Friday, December 06, 2002

Fisk likes being employed
Robert Fisk offers up an interview with what he asserts is an anonymous American intelligence officer. Pretty boring stuff, frankly. Al-Qaeda is getting tip-offs from some parts of Pakistani intelligence. Al-Qaeda is using communicating by messenger rather than electronically to avoid detection. Not exactly news. But there is a nice "please keep me employed bit" at the end:
The American officer also had a low opinion of the Western journalists he met at Bagram. "They just hung around our base all day. Whenever we had some special operation, we'd offer the journalists some facility to go on patrol with our special forces and off they'd go – you know, 'we're on patrol with the special forces' – and they wouldn't realise we were stringing them along to get them out of the way."
Don't read the other papers, folks; keep buying us.

UPDATE: CalPundit offers some reasons for thinking that Fisk has made up this interview. (I should have caught this sooner, but I spent most of Friday and Saturday moving office. In the middle of the term. But since it involves losing the boss from hell, I do not mind at all.)

Regulatory fantasies
Paul Krugman has become just a bore, which is a great disappointment. He used to write well about economics. About his professional work, I have no comment, because his field is international trade and finance is well outside my own interests. His New York Times columns, however, have become little more than foot stomping temper tantrums. Even his ventures into economics are getting weird. In today's column, he urges greater FCC regulation of telecommunications. Sadly, he draws on transportation regulation as his metaphor.
Everyone talks about the "information highway." But in economic terms the telecommunications network resembles not a highway but the railroad industry of the robber-baron era — that is, before it faced effective competition from trucking. And railroads eventually faced tough regulation, for good reason: they had a lot of market power, and often abused it.
In Krugman's little tale, the Interstate Commerce Commission protected everyone from the big bad railroad monopoly until competition from truckers took over. This was not credible when Krugman started graduate school in 1974. Specifically, it is disappointing that Krugman does not know that the ICC fostered monopoly in transportation, rather than controlling it. When trucking came along, the ICC began regulating them as well, preventing them from competing with the railroads, to the detriment of truckers and shippers. Maybe Krugman should bother checking with, say, Thomas Gale Moore at Hoover, who actually knows something about surface transport. Or maybe Paul MacAvoy, who knows a lot about the long-standing mess in telecommunications regulation? MacAvoy used to be at MIT, and certainly during his time at MIT Krugman encountered regulatory expert Paul Joskow. Joskow is a lot more comfortable with government regulation than I am, but knows better than Krugman's robber baron stories for 10 year olds.
If they put as much effort into studying . . .
A group of 26 students at the prestigious Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo have been caught cheating. One student, who apparently knew something about the test, left the room, and then emailed the answers to the other students on mobile phones (cell phones to you Americans out there). Phones are banned from exams here, because students have tried using them to send text messages with the answers to multiples choice exams. But whole essays? This is a new one for me.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Life imitates Woody Allen
It has been a busy day, and I thought it would be a really boring day for blogging. The Guardian posted a column by Maggie O'Kane, a member of the tin foil hat brigade, doing a weirder than usual defense of Saddam that might even embarrass Robert Fisk. Boring mostly. Fortunately, Woody Allen came to my rescue. Remember his magnificent comedy Sleeper? Allen played a man who has himself frozen and gets woken up 200 years in the future. When told all his friends were dead, he replies in bafflement: "But they all ate organic rice." Part of the movie's joke was that it turned out spinach was bad for you, and that healthy eating required a lot of ice cream, read meat, and cigarettes. Weel, now the Daily Telegraph reports that chocolate may be good for you:
Chocolate could hold the secret to curing ticklish coughs, according to a study due to be presented today.
Researchers have shown that a substance found naturally in cocoa beans is more effective at tackling coughs than codeine, the drug used in most traditional remedies. Sadly for chocolate lovers the experts say it takes at least 25 fingers of Kit Kat or 25 tubes of Rolos to get any benefit.
Oh well, you can't have everything.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Shark infested waters
Through Newmark's Door, I came across a nice page produced by David Levine of Berkeley's business school called Cheap Advice, all about finishing a Ph.D., getting a job, and then keeping it. My niece recently started graduate school at Berkeley. For her summer reading before starting, I gave her a copy of The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School Through Tenure. The authors include John Goldsmith, a linguist at Chicago, John Komlos, an economist at Munich, and Penny Schine Gold, a historian at Knox College. It is a book I wish I had read before jumping into the shark infested waters of academia.
"Why don't you shut up?"
So said Cary Grant to Audrey Hepburn in Charade. In the Independent, Stephen Pollard says the same thing to theater audiences. He is right, of course. People who talk during performances should be tossed out, and theaters are losing audiences because they will not control bad behavior. Miss Manners would have said it better, but Pollard's comments will do for now.
Rock watch
Robert Fisk has crawled out again from under his rock. The usual stuff is dragged out: oil, Iraq news is old news, oil, deleted uranium munitions are causing "unexplained cancer", oil, blah, blah. But there are odd little bits.
(1) Fisk is nearly desperate to prove he is not anti-Semitic. He goes after Franklin Graham by charging his father with anti-Semitism:
Franklin Graham, son of the same Billy Graham who made those anti-Semitic remarks on the Nixon tapes, has called Islam "evil". And Graham, remember, spoke at Bush's inauguration.
(2) He is determined to show that he is fair and balanced reporter on the Middle East. He does not limit his criticisms to Israel. No visceral Israel hater is he. He denounces Saddam as a wicked, wicked man, and a hated dictator.
I've no doubt that there are raping rooms in Saddam's Iraq. I went inside one in the northern city of Dohuk in 1991, women's underclothes still lying on the floor.
. . .
I do believe that the US 1st Infantry Division will cross the Tigris bridges into Baghdad within one week of an invasion. The first photos will show Iraqis making V for victory signs at the American tanks. The second batch of pictures will show Baath party members strung up from lamp-posts by the population they have suppressed for so many years.
(3) Nonetheless, he wants something done about wicked Israel, but about Saddam: exactly nothing. Weapons of mass destruction are a tease for him. Don't invade Iraq: too risky.
The most the Iraqi army will do in response to an invasion – always assuming they don't have nuclear or chemical weapons – will be to score a stray hit on a Stealth bomber.
There is the tease: Iraq might have those weapons, so do not invade. But:
In fact, we are being prepared for the awful, incredible, unspeakable possibility that the UN inspectors will find absolutely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That will leave us with only one conclusion: they were no good at their job. They should have been in the oil business.
So there. Even the Bush administration does not believe Saddam has those weapons. They are just an excuse for an invasion.

Does Fisk contradict himself? What does it matter in the pursuit of his fantasies. Or maybe he thinks he is Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).
Stupidity watch III
Over at the Guardian, Dan Plesch has it all figured out.
President Bush may have put an invasion of Iraq on hold until it can best help his 2004 re-election campaign. The administration would prefer to see change in Iraq by subtler means than 300,000 troops and mass bombing. He does not want to relive his father's experience of winning a war a year too early and finding that come the election the victory was forgotten or, worse, the post-war peace was turning sour.
The appeasers whine that Bush is ignoring the UN. Bush goes to the UN. They whine that he will probably just ignore the UN. He pays attention to the UN. Aha. In fact, he is really delaying the war until just before the next election. Then we get this bit of deep insight.
Then, almost as soon as the resolution passed, Iraq again fired on US and British planes. What happened? Nothing. There was no speeches declaring that Iraq had once again flouted the will of the international community and that we now had to go to war. Rather, we were reminded that our planes enforcing the no-fly zones were not covered by these UN resolutions, something that had strangely been left out of briefings these last 10 years.
If this was happening under Clinton, he would be under a howling attack from the right for wimpishness, something the Bush administration need not fear.
This would explain, for example, Charles Krauthammer's attack on the Bush administration.

Plesch is listed as a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. No wonder the British military has problems.

Stupidity watch II
Fortunately for law and order, a lot of criminals are kind of stupid. The Washington Post reports on a thief who tried to steal the license plate off a police car, while the police were in the car.
" 'This guy is trying to steal my license plate,' " Officer Chris Feltman recalled telling his partner in hardly concealed disbelief. "My partner wanted to jump out and grab him. I said, 'Hold on, let's see how far this goes. This is interesting.' "
. . .
Feltman's partner, parked in the opposite direction, couldn't see much through his rearview mirror. So he stuck his head out the car window for a better view. The thief still didn't notice.

"He was so focused," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, not wanting to blow his cover.

The thief was having a heck of a time getting the plate off, so he went back to his car to get another tool. But this time he seemed to sense that he might not be alone, and the officers made their move.

"Hey, slick, what do you think you're doing?" the undercover officer said to the suspect as he shined his flashlight in his face.

He was still holding the screwdriver and looked "like a balloon when you pop it," the officer said.
Crime is serious, so why do I feel like laughing?
Stupidity watch I
A New York bus driver was arrested for making Taliban jokes.
More than a dozen police cars descended on the rural route in central New Jersey where, the authorities said, Mr. Mickens, frustrated by the holiday traffic, had told anxious passengers moments earlier over the public address system, "We're going to the Taliban, don't worry about it"
One virtue of actually declaring war is that it makes it easier to crack down on this sort of behavior. The part that worries me more than the bus driver is a comment his mother is quoted as saying:
After Sept. 11, she said: "It was the thing to say on the streets. People said it all the time, `I'm from the Taliban.' "
This could be, and I suppose likely is, simply an idiot mother defending her idiot son. Is there any chance, though, that she is right?

Monday, December 02, 2002

Is this any way to run a project?
Andrew Sullivan picks up on a call for papers for an anthology called the Critical Holocaust Anthology. He spots anti-Semitism at work, or at least a political agenda. It is certainly pompous.
As an anthology this project will provide a forum for experts in a variety of fields to comment on the effects and articulations within these other discussions/discourses.
It is only marginally literate.
Focusing on its affects within the Jewish community and subsequent Jewish identity development . . .
(I am not the only teacher who expects his students to distinguish between "affect" and "effect".) The part that fascinated me was the closing:
Your 500-word abstract/proposal and a brief CV must be received . . .
Why the CV? I have never submitted anything with a CV. The merits of a work should stand on their own. Is the request for a CV a vetting process, to ensure that only right thinking people who have come out of the right programs are admitted? I am curious if other academics are asked to submit a CV with paper projects?
Can't get no satisfaction
The Guardian reports that Amnesty International is upset that the British government has released a dossier detailing torture in Iraq.
The government was today accused of manipulating information on human rights abuses in Iraq to build its case for war against Saddam Hussein.
Amnesty International said a dossier released today by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, listing torture, rapes and other abuses perpetrated by the Baghdad regime, is a "cold and calculated manipulation" of the work of human rights activists.
"Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf war," the group's secretary general, Irene Khan, said.
Amnesty has also issued a press release with the same complaint. I suppose I sympathize with their upset. Iraq clearly is being targeted because it is a threat to the west, not simply to its own people. Saddam's track record is important to the extent it establishes just how dangerous he is. I guess Amnesty feels a bit like the girl who is at the bottom of the little black book: called only when necessary. Then again, it is hard to have too much sympathy for Amnesty. They sound petulant, and their press release has the tone of arrested adolescence: the incessant demand for the mutually contradictory. The press release ends with
As the keeper of international peace and security, the UN Security Council has the responsibility under the UN Charter to seek a solution through peaceful means first. It must remind its most powerful member that force is the last resort and only to be carried out in full compliance with international law. It must ask if we have really reached that point of imminent danger which leaves no other choice. It must never forget that the United Nations was created to preserve peace and promote human rights, not encourage war.
The old mantra: human rights and war are incompatible. They are wrong, wrong in the way adolescents are wrong, demanding everything can be the way you want just by wishing it were so. Anne Frank's family sat in hiding, hoping an invasion would save them. If Roosevelt had been able to bring the US into war sooner, Anne Frank might still be alive.
Pop pretension
The Guardian devotes a fawning piece by Siobhan Grogan on the pop star Shakira. Shakira, it seems, is a pop star with pretensions of being intellectually serious.
A startled hush falls over 15,000 New Yorkers as Saddam Hussein strokes his chin and considers his next chess move. Across the table George Bush drums his fingers impatiently and waits his turn. Simultaneously, a single spotlight swoops away from the actors on the big screen to the stage below, searching out Shakira, 2002's newest, blondest pop diva, in sprayed-on red leather trousers and a vest top sparkling with diamante.
"I know pop stars are not supposed to stick their noses into politics," she says, shrugging. The screen above her head reveals a hooded Grim Reaper to be Bush and Saddam's puppeteer, controlling the chess game below. This is hardly subtle social comment, but it seems peculiarly daring for a mainstream pop concert in a city still bearing a painful scar in its altered skyline.
This is Sally Field "You really like me" stuff writ large. Sigh.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Tell me the story again, Daddy
It would be unfair to pick on the Independent, publishers of juvenile delinquent Robert Fisk, without checking in on the Guardian, where John O'Farrell announces a breathless discovery: Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction, neither nuclear, biological, or chemical. Poor Saddam is merely the tool in the all-powerful campaign of George Bush to get re-elected. Apparently the Guardian requires neither intelligence or originality from their writers. It isn't as if he makes the point in a way that is particularly funny or clever, either.
Whatever they find, the verdict is already decided. Even if they unearth no glowing vats of kryptonite it will prove that Saddam has hidden them all away in his cousin's lock-up garage. The inspectors are there for appearances' sake, to give the impression of a legitimate process, like the "review" of a pit closure or a black American's defence counsel.
. . .
Or maybe they could find that international law that says that one nation has the right to decide there will be a "regime change" in another country thousands of miles away. The whole world would like to see Saddam Hussein overthrown by his own people, but Bush needs this easy battle to help him win the really big fight the following year. Dubya's only interest in foreign policy is what it can do for him at home now they're more than halfway through the presidential electoral cycle.
Little children love to hear the same stories again and again. Is this the explanation?
Yeech
Robert Fisk is back again. He repeats his gripe made on the radio the other day, that he is being singled by US airport security, a bad idea because he is not one of the “bad guys”. Well, his column suggests that either he really is one of the bad guys, an energetic fifth columnist, or else he is one of the stupidest men on the face of the earth, worthy of an academic chair. Repeating his earlier claims that Al-Qaeda is unconnected to Palestinian terror groups, he again insists that by letting Israel into the fight against Al-Qaeda, bin Laden can now bring the Palestinians onto his side.
For by bringing Israel into the loop – by allowing Israel to become a partner in President Bush's asinine "war on terror" – al-Qa'ida has ensured that the Arab Muslim world will henceforth give its real if quiescent sympathy to Osama bin Laden. Outraged as many Arabs were at the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, few will object to an attack against Israelis, however cruel, while Israel's suppression of the Palestinians continues. If al-Qa'ida is now against Israel, Arabs will give their support.
It is certainly a relief to know that the Arab world was opposed to bin Laden up to now. This is serious, he claims, because the Israelis are simply not a match for Al-Qaeda. Really.
They are ruthless, highly motivated, intelligent – just for once, William Safire was right when he called them "vicious warriors" – and they may be more than a match for Israel's third-rate intelligence men. Israel's rabble of an army can kill child stone-throwers with ease. Al-Qa'ida is a quite different opponent.
It must come as a shock to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, and Kuwait back in 1967. Imagine the shock down in Uganda. All those invasions, all those failures. Some rabble.

So after all the rant, what solution does Fisk offer? A drum roll please.

Why don't we set up the machinery of real international law? Why don't we talk about "justice" rather than revenge? Why don't we have international tribunals so that those who wish to kill us can have their time in court? I don't want al-Qa'ida's members blown to pieces in Yemen by Mr Bush's hit squads. I want to see them tried, fairly and by due process.
This is it. Get the ICC going, try Ariel Sharon (about whom Fisk says: “I don't know if Mr Sharon is guilty”, a statement whose credibility is up there with “The check is in the mail” and “Of course I’ll respect you in the morning”), and radical Islam will lay down its arms, the sun will shine in the morning, children will dance and play, and all will be well in the world. I am not making this up. Read the whole miserable mess. [Heck, the Independent does not even require you to register.]

A few years ago, a local civic organization sponsored a debate on whether the Irish government should start an Irish language television station. [They eventually did, showing a mix of bad Irish programming with good old movies; did you know that “The Maltese Falcon” is actually a remake?] Speaking in favor was a man who claimed that reintroducing the Irish language would, once and for all, fix all of Ireland’s problems. Teenagers would no longer get into trouble, much less into crime. The poor would rise out of the frustration and despair and become useful, employed citizens. Ireland would enter a new utopia. He did want to say that Irish children should know more about their heritage, which includes the language. No, no. He had to fanatically claim the coming of utopia. He was almost certainly a member of Sinn Fein, the party that feeds on that kind of fanaticism. The audience was brutal to him because he was a fanatic, and their treatment of him gave me hope for this country. Fisk feeds on the same kind of utopian fanaticism.