bitter sanity

Wake up and smell the grjklbrxwg, earth beings.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

[posted by jaed at 10:01 AM]
Eamonn Fitzgerald of Rainy Day posted this lovely little "thank-you" to America the other day, which damn near made me cry. Unexpected kindness does that to me. Then his commenters promptly announced that they didn't agree, and overall the Irish are, too, anti-American.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

[posted by jaed at 9:46 AM]
Dept of "What's wrong with this picture?"
From the Washington Post, we read:
The FBI, in an unprecedented move that has strained relations with a close ally in the war on terrorism, has subpoenaed records for dozens of bank accounts belonging to the Saudi Embassy...
In other news, the Washington Post (dateline 1943) has a story that the US has strained relations with "a close ally in WWII" by bombing Japanese positions in the Pacific. I know Saudi Arabia paid for a number of ads touting themselves as "our partners in peace", but do you believe everything you hear on the radio?

Saudi Arabia: home of fifteen of nineteen.
Saudi Arabia: source of most of the funding for the jihadist movement.
Saudi Arabia: whose ambassador's wife channeled funds to the 9/11 attackers.
Saudi Arabia: origin of more state-sponsored anti-American khutbas than I can shake a stick at.

If Saudi Arabia is a "close ally in the war on terrorism", what in hell would an enemy look like?

Saturday, November 22, 2003

[posted by jaed at 1:30 PM]
Quote of the day
The Economist, in an article on American protectionism against clothing imports from China:
Now, the Commerce Department has shown that it is willing to use every device at its disposal to ward off the menace of cheap dressing gowns.
(via Drezner, whose remarks are readworthy as usual)

Thursday, November 20, 2003

[posted by jaed at 7:14 PM] coin a phrase
A number of people have commented on the apparent disconnect between some traditional ideals that the left associates itself with (humanitarian causes, human rights, opposition to dictatorship) and the behavior of much of the left and many soi-disant "liberals" at the moment ("People have been murdered in Istanbul? Who cares? It's Bush and Blair who are the killers!").

Cllifford May has, en passant, come up with a phrase that resonates: "the post-humanitarian left". It is descriptive. It is non-snarky. And it perfectly expresses the gulf I've been inarticulately contemplating lately, between the ideal and the real.

[posted by jaed at 1:11 PM]

Quote of the day
Ralph Peters puts his finger on the media dynamics - go to the dramatic event, frame the story around it, ignore facts and events that don't fit in the frame - in a way that explains, briefly and colorfully, why the conventional media have behaved the way they have concerning Iraq:
The terrorists push a potent drug, and journalists are the addicts.
(via the Karmic Inquisition)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

[posted by jaed at 6:01 PM]
The things we do for fashion
Imshin at Not a Fish provides all the excuse I need for not getting off my butt and installing Movable Type:
If I hang on long enough, Blogger will become retro and I will be cool, at last.
Retro. That's the ticket.

[posted by jaed at 9:38 AM]

Return to Kurdistan
Here's a series of articles by Sivan Ahmedi. A few tidbits:
...I asked my friend if it was truly advisable that I speak Kurdish in public. He told me, �It is not like the last time you were here. Now, because of the EU, the Turks cannot give us as much trouble.� I hesitantly trusted him and spoke Kurdish everywhere we went, and I indeed encountered no real trouble.
They then asked me what the American people think of KADEK. I told them that perhaps some think that KADEK is a terrorist group, while others, primarily Kurds and leftists, do not share this view. What I said next shocked them; I said that most people in the US probably don�t know about KADEK or simply don�t care about Turkey and the Kurdish question within Turkey�s borders. They asked me about US media perceptions of KADEK and I informed them that, while the media sometimes views KADEK in a negative light, there is very, very little reporting done whatsoever on these issues. Again, they were shocked, and with good reason. The issues that affected these people�s everyday lives were ignored by the media in the world�s most powerful nation.
We left Mardin and drove through the deserted landscape that leads to Cizre on a road that is just a few steps from the barbed wire fence separating Turkish-administered territory from the portion of Kurdistan occupied by the Syrian dictatorship. I looked into Syria and yelled, �Watch out, President Bush may want you next!�
I had just entered an area with a visa to Iraqi Kurdistan. I saw only Kurds and heard only Kurdish. I heard and saw the word Kurdistan� and never once heard anyone mention Iraq. Kurdish colors were ubiquitous, as was the beautiful flag of Kurdistan. It was as if I were in an independent state of Kurdistan. I asked myself, �How could this ever be reintegrated into Iraq?�
Gives a picture of a region that's not discussed much in the conventional media.

(via Ideofact)

Monday, November 17, 2003

[posted by jaed at 8:38 PM]
Don't give them ideas
Gene at Harry's Place saw an ad for a restaurant named "Michael Moore". It turned out that the Moore for whom the restaurant is named is not the famous MM, but it inspired this brief fantasy:
The walls would be decorated with deer rifles and anti-gun-control bumper stickers. The wait staff would wear cowboy boots and George W. Bush masks. The only items on the menu would be chicken-fried steak and Budweiser, and anyone who tried to order vegetables would be laughed at and called a goddam sissy before getting dragged out and beaten up in the back alley.
There are, as Gene says, many possibilities. The shuddersome thing about this is that if I read about such a restaurant - for real - it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. The dislike-shading-into-hate, the stereotyping, seems just that bad to me.

Damn. Maybe I should seek venture capital and open it myself. A chain of such restaurants would make a killing in Britain.

I'm just hoping we get through the next few days without someone taking a shot at Bush, and without anyone getting killed or seriously hurt. It will be ugly, hurtful, and damaging to this long-time alliance, and the most optimistic outlook I can manage is that perhaps it won't be any worse than that.

ON THE OTHER HAND: via Instapundit, I find the Guardian (of all papers) telling us that British opinion is a bit more pro-visit than otherwise, with 43% welcoming it and 37% opposing. 62% said the US is generally a force for good. Hmmm. Definitely not the impression I've gotten, but then it's not as though I were in Britain. I don't know.

[posted by jaed at 6:44 PM]

On touchscreen voting machines
Volokh has a number of posts this week on the issues surrounding touchscreen voting machines, counting, etc. Eugene Volokh seems to think giving a receipt to the voter is being proposed; I've never heard this suggested, but if it has been, the suggestor should be slapped with a large fish into which has been carved the phrase "Secret Ballot". Diebold's management should be slapped with a similar fish that says "Open Source", or perhaps "Security by Obscurity Doesn't Work". (Depends on the size of the fish.)

Design criteria for a reasonable touchscreen voting system:

1. System is coded to prevent overvotes and inadvertant undervotes. The user interface should not let you overvote for an office. If you undervote (don't vote in a contest, or vote for fewer candidates than you're allowed to [for such things as at-large city councils]), it should ask "Are you sure?" in some fashion, to confirm that your undervote is deliberate.

2. System should, when the voter is finished, print out a ballot that's both human-readable and OCR-able, and ask the voter to confirm that these are in fact the right choices. Voter deposits this ballot in a box at the polling place before leaving, and it's used as a double-check on the computer tally.

(I say OCR-able, rather than having two sets of data - machine-readable and human-readable - because if the voter can't read the machine-readable part, it's not really a check; if the two sets are different, due to either a bug or software sabotage, it would be difficult to tell.)

3. The initial numbers are taken from the computer tally. If a candidate challenges the results, the printed ballots are used to generate either a machine count (faster, cheaper) or a hand count. You can toss the printed ballots after the time for a challenge has passed.

4. For the first N elections (where N is some small integer, 1 or 2 or 3, say) after the machines are installed in a county, a machine count is done as a matter of course. If the machine count is more than some delta different from the computer tally, consequences are triggered (these might include comprehensive software review, manual recount, and penalties due from the machine's manufacturer). This is repeated for the N elections after a software change.

As far as I can tell, not one of these provisions is being used. I wonder why not? They all seem fairly obvious and fairly reasonable. They solve the problems I've heard about with touchscreens, up to and including the theory that "Diebold is being paid by Bush to rig the machines!", as well as the problems that touchscreens are supposed to address (overvotes, ambiguous undervotes, slow counts). So what's up?

Sunday, November 16, 2003

[posted by jaed at 7:05 PM]
The measure of success
Instapundit sets a low bar for success in Iraq:
But, you know, Russia was a mess (and remains one) after the fall of the Soviet Union, for many of the same reasons. But it's still better the way it is, for them and for us. So it doesn't have to be perfect. Just good enough. The problems that Bannion describes remind me of Nigeria, which isn't a great place, but it's better than a lot of countries in Africa. Likewise, Iraq isn't a great place, but it's better already than a lot of countries in the mideast, and it's on the path to improvement. Given the enormous damage to the physical -- and especially the social -- capital of the country done by decades of dictatorship, that's good enough.
I have to disagree.

If we were judging "success" in isolation, I might agree. "Better than under Saddam" isn't a very high standard and it's one that the end result can easily meet. Even another dictatorship - under someone somewhat less bloodthirsty, with less-evil spawn, and with fewer territorial ambitions - would be a "success" in this limited sense. We could simply shrug and say "Well, as long as we're not going to be digging up mass graves with hundreds of thousands of corpses in thirty years, this is a signal improvement." And we'd be right, as far as that goes

Except for one thing: Iraq and our strategy there don't exist in isolation. The Iraq campaign was, and is, only part of the war. One of the several strategic reasons for dealing with Iraq first is that Iraq in many ways has a high potential to become a democratic and open society compared with other Arab countries, for a variety of reasons, and that transformation is part of our war strategy. Success in Iraq has to be judged in this broader sense, of whether it accomplishes our war aims.

An Iraq that is run by a dictator, or in constant danger of sliding into lawless authoritarianism, won't do that. It will instead strengthen the stability-uber-alles theoreticians, offering evidence that Arabs are incapable of democracy. It will cement our reputation for cutting and running. It will effectively take hope away from any Arabs entertaining the idea that democracy might be possible in their countries. It will ensure that the next time we need to take any kind of military action, the people will expect nothing but the worst of us; we can only dine out on our success with WWII Germany and Japan for so long in the face of a very public failure in Iraq.

It will do us enormous strategic damage. It will very likely lose us the war - the entire war, not just the engagement in Iraq. And this is not a war we can afford to lose.

Iraq can do better than "not as bad as under Saddam", and so can we. We have to.

[posted by jaed at 6:03 PM]

Press puzzle
I don't think the press is unbiased. I think that the culture of the world press is such that its members can generally be expected to oppose us in this war and to romanticize our enemies, and that media outlets express this bias in choice of stories, in level of coverage, in the wording of stories and headlines, and in all the things we refer to as "positioning".

However, I have never thought that they've been hiding information from us - at worst, I've thought that they've presented an overall picture that's out of touch with reality, burying certain stories and hypiing others. I've never thought that there were actual facts they were refusing to report at all.

I may have been wrong. (And I can't tell you how much I dread the implications.) Zeyad reports that there were anti-terrorism demonstrations in two major Iraqi cities last week:
Huge anti-terrorism demonstrations were held in Nassiriyah yesterday by students association condemning the attacks on the Italian force carrying signs such as 'No to terrorism. Yes to freedom and peace', and 'This cowardly act will unify us'. I have to add that there were similar demonstrations in Baghdad more than a week ago also by students against the bombings of police stations early this Ramadan.
I heard nothing of these demonstrations. And I follow the news on this matter more closely than most people do.

Had I simply missed the reports? Perhaps they weren't given prominence. I did a Google News search on Out of curiosity, I did a Google News search on "demonstration Nasiryah" (with a couple of variations on the spelling of "Nasiriyah") - but the only mention I found of anti-terrorist demonstrations was in the Telegraph, in a story datelined Baghdad:
A demonstration was planned at the blast site by local Iraqis to show support for the Italian presence but in the end only a handful of people turned up.
I tried a similar search for demonstrations in Baghdad, and got plenty of hits, but they all concerned anti-American demonstrations (in Baghdad and London).

Now remember, Zeyad lives in Baghdad. It's unlikely he'd think there were demonstrations if there weren't. I've got no reason to think he might be making this up. But there are no stories. As far as I and Google News can tell, there are none - not one mainstream English-speaking news organization picked up what is, if true, a significant event that can give us insight into the complexities of Iraqi opinion. Which, you'll admit, is an important story.

I don't know what to think of this. But the implications are making my blood run cold. As a polity, we are far, far too dependent on a few reporters living in Baghdad luxury hotels and on their willingness to report the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is for them. If they're not willing to do that, this small group can effectively drop Iraq down the memory hole.

[posted by jaed at 4:12 PM]

Department of Things You Just Can't Make Up
...although you may wish you had. Two synagogies in Istanbul are bombed in the middle of prayer services, and this is the response of the Secretary-General of the Arab League:
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa condemned Saturday the bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul, and held Israel responsible for inciting terrorism.
This is usual. It's what I've come to expect from Arabs in positions of power. But occasionally, I notice that it is mean-spirited to the point of inhumanity, as well as willfully stupid.

And I ask myself, why does everyone just nod and sigh when people say this sort of thing? Our expectations are low, granted, but should they be allowed to sink so low that this sort of thing - not from a crazy person on the street, or an adolescent with more bravado than sense, but from a sane adult in a position of power - is passed over, the way I almost passed it over just now?
(via Watch)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

[posted by jaed at 3:22 PM]
Iron Curtain, redux
A while ago, I noted the use of "Iron Curtain" in the recently-released transcript of a 1945 talk by John Foster Dulles, and asked whether this was the original use. Marten Barck (of the indispensable Watch) tells me:
The first time the phrase is mentioned in Martin Gilbert (Churchill - A Life [845])is in a telegram from Churchill to Truman on May 12 1945: "An iron curtain is drawn upon their front." Of course, the historical version was on March 4 1946.

[posted by jaed at 11:25 AM]

Depressing ruminations on the state of the nation
Brian Tiemann at Peeve Farm reflects on a Tech Central column and a new email friendship with someone who says, well:
"I tend to view anyone or anything bearing a Bush/Cheney logo in much the same way that I view biohazard labels -- they are warnings that the contents therein are likely to be volatile, unstable, antithetical to human life, and quite possibly lethal," he says. "This public safety notice brought to you by Citizens Who Still Know How To Think Clearly."

(I haven't told him my horrible secret yet. I dread the inevitable day when I will.)
Yeah. I have friends who get their news from leaving NPR on all day (just to hint at their political persuasion) and I just avoid talking about politics with them. Another friend wanted me to go to a Clark campaign event recently and I'm avoiding talking politics with him too. There is... I don't know. An assumption that all Decent People agree, and I'm cowardly enough to find challenging that assumption very, very unpleasant.

I think there's something new going on. [...] possibly it's the second- and third-order fallout in the nation's collective mind from 9/11-- first was the shock and horror and patriotism, but then there was the freight-train backlash against it that has so violently uprooted the foundations of so many people's minds that all cognitive consistency is lost.

If this is what 9/11 has done to us in the long term, then bin Laden really did have a plan and a half, didn't he?

Powered by Blogger




Past archives