Montag, Oktober 31, 2005

Bernanke and Targets...

Jeffrey Garten in today's FT gave me the impetus to write this. He correctly points out that Bernanke will have not merely the usual challenges in filling Greenspan's shoes - a tough enough challenge as is - but that he's gonna be faced with unknown challenges that will really put pressure on him to perform, but without the decades of experience in financial markets that Greenspan has. And that this is the real challenge for whoever is the Fed chairman.

We've had an enormously effective Chairman of the Fed over the last 18 years. Why has he been so successful?

Two reasons: first, Greenspan understood how the markets work, which is 75% psychology and 25% fundamentals. Second, he clearly states his policies in extremely careful wording to let the markets know what his concerns are, but has never stated any explicit goal.

Why has this been successdul? I think it's mostly the latter reason: never stating an explicit goal. He's never said "inflation should be at n%", he's never said "M2 should grow by n%". He's been criticized for this: lots and lots of people have been severely frustrated because they can't second-guess him. And they haven't been able to second-guess him because Greenspan is deliberately vague about his explicit goals.

Greenspan has been so successful because he doesn't tell everyone what he is doing: he leaves his options open. He's like the CEO of a company that refuses to tell analysts that growth for a company should be 10% for the next year. Telling analysts that you're going to have 10% growth means that you are setting yourself up for a fall when growth comes in at 9.2%: your stock will plummet because it hasn't met analysts' expectations.

And now we are getting a whiz kid who is more than happy to tell people what his goals will be: he will start setting inflation targets.

While this will make plenty of pundits happy, giving them something to write about. But it also means that the Fed will be held accountable for its explicit inflation targets, regardless of the reasons for making them and missing them. And he will miss them.

This is why I'm increasingly mistrustful of explicit targets. The ECB has had them and as a result has been subservient to them, forcing it to take actions that have led to poor economic growth in Europe in order to meet its targets.

And that's the cart driving the horse.

Bernanke will face huge challenges. He's a gifited academic and knows the Fed, having been a member of the board.

But why give up one of the most useful tools in managing the world economy? By being deliberately vague, Greenspan left himself all the tools of his trade open to make the adjustments necessary, but kept the actual process to himself.

This is a good thing: by making the process transparent, you open yourself up to massive punditry, very little of it competent, and you then are captive to the psychology of the market, rather than the other way around. It's a question of priorities: did you make analysts and pundits happy, or do you keep your powder dry and not listen - or at least not too closely - to the kind of speculation that drives the markets today?

Giving in to the latter means that you're giving in to the pressures of the market. And that's a bad idea as well: when markets call for massive increases in liquidity in order to avoid a market correction, for instance, it might make short-term sense to give in, but at significant long-term costs in terms of market expectations. In other words, helping markets avoid a downturn today may well mean that they will take an even greater downturn in 6 months' time, since the imbalances that have led to the downturn will not have been addressed, but rather merely postponed. Even worse, if the market believes that the Fed will behave in a certain manner, then there will be those who will try to leverage financial engineering to take advantage of lags in the market before the Fed can intervene, allowing massive profits at the cost of all players who don't play the same game plan, because the Fed has become predictable.

And that is why inflation targets are an abysmally bad idea.

The Fed needs to be predictable, but leave everyone guessing as to what it exactly plans to do. The decisions of the Fed need to be clear, but not with hard facts: this is the failure of the ECB. It can be predictable, but only in the sense that everyone knows that if the Fed thinks that growth is too low, it will reduce interest rates or adjust reserve requirements or use whatever tools it has too solve the problem.

Explicit inflation targets means that the Fed will have to pander to the markets: it will lose flexibility to proactively take measures.

And worse: the playing field willl be leveled. Now every pundit and wannabe will be able to state their case for believing or not believing what the Fed now explicitly states. That means that you'll have those out there who can claim to be better at guessing how markets and interest rates will move than the Fed, undermining the Fed's believability if the Fed doesn't get everything perfect.

Which it won't.

I don't like the move at all, and I think that Bernanke may well not go down in history as a worthy successor to Greenspan for the reasons enumerated here.

Mittwoch, Oktober 26, 2005

Speechless. Really.

Try and figure this one out: tip of the hat to Austin Bay's Blog.

Bush was and is lambasted for the reference to Nigerian yellowcake.

Based on "bogus" intelligence (the Brits didn't think so, but that's another story entirely).

That was sold to the Italians.

By an Italian businessman, masquerading as a "journalist".

Who now turns out to have been working for the French.

This is the quote:

His admission to investigating magistrates in Rome on Friday apparently confirms suggestions that - by commissioning "Giacomo" to procure and circulate documents - France was responsible for some of the information later used by Britain and the United States to promote the case for war with Iraq.

Italian diplomats have claimed that, by disseminating bogus documents stating that Iraq was trying to buy low-grade "yellowcake" uranium from Niger, France was trying to "set up" Britain and America in the hope that when the mistake was revealed it would undermine the case for war, which it wanted to prevent.

Investigators in Rome suspect that Mr Martino was first engaged by the French secret services five years ago, when he was asked to investigate rumours of illicit trafficking in uranium from Niger. He is thought to have then been retained the following year to collect more information. It was then that he is suspected of having assembled a dossier containing both real and bogus documents from Niger, the latter apparently forged by a diplomat.

In September 2002 Tony Blair accused Saddam of seeking "significant quantities" of uranium from an undisclosed African country - in fact, Niger. US President George W Bush made a similar claim in his State of the Union address to Congress four months later, using information supplied by MI6.

The International Atomic Energy Agency expressed doubts over some of the documents' authenticity, however, and declared them false in March 2003.

In July, the White House withdrew the president's claim, admitting that it was based on inaccurate information. British officials still say that their intelligence about Iraqi uranium purchases was supported by a second, independent source.

This is completely, totally, incredibly mind-boggling and underscores how truly bizarre the whole situation is.

This means that the whole Plame controversy is even more bizarre.

I wish I was at a loss for words: the ones I am thinking of right now are not safe for work or mid-sized children, let alone the faint-of-heart.

PS: In looking at this further, I've found that this isn't really all that new: you can see it here, here and here. Doesn't change the import at all, but sheds a different light on a whole lot of events since then.
But that doesn't change the fundamentals of the story.

The Worst Possible Protectionism...

Let's be blunt: protectionism is not only a bad idea, it really annoys consumers as well, when they realize that they've been footing the bill for incompetent managers in companies that are better at political lobbying than actually making something.

But this move by the French, hidden as an initiative of the European Commission, really pushes the limit.

Not content to emotionally demonize biotechnology (unless, of course, it's done by French companies), the European Commission want to require disclosure obligations for biotechnology patents. In other words, if you engineer a new bacteria via genetic modification (GM) that, say, combines a gene from a primitive tomato plant in Belize with the gene of a sloth from Madagascar (no idea whether either of these exist) in order to make for a new strain of tomato plants that move really, really slowly, then you need to include the documentation of both genomes in the patent application.

What's wrong with this, you say?

Two things.

First, there will be massive pressures - no, there are massiv pressures - on developing countries from the EU to forbid any connection with biotech products in order not to lose foreign aid from the EU: if a country fails to do this, then the EU has made it clear that it will require genetic testing of any goods from that country to ensure that they aren't "tainted" with genetically modified plants in the interest of keeping the EU "GM free". This will mean not only no development in these countries, but further the probability that if Belize doesn't want you using that tomato plant, then you'll not be able to use it. Or more exactly, Belize will want such high royalty payments for your use of that tomato plant - indigenous to Belize - that you won't be able to make any money on selling the rights for farmers to use that tomato plant.

Second, pushing this means that if you are a Third-World country trying to find a way to produce food to feed your growing population - hey, that's all of them - then you're gonna have a really hard time financing not only the actually biotech work, but more critically the legal framework that will allow you to develop that wandering tomato plant that will deliver perfectly ripe tomatoes to market without having to transport them there (ok, ok: it's just my hypothetical example. The real world examples are actually meaningful and desperately needed).

In other words, unable to convince countries like Brazil, Jordan, South Africa, Egypt and China that GM is the devil seed - unsurprising, given that even the EU admits there is no scientific basis for their ban on GM products - the EU is now trying to hide a virtual ban on further GM development in a move that makes it look like they are "protecting" resources that are being commercially exploited elsewhere. Not that the resources are actually exploited: we're talking industrial production here, not strip-mining natural resources elsewhere (indeed, the industrial production of GM may well mean that the resources elsewhere won't be cut down willy-nilly in order to find those rare Madagascar Sloths (I googled: there is a madagascar lemur sloth), who turn out to be some sort of aphrodisiac when eaten with tomatoes (again, disclaimer: ain't true, it's just my example).

This in and of itself is fairly perfidious: the goal, however, is worse. The EU wants to kill the developing biotech industries in these countries. And not to protect their own GM industry (at least that I could understand), but in order to prevent these countries from finding ways out of their economic traps of low valued added coupled with high population growth rates.

And that is, plain and simple, the worst possible protectionism. What the EU is doing here - sorry, the French - is trying to enforce the right of a Frenchman to buy non-genetically modified food at the cost of continuing poverty and malnutrition in any number of developing countries.

Never mind that there is no scientific proof; never mind the human cost; never mind the lost potential of economic growth in developing countries; never mind the absurdity of it all.

As long as the European obsession with stopping GM - can I repeat that there is no scientific basis for the objection? - is more than willing to not merely accept that millions will be condemned to poverty, but rather actively support that they will remain in poverty, that's how long the further decline of the EU will continue.

Susan Kling Finston wrote the article linked to above. She's with the Institute for Policy Innovation. She's an intellectual property rights expert, from what I can see, and she has, for me, the killer quote:

" nationality has a monopoly on good ideas."

Damn right. The problem with the EU is that they think that if they can't have a monopoly on good ideas, no one else is allowed to have any good ideas any more, unless the EU says it's okay to do so.

And that is the worst protectionism ever.

Dienstag, Oktober 25, 2005

Burn baby burn...

Whilst perusing my daily set of web sites, I came across this.

First this quote:

Although the American soldiers said they were burning the bodies for sanitary reasons (they were starting to rot), the Australian journalist believed that, because there were psychological warfare troops in the area, this was all some kind of ploy to get some nearby Taliban to come out and fight. The media portrayed the incident as an accurate representation of what the Australian journalist thought he was witnessing, and a major defeat for the U.S. in their war on terror. Actually, stuff like this has no impact in the Islamic world. That's because, in the Islamic media, stories like this are invented daily. You can check out the English language sites for media in Islamic countries for examples. Some wild stuff there. The Moslems who hate us won't change their minds because of two burning bodies. Those Moslems who are down on Islamic terrorists won't get very upset about two of them getting torched, even though cremation is frowned upon in the Islamic world (even for Islamic terrorists who burn fellow Moslems to death in the course of their operations, which explains al Qaedas sagging poll numbers.)

The choice of language here is critica: the journalist believed and the media portrayed. In other words, what was reported wasn't facts, but rather opinion. The journalist may well have stated it as his opinion - I don't know - but it's been reported as fact.


Where this will hurt is in the United States? It will hurt in those parts of the world where there is  is more concern for burned up Taliban than in the Moslem world. That's largely in the Western world, especially among some American politicians and pundits. How will this hurt? Congress can call for more "oversight" of U.S. military operations. The troops are already irked at the lawyers added to some staffs over the last decade. The lawyers are their to veto operations if there is too great a chance that the action will offend someone in the world and, ultimately, someone in Congress. 

Bingo! The whole point of the reporting is to impose impossible restraints that will ultimately kill US soldiers. The US military operates under very specific Rules of Engagement (ROE) that any troop ignores at their peril. Remember the sacking of the US embassy in Pakistan in November of 1979? The Marines guarding the embassy there operated under strict rules of engagement that forbade them from firing on the "protestors" coming in over the wall, and as a result a Marine died. The whole point of military discipline is to control the destruction and mayhem that the military can unleash, and the Rule of Engagement carefully delineate what is allowed and what isn't. What happened in Pakistan indicates a long tradition of being willing to accept friendly losses in order to keep within those rules of engagement: this is, if anything, stronger today than it was back then.

If the bodies were burned as a result of some psychological warfare operation, or just to clean up the battlefield, and the act offended the local Moslems, the troops will pay a higher price than any official investigation (which is already underway) can hand out. The troops have to deal with angry, and heavily armed, people every day. They try real hard to act in their own best interests. That being to avoid getting killed while carrying out their mission. Soldiers sent to Afghanistan go through many hours of cultural sensitivity training. They already know that one misstep can destroy lots of good will, and that in turn means fewer Afghans will pass on useful (often life saving) information, and more will fell inclined to take shot at Americans.

This is also critical to understand: the troops on the ground aren't dumb. This goes against the opinion that many pundits hold about the military, that deciding to pursue a military career is somehow something for people who couldn't do better elsewhere. The reality of the situation is that journalism is a career for people who couldn't do better elsewhere: that's what I remember from when I did my undergraduate degree back in 1979, and from what I can see it hasn't gotten any better.

Apparently, an abundance of combat images served up on TV gave lots of pundits, voters and government officials the illusion they know what's really going on, and should get involved. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. military has been punishing troops for misbehavior since 1776. Yet all this means nothing to those who seek perfection, or simply another way to criticize the way the war is being fought, or the need for a war on terror at all. Any problems with the troops in Afghanistan are a lot closer to home.
Now *that* is the money quote: those without any knowledge have the illusion that they know what is really going on, and "getting involved" often means nothing more than trying to gain control over events ex post facto for own glory. If these folks really wanted to know what is going on, then they'd have listened to their briefings, would be better informed, and would have paid more attention. The problem with the troops really is a lot closer to home than any of us think: the problem is not with the troops, the problem is at home.

Then again, this imposes an impossible burden on such pundits: it would mean admitting their own ignorance, recognizing that they aren't the one actually doing something in the world, and more fundamentally recognizing and acknowledging that there are others out there who are leading better lives.

And to clarify things: I haven't served in the US military because I don't pass muster, since I exceed the eyesight limits by a significant margin (I've got -9 and -11 diopters, and this is pre-Lasik: we're talking the late 1980s). Now I'm too old.

Montag, Oktober 24, 2005

Maybe I spoke too soon...

And here I was all optimistic that there might be hope for France yet.

Silly boy.

Of course French farmers are going to screw everything up. Once again...

It'll be interesting to see how the press makes this all Bush's fault...

Subsidies Redux...

If you take a look at the archives, you can see my view on subsidies: that they're largely a bad idea, except perhaps - and this is not certain - for the companies involved.

The Economist, which I used to read all the time but now only rarely, reports on this, which, strictly speaking, isn't about subsidies.

But think of it this way: having government funding of retirement and health care means that the government taxes private individuals and corporations to provide a service to the general public. This is how it works in Europe and Japan, and is part in both countries of the body politic.

But it also means that companies there do not necessarily need to provide these services to their workers. There are some that do, but they tend to be the exceptions.

Here is my thesis: by providing health care and retirement benefits to the general public, governments provide an implicit subsidy to all businesses in that country, since they no longer have to provide those themselves. Take a look at the article: GM and Ford both bear heavy non-business related costs that must be financed on the open market (by sales) that competitors do not face.

Further: this subsidy doesn't really surface in international discussions of such subsidies, since they are implicit and not explicit.

How to solve this competitiveness problem?

Two ways.

1) Import levy on all goods that would cover the cost per unit that US makers have to pay, discounted, for explicit retirement and health benefits. Income from such levies would flow to the companies making the product domestically AND who provide health and retirement benefits for their workers.

2) Eliminate government provision of retirement and health benefits exceeding basic levels (i.e. social security, with its "too little to live, too much to die" payment levels).

The problem with the first is that US consumers pay the bill, traditionally seen as a major hindrance for acceptance. :-)

The problem with the second is that it means major political changes in other countries that can scarcely be palatable to the populations there.

No easy solution here, unless, of course, you want to subsidize US manufacturers. But given the problem with 2) above, hard to see any real alternative.

Which means that US consumers will ultimately pay for GM and Ford to get out of their problems with higher car costs.

Put it down to unintended effects of government intervention in markets, in this case retirement and health care.

Why there is still hope for France...

I've been bashing France here regularly, not so much because I hate France - I don't, and have spent almost a year there over the last 35 years - but because I despise corrupt and incompetent politicians who do unintentionally as much damage to France as they intentionally do it to the US.

But this is why I think there is still hope for France: the simple recognition that the populistic politics that have driven the last several administrations is doomed not only to failure, but will leave France worse off than before.

This, for me, is the key quote:

The spokesman of the Quay of Orsay [French Foreign Ministry] specified that the two lifetime ambassadors had taken part in activities "as private citizens, engaged in after their departure and retirement." But Boidevaix has told the [French] magistrate: "the French administration knew of the existence of my contract" (Le Monde, October 13). This business, hardly dealt with in the media, makes obvious the worst suspicions of Paris' pro-Arabic diplomacy, and came at the expense of our American allies at the time of the Iraqi crisis. Can one really call this honor?

Obviously, it isn't. Recognition that there is a problem is the first step towards correction and reconciliation. And there's no real reason for the US and France to be at odds (and indeed behind the scenes there is significant cooperation), and there is every reason for France to come clean.

Expanding on a theme...

I came across this today and it underscores the last post.

The money quote, for me, is this:

The purpose of the visiting professorships, however, would not be simply to send American academics to Indonesia or to other Muslim countries to teach courses and advise local faculty members on curricula. Instead, just as the American government after World War II dispatched scholars to Europe to help establish university departments and institutes of American studies, so the State Department should define the role of the new professorships as training one or two generations of Indonesian and other Muslim Americanists, who could then transmit what they know about the United States to their own students.

That training should not be devoted merely to developing a cadre of indigenous academic specialists in American subjects. As in the case of postwar Europe, the ultimate objective would be to provide students who will some day enter business, law, politics, or the media with a greater knowledge of and sophistication about America's political and economic system and its cultural traditions.

In other words, it's not enough to toss some money at the problem, but rather you need to make the commitment to change how people outside the US view the US, not as a propaganda instrument, but rather to prevent disinformation becoming perceived reality.

And this is why the left is doing so much damage to the US outside of the US:

And since many Indonesians in my audiences had seen Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, they were convinced that students in American high schools were heavily armed, just waiting for the opportunity to open fire.

But it was their questions about Moore himself that left me truly befuddled. I was asked continually if the Bush administration had subsidized Moore's movies, including Fahrenheit 9/11. Eventually I realized that such a question revealed an entirely different set of ideas about the relationship between government and culture. Since Indonesians believed that movies, plays, and novels could scarcely exist without the political and financial support of the state, it was hard for them to imagine the existence of a "private" sector in the arts, or the absence of an American ministry of culture.

In other words, what we in the West accept (that in a free society the free discussion of opposing viewpoints is a good thing, enrichening the body politic) can and is poisonous to those whose society is not that of the West, but rather cannot concieve that someone like Moore cannot be anything but a government spokesman.

This is part of the challenge facing any US government. It is also the curse facing any US government: the left, especially the extreme left, in their blind pursuit of a specific goal - vilifying Bush - have, intentionally or not, vilified not Bush but the United States as a whole.

Deliberate? I'm willing to give some on the left the benefit of the doubt. But not Moore and the looney left with their Bush Derangement Syndrome.

What the left has lost, and lost quite some time ago, was a sense of perspective. Instead, it's agitprop and deceit that ultimatively is destructive. But given basic leftist goals, the destruction of the US is just fine and dandy for them. And you have the spectacle of US elites applauding and cheering people like Moore and his followers and fellow travellers on, ignoring the very real damage that such actions and films cause to US prestige abroad.

But when did that concern them? If anything, they view it as a very real and positive side benefit. Moore would've made a great propagandist in the Soviet Union. I'm not accusing him of being a Communist or some sort of KGB mole: but his very real dedication to deliberately misinforming world opinion about the US makes him  culpable of aiding and abetting the enemies of the US. And by deliberately misinforming I mean the use of hyperbole and the presentation of opinion as fact in order to make his opinions about the US appear to be documented facts, when in reality he has deliberately been frugal with the truth.

It's hard sometimes to reconcile those who abuse free speech with the defense of free speech: however, you have to. But there needs to be more articles like the one cited here that shows what the real costs are of free speech that borders increasingly on hate speech. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but I do know enough of constitutional law to know that this is one of the trickiest areas to reconcile.

Sonntag, Oktober 23, 2005

Putting two things together,,,

First I read this. Then I read this.

No connection between the two, you say?


This is one of my beefs with those who think that cultural relativism is harmless: after all, there's no harm done, right? That people are entitiled to their own opinions is a basic tenet in western civilization. The problem is that there isn't any clear distinction between truth and fiction, between reality and projection. And failing to make this distinction is one of the major challenges facing the coming democratization of the Middle East (and yes, I am convinced that this will happen, despite pundit's doubts and the protests of those with a vested interest in keeping the status quo in place.

Just like those who don't think it's necessary, indeed critical, to counter propaganda. Countering propaganda doesn't mean doing counter-propaganda, but rather of ensuring that the absurdity of the propaganda is shown. This is easier said than done, but needs to be done at the risk of losing the propaganda war. This happened in Vietnam: in the face quote to Col. Summers, General Giap pointed out that they didn't need to win on the battlefield - and indeed they lost every single time it came to battle - since they won the the war by convincing a sizable minority of the US Congress that it wasn't worth the effort.

The problem arises when propaganda is not countered and is accepted by its target audience as being plausible and therefore believeable. This is not limited, of course, to the Nazis, but was a key aspect to Soviet-era disinformation campaigns, such as the one that claimed that AIDS came out of a US bacteriological warfare lab and is being used to depopulate Africa in order to take over the raw materials of that continent.

Don't believe me? Check out both volumes of the Mitrokhin Archives: the documentation of disinformation and the accompanying campaigns are well documented.

Maybe the German government should try to undo what has been done. Rather than encouraging anti-americanism, it should try and undo three generations of bigotry and ignorance by pointing out how absurd anti-semitisim is. Instead, it seems that the priority is not to counter propaganda, but rather to make its dissemination more sophisticated and therefore for the uneducated more plausible.

The US government is bad at propaganda (the echos of derision from the left can be heard from across the ocean...hah!) because, fundamentally, no one in the US can believe that such blatant lies and mistruths can survive the first contact with an educated person. Which is, fundamentally, true: the problem is that propaganda is aimed not at the educated, but rather at the uneducated. When entire states are based on lies, mistruths, invented pasts (apparently the only thing that Mao didn't invent was library paste) and deliberate manipulation of societal taboos, the chance that propaganda won't work is relatively small, since people don't have the chance to develop critical intellectual tools in societies where being critical means you die, are imprisoned and generally are made to be as miserable as possible in order to prevent propaganda from being made ineffective.

And yes, we are in danger of losing the propaganda war: however, there are some serious shifts in the equation. First: the internet makes it possible to quickly research and review; second, the internet makes communication universal, rather than through limited channels; third and finally, the decline in the believability of the MSM, which while accompanied by the growth of blogging does not follow from it, means that critical thought and analysis are probably being made by more people today than has been the case in the last hundred years.

It's just that the critical thought today is not left-wing, but "conservative" thought, which today is anything but conservative.

Raising the Cost...

Ralp Peters has a great article up at the New York Post. Read it here (registration required, but it's fairly painless).

I spent the day yesterday away from the computer, largely. Six hours of sauna is very relaxing.

While there, I started on a book that I've had for a while and simply haven't gotten around to reading: Ghost Wars by Steven Coll. I'm not that far along, but he points out that one of the reasons we supported the Afghan rebels was to make the cost of their adventure in Afghanistan as expensive as possible. Not because we thought that the Soviets would actually be beaten by the Afghan rebels - which were at best a loose coalition and at worst working at cross purposes, with one exception: they all wanted to kill the godless Communists, be it Afghans or Soviet conscripts - but because it made the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan very expensive in terms of material and lives, making it less likely that they would want to try their hand at Pakistan or Iran.

And don't think that wasn't what the Soviets wanted.

But let me get back to my point.

Trying to understand why countries like Iran and Syria are involved in supporting the mayhem in Iraq, I think that Syrian support can be basically attributed to pure bloody-mindedness. The Syrians simply can't be helped in this aspect: they're too deeply emeshed in tribal conflicts and seeking to avoid their own destruction that they don't realize how nicely they are digging their own graves.

But the Iranians are, perhaps, another story. Iran has two sides to its politics: religion and the age-old Iranian claim to local hegemony. The religious aspect is a complex story, with the clergy and their age-old rights to corruption clothed in religious scholarship on the one hand and massive demographic and societal changes on the other hand leading to a situation where the clergy, imagining that they can control their society, are leading slowly and unavoidably to their own destruction. But that's another post entirely.

I don't think many would deny that Iran is heavily involved in southern Iraq, with ties to various groups. But I'm not completely convinced that their involvement is so much the desire to see a religious state emerge in Iraq, since such a state would not necessarily be beholden to the Iranians. I see much more the likelihood that they know their support will not and cannot lead to a islamic state, but rather is oriented towards keeping coalition military assets tied down in a war that cannot be anything but nasty, brutish and bloody (even if largely on the one side: coalition losses have been modest at worst, but the losses on the other side are significant and justify calling the conflict bloody).

Not because they think they can win, but rather to maximize the cost to coalition forces of being in Iraq.

And the more I think of it, the more it appears that this is the real basis for the continuance of the violence and the attempts to make the conflict last as long as possible in the bloodiest way possible.

And how do you defeat such an agenda?

Good question. The only answer I see is to deny the other side any advantage it has in supporting these folks by raising their cost in doing so: by making the case public that they are involved in terrorist killings and by ensuring that they bear an increasing cost in doing so, perhaps not in the same gilt but in other ways.

And the point that Peters makes is that the people paying the cost, the members of the US military, are signing back up in truly record numbers, almost unprecedented. The question that the anti-war people of all persuasion should be asking is what is wrong in their evaluation of the situation if those who are at the most risk are those who repeatedly volunteer to take those risks?

And please: the tired and ancient argument that "they don't know better" or "they can't get other jobs" is so full of holes that it doesn't deserve consideraton, considering that the US job market shows much higher demand than the supply can provide and that the US military is about the best-educated that this nation, if not the world, has ever seen.


Freitag, Oktober 21, 2005

And Yet Another French Connection...

Well, just when you might think that the French are getting on the same side of the team, it turns out that they're preparing for the future as well.

Who'd of thought that France and Venezuala are now in cahoots?

But I love the quote from Chavez:

French oil giant Total has a strong presence in Venezuela and could double its output from 200,000 to 400,000 barrels a day after several billion dollars were invested, Chavez said in Paris in March.

Now, normally I think this would mean that when Total invests several billion in its oil pumping and
refining capacity in Venezuala, capacity could be doubled.

But hey, come on! This is FRANCE we're talking about, the home of indicted former government ministers and a president who can't leave office because when he does, he will be indicted as well. Gotta parse this so: when Total pays off Chavez to the tune of a couple of billion, then Total can double their allocation, no questions asked.

And further:

During the mini summit Chirac reiterated that France and the European Union supported regional integration in Latin America as a "boon for stability and economic and social progress," according to Bonnafont, who said the French president noted Venezuela's recent accession to MERCOSUR, the common market of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Earlier Wednesday, Chavez lunched with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who spoke of the "common vision between the two countries."

Villepin added, in an impeccable Spanish he learnt growing up in Caracas, that "relations between France and Venezuela are very good and we are looking to develop our cooperation on all levels."

Great. Villepin grew up in Venezuala? His politics make a whole lot more sense now. The common vision between the two countries is classic anti-americanism, coupled with an intense desire to keep American culture as far away as possible.

Of course, the likelihood of France and Venezuala co-operating more closely was given great impetus in the last few days as Chavez called for his country to go nuclear: of course, France will be more than happy to provide that sort of help. After all, you can see how well France has been involved in non-proliferation by its actions in Iran and North Korea.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Facts and Opinions Masquerading As Facts...

The blog North Sea Diaries has the right take on rather strange ranking.

The US rated #44 in press freedoms?

They say:

It reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.

It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).

It registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media (such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behaviour of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and the foreign press. It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.

We have taken account not only of abuses attributable to the state, but also those by armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups that can pose a real threat to press freedom.

Now things become clearer. Obviously, since journalists aren't murdered for their activity, nor are they imprisoned (Miller doesn't count: she went to prison for reasons that no one understands besides Miller), physically attacked and threatened. Censorship, confiscation, searches and harrassment also don't happen as a matter of course. Nor is there any impunity. No legal penalities for press offences (now the Brits, they've got decent libel laws...), no state monopoly, no regulatory bodies (FCC as a regulatory body has to do with ownership, not content!), there is no state-owned media. And there aren't any obstacles on the Internet in the US. No armed militia, no clandestine organizations.

That leaves pressure groups. Oh, the inhumanity!

Woops, I just checked the original: apparently it IS Miller:

The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of
New York Times reporter Judith Miller and judicial action that is undermining the privacy of
journalistic sources. Federal courts are getting increasingly bold about subpoenaing
journalists and trying to force them to disclose their confidential sources.

Now this is just plain silly. Miller didn't go to jail to protect a brave, confidential whistle-blower (Scooter Libby?): she claims she went to jail for the right to tell any and all judges that she wouldn't talk to them for any reason whatsoever. In other words, that she was above the law.

This is a new interpretation, of course, of the First Amendment: it's not Congress or the courts making the law, it's journalists out there who think that being a journalist means that you are therefore outside of the judicial system entirely. Wrong. You have, according the supreme court, the right not to disclose information about a source: you don't, however, have the right not to talk the court at all. Which is what Miller did and that's why she spent 85 days in jail.

But then again, and this is the original point: it doesn't reflect the degree of freedom, but rather the opinion of those questioned. And there isn't a list of those groups and people posted, but you can take this to the bank: the liberal bias will be as blatant there as it is in the MSM.

And until the link actually tells us the questions and the results, i.e. is itself transparent, then the study is yet another nail into the coffin of press believability.

And did you see that the top 17 countries are small, homogenous European countries? In countries like these, there isn't any need to concern yourself about freedom of the press, since there isn't enough of a base there to support more than one or two newspapers of note, the rest cater to the page 3 crowd of tabloids.

So I guess in order for the US to have a better rating, we'd need to provide complete legal immunity to anyone calling themselves a reporter. Nice work if you can get it.

Cultural Dogmatics

This is one of Lilek's better screeds: the meaninglessness of any government attempt to support dying culture.

We do see some of it the US, however: I think that most, if not all NEA grants fall into this category. It reminds me of a long and rather tedious discussion I had with a German student back when I was studying in Freiburg.

We met by accident one morning when I was enjoying my morning cigarettes and tea (yep, used to smoke. Haven't since 1982, and I'm still losing the weight I gained from stopping smoking) at the local Mensa or student cafeteria. Back then I had a schedule mornings: up at 6 AM, shower, bike down to the cafetaria by 7 and be the only one in the place until around 9 or so. You could get a nice breakfast (pretzel rolls, cheese, tea for DM1.50), and add to that the daily FAZ and the first couple of filterless Roth-Händle (think filterless Camels with a severe attitude), and I was ready then for my econometrics class at 9 or for the library.

One morning one of the guys I knew in Freiburg was showing a batch of new students the ropes. He showed up with them for breakfast, around 15 or so, and he included me in talking about studying and the like. He was a fairly good sloucher and ended up ripping off East Germans after unification, but that's another story. He introduced me as one of the token Americans on the campus, and we talked about some mutual interests, such as Rauhe Mann (a devastatingly good jazz club in Freiburg, long gone, but where you could see some of Germany's best jazz musicians play directly in the crowd. Fantastic.).

One of the girls in the group, a sweet young thing, commented that jazz wasn't really music. My friend looked at me, I looked at him, and we both laughed. I continued to argue with her about this while the rest of the group broke up.

I must have talked with her for at least 2 hours. She came from the "Bach is GOD and Beethoven his disciple" school of "E"-music (E for "Ernst", or serious) and had grown up listening only to them. I grew up in a "the Rolling Stones are GOD and Led Zepplin his disciples" school of "U"-music (U for "Unterhaltung", or entertainment) and while I have my classic phases, they tend to be Ligeti and Bartok, not one of the boring B's (Brahms, Beethoven & Bach). And let's not get into my fetish for King Crimson and Fripp. :-)

To make a long story short, she could not for her life comprehend that jazz has its structures and disciplines, hearing only cacaphony and discord in the music. She was starting to study music and was looking forward to becoming a disciple of harmony and progressions. My friend later asked if we had hit it off, and I said "Not really: she was too dogmatic." His response was to ask whether it was worth talking to her long enough to get her pants off...

What I really want to point out with this anecdote is that if your culture makes a distinction between music that is serious and therefore worthy of intellectual endeavor and music that is merely there to entertain, then your culture is doomed. Music, movies, theater, etc are all aspects of culture: if people want to be entertained, then artists will find their public.

But getting the government involved means that the artists no longer need to find their public, or more exactly, their public becomes art critics who happen to work for the government and can give you money. Which means you get things like Piss Christ and "performance art" funded.

Which brings us back to the screed that Lileks writes so well. You can't stop popular culture from taking the paths that it does, any more than you can stop teenage girls from infatuation and teenage boys from thinking with organs of their body having to do with reproduction. Trying to change this means you're gonna be as successful as any father of a teenager will be: if you haven't given your kids charachter to know right and wrong, it's too late to do so when they're teenagers. Any government that has failed to understand that while you can try to influence culture, you can't make people behave as if they were "cultured", is doomed to waste their money trying to get people interested in Eminem listening to Bach instead.

Posting's been weak lately due to work: lately it resembles Dilbert more and more...

And Cultural Dogmatics sounds like a band that I saw at the Peppermint Lounge in the 1980s...

Sonntag, Oktober 16, 2005

What the ...?

Ok, let's see if I got this one right.

Miller goes to jail to protect a source. Or, more exactly, she goes to jail for refusing to talk to a grand jury, claiming that to do so would force her to reveal her source.

But that source didn't insist on being protected and was surprised to find out that it was the reason she went to jail.

The newspaper stands behind her, but no one understands what the hell is going on. They don't insist on being filled in, but rather let Miller decide what the paper decides.

Millions are spent on lawyers.

No one understands what the hell is going on.

The source is perplexed. Turns out that he hasn't had any contact with Miller for an entire year, and that Miller interpreted this as the source not wanting to be revealed.

Quote: "I interpreted the silence as, 'Don't testify,' " Ms. Miller said.

And when push comes to shove: "Her paramount concern was how her actions would be viewed by her colleagues."

And it turns out that the source said:

Mr. Libby assured Ms. Miller that he had wanted her to testify about their conversations all along. "I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all," he wrote.

Now this in itself is just plain weird. But it does become clearer:

On Sept. 29, Ms. Miller was released from jail and whisked by Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller to the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown for a massage, a manicure, a martini and a steak dinner. The next morning, she testified before the grand jury for three hours. Afterward, Ms. Miller declared that her ordeal was a victory for journalists and the public.

She's gonna get a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

What the ...?

All I see is a grandstanding reporter who knows how to bullshit her editors.

Instead of talking with her source, she goes to jail on an assumption that the source doesn't want her to talk? And never tried to get in touch with him?

I can see this from an immature, insecure 25-year old who want to grandstand, but we're talking about a 57-year old.

Apply Ockham's Razor, I think that what we have here is an immature, insecure 57-year old who grandstanded for reasons apparent only to herself. She's more concerned about how she appears than the truth. Sound familiar? A sophist.

And a New York Times whose editors have abdicated any and every professional responsibility.

It's a real shame. I grew up reading the New York Times. It has fallen a long, long way. And unfortunately, it has yet a ways to go before it might be able to recover. It's sad.

Donnerstag, Oktober 13, 2005

What Anti-War Really Means...

There's a great piece on the comparison between the US involvement in Iraq and in Vietnam in Foreign Affairs.

I won't cover it all - go read it yourself - but this is the key quote for me:

President Bush does not have the luxury of waiting for the international community to validate his policies in Iraq. But we do have the lessons of Vietnam. In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there.

This is the question that those who would have the US withdraw must first answer: why do you want to betray the Iraqi people? Why do you want to sentence millions to death and deprivation?

For the feminists: why do you want to condemn thousands of your sisters to not virtual but very real enslavement and denial of their innate qualities and abilities?

For the socialists: why do you want to condemn your fellow socialists and union organizers in Iraq to death?

For the pacificists: why do you want to abandon millions to the rule of despots who will kill, maim and crush spirits in the name of power?

Read the damn article. War isn't a nice, clean and antiseptic event. It's sometimes necessary to spill blood, yes even innocent blood, in order to defeat evil. It's not about niceties and avoiding hurting the sensibilities of someone on Park Avenue: it's about stopping evil.

Sure, it's a contradiction, killing innocents in order to stop evil. But it's not what was planned: it's a shitty thing that happens to people who deserve a lot better. But not doing it means that you condemn even more people to even worse things.

And for those who scream and protest: what the heck are you going to do different? Where are YOUR solutions?

All I see is blind abandonment of those in need.

All I see is blind ignorance on the anti-war side, coupled with willful denial of responsibility for consequences. The anti-war movement in the US lost its innocence in the aftermath of Vietnam by willfully ignoring, indeed denying that its actions had any consequences. Morally, that's reprehensible: it is an active denial that they have done wrong. And hey, that brings us back to the sophists as has been posted here more than once.

But that's why this blog is named 21st Century Schizoid Man: the world is not a nice and tidy place with all the i's dotted and the t's crossed: it's a pack of contradictions and impossible situations. Trying to make things work and trying to do the right thing means at times doing things that aren't what we'd all druther not do. It means that you do things that you don't intend to do. It means that you're a bundle of contradictions and differing goals, not a tidy, clean antiseptic abstraction that never can exist in the crucible of the real world.

And if you don't understand that, then there's no hope. Go live in your ivory towers and gated communities. There's a real world out there with problems that need to be solved.

To paraphrase: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. And the anti-war movement, as far as I am concerned, is a big part of the problem. Being anti isn't being: denial does not resolve contradictions and problems.

Mittwoch, Oktober 12, 2005

A good start...

Why haven't we seen more on this?

But it's strange (duh: it has to do with the UN): apparently he was given the options on 4 mn barrels of oil, but these options weren't exercised, aka the allocations weren't performed, as the jargon goes. Which is weird: if you're being bribed, then why do you not take the bribe instead of letting it set where everyone can see it?

But this is not just anyone: he was/is - it's difficult to say given the opacity of the UN - the special advisor for Europe for Kofi Annan.

But no one knows where he is or what he's doing.

Par for the course?

I don't think so.

There may well be a deeper layer of the onion here. What if Hussein in his attempts to break the embargo used blackmail instead? Of showing that an allocation had been made and that if the information came out that there was a bribery setup within the Oil-For-Food program that would implicate such people?

I fear that we'll never get to the bottom of this. But this can, at least, serve as a precautionary item. Never, ever underestimate the duplicity and cleverness of Third-World despots when it comes to keeping their power. They never need to worry about disclosure of blackmail or attempted blackmail, since it's the kind of behavior we expect from them and besides, they have nothing to lose by trying the trick of setting someone up so that it looks like they were in cahoots when in fact there was no blackmail or attempt at blackmail.

Again, it's the appearance that counts politically and not the reality of whatever happened.

It's a strange world...

PS: I ran across this as well. Even stranger. Scapegoat time?

What comes around...

Sometimes the irony is too much.

This is a good take on intelligent design. I don't know enough on the subject to make any sort of pretense as to what's right and what's wrong, but this quote summed it up brilliantly:

For several decades the philosophical ground has been softened up by the relativism and political correctness of the secular left, which succeeded in undermining the very idea of objective reality and of calling a spade a spade—so now, in the resulting marsh, fantasies like intelligent design (or Scientology or feng shui or 9/11 as a CIA plot) take root and spread like weeds. Liberals pioneered squishy-minded indulgence of their key constituencies' unfortunate new ideas, like reparations and criminalized hate speech; now it's the right's turn.

This is why I italicized the word above. The sophists of today share the same attributes of the sophists of Athen's time: of making everything subjective and nothing objective.

But the author - Kurt Andersen - misses what I see as the real point.

It's not that the secular left - used advisedly, since the religious left does the same thing - merely undermined objective reality. It's much more that the secular left replaced objective reality with their own sophistic arguments, just as the sophist in The Sophist himself denies the nature of his opinion, hiding his rejection of objective reality in the insistence that his opinion is objective reality.

And that is the problem that we all continue to face: those that represent their opinions as facts will at the same time deny that their facts are nothing more than opinions, forcing not a debate on the facts but rather an excursion into epistomology.

Of course, one that usually ends up being a complete and total waste of time: sophists cannot imagine that there is falsehood. "Fake but accurate" ring a bell? It's the same thing: representing falsehood as truth in order to force on others an opinion not based in fact.

To quote Spinoza - damn, a classical education does come in handy - omnis negatio est determinatio: All negation is distinction. Without falsehood - of being completely and totally wrong about something - there is no ability to determine what is true.

I'm being simplistic, I know: but there is a certain necessity in simplicity and I know too many people who become paralyzed when making a decision because they try to entertain all nuances of a decision and its effects.

Dienstag, Oktober 11, 2005

Some understands the internet...I wish I did.

Ran across this. Whatever else the man might think, he understands the internet. :-)

Too much work and not enough play lately. Massive frustrations with Excel: I've come to the point where Excel isn't enough for what we want to do, yet after repeated attempts to try using other tools it remains the best that we can find.

And *that* is frustrating. Where'e the Windows version of Javelin? That's partially what I need: but what I really need is a production system worth the name...

... and the frustration comes from 3400+ charts and 500+ tables and getting the damn product out of the door. Was at that point this evening and whammm, PDFJoiner just didn't want to work...


Samstag, Oktober 08, 2005

A Fine Line

There is the usual storm and fury about the Meiers nomination, this time from both sides.

I'm not goin to comment on either: a pox on both.

This is the side that I am on: VariFrank hits the nail on the head cleanly and drives it all the way in.

When you join the Supremes, it's a gig for life. Nice job if you can get it.

Our "elites", those that go to Harvard and Yale and MIT, who become lawyers and academics and consultants and politicians, have become a significant part of the problem. One of the aspects of being an elite is that you actually do think you are "better" than the comman man, that you, on the basis of your education and background - after all, summers in France are much more interesting than working as a lifeguard in the local Y - know better than Joe Sixpack.

That way lies madness.

Why? Because that is at the core of the afflications of the modern age: those that think on the basis of their social status that they are inherently and necessarily better at life than those who never had the benefits and opportunities that they had.

If you apply this on the basis of race - us Red-Headed Left Handers are inherently the super race - then you end up, logically, with fascism.

If you apply this on the basis of sociology - us academic achievers are inherently better at making decisions - then you end up, logically, with communism.

I've been priviledged in my life: I've had the summers in Europe, I have an advanced degree from a European university, even though I am an American, I've had the luxury of time to find out what I am good at before having to take any job to pay the bills.

But the last thing I think is that I'm better than my fellows. I'm not.

I am priviledged to count the following people as my friends: cops, patent lawyers, electricians, people who take care of the elderly, teachers, econometricians, financial professionals, Marines and Rangers, physiotherapists, social workers, construction workers, cooks, insurance investigators, programmers, music industry managers, musicians, shoe designers, engineers, civilian employees in the military, State Department people, academics and artists.

They are my elite: they aren't an elite at all. There some people in there who aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer; there are some in there who are one heck of a lot smarter than I am and will ever be; there are some in there who are very, very wise; there are others in there who are heavily neurotic in that they keep on making really dumb decisions.

In my experience there is no meaningful correlation between education and wisdom; between priviledged upbringing and success; between financial savvy and riches; betwen having the trappings of elitism and being a better person.

None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

It would be nice if there was: but there isn't.

Doesn't mean that an education is worthless: there are some that are, but generally speaking there is a massive positive correlation between education/training and financial success. It's not that having a priviledged upbringing doesn't help you in life: it does. It doesn't mean that investing in your own education and skill sets is a waste of time: it usually means that you will end up making more money, i.e. your investment usually pays off.

But it's not a guarantee.

I listen here near Frankfurt to AFN, both AM and FM. Every so often there's a bit which always has the refrain: charachter counts.

It's not enough to be highly educated and trained if you are ultimately lazy and aren't willing to work; it's not enough to be groomed for success if you think with an organ of your body that is located between your legs and you end up repeatedly making a fool of yourself with the opposite sex; it's not enough to be technically proficient, indeed brilliant, and at the same time being such an unbearable person to be with that you are desperately, horribly lonely.

In other words, having the best education and training in the world isn't enough.

You've got to be the best person you can be.

And if you think that this doesn't mean walking a fine, fine line in your life, between your duties and having a good time, between caring for others and neglecting yourself, between understanding complexity and identifying what's important, between skepticism and trust, then you haven't understood that at the end of the day, it's not about where you studied, what you work at, who you know and who you sleep with.

It's about being the best person that you can be.

Which brings us back to VariFrank.

If the president thinks Meiers is his best choice for the job: so be it. Not happy with it? Get elected president and make your own recommendations. Not happy with her? Tough.

Amen, VariFrank: I didn't go to Harvard either. And you know what? I'd rather talk to you than to talk to the people I know who did go to Harvard, because I think you'd be more interesting to talk to.

Donnerstag, Oktober 06, 2005

Schwanitz replies

Well, Schwanitz sent me a mail on Tuesday.


He says he's sorry if he hurt my feelings, but doesn't apologize for the poster.

I'm not disappointed, since I expected nothing more than that. But it was worth the try.

My disapointment is in the lack of outrage from the rest of the SPD. Sure, Karsten Voight isn't happy about it: but he is, in the realm of the SPD hierarchy, fairly meaningless. Guess that they're a tad distracted right now from reality.

And the question remains: is the SPD so far removed from its history, from its policies until Schroeder, that it will continue to instrumentalize anti-Americanism as a political tool?

If so, the moral distance between the SPD and, shall we say, parties that are more than slightly tinged with brown, is rapidly closing and will in all likelihood disappear.

What will come next for the SPD? At the very least Schwanitz should resign and retire from public life. Or will the SPD come out next with a poster showing Schroeder eating a pork roast with the title "She would have had a Döner"?

Montag, Oktober 03, 2005

Putting another nail in the coffin...

One of the leftist memes is that the US military exploits poverty to recruit.

As the Germans say, ätsch-bätsch.

Let's see: 22% of enlistees come from the richest quintile of the US; 15% come from the poorest.

I guess in the left-wing world 15% is bigger than 22% because ...

Hmmm? Any takers?

And the geographical distribution is also interesting: it seems that only the Northeast and California are avoiding service.

In other words, blue states.

At least they're consistent.

Sonntag, Oktober 02, 2005

Sein und Schein/Being and Appearance

A comment over at David's Medienkritik raises a fundamental question about the difference between journalism and blogging that I think needs to be reviewed.

/start quote
If we are talking about reliable reporting, accountability, reproducable sources, editorial oversight, research and journalisitc integrity here, DMK is just a web address. The evangelising that pervades some of the comments does not exactly strengthen the case.
/end quote

Hi -

This is the reason for DMK: we don't trust the MSM for reliable reporting, accountability, reproducible sources, editorial oversight, research and journalistic integrity, because we see how the media in Germany violate all of these precepts time and time again. DMK might be "just a web address", but their track record to date has been one heck of a lot better than many others.

I repeat: almost every day when I read the newspapers and magazines in Germany, I can see sloppy journalism, inaccurate reporting, opinion masquerading as fact, an appalling lack of research, failure to properly disclose political and commercial affiliations and a failure of editors to stop this sort of sloppy behavior. Think I'm kidding?

I'll give you one example I saw today in Der Spiegel, 39/2005, page 22: in an article about EADS and a project to outfit civilian airplanes with anti-missile technology against hand-held anti-aircraft missiles, the writer brought up an example of the US Stinger missile that was given out by the hundreds in Afghanistan to the Taliban and implied that these were the threat against which this system was designed, that the US had armed terrorists.

First problem: the Soviets/Russians/Chinese have been selling literally thousands of these to pretty much anyone with cash. Not mentioned in the article: misleading reporting by failing to indicate that while the US developed the weapon type, others sell them world-wide to the highest bidder. Hence the threat isn't from American weapons, but rather from Russian & Chinese weapons.

Second problem: Stingers of Afghanistan vintage can no longer be used, as their shelf life has been long exceeded and are no longer operational. They rely on a very specific voltage supplied by a special battery that uses a thermal process to generate enough energy to cool the IR seeker of the missile and to launch it. A typical failure profile of this battery is to explode, since the chemical mixture has become unstable. Stingers are kept as trophies, a reminder of US help in the Afghanistan time of need. This is not mentioned in the article: inaccurate reporting.

Third problem: lack of disclosure. EADS is an advertiser in Spiegel, taking full-page ads and getting some pretty nice articles and interviews placed as well (see Spiegel 40/2005).

Fourth problem: the US delivered Stinger not to the Taliban, as reported in the article, but rather to a number of Afghan rebel groups. The Taliban came later. This is sloppy reporting that should have been picked up by a decent editor.

This sums up to be sloppy journalism and is typical of Spiegel when it comes to discussing military affairs. There's also the problem that EADS is doing work that Israeli firms did more than 5 years ago, and EADS is advising the government on a project that it'll probably benefit from. Spiegel acknowledges that this is a problem.

In one paragraph four major errors. Three of these only serve to make the US look bad. This is, for me, indicative of the kind of journalistic errors and errors of omission that make a site like David's Medienkritik critically important: it is, if you so prefer, speaking truth to power. Journalists like to think that they are the ones doing so: it is a conceit that defies belief.

And that is where we all come in. Welcome to our world: we don't acccept arguments from authority, but insist on the facts. The internet makes access to the facts simple: the journalists that I have come across don't even understand how the world has changed in this way. We can check up on these kinds of stories and point out the factual errors, the opinions hiding as supposed facts and the like.

A letter to Schwanitz

During the recent political contest in Germany one of the SPD candidates came out with a particularly repugnant election poster, one that showed the coffins of American soldiers with the title "She would have sent soldiers", referring of course to Angela Merkel, the candidate for the CDU/CSU and the implication that she would've sent German soldiers to Iraq.

I've been trying to let this go, to put it down to the election campaign, but I can't: my wife and children won't let me. The amount of time I've spent in Germany - almost 22 years - won't let me. I've seen a lot of anti-american sentiment, but nothing like this, and I simply cannot let it go unanswered.

I've written the following e-mail and just posted it to Schwanitz via the Bundestag web page: I didn't correct my German (I've given up trying to perfect my German: it gets my points across and, to paraphrase Bones from Star Trek TOS: I'm an economist, not a translator. Don't send me corrections: I don't think that they're necessary.

But first the English and then the German.

Dear Mr. Schwanitz

As an American who has been living almost 22 years in the Federal Republic of Germany, who is raising his children here and who pays taxes, I am appalled by your political poster that you used in your recent re-election campaign. You know which one: the one with the coffins of American soldiers with the title "She Would Have Sent Soldiers". I first tried to ignore this, but I haven't been able to get it out of my mind.

What was your motive to misuse the the sacrifice of these soldiers for your own political purposes? You can disagree with the reasons for which they died, but your use is nothing less than an insult to their sacrifice and shows that you don't understand the least of what this is all about.

There were, are and will be alternatives to this topic. If you are against the war, that's your right and you see it even as your duty: I am familiar with these arguments and can even respect them. However, I cannot respect your use of this picture.

How can I explain to my children, who are not German - my wife is Austrian - who feel like they are Germans, that apparently in Germany today, there are no barriers to making political capital based on the sacrifices of others. Both of my children - they're in Gymnasium -  feel a subcurrent of anti-american sentiment and feel put upon, trying to understand this, since they feel it very personally and have a hard time understanding how, given the past in Germany, that one can use the methods of the past to libel an entire people in order to gain political advantages.

You damage Germany's reputation, especially with the Americans working here. I know that we can't vote for you and we're probably irrelevant for this reason. However, we do our part in the German economy and it really shows an almost unconcievable conceit and ignorance that you chose to show your total lack of compassion in this manner.

Dear Mr. Schwanitz, as State Minister in the Office of the Chancellor you add significantly to the fact that my wife and I are seriously considering emigrating. My children do not want to live in a country where sacrifice and pain are so clearly and with political motivation instrumentalized and thus insulted.

If I've misunderstood your motives: sorry, I can't have. They were clear. You can regret that I feel this way, but I cannot see anyway for you to believe that I can accept either your apology or an apology of the SPD for a second.

I'd like to end this with "friendly greetings", as one normally does in Germany. This time I find it very hard to do so.

Sehr geehrter Herr Schwanitz

Als Amerikaner, der seit fast 22 Jahre in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland studiert, arbeitet, hier Kinder groß zieht und hier Steuer zahlt, bin
ich über diesen politische Poster zur ihren Wahlkampagne einfach empört. Sie wissen wovon ich rede: die mit dem Sargen amerikanischen Soldaten mit dem Überschrift "Sie hätten Soldaten geschickt". Ich habe zuerst dieser Verwendung abgetan, jedoch lasst sie mir nicht los.

Aus welchen Grunde waren Sie bereit, die Opfer, die dieser Soldaten gebracht haben, für ihrer politischen Ziele zu missbrauchen? Sie mögen
die Grunde, für die dieser Soldaten gestorben sind, mißbilligen, jedoch ist ihre Verwendung nichts anders als Hohn und Verachtunge deren Opfer und weist einen kaum zu überbeitenden Mißachtung elementaren Verständnis zu dieser Thema auf.

Es gab, gibt und gäbe mehr als genügend alternative zu diesen Thema. Wenn Sie gegen den Krieg sind, ist das Ihr Recht und Sie betrachten das sogar als Ihren Pflicht: solche Argumente kenne ich und kann Sie respektieren. Was ich aber nicht respektieren kann ist Ihre Verwendung dieses Bilds.

Wie soll ich meine Kinder, die keine Deutschen sind - meine Frau ist Österreicherin - jedoch sich als "Deutsch" fühlen, erklären, das man
hier in Deutschland es nicht mehr scheut, politisches Kapital aus den Opfer anderen zu ziehen. Meine Kinder - beide in Gymnasium - fühlen sich seit längere Zeit von unterschwelligen Antiamerikanismus direkt angesprochen und versuchen dies zu verstehen, da sie sich sehr
persönlich angesprochen fühlen und es einfach nicht verstehen kann, wie man nach die Geschichte Deutschlands doch mit der Methoden der
Vergangenheit ein Volk verunglimpft, um politische Vorteile darauszuziehen.

Sie schaden damit das Ansehen Deutschlands, vor allem bei den Amerikanern, die hier arbeiten. Ich weiss, wir können Sie nicht wählen
und sie wahrscheinlich deswegen für Sie auch bedeutungslos. Jedoch tragen wir auch zu Wohl dieses Landes bei und es zeigt ein kaum zu
überbietende Unverschämtheit und Verlogenheit, auf diesen Art und Weise ihre kaum sonst zu verstehenden Miß-, bzw Verachtung darzustellen.

Sehr geehrter Herr Schwanitz, Sie, als Staatsminister beim Bundeskanzler, tragen mit der Verwendung dieses Bilds erheblich dazu
bei, das ich und meine Frau ernsthaft überlegen, von Deutschland auszuwandern. Meine Kinder wollen nicht mehr in ein solches Land leben,
wo das Leiden und Opfer anderen so mit klaren politischen Kalkül zur eigenen Vorteil instrumentalisiert wurde und so verunglimpft.

Wenn ich Ihre Absichten mißverstanden habe: nein, ich kann mir keinen anderen Schlußfolgerungen zeihen. Sie waren mE eindeutig. Sie können es bedauern, das ich das so sehe, aber ich frage mich ernsthaft, ob Sie ernsthaft glauben können, das ich sowohl Sie als auch der SPD einen solchen bedauern für nur eine Sekunde abnehmen kann.

Ich möchte eigentlich mich mit freundlichen Grüssen verabscheiden, so wie man es in Deutschland üblicherweise tut. Es fehlt mir jedoch diesmal schwer.

Samstag, Oktober 01, 2005

A rather good idea if I do say so...

... and I wish I had thought of it first.

I've mentioned the Skeptical Optimist here already and he's gone and done it again.

A new amendment to the US Constitution to take care of a serious and continuing problem that we all are facing.

Go read it here. It's a grand idea.

You need to scroll down a tad to find the proposal. He's also entertaining suggestions for the penalty.

I think we can start with fingers. Or toes. And if someone doesn't learn after the first ten offences, you go to the next level...