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March 31, 2004

Iraqi Ingratitude

Fred Barnes has a good piece in the current Weekly Standard called "The Bumpy Road to Democracy in Iraq". At the end he expressed a sentiment that has occurred to me countless times in the last year.

I'd like to see one other thing in Iraq, an outbreak of gratitude for the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another. A grateful Iraqi heart would be a sign of a new Iraqi attitude and a signal of sure success.

So as I view pictures today of the human scum dragging the charred bodies of murdered Americans through the streets, I try to remind myself that these barbarians are the exception and not the rule among Iraqis. And I am convinced that the "unrest" is ordered and orchestrated by the institutional enemies of Iraqi democracy, made up of largely imported Al Qaeda operatives and their local Baathist sympathisers. They are in their last gasp attempt to create enough chaos to start a civil war before governing authority passes to Iraqis on the proposed June timetable.

I refuse to believe that there is any real popular support among Iraqi citizens for the wholesale slaughter of Americans. And I know that 90% of the trouble is concentrated in a small geographic area, and among diehard Saddam loyalists. But the lack of gratitude still seems to me to be widespread. Barnes has more to say about the "attitude"..

Iraqis want help. Indeed, they demand it and are angry and frustrated when they don't get it instantly. But they appear to hate being helped.....For success to be achieved, they need to buy into the program fully--democracy, free markets, rule of law, property rights, political compromise, and patience. They need an attitude adjustment. Americans I talked to in 10 days here agree Iraqis are difficult to deal with. They're sullen and suspicious and conspiracy-minded.

That part I can understand and live with. It's the murder and dismemberment and mutilation of Americans and subsequent public celebration of same that makes my blood boil. Thirty years of brutal oppression does strange things to people, but can it really make them stupid enough to believe that the people who removed their oppressor and are now building schools, electrical plants, roads and businesses are their enemies? One more excerpt from Barnes:

Seventy years ago, Iraq's first king, Faisal I, described Iraqis this way: "There is still--and I say this with a heart full of sorrow--no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, prone to anarchy and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever." Having been cowed by Saddam, many Iraqis seem to be making up for it by distrusting their American occupiers and hectoring them whenever the occasion arises.

After today, a little "hectoring" would look pretty good.

UPDATE: Andrew Stuttaford, at The Corner says;

I seem to recall that when the bodies of Sadaam's sons were put on display, we were told this was 'un-Islamic'. Lets see what the mullahs, the imams and the other holy men have to say about this incident.

March 30, 2004

Meanwhile, Back In Waziristan

Dan Darling has an "epilogue and full summary" of the battle between Pakistani forces and Al Qaeda fighters in Waziristan, along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Stick around a while at Regnum Crucis to read about the role of Al Qaeda in the Bosnian conflict, when they were operating with the "good guys" in the war against Milosevic:

Al-Qaeda first started arriving in the Balkans en masse in 1992 and there were eventually as many as 4,000 fighters involved there, where they fought as the Kateebat al-Mujahideen Battalion of the Bosnian Third Army against the Serb army and their allied paramilitaries. In fact, if you know where to look you can find recruiting videos from the Balkans of al-Qaeda fighters playing soccer with the decapitated heads of dead Serbian soldiers.

The al-Haramain Foundation and other Saudi front charities poured as much as $600,000,000 into al-Qaeda's Balkans campaign and post-war Wahhabi missionary activities and Egyptian Islamic leader Ahmed Ibrahim al-Najjar ran the organization's operations out of the al-Haramain offices in Tirana until his extradiction to Egypt in June 1998....

...Milosevic's connections to his puppet Serb paramilitaries like the White Eagles or Arkhan's Tigers were a lot clearer than the Kateebat al-Mujahideen Battalion's to bin Laden. The Serb groups, if you read their propaganda, were more or less up-front about who they were working for and what they were trying to do. By contrast, the Kateebat al-Mujahideen were officially part of the Bosnian regular army and were theoretically acting (abeit brutally) in defense of Bosnian sovereignty against Serbian aggression so Western intelligence agencies would have had to dig pretty deep to learn the true identities and objectives of the jihadis, which of course no one was inclined to do since they were on "our" side.

If you're interested in some understanding beyond headlines and sound bites regarding the war with Al Qaeda, then you simply must be reading Regnum Crucis on a regular basis.

That was the way we rehearsed it, wasn't it Dan?

March 29, 2004

Into The Dead Zone - Chernobyl

A young Russian motorcyclist rides regularly through the desolate Chernobyl area. Her photographs and commentary are gut-wrenching. Ride along on a guided tour of a Ghost Town with Elena. (via Armed Liberal at Winds of Change)

Embedded Shredded

The reviews are in for Tim Robbins' play, writes Brent Bozell:

Start with the Associated Press' drama critic: "Embalmed is more like it. Tim Robbins' heavy-handed harangue is satirical deadwood ... that should send audiences of all political persuasions fleeing up the aisles." Ouch.

That's one of the nicer ones. Good actor, Tim Robbins.

All Talk

Mark Steyn reacts to the suggestion that the Clinton administration was actively engaged in fighting terror:

Yessir, for eight years the Clinton administration was relentless in its commitment: no sooner did al-Qa'eda bomb the World Trade Center first time round, or blow up an American embassy, or a barracks, or a warship, or turn an entire nation into a terrorist training camp, than the Clinton team would redouble their determination to sit down and talk through the options for a couple more years. Then Bush took over and suddenly the superbly successful fight against terror all went to hell.

Safire on Oil-For-Food

With his second column on the topic in as many weeks, William Safire in officially "on the case" of the U.N. Oil-For-Food scandal on behalf of the N.Y.Times. He dares to go where the Times has previously feared to tread; to make the connection between the bribe and kickback money paid to French and Russian interests, and the opposition of those nations to Iraq's liberation:

To calm the belated uproar, Annan felt compelled to seek an "independent high-level inquiry," empowered by a Security Council resolution, as some of us called for.

Nothing doing, said France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sablière. The money for the huge heist known as the Iraq-U.N. account passed exclusively through BNP Paribas. French companies led all the rest (what's French for "kickback"?), though Vladimir Putin's favorite Russian oligarchs insisted on sharing the wealth. That explains why Paris and Moscow were Saddam's main prewar defenders, and why their politicians and executives now want no inquiry they cannot control.

March 28, 2004

Bush Ad

Caught this unofficial George Bush Ad over at Blackfive the other day. It's a Shockwave file with images and sound. Not bad. At least it plugs some of the positive economic numbers. On the down side, I always hated BTO.

X1 Delivers

In my business practice I have long looked for a software product that could perform quick keyword searches on Microsoft Word documents that were stored in folders on my hard drive, and just as importantly, give me useful ways to view and act on the search results. In my case, in the professional recruiting business, the objects of those searches are resumes. Resumes in folders on drives, as email attachments, as email bodies, from last week, from last year...

In our business and no doubt many others, emails arrive by the bucketload, and you can't always deal with them immediately... save the attached document to disk...enter the information into a database, print and file...(does anyone do that anymore?) The search function in Word is awful, and in Outlook it's only a little better, and doesn't keyword search attachments. It's not like I've lost anything in my email exactly. Let's just say I can't always put my mouse paws on what I need, exactly when I need it. And if I could quickly and effectively search by keyword the archives of email and my Word or HTML documents... Like I said, that's what I've been looking for. A product like that might help counteract my disorganization, procrastination, and creeping senility.

That is why I believe that X1 has hit on something big. I can't be alone. X1 indexes your entire system and then searches all email, attachments, files and contacts by keyword, or by file type, filename, size, path or date. It locates them on disk, and allows you to open them with one click, and either print or delete them without even opening them. It highlights your search words in the document and sorts your results in a variety of ways.

Go to www.X1.com and watch the quick demo, (which may just be the best one minute demo of a software product in history). There's a free 15 Day Trial version if you like what you see. The product is then $99 per copy, with volume discounts for 8 or more, I believe. On the down side, it searches files, emails and attachments separately, instead of simultaneously. But that's like bitching about the temperature of the water at the oasis. A Wall Street Journal review on Friday said:

"the Holy Grail may have arrived. It's called X1, and is simply a fast way of searching for stuff on your hard drive or network"

I've only played with this for a couple of hours so far, but I'm convinced it will help me every single day at work. I'm thinking about the possible applications for blogging.

Doing The Holocaust Shrug

This wonderful piece by David Gelernter in The Weekly Standard goes beyond affirming that the toppling of Saddam was manifestly a good thing. He suggests that the world's indifference to the crimes of Saddam resembles its indifference to Hitler's, while admitting that they're not in the same league:

By overthrowing Saddam, we stopped a loathsome bloody massacre--a hell-on-earth that would have been all too easily dismissed as fantastic propaganda if we hadn't seen and heard the victims and watched the torturers on videotape. Now: There is all sorts of latitude for legitimate attack on the Bush administration and Iraq. A Bush critic could allege that our preparation was lousy, our strategy wrong, our postwar administration a failure, and so on ad infinitum . . . so long as he stays in ground-contact with the basic truth: This war was an unmitigated triumph for humanity. Everything we have learned since the end of full-scale fighting has only made it seem more of a triumph.

"I Hate Losing" - LeBron

I've done very little bandwagon-jumping on the LeBron James Express here at Wizblog. So let this be an exception. The Kid tonight became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40 points. He threw in a career high 41, along with a career high 13 assists. Based on everything I've read, the voting for NBA Rookie of the Year is a mere formality.

He has been as billed. A rare talent. Humble, charismatic, well schooled in Media 101, a model teammate. Respectful of officials, coaches and fans. Appreciative of his immense good fortune and now, great wealth. No fan can be disappointed. And that says a lot, given the sky-high expectations. Cleveland sports fans are pinching themselves.

March 27, 2004

Rodg, Jerry Parks, and AEP

Rodger Schultz and I both archive old Ambrose Evans-Pritchard articles from the 90's, when AEP covered the White House for The Telegraph. I reread the piece Rodger posted today, and got to thinking how important it is to remember what the Clinton years were like. They brought the Dixie Mob culture right along with them from Arkansas. The fact is that the Clintons surrounded themselves with people who used murder as a poltical tool. Say what you will about conspiracy "theory". Real people died real deaths around these people. Witness the Jerry Parks murder, among many others. From the Parks murder story by Pritchard....

It was a contract job, Gary believed, but he did not know who was paying for the product. Some of the material was kept in two files, stored in the bottom drawer of the dresser in his parents' bedroom. He had sneaked in one day, terrified that his father might catch him, and flicked through the papers just long enough to see photos of women coming and going with Governor Clinton, and pages of notes in his father's handwriting. In one of the photos Clinton was with Captain Raymond "Buddy" Young of the State Police.

In late July 1993 the family house on Barrett Road was burgled in a sophisticated operation that involved cutting the telephone lines and disarming the electronic alarm system. The files were stolen. Gary suspected that this was somehow tied to his father's death two months later.

" I believe that Bill Clinton had my father killed to protect his political career," he told me that evening. "We're dealing with a secretive machine here in Arkansas that can shut anyone up in a moment."

I recalled that the Parks murder was mentioned in my personal favorite Evans-Pritchard piece, "Goodbye, Good Riddance", his farewell address to America in 1997. An excerpt from that one, which I hereby resolve to drag out annually at minimum...

The Clintons look good from a distance. As Yale Law School graduates they have mastered the language and style of the mandarin class. It is only when you walk through the looking glass into the Arkansas underworld they came from that you begin to realise something is horribly wrong.

You learn that Bill Clinton grew up in the Dixie mafia stronghold of Hot Springs, and that his brother, Roger, was a convicted drug dealer who was once taped during under-cover surveillance saying "got to get some for my brother, he's got a nose like a vacuum cleaner". You learn about sworn testimony that links Clinton to cocaine smuggling in the early 1980s. You learn that Clinton's chief of security in Little Rock was gunned down in 1993 by assassins who seem to be enjoying immunity...

...Bill Clinton is not the first president with the skeletons of the mob in his closet. Harry Truman, for instance, was a protege of the Pendergast crime machine in Kansas City. All you have to know about Bill Clinton is that he chose Patsy Thomasson - top lieutenant of convicted cocaine dealer Dan Lasater - to be his White House chief of personnel.

Remember how much "seeming to enjoy immunity" was going on back in those years? Pritchard knew that it was the corruption of the FBI that was the most threatening to liberty. Of the botched, corrupted and ongoing investigation of the OKC bombing, he speaks here of Carol Howe, an undercover ATF agent, and suggests that the FBI may be beyond saving:

The FBI claims that she was dropped as an informant months before the bombing, but debriefing reports show the Bureau continued to receive her intelligence weeks after the blast. They also show that she named members of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell who had cased the Oklahoma federal building in December 1994 with the intention of bombing it. Yet the FBI did not follow up her reports. It conducted 26,000 witness interviews, most of them irrelevant, but could not find time to pursue the suspects who were specifically named by a paid informant.

This leaves the nasty suspicion that the FBI is shielding this neo-Nazi group in order to cover its own tracks. If it turns out that the bombing was a bungled sting operation by the FBI, as some of the victims are now alleging, the only fit response is to send bulldozers down Pennsylvania Avenue to flatten the Hoover Building once and for all.

A monument should be raised on the rubble of the FBI headquarters that reads Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Shall Guard the Guards?) as a warning to free-born Americans of the next millennium.

Read all of the AEP piece, or save it if you don't have time now. Classic.

I tried last fall to imagine how the left might treat some Clintonesque scandals today. Because the Bush people have only come up with smalltime stuff compared to the really Big Lies.

UPDATE 3/30: A new article from the L.A. Weekly dealing with the evidence that McVeigh and Nichols had Middle Eastern accomplices in the OKC bombing, and the FBI's refusal to acknowledge it. The criminals in the OKC case include those who corrupted the investigation.

March 26, 2004

Twain Meeting

A look at the later years of Mark Twain's life in this review of two new books on the man, including lots of stuff I didn't know about him. This excerpt tells of Twain's secretary who, after failing to seduce and wed the widower Twain, married his business manager:

Twain's fecklessness with finances was next to unbelievable. I doubt that he was ever much deceived about his secretary's intentions, but, nonetheless, he gave Isabel Lyon and Ralph Ashcroft his power of attorney, and, for Isabel, threw in a nice cottage from which his daughters, with difficulty, eventually managed to evict her.

In the midst of all this plotting and flirting Isabel Lyon married Ralph Ashcroft, a union that at first blush produced no blush at all. Twain, observing them in the early days of their marriage, remarked that they were as cool as if they had been sitting on blocks of ice. When informed by Ashcroft that nothing "animal" was in the offing between himself and his bride, Twain was flabbergasted, concluding that, though they may or may not have been crooks, they were obviously fools.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

March 25, 2004

Rebutting Clarke

Much of the heavy lifting on the Richard Clarke media tour and 9/11 Commission testimony has been ably handled by people like Pejman, Glenn Reynolds, Dan Drezner, and Rich Lowry. And there's more good stuff at Power Line, here, and here.

Finally, this from Lileks:

Attention, Richard Clarke: your editor thought the book was great. Your agent thought it was great. The publicist you talked to was enthusiastic, and she knew she could get you on every show. Everyone involved was so impressed. New York people loved you!

And you didn't expect this sort of push-back?

How many years did you spend in Washington?

March 24, 2004

Ice Fishing

A quick video that made me laugh. (via The Lopsided Poopdeck)

March 23, 2004

For The Record

As Charles Johnson of LGF put it, here's "something with which to answer the people who are now trying to cast Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as an elderly, wheelchair-bound, frail, harmless religious leader."

The murderous legacy of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Transparent Politics

Peter Schramm at the Ashland University-based blog, No Left Turns sums up the Dick Clarke media blitz for what it is, and links to comment from Rich Lowry, John Podhoretz and Joe Lieberman. An excerpt from Schramm:

I have heard Dick Clarke’s name thrown around for a few years. He wanted to be CIA director for a while and made some moves in that direction, he was deeply interested in what he called cyberterrorism and claimed it will be the next Pearl Harbor. He was demoted by this administration. He is a friend and colleague of Kerry’s main foreign policy advisor, and so on. So what is this all about? Well, I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure all this out. This is another Democratic political pre-emptive strike.

And check out this terrific post by Hindrocket at Power Line

The press is abuzz with reports that former Clinton staffers are set to testify before the September 11 commission next week that "they repeatedly warned their Bush administration counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda posed the worst security threat facing the nation — and how the new administration was slow to act." The Clinton officials expected to so testify include Sandy Berger, Madeline Albright and Richard Clarke.

Where to begin: the mind boggles at such shamelessness. To state the obvious, in late 2000 the Clinton administration was STILL IN OFFICE. If there were steps that needed to be taken immediately to counter the al Qaeda threat, as they "bluntly" told President Bush's transition team, why didn't they take those steps themselves?

Triblogging 2004

We're only two weeks away from the Opener, and I can't just sit and wait for all the pundits and prognosticators to weigh in on what they think of the 2004 Cleveland Indians. What fun would that be? I'll post their lame opinions when they come out. For now, here are my lame opinions.

Full disclosure requires that I fess up to my over-optimism of last year, when I predicted 74 wins for a team that won only 68 games. The Indians team that was so incredibly young and green last year is only slightly less so in 2004, but so many key players on this roster were rookies at the same time last year, that the cumulative effect of that experience on the team could be a great leap forward this year. Let me quantify what I think that "leap" will be right here and now, so you don't think I'm getting carried away. I'm thinking 80-82 wins, and I base that on a feeling that this team will hit better than most people think it will, but will not pitch quite as well as expected.

Consider the everyday players on the Indians that last year experienced their first big league season, or partial season: Jody Gerut, Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Coco Crisp, Victor Martinez, Josh Bard, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, Alex Escobar, Casey Blake , and Ryan Ludwick. Every one of these guys has shown that he can play at this level, and the 2004 season will be about if and how this core group of players shows that they belong in the majors for the long haul. And what I think we will see is that this group, along with veterans Omar Vizquel and Milton Bradley, will show that they can be a very good hitting team.

I try not to get romanced by Spring Training (much), but what is happening so far this year is encouraging. Crisp, Escobar, Broussard and Blake are hitting over .400, and Hafner, Martinez, Bard, Gerut, Bradley and Vizquel are having solid springs. So far this month, any enthusiasm I felt about the good Spring performance had been tempered by the obvious fact that victories in Spring Training mean zip. But I heard a radio interview yesterday with Tom Hamilton, radio play-by-play voice of the Indians, that got me all cranked up.

Now, Hamilton is no shill for this organization. He's a realist and a straight shooter, and he came across in this interview as seriously pumped about this team, based on what he observes in this camp in terms of "team attitude". And he credits the approach of one person in particular as a catalyst for that attitude. Matt Lawton. You heard me right. The same Matt Lawton that Tribe fans have come to resent for three years as Matt "overweight, overpaid, bad attitude, bad defense, disappointment" Lawton. Apparently, Lawton's wounded pride and ego, and not a "contract year", has motivated him to come to camp in great shape and with a positive approach that has been a great example to the younger Indians.

According to Hamilton, last year the "kids" were concerned principally with themselves; making the team, surviving in the majors, looking over their shoulders individually all year long, concerned that a bad day or a bad week could land them in Buffalo. Hamilton said that by contrast, this year they came to camp "thinking about each other", and his observation of that maturation process, coupled with all the talent, has him very excited. I'll buy it. Keep in mind that Manager Eric Wedge has his rookie year behind him as well, and it appears to me that his approach and attitude has much to do with the overall positive feeling among the players on this team.

So how good is the pitching? This is where I part company with some of the common wisdom. After C.C. Sabathia, we are banking on potential, hope and good health as opposed to track record. I'm as excited as the next guy about Jason Davis and Cliff Lee as our #2 and #3 starters, but the fact of the matter is that they won a combined total of 11 games last year, and neither one was 100% healthy. To be fair, Davis was shut down early more as a precaution, and Lee's health problems related to hernia surgery and shouldn't be a recurring issue. Lee wasn't even on the big league roster for most of the year, and his two late-season call ups represent the sum total of his major league experience. As talented as he may be, he will undoubtedly take his lumps this year as all first full year pitchers must.

Davis, on the other hand, has that learning season behind him, and should get a few more wins this year by virtue of the improved offense and a better bullpen. So if we assume Sabathia will win say, 18 games, and Davis may win 15, and we put Lee down for 12 or so, that's 45 wins. So I'm asking myself where 35 more wins are going to come from. The other two starters figure to sort themselves out from a group that includes Jake Westbrook, Chad Durbin, Jeff D'Amico, Jason Stanford, and Jason Bere.

I'm pulling for Stanford and Westbrook to land those spots, and for Durbin to make the team as the long reliever. D'Amico and Bere seem like veterans for veterans' sake, and I'd prefer going "young" all the way so we can find out if these guys can do it or not. Stanford just seems like a winner, and it's time for Westbrook to get an extended shot at proving his worth as a starter. I'd be ecstatic if those two could combine for 20 wins. Our potential ace-in-the-hole could be Jeremy Guthrie, at least in the second half of the season. If we have an injury or a major disappointment in the starting rotation, we'll see Guthrie at The Jake. He's older than C.C. and Davis, so let's get on with it if he's going to be a stud. Let's not go into 2005 still waiting for Guthrie to have his baptism under fire.

The bullpen that developed over the latter stages of last season will begin this year as a big improvement over last April's group. I lost count of the times that our pen wasted good early-season starts by Sabathia and Davis last year, en route to a 7-20 April. Even a .500 record in the first 28 games gets us halfway to that increase of 14 wins I'm looking for. In the bullpen, Betancourt, Cressend, Stewart , Jiminez, and Riske look a lot better as a set-up crew if we can land Ugueth Urbina to close games.

A debate is developing in the media, if not in the front office, about whether the two or three million bucks that Urbina would cost might be better spent on a veteran starter, which would leave Riske as your closer. I'm OK with Riske as the closer, but only if the "veteran starter" we land is not just Jason Bere in disguise. And I certainly wouldn't part with blue-chip prospects, which is what any team trying to move a starter is going to want in return, just to rent a guy for a year or two, (remember Sean Casey for Dave Burba?).

Now if we could unload Lawton (in order to clear the way for both Crisp and Escobar to make the team), and one of Gutierrez, Merloni, McDonald, along with a prospect or two, then we'd be making sense. Something tells me though, that Shapiro's phone isn't ringing of the hook with offers to take Lawton and his $7 million/yr. off his hands, new attitude or no new attitude.

Shapiro's run at signing Urbina, and his attempt to locate a serviceable starter at least signal that he thinks the division could be won by this year's version of the Indians, and that we're not just going through the motions till 2005. I heard Shapiro say today that he thinks the Twins are the best team in the division, although I think the Royals just might be. Neither team has starting pitching that is any better than ours, and as I've said, we will hit. I think we could have three legitimate .300 hitters on this team in Bradley, Martinez and Gerut, with three or four more flirting with .290 in Vizquel, Crisp, Broussard and Hafner.

In today's Plain Dealer, Bud Shaw summons a large yawn with regard to the 2004 Tribe, (he predicts 75-78 wins). I admit that no team lining up Blake, Belliard, and Broussard around the infield every day is going to strike fear into the hearts of the rest of MLB. At least not in April. Maybe we can earn some respect by July, and scare somebody down the stretch. But with only one veteran starter (Vizquel) we can be sure that the 2004 season will demonstrate to fans and management which of our young core players are keepers, and which are also-rans. Let's hope we have some fun doing it.

(cross-posted at Sportsblog)

Kofi's Complicity

Claudia Rosett continues her outstanding reporting on the U.N. Oil-For Food scandal, this time at NRO. The stories of the foot-dragging by the French bank BNP in turning over documents relating to Oil-For-Food accounts, and the sweetheart deals for a company employing Kofi Annan's son are covered here. But what I think is more important is Rosett's drawing the connection between bribery and behavior. Making the obvious logical leap from observing who was getting paid off in billions of dollars, to understanding why they were working to preserve the status quo of the Saddam regime.

Rosett suggests that Annan be held accountable for covering up at the time, what we now know to be the reason for French and Russian obstructionism of the U.S effort to liberate Iraq. They didn't want to kill the goose that was laying the golden eggs. All of this was taking place under the nose of Kofi Annan, and it's naive to suggest he wasn't a party to it. Here's an excerpt:

...the larger issue is the U.N. setup of secrecy and lack of accountability that fostered the Oil-for-Food fiasco in the first place. The damage at this point includes Iraqis deprived of billions of dollars worth of relief, and signs of massive corruption quite likely involving hundreds of U.N.-approved contractors in dozens of countries, as well as the U.N.'s own head of the program, Sevan. An inquiry should also look into the U.N. Secretariat's silent assent to Saddam's efforts to buy political influence in the Security Council. In this bribe-riddled program, Saddam tipped vast amounts of business to contractors in such veto-wielding Security Council member states as Russia, France, and to a lesser extent, China. In the heated debates over Iraq, leading up to the beginning of the war last March, Annan brought none of Saddam's influence-peddling to public attention, though he had access to specific information about the huge sums going from Saddam's regime to select nations, and the public did not.

More from Claudia Rosett on O-F-F can be read here and here. And related Wizblog posts can be found here, here, and here.

March 22, 2004

Steyn Does Kerry Jokes

Mark Steyn:

Q: How many John Kerrys does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: At least four. One to unscrew the old lightbulb. One to simultaneously announce his courageous commitment to replacing the old bulb. One to vote against funding the new light bulb. And one to denounce George W. Bush and America's Benedict Arnold CEOs for leaving everyone in the dark.

Q: Why did John Kerry cross the road?

A: He didn't cross the road. He crossed to the middle to demonstrate his grasp of the nuances and subtleties involved in crossing the road, and was still explaining them to the New York Times reporter when the logging truck hit him.

Then there was the senator's clumsy attempt to declare himself America's ''second black president.'' Bill Clinton was at least canny enough to get himself anointed as the first black president by an actual black person, the novelist Toni Morrison, who declared that he displayed ''every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.'' It's harder to pull that off when you're a Swiss finishing school boy from Massachusetts. Many's the night John and the other boys in his dorm would lie awake dreaming of their freedom as they murmured one of the traditional spirituals of their people: ''Swing by, sweet limousine, comin' for to carry me home.''

Parting Shot

Sullivan goes on Spring Break, but leaves us with this eloquent statement on the war; "3/11 Europe's Second Munich?"

March 21, 2004

Lindsey on Employment and Trade

Brink Lindsey, Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, has an informative essay out on the relationship between trade and employment in the U.S. economy, including the effects of "offshoring". From the Executive Summary, a link is provided to the full .pdf document.

Lindsey's message is essentially that there has been an overreaction to the job losses associated with the recent recession, and that such events are cyclical, that we have been there before and recovered nicely, and that we are in the process of doing so again.

He asserts that international trade in general, and imports in specific are only minor factors in the U.S. job losses, and that protectionist trade policies are misguided and damaging. Here are some samples of his key statements, which he then goes on to support with facts, tables, and footnotes:

Challenging, High-Paying Jobs Are Becoming More Plentiful, Not Less:

The ongoing growth in total employment is frequently dismissed on the ground that most of the new positions being created are low-paying, deadend “McJobs.” The facts, however, show otherwise. Management and professional specialty jobs have grown rapidly during the recent era of globalization. Between 1983 and 2002, the total number of such positions climbed from 23.6 million to 42.5 million—an 80 percent increase. In other words, these challenging, high-paying positions have jumped from 23.4 percent of total employment to 31.1 percent. These high-quality jobs will continue growing in the years to come. According to projections for 2002–12 prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, management, business, financial, and professional positions will grow from 43.2 million to 52.0 million—a 20 percent increase that will lift these jobs from 30.0 percent of total employment to 31.5 percent.

"Deindustrialization" Is a Myth:

....Opponents of open markets frequently claim that unshielded exposure to foreign competition is destroying the U.S. manufacturing base. That charge is flatly untrue...Between 1980 and 2003, U.S. manufacturing outputclimbed a dizzying 93 percent. Yes, production fell during the recent recession, but it is now recovering: the industrial production index for manufacturing rose 2.2 percent between January and December 2003. It is true that manufacturing’s share of gross domestic product has been gradually declining over time—from 27.0 percent in 1960 to 13.9 percent in 2002. The percentage of U.S. workers employed in manufacturing has likewise been falling—from 28.4 percent to 11.7 percent over the same period. The primary cause of these trends is the superior productivity of U.S. manufacturers....output per hour in the overall U.S. nonfarm business sector rose 50 percent between 1980 and 2002; by contrast, manufacturing output per hour shot up 103 percent. In other words, goods are getting cheaper and cheaper relative to services. Since this faster productivity growth has not been matched by a corresponding increase in demand for manufactured goods, the result is that Americans are spending relatively less on manufactures. Accordingly, manufacturing’s shrinking share of the overall U.S. economy is actually a sign of American manufacturing prowess.

“Offshoring” Is Not a Threat to High-Tech Employment:

...Employment in IT-related occupations has experienced a significant decline recently. In 2002, the total number of IT-related jobs stood at 5.95 million—down from the 2000 peak of 6.47 million. Although some of those jobs were lost because of offshoring, the major culprits were the slowdown in demand for IT services after the Y2K buildup, followed by the dot-com collapse and the broader recession. Moreover, it should be remembered that the recent drop in employment has occurred after a dramatic buildup. In 1994, 1.19 million people were employed as mathematical and computer scientists; by 2000, that figure had jumped to 2.07 million—a 74 percent increase. As of 2002, the figure stood at 2.03 million—still 71 percent higher than in 1994.

Despite the trend toward offshoring, IT-related employment is expected to see healthy increases in the years to come. According to Department of Labor projections, the total number of computer and mathematical occupations will jump from 3.02 million in 2002 to 4.07 million in 2012—a 35 percent increase over the decade. Of the 30 specific occupations projected to grow fastest during the decade, 7 are computer related....Thus, the recent downturn in IT-related employment is likely only a temporary break in a larger trend of robust job growth.

The wild claims that offshoring will gut employment in the IT sector are totally at odds with reality. The IT job losses projected by Forrester amount to fewer than 32,000 per year— relatively modest attrition in the context of total IT-related employment of nearly six million. These job losses, meanwhile, will be offset by new IT-related jobs as computer and mathematical occupations continue to boom. The doomsayers are thus confusing a cyclical downturn with a permanent trend.

(via Dan Drezner)

UPDATE 3/21: Speaking of Dan Drezner, here's his new article for Foreign Affairs called "The Outsourcing Bogeyman". Here's one important paragraph on "offshoring"...

Should Americans be concerned about the economic effects of outsourcing? Not particularly. Most of the numbers thrown around are vague, overhyped estimates. What hard data exist suggest that gross job losses due to offshore outsourcing have been minimal when compared to the size of the entire U.S. economy. The outsourcing phenomenon has shown that globalization can affect white-collar professions, heretofore immune to foreign competition, in the same way that it has affected manufacturing jobs for years. But Mankiw's statements on outsourcing are absolutely correct; the law of comparative advantage does not stop working just because 401(k) plans are involved. The creation of new jobs overseas will eventually lead to more jobs and higher incomes in the United States. Because the economy -- and especially job growth -- is sluggish at the moment, commentators are attempting to draw a connection between offshore outsourcing and high unemployment. But believing that offshore outsourcing causes unemployment is the economic equivalent of believing that the sun revolves around the earth: intuitively compelling but clearly wrong.

March 20, 2004

Hunt For al-Zawahiri

Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis and Wretchard at Belmont Club are all over the latest news on the joint military action being undertaken by Pakistan and the U.S. coalition forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Dan seems convinced that the so called "high-value target" is not al-Zawahiri, at least not anymore. Dan's command of the names, places, players, and events in the war on terror is so impressive. Every day he provides insight and information that I just don't find anywhere else. Thanks for what you do, Dan.

Buckeye Fix

Here's a nice feature article from ESPN.com on the guy who will be the Buckeyes starting middle linebacker this fall, Anthony Schlegel. He transferred from Air Force and had to sit out all of last season, but he won't be an "unknown" for much longer. OSU insiders have raving about him ever since he showed up, and Buckeye fans will all know his name by September.

And the Buckeye Wrestling team finished third in the NCAA Championships tonight, as senior Heavyweight Tommy Rowlands won his second National Championship, finishing off his brilliant career at OSU in fine style.

Sorry, Thought He Was A Jew

A Palestinian terrorist group leader has apologized to the family of an Israeli jogger that they murdered in a drive-by shooting, after discovering that he wasn't a Jew. Glad these guys aren't above admitting when they've made an honest mistake. The man's friends and family will no doubt be comforted by the assurance that the murderers will now "consider him a martyr". And I trust that the group will redouble their efforts to murder only Jews from this point forward. I'm sure they don't want people to get the wrong idea about just what they stand for. (via LGF)

March 19, 2004

Consciousness Raising Gone Bad

Power Line neatly wraps up the story of the staged hate crime at The Claremont Colleges. A visiting professor who had given a speech on racial intolerance on March 9 apparently didn't see enough of it following her talk, so the next day she created some . Witnesses said they saw her pull her car into a parking area with it already covered with spray-painted ethnic slurs, and proceed to slash her own tires. Not surprisingly, a fellow academic ignores her incendiary lie to postulate that she may have actually done some good...

Lee Ross, a social psychologist on the faculty at Stanford University, said that if Dunn is proven to have committed the vandalism, the professor may still have raised people’s awareness about racism. 'One ironic thing is that doing this may actually have accomplished some of her goals, if her goal was to make people feel that racism was present and that there was danger of white backlash, Ross said."

Sheesh. The only reported "backlash" is that students "staged sit-ins and anti-hate rallies" on campus, a group repudiation of the ugly incident. This sad excuse for a professor requires a certain level of racial hatred, real or manufactured, for her career to prosper, or indeed to have any relevance. That she had to fabricate her own hatred I suppose is a good sign. Dunn has been referred to as a "visiting professor". Visiting from where, I wonder? Any bets on whether or not she loses her job over this stunt?

All it shows me is that the students had a better idea of how to deal with their fellow humans in this matter than the sad, cynical self-promoter Professor Dunn did. By the way, Dunn is a white woman, and as such will have to satisfy her appetite for victimhood some other way. Not to worry. According to the AP story, this whole ordeal has been very tough on her...

Her attorney, Gary Lincenberg, issued a statement claiming it was inappropriate for police to accuse her. "The police statement is irresponsible and has irreparably damaged her reputation and emotional health," he said.

The damage to her "reputation" could be real, and would be well deserved. And one assumes there was something already amiss with her "emotional health".

UPDATE 3/20: Class Maledictorian has a well-linked post on the subject, as does the inestimable Critical Mass.

UPDATE 8/23/04: Hate crime hoaxer convicted.

Negotiating With Mullahs

Pejman opines on why we can't afford to be bought off by the ruling mullahs in Iran with a "deal" of the sort being promoted by the regime as an "olive branch":

"...the Islamic regime is confronted with a situation presenting a clear and genuine challenge to its claims of representing the wishes of the Iranian people. It has been revealed as totalitarian and anti-democratic in the extreme by seeking to limit the electoral choices available to the Iranian people on purely ideological grounds....

...aimless and purposeless negotiations will only serve to bestow legitimacy anew on Iran’s totalitarian government. The most powerful democratic republic in the history of the world will, by any stated desire to re-open "negotiations" with a state sponsor of terrorism, help the hardline rulers of Iran take measures to crush any impetus for reform."

I think Pejman's right. The last thing this regime deserves is any sniff of legitimacy they would gain from any accommodation with the U.S.

March 18, 2004

Space Imaging

Check out these incredible satellite images of famous sites around the world, from Baghdad to the Taj Mahal to Mount St. Helens. Zoom in and out to see amazing details of individual buildings and natural features. I'm not sure which is more awe-inspiring to me....that we possess the technology to capture (and monitor) these earthly images from a space platform...or that the Internet allows a Joe Blow like me to view it all from a seat in my living room. (via Coolios Weblog)


An interview with Hanson in the Front Page Mag series. It's all good. Go read it and come back.

Russian Democracy In Trouble

Oxblog's David Adesnik has an excellent link-filled post on Russia under Putin, including analysis of the much-criticized recent election and the impressive economic performance even in light of Putin's crackdown on personal and press freedoms. Worth a read. Here's part of David's summation:

"...the Bush administration should not hesitate to demand that Putin's (sic) stop undermining the foundations of Russian democracy. Colin Powell should not be saying that "I have some concerns, but I don't think democracy is in trouble in Russia." It is. And when the US ignores that fact, it damages our own credibility as a global advocate of democratic reform. Moreover, Putin is hurting our efforts to win the War on Terror by waging a brutal and senseless war in Chechnya. While we can't force Putin to change his ways, we can keep the global spotlight on his authoritarian and aggressive behavior. Ever the self-interested pragmatist, that kind of negative attention may just keep Putin in line.


From Vice President Cheney's speech yesterday, came these comments on the "diplomacy" of John Kerry:

Sen. Kerry speaks often about the need for international cooperation, and has vowed to usher in a "golden age of American diplomacy." He is fond of mentioning that some countries did not support America's actions in Iraq. Yet of the many nations that have joined our coalition--allies and friends of the United States--Sen. Kerry speaks with open contempt. Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, Poland and more than 20 other nations have contributed and sacrificed for the freedom of the Iraqi people. Sen. Kerry calls these countries, quote, "window dressing." They are, in his words, "a coalition of the coerced and the bribed."

Many questions come to mind, but the first is this: How would Sen. Kerry describe Great Britain--coerced, or bribed? Or Italy--which recently lost 19 citizens, killed by terrorists in Najaf--was Italy's contribution just window dressing? If such dismissive terms are the vernacular of the golden age of diplomacy Sen. Kerry promises, we are left to wonder which nations would care to join any future coalition. He speaks as if only those who openly oppose America's objectives have a chance of earning his respect. Sen. Kerry's characterization of our good allies is ungrateful to nations that have withstood danger, hardship, and insult for standing with America in the cause of freedom.

Investigate "Oil-For-Food"

The WSJ calls for a Congressional investigation of the U.N. Oil-For-Food program. The don't seem willing to come clean on their own, and we deserve answers before we give the U.N. any larger role in Iraq's administration.

That Time Of Year

Here's a pretty creative ad for a San Francisco cultural event.

March 17, 2004

Michael Kelly Feature

Via AS comes this terrific remembrance of Michael Kelly by Robert Vare in The Atlantic Monthly. I think that it will not spoil your reading of the entire article if I excerpt this segment, Vare's closing paragraphs, describing how Kelly spoke of bravery shortly before he was killed:

The quality that Mike aspired to was not fearlessness but bravery—which, as he told his young sons, was doing the right thing in spite of your fears. In a 1997 column called "The Fear of Death"—which paid homage to a small band of Bosnian resistance fighters, and which now seems poignantly prophetic—Mike defined what was for him the quintessential test of character. "Accepting death [is] indispensable to defeating death," he wrote. "We [Americans] are a nation in which there are fewer and fewer people ... who accept what every twelve-year-old [in Bosnia] knows: That there are things worth dying for."

Six years later he elaborated on this theme in a radio interview he gave just before he died.

"One of the things I found out [in the Gulf War], which is quite interesting personally, is that people, at least men—I don't know about women—... go to great lengths in life to not find out the answer to the question, How brave am I? War presents you with specific opportunities to find out the answer to that question ... The question is asked for you and answered for you, in front of you and in front of other people. It's interesting, because you see it in all the people around you and you see it in yourself. And that's knowledge you have for the rest of your life."

Here's a Wizblog post from April 4, 2003, honoring one of my favorite journalists.

Rioting in Iran

It appears that Iranian citizens are taking advantage of the occasion of a traditional secular festival that involves making bonfires and general merriment associated with the new year to do some burning of another sort. Some Iranians have decided to set fire to the homes of the ruling mullahs, and are rioting in the strreets in utter defiance of the regime. Now anti-riot squads have been deployed to put down the rebellion. Here is a plea for help for the Iranian people. (both links via The Corner)

There was also a little border skirmish between U.S. troops and Iranian soldiers at the Iraq-Iran border the other day, which is being played down as insignificant by the U.S.

And they are marching in the streets in Syria as well, demanding political reform under the banner "Bashar Assad Must Go!". Lots of pictures at the above link.

UPDATE 3/17: Here's an update on Syria.

Amazing. The Bush Doctrine at work. The examples of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan allow their neighbors and others in the Arab world to see, and to believe that they deserve to govern themselves as well. God bless and protect the brave citizens of Syria and Iran that have the guts to stand up to their respective dictators and demand reform.

March 16, 2004


Enough Spain. A little change of pace.

Al Qaeda Document Shows Plan

From CNN.com (via Best of the Web)

A document published months before national elections reveals al Qaeda planned to separate Spain from its allies by carrying out terror attacks.

A December posting on an Internet message board used by al Qaeda and its sympathizers and obtained by CNN, spells out a plan to topple the pro-U.S. government.

"We think the Spanish government will not stand more than two blows, or three at the most, before it will be forced to withdraw because of the public pressure on it," the al Qaeda document says.

For more great commentary on the Madrid bombings and the Spanish elections, check out Andrew Sullivan fisking an editorial from The Guardian at TNR, and Michael Radu's essay from Front Page Magazine.

And if you are interested in reading about the issue in some real depth and detail, check out Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis. Just keep on scrolling.

Hanson Asks "Blame Whom?"

Victor Davis Hanson on the Spanish elections:

By a wide margin the citizenry elected a Socialist cabinet that had previously promised to distance itself from the United States and its Iraqi operations. The terrorists, although they had childishly cited Spanish culpability from the Crusades to the Reconquista, vowed to keep striking until the Spanish people did in fact what they just did. Indeed the appeasement almost anticipated the formal terrorist communiqué itself, in what must have made even the ghost of Neville Chamberlain rise up from his grave. Since most interviewed on the street expressed greater anger with the United States than they did with Islamic terrorists, let us hope that their pique extends to asking American air and naval forces to leave their shores as well—but then so far that has not been one of the mass murderers’ demands.

Kerry Ignored Security Warnings

In May 2001, two FAA officials decided to take their concerns about lax security at Boston's Logan Airport directly to their home state Senator. Their letter to John F. Kerry read, in part:

"With the concept of jihad, do you think it would be difficult for a determined terrorist to get on a plane and destroy himself and all other passengers?" he warned. "Think what the result would be of a coordinated attack which took down several domestic flights on the same day. With our current screening, this is more than possible. It is almost likely." The toll from such an attack would be economic, as well as human, he predicted with chilling accuracy.

The letter was sent, and a video containing the disturbing evidence of an undercover security investigation was hand delivered to Kerry, who then passed the buck on to Washington, even though he was warned that the DOT was a dead-end for warnings like this.

All of this is not to say that Kerry is somehow personally culpable for the 9/11 attacks. But it is to say that it's disingenuous at best, and disgusting at worst for him to be criticizing George Bush for not doing more in the realm of Homeland Security. So far, knock on wood, Bush's track record of taking action in the area of "prevention" is better than that of John Kerry. Read the whole article by Paul Sperry.

March 15, 2004

Terror Wins in Spain

The people of Spain have spoken, and it appears as if they have chosen to punish those fighting the War on Terror instead of those committing terrorist acts. The consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that the forces of fear and appeasement are up 1-0 over those of preemption and resolve. A sampling of what is being said today:

Andrew Sullivan:

"..in yesterday's election victory for the socialists, al Qaeda got even more than it could have dreamed of. It has removed a government intent on fighting terrorism and installed another intent on appeasing it. For good measure, they murdered a couple of hundred infidels. But the truly scary thought is the signal that this will send to other European governments. Britain is obviously next. The appeasement temptation has never been greater; and it looks more likely now that Europe - as so very often in the past - will take the path of least resistance - with far greater bloodshed as a result. I'd also say that it increases the likelihood of a major bloodbath in this country before the November elections. If it worked in Spain, al Qaeda might surmise, why not try it in the U.S.?"

Denis Boyles at NRO:

"The thing that made the difference to Spanish voters was the growing apprehension that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. In the first few hours after the atrocity, homegrown ETA terrorists were blamed by the government for the attacks...BBC reports from Madrid cast the election as a referendum not just on the war, but on whether or not Spanish voters were willing to face the consequences of joining the war on terrorism.

They were not. Spanish voters went to the polls to apologize for their government's actions. There was no other issue on the ballot. The results bode ill for America's antiterrorism campaign."

David Frum:

"Terrorism has won a mighty victory in Spain. The culprits who detonated those bombs of murder on 3/11 intended to use murder to alter the course of Spanish democracy – and they have succeeded.

In the months since the attacks on the World Trade Center, we have all heard – and ourselves often repeated – much brave talk about how terror cannot prevail, how justice must inevitably win through, etc. etc. etc. The news from Spain suggests how very wrong those hopes were.

People are not always strong. Sometimes they indulge false hopes that by lying low, truckling, appeasing, they can avoid danger and strife. Sometimes they convince themselves that if only they give the Cyclops what he wants, they will be eaten last. And this is what seems to have happened in Spain."

Glenn Reynolds

I'm deeply disappointed with the Spanish decision, and so are a lot of other folks, obviously. But it's worth noting that democracies make bad decisions sometimes -- just like every other form of government -- and that this decision, though deeply wrong in my estimation, is only one decision among many, by many nations, and that it's subject to revision later. (And hey, I could be wrong about its negative impact. I certainly hope that I am.) So don't plunge into despair. It's disappointing, and it's certainly not a good thing, but it's not the end. And as events develop, the Socialists may very well find themselves adopting a less conciliatory approach than they currently anticipate."

Belmont Club

"The victory of the Socialist Party...is a victory for the forces of freedom everywhere....It establishes the iron linkage between Eurosocialism and militant Islam...

...The events in Spain show it is no longer possible to embrace both Eurosocialism and national independence; Eurosocialism and national defense; Eurosocialism and survival. The two have become incompatible states. You can have one but not the other....

...The task before the United States and its allies is to redouble its efforts in the War on Terror. It will soon become apparent who the Islamists prefer to blackmail, who the Islamists prefer to intimidate; which countries Islamism will attempt to dominate. And which live free. The more pointed the contrast the better"

Steven Den Beste:

"The people of Spain marched in the streets on Friday.

Then they crawled on their knees into their voting booths on Sunday."

March 14, 2004

Revenge of the Waitresses

Bad tippers come from all walks of life, but when wealthy celebrities shaft hard-working waitresses, the world deserves to know about it. At least that's the feeling at bitterwaitress.com, where one can find the Shitty Tipper Database

When Steve Martin only leaves fifty cents on a $5.00 tab, my outrage is minimal. But Keith Richards leaving the same half a buck when his party of five runs up a tab of $1947.55? Tar and feathers is too good for him. The bitterness is not forever, though. Any celebrity that is stricken with a guilty conscience has the option to submit an apology. Justice is served. Enjoy!

"..they are all infidels"

Mark Steyn distinguishes between "old school" terrorism and the new variety. Does it really matter whether the reason for the Madrid bombings is Islamist anger about Spain's support for the U.S. Iraq policy, or for a grudge that's 500 years old?

In his penultimate public appearance, the late Osama bin Laden, broadcasting from his cave in the early hours of the Afghan campaign, listed among his principal grievances "the tragedy of Andalusia" – that is, the end of Muslim rule in Spain in 1492. That's 512 years ago, but the al-Qa'ida guys are in no mood to (as the Democrats used to urge Republicans in the Clinton impeachment era) "move on"....

...Even if you'd avoided Iraq or Andalusia or British banks or Pilger or any other affront to Islamist sensibilities, you'd still be a target. As the PR guy for the Islamic Army of Aden said after blowing up that French tanker: "We would have preferred to hit a US frigate, but no problem because they are all infidels." Commissioner Keelty is confusing old-school terrorism – blowing the legs off grannies as a means to an end – with the new: blowing the legs off grannies is the end. Old-school terrorists have relatively viable goals: They want a Basque state or Northern Ireland removed from the UK. You might not agree with these goals, you might not think them negotiable, but at least they're not stark staring insane.

That kind of finely calibrated terrorism – just enough slaughter to inconvenience the state into concessions – is all but over.

Blair Reviewed By The Times

Plagiarist, fabulist and liar, Jayson Blair has his book reviewed in the pages of his former employer, the N.Y. Times. Jack Schafer rips "Burning Down My Masters' House". Here are a couple of excerpts:

...contrition is a dish served not at all in this memoir. From the heights of confession, Blair rappels down Mount Excuse, blaming everybody but himself for his offenses. He continually cites his manic-depressive illness to explain his behavior....

...Two questions that remain: Why does Blair lie? And why didn't The Times or Globe catch him earlier? Because Blair spends most of ''Burning Down My Masters' House'' reclining on the shrink's couch seeking our sympathy, it's fair to psychoanalyze him from afar. Citing this shoddily written and filibustering book as evidence, one could argue that Blair barely had the talent to work as a cub reporter on a small-town daily, let alone a major newspaper. Those who can't, steal and fabricate. And the best explanation of why he lies and continues to dissemble is also provided in this book: he seems most alive in the book when he's walking the ethical tightrope and hoodwinking somebody. Every con man loves his con, and few are as lucky as Blair to enshrine their version in book form.

The End of Europe?

I enjoyed this speech by Niall Ferguson at the AEI site on his predictions for the near-term future of the European Union. One of the problems, according to Ferguson, is the over-reliance on a struggling German econmomy to fund the EU bureaucracy:

Today, Germany accounts for around a quarter, a little under a quarter, of the combined gross domestic product of the entire European Union. It accounts for just over a fifth, 22 percent, of its population. It accounts for 16 percent of the seats in the European Parliament, and around about 11 percent of votes on the Council of Ministers... But if you look at net contributions to the European budget in the years 1995 to 2001, Germany contributed 67 percent.

So the Germans get between 8 and 11 percent of the decisive votes in the Council of Ministers, that is, the key decision making body of the European Union, but they contribute two-thirds towards the combined budget.

Now, that's all very well, ladies and gentlemen, if Germany is the fastest growing economy in Europe. But as I've already pointed out to you, it is today the slowest growing economy in Europe. It is, in fact, the sick man of Europe. And although the German economy is very large, it is far from clear why, when it has not grown at all in the past six quarters, that economy should continue to subsidize the economies of the smaller, poorer countries of Southern and now also Central Europe.

My estimation, ladies and gentlemen, is that the train is still running, but there ain't no gravy anymore. And as that reality gradually dawns, the process of European integration, which I believe has depended from its very inception on German gravy, is bound to come to a halt. Who, after all--who is going to pay for those, and I quote, "maximum enlargement-related commitments," to the 10 new member states which have been capped at 40 billion euros? The general assumption appears still to be that the German taxpayer will pay that money. I see no reason whatsoever why that should be the case. Indeed, the very smallness of the sum that has been agreed illustrates the way the German purse-strings are tightening.

March 13, 2004

Lileks on Madrid

The 48 hours without blogging is because this is the annual racquetball tournament weekend. That means six matches and 16 games in a 30 hour period, leaving my 51 year old body feeling like I ran full speed into a wall half a dozen times. Oh wait... I did. As much as I hurt, I feel blessed to be able to compete like that. A couple days ago, a friend, also 51, died of a heart attack while recuperating from injuries suffered in a serious car crash. Carpe diem.

Catching up tonight on news and comment, mostly about the Madrid bombings of course, led me to Lileks' Bleat from Friday. It's all good, but here's one excerpt on how the Spanish leadership called for street demonstrations, while the post-9/11 reaction in America was more subdued..

after 9/11 the media – the American overclass – was all about pain and sympathy and vigils and candles; vengeance and retribution were not invited. Stand up and strike back was not a theme of those awful hours after 9/11. Partly because we didn't know who to hit. Partly because we realized eventually that we would be striking back, hard, soon. The national character best expressed itself by a brief period of introspective mourning, not brutish demands to level half the planet. Bush did not call for massive demonstrations to approve his desire to defeat terrorism. In American terms, that would have been unseemly. Grief first. Then war.

Spain doesn’t have the luxury of 200 years of Constitutional rule. Young adults sitting around the dinner table look at parents who grew up under Franco; they might value freedom more than we do. We cannot possibly imagine losing it. They have heard stories of how quickly it can be lost.

Then there's his already much-excerpted line about so called "sophistication":

I’m somewhat annoyed by the assertion that this act was “sophisticated,” and hence the work of those brilliant stratgerists of Al Qaeda. My definition of sophistication is somewhat different: it’s an unmanned drone flying over Pakistan, piloted by a guy in Florida, dropping a laser-guided bomb into the passenger cab of a truck full of Taliban. That’s sophistication. Synchronizing watches on detenators is not exactly all that tough.

There's lots more at Roger Simon's place, with plenty of reader comments.

March 11, 2004

Robbins Panned

A satisfying review of Tim Robbins' new play Embedded, at TNR. A couple of excerpts:

About Embedded, Robbins has this to say: "I'm not interested in any polemic. I'm not interested in any lecture." But Embedded is all polemic--a talking political pamphlet that doesn't even aspire to be aesthetic. If it's true that all art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art, then Robbins has produced a masterpiece of artless propaganda...

...while I happen to agree with the conventional wisdom that celebrities, because they tend not to know what they're talking about, have not earned the right to monopolize public discourse, I do not think that Robbins deserves condemnation for his vocal opposition to the war--anymore than I think Britney Spears deserves credit for her vocal support of it.

Read all about Robbins' conspiracy theory...you know, the Bush administration's slavish devotion to the dangerous ideas of Leo Strauss, "blah, blah, blah, chill wind, blah, blah."

Good actor, Tim Robbins.

UPDATE 3/16: Terry Teachout, drama critic for the WSJ, exposes more distortion and lies from Robbins' play. In this case, it involves a quotation that Robbins falsely attributes to Leo Strauss. Don't let facts get in the way of a good smear, Tim.

Madrid Bombings

For news and reaction to the Madrid bombings, see this Instapundit summary. Speculation abounds about possible Al Qaeda involvement.

U.N. Oil-For-Food Scandal

Evidence continues to surface that Benon Sevan, the U.N. official in charge of the Iraq Oil-For-Food program was among those who benefited from Saddam's gifts of oil vouchers, which were worth millions to the recipients. It is now fair to say that the U.N. program was massively corrupt, from the contracts for inspection of oil exports and bribes paid to political allies, to the buying off of the top U.N. official in charge of the program.

Therese Raphael, whose report in today's WSJ is a follow up to another report she filed back on Feb. 9, has produced a devastating and detailed indictment of Oil-For-Food. Sevan had earlier denied published allegations that he had received favors from the Saddam regime, and challenged those making the charges to produce documentary evidence. It appears that Ms. Raphael has called his bluff, producing a letter that is pretty persuasive:

The letter is dated Aug. 10, 1998, and addressed to Iraq's oil minister. It states: "Mr. Muwafaq Ayoub of the Iraqi mission in New York informed us by telephone that the above-mentioned company has been recommended by his excellency Mr. Sevan, director of the Iraqi program at the U.N., during his recent trip to Baghdad." The matter is then recommended "for your consideration and proportioning" and the letter is signed Saddam Zain Hassan, executive manager of the State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), the Iraqi state-owned company responsible for negotiating oil sales with foreign buyers. A handwritten note below the signature confirms the request was granted "by his excellency the Vice President of the Republic [presumably Taha Yassin Ramadan, now in U.S. custody] in a meeting of the Command Council on the morning of Aug. 15, 1998." Scrawled below that to one side is another note stating that 1.8 million barrels were allocated to the company two days later, on Aug. 17.

The corruption is far-reaching, and touches on individuals like the son of Kofi Annan, famous pardonee Marc Rich, and a billionaire crony of Jacques Chirac. It makes for compelling, if maddening reading. For background on the story of the Oil-For-Food scandal, check out previous Wizblog posts (and linked articles) here, here, here, and here.

And now we're about to hand over additional powers to the U.N. in the administration of a free Iraq. Raphael suggests we dig a little deeper into this web of corruption before we go much farther down that road.

UPDATE: A wonderful companion piece to the Therese Raphael article is this one by Claudia Rosett, this time at NRO. Here's a sample, but this article needs to be read in its entirety...

...the U.N., during the final months of Oil-for-Food, gave every indication of knowing just where the problems lay. Last May, shortly after the fall of Saddam's regime, the U.N. Security Council voted to end the Oil-for-Food program and gave the U.N. Secretariat six months to tie-up loose ends before handing over any outstanding import contracts to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. With Saddam's regime gone as a contracting party, the U.N. began a frenzied process of "renegotiating" billions in contracts, basically winnowing out the graft component that Oil-for-Food had previously approved.

By the end of this sudden housecleaning, the U.N. had scrapped more than 25 percent of the contracts for which, under Saddam, it had already agreed to release funding from the U.N.-controlled Oil-for-Food bank accounts. Uncharacteristically, the U.N. on its website has posted explanatory notes next to some of the dropped contracts. These do not suggest a U.N. that was living in ignorance of Saddam's 10-percent-overpricing-and-kickback scheme...

...what has to be clear by now is that the U.N. itself was either corrupt, or so stunningly incompetent as to require total overhaul. There are by now enough questions, there has been enough secrecy, stonewalling, and rising evidence of graft all around the U.N. program in Iraq, so that it is surely worth an independent investigation into the U.N. itself — and Annan's role in supervising this program. If Kofi Annan will not exercise his authority to set a truly independent inquiry in motion, it is way past time for the U.S., whose taxpayers supply about a quarter of the U.N. budget, to call the U.N. itself to account for Oil-for-Food — in dollar terms the biggest relief operation it has ever run, and by many signs, one of the dirtiest.

Do The Math

In today's Best of the Web, James Taranto observes:

"Former President Clinton said Tuesday he has no plans to seek another elected office, preferring to remain in private life because having one Clinton in politics is 'probably more than enough,' " the Associated Press reports.

Hmm, if one Clinton in politics is "more than enough," what number would be optimal?

Shapiro's Regrets

Indians G.M. Mark Shapiro doesn't duck the heat for mistakes he's made. I like the straight talk style. Nothing personal Matt, Wick, Ricky. From a candid interview with MLB.com:

MLB.com: If you could go back and rewind or redo any part of your tenure as general manager, what would that one thing be that you'd redo?

Shapiro: It would be not having signed the multi-year deals -- any of them -- in that year that was a little bit of a transitional year with an unknown course my first year as general manager. It would still have been to make the Robbie Alomar trade, but it wouldn't have been to sign Matt Lawton to a multi-year deal. It still would have been to get Matt Lawton; I still like him as a player. It would still have been to sign Ricky Gutierrez, but it wouldn't have been to sign him to a multi-year deal, even if it meant losing him. It probably would have meant walking away from Bob Wickman and not signing him. So the multi-year deals at that juncture in time when I should have been more aware of how our club could have gone in either direction -- because it should have gone toward rebuild -- I shouldn't have done. It would have helped us to have that money right now and speed up our time frame.

March 10, 2004

VDH Gets His Own Place

I guess victorhansen.com is an idea whose time has come. The author/classicist/professor starts his own web site, and has a couple of new articles up. (via Power Line)

March 9, 2004

Florida Myth Refuted...Again

Just because you say something often enough, or loud enough, that doesn't make it true. Peter Kirsanow takes on the scurrilous charge that Florida voters were disenfranchised in the 2000 election:

Even before the last vote had been cast in the 2000 presidential election, activists had descended upon Florida, claiming a widespread conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters. Allegations that state troopers put up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent blacks from voting were rampant. Dogs and hoses were allegedly used to drive black voters from the polls. Bull Connor's heirs had been unleashed — all at the direction of Governor Bush and his sidekick, Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

But the bottom line, as articulated by Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, is that...

There's absolutely no evidence that a single person was intimidated, harassed, or prevented from voting by Florida law enforcement. Despite claims of rampant police intimidation and harassment, the only evidence of law-enforcement "misconduct" consisted of just two witnesses who described their perceptions regarding the actions of the Florida Highway Patrol. One of these witnesses testified that he thought it was "unusual" to see an empty patrol car parked outside a polling place. There was no evidence that sight of the vehicle somehow intimidated the witness or any other voters from casting ballots. There was no evidence that the erstwhile occupant of the vehicle harassed voters. There was no evidence that the empty vehicle was there for the purpose of somehow disenfranchising anyone assigned to vote at that location.

The second witness had filed a highly publicized complaint with the NAACP regarding a police motor-vehicle checkpoint. In the hysterical recount period following the election the complaint took on a life of its own and apparently became part of the basis for the legend that legions of cops were harassing thousands of black voters throughout Florida.

The evidence, however, shows that the checkpoint in question was two miles from the polling place. Moreover, it was not even on the same road as the polling facility. During the checkpoint's approximately ninety minutes of operation, citations for faulty equipment were issued to 16 individuals, 12 of whom were white. The uncontroverted evidence shows that no one was delayed or prohibited from voting due to the lone checkpoint.

There's no evidence of systematic disenfranchisement of black voters. The myth of a nefarious plot to thwart black voters from casting ballots is wholly unsupported by the evidence. Inconvenience, bureaucratic errors and inefficiencies were indeed pervasive. But these problems don't rise to the level of invidious discrimination. (There was one case in which a black woman alleged that she was turned away from a poll at closing time whereas a white man wasn't.)

(emphasis in original)

Kirsanow had a similar piece on NRO back in October, but the myth persists, and so too must the myth-busting.

Browns Upside Down

ESPN has just reported that the Cleveland Browns have signed Jeff Garcia to a four-year $25 million contract, which means that the outright release of Tim Couch is imminent. Couch, who had said he wanted to stay in Cleveland, had apparently worn out his welcome with Butch Davis with inconsistent play and a strained relationship with Cleveland fans.

When you think about the tens of millions of dollars (approx. $30 million) that Couch has been paid by the Browns organization in his five years here, after being the first player chosen in the 1999 draft, it's difficult to summon too much sympathy for the guy. But let's face it. He was jerked around by this organization time after time during the last three years, after getting bashed around by opponents for the first two. Last season was a soap opera, with management's allegiance shifting between Couch and Kelly Holcomb like a tag team match.

Then when the Butch and Carmen Show had to approach all three of their disappointing high draft picks about renegotiation of their huge contracts, they suggested that Tim Couch should play for less than half of the $7.6 million that they were contractually obligated to pay him for 2004, and he wondered just why he should agree to do that for this team.

This team that is scrambling for space under the salary cap even though the only orange helmets on the Pro Bowl rosters belonged to players from that team downstate. The team that had very few cards to play in their negotiation with Couch, since their backup (for the moment) Kelly Holcomb just had surgery on the labrum in his passing shoulder, and is out a minimum of six months. The team that bungled their way into a desperate situation this past week or two by alienating Couch with their insulting offer, which served only to bail them out of the financial mess they had created for themselves.

Tim Couch should take a pay cut of $4 million for that team?

As a result of Couch's balk, the desperate Browns front office refused to wipe the considerable quantity of egg off of their face, and instead rushed back out into the eggstorm by signing, and overpaying, a 34 year old scrambler to a four year deal. They overpaid because they knew that if Garcia signed with Tampa Bay, as he and his father had suggested he wanted to do, they were screwed. Gruden had been talking about a deal for between $15 and 20 million, so the Browns went to $25 million, getting eight years older at the position in the process, and not gaining much room under the cap, if any at all.

When you draft a player with the first overall pick, the team and the fans expect him to be "great"....an Elway, a Manning, a Bruce Smith. Couch isn't great. That much was pretty obvious after a couple of seasons, the Browns expansion team status notwithstanding. Couch could be maddeningly inaccurate passing, and would often follow a stellar game with a couple of lousy ones. A couple of QB's drafted after him in 1999, Culpepper and McNabb, look in retrospect like superior talents.

But what Couch is, is a better than average NFL quarterback. What he is, is a tough guy. Carmen Policy's organization has never put an offensive line in front of the guy that was even "good" by NFL standards, and Couch was lucky to even survive the first two seasons in one piece. Not once did he ever complain about his line off the field, or berate them on it. Try to think of one dangerous offensive weapon that the organization has put on the field with Tim Couch in five years. Thought so.

The one guy who comes close to that description in recent years is Dennis Northcutt, the team's leader in catches and receiving yardage this past season. Northcutt is only with the team at the moment due to a screw-up by his agent, who failed to file the free agency paperwork on time. In one of the most classless stunts I have ever witnessed by an NFL head coach, Coach Davis slammed Northcutt in a press conference a couple weeks ago, wondering out loud to the assembled media if the NFL would allow him to use the "franchise player" tag "on a punt returner".

This was before the disclosure of the free agency snafu by the agent, and so Davis was supposedly in a negotiating posture at the time with Northcutt, in an attempt to keep his best offensive threat from bolting through free agency. I guess he was going for a cheap laugh from the reporters. My opinion of Davis the coach, and Davis the man dropped significantly at that moment. And my opinion of Carmen Policy has always been that he's little more than a slick, "spin doctor" with a line of B.S. a mile long, who condescends to the fans of this great franchise, playing them for idiots.

The Browns may eventually prove to be a better team now that Tim Couch is gone. And we'll soon find out what other NFL teams think of his talent and his value. For now, what is left behind in Cleveland is troubling for us season ticket holders and lifelong Browns fans. We've got a team with no real star players, a head coach with a big ego who still has a lot to learn about player and fan relations, and a front office that can't get out of it's own way.

March 8, 2004

Selective Outrage

David Adesnik of Oxblog gets a letter from a fellow Rhodes scholar, and responds with one of his own.

Lewis is a True Buckeye

ESPN has a series of promotional spots with a theme of "Without sports...this or that would be different". One spot in the series shows a guy with an Ohio State sweatshirt making out with a girl in a Michigan T-shirt. After a little moaning and groping, we see the graphic..."Without sports...this wouldn't be disgusting"

Perfectly hilarious, as intended, no? Comedian Richard Lewis doesn't think so. A diehard Buckeye, Lewis reacted this way:

"As a proud graduate of Ohio State, just the notion of a Buckeye considering a Wolverine as a significant other, lover, casual acquaintance or, God forbid, a confidant, without some sort of gun to his or her head, not just baffles me, but leaves me with a bottomless pit of despair and a near death wish."

That's the spirit, Richard. Ann Arbor is a whore. Go Bucks!

March 7, 2004

Real Life Stupidity

The lesson of this video is; Don't mess with bulletproof glass.

And while this stunt has a happier ending, you wonder how many times it didn't work before they pulled it off.

(both via Totally Flabbergasted)

Palestinian Authority in Chaos

The Jerusalem Post describes a state of affairs in the West Bank and Gaza that approaches civil war. The forces for moderation, the rule of law, transparency and democracy are being murdered, beaten and intimidated. A businessman in Nablus describes it like this:

"What we have here is a Mafia," he remarked, insisting on anonymity. "We have tens of competing armed groups that have replaced the PA. Each group has a leader who is directly linked to another more senior official. Every day I hear about armed robberies, rapes, kidnappings and extortion. The security forces say they are afraid of them and there is no judicial system."

(via The Corner)

Messing With The SAT

The SAT test's largest customer, The University of California, was unhappy with the test, so the test has been changed. This is progress? From an article in The Atlantic:

In the summer of 2002 the College Board announced its plans to change the SAT. The new test will (surprise, surprise) contain several higher-level algebra questions, will no longer contain analogies questions, and will—as part of a whole new section on "writing"—include an essay question. It is scheduled to be administered for the first time in March of next year.

The writing section (which will be scored on a scale of 200 to 800, making 2400 the new maximum score on the SAT), will seem familiar to anyone who has taken the SAT II: Writing test (formerly known as the English Composition Achievement test). In its haste to satisfy the University of California, evidently, the College Board has simply tacked the SAT II test onto the SAT I. Students will have an extra half hour to complete the test, which currently lasts three hours.

Founding Father

William McGurn's review of The Norman Podhoretz Reader includes this comment on the complications in defining neoconservatism...

a movement in which he (Podhoretz) enjoys Founding Father status but which has never been sufficiently defined in positive terms. Negative definitions abound, from those on the right who see it as a Trojan Horse for liberalism to those on the left who see it as a conservatism with a friendlier face (not to mention those who use it as a crude euphemism for “Jewish”). Positive definitions have been more difficult to supply, and not only because neoconservatism is probably most frequently deployed as a pejorative. In its actual manifestations, it has not really been a creed along the lines of the cultural conservatism of the Russell Kirks, the libertarian consistency of a Hayek, or even the fusionism of a William F. Buckley, Jr. To my mind, the Reader confirms that neoconservatism is more a disposition that divided those on the left who adjusted their theories to reality from those who did vice versa.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

Rehashed Rants From Year One

I originally appended these revisited posts to the "One Year Old" entry, but then decided to break them off into a separate post. So the following is what I dragged out of the archives as representative of Wizblog's first year. You were warned.

From the start, Wizblog has been a mix of current events and politics on the one hand, and commentary on the Cleveland and Ohio sports scene on the other. I have family and friends who visit to read on the sports topics while ignoring my rants on politics. Others, I'm sure, get here on the basis of the political stuff and couldn't care less about what the Indians are doing. But that's why it's called Wizblog and not Somethingelseblog.

In approximate chronological order, oldest to newest, here are some posts from Wizblog's first year: (apologies in advance for broken links in older posts)

On the faith of George Bush - Nervous or Comforted? 3/9/03

On reading Thomas Paine "Common Sense" For Today 4/22/03

On Horowitz coining the term "Neo-Communists" 5/2/03

Comments on the firings of a couple of head coaches - Price and Eustachy 5/5/03

A memory of an OSU-Michigan Game - Dotting the "I" 5/22/03

Tribe Trivia 6/2/03

Yankees No-Hit! 6/11/03

Quoted in Taranto's "Best of the Web" A Few of My Fifteen Minutes

My first foul ball at a major league game. Winning Streak 7/11/03

Conspiracy theory- Big Lies 7/17/03

Weary of Clarett 7/31/03

Thoughts on the DDT ban - Bureaucracy Kills 8/5/03

Doing my best to help document Iraq-Al Qaeda Connections 9/27/03

In a parallel universe What if? 10/20/03

The Sliming of Reagan 10/27/03

Lots of people don't know or don't remember that the official finding of the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations was that Kennedy was probably killed as the result of a conspiracy. Wizblog's longest ever post examines the theory that the New Orleans Mob killed JFK - Remember the HSCA 11/30/03

Environmentalism as Religion 12/8/03

On Kwanzaa12/27/03

Fiesta Bowl Thoughts after another Bucks Bowl win

Bush-haters unite as The Far Left Drinks the Hatorade 1/7/04

Kaz Tadano story in Indians Pitcher Sets it Straight 1/29/04

Open the books on Racial Preferences in college admissions - 2/5/04

On the Oil-For-Food scandal - Two Cheers for the N.Y. Times 3/2/04

Poker Till 2:00 a.m.

Don't look now but the Cavaliers are hot and the Indians are undefeated. LeBron James will soon get that first triple-double. Tonight he missed it by three rebounds, with 24 points and 10 assists in a big win over Milwalkee. This team is gradually dragging me back to paying attention to the NBA. They're fun to watch. But baseball beckons.

March 6, 2004

One Year Old

It's Wizblog's blogiversary, and I'm afraid the impact of its first year on man and civilization cannot yet be accurately measured. That's something for historians and the passing of time to sort out. But seriously folks....I'm here all week.

There's something to be said for perseverance I guess. Since I had no delusions of grandeur at the outset of this project, there is no disappointment at remaining a relative unknown in a sea of blogs, good, bad and ugly. One year out from that first post, I still work at this blog with no greater goal in mind other than to share information that I find interesting, informative, important, or humorous with anyone else who cares to look at it. Along with that stuff, as blessing or curse, the reader gets my commentary.

Sure I'd like more readers, more traffic, more comments. More is better. I need to learn more about how to market this thing. It's taken me a year just to convince myself that I have something worth marketing, and I still wonder about that. I suppose that as long as it's free, it will continue to be worth what people pay for it. I would welcome suggestions along those marketing lines from any and all fellow bloggers.

I came to find out a few months into Wizblog, that mine was one of hundreds that were "born" at about the same time. Unlike this one, many of the other blogs started in response to the imminent war in Iraq, either to support or to oppose it as their primary raison d'etre. And while I became preoccupied at times with the war and its aftermath, the timing was coincidental, not causal. I look forward to year two with a mixture of excitement and dread. Because as the war was the defining event of 2003, the campaign and the election will be in 2004. And politics can be as ugly as war.

Blogging is defined by its immediacy. Posts that are ten minutes old get "updated". We are all about what's new, and what's news. There's very little looking back at all, much less looking back at ourselves and what we wrote last week or last month. In the case of this blog, its usually only when a comment is posted to an older entry that I even revisit the old stuff. So the one year milestone seemed a good time to go through the archives and try to see if there was anything there to justify the time spent and the effort expended.

With the regular readership of Wizblog still able to meet in a phone booth, I would not dare to put forth any compilation of posts as a "greatest hits" collection. But one year out, there are some blog entries of which I am still proud to claim authorship, and I've dragged a few out of the archives in the hope that someone sees them and likes them this time around. But first...

Thanks are in order to those who have thought enough of Wizblog to include us on the blogroll. Special thanks also to my son Andy, who set up the project and advises me on matters technical. So to the following trendsetters, my heartfelt appreciation:

Sean at The American Mind
Rodger at Curmudgeonly and Skeptical
the gang at democrats give conservatives indigestion
Kevin at Reductio Ad Absurdum
CP at The Lopsided Poopdeck
James at Outside The Beltway
fellow contributors at Sportsblog
Eric at Off Wing Opinion
Dan at Regnum Crucis
Dan at Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics
Edward at Zonitics

March 5, 2004

Popcorn and Passion

So this journalist and this Jew walk into a movie theater.....no, really. There's no punchline. I've read a zillion words about "The Passion of the Christ" this past week, and these are the ones I liked the best. It's less a review of the movie than a story of a chance encounter in the theater lobby, that leads to a little bit of understanding, over popcorn and a Bible Bar.

Not A Pretty Sight

An analysis of the Browns Drafts since they returned as an expansion team in 1999. As shaky as Butch Davis' drafts have been, he looks pretty good by comparison with Chris Palmer's two years worth of picks. Read 'em and weep.

Dream Portal

David Copperfield's Dream Portal is a different web experience. Turn up the volume and sit back for a few minutes. (Once again, via Coolios Weblog)

UPDATE: dgci reminds me to remind you to disable your pop-up blocker when you click on the link above.


They've been counting for two years, and I never even knew. Email one to a friend! (via Coolios)

March 4, 2004

Crying Wolf

As the debate continues over whether or not "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-Semitic, it may be instructive to consider a film about which there can be no debate. Some Jewish leaders have been concerned about what they say is a negative depiction of Jews in the Gibson film (does crucifying one of them count?) but most reviews I have read and first hand accounts I have heard, consider it unlikely that a person who isn't an anti-Semite going into the theater, will walk out transformed into one.

Author Joel Rosenberg thinks it's important to know what kind of product passes for "documentary" in the Arab world, as but one example of true anti-Semitism. He describes part of a new 30-part series produced for Syrian TV, that purports to record "the criminal history of Zionism"...

Episode Twenty of Al-Shatat — which aired last November — depicts a classic anti-Semitic blood libel. A Rabbi, played by an Arab actor, directs a member of his synagogue to help him:

1) kidnap the son of his Christian neighbor;
2) bring the boy to the synagogue;
3) slit the boy's throat;
4) drain the boy's blood into a basin;
5) use the blood to make Passover matzoh bread;
6) serve the matzoh to the members of the synagogue.

Through the efforts of The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI.org), an organization that regularly translates items from the Arab press into English, portions of this appalling video, and other hateful propaganda can be viewed at their website. MEMRI provides a valuable service, and that is to reflect what is seen in the Arab media for the Western world. So one cannot shoot the messenger when the message is one of pure hatred.

Rosenberg sets it up:

Let me warn you. Some of the images are so brutal, so cruel, so evil you should not watch them anywhere near children. You may not want to watch them at all. But you should.

I watched just the one clip described above. That was enough. Several times during the two or three minute video, I reached for the mouse to click it off, but it kept occurring to me that; this is being shown on public television in Syria. I forced myself to imagine that I was a teenage boy in Damascus, taking it all in, learning to hate Jews as grinning, cold-blooded murderers of children. It's an understatement to say that this is profoundly disturbing to watch. "But you should". With that caveat, here is the link to the MEMRI video page.

Israeli Cabinet Member Natan Sharansky has shown these examples of Jew-hatred to world leaders, and Rosenberg has written about and linked to them because:

...it's important to know what a truly anti-Semitic film looks like. Because The Passion of the Christ is not one, and the Syrian-Hezbollah film most certainly is. The Passion is brutal. It's graphic. As a story of hope and redemption, it's also one of the most moving and important films ever to come out of Hollywood, worthy of multiple Oscars. But it's not anti-Jewish...

...Jewish leaders attacking The Passion are thus making a serious strategic error. They're crying wolf, and hurting their own cause by pointing to anti-Semitism where it doesn't exist and thus distracting attention from real and rising evils where they do.

Patrick Moore, "Eco-Traitor"

Patrick Moore was one of the original founders of Greenpeace. Now the argument is about whether it was Moore or the Greenpeace movement that changed. There's an article up at Wired.com that tells his story. Here's an excerpt:

Today, he's a mouthpiece for some of the very interests Greenpeace was founded to counter, notably the timber and plastics industries. He argues that the Amazon rain forest is doing fine, that the Three Gorges Dam is the smartest thing China could do for its energy supply, and that opposition to genetically modified foods is tantamount to mass murder...

...He derides today's activists as philosophically unmoored and blindly technophobic, and he offers an alternative philosophy that not only accepts but celebrates humankind's growing ability to alter the planet. With a tip of the hat to best-selling "skeptical environmentalist" Bjørn Lomborg (and perhaps Thomas Paine), he has anointed himself the sensible environmentalist and set out to win converts. There haven't been many...

On genetically modified foods, Moore is on the side of feeding people, preventing blindness, and speaking common sense:

"This is where the environmental movement is dangerous," he says. "Environmentalists are against golden rice, which could prevent half a million kids from going blind every year. Taking a daffodil gene and putting it into a rice plant: Is this Armageddon?"

The Real Nader

Jonathan Chait tries in this TNR piece to explain to Democrats that Ralph Nader isn't one of them. It's an excellent Nader primer:

As Nader embarks upon his fourth protest run against the Democrats in as many elections, there is something slightly ridiculous about the shock of his liberal critics. They still don't know who they're dealing with. Nader is not a heroic figure tragically overcome by his own flaws; he is a selfish, destructive maniac who, for a brief historical period, happened upon a useful role...

... The website RalphDontRun.net patiently explains how, if Al Gore had netted even 1 percent of Nader's 97,000 Florida votes, he would have overcome Bush's 537-vote margin. Like other liberals, the people behind the website seem to think, if they could only persuade Nader that his candidacy might help reelect Bush, it would dissuade him from running. More likely, it would have the opposite effect.

And here's Thomas Sowell with a column on Nader. Somehow the word "selfish" keeps coming up. (via Chicago Boyz)

March 3, 2004

Good Numbers For Bush Economy

National Review's J.Edward Carter puts together a summary of the performance of the economy during the first three years of the Bush administration as it compares to the first three years of the Clinton era. In many categories, the economy under Bush outperformed the 1993-95 time frame. Carter adds an additional perspective:

Considering the circumstances under which the U.S. economy has labored for the past few years, President Bush's record is all the more impressive. When George W. Bush moved into the White House, the economy was on the verge of recession. The largest stock market bubble in U.S. history had recently burst, exports were declining, manufacturing employment had been falling for half a year, and people were finding it harder and harder to find work. And that was before 9/11, the war on terror, and the revelations of the corporate-governance scandals that grew out of the late 1990s.

The two most publicized indicators, the inflation rate and the unemployment rate, are both significantly lower in the first years of Bush. See the handy table here.

Here are a couple of other "for instances":

-For the third consecutive year, the U.S. economy is poised to grow faster than most other industrialized economies. France, Germany, and Japan, for instance, are not expected to grow even half as fast as the United States.

-More single-family homes were sold in 2003 than in any other year on record. And the homeownership rate is at a record-high of 68.5 percent — a full percentage point higher than during the fourth quarter of 2000.

-At 5.6 percent, the national unemployment rate is now lower than the average unemployment rate of the 1970s, 1980s, and the 1990s.

Since the Bush administration began, non-farm productivity has increased at a 4.1 percent annual rate — the fastest pace for the start of any presidency since Harry S. Truman occupied the White House.

March 2, 2004

Two Cheers For The NY Times

I guess the scandal of Saddam's bribery using the U.N. Oil-For-Food program is officially "news", now that the NY Times has done a story on the matter. Maybe they were tired of being scooped by Therese Raphael and Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal. It's been weeks since the story broke, disclosing the list of 270 foreign officials, diplomats, organizations and corporations that had received vouchers for oil purchases under Oil-For-Food, worth millions to those holding them. MEMRI has since published a detailed analysis of the list, complete with reaction (or not) from those named as recipients of Saddam's favor. So it had to be a little embarrassing to the paper of record to have been a "no show" until Sunday.

To be fair (moi?), the piece by Susan Sachs in the Times was detailed and well done, and doubtless in the works for some time. It came as some salve to people like Roger Simon and others in the blogosphere, who have been begging for a "Robert Woodward" to emerge to take this story by the throat and squeeze.

Sachs goes part of the way there, by saying that Saddam rewarded those who "praised him", as in this excerpt:

Iraq's sanctions-busting has long been an open secret. Two years ago, the General Accounting Office estimated that oil smuggling had generated nearly $900 million a year for Iraq. Oil companies had complained that Iraq was squeezing them for illegal surcharges, and Mr. Hussein's lavish spending on palaces and monuments provided more evidence of his access to unrestricted cash.

But the dimensions of the corruption have only lately become clear, from the newly available documents and from disclosures by government officials who say they were too fearful to speak out before. They show the magnitude and organization of the payoff system, the complicity of the companies involved and the way Mr. Hussein bestowed contracts and gifts on those who praised him.

The article focuses on the longstanding practice by Hussein and his foreign partners of "sanctions-busting" and associated surcharges, kickbacks and payoffs. But Sachs discusses the published list of 267 oil voucher recipients late in the piece, almost in passing, and is quick to mention Russian denials:

Last month, a Baghdad newspaper published the list of companies that got allocations, prompting a chorus of denials. The Russian Foreign Ministry, for example, blames politics for releasing the list, which contained 46 Russian companies and individuals, including the former Russian ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, and Nikolai Ryzhkov, a Parliament member.

Sachs seems to try to cast further doubt on the veracity of the list by quoting a Catholic priest, also on the list, who said he had been offered an oil voucher, but had turned it down on moral grounds. So the one person on the list that the Times reporter tracked down and interviewed for the article is a priest who refused to be bought. Exception or rule?

I wonder if Sachs looked into the appearance on the list of an individual named "Sevan", the name of the U.N. official chartered with oversight of the Oil-For-Food program. On the matter of Mr. Sevan, Sachs does report:

The director of the Office of Iraq Programs, Benon V. Sevan, declined to be interviewed about the oil-for-food program. In written responses to questions sent by e-mail, his office said he learned of the 10 percent kickback scheme from the occupation authority only after the end of major combat operations.

In the few instances when Mr. Sevan's office suspected an irregularity, the statement said, it notified the sanctions committee, "which then requested member states concerned to investigate."

This would appear to me to be bullshit on stilts. It does however, sound like the way that U.N. "oversight" seems to work. Instead of investigating, he suggests that the states involved in the corruption investigate themselves. The U.S. and the U.K. have repeatedly expressed concern about the evident corruption in the program. All the way back in 2000, the very U.N. program now run by Sevan issued the following statement demonstrating that there was a concern even then about irregularities and "surcharges" being paid by oil traders and purchasers:

"On Friday, 15 December, the Security Council’s 661 sanctions committee for Iraq requested the United Nations oil overseers to convey to the buyers of Iraqi oil the Committee’s position on the reported surcharge for the purchase of Iraqi oil. In a letter to the buyers the oil overseers noted that the Committee had not approved a surcharge of any kind on Iraqi oil. Payments for the purchase of Iraqi crude oil could not be made to a non-UN account and, therefore, buyers of Iraqi oil should not pay any kind of surcharge to Iraq." --UN Office of the Iraq Programme, 19 December, 2000. (hat tip to BD, a commenter at rogerlsimon.com)

Sadly, many of the goods purchased as vehicles for the corruption turn out to have been defective, mismatched, unnecessary, or otherwise useless. After the liberation, Dr. Khidr Abbas, Iraq's interim minister of health....

canceled $250 million worth of contracts with companies he believes were fronts for the former government or got contracts only because they were from countries friendly to Mr. Hussein.

They were paid millions of dollars, said Dr. Abbas, for drugs they did not deliver, medical equipment that did not work and maintenance agreements that were never honored. Iraq, he added, was left with defective ultrasound machines from Algeria, overpriced dental chairs from China and a warehouse filled with hundreds of wheelchairs that the old government did not bother to distribute.

So while the Times story reveals the extent to which there was a political angle to the payoffs and favors..

"It depended on what was going on in New York at the U.N. and which country was on the Security Council," he added. "They apportioned the amounts according to politics."

...what it really failed to even suggest was a connection between the anti-war foreign policy positions of France and Russia, and the predominance of Russian and French companies and officials on the list of those "rewarded" with oil vouchers. Of the 267 entities on the list of voucher recipients, Russia (46) had far more than any other country, and France (11) had more than any other non-Arab country except Ukraine (12).

So while acknowledging that the corruption money was steered to political allies, and existed for years as simple greed-based "sanctions-busting", the logical leap that follows from that; that the anti-regime change positions taken by those favored countries was a cynical attempt to prevent the golden egg-laying goose from being killed, was not at all articulated by the Times story.

And I suppose it's no wonder. If "Old Europe" gets dragged down off of the high horse of its opposition to the liberation of Iraq by the exposure of its money-grubbing opportunism, the N.Y. Times has a little less company in the ranks of the morally superior.

Two cheers. Baby steps.

OKC Case To Be Reopened

From a story in The Guardian citing the Associated Press:

The FBI on Friday ordered a formal review of some aspects of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing investigation, reopening the question of whether Timothy McVeigh may have had more accomplices in the worst domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history.

It has been apparent since 1995 to anyone who cared enough to look at the case, that McVeigh had "more accomplices" in the OKC bombing. The only question surrounding this "review" is whether the FBI intends to conduct a serious investigation, or yet another whitewash. I'll be following up with a more detailed post later in the week regarding "others unknown" in the OKC case. Read the whole Guardian piece for a preview. Or review some of the evidence that OKC reporter Jayna Davis has assembled. (via dgci)