that's Mr. Fierstein, who is claiming to have been a mother twice. And, judging from the column, Professor Gerson isn't a mother either. The Washington Post is more sensible than the Times, as it almost always is these days. Their op-ed piece is written by a mother, Ruth Marcus. At the end, she comes close to wishing for what Barbara Kay had:
And yet, is it this way because we actually don't want it any other way, don't want to cede the control that comes with the responsibility? And not just the control: Are we really ready for a tiny little voice calling out for daddy in the middle of the night?(I do hope her husband picked up his boxer shorts today, even as I wonder why she would put that particular detail in the op-ed.)
- 7:13 AM, 11 May 2003 [link]
The German Government has not taken my advice that they might learn something from Poland. Now this short article on Poland's special forces, the GROM, shows what they are missing.
- 8:56 AM, 10 May 2003 [link]
Osama bin Laden is Still Dead says Ghislaine Alleaume. The French expert on Arab affairs has concluded that he lost an arm to American bombing in Afghanistan and died soon after. Here's the story in English, and here's a longer version in French. Though I am not an expert, this is the same conclusion that I had come to some time ago. If he were alive, we would have seen a videotape by now.
- 8:45 AM, 10 May 2003 [link]
Scandal Definitions are different in different countries. (And, within countries. Louisiana voters would be indifferent to campaign finance scandals that would force a Minnesota official from office. And between political organizations. Old line American political machines often had rather strict prohibitions against married men straying that their reformer opponents did not. The late Mayor Daley of Chicago saw nothing wrong in a party official selling insurance to the city, but he expected the man to leave his secretary alone.) Some countries expect government contracts to be decided by open bidding; others assume that personal connections and political ends will determine which company gets the taxpayers' money. Canada generally follows the first principle, which is what makes the latest Chrétien scandal there so interesting.
Canada decided, after years of dallying, to replace its forty year old Sea King naval helicopters. Three companies, the US based Sikorsky, the British-Italian Team Cormorant, and the French based Eurocopter, competed for the contract. Now, opposition MPs in Canada are charging that Canada's ambassador to France (and Chrétien nephew), Raymond Chrétien, has rigged the bidding to favor Eurocopter. The Canadian project director, Colonel Brian Akitt, though he does not make the same political charge, does believe that Canada is choosing the wrong helicopter for political reasons, one less capable than the Sea Kings it will replace. If these stories are accurate, then the Chrétien government was trying to curry favor with the French government, at the expense of its navy. (They do not even seem to have had much success in that, as another story shows. Pratt and Whitney Canada just lost a big contract to supply turboprop engines to the Europeans, even though they were the low bidder by 20 per cent.) It will be interesting to see just how important this scandal becomes in Canada.
- 8:10 AM, 10 May 2003 [link]
London's Mayor , Ken Livingstone, is trying to convince me, and many other Americans, not to visit London. Everyone in the tourist industry there must have groaned when they saw this latest outburst from "Red Ken". When he attacks Bush and tells me that:
This (The U.S. administration) really is a completely unsupportable government and I look forward to it being overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown.
I don't see a welcome mat. (He did not, of course, look forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown. In fact, he worked hard to prevent that from happening as a prominent supporter of the save Saddam ("peace") movement.)
- 1:45 PM, 9 May 2003 [link]
The BBC Is Scared of the Truth argues Rod Liddle, who used to work there. He wonders what a visitor from the planet Zarg would make of their coverage and concludes that the alien would be totally confused.
And the thing that confuses you is this: stuff happens, down here on Earth, or in Britain, at least—stuff which you have seen with your own eyes. And then the pundits and the broadcasters either ignore it or tell you—citing no evidence whatsoever—that precisely the opposite has happened and that what you actually saw was wrong.He has a pile of examples of this conflict between the facts and the coverage from the BBC program covering their recent local elections. Although the details are different, the pattern he describes is one that will be familiar to American viewers of ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. They too often try to force facts to fit their patterns, rather than simply reporting the facts.
This would not matter much to Americans if the BBC were not so influential world wide. The damage they do our image in the world is substantial and will be very difficult to reverse. They set the tone for many other news organizations, especially those in former British possessions.
(There are, of course, some Americans who are attracted to the BBC for its persistent bias, as you can see in this article from the far left Nation. That the British sailors on their flagship, the Ark Royal, found the BBC so objectionable that it was shut off and replaced by an American channel is not something the article bothers to mention.)
- 1:27 PM, 9 May 2003 [link]
Most Conspiracy Theories Are Foolish, showing more about the minds of the people who hold them than about the real world. Sometimes, however, a mock conspiracy theory can be enlightening, like this New York Post editorial which argues that Democratic critics of President Bush's carrier must be working for Karl Rove. In that same spirit, I have a mock conspiracy theory of my own about Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman.
Those familiar with Krugman only through his columns, which are infused with Bush hatred to a point close to insanity, would be surprised to read some of his other work, like his book, Peddling Prosperity, which has a far more moderate tone. In his columns, he raves about Bush, comparing him to the mad Roman emperor Caligula and the French general Boulanger, who plotted to seize power from a democratically elected government. In the book, he gave credit to a number of conservative economists for their insights. It is hard not to think that the columns are written by someone other than the Princeton economist who puts his name on them.
With conspiracy theories, we always begin by looking for motivations. The columns often contain factual errors, which he is slow to correct. Last summer I found a big methodological error in one column, as I noted here. Donald Luskin even found a gross arithmetical error in a recent Krugman column. The columns aren't even well written, as I noted in this dissection of another column with some foolish errors. Whoever writes the columns must be trying to discredit Krugman.
It is not hard to guess who that would be. Anyone who knows a little about graduate schools knows that graduate students often do much of a professor's work. Those who know a little more about graduate schools know that the graduate students often feel cheated of credit by their professors. And those who have heard some graduate school gossip know that a few graduate students take revenge by sabotaging the work of the professors they feel are abusing them. With this understood, it is easy to see what is happening. Professor Krugman, not caring to actually write the column, assigned that duty to a graduate student. The student, feeling abused, has been writing columns that will, in time, completely demolish Krugman's reputation.
It might seem that there is an obvious objection to this theory. Would not Krugman notice that the columns were making him look foolish? Not necessarily, because we do not know that he reads the New York Times. Some of the columns have errors which show that the student writing the column does not read the Times, at least not carefully, so it is entirely possible that Professor Krugman does not read the paper at all. (Presumably, the personal web site where "Krugman" sometimes defends his columns is also done by the graduate student.) A more serious objection is that a friend of Krugman's would read the columns and tip him off to what is happening. But, that would require him to have a friend, something not always true in the often nasty world of academia. Right now, his colleagues at Princeton may be chuckling each time another column is published.
It is hard to know whether to cheer for the professor or the graduate student in this scenario. Both seem clearly in the wrong. The professor should not have abused the graduate student, and the student should not be writing these nasty columns. We can, however, agree that the New York Times, which has been publishing these columns, has been made to look even more foolish than Professor Krugman. To be fooled one or twice is understandable; to be fooled dozens of times should be enough reason to fire an editor. On that last point, unlike the rest of my mock conspiracy theory, I am entirely serious.
- 8:58 AM, 9 May 2003 [link]
President Bush is a "Hottie"? So says Lisa Schiffren in this column published in the usually sober Wall Street Journal. This is something I am unqualified to judge, for obvious reasons, but the political implications are interesting. The gender gap may be smaller in the 2004 election for one of the oldest of reasons.
- 7:50 AM, 9 May 2003 [link]
More Progress in finding and recovering the Baghdad museum artifacts and documents.
- 3:22 PM, 8 May 2003 [link]
George Will finds something interesting in the 1600 page court decision rejecting parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. Researchers at the Brennan Center cheated in order to provide "social science" support for one of the worst portions of the bill, its limits on issue ads.
- 3:16 PM, 8 May 2003 [link]
"Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee" is the discouraging, and often accurate, title of Nat Hentoff's book about attacks on free speech. It is also the policy of the Guardian newspaper. In this editorial, the Guardian calls for its ideological opponent, Fox News, to be prevented from broadcasting in Britain. Bizarrely, the Guardian, which makes its living by printing biased news, claims that: "We don't want biased news over here". So why do people buy the Guardian?
The Guardian sees great threats to freedom of speech in the United States when a few radio stations and some fans criticize the Dixie Chicks. It sees none when it calls for Fox News to be prevented from broadcasting. Even for the Guardian, this double standard is remarkable.
As I understand the editorial, Britain still has laws something like the American "fairness doctrine" that did so much to stifle free speech here. President Reagan did a great thing for free speech when he dropped that restraint. Britain would benefit from a similar opening of their airwaves. It would be especially good for the BBC, which has serious bias problems, to get some competition for its unexamined leftism.
- 7:45 AM, 8 May 2003
Update: The Guardian editorialists aren't the only ones who favor freedom of speech for themselves, but not others. So does one Julian Petley, who is "chairman of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom" and thinks that allowing Fox News into Britain "would bring about a form of censorship". I am not making that up, as you can see in this article.
- 3:01 PM, 8 May 2003 [link]
Jonathan Chait, senior editor at the New Republic, has some good advice for liberals. Don't be blinded by hatred for George Bush.
Perhaps the most disheartening development of the war -- at home, anyway -- is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I'm against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie. Their opposition to Bush has made liberals embrace principles -- such as the notion that the United States must never fight without U.N. approval except in self-defense -- to which the Clinton administration never adhered (see Operation Desert Fox in 1998, or the Kosovo campaign in 1999). And it has made them forget that there are governments in the world even more odious and untrustworthy than the Bush administration.The same advice, with different labels, could have been given to some conservatives during the Clinton administration. More than one conservative let hatred for Clinton distort their thinking—and it cost them with the public.
The Bush hatred seems to have two sources. Some hated Bush from the beginning just because of who he was, a southerner and the son of a wealthy and powerful man. (The widespread prejudice against southerners gets less attention in our national elections than it deserves. It hurt Clinton in 1992 in much of the Northeast and it hurt Bush in 2000 in the same areas.) Other Bush haters have never gotten over the Florida vote count fiasco, where Al Gore and some Democratic election officials made certain that whichever candidate won would be tarnished in the eyes of the opposing party, by the way they chose to make the fight over the recount.
- 6:54 AM, 8 May 2003
Update: As if to illustrate Chait's point, we have this column by British novelist Margaret Drabble. She seems to think the nose art on American warplanes is new—it's not—and not to have noticed the Iraqis welcoming the American troops. Whether her loathing for the United States is literally insane is something I will leave to the psychiatrists, but I do see disturbing parallels to the hatred Stalin had for the kulaks and Hitler had for the Jews. And, here are still more examples from the L. A. Times Book Festival and similar places.
- 2:47 PM, 8 May 2003 [link]