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November 23, 2002

And what do you think??

Lou Dobbs has a poll on his site, which asks if you think the mainstream media is predominantly liberal, conservative, or neutral. As of this writing, at approximately 4 pm EST on Saturday, it's running 65% liberal, 31% conservative, and 4% neutral.

Obviously the readers of thismodernworld.com have not yet had their say.

Via Busy, busy, busy.


November 22, 2002

Let's end the week on a lighter note, shall we?

If you enjoyed that surreal Kikkoman cartoon that I linked to last week, then here's a treasure trove for you (thanks for the tip to Sean Treacy).

And here's a translation of the first cartoon, from a friend of reader Dallas Crum:

It came from the star of an soybean.
He is the messenger of justice.
Food will become very delicious if soy sauce is poured instantly.
Fly in dining out! It is mortal work Kikko-panch!
"fried egg ... soy sauce is best."
Show me Show you Kikkoman...

It came from the star of an soybean.
Funky that guy is Kikkoman.
Soy sauce is good for the body.
There is also a sterilization action.
It does not become a comparison in sauce and catsup.
It is mortal work Kikko beam!
"Therefore, it must also have been told to egg baking that soy sauce
was the best!"
Show me Show you Kikkoman...

This site makes no claim as to the accuracy of the above, but will brook no disagreement when it comes to Kikkoman's soy-based goodness.

Rush to judgment

Despite my recent difference of opinion with Spinsanity, I remain supportive of their work. And I think they got it exactly right on the Daschle/Limbaugh thing:

While Daschle may feel there is a correlation between criticism by talk radio hosts and the number of threats he receives, there is no evidence suggesting that the hosts are the cause of the threats. Moreover, it is unreasonable to suggest that talking heads are responsible for the actions of a deranged few without specific proof that they have actively incited their actions.

Yet Limbaugh, especially, is guilty of extremely vicious rhetoric. Consider just a few examples from his frequent diatribes against Daschle over the last two years. On Nov. 15, he asserted that Daschle's criticism of the conduct of the war on terrorism amounted to "an attempt to sabotage the war on terrorism," called him "Hanoi Tom" and suggested that he is " a disgrace to patriotism." On other occasions, Limbaugh has suggested that "In essence, Daschle has chosen to align himself with the axis of evil" and has drawn an extended analogy between Daschle and Satan.

Pretty much what I've been thinking. You can't hold Limbaugh responsible for the actions of his more insane listeners--unless you want to give up on the First Amendment entirely--but neither can you pretend that he's just some sort of lovable harmless goofball. He spreads a lot of deliberate misinformation, and that's what he needs to be held accountable for.

Well, this is disturbing

From Salon:

Just days ago, national security executives met secretly with airline CEOs to warn them that al-Qaida may be planning to fire shoulder-launched missiles at commercial jets in the U.S. There's virtually no defense.


Note: if you've already read this one, please be sure to scroll down to the update.

From Elton Beard (via Patrick Nielsen Hayden):

The Ministry of Truth. The Defense Department Information Awareness Office has been raising some eyebrows lately over its plan to collect and analyze a great deal of information about the formerly private lives of American citizens. The IAO list of proposed technologies consists mostly of things more or less related to the collection and interpretation of data, but also includes this odd item:

Story telling, change detection, and truth maintenance.

Story telling and "truth maintenance" - the latter phrase would make Orwell jealous - are not, however, techniques of information gathering. Rather, these are elements of information manufacture, a function known as propaganda when not utilized by one's own government. Call me suspicious, but somehow this makes me think that the IAO intends not only to collect information but to generate information too. That is, to fabricate and disseminate for public consumption stories that convey government-certified truth. The news media has provided this service to the administration pretty reliably for some time now, but maybe they're ready to cut out the middleman.

UPDATE..."truth maintenance" may be less ominous than it sounds, according to Beard, who's posted a correction:

Truth Maintenance: OOPS! No, I'm not referring to Object Oriented Programming Systems, I mean a big OOPS, as in my mistake! Darius Bacon, who knows his AI, has exposed a serious goof in my previous article - it turns out that truth maintenance is a well-known (except to me) Artificial Intelligence technique for pruning conflicting deduced or otherwise derived information from a knowledge base. So this particular sample technology from the IAO list, at least, is not as sinister as it sounds -it is legitimately a technique of information gathering, not dissemination.

I'm still a bit puzzled by the "storytelling" bit - this is an AI concept as well, but one that has to do with understanding how to generate a (necessarily) incomplete narrative that can still convey a message that is comprehensible to humans. I suppose that story telling technology could be used to expose gaps in available information - i.e. try to put what you know together as a story, and then see what's missing - so I have to give this one the benefit of the doubt too.

That's not to say that the information-gathering capability of the IAO is not seriously problematic, just that my conclusion that the IAO would be also engaging in propaganda was not well-founded. I feel like such a nimnoo. And for making this mistake in an article that's been Tom Tomorrow'd, no less - I am sorry, sorry, sorry!

Hey, that's the beauty of the blog--when you get it wrong, you can always set the record straight.

* * *

I'm playing hooky this morning, going to go catch a matinee of the new Bond film. True, I haven't really, truly enjoyed one of these things in years--maybe going as far back as The Living Daylights, which I think is one of the more underrated entries--and this one will probably be no different, another heavy-handed, product-placement-laden spectacle which leaves me feeling logy and pummelled. And yet, I see a commercial with the cars racing on the ice and things exploding, and--most importantly--the Bond theme playing in the background...and I am inexorably drawn, like a moth to the flame. What can I say? Underneath it all, I am still a twelve year old boy.

UPDATE on Bond: big and bloated, but better than I expected. And now I've got to get some work done.


November 21, 2002

Strange bedfellows

From a column by Doug Bandlow, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Cato Institute (via Joe Conason, who asks why the anti-war right gets a free pass from the otherwise hysterical patriotism police):

Warns CIA Director George Tenet: "al-Qaeda is in an execution phase and intends to strike us both here and overseas." An Italian investigator told Time magazine that al-Qaeda terrorists now "are better organized than at any point in the past year." Muslim hatred of the West continues to grow. Palestinians and Israelis are at war. Islamic fundamentalists made dramatic electoral gains in Pakistan.

Why, then, the administration's focus on Baghdad? Obviously Saddam is a monster. But Turkey treats its Kurds no better than does Iraq and Christian women are worse off in Saudi Arabia.

Baghdad has attacked its neighbors, but today is contained and constrained, far weaker than in 1990. Yes, Iraq deployed chemical weapons against Iran in war and maybe against the Kurds in civil war. But Saddam only used these weapons against defenseless adversaries. In contrast, the United States possesses thousands of nuclear warheads.

Baghdad is trying to develop an atomic bomb; so is North Korea, however. Brazil's new leftist president-elect has expressed an interest in doing so. Islamic Pakistan already possesses nukes.

* * *

To not attack Iraq is "appeasement" and "moral cowardice," charges Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation. Washington's critics are against us and "with our enemies," says Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.

In fact, opposition to the administration's dangerous aggressiveness is simply good sense.

There is no more fundamental duty for government than to protect its people from outside threats. Yet President Bush admits, "We've got a long way to go" to defeat al-Qaeda. Making war on Iraq will make that defeat even more distant.


November 20, 2002

A change'll do you good

We're switching this site from Blogger to Movable Type. I'm vastly appreciative of the service Blogger has provided--I'm not sure I would have ever gotten this site off the ground, in its present format, without the ease-of-use their templates provided. But the glitches and the delays finally got to me, so here we are. If we've done this right, you shouldn't even notice a change, but if there are any problems, please let me know. We should also have the blog archives (which have not been working properly for about two months) up to speed soon.

Another voice in the wilderness

When I threw my hat into the ring a year ago, the blogs were mostly dominated by a conservative/libertarian axis. These days, the ideological spectrum seems a whole lot more balanced (even if the journalists who keep writing those "gee whiz check out this blogging thing" articles haven't caught up to the fact yet).

And here's yet another unabashedly left-wing blog: Rantomatic, newly-launched by my friend and animation partner Harold Moss. Go give him a hearty welcome.

There's a virus going around

Once again, I'm starting to get weird "returned" email which I never sent out. Last time this happened, the brain trust brought me up to speed on the Klez virus, or worm, or whatever, and I'm guessing that's what's happening again: someone who had my email in their address book got infected and their computer is sending out messages which spoof my return address. (Given that I'm running Netscape on a Mac with firewall and anti-virus constantly running, my understanding is that this is unlikely to have originated from my own computer.) Not much I can do about this, but if you get an email from me with some weird subject line about the Spice Girls or some Great New Software or something equally unlikely, you should delete it posthaste.

UPDATE: common sense rule of thumb suggested by Frank Lynch--beware attachments. I don't send out unexpected attachments (and I delete any attachment that I'm not expecting).


November 19, 2002

Watching the watchers

A reader informs me that this cartoon has been given the Spinsanity treatment (I'm not bothering to cut and paste the links here, you can visit their site for those):

In his newest syndicated cartoon, Tom Tomorrow purports to set the record straight on the circumstances under which United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998. But, like many liberals making this point, he presents the situation out of context.

In the strip, a character whose opinions are presented as authoritative states that inspectors "weren't kicked out [by Saddam in 1998] -- they were ordered to withdraw by chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler". But as Josh Marshall pointed out on Salon last week, this is a deceptive summary of what happened.

While Tomorrow is right to point out that inspectors were not technically expelled by Saddam -- as a number of media outlets have inaccurately reported -- he and others omit crucial context when they imply that the inspectors simply withdrew of their own accord. After repeated instances of Iraqi non-compliance with the inspection regime, the US and Great Britain decided to launch a series of retaliatory airstrikes against Iraq in December 1998. As a result, Butler withdrew the inspectors, saying "we can't adequately do our jobs under these circumstances" and that it "made logical sense therefore to pull our people out." After the strikes, Saddam did not allow the inspectors to return.

Give the importance of this issue to the current debate, both sides must take care to present what happened accurately.

Well, yes. And in the interest of presenting what happened accurately, let's take a little trip in the Wayback machine, back to that distant, mythical era, of which so little historical record apparently survives: 1998. Those of you with exceptionally long memories may recall what Spinsanity and Josh Marshall apparently do not: Saddam justified his lack of cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors because, according to him, they were being used to spy on him. And you know what? They really were being used to spy on him. "United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors," the New York Times acknowledged on January 7, 1999. And according to the Washington Post, the U.S. "infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency." (You can also read the cartoon I did at the time here.)

Whether or not you think it was a good idea to use the UNSCOM team to spy on Iraq is irrelevant to this discussion--it was in direct contravention of the UN mandate which allowed them access, meaning, unfortunately, that Hussein had every right to refuse them cooperation. The Washington Post quoted a UN source at the time: "The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what's wrong with the UNSCOM operation." (Also, a side note, for what it's worth: not only did Butler pull his team out, he did so without the approval of the UN Security Council.)

Spinsanity's confusion is understandable, at least if they're relying solely on current newspaper and cable news accounts--as FAIR notes, "facts that (the major media's) own correspondents confirmed three years ago in interviews with top U.S. officials are being recycled as mere allegations coming from Saddam Hussein's regime." But still. If you're going to lash someone with a limp noodle for not providing proper context, you need to be sure you're not doing the same thing. Because I agree with them on one point absolutely--this is an incredibly important debate, and misinformation doesn't do anyone any good.

Then and now

As you cruise the back alleys and mean streets of Bloggerville, you may run across a recurrent meme, which compares the current anti-war movement to that of the Vietnam days, and finds the former lacking, particularly vis--vis the support and enthusiasm of today's college students. The intent, of course, is to paint anti-war activism as some sort of pathetic apatosaurus, hopelessly trying to lumber out of the tar pit of outdated liberalism in which it is ensnared.

Two quick thoughts on this. First: the war hasn't even started yet and we're seeing protest marches draw hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans into the streets of our nation's capital. It took the Vietnam-era peace movement years to reach this point.

And secondly, as for the college students: this seems so obvious, it's almost an insult to the reader's intelligence to have to mention it, but, um, there's no draft. No disrespect intended to the previous generation, but let's face it: nothing focuses political awareness like the prospect of getting one's own ass shot off in the service of a dubious foreign policy. Try reinstating mandatory service and let's see how popular the war becomes on campus.

Feeling secure yet?

From PBS, via August:

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT TESTIFYING BEFORE CONGRESS, 12/6/01: In this manual, Al Qaeda terrorists are now told how to use America's freedom as a weapon against us.

DEBORAH AMOS: But what Ashcroft did not point out: these manuals show Osama bin Laden's foot soldiers how easy it is to buy assault weapons in American gun stores and gun shows.

Al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations have exploited numerous loopholes in American gun laws loopholes that exist because of consistent lobbying by the powerful National Rifle Association to stop any restrictions on gun purchases. Since September 11th, critics say, the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has chosen to side with the NRA at the expense of the war on terrorism.


I saw some Republican talking head on one of the endless parade of cable news shows I half-watch all day while I work, talking about the Louisiana runoff election and explaining that the Republicans were so concerned about this one, despite their current Senate majority, because, um, you know, it never hurts to have an extra seat.

This seems to be a more plausible explanation. (Via Cursor.)


November 18, 2002

A trip down memory lane

It's been a long time, at least in terms of dog years and American memories, but some of you may recall a little overseas adventure which has subsequently been re-christened, so to speak, the war for the liberation of Afghanistan.

Turns out--get this--the war hasn't been such an unambiguous success after all. In fact, a lot of things that crazed left-wing peaceniks warned about at the time are coming to pass.

From Time magazine:

If the U.S. has won the war in Afghanistan, maybe somebody should tell the enemy it's time to surrender. The bad guys are still out there, undetectable in the rocky, umber hills of eastern Afghanistan until they strike, which they do with growing frequency, accuracy and brazenness. These days American forward bases are coming under rocket or mortar fire three times a week on average. Apache pilots sometimes see angry red arcing lines of tracer bullets rising toward their choppers from unseen gunners hidden in Afghanistan's saw-blade ridges. Roads frequented by special forces are often mined with remote-controlled explosives, a new tactic al-Qaeda fighters picked up from their Chechen comrades fighting the Russians. With phantom enemy fighters stepping up attacks and U.S. forces making little headway against them, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt compelled to acknowledge last week, "We've lost a little momentum there, to be frank."

From the LA Times:

Given enough political and economic willpower, the U.S. could rebuild the main roads, sink thousands of new wells and help revitalize the devastated school and university systems. Instead, the U.S. is training a much-needed national army but turning a blind eye to broader reconstruction.

We did it for Germany, but Afghanistan is yesterday's problem. American statesman George Kennan foresaw the problem during World War II, when he was assigned one summer to Baghdad. "Our government is technically incapable of conceiving and promulgating a long-term consistent policy toward areas remote from its own territory," he wrote. The problem, he added, is that "our actions in the field of foreign affairs are the convulsive reactions of politicians to an internal political life dominated by vocal minorities."

It was that lack of a long-term policy that led us to walk away from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, after we had pumped the country full of weapons to defeat the Soviets, leaving it in chaos and eventually to Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden. Now we are again moving on to other things, such as Iraq.

From USA Today:

Other Afghans also say life here is different and far more dangerous than they expected a year ago:

* The U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai has little control outside of Kabul, the capital. And the new government is racked with dissension.
* Warlords continue to control much of the countryside. Already, several factional power struggles have broken out.
* Extremists, in hiding outside the well-protected capital, wait for an opportunity to strike. Taliban and al-Qaeda forces lurk in the mountains. U.S. troops on patrol in search of terrorists in eastern Afghanistan face almost daily hostility and attacks.

"The fundamentalists and the warlords are in charge. The gunmen have the authority and the power, and actual rights the government says we have are not given," Mujahed says.

But apart from all that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

All via Cursor.


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