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January 2003 Archives

January 1, 2003

New Years Resolution

It would be nice to say that one of my new years resolutions is to post *much* more often to this blog. However, I don't know how much I'll be able to in the next month and a half.

Next week, I'm going to be making a long-overdue trip to Kolkata (that's Calcutta for those of you who haven't been keeping up with recent government mandated spelling changes). I'll be back in time to attend the Princeton - Penn basketball game at the Palestra; it's important.

If I can find a easily accessible computer over there (which I don't think will be *that* difficult) and if I have the time (which may turn out to be difficult), I'll keep you all posted in what I see, hear, and read.

West Bengal (the province which Kolkata is the capital of) has the only democratically elected communist government in the world (in the history of the world, I believe). A few years back, to poke a snook at the United States, it changed the name of the street the US consulate was on from Harrison Road to Ho Chi Mihn Saroni (Saroni means 'road'). So, you must realize that I can't wait to read the newspapers over there (especially the non-English-language ones) and see what they say about the US and Iraq. I hope that if there is a war, it won't start until I return to the US; however, if it does commence before, I'll make sure to keep you updated.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Kolkata has been the birthplace and childhood/early adulthood home to two Nobel Prize winners. Can you name them? (And, before you say Mother Theresa, I'll tell you that she was born and raised in Europe.)

January 2, 2003

Might as well kill ourselves now

Perhaps you had a good day yesterday. Perhaps you had a good year last year. Perhaps you had a good decade last decade. Well, not according to resident Guardian nitwit George Monbiot (last seen arguing that starving Third World residents are happier than people in the West because they're too poor to afford anything -- a point well-Fisked by James Lileks), who argues that quality of life in the United States peaked -- I kid you not -- in 1968. His logicargument? Well, he doesn't, as far as I can tell (I'm too nauseous to read it a second time) explain how he calculates the year, but it's very precise, because he cites 1974 as the end of everything good for the UK. (I wonder if he can break it down more specifically county-by-county, so that we know precisely when our lives were ruined.)

With the turning of every year, we expect our lives to improve. As long as the economy continues to grow, we imagine, the world will become a more congenial place in which to live. There is no basis for this belief.
Except, you know, all of Western history since the Enlightenment.
If we take into account such factors as pollution and the depletion of natural capital, we see that the quality of life peaked in the UK in 1974 and in the US in 1968, and has been falling ever since. We are going backwards.
I think what Monbiot means is that he last read a newspaper in 1968; how else could he get the idea that pollution was increasing? Perhaps he missed the extensive Clean Air Act of 1970, or the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Oh, what's the use? His argument is simply Malthusianism/Ehrlichism revisited: the earth's resources are finite so eventually we'll all starve and die. The only thing he forgot to point out is that the sun is going to go nova one day, and even our starving pitiful little corpses will be wiped out of existence. One thing I've never seen these people address: if our resources are as finite as their imaginations, doesn't that mean we're going to run out of them and die no matter what we do? So doesn't the reduction of our consumption simply postpone the inevitable? What's the point?

Fun fact of the day

From the New York Times the other day, discussing the economics of the Korean peninsula, and with emphasis added:

South Korea's economic pressures are causing it to look to North Korea, though. With a fast-growing economy now larger than Russia's, South Korea has driven its unemployment rate down to 3 percent while its wages have increased this year by an average of 7.3 percent. With a looming labor shortage, it is easing visa requirements for ethnic Korean workers from China and Russia.
Wow. The population of South Korea is about 48 million -- one-third of Russia's. Meanwhile,
With South Korea's per capita income at $8,900 and North Korea's at $706, many businessmen here dream of tapping into North Korea's labor pool.
Obviously the fact that South Korea is doing better than North Korea isn't news to anybody outside of Berkeley and the Carter Center, but the magnitude of the gap between them deserves to be repeated regularly.

January 3, 2003

You've got to be kidding me

It seems the administration wants to curb the quality and quantity of research done by foreign students at United States universities. The administration may have tapped the best and the brightest corporate minds for inclusion in the cabinet (see: Paul O'Neil, I suppose), but it seems to have no clue on what actually happens on America's college campuses. Like, for instance, who does a lion's share of this country's cutting edge scientific and engineering research. Even though they don't know, they can find out in the linked Associated Press article. The money sentence is: "About half of graduate students in the physical sciences and engineering come from abroad." (Aside: since the faculty come from the graduate student corps, let's take a guess at what the physical science and engineering faculty population is like?)

January 4, 2003

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

In a "news analysis" in which the New York Times actually tries to put recent police shootings into statistical context, the reporter gets coy:

Though police shootings have declined consistently since then, individual incidents, like the shooting of Mr. Diallo, have nonetheless fueled a public perception that some officers are reckless in their handling of firearms. Mr. Diallo, an unarmed West African man, was shot and killed in February 1999 by four officers who fired 41 bullets, hitting him 19 times, after they mistakenly thought he was reaching for a gun.
"Fueled a public perception?" The incidents fueled a public perception? How exactly do "incidents" do that? Doesn't he mean that the Times itself fueled the public perception, with its ridiculously disproportionate coverage of the incident?

I mean, it's good to know that things are much better than they used to be:

But as police officials grappled yesterday with the many lingering questions that surround the recent cases, experts said the shootings obscured a larger reality: that the New York police had been largely successful at curtailing unwarranted gunfire by officers.

Indeed, three decades ago, such shootings were considerably less rare. In 1973, New York police officers shot 176 people, or more than four times as many as they shot last year, according to police statistics. Fifty-four of those people died, compared with the 12 shot dead by the police last year.

Great news -- but perhaps it would have been nice for the Times to report it at the time the Diallo furor was ongoing.

Note, incidentally, that the Times doesn't mention Rudy Giuliani even once in this article which praises the city for conditions while he was mayor. But it takes a gratuitous swipe at him in an article about a shooting which took place a year after Giuliani left office:

Speaking yesterday morning on John Gambling's radio show on WABC, Mr. Bloomberg expressed concern for the families, saying "four human beings are dead," and called the killings a "great tragedy, no matter what happened." His remarks suggested the mayor was trying to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had criticized not only those killed by the police, but in one case, their families.
That's not in the "news analysis" piece, remember. That's "objective reporting." Not that Giuliani cares what the Times thinks about him, I'm sure.

January 6, 2003

The forest for the trees

Let's see a show of hands over the blogsphere.

Who thinks that the United States will be a safer place... who thinks the objectives of the war on terrorism will be furthered... if Orhan Ozkan's visa is not renewed and he is forced to leave the country?

Didion on post-9/11

Simply summarized, Didion's thesis of Joan Didion's most recent New York Review of Books piece is that, right after 9/11/2001, there was an incredible opportunity for this country to explore its foreign policy shortcomings, but this opportunity was lost in a parade of patriotism and stifiling of open debate. The meat of Joan Didion's argument is found in the following paragraphs:

"California Monthly,... published in its November 2002 issue an interview with... Steven Weber..... It so happened that Mr. Weber was in New York on September 11, 2001, and for the week that followed. 'I spent a lot of time talking to people, watching what they were doing, and listening to what they were saying to each other,' he told the interviewer:

'The first thing you noticed was in the bookstores. On September 12, the shelves were emptied of books on Islam, on American foreign policy, on Iraq, on Afghanistan. There was a substantive discussion about what it is about the nature of the American presence in the world that created a situation in which movements like al-Qaeda can thrive and prosper. I thought that was a very promising sign.

But that discussion got short-circuited. Sometime in late October, early November 2001, the tone of that discussion switched, and it became: What's wrong with the Islamic world that it failed to produce democracy, science, education, its own enlightenment, and created societies that breed terror?'

The interviewer asked him what he thought had changed the discussion. 'I don't know,' he said, 'but I will say that it's a long-term failure of the political leadership, the intelligentsia, and the media in this country that we didn't take the discussion that was forming in late September and try to move it forward in a constructive way.'

I was struck by this, since it so coincided with my own impression. Most of us saw that discussion short-circuited, and most of us have some sense of how and why it became a discussion with nowhere to go"

Didion and Weber, however, miss an obvious possibility. Perhaps, on September 12th, people were reading books on Islam, Iraq, and Afghanistan (3 of the 4 subjects mentioned) not because they wanted to learn about American presence in the world, but because they wanted to learn about Islam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and figure out how they created the situation in which movements like al-Qaeda thrived and prospered. (Of course, Americans also were reading about our foreign policy; there is no requirement that only one avenue of thought and research be persued. This investigation was multivariate.) From this mid- and late-September reading and analysis, America's public debate developed into more detailed investigations on how societies that bred terror have been created.

Perhaps, the discussion did not short-circuit. Perhaps there was no failure of the political leadership or the intelligentsia (whoever they are) or the media. Perhaps the discussion actually did move forward in a constuctive way. In a quite logical progession, actually.

It's not that the discussion ended or was fruitless or has been a failure. It's just that the discussion did not go to where Didion wanted it to go. Instead of understanding this, or engaging in the discussion to move it to where she believes it should be, she castigates the entire conversation. Her article is worth a read, but it's too bad, really, that she doesn't have more faith in the intelligence and agency of the American people.

Slightly out of touch?

I don't know what kind of news sources they have down in Washington, but apparently William Raspberry doesn't read any of them. He just discovered that under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war. Then he expresses puzzlement that nobody else has noticed this, and desperation that Congress isn't asserting itself. Apparently he was asleep in October, or he would have heard that Congress already authorized war with Iraq.

Orwell would be proud

The New York Times reports on a program that offers drug addicts $200 if they agree to get sterilized or use long-term birth control. It seems like a completely unobjectionable program: it's a private program, and hence completely voluntary. And, assuming the program is effective at all -- because if it isn't, why worry about it -- it reduces the number of babies born to drug-addicted parents. Win-win. The recipients benefit, and society benefits.

And yet, the predictable crowd is unhappy with it:

"The program is fundamentally incompatible with a health care policy that respects a woman's right to choose," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It certainly raises policy concerns for government entities to be providing referrals to this program or endorsing it in any way."
That's such doublespeak that I don't even know where to begin. Offering people a choice is incompatible with the "right to choose?" Huh? There's only one way to interpret that: when she talks about "respecting" a woman's right to choose, she means exactly the opposite: that she has no respect whatsoever for women being able to make choices, and assumes that they'll make the wrong ones if given the opportunity.

And you've got to love the gratuitous invocation of Godwin's law, by the way:

"What she's doing is suggesting there are certain neighborhoods where it is dangerous for some people to be reproducing," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "It suggests they are not worthy of reproducing. It is very much like the eugenics history in America. The Nazis said if you just sterilized the sick people and Jews you would improve the economy."
Uh, I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall that the Nazis started a world war and used poison gas as their preferred method of birth control. They didn't pay volunteers $200.

And it may be politically incorrect to say so, but what exactly is wrong with suggesting that drug addicts who are willing to get sterilized for $200 aren't worthy of reproducing? Do we really have to pretend that all people, no matter how irresponsible, make equally good parents? If a woman recognizes that she is not in position to raise a child, and chooses to ensure that this won't happen (and make some money at the same time), is that really something to be upset about?

January 7, 2003

Government should do something about it

Cliches are good. They help us communicate certain ideas quickly and easily. Cliches are also bad. They allow us to communicate without actually thinking about what we're saying. If we're trying to rally soldiers in battle, the good outweighs the bad. But if we're trying to formulate public policy, then we should eschew them whenever possible.

What prompts these rather banal musings is that I've heard the phrase "We need to do something immediately! It's a crisis! Health care costs are rising," one too many times. (Okay, about 1,000 too many times, but that's beside the point.) I'm sure everyone in the country knows, by now, that "health care costs are rising." But what does that expression mean? Think about all the things it could mean. It could mean that:

  1. Doctors are charging more for their services than they formerly did.
  2. Doctors are charging the same amount, but individuals are using more of their services.
  3. Pharmaceutical companies are raising prices on their existing drugs.
  4. Pharmaceutical companies are introducing new drugs which cost more than the old ones.
  5. Individuals are using more drugs than in the past, as new diseases become treatable.
  6. We're collectively living longer, so we're getting older and collectively using more health care services.
Or any combination of the above. All of those could explain the observation about costs -- and several of them do. My point here is not health care policy, though. My point here is the discussion of that policy. Each of the issues above suggests different solutions. How is the public to understand and participate in the debate, even in the broadest terms, if the issue is portrayed to them, by the media and by politicians, so vaguely?

We've switched this newspaper with Folger's Crystals

There's a rumor going around the blogosphere that the New York Times is preparing a hatchet piece on Glenn Reynolds. They needn't bother; Ken Layne has written the definitive parody of what such a piece would look like. Ken's headline:

A Web Pundit's Success Raises Troubling Concerns
Perfectly pompous, Times-style, isn't it?

Yeah, it's a cheap shot

The New York Times is doing some shuffling of its editors, bringing in a new Op-Ed page editor:

Mr. Shipley, 39, succeeds Terry Tang, who is joining the paper's news department, where she will have "significant new responsibilities," according to the announcement.
So Ms. Tang is moving from the Op/Ed page to the Times' news department? All together now: "What's the difference?"

They didn't do it

It turns out that the nationwide search for Abid Noraiz Ali, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Adil Pervez, and Akbar Jamal has been called off, because, well, the tip alerting the government that they illegally entered the USA and were up to no good was bogus.

Instead of wondering how many such tips are bogus, I'm comforted by the knowledge, as Amitava Mazumdar has pointed out, that even if they were up to no good, we had little to fear from these five. According to the Ashcroft plan, since they were Pakistani, they would have just registered themselves and we would have found them that way.

The Year in movies

Harvey Kloman begins his review of 2002 cinema with the standard "movies these days stink and I know that because I'm artsie" qualification: "Please don’t go leaping to any conclusions: Just because I’m going to name 17 movies that you might want to think about renting doesn’t mean 2002 has been a 'great year for movies.' First, this list has an offbeat number of entries because I’ve eschewed the conventional roundness of the 'Top 10' for years. (The very alliteration of it makes my skin crawl, not to mention its visual corpulence.) Second, you’ll find no four-star masterpieces on the list -- no pantheon cinema or best-of-the-decade sure things (although maybe a few contenders). And third, just as we live in postmodern times, I think we live in post-cinema times as well: Except for technology, there’s nothing out there left to innovate in the medium -- no New Waves, no neo-Realisms, no Cinemas of Loneliness waiting to be discovered and devoured. The best of recent cinema is all a variation on themes and movements and blended genres, with a pleasure here, a delight there: good movies steeped in enough intelligence, humanity and conscience to serve as a tonic to mainstream banality."

Tonic to mainstream banality? What's he talking about? This year, in the movie theater down the street, I could see: Talk to Her, The Fast Runner, Adaptation, Far From Heaven, The Pianist, Spirited Away, Storytelling, Gangs of New York, Lovely & Amazing, Punch-Drunk Love, 25th Hour, Minority Report, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Signs, Rabbit-Proof Fence, About Schmidt, One Hour Photo, About a Boy, City of God, 13 Conversations About One Thing, Invincible, All or Nothing, Bowling for Columbine, The Quiet American, The Hours, Catch Me If You Can, Diamond Men, The Grey Zone, The Man From Elysian Fields, and 24 Hour Party People, among many others. All these movies listed were original, well acted, well directed, taken seriously by its makers, quite different from each other, and hardly banal. They come from famous directors (Polanski, Speilberg, Scorsese) and not yet famous ones. They come from big studios and from independents and from Canada, Mexico, and Europe. It was, in fact, a great year for movies.

I'm not going to make a Top Ten list. What's my recommendation? Go out and catch a movie this weekend. You'll be glad you did.

What's the term again?

Andrew Sullivan again jumps on his I-Hate-Al-Gore theme, applauding Richard Cohen's latest column which Sullivan characterizes as "disgraceful acquiescence in race-baiting in the last campaign" which caused Sullivan to go "from feeling queasy about Gore to being outright hostile."

But when one reads Cohen's column, it seems that Gore's main sin last campaign was that he didn't denounce a woman who wanted more action taken after her father had been murdered. For shame, Al! Cohen and Sullivan are correct -- you should have taken her out to the woodshed. That's what Cohen and Sullivan would have done.

And, that's it from last campaign. That's what made Sullivan outrightly hostile towards Gore. That's what Cohen uses to compare Gore to Trent Lott. Can the term moral equivalence be used here? I think it can.

January 8, 2003

If only similar penalties applied to lying politicians

The schmuck who lied to the police about being a witness during the sniper shootings last fall pleaded no contest to the resulting charges and has been sentenced to six months in jail. Although he was inside the Home Depot at the time of the shooting and didn't actually see anything he claimed to have seen, and even though everything he claimed to have seen turned out to be a lie, his defense was that he didn't make it up personally.

His attorney, Thaddeus Furlong, said that Dowdy did not see the shooting but that he did not make up the story. Furlong said Dowdy was simply relaying information he heard from a homeless friend named Linda who told him she witnessed the killing but was afraid to go to police.

"He did not seek fame; he did not seek money. . . . He was trying to help," Furlong said outside the courtroom.

Yes, and upon hearing the explanation, O.J. Simpson immediately contacted Dowdy to ask for assistance in his hunt for the real killers of Nicole and Ron.

By the way, do many homeless women shop at Home Depot?

Simply unacceptable

After reading various news stories about President Bush's stimulus plan, I see one glaring omission: No Nieporent Tax Elimination. My father pays taxes. Do we really need double taxation of Nieporents? I think not.

On a slightly less important note, is anybody else annoyed at phrases like "10-year, $674 billion plan"? For one thing, there's no such thing as a "10-year plan." Over the next ten years, we could have up to three other presidents besides W. At a minimum, we'll have one other president. Those presidents are going to have tax plans of their own. No president can plan more than four years ahead. For another, nobody has the foggiest idea what economic conditions will be like in a decade. The value of the cut is completely fictional, based on guesses about what the economy might do. We could be at war in ten years. We could have invaded France and seized all their oilcheese, giving us a world monopoly on Brie and bringing in massive tax revenues. Who knows? Nobody. So why pretend that the number $674 million is meaningful? (And you have to love the phony precision. Not $675 million. $674 million. Does anybody think they chose the latter number just because it looks slightly less made up than the former one? $675 million seems like an estimate someone pulled out of a hat. $674 million looks like a number someone took great pains to calculate.)

And for those people who don't understand what it means to say that the media is liberally biased, consider the following quote:

The administration proposes spending $364 billion over 10 years to end dividend taxation, $64 billion to accelerate the cuts in income tax rates, $58 billion to speed up the removal of the "marriage penalty," $91 billion to hasten an increase in the child tax credit, $48 billion to accelerate the shifting of lower income taxpayers to the 10 percent bracket, $29 billion to prevent more people from facing the alternative minimum tax, and $16 billion in incentives for small-business purchases.
What the Post describes as "spending" is actually lower taxes. The numbers which the paper reports are almost certainly accurate (at least as far as they go, as I discuss above), but the framing of the story is biased. Tax cuts are not "spending." If you're calculating the budget deficit (or god forbid, surplus), then cuts and increased spending may have the same net first-order effect. But they're very different.


I'm off for India in a few hours (my plane leaves in 5.5, I'll be leaving for the airport in 2). I'll be back in less than a month -- but I should be able to post a updates once I find a computer over there (and it shouldn't be hard to find a computer in India). Never fear; this page, of course, will be updated without me. David is on the case, so keep coming back.

January 9, 2003

Or maybe not

I'm flattered by Partha's faith in me, but blogging will be spotty at best this weekend, as my Powerbook isn't cooperating. When it comes back from the home for sick little Powerbooks, then I'll be back (to coin a phrase).

January 12, 2003

Five questions in

Here in Kolkata, it doesn't take long for someone to ask me about America and Iraq. In fact, it happens in every conversation. One exchange I had this morning was quite telling.

I went to see a great uncle. He's my father's mother's brother. He's well into his 90s. He is almost blind and cannot walk without assistance. He spends most of his time in a village in West Bengal, but a few weeks out of the year, he's in Kolkata. Since he was in town, I went to visit. My visit was quite representative and telling. He did not get out of his chair (being frail), but he asked the following questions, in order of when I walked in the room (I've not included my replies, since they aren't as interesting as the questions; everything is translated from Bengali):

1. How tall are you? [I'm quite tall for a Bengali man -- I get the question a lot. Usually not as the first one, though].
2. How is your Bengali?
3. How is your reading and writing [in Bengali]?
4. What do you do for a living?
5. What is America going to do in Iraq?
6. What do Americans think about it?
7. What do American muslims think?
8. Has the WTO headquarters been rebuilt? [I didn't understand, so I asked him to repeat the question]
9. Has the World Trade Organization headquarters been rebuilt?

A few things I gathered from his questioning.

First, India and the rest of the 3rd World is quite concerned about America's intentions towards Iraq. They don't see it as part of the war on terrorism; it's seen as imperalism. Going through the UN hasn't changed matters. Unless the UN inspectors actually find Iraq in violation, this won't change. The administration may not care what the third world thinks, but it's what they think.

Second, there is a deep and abiding admiration in American democracy. We do it like nobody else. Everybody understands this. What Americans think actually matters when it comes to policy decisions. And, America is a diverse place; everybody understands this too.

Third, a lot of people don't really understand what was attacked on 9/11. It wasn't the WTO, of course. I wonder how pervalent this view is.

Fourth, there is a great confidence in America's ability to do anything. He asked if the World Trade Center had already been rebuilt. In India, there is no question that it will be rebuilt. American will do that. It has the money, it has the ability, and it has the will.

Admiration is not sufficent to describe how America is held. Awe is better. Admiration and awe. And, if it invades Iraq, imperalist.

More updates on the view from Kolkata to come.

January 13, 2003

From the "Missing the Point" Department

New Jersey, fresh after passing a law to mandate the sale of smart guns that don't exist, is now planning to jump on the ballistic fingerprinting bandwagon, despite the lack of evidence that it will work. It's tempting to ascribe this to anti-gun malice, but as usual, stupidity is the better option:

The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), said it is part of a much broader ballistics fingerprinting initiative that has already passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly and is awaiting action from the evenly split Senate.

Weinberg's bill is still in committee, but she called it a crucial component to state's gun-control efforts.

"This bill was designed to answer those naysayers who say you can't do ballistics fingerprinting because criminals can make changes to obfuscate those markings," she said. "We're now saying it's illegal to make changes."

Great idea! I have another proposal: why not make it illegal to shoot people? 'Cause, you know, as long as people are going to obey the law, it seems as if you should skip the interim step and actually outlaw the acts you're trying to prevent.

January 16, 2003


Virginia Postrel is back, and she links to a piece in USA Today that points out that much of the state budgetary crisis is political, rather than financial... which means that it should come as no surprise that the New York Times' Bob Herbert wants a massive federal bailout of states and cities.

January 17, 2003

If it sounds too good to be true...

Excellent piece by Dateline NBC on the moving scam industry. Having had some family experience with this, I can assure you that this is not media hype. If anything, it understates the problem. Small moving companies show up when they feel like, take your belongings, charge whatever they feel like (regardless of previous estimates), show up whenever they feel like, and then charge whatever extra they feel like charging.

The government, of course, doesn't do anything about it. But if you want to smoke in a restaurant, don't worry: they'll be right there to stop you.

January 19, 2003

My Bengali

My Bengali is improving by leaps and bounds during my stay here in Calcutta. My pronounciation is awful -- I sound like a big American instead of a true Bengali -- but my grammar and vocabulary are getting much better.

As proof... I've learned the Bengali words for revenge, terrorism, international relations, and border. I never needed them before (in talking with my parents, relatives, and family friends), but I need them now. Everybody wants to talk about the US and Iraq. Other than when I'm going to get married, it seems like the only conversation most people want to engage me in.

Comparatively speaking

Oh, so that's how Maureen Dowd has a job: there are columnists even less coherent than she is.

January 20, 2003

Who says globalization is a bad thing?

I woke up this morning here in Calcutta, got a cup of tea, turned on the television in the apartment, and watched the second half of the Tennessee - Oakland AFC Championship game. In Calcutta! As Vanessa Williams sang, isn't the world a crazy place.

Masochism 101

So I actually watched the whole Washington Pro-Saddam"peace protest" on C-SPAN on Saturday. The whole thing. I've concluded something: the protesters are against war with Iraq. I could tell, because many different people from obscure groups came up to the podium and said, "No war with Iraq!" and the protesters cheered. They were also very opposed to racism. And oil. They don't like oil.

I couldn't quite figure out what they were for however; concrete proposals seemed just a tad bit scarce. Oh, I can guess: they're for higher taxes, socialized medicine, affirmative action, and unilateral surrender. But as to what to do to solve the Iraqi problem?

This guy has a clear idea of what he's doing out there:

"The government is going to do what they are going to do regardless," said Mike Smith, 22, a student who was one of hundreds of people to arrive in Washington in a caravan of 11 buses from Chicago. "But at least by coming we can try to make sure that people in other countries know that all Americans are not down with this war."
I'm certain that dictators the world over are glad to know that. Other than that, who exactly does this guy think cares? I understand the mindset of protestors who think they can rally to convince their government to change policy. But what sort of person thinks that it's useful to send the message that he doesn't support his government? Does he think that the next time Al Qaeda attacks the U.S., that it will skip over his home in gratitude?

The San Francisco Gate did us a public service, wandering around the local rally, collecting quotes, so we can figure out what these people are thinking:

Whitman Donaldson, San Francisco
If we go to war we will show them that we are just as bad as they are.
Boy, just think what it would show them if we hijacked airplanes and flew 'em into their office buildings.
Ann, Belgium
I can't understand why if we call our countries democracies that we are doing this s***.
Uh, because our democratically elected governments think it's a good idea? And what are you doing in this country, anyway, you cheese-eating surrender monkey-wannabe? I mean, Belgium? Come on.
Tony Magaletta
I am here today to tell the Bush administration "f** Bush and the Supreme Court he rode in on." He can take his war to the people and he will find the truth for it is out there... We do not want his war for oil... and if enough of us take to the streets we will succeed with ending his war and his reign of terror...
If a bus had wings, it would be an airplane. Tell you what, Tony. You don't have to use the oil if you don't want to.
Mike Gardner, Winters, CA
The combination of power, arrogance and negligence results in hatred and the destruction of world peace.
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side."
Kim Massey, Aptos
I wanted to come WITH my children so we can actively be involved with the peace process.
The "peace process?" She thinks wandering around holding dorky semi-grammatical signs is the "peace process?" Well, I guess Palestinians think blowing up buses and markets is part of the "peace process," so why not? Apparently the only thing that isn't part of the peace process is actual peace.
Jan Ogren, Rohnert Park, age 45
Because hitting a kid and telling them not to be violent is the same as Bush wanting to bully the Middle East.
Sure. If the kid has nuclear weapons and is guilty of genocide. In that case, exactly the same.
Koren Hoover, Mill Valley
I wanted to be part of a peaceful demonstration against Bush and his axis of evil in the White House.
Hey, that "axis of evil" line is clever. Did you think that one up yourself?
Steve Nolan, Mill Valley
Just want to let our politicians and representatives know that we should be spending our money on books not bombs. Our education for our children should not take a back seat to foreign political objectives.
Not sure how that would work. It just doesn't quite seem as if books would do the Air Force quite as much good as bombs. Maybe we could give Saddam a paper cut with books, but that just doesn't seem sufficient.
Lucy Horwitz, Los Angeles
My lifelong profession has been teaching. And I think the only hope for humanity is to unlearn war.
Maybe you should unteach war, then. It seems to work for math, after all, at least in our public schools.
Michelle Mondot, Carlton, WA
I am here to communicate how strongly I feel about the importance of taking a stand for peace and justice for all human beings on this planet. Love and caring for each other is the most important action we can take in every moment in our lives. Blessings for all!!!!
All you need is love. Well, that and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Anne Evans, Sonoma
Because I teach and it is important that our children remain safe and educated -- children of Iraq, too.
Our children should remain children of Iraq? What exactly do you teach? Not English, I hope.
Adam Titone, Sonoma County
Without voicing my opinion about the need for peace there will be no way for the administration to know that there is a majority of people who want peace not war on Iraq.
Well, no, they didn't realize that. All those pesky Gallup polls kept missing it. But now that you weighed in, Adam, I think that will get Don Rumsfeld straightened out.
Teresa, San Rafael
To show my support of peace, war is not an option!!!!!!!
It isn't? Boy, aren't those Iraqi generals going to look foolish when they try to invade Kuwait next time. War isn't an option, guys.
Wendy Wood, Marin County
I am here to support peace and oppose the worldwide oppression by the United States. There is no rhyme or reason to the probable invasion of Iraq. We are violating the United Nations charter and the REAL reason for this possible war is to dominate the oil resources of the region. There are more people against this invasion than for it in my opinion.
Worldwide oppression, huh? If only we would stop oppressing those South Koreans, Germans, and the like -- that's where we have all our troops stationed, after all.
Darryl is from Canada and he's here because he doesn't think that it's right that we're being conned by the government, the media and the corporate powers that are fueling this greedy desire for blood, oil and profit.
Yes. The greedy desire for blood. Blood, blood! I want blood! The "corporate powers" are planning to start a new marketing campaign for vampires, I guess.
Tamiko Blake
I brought my son here to show him the power that people can have when they come together for peace and justice. We will make a difference.
Or a traffic jam, anyway.

It's sort of sad to mock these people, actually. They're just all so clueless. It's as if they think that reciting Hallmark card slogans is actually a foreign policy. Note that none of them seem to actually care what happens to the people in Iraq, although they all fancy that they do. They just want "peace" more.

January 21, 2003

Just a reminder

This was written about the previous Washington "Pro-Saddam"anti-war rally," but given the play this past weekend's one got in the media, I thought it would be useful to bring it up again. David Corn (who writes for The Nation, so he's no hawk trying to discredit the movement), describes The Odd and Troubling Origins of Today’s Anti-War Movement (with emphasis added):

This was no accident, for the demonstration was essentially organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property. It is a fan of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country’s “socialist system,” which, according to the party’s newspaper, has kept North Korea “from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.” The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, “Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong.”

Officially, the organizer of the Washington demonstration was International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). But ANSWER is run by WWP activists, to such an extent that it seems fair to dub it a WWP front. Several key ANSWER officials — including spokesperson Brian Becker — are WWP members. Many local offices for ANSWER’s protest were housed in WWP offices. Earlier this year, when ANSWER conducted a press briefing, at least five of the 13 speakers were WWP activists. They were each identified, though, in other ways, including as members of the International Action Center.

In short, these people are hard-core wackos. They're not mere leftists who think that the U.S. isn't morally pure enough to take on Saddam, or idealists who think that if we all just love and hug each other enough, that Saddam will agree to leave power. They're people who approve of Saddam Hussein. That's why they're organizing these protests.

Of course, that doesn't describe all the protesters this weekend; many were probably only dimly aware of these facts. Still, if the Aryan Nations sponsored a rally in Washington, and thousands of conservatives showed up to join in, would anybody buy the excuse that they didn't know? More to the point, what kind of excuse is that? If the only people who care passionately enough about an issue to organize a protest are, like the WWP, supporters of genocide, what does it say about the movement?


It must be hard being morally superior to everyone. There are just so many rules to remember. The Independent has weighed in on the new "Saddam going into exile" trial balloon which is floating around, and has judged it to be wanting.

Indeed, it is worth pointing out that the West should not be in the business, even as a tactical game, of offering a butcher such as Saddam any suggestion of immunity from prosecution for his crimes – such as the gassing of Kurds and the torture of opponents that we have made the basis for war. Cosy amnesties for murderers are not what we should be about.
Well, that sounds reasonable. Who could disagree with that? So what does the Independent propose? To quote the headline, "Brutal dictators should be prosecuted." He's a brutal dictator -- so brutal that he should never be granted amnesty. But force shouldn't be used to remove him from power. He should be "prosecuted." How exactly that can happen without using force to arrest him, the Independent doesn't say. So what should be done about Saddam Hussein? Nothing. The Independent thinks Bush has an "obsession" with Saddam Hussein, when he should be focusing on the war on terror. As if they were different things.

In short, the moral position is to firmly stand up and say that nobody should do anything about Saddam Hussein, because he's evil.

Yes, but other than that?

The New York Times prints a puff piece on poor suffering Pakistanis who were recently deported from the U.S. back to Pakistan. The Times spends lots of time explaining that these people weren't terrorists and weren't treated nicely by the federal government. If you merely skimmed the article, and the related profiles of some of the deportees who were interviewed, you'd feel very sorry for them. That is, if you don't squint closely enough to see details like:

Anser Mehmoud:

On April 2, he was charged with a single criminal offense: using an invalid Social Security card. He pleaded guilty to removing the "not valid for employment" label from the card so he could get a job as a taxi driver, a common practice among immigrants. He was sentenced to time served.
Naeem Jajua:
Last April, he said, I.N.S. agents arrested him for filing a second asylum application in 1996 under a false name. He admitted making the filing, but said he had grown desperate after hearing nothing about his first application for six years. After spending four months in jail, he said, he was deported in August without seeing a judge.
Naeem Shaikh:
The 31-year-old Queens taxi driver said he illegally entered the United States in 1994. Smuggled from Pakistan through three countries, he used a fake green card to pass through immigration at Kennedy Airport.
Khurram Altaf:
He said he entered the United States in 1985 on a tourist visa at the age of 18 and had overstayed it.
Syed Wasim Abbas:
After hearing a rumor that it was possible to receive a green card if one applied in Chicago, he flew there and filed an application with a false Chicago address in 1998, he said. But he said he decided to skip his court hearing in Chicago after hearing that other people were arrested for doing the same thing.
There are some sad stories here. People who have been separated from their families, who have lost money, who have lost their jobs, who don't have much in Pakistan. But they were all in the United States illegally. And the Times treats those facts as afterthoughts. I'm all in favor of immigration. Even from the Middle East and the larger Islamic world. But it has to involve people who follow the rules. Otherwise, what's the point? How can you pretend that it's okay for people to overstay visas or sneak into the country or falsify documents? How can you justify a huge INS bureaucracy which doesn't bother to enforce immigration law?

January 23, 2003

Tell me something I don't know

A great piece by Claudia Rosett in OpinionJournal denouncing the promotion of Libya to chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

It is a betrayal of millions upon millions of people living under governments so brutal--from North Korea to Turkmenistan to Iraq--that most citizens do not dare to demand the freedoms that belong by right to all human beings.

It is absurd, in fact, to describe the exaltation on Monday of Libya's Ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji to head of the Human Rights Commission as the product of a "vote." That implies there was some sort of democratic process at work. In the secret balloting among the 53 nations that currently sit on the Human Rights Commission, only three--the U.S., Canada and, reportedly, Guatemala--voted against Libya. Among the 33 governments that voted in favor of Libya were almost certainly the rulers of such civic sinkholes as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Cuba and Zimbabwe. Like the despots in Syria, Vietnam and China, these are folks who do not have the guts to face a genuine system of democracy back home, They wield their votes at the U.N. not as legitimate representatives of their own fellow citizens, but as two-faced members of the global club of tyrants, who hold sway through force and fear.

Then there are the 17 nations that abstained from the balloting, including such moral beacons of the European Union as France and Germany. Their thinking seems to be that they were simply complying with U.N. etiquette, which, as it happens, operates with lots of ritual but no regard for the actual needs of the oppressed. When the Human Rights Commission was founded, back in 1947, the U.S. chaired its sessions not only for the first year but for the next five. Maybe that bothered such rivals as Stalin's U.S.S.R., but back then the idea was to help ordinary people, not tyrants.

Since then, it has become the custom that the chairmanship of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights rotates yearly among five geographic groups of member nations. This year was Africa's turn. The African members nominated Libya which has been liberally dispensing funds to curry influence among African rulers. Rather than take a stand on this outrage, the European Union took a coffee break. Thus did Libya take its seat on the throne of this erstwhile human-rights outfit, which we should perhaps start describing as the U.N. Commission on Rotating Chairs--a label that would better reflect its priorities.

What she says. I have just two thoughts in response:

  • What difference does it make? The only role of the UNHRC is to denounce Israel anyway. This vote will just make it more obvious how biased the Commission is.
  • We couldn't ask for a more perfect illustration of why the United States will never join the International Criminal Court being pushed on us by the multilateralists of the world. The "International" in the International Criminal Court consists of three groups: the United States, countries that have no respect for human rights, and countries that claim to care about human rights but are too gutless to stand up for them. Why on earth would the U.S. ever allow one of its citizens to be turned over to that monstrous collection in order to stand trial?
Sometimes you hear news like this and you react with outrage. Sometimes you just grimace and say, "About what I expected." This is one of the latter situations.

January 24, 2003

Check it out

In Heather MacDonald's book The Burden of Bad Ideas, she details the shift in focus of the New York Times' Neediest Cases charity campaign over the decades. When it began, it targeted those who had problems not of their own making -- orphans, those who were ill, etc. More recently, the Times began to focus on people whose need arose from their own misconduct -- drug abuse, children they couldn't afford, etc. She used this relatively minor issue to highlight one of the problems with modern liberalism: the refusal of liberals to force anybody to ever take responsibility for their own lives, to treat everyone as a victim, either of circumstances or of malevolent forces.

I thought of this when reading the latest silliness from the New York Times the other day, complaining -- in the news section -- that banks make money by offering services to their clients. What service? Believe it or not, overdraft protection. Yes, banks are evil because, when their customers write bad checks, the banks cover the checks instead of bouncing them. And then they have the nerve to charge fees to the customers. (The article implicitly accuses the banks of charging too much, but apparently the Times doesn't realize that allowing the checks to bounce would cost the customers double fees: the bank fee plus the fee charged by the company to whom the check is written.)

But here's the best part:

Typically a bank's best customers, about 10 percent, are offered traditional overdraft lines of credit, and they are not enrolled unless they explicitly agree. In contrast, the new programs automatically enroll almost every checking-account customer who does not have a traditional overdraft line. When they use debit or automated teller machine cards, customers often do not realize they have overdrawn their accounts until they receive a letter from the bank disclosing the fee.
Unless, you know, the customers figure out how much they have in their accounts before they overdraft. You know, like by balancing their checkbooks? Or by selecting "Balance Inquiry" at the ATM?

And what consumer advocacy story would be complete without a sob story, including a life threatening illness?

While banks generally make the programs available to all customers, statistics from industry consultants show a few accounts generate most of the fees. In many cases, those customers are financially unsophisticated and are unaware until later how much they are being charged, consumer advocates say.

Mark Gregg, an Ohio man who received a liver transplant in November 2001, estimated that he paid more than $1,000 in overdraft fees to FirstMerit Bank of Akron, Ohio, last year. Account statements provided by Mr. Gregg supported that estimate.

"I was really sick, so there were things going on that I wasn't really diligent about," said Mr. Gregg, who was unable to work after the transplant and whose sole income is a $974 monthly Social Security disability check.

Oh. Well if you weren't diligent, I definitely blame the bank. After all, if there is one thing you shouldn't worry about being diligent about, it's your finances.
In October, FirstMerit closed Mr. Gregg's account, claiming he owed more than $400 in fees. A few days later, it took those fees out of an account belonging to his parents. Mr. Gregg's mother, Barbara, had co-signed his account when he opened it.

"I was storming mad," Ms. Gregg said. "They went into my account; they did not get my permission. I think that should be illegal." Ms. Gregg said she and her husband had been FirstMerit customers for 47 years.

Well, you know, they kind of actually did get your permission, lady. What do you think you were doing when you co-signed?

Finally, if the anecdote failed to arouse your sympathy, the Times includes the "big picture" that it's so fond of:

Mr. Gowdy and other consultants agree that low- and middle-income consumers with low balances are more likely to use overdraft protection than wealthier people.


But overdraft fees are not paid equally by all customers.

In an article on bankstocks.com, an industry Web site, Ralph Haberfeld, a bank consultant, estimated that 4 percent of customers pay half the fees. That estimate would imply that a small group of people, like Mr. Gregg, the transplant patient and FirstMerit customer, pay as much as $2,000 annually in overdraft fees.

Overdraft protection programs "target people that least can afford it," Mr. Gregg said. Banks that use them "have got you against a wall, and you just throw up your hands."

You know what else is done more by poor people than rich people? Bouncing checks. Perhaps that might be why the poor use overdraft protection more. Perhaps.

So, if you read the article, you're left with the idea that the Times (a) either wants banks to go back to bouncing checks written by the poor -- though it's hard to see how this would benefit the poor, or (b) to offer free overdraft protection to the poor -- though it's hard to see exactly why banks would want to do this. We'll let the Times and "consumer advocates" ponder that one for a while.

January 26, 2003

The simplest theories are the best

Blair's Law: the ongoing process by which the world's multiple idiocies are becoming one giant, useless force.

Case in point: the New York Times reports on the impending criminal trial in Germany of Horst Mahler for "approving of crimes and inciting violence." (Those wacky Germans -- never big on civil liberties, are they?) Real prince of a guy:

A few weeks after the attacks in 2001, in a broadcast interview with Norddeutscher Rundfunk, the public network in North Germany, he called the terrorists' actions justified.

"It was frightening, but one also had the feeling that at last, finally, they had been hit in the heart," Mr. Mahler said then. "And it will certainly make them think. So, I say it was an action that, as cruel as it was, was justified."

In other comments in a letter posted on his Web site, Mr. Mahler has expressed more strident admiration for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"For decades, the jihad — the holy war — has been the agenda of the Islamic world against the Western value system. The Anglo-American and European employees of the global players, dispersed throughout the world are — as Osama bin Laden proclaimed a long while ago — military targets. Only a few need be liquidated in this manner; the survivors will run off like hares into their respective home countries, where they belong."

Lovely. It's not something new for Mahler:
Mr. Mahler, 67, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1974 for bank robberies in connection with the Red Army Faction terrorist group. Once part of the extreme left that violently opposed residual Nazi tendencies in Germany, he is now known for anti-Semitic and anti-American rants.
But wait, there's more:
The comments appeared to reflect an unsettling development in Mr. Mahler's ideology. In October, Mr. Mahler and his party's leader, Udo Voigt, reportedly attended an event at Berlin's Technical University sponsored by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic militant group with 27,000 members in Germany that was recently banned here for extremism and for spreading anti-Semitic propaganda in universities.

For Mr. Mahler, making common cause with Islamic groups has some precedent. He and other members of the Red Army Faction received terrorist training in Lebanon in the early 1970's from Al Fatah.

Gee, whoda thunk that a Jew-hating terrorist might hang out in Lebanon?

The only problem with the article is that the Times buys into its own preconceptions:

Mr. Mahler, who is defending his party in court against the government petition to ban it, is not the only former leftist in Germany to have made a political transformation.
What transformation? He went from hating the West -- to hating the West. (And J-E-W-S. Of course.)

January 29, 2003

Parlez vous loser?

Remember that unilateral French intervention in Ivory Coast several months ago? They tried to put together a peace deal between the government and rebel groups. Not quite working out as well as the French might have hoped.

Ha, ha, France Sucks

Crowds converged on the United States Embassy, demanding that Washington intervene. People chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" and waved American flags. Some held aloft a sign that read: "America welcome in Ivory Coast. France bye bye."

Not far away, the French Embassy was marred with ugly graffiti and the detritus of the violent weekend that resulted from the signing of the accord. Someone had scrawled "Zone de Guerre," or war zone, on the white fence outside.

"France bye bye." I think that says it all.

About January 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in January 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2002 is the previous archive.

February 2003 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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