Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, December 31, 2004

At last the Strib bashing: Part four, Editorial Idiocies

      Once upon a time, two acquaintances of mine were disputing about Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, when one of suddenly asked "What am I doing trying to defend T. S. Eliot to you?"  He immediately ended the conversation.  I'm beginning to feel 'Why am I trying to apply reason and logic to the Strib?'  But let's finish up by plunging into the intellectual swamp known as the Star-Tribune editorial page.

      There are three op-ed articles, of which, astonishingly, one is completely sensible.  It consists of a letter sent from a Seabee in Iraq to his mother, forwarded by her to the paper.  I think it made it through the editorial filter because it doesn't say anything about whether we're winning.  It was just personal the thoughts of a sailor to his mom.

      Mostly sensible is an essay about math by an Arthur Michelson, a schoolteacher.  But it does have one or two objectionable features, such as a paragraph about people rejecting:
sound scientific studies on drugs or nutrition if the results don't fit their preconceived notions
.  If you've read Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear recently, or his brilliant "Aliens Cause Global Warming" speech at Cal Tech, you may recall his warnings about the way conscious and unconscious bias can creep into scientific studies.  Having actually read into many of those 'scientific' studies, I'd advise everyone to take none of them seriously until you get a chance to dig deeply into the details and find out who conducted it and what the results showed (as distinct from what the press release or summary said they showed).

      A third Op-Ed piece is by Charles Krohn, a retired lt.-Col. who compares the war in Iraq to the Tet offensive of 1968.  He notes that the elections in Iraq will take place on the anniversary of the offensive, "when Americans lost confidence in official pronouncements that the war in Vietnam was winnable."

      That statement is quite true, and also quite pointless.  Leave aside the fact that the Iraqi "insurgents" don't number in the hundreds of thousands, nor do they have inviolable sanctuaries in neighboring countries, nor the support of a hostile superpower.  Leave all that aside.  In 1968, for every U.S. soldier killed in the Tet offensive, perhaps 10 Viet Cong or NVA died.  Within a year or so, people returning from Viet Nam would casually mention visiting various spots, and hear from gasps from old Viet Nam hands.  'You visited the such-and-such region?  That's always been totally controlled by the Communists!'  In 1972, N. Viet Nam invaded S. Viet Nam with a huge mechanized tank and artillery force, because the guerrillas were gone.  The invaders were cut to pieces by U.S. and Vietnamese air power.  It wasn't until 1975 that the Communists won.

      They won because the Congress and the Administration had lost the belief in victory.  Politicians bugged out long before the public did.  Retelling the details of that loss would take more time than I care to spend, but let's keep clear that if the will had been there in the White House and Congress, the USAmerican people would have, on balance, supported the war.

      Special note should be made of Lt.-Col. Krohn's mention of "storming of our embassy," an alleged event of the offensive.  Perhaps in some parallel universe, but in the real world, the VC managed to breach the embassy wall and get onto the grounds.  They were held off by the Marine guards, and eventually killed.  Not a single Communist soldier got into the embassy.

      Krohn also mentions the "attacks on virtually every provincial capital," and the assault on Hue.  Except for Hue, they were all repelled promptly.  In Hue, the Communist forces managed to dig in, and it took for weeks to get rid of them, but in the end they all died.

      Krohn concludes "The gnawing question -- the one we cannot wish away -- is: Whose side is history on?"  Nonsense.  The question is, do we panic and run after less than two thousand deaths, a bad month in Viet Nam, or do we wave the will to win?

      The worst is saved for last -- the daily foolishness of the editorial board.  On Dec. 30th, they're mad that the "stingy" U.S. govt. has had such an "appalling" performance in responding to the Indian Ocean tsunami.  [Update: originally, I forgot to include the link to the editorial.  OOPS!]

      First, although the Strib calls its editorials "Our Perspective," this is really the perspective of "The Hive."  "The Hive" was the phrase coined by Tom Bethell and Joe Sobran of The American Spectator to describe the way that so many "liberals," "leftists," and socialists react identically to events.  A bee hive doesn't have a 'group mind,' but acts like it does because all bees react essentially identically to any given stimulus.  So do many lefties.  A UN official reacted to the tsunami disaster by calling the U.S. and other countries "stingy," and blaming the lack of funds on low taxes.

      At this point, any sane person would laugh, vomit, or get angry -- not at the 'stingy' nations, but at the UN.  This is the organization that sends "peacekeepers" into countries like Bosnia and Rwanda, and does nothing while they rape children and loot the locals.  The UN that then pulls the 'peacekeepers' out suddenly so that whatever local gang of thugs that is causing the trouble locally won't be inconvenience when they start the massacres.  This is the UN that imposed sanctions on Iraq, starving children, then "corrected" that problem by setting up the oil-for-food program that built Saddam palaces, bought arms for Iraq, financed terrorist murder, and lined the pockets of corrupt politicians all over Europe and the Mid East.  I can't even pretend to take anyone who works in that cesspool of corruption seriously.

      Anyway, the hive reacted predictably to the criticism.  The New York Times immediately agreed with the UN official.  We don't spend nearly enough on 'development aid.'  For which I say, "Thank you, Jesus."  The Times neglects to mention that development is frequently a subsidy for domestic exporters (the "aid" money may have to be spent in the country that donated it, for example), or that lots of it ends up as bribes.  Nor is any notice taken of the fact that many of the greatest "givers" per capita are small countries that have their defense paid for mostly by the U.S. See here, here, here and especially here for some of the missing facts. (Hat tip, Instapundit).  As of 7:00 AM CST, Dec. 31st, over $7 million had already been donated to the Red Cross just by customers of Amazon books.

      The Strib (remember them? unfortunately, I do) had a real challenge when it came to adding something both new and stupid to this debate, but they managed.

"The United States is not stingy," Secretary of State Colin Powell bristled in response to criticism of a paltry $15 million initial U.S. contribution to tsunami-relief efforts. Bulletin for Powell: That's not the way many Americans and most the rest of the world see it.

      Oh, what matters is what people think?  Well, the majority of USAmerican voters thought Bush should be re-elected.  Somehow I don't think the Strib will use that as a reason for supporting Bush.  Only the 'many' who already agree with the Strib count.

      As for the rest of the world, I'd be fascinated to hear the Strib tell us how they surveyed the 5.7 billion people who don't live in the U.S.A. over the last day or so, and found out what the majority of foreigners think.  Did they do a Tarot reading, or stick with tea leaves?

      Update, Jan. 2, 2005: Today, Secretary Powell was on Meet the Press (hat tip, Belgravia Dispatch) and there's these exchanges:
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, there's been a lot of discussion about the administration and its response to this crisis. The New York Times on Thursday wrote this editorial. "We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poor countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities."

It's now up to $350 million, but was the initial response too timid?

SEC'Y POWELL: No, I don't think so. These things have a life cycle. Last Sunday we all started to receive word of this tragedy, and it looked like several thousand lives were lost. The enormity of it had not yet hit. But what we do in circumstances such as this is our ambassadors on the ground immediately offer aid, which they did. It's not much, $100,000 in each of the countries, but it shows that we are committed and engaged. By last Sunday afternoon, evening, I had started calling all the foreign ministers of the immediately affected nations and on Sunday evening, and then getting them all finally on Monday morning with time changes, I said to them the United States was following; "Let us know what you need. Please let our embassy know what you need," and reached out to them. So they knew we were committed right away, on Sunday afternoon.

The president then, Monday and Tuesday, called heads of government and state, said the same thing. The first request we got for aid was from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. On Sunday they asked for $7 million. The United States immediately gave them $4 million of the $7 million. That's a pretty good start. On Monday we upped it to $15 million. By Tuesday, when things were starting to jell a little more with respect to what was needed, we upped it to $35 million. And then we waited to get some assessments in. But while waiting, we dispatched teams, we diverted ships with food, we launched our military forces from our Pacific Command. The Bonhomme Richard has been launched. The Abraham Lincoln carrier was launched. So we really started to move out.

We began working with the international community. The president made a statement on Wednesday which demonstrated his concern and also created a core group to begin making sure that all of our efforts were aligned. The president was kept informed constantly from Sunday afternoon on. I spoke to him on Monday, noon, before I went out and made my first press statement. And as we got our assessments in and as the magnitude of this really hit us, then the president decided, based on a recommendation from me and administrator of the AID, Natsios, that we should go to $350 million.

This is also consistent with what other nations had been doing. I'm so pleased the Japanese have gone to $500 million, but they also started out at a much lower number, as did so many other nations. After you see the impact of this and the enormity of it, then you scale up your efforts. But it is not just a matter of money. It's a matter of getting supplies to the region and then, once you get these supplies to airports and ports, how do you make retail distribution out to the people in need? And this is where trucks, helicopters, C-130 aircraft, they come into play. There's no point spending a lot of money to put all of these supplies in the region unless you can distribute these supplies. . .

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the United States contribution will go beyond $350 million?

SEC'Y POWELL: It may well have to go beyond $350 million, but it's the time now to step back and assess, see how best to use the $350 million. $350 million hasn't been spent yet. It'll be spent over time and it will be spent for supplies. It'll be spent for infrastructure rebuilding. It'll be spent for reconstruction efforts in due course. And so whether we will need more remains to be seen. But right now the international community and especially the United Nations is very pleased with the response that we have seen. Over $2 billion have been pledged just in official money, plus a lot more in terms of private contributions.

      So, the President and the Sec. of State were intervening immediately; they reacted to initial reports of a relatively small natural disaster with relatively small amounts of aid; they upped it a hundred fold as the scale of the damage was increased; they sent practical non-monetary aid in the form of military transport to drop supplies without waiting for more information; they're ready to spend more if it becomes clear that it is needed.

      Funny how no one doing the initial criticism saw fit to ask why the U.S. response was on the level that it was, or, if they asked, didn't see fit to print the response.  You might almost think they didn't care why the U.S. govt. did what it did, that they just wanted an excuse to complain.

As the Bush administration is wont to say, actions speak louder than words, and America's actions in recent days have painted the United States as a rich, self-absorbed and uncaring nation that had to be shamed into anything approaching appropriate concern about this catastrophe. The Bush administration's handling of this crisis has been inept beyond belief.

      Yeah, the 'inept' U.S. has Air Force cargo planes on the scene dropping relief supplies, and is sending naval forces to aid in getting the relief supplies handed out and the bodies collected.  I sort of wonder what other people are doing.  Given the actual level of military forces they possess, I doubt the Swedish Air Force is dropping all that many supplies to the needy.

There's a broader context here that bears consideration. Two days before Christmas, the media reported that unprecedented U.S. deficits -- caused substantially by the Iraq war, which most of the world hates, and by Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans -- had led the Bush administration to cut substantially its previously agreed contributions to world food programs. By going back on its commitments, the Bush administration forced numerous aid agencies to suspend ongoing programs in many impoverished nations -- including, ironically as it would turn out, Indonesia.

      More crap about aid programs, rather than aid actually feeding the hungry.  Want to give some specifics, Strib?  Including the amount spent on paying the "relief workers," with estimates of how much gets stolen?  No, I didn't think so.

Then a day after Christmas came the undersea earthquake and resulting tsunami waves that very likely will end up taking well more than 100,000 lives while putting millions at risk of disease and destroying both their livelihoods and homes. From the very first hours it was apparent this was going to be an almost unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Yet Bush remained at his Texas ranch where, aides said, he spent time cutting brush and bicycle riding. He uttered not a single public word about what had happened in Asia.

      We now see a main theme of the editorial: Bush doesn't flap his gums nearly enough.  I guess the Strib never heard the saying "talk is cheap."

      By the way, I wonder how many of the paper's employees are heading overseas to work on relief efforts?

On Monday, the United States announced an initial $5 million in aid, mostly through the Red Cross, to which it said it most likely would add an additional $10 million at some point. Bush still was nowhere to be seen.

The criticism began almost immediately, and it did not come only from a U.N. official. Comparisons were drawn, for example, to the additional $80 billion that Bush has requested for the war in Iraq and the $30 million to $40 million that his January inauguration will cost.

      Another main theme emerges: Bush spend enough on the Strib's priorities.  Reminds me of Bierce's definition of an egotist (quote approximate): "Egotist: A stupid fellow, more interested in himself than me."

The criticism had an effect. While responding angrily to accusations of stinginess, the administration on Tuesday added an additional $20 million to the $15 million it had announced on Monday. The appearance was clearly that Washington had been shamed into the larger contribution. Bush was still in Texas with his brush piles and mountain bike.

But his absence had been noticed, and numerous reporters in Crawford were pressing Bush aides on why he was invisible in this crisis. Late Tuesday, in response to the questions, it was announced that he would have a public statement Wednesday. Again, the appearance was that he was shamed into it.

      Apparently, the Strib also never heard the statement about appearances being deceiving.  Nor did it occur to them that the President might have something better to do than talk.

Contrast Bush's behavior to that of the world on Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States lost 3,000 people to terrorist attacks. The expressions of grief, support and solidarity from world leaders -- including Asian leaders -- were both abundant and public.

      OK, I'll be glad to see that contrast.  Tell us what each and every "leader" was doing beforehand, and what they did afterwards.  And also, tell us what they did later, when something more than talk was needed.

At every step of the way, however, the official U.S. response to this disaster has been seen as grudging. That's not good, especially at a time when much of the world reviles the United States for its unilateral actions in Iraq that have taken such a horrific toll on civilians.

As Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Washington Post, "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care." By its niggling contributions and by Bush's silence, the United States has strongly suggested to the world that it doesn't care all that much.

      Ah, I see, the lives of those lousy Asians don't matter in themselves.  They matter because of the possible political problems caused by not posturing properly in public. (Note to self: increase the dosage of anti-alliteration medicine, Steve, it's not working).

In the initial days after such a disaster, there are practical limits to the amount of aid the relief pipeline can handle. Managing the release of U.S. funds into that pipeline is important, to ensure the money isn't wasted.

      Oh, just throwing money at the problem might be a bad idea?  Then maybe Bush's only dribbling in the aid is the right way to do it!  You've just destroyed your entire basis for criticism.  The Strib editorial writers should have stopped and thought then.  Instead, they pressed on, showing that a fanatic does redouble his efforts when he's forgotten his aim.

But that concern did not stand in the way of what should have happened immediately:

Dressed in a somber black suit and subdued tie, President Bush should have called an impromptu news conference in Crawford Sunday afternoon. He should have reported to the American people and to the world that the United States stood with the suffering people of Asia and would do everything in its power to help them. To that end, he should have said, he has directed that $1 billion be pledged to the relief effort, to be released as needs are identified. Further, he should have said he has been in touch with leaders of the affected countries and offered whatever U.S. military capabilities might be helpful in meeting both the short-term relief needs and the longer-term reconstruction challenges.

      Of course, Bush is sending military units to help out.  He probably was on the phone to Asian leaders, or at least members of the Administration were.  So what's missing?  A) Bush didn't shoot his mouth off.  B) Bush didn't name a sum first, and then look around for something to spend it on later.

      Oh by the way, that hypothetical billion isn't Bush's money!  It's the taxpayers' cash.  Do they get consulted before their money is spent?  And that pesky Constitution says that expenditures have to be authorized by Congress.  Shouldn't they be involved in deciding what is to be spent?

This pledge of $1 billion, he should have said, is but the first American assistance in what will be a very long and difficult recovery for the affected region.

      Pardon me, just how much is the Strib calling on us to spend?  I don't think even they know.  But it's not the amount, it's the principal of the thing -- throw money at problems first, think later.

He should have ended by saying that the American people send their heartfelt condolences to all those who lost loved ones -- and especially to the thousands of parents whose children were lost. We embrace you in your loss, he should have said, and while we cannot make that loss disappear, we will be with you every step of the way as you recover from this disaster.

      Noble sentiments.  But individual USAmericans are already expressing them, in words, in actions, in donations.  It says something about the Strib that it can't conceive of anybody's actions being important.  I believe this is called the Feuhrerprinzip.

      But I wouldn't want you to think I'm implying the Strib's editors are fascists.  I'm not implying anything; I'm stating it out loud: these "liberal" swine hate freedom and want to see it destroyed.

That's what the leader of the United States should have said, because only he, of all the world's leaders, can say it to such good effect. By example, the United States should have led from the start, because it is the right thing to do and because it so clearly would demonstrate the generosity of spirit and dedication to doing good in the world that Americans feel in their hearts.

      The rate at which the USAmerican people are donating money for tsunami relief already demonstrates that, thank you.

Bush's Wednesday statement helped, but it was short and defensive. Today he should say something like the statement outlined above. It's late, but there's still time to lead the world through a very dark day.

      Neither Bush nor anyone else will lead the world through a "dark day."  Thousands of relief workers will help the locals recover from this disaster.  That's what's really needed, and that's what will be supplied.

      Meanwhile, the Strib will have to live with the disappointment of not having a President who substitutes empty words for effective deeds.


At last the Strib bashing: Part three, Campaign spending by Democrats and Republicans

      On page six of the first section, the Star-Tribune has an article about spending in the recent presidential campaign.  It's reprinted from the Washington Post, and is of much higher quality than the stuff the Strib or Times puts out (or at least, that's my experience).  Still, it has some defects worth noting.

      The story is by "Thomas B. Edsall and James V. Grimaldi," whom the Post identifies as "Washington Post Staff Writers."  When I saw Edsall's name, I thought is seemed familiar.  A little searching shows Edsall is the author or co-author of four books (Chain Reaction: The Impact Of Race, Rights, And Taxes On American Politics; The New Politics Of Inequality; Power And Money: Writing About Politics, 1971-1987; The Reagan Legacy), and all seem to be of the "Go, Democrats, Win Those Elections" genre.  Given that he is arguably a biased source, perhaps that fact should be mentioned somewhere?

      The first paragraph tells us that the Bush campaign outspent Kerry by $60 million, about 6% of each sides total spending.  Further analysis shows that the Bush total includes money spent by the Republican National Committee, starting in 2001.  The Republicans aimed to develop ways of "targeting" voters and preparing "an early and cost-effective advertising plan."  The Democratic National Committee was doing much the same, but the Republicans outspent them by $122 million dollars in "this period."

      Question: what is the period?  Specific dates would be nice.  Question: Should National Committee money be counted as part of the campaign spending?  If we remove it, the spending advantage shifts to Kerry.  And what spending are we counting for Kerry?  Money spent to win him the nomination, or just money for the general election?  Considering the 'anybody but Bush' sentiment displayed by so many Democrats last year, should we count money spent by Dean or Clark in the primary campaign as part of Kerry's expenditure?  I think it would be a real nice idea to look at these questions.

      The second paragraph of the story says that Kerry spending wasn't as effective as Bush spending.  If Kerry spent 6% less, but got only 2.6% less votes, that's a questionable conclusion.  Perhaps Kerry just needed to spend more?

      Later, the story says that the Republican presidential vote increased "nearly 10.5 million" votes, while the Democratic presidential increased "by about 6.8 million votes."  Go to CNN and we're told Bush got 60.6 million votes, Kerry 57.3 million.  So Bush had 50.1 million votes last time, and got a 21% increase in votes.  The Democrats had 50.5 million last time, and increased their vote 13%.  Take Kerry's 1.13 ratio of 2004 to 2000, multiply by 1.055, the ratio of the Bush to Kerry spending reported in the article, and you get an expected result of 1.20, or a 20% increase in Bush's vote.  This is not much different than the 21% actually obtained, so again we have evidence that both sides spent about as effectively.

      In the third paragraph:
. . . two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry as dishonest about his military record, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling the president to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision.

      I'd say that the paragraph implies that the 'Swifties' were closely coordinated with Bush.  I wouldn't care, except that when the various Democratic 527s are mentioned, we get seven statements about how they were operating independently of the Kerry campaign.  No such statements appear when Republican 527s are mentioned.  Bias?  And by the way, last I looked there were extensive allegations of Democratic violation of the "no coordination" rule.  In fact, I recall complaints before the Election Commission, which was said to be investigating.  I'd think there ought to have been some mention of these issues, at least -- and if the lead author wasn't a Democratic partisan, I think there would have been.  Or if Republicans had been accused of illegal coordination, and being investigated, I think there would have been some mention.

      Now we begin getting into the meat of the article.  The Bush team decided to deemphasize the 'undecided' vote, because they were only 7% of the electorate.  Also,
most voters looked at Bush in very black-and-white terms. They either loved and respected him, or they didn't like him.

      So the Bushies cut back spending on undecideds from the normal 75-90% to only 50%.  The other half would go into finding people already inclined to vote for Bush, and making sure they were registered and went to the polls.  I'd heard of this during the campaign, and here are some specific details.  Good reporting, Post, and good decision to reprint it, Star-Tribune.

      Kerry, says the story, didn't really
address the general election until after his Super Tuesday victory in March, eight months before the election. By that time, the campaign was hamstrung by legal restrictions on any cooperation between the campaign and the independent 527 organizations running ads and mobilizing voters on Kerry's behalf.

The 527 groups, named after a section of the tax code and allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions, provided invaluable help in registering and turning out voters. America Coming Together put about $135 million into what became the largest get-out-the-vote program in the nation's history. But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message.

Of the money spent on TV advertising for the Democratic nominee, Kerry's campaign controlled 62 percent, according to spending totals analyzed by the Post. The Bush campaign, on the other hand, controlled 83 percent of the money spent on its behalf.

      Hmm, was America Coming Together so effective in registering voters?  There were lots of stories about fraud and invalid registrations during the campaign, and ACT was featured in many of them.  ACT may have been a net waste of money.

      As for consistent messages, surely some mention of Kerry's inability to define and stick to a position is relevant here?

      And now, the worst part of the Strib version of the story: it stops with the quoted material above.  The Strib has printed only about one third of the Post's story.  Why?  No reason is given, and no notice of the fact that two-thirds of the piece has been omitted.  Not good, Star-Tribune.

      I'll critique the rest of the Post article in a separate post, as it no longer has anything to do with the Strib.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

At last the Strib bashing: Part one, the front page

      So, finally (see posts below), let's bash the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for today, Dec. 30th.

      Let's start with editorial judgment.  The Front page of the dead-tree edition has two stories about the tsunami tragedy in Asia (linked version is updated from this morning's, and is considerably different from the dead tree version), with a picture above the fold and headlines.  Next to them, a story about the person who will prosecute an accused murderer in Wisconsin.  What is it about this woman that makes her being the prosecutor in this trial as important as the deaths of over one hundred thousand Asians, and more important than any other story in the paper today?  I think it's because the prosecutor is the WI attorney general; a woman who is taking chemotherapy for breast cancer and has gone bald as a result; up for re-election in 2006 and considered vulnerable, especially because she recently pleaded guilty for drunk driving; and a Democrat.  The Strib has a fair amount of Wisconsin readership, and it's never too soon to start slanting the news to get a Democrat re-elected.  A fourth story on the front page, below the fold, notes that some people are having trouble with holiday gift cards, due to charges if they aren't used within a few months of purchase.

      Above the fold, the tsunami story is really just three headlines ("Toll soars; aid stymied", U.S. response: Bush speaks out, pledges long-term assistance.", "More feared dead: Red Cross predicts toll could exceed 100,000."), plus a picture of a Thai man praying for the soul of his sister, swept out to sea by and believed to be dead.  Below the fold, the picture ends, and there's a graphic showing the places the tsunami hit, plus the two stories.  The first is headlined "Aid is pouring in, but logistics lacking." The second is about relief agencies wanting money.

      The Strib also notes on the front page a story in the Metro section about three women killed yesterday when a building suddenly exploded, a Metro section story about the death of an actor, and a story on page three about the war in Iraq.  Maybe it's just me, but I think the war might just be a tad bit more important than the stories about the drunken Democratic politician, or the tragedy of gift card charges if they aren't used promptly.

      Before we leave the front page, let us note again that the headline on the print edition's main tsunami story is "Aid is pouring in, but logistics lacking.  Paragraph four and five read:
      World leaders, including President Bush, promised long-range help to Asian countries on Wednesday as impatience with the pace of relief efforts soared.

      Rescue flights from throughout the world delivered supplies, but disorganization blocked deliveries.

      Somehow, after reading that, the headline of the relief agency story is like a sick joke: "Want to Help?  Relief Agencies' No. 1 need is money".  If the relief supplies on the spot can't be distributed now, maybe the agencies could use something more than cash?  Are they short of pilots?  Aircraft?  Two many planes, not enough helicopters?  Inquiring minds would like to know.

      This is just the front page.  Next, we'll look at what's inside.


At last the Strib bashing: Part two, the page three war stories

      On page three, today's Strib has a story from the New York Times on the war in Iraq, plus another written by a staffer.  As noted below, these stories were considered less important than the fact that the drunken driving Democratic Attorney General of Wisconsin will personally prosecute a murderer.

      You might think it unfair to bash the Strib for a Times story, but I disagree.  Editing is the most powerful and important form of biasing news coverage.  The decision to run this story says a good bit about the Star-Tribune's biases.

      The second, and shorter story, is mostly OK.  Sen. Mark Dayton, D. - MN is touring the Middle East.  He says the "insurgency" seems "more sophisticated," the troops are doing a good job, and the Iraqi elections must go forward.  Not much content, but the Strib does do its best to slant things to make it appear the war is going badly.

      The main war story takes up most of the page (including a picture of a soldier at a Purple Heart award ceremony).  The key points:

      1) A group of fifty "insurgents" attacked U.S. soldiers outside Mosul.  They wounded 15 U.S. soldiers, at the cost of at least twenty five dead attackers.

      2) In "the Ghaziliyah district of western Baghdad . . .a rough Sunni neighborhood loyal to Saddam Hussein that has seen clashes between gunmen and police," the people the Times insists on calling "insurgents" and "gunmen" are described as having carried out "an ambush on Tuesday night." Allegedly, they "tricked" the Iraqi police.  The police raided a house that was reported to contain suspicious characters, which suddenly exploded.  Seven Iraqi policemen and twenty five neighborhood residents were killed; two police and twenty three residents were wounded.

      3) U.S. forces are attacking the area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death."  The story says:
U.S. commanders had hailed the November offensive to retake Fallujah as a major tactical victory, but violence elsewhere in Iraq has escalated since the fall of the main insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad. The vast majority of the estimated 6,000 guerrillas based there apparently slipped out to northern Iraq and the area south of Baghdad, which includes Mahmoudiya.

"We believe that many insurgents that left Fallujah settled throughout areas in Baghdad and specifically in southern sector of Baghdad and north of Babylon," [Brig. Gen. Jeffery] Hammond [the assistant commander of the First Cavalry Division] said.

      4) The Iraqi govt. arrested "a key insurgent commander" in Mosul last week:
Abu Marwan, a 33-year-old commander in the Mosul terrorist group Abu Talha, which is affiliated with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was seized on Dec. 23 based on tips from Iraqi citizens, the officials said.

'Key operative'

The Iraqi government described Marwan as a "key AlZarqawi operative" who was "responsible for conducting and commanding terrorist operations in Mosul, purchasing weapons for Talha's terrorist group, and coordinating the training of terrorist cells within the Abu Talha terrorist group."

      My comments: Of the points made, the third point strikes me as by far the most important.  If the military did let "the vast majority" of six thousand terrorists escape Fallujah, someone needs to be relieved of command.

      The terrorist capture is also important.  That he was captured as a result of tips from Iraqi citizens, if true, is very encouraging.  It also makes me wonder if the capture has anything to do with the attack on our troops outside Mosul.  By the way, note the unusual use of the word "terrorist" to describe a terrorist.

      The story about the Bagdhad bomb is quite interesting, perhaps more so than the terrorist capture.  Was this a deliberate tactic, with the sole aim of killing Iraqi cops?  Was it a fall back when a car bomb factory exploded (see the considerably rewritten version of the story currently [11:14 PM CST] featured online).  Perhaps it was a "go-to-Hell" plan when a car bomb factory was discovered do to terrorist incompetence?  There is evidence for all these interpretations in the stories.  And were any of the terrorists killed in the blast?  The first story doesn't say anything on that subject, the rewritten version mention finding one body.

      Although this is supposed to be "news" story, there's enough editorializing to warrant calling it "analysis."  As a subject for analysis it's really important, in my arrogant opinion.  I would think that murdering twenty five civilians in a neighborhood that generally supports your cause is a bad idea, even from the evil perspective of the terrorists.  So why did they do it?  Were the nearby houses known to belong to govt. supporters?  Perhaps the "insurgents" are getting desperate, so panicked at the thought of the election taking place that they'll kill anyone?  I think these are interesting questions, but the Strib and the Times don't seem to care.

      As for the attack on U.S. troops, there ain't much to it.  The "insurgents" attacked, and they failed.  That's the usual result in Iraq.  It's also what the Times led with.

      As journalism goes, I judge this pretty poor.  It makes good propaganda, though.  But the Times and the Star-Tribune both claim to be objective.  I disagree, but as always YOU MAKE THE CALL!

      And don't forget:


Well, well, isn't THAT interesting.

      The New York Times changes the contents of its online stories without warning or notice that they've been updated.

      How do I know this?  An interminable story follows.

      I decided to do some Strib bashing this morning, so I came down here to the computer and started her up.  Looked up a story I'd read in the dead-tree Strib, which was originally from the New York Times.  I copied the URLs from both, and then noticed that at the end of the Strib's version of the story, there was a notation that "The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report."

      So, I decided to copy the Strib's version and the Times's version, and examine them line by line to see what the differences were.  This is easier said then done, because it involves mind-numbing repetition of copying paragraphs, switching Notepad(tm) windows, pasting, hitting enter, switching windows, plus various cursor movements.  Just the thing for a macro, I decided.  But before I decided that, I'd already copied a bunch of one-paragraph lines, and noticed no differences.

      There followed a long quest to attempt to find a way to define keyboard macros in Windows XP, with the usual lack of success with the "Help" page.  Google found me some programs, but the free one I downloaded turned out to be useless, at least at first attempt (when I hit the down arrow key, it didn't record in the macro, it moved me out of the space for recording the macros; similarly, alt-tab didn't record as a keystroke, it switched me to a different window).

      Still, to download the not-useful program I had to use the installation wizard, which meant I had to close the open windows.  Thinking nothing of it, I closed the Notepad that had the Times story.  I could always get it later.

      But lo!, and behold!, when I opened IE again, and pulled up the Times and Strib pages, the Times story was radically different.  Very extensive re-writing had occurred.  AND ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION WAS MADE OF THE FACT THAT THE STORY WAS NOW QUITE DIFFERENT FROM THE EARLIER VERSION.  I've appended these two versions in a post called "Copy write violation" just below this one.  You can see for yourself.


Copy write violation

Minneapolis Star-Tribune version of a story about Iraq, originally from the New York Times.

BAGHDAD -- U.S. troops and warplanes killed at least 25 insurgents who used car bombs and rocket-propelled grenades to try to overrun a U.S. combat outpost in Mosul on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. military said. It was the fiercest fighting the northern city has seen in weeks. Fifteen U.S. soldiers were injured, military officials said.

The two-hour battle followed an ambush on Tuesday night in Baghdad where insurgents tricked Iraqi police into raiding a booby-trapped home and then detonated a powerful bomb that killed at least seven police officers and 25 others, Iraqi officials said Wednesday. Most of the civilian victims were family members who were crushed to death when the blast flattened nearby homes, the officials said.

The bomb detonated just as the police charged the home, in the Ghaziliyah district of western Baghdad, about 10:30 p.m. Ghaziliyah is a rough Sunni neighborhood loyal to Saddam Hussein that has seen clashes between gunmen and police.

House approached

Khalid Ahmad, a pickup driver, said one of his neighbors approached the house around noon on Tuesday to greet the new occupants. The occupants fired two bullets into the air and turned the man away, said Ahmad, who lives nearby. Ahmad said the man then went to the police and informed on the occupants.

Later that night, three police cars approached the house from the front and back, and police used loudspeakers to order the occupants to come out, witnesses said. The occupants shot at the police, and, as the police stormed the house, it blew up.

The explosion left household debris strewn about the street, and U.S. soldiers and Iraqi officials used heavy equipment to search for survivors. Two policemen and 23 others were wounded, officials said.

The insurgents' attack in Mosul came eight days after a suicide bomber killed 18 Americans and four others at a U.S. base outside the city by infiltrating a mess tent.

Serious firefight

The attack in Mosul began when insurgents armed with a car bomb tried to blow down the concrete barriers of the combat outpost, which is manned by a small force of soldiers. An armored military vehicle then sped to the outpost and disabled the insurgents' car and detonated its explosives with .50-caliber machine-gun fire.

The Americans were then attacked by a coordinated force of about 50 insurgents who fired rocket-propelled grenades and semi-automatic weapons. Close-air support was called in, and two F-18 and two F-14 jets swooped down on strafing runs that wiped out much of the insurgent force.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military began a significant offensive on Wednesday to root out insurgents around Mahmoudiya and other towns in the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the assistant commander of the First Cavalry Division.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have come under repeated attacks by car bombs, rockets, and small arms fire in the area, dubbed the "Triangle of Death." The latest operation followed a weeklong campaign in November and early December with the same ultimate goal.

U.S. commanders had hailed the November offensive to retake Fallujah as a major tactical victory, but violence elsewhere in Iraq has escalated since the fall of the main insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad. The vast majority of the estimated 6,000 guerrillas based there apparently slipped out to northern Iraq and the area south of Baghdad, which includes Mahmoudiya.

"We believe that many insurgents that left Fallujah settled throughout areas in Baghdad and specifically in southern sector of Baghdad and north of Babylon," Hammond said.

Also, the Iraqi government announced Wednesday that a key insurgent commander in Mosul was captured last week.

Abu Marwan, a 33-year-old commander in the Mosul terrorist group Abu Talha, which is affiliated with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was seized on Dec. 23 based on tips from Iraqi citizens, the officials said.

'Key operative'

The Iraqi government described Marwan as a "key AlZarqawi operative" who was "responsible for conducting and commanding terrorist operations in Mosul, purchasing weapons for Talha's terrorist group, and coordinating the training of terrorist cells within the Abu Talha terrorist group."

In other developments Wednesday:

• The head of Saddam Hussein's legal team said that he has enlisted the aid of former U.S. Attorney Ramsey Clark in the exdictator's defense. Ziad al-Khasawneh said Clark was asked to help with the case after Saddam told his Iraqi lawyer last week to convey his regards to the former U.S. official. Clark, who served as attorney general under the President Lyndon Johnson for three years in the 1960s, is a staunch war opponent who has met Saddam several times in the past 15 years.

The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.


New York Times printer-friendly version, as it appeared when I copied it this afternoon:

December 30, 2004
25 Insurgents Are Killed During Attack on U.S. Base in Mosul

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 29 - American troops and warplanes killed at least 25 insurgents who used car bombs and rocket-propelled grenades in a brazen but failed effort to overrun an American combat outpost in Mosul this afternoon, the fiercest fighting the restive northern city has seen in weeks. Fifteen American soldiers were wounded, military officials said.

The two-hour battle in Mosul followed an ambush on Tuesday night in Baghdad in which insurgents tricked Iraqi police into raiding a booby-trapped home and then detonated a massive bomb that killed at least 7 police officers and 25 others, Iraqi officials said today. Most of the civilian victims were residents of three nearby homes flattened by the blast, the officials said.

The bomb exploded about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday just as the police charged the home in the Ghaziliyah district of western Baghdad, a rough Sunni Muslim neighborhood on the road to Abu Ghraib prison that has been the scene of clashes between gunmen and the police.

The explosion left electrical appliances, bedsheets and other household debris strewn about rubble in the street as American soldiers and Iraqi officials used heavy equipment to search for survivors. Two police officers and 23 others were also wounded, officials said.

The insurgents' attack in western Mosul was the latest coordinated strike at American or Iraqi forces, and it came eight days after a suicide bomber killed 18 Americans and 4 others in Mosul by infiltrating a mess tent at a military base.

The attack today began about 3:45 p.m., when insurgents armed with a car bomb tried to blow down the concrete barriers of the combat outpost, which is manned by a small force of soldiers. Insurgents then ambushed an armored military vehicle as it sped to the outpost.

The armored vehicle "found itself pretty much in the middle of a bunch of I.E.D.'s and V.B.I.E.D.'s," said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman in Mosul, using military acronyms for improvised roadside bombs and car bombs. The armored vehicle, he said, fired its .50-caliber machine gun to explode or disable the bombs, and proceeded to the outpost.

There, the troops were attacked by a coordinated force of about 50 insurgents who fired rocket-propelled grenades and semi-automatic weapons. At that point, two F-18 and two F-14 military jets swooped down on strafing runs and firing Maverick missiles, wiping out much of the insurgent force. "That's when the close-air support came in and did a job on them," he said.

A key insurgent commander in Mosul was captured last week, Iraqi government officials said today. Abu Marwan, a 33-year-old commander in the Mosul terrorist group Abu Talha, which is affiliated with Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was seized on Dec. 23 based on tips from Iraqi citizens, they said.

The Iraqi government described Marwan as a "key al-Zarqawi operative" who was "responsible for conducting and commanding terror operations in Mosul, purchasing weapons for Talha's terrorist group, and coordinating the training of terrorist cells within the Abu Talha terrorist group."

The American military has also begun a significant new offensive to root out insurgents around Mahmoudiya and other towns in the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the assistant commander of the First Cavalry Division, told The Associated Press. No other details were available.

In the Baghdad blast on Tuesday night, the American military said its experts believed that some 1,750 pounds of explosives were used.

The force of the blast lifted one police car into the air and slammed it into a nearby home, said Marwan Yousif, a laborer, who lives in the neighborhood. "I saw many bodies scattered on the ground," Mr. Yousif said. Neighbors had grown suspicious of the occupants of the house, who had many late-night visitors, he added.

The attackers used two subterfuges to set the trap for the police, Iraqi officials said. A Sudanese who lived in the house began firing a semi-automatic weapon at people in the neighborhood, leading neighbors to call police to the scene, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said. "He was on the roof shooting at people randomly," the spokesman said.

Around the same time, two men flagged down a patrol of Iraqi police vehicles and told them that a suspicious man living in the house was suspected of terrorist activities, according to an Iraqi police major involved in the case.

"Our moving patrols received a report from two bearded men before the explosion happened, and they later found out it was a trap for our men as this place was loaded with a great amount of explosives," the major said. "Our patrols moved to the site and used loudspeakers to get them out, but the people inside did not respond and so our men raided the house. The moment they forced open the door, the house exploded."

The Interior Ministry spokesman said that just as police approached the home, "the terrorists exploded the house, which was loaded with a giant amount of explosives." The initial police investigation has found evidence that car bombs were being manufactured in the house, the Iraqi major said. He said the police regretted not detaining the two bearded men, who officials now believe were part of the trap. The police recovered remains of the Sudanese who lived at the house, he added.

Ghaziliyah is home to many former soldiers who served under Saddam Hussein and, according to a military assessment of insurgent strength, was a principal destination for insurgents who fled Falluja before the Marines' offensive there in November.

The booby-trapped house capped a bloody Tuesday across Iraq in which at least 23 other police and national guard officers were slain in multiple attacks, mainly across the Sunni-dominated zone north of Baghdad.

American commanders believe the attacks on Iraqi forces are a coordinated strategy to disrupt the January parliamentary elections by making Iraqis too afraid for their safety to vote, while eviscerating the police and guard units that the United States is relying on to eventually take over security in Iraq.

In another move apparently aimed at bolstering Iraqi security forces before the elections, the Minister of Defense, Hazem Shaalan, said today that Iraqi National Guard troops would be incorporated into the Iraqi Army on Jan. 6.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


Personal, Dec. 30th

      Yesterday was K.'s day off, and we went to a theatre in Coon Rapids to see The Phantom of the Opera.  Recommended.  The leads were perhaps not quite as good as the ones who played in the stage production we saw this year, with Rebecca Pitcher as "Christine" and Ted Keegan as "the Phantom," but I'm not complaining.  Really, the cast is good and the visuals are spectacular.  I've got the original Broadway cast CD, and I expect I'll be buying the movie DVD when it appears.

      Afterwards, went to "The Vineyard," a restaurant north of the theatre which we'd never been to.  A bit expensive, but the food was good.

      Today, we'll go see Fat Albert.  Tomorrow K. has to work.  May go to the local Minneapolis Scientifiction Society New Year's Eve Party on my own.

      Nothing much else going on in my life at the moment.  Considering that I'm going into the hospital for surgery on Jan. 18th (stomach stapling, and boy do I need it), the quest for work is on hold.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Easier said than done

      One of the persistent refrains of the critics of the administration and its war fighting policies has been that there aren't enough troops on the ground in Iraq.

      Question: where were these troops supposed to come from?  Consider the following story from the Christian Science Monitor (I think I got this link from Instapundit, but don't remember now):

Army leaders admit that at current levels they must rotate troops into war zones at a rate that is unsustainable in the long run. Warning of a force not yet "broken" but "bent," they are rushing to add 30,000 soldiers to the 482,000-strong active-duty force and increase the number of active brigades - from 33 when the Iraq war began to 43 by 2006, with another five possible by 2007. Only then might the Army hope to shorten tours to about six months every two years, which soldiers say is more bearable for them and their families. . .

On this November morning, General Webster is heading back to Polk as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) to appraise the Army's newest brigade. Cobbled together in just eight months, with scores of recruits arriving to fill out its ranks this summer, the 4th Brigade is undergoing final training before shipping out to Iraq early next month.

For Webster, the visit caps more than a year of frenzied activity since he returned from duty as deputy operations commander in the Iraq invasion to take charge of the 3ID in September 2003.

"In the midst of a war, we knew we had to change in eight to 10 months versus eight to 10 years," he says, drinking black coffee from a Thermos. "The chief [Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker] said, 'I think we can create 15 new brigades. You guys figure out how to do it.' We just had to run through this thing on the fly."

The urgent shift is a matter of strategy and survival for the Army - strategy, because today the Army fights in brigades of 3,000-plus troops rather than divisions of 16,000, a trend underscored by the Iraq war; survival, because only by increasing the pool of brigades by at least 10 can the Army shorten overseas rotations and lengthen time back home.

The change has affected virtually every element of the Georgia-based 3ID. Its ranks have swelled by 3,300 soldiers to a total of 19,000, straining housing. The division has reconfigured each of its three existing combat brigades and built from scratch a new one, the 4th Brigade. Each brigade more tightly integrates infantry, armor, and engineers at lower levels as well as specialized units such as intelligence and reconnaissance troops. . .

Yet to swiftly reinvent the 3ID, Webster has had to wage his own quiet insurrection against a slow-moving military bureaucracy. "It's like guerrilla warfare," he says, describing tactics he's used to skirt the constraints of budgets and regulations to secure vital weaponry, personnel, and equipment. Several times in the past year, Webster has confronted obstacles so severe he called them "war stoppers."

      So, where do we get these soldiers?  Do we strip NATO and S. Korea?  Do we toss untrained troops into action?  Call up more reserves?  Leave Afghanistan?  What?

      How's about being specific there, critics?

      Hmm, I think I hear a cynical voice saying that the critics are mostly not interested in whether we need more troops, just in bashing W.  YOU MAKE THE CALL!


And let's have some Thomas L. Friedman bashing, too

      Consider Thomas L. Friedman's column on Iraq, published in the New York Times on Dec. 23rd, and the Strib reprinted Dec. 26th.

      Friedman's subject is the "gunmen" attacking those trying to organize elections in Iraq, and he at least gets one thing right: said "gunmen" are evil.  Possibly it's just a NY Times thing that the murderers in question are never once referred to as terrorists.  Still, for someone who says later "It's time we called them by their real names," the omission is striking.

      Friedman also gets the issue more or less right.  The "gunmen" are working on behalf of "a tiny minority who want to rule Iraq by force and rip off its oil wealth for themselves."  I'm not sure how Friedman determined that the minority is "tiny," though.  He said just before that "The Sunni-Baathist minority that ruled Iraq for so many years has been invited, indeed begged, to join in this election and to share in the design and wealth of post-Saddam Iraq."  Said Sunnis are about 20% of the population, if I recall correctly.  That's hardly tiny.

      And Friedman does get an excellent point across when he says that the Iraqis are being murdered

for the sole purpose of preventing them from exercising that thing so many on the political left and so many Europeans have demanded for the Palestinians: "the right of self-determination."

      But Friedman can't help bemoaning the fact that we're there in the first place.  Apparently, it's terrible for the Sunni "gunmen" to try to prevent democracy in Iraq, but was OK for Saddam to prevent it.

      And Friedman goes on to bash Donald Rumsfeld for having "managed" the war in a "defiantly wrong way."  He adds that there are conservatives who "would rather fail in Iraq than give liberals the satisfaction of seeing Rumsfeld sacked."  No names, of course, and no acknowledgement that there are conservatives who feel Rumsfeld has done an excellent job as Sec. of Def.

      Friedman also has a reference to "our Arab allies."  By this phrase he does not mean the majority of the people of Iraq, but the govts. of the Arab world.  Friedman, those govts. aren't our allies, they're our enemies.  What does it take to make you see that?

      Friedman closes by quoting Tony Blair:
"Whatever people's feelings or beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror. On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want to have the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and on the other side people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq."

      Friedman terms himself a Blair Democrat, which makes me wonder: does he want us to invade other non-democratic countries and force elections at gunpoint?  If not, does he have plans for making them democratic peacefully?  How long will he try such plans before going military?  And if the answer to that last is 'Never.  The U.S. shouldn't invade other countries to change their form of govt.", then what's the big deal with the Iraqi "gunmen"?  They're doing evil, but the same evil isn't worth stopping elsewhere?  Tom, I'm having real trouble figuring out the logic of your position.

      Come to think of it, that's the usual way I react to Friedman's columns.


More Strib Bashing

      Another thing you can count on the Strib for is invincible ignorance and lack of logic on the editorial page.

      For instance, there's a recent editorial bemoaning the alleged latest damage to be attributed to global warming.  Nothing in this stuff acknowledges the wide-spread scientific dissent on global warming.  None of it mentions that any warming we may be experiencing may only be a regular natural cycle, caused by a change in solar radiation.  But we do get this quote:

"In plain language," said Douglas Inkley, chairman of the Wildlife Society's review panel, "restructuring existing wildlife communities means we face the prospect that the world of wildlife that we now know, and many of the places we've invested decades of work in conserving as refuges and habitats for wildlife, will cease to exist as we know them."

      How's about some really plain language?  'Changes in wildlife communities mean that they'll be different than they are today.  We might not like the that.'

      There's much more wrong with the piece, including the usual raft of unattributed predictions and scary scenarios that won't happen (such as rising sea levels).  There's a lot of stuff that's probably not true, no mention of the fact that global warming also may bring benefits, or that they might outweigh the costs.  A thorough fisking is left to the reader (if it has disappeared by the time you look at it, e-mail me and I'll send it to you).

      And there's more.  The Strib can't even do good routine news pieces reliably.  But I'll save that for another time.


Strib bashing

      When it comes to bad newspapers, I know of nothing quite like the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for sheer, fatuous stupidity.  And for really intense stupidity, count on columnist Nick Coleman.

      For instance, take the current 'Christmas Wars.'  Please.  I think this issue is way overblown, though to the extent I have an opinion, it's in favor of forthrightly saying "Merry Christmas!" than this "Happy Holidays!" crap where we try to pretend we've forgotten what the holiday in question is.  Still, I recognize that there are intelligent arguments on the other side, and as I said, I don't think it's really that important.

      E. J. Dionne recently did a column on this issue, one that Jim Geraghty judged "PERHAPS THIS YEAR'S WORST HOLIDAY-CHRISTMAS COLUMN."

      This just shows Mr. Geraghty ignores the Strib, which makes a lot of sense.  The Strib is eminently ignorable.  But since it's my town's paper, and since my wife K. insists on getting the comics on hard copy, I sometimes flip through it.  If Mr. Geraghty had read Nick Coleman's column on the 'Christmas Wars,' he'd have cut Dionne some slack.

      Dionne, for all his faults, at least stuck to the subject.  There's a controversy over "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" and he takes sides and makes an argument for his position.

      Coleman has a different tactic.  He titles his column Something magnificent, and starts out:
On the day before the day before Christmas, I sat next to a Muslim during mass in a Catholic church that was started by an Irishman who wanted to convert Scandinavians. Naturally, the priest was from Africa.

Just what I wanted for Christmas.

The world has changed since St. Olaf Catholic Church was begun in downtown Minneapolis by Father James Coleman, my grandfather's brother, as a way to lure unsuspecting Lutherans into a Catholic church. These days, Lutherans don't give us much trouble. But Christmas has never seemed more urgently necessary.

As it happens, the complicated math of family obligations and holiday get-togethers will keep me from attending a candlelight Christmas Eve service tonight. So I dropped into St. Olaf for the noon mass on Thursday in the hopes of jump-starting Christmas.

St. Olaf sits on the most expensive real estate of any church I know. It draws all kinds: businessmen and street people, American Indians and the newest Americans. There was a homeless woman named Lucille who was wearing a red Santa coat and stocking cap and looking for bus fare to Duluth. And a guy so deep in reverie that each time the rest of us said, "Thanks be to God," he offered a personalized response that meant the same thing:

"Sweet," he proclaimed. "Sweet!"

      Very nice, looks like someone will try to put the whole trivial mess in perspective, and celebrate some of the many things that make us one country.  Nope.  That was just the start of a bait-and-switch.  He continues:
This year, it's been hard to enter a church without looking over your shoulder. Our religious beliefs have become contentious in public, and our public disputes have entered our temples. Twice lately, I picked up a newspaper and read about somebody lying down in a church aisle, blocking someone else from taking communion. This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had been in church so that I might have popped someone in the nose while quoting scripture: "Judge not, lest ye be judged, sucker!"

Now comes this contentious nativity after weeks of arguing whether a reluctance to shout "Merry Christmas" loud enough that Muslims, Jews and nonbelievers know exactly who owns this country makes you not just a bad Christian but a bad American as well.

      Yeah, we've all seen those stories about Communion, right?  No, wait, I didn't.  Why not provide a source, Coleman?

      But the bit about making sure "Muslims, Jews and nonbelievers know exactly who owns this country" slanders people who, rightly or wrongly, feel their faith is under attack.  It's like going over to a new homeowner, saying you'd like to welcome them to the neighborhood, then throwing up all over their living room carpet.  Deliberately.

      Still, in all fairness, there is something good to say about Coleman and his bile, which is that it makes my job as a right winger so much easier.  People like James Lileks, who also writes for the Strib, do columns like this one expressing their concerns in a polite, witty way.  Coleman preaches to the converted, and may well irritate them.  The Coleman's have been driving the country right for decades, and I thank them, sincerely, for the free ride I'm enjoying.  Keep up the dumb work.

      Don't think, though, that the Strib's stupidity is confined to Nick Coleman.  There's lots more extraordinarily foolish stuff in it.  More in an upcoming post.


      Update: James Wolcott, best know in the blogosphere for hoping that hurricanes devestate Florida more often (Google it yourself, I'm too tired), comments on Lileks's "Fear of Merry Christmas" column.  In the best liberal tradition, he ignores almost everything Lileks said, assumes that what Lileks personally observed about Christmas in Minnesota must be false (because he says it isn't that way in his NYC neighborhood), ascribes attitudes to Lileks that Lileks didn't express, and generally makes an ass of himself.  Oh, he also doesn't know how to form a possessive in English when the word ends in 's'.Lileks's reply gives details rather well, so I'll just say "Hey, Wolcott, if you ever have hard luck in NYC, there's a job waiting for you on the Strib."

T. S. M. B. D.

Ah, the glamorous life of a blogger

      I just wasted spent a lot of time going through early posts and correcting grammatical and spelling errors.

      By now I'm mad.  I think I'll bash a few things.


Saturday, December 18, 2004

And Your Point Is?

      Newsweek reports (hat tip, Clayton Cramer) that some Democrats are trying to find some "middle ground" on the abortion issue.  Maybe concede that "partial-birth" abortions are an abomination, for example.

      The very thought has some other Democrats up in arms:
"If we try to be fake Republicans, that's not going to work," says Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, co-chair of the House pro-choice caucus. "It would be a cynical political move."

      So?  After the organized feminists tried to kill Clarence Thomas's nomination on the grounds that he'd talked dirty to Anita Hill, then defended Bill Clinton's exposing himself to Paula Jones and trying to get sexual favors from her, just whom do they expect to repell with cyncism?

      But if the "pro-choice" crowd wants to be honest and straightforward, they could say out loud that you'd rather see the Democratic Party die than have it compromise on abortion.

      Yeah, right.  That'll be the day.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Good Shot, Sir!

Dave Koppel, on MSNBC, guest blogging for Glenn Reynolds: "Tonight is the fourth night of Armed Jews Week, or as it is more popularly known, Hanukkah."


The Core Democratic Party National Security Problem -- and Their Core Electoral Problem, Too.

      A week and a half ago, Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, published an essay saying that Democrats had to get serious about foreign policy, and that involved tossing out the anti-Americans among them (except Beinart called them "softs").  He commpared the situation to that existing in 1945-49, when the Henry Wallace 'Let's appease the Soviet Union' crowd was crushed in all liberal organizations.  There's been a lot of discussion on that article, from the "right" and from the "left."

      But the two most interesting articles came from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly.  Drum's response was that Beinart wrote a lot about how the Democrats got rid of the "softs," and how Beinart would like to purge Michael Moore and MoveOn from the ranks, but Beinart's article never said why they deserved to be purged.  According to Drum, the threat to the United States posed by the now deceased Soviet Union (OOH!  I just LOVE to type "now deceased Soviet Union"!) was clear to all sensible liberals.  That Islamic Totalitarianism poses such a threat to the U.S. isn't clear to him.  He'd like to see the issue debated by liberals.

      As Jonah Goldberg pointed out:
By my very rough guess, since 9/11 National Review Online and National Review have run probably 500 articles from serious scholars to folks like me on why the threat from "Islamo-Fascism," "jihadism," or whatever you want to call it is real, serious, and likely to endure for a very long time. We've come at it from every angle, too — from narrow arguments about weapons proliferation to deep, sustained, philosophical treatises about the Islamic or Arab worldview and our own.

Of course, NR is not alone. Similar articles or articles on similar themes have proliferated across the mainstream media and the Internet. Whole categories of bloggers — the "war bloggers" — have sprouted up. The op-ed pages have groaned from the weight of serious people explaining how the battle against Islamic fundamentalism will likely be known as World War IV. Countless books from liberals, leftists, many, many conservatives, and a few allegedly "nonpartisan" whistleblowers have been written expanding these arguments. There've been campus debates, symposia, and course offerings. There've been international conferences, speeches, lectures, documentaries. Whole new chairs have been established at think tanks and universities, and there've even been new think tanks established, dedicated to defending democracy against this "new" form of totalitarianism. Two Cabinet positions have been created — with bipartisan support in response to this threat. Both presidential nominees staked their campaigns in large parts on their ability to fight and win the war on terror, a sometimes-clunking euphemism for Islamic fundamentalism.

      Goldberg wants to know where Drum "has been these last few years?"  Well, James Taranto has the answer: in "The Blue Cocoon."  Most liberals spend their time talking to other liberals, and rarely bother to pay attention to conservatives.  They may read the "right wing" press and blogosphere to find out what conservatives are saying, the better to frame talking points against them, but the idea of reading the 'Neanderthals' in order to learn something important hardly ever happens.

      You might object that conservatives are exactly the same.  You'd be wrong.  It was in National Review that I first encountered the Marxist Eugene Genovese, for instance.  The magazine printed him because they thought he was intelligent, honest, and knowledgeable, with important things to say about USAmerican history.  That kind of open mindedness is exactly what Democrats and liberals are missing nowadays.

      When Truman and Acheson made the case for standing firm against Soviet subversion and aggression, Sen. Arthur Vandenburg told them, "If you say that to the American people, I will support you." (quote approximate)  You'll find the episode described in Acheson's memoirs, along with a good deal of contempt for Vandenburg.  Democrats and liberals could afford that contempt in 1947, when the vast majority thought the Republicans would bring back the Depression.  But in this century, that scornful attitude is killing them at the polls.

      Update: Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe:
For the second time in 16 years, a son of Massachusetts tried for the White House and failed. Sharing initials with the last presidential candidate from Massachusetts to win the presidency is not enough. If the presidency is the goal, a candidate needs more in common with the rest of America.

What a sobering thought.

      As the blogfather would say: Indeed.

      Another update: Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal, notes that the Democratic Party "passed into the hands of a generation, now in their 50s and early 60s, whose broad view of America and its politics was formed as young men and women opposing the Vietnam War. . .

But the politics of the Vietnam generation wasn't just about Vietnam. It was about changing everything, most notably the culture. . .

George Bush, age 58, was a reproach. He personifies everything they have fought since they drove LBJ and Richard Nixon out of politics. And this week they are trying to discover why most of the people who live between the Hudson River and Hollywood Freeway don't agree with them. Expect documentaries soon about Christian evangelicals on the Discovery Channel.
There is no hope that the Vietnam generation braintrust who just lost this election will ever understand Red America. Until someone in the party recognizes this, the tides of demography will inexorably erode the blue islands that remain on the map." 


The Continuing Collapse of CBS News

      Some cynic once remarked that the news media always get things completely correct, except for those rare occasions when they report on something you know about.  Then, by a miraculous coincidence, they get almost everything wrong.

      CBS News online has a story about political blogs that is truly pathetic.  Let's do a bit of fisking.

(CBS) By David Paul Kuhn,
CBSNews.com chief political writer

Internet blogs are providing a new and unregulated medium for politically motivated attacks. With the same First Amendment protections as newspapers, blogs are increasingly gaining influence.

      Apparently, Mr. Kuhn never bothered to learn anything about the United States Constitution.  If he had, he'd know that the First Amendment does not protect "newspapers."  It prohibits the "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;".  In short, it protects everyone's communications from Federal interference.

While many are must-reads for political junkies, are some Internet blogs also being used as proxies for campaigns? In the nation’s hottest Senate race, this past year, the answer was yes.

Little over a month ago, the first Senate party leader in 52 years was ousted when South Dakota Republican John Thune defeated top Senate Democrat Tom Daschle. While more than $40 million was spent in the race, saturating the airwaves with advertising, a potentially more intriguing front was also opened.

The two leading South Dakota blogs – websites full of informal analysis, opinions and links – were authored by paid advisers to Thune’s campaign.

      So what?  Did the blogs in question try to raise money while falsely denying the connection?  If so, there'd be a case for fraud.  Did they deny it while not attempting to raise money?  If so, then they are poitical liars -- an activity the Supreme Court has always regarded as protected speech except when they cross the line into slander or libel.  Did the blogs in question do any of these things?  Let's see.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the National Journal first cited Federal Election Commission documents showing that Jon Lauck, of Daschle v Thune, and Jason Van Beek, of South Dakota Politics, were advisers to the Thune campaign.

The documents, also obtained by CBS News, show that in June and October the Thune campaign paid Lauck $27,000 and Van Beek $8,000. Lauck had also worked on Thune’s 2002 congressional race.

Both blogs favored Thune, but neither gave any disclaimer during the election that the authors were on the payroll of the Republican candidate.

      Nope, the two blogs engaged in Constitutionally inviolate protected speech.  Just what problem does Mr. Kuhn have with this?

No laws have apparently been broken. Case precedent on political speech as it pertains to blogs does not exist.

      Horsefeathers.  There's a great deal of precendent on political writing, and it all says that, except for special categories (such as publishing classified information, or fraud, or slander/libel), any political speech is legal.

But where journalists' careers may be broken on ethics violations, bloggers are writing in the Wild West of cyberspace. There remains no code of ethics, or even an employer, to enforce any standard.

      And now we come to the real complaint: "journalists' careers" being "broken on ethics violations."  In the first place, notice the idiocy of expecting a "code of ethics . . . to enforce any standard."  Enforcement is something done by people.  Second, the idea of "an employer" enforcing ethical standards assumes the boss is always right.  If Kuhn has an argument for that position, I'd like to read it.

      But the real point is the "broken careers."  It used to be that the question of whether something was a journalistic ethics violation was left to the journalists.  Since they controlled the communications media, they could ignore complaints from anyone outside their organizations.  Now they have us bloggers to deal with.  They want a means of retaliation.  Of course, they could start their own blogs, criticize us in them, and thus debate the issues. . .

At minimum, the role of blogs in the Daschle-Thune race is a telling harbinger for 2006 and 2008. Some blogs could become new vehicles for the old political dirty tricks.

      Hmm, do I discern a whiff of envy?  Having been caught in their own political dirty trick, is CBS is steamed at the thought that someone else might get away with one?

Like all media, blogs hold the potential for abuse. Experts point out that blogs' unregulated status makes them particularly attractive outlets for political attack.

      Ah, our old friends, "experts."  The perfect vehicle for expressing your own opinion on a subject, while pretending to be passing on the wisdom of those who know better.  Note that no mention is made of the fact that newspapers and television news shows are also "unregulated."

“The question is: What are the appropriate regulations on the Internet?" asked Kathleen Jamieson, an expert on political communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. “It’s evolved into an area that we need to do more thinking about it.

      Here's a thought: the "appropriate regulations" for the Internet is the same as that for a newspaper's editorial page.

“If you put out flyers, you have to disclaim it, you have to represent who you are,” Jamieson said.

      A real reporter, interested in presenting the a balanced and accurate story, would here insert a reference to the section of U.S. law that requires someone putting out a flyer to "disclaim it."  The reason there's no such reference is that it isn't true.  Anonymous speech is constitutionally protected.

“If you put out an ad you have to put a disclaimer on it. But we don’t have those sorts of regulations for political content, that is campaign-financed on the Internet.”

      Whether it is a good idea to require campaign finance ads to carry disclaimers of identity is a debatable point.  But no example has been shown of any blog anywhere at any time runnning a "campaign-financed" ad.  We have been told of two blogs whose authors were on the payroll of a political campaign, but that's not the same thing.  If, for example, James Carville was working on a political campaign, and also writing letters to the editor or publishing pamphlets endorsing his candidate or attacking his candidate's opponent(s), that too would be perfectly legal.

First Amendment attorney Kevin Goldberg called blogs “definitely new territory.”

“[The question is] whether blogs are analogous to a sole person campaigning or whether they are very much a media publication, which is essentially akin to an online newspaper,” said Goldberg, who is the legal counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

      Apparently, basic logical thought is not necessary to attorneys any more.  If a blog is put out by a candidate and promotes his candidacy, as John Kerry's blog did, it is certainly "analogous to a sole person campaigning."  If a blog expresses opinions on who should be elected without being put out by the candidate or his campaign, it is just as certainly "akin to an online newspaper" or news broadcast.

“Ultimately, I think, the decision will have to come down to whether the public will be allowed to decide whether bloggers are credible or whether some regulation needs to occur.”

      Let's change that a little bit.  "Ultimately, I think, the decision will have to come down to whether the public will be allowed to decide whether newspapers and television networks are credible or whether some regulation needs to occur."  Hmm, notice a little problem there?  The First Amendment does not allow 'non-credible' newspapers or networks to be regulated.  Why should the 'Net be different?

Generally, the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on political advocacy by corporations and unions does not apply to media or individuals. The reasoning has been that media competition insures legitimacy. This has historically been the argument against monopolies in media ownership.

      Red herring.  None of the blogs mentioned was put out by a corporation or a union.  They were put out by individuals.

Hypothetically, if The Washington Post discovered that The New York Times had a reporter being paid by the Bush campaign it would report it. If proven, the suspect reporter would be fired and likely never work in mainstream journalism again. Hence, the courts have been satisfied with the industry’s ability to regulate itself.

      Maybe I should have titled this post, "Lies, damned lies, and CBS News."  If the New York Times had a reporter "being paid by the Bush campaign"!!!  Oh, that is droll.  It's an open question whether the Times has any reporters who even voted for Bush.  An honest example would have been 'a reporter being paid by the Kerry campaign.'  But pass that by.  Suppose the Times did have such a reporter, and the paper declined to fire him.  Would that justify the Supreme Court ruling that henceforth all newspapers were subject to regulation of any kind?  Everything I've ever read about First Amendment jurisprudence says it would not.

The affiliations and identities of bloggers are not always apparent.

      So what?  The fact that the author of this story is identified, and that he isn't being paid by a party, campaign, or politician doesn't tell us he's unbiased, unhampered by preconceptions, honest, or even minimally competent.  In fact, he doesn't appear to be any of those things.

Take writer Duncan Black, who blogged under the name Atrios. His was a popular liberal blog.

      Gee, reading that, you'd think Black had given up blogging.  I just checked, and he's still there.  By the way, notice that Kuhn didn't provide a link or URL.

During part of the period he was blogging, Black was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America. Critics in the blogosphere said this fact wasn't fairly disclosed.

      At this point, let us visit blogads.  They have a portion of the original version of the CBS story there, in which Kuhn stated:
In the case of Duncan Black, this is what happened. The author of the popular liberal blog Atrios, Black wrote under a pseudonym. All the while, he was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America.

      This is the vaunted MSM at work here, the people who supposedly got their jobs because they were very good at reporting.  Yet the professional got the name of the blog wrong (it's "Eschaton").  They mention that Black used a webname, but don't tell you what it is ("Atrios," a fact you can discover by reading any of Black's posts).  And according to Black, whom I have no reason to doubt on this score, he was hired by Media Matters in June of 2004.  He's been blogging since April 17, 2002, as a quick look at his archives shows.  Aren't these the people who were complaining recently that we didn't have credibility, but they did?

      By the way, although the story has been corrected twice (the second version was also wrong, as blogads shows), there's no notice on the third version that any changes have been made (screen shot available on request).  Some people might think making unacknowledged changes in a story is an ethical issue.  I guess Kuhn and CBS don't.

      In any case, the complaint, made by unnamed "critics," is that Black's employment "wasn't fairly disclosed."  Now, I can't say I often find myself agreeing with Atrios on anything, and I haven't found out when he disclosed his employment at Media Matters (though his blog now carries a notice at the end, stating "Disclaimer: This is a personal web site. It is not a production of Media Matters for America (MMFA). Statements on this site do not represent the views or policies of MMFA. Preferences for electoral candidates posted on this site have not been expressed using any MMFA resources.").  But regardless of whether I agree with him or not, after examining Media Matter's site, I don't find my opinion of him changing noticeably.  Just what is the problem here?

“People are pretty smart in assuming that if a blog is making a case on one side that it’s partisan,” Jamieson said. “The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan.”

That is not a legal problem, however, but one of ethics. Black eventually claimed credit for his blog and his affiliation with Media Matters. Fellow bloggers heavily publicized his political connections. And Black continued blogging.

      If there was ever anyone in the entire world who regarded Eshaton as "holding neutrality", I would like to meet him or her.  Eschaton has always been openly partisan.  But, in a striking illustration of editing as lying, Kuhn implies that Atrios was pretending to be neutral and non-partisan.  This is a lie.  The lie continues in the next paragraph.

Defenders of Black point out that unlike the South Dakota blogs, he was not working on behalf of a campaign. And clearly, absent blog ethical guidelines, what Black did was not that different than many others.

      Again, we aren't really told what it was that Black did, and why it is wrong.  The lack of "ethical guidelines" comes up, though.  I get the impression that Kuhn isn't happy with people writing about politics unless there's an organization somewhere that puts out official standards.  If so, that says more about Kuhn than it does about Atrios, or political blogs in general.

“He is perfectly free to write the blog. You can criticize him for it but he had a perfect Constitutional right to do what he did,” said Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at UCLA Law School and authors his own blog, the Volokh Conspiracy.

      Again, no link or URL.  Again, a stupid factual error (The Volokh Conspiracy has been a group effort from the begining, although at first the group was only the Volokh brothers.)

“People are free to say whatever they want to say and not reveal any financial inducements and not reveal in whose pay they are,” Volokh added. “Now there is an exception for speech that urges the election or defeat of a particular candidate.” But where this exception relates to Internet blogs is unclear.

      And in yet another instance of editing as lying, the idea that the Web is Constitutionally protected is relegated to the end of the story.

Beginning next year, the F.E.C. will institute new rules on the restricted uses of the Internet as it relates to political speech.

“I think those questions are going to have to be asked and answered,” said Lillian BeVier, a First Amendment expert at the University of Virginia. “It’s going to be an issue and it should be an issue.”

      I wonder what exactly the questions are that Miss BeVier thinks need answering.  I wonder what she thinks the FCC will decide, and what she thinks the Supreme Court will say.  I wonder what she thinks the answers should be.  And I especially wonder what else she said in the interview, and what the interviewer said, and who the interviewer was.  Those are all things CBS News doesn't tell us in the story, nor is there any way of finding out.

      But I don't wonder about the motivation for writing and publishing this document.  CBS has been outrageously biased and thoroughly dishonest for decades.  They can't get away with it anymore, because bloggers keep exposing their lies.  They're browned off about it.  I must confess, their anger makes me smile.

Note: the paragraph above about unacknowledged changes was added after this item was posted.  I originally intended to mention it, but I forgot.  Still, I wouldn't want to criticize the MSM for not upholding a standard, then ignore it myself.  Only profesional reporters are allowed to do that.