Tuesday, May 31, 2005

We'll fight to the death about gay marriage...

...but when it comes to corporations, we know whose side the Supreme Court is on.

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp.-related documents before the energy giant's collapse.

In an unanimous opinion, justices said the former Big Five accounting firm's June 2002 conviction was improper. It said the jury instructions at trial were too vague and broad for jurors to determine correctly whether Andersen obstructed justice.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On George Bush's watch, and mine, and yours

Fair trade?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Peter Singer

"Giving money to UNICEF/OXFAM/Compassion is regarded as an act of charity in our society. The bodies which collect money are known as "charities." These organizations see themselves in this way - if you send them a check, you will be thanked for your "generosity." Because giving money is regarded as an act of charity, it is not thought that there is anything wrong with not giving.

The charitable man may be praised, but the man who is not charitable is not condemned. People do not feel in any way ashamed or guilty about spending money on new clothes or a new car instead of giving it to famine relief. (Indeed, the alternative does not occur to them.) This way of looking at the matter cannot be justified. When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look "well-dressed" we are not providing for any important need. We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving.

It follows from what I have said earlier that we ought to give money away, rather than spend it on clothes which we do not need to keep us warm. To do so is not charitable, or generous. Nor is it the kind of act which philosophers and theologians have called "supererogatory" - an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do."

Shall I compare thee to a 1930s dictator?

Comparisons to Hitler are not confined to liberals--everybody does it. Here's what I imagine good Dr. Frist and underdog Harry Reid are saying to each other behind closed doors today.

Frist: You know, your blocking of our judges is sort of Hitlerian.
Reid: The way you're trying to get rid of the filibuster? That's like when Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia.
Frist: You obstructionist liberals are all a bunch of Nazis--your obstructionism is essentially Nazism.
Reid: You conservatives--your meteoric rise to power in this post-Clinton era reminds me of another person's meteoric rise to power--HITLER'S.
Frist: That suit makes you look like Hitler.
Reid: Shut up.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Molly Ivins crushes the opposition

I couldn't say it any better, so I won't try; here's the column. Somehow Newsweek undermines the war effort more than the Abu Ghraib episode did...

AUSTIN, Texas -- As Riley used to say on an ancient television sitcom, "This is a revoltin' development." There seems to be a bit of a campaign on the right to blame Newsweek for the anti-American riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Uh, people, I hate to tell you this, but the story about Americans abusing the Koran in order to enrage prisoners has been out there for quite some time. The first mention I found of it is March 17, 2004, when the Independent of London interviewed the first British citizen released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner said he had been physically beaten but did not consider that as bad as the psychological torture, which he described extensively. Jamal al-Harith, a computer programmer from Manchester, said 70 percent of the inmates had gone on a hunger strike after a guard kicked a copy of the Koran. The strike was ended by force-feeding.

Then came the report, widely covered in American media last December, by the International Red Cross concerning torture at Gitmo. I wrote at the time: "In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is this Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on this? Speak up, speak out." The reports kept coming: Dec. 30, 2004, "Released Moroccan Guantanamo Detainee Tells Islamist Paper of His Ordeal," reported the Financial Times. "They watched you each time you went to the toilet; the American soldiers used to tear up copies of Koran and throw them in the toilet. ..." said the released prisoner. On Jan. 9, 2005, Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Sunday Times of London, said: "We now know a great deal about what has gone on in U.S. detention facilities under the Bush administration. Several government and Red Cross reports detail the way many detainees have been treated. We know for certain that the United States has tortured five inmates to death. We know that 23 others have died in U.S. custody under suspicious circumstances. We know that torture has been practiced by almost every branch of the U.S. military in sites all over the world -- from Abu Ghraib to Tikrit, Mosul, Basra, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. "We know that no incidents of abuse have been reported in regular internment facilities and that hundreds have occurred in prisons geared to getting intelligence. We know that thousands of men, women and children were grabbed almost at random from their homes in Baghdad, taken to Saddam's former torture palace and subjected to abuse, murder, beatings, semi-crucifixions and rape. "All of this is detailed in the official reports. What has been perpetrated in secret prisons to 'ghost detainees' hidden from Red Cross inspection, we do not know. We may never know. "This is America? While White House lawyers were arguing about what separates torture from legitimate 'coercive interrogation techniques,' the following was taking place: Prisoners were hanged for hours or days from bars or doors in semi-crucifixions; they were repeatedly beaten unconscious, woken and then beaten again for days on end; they were sodomized; they were urinated on, kicked in the head, had their ribs broken, and were subjected to electric shocks. "Some Muslims had pork or alcohol forced down their throats; they had tape placed over their mouths for reciting the Koran; many Muslims were forced to be naked in front of each other, members of the opposite sex and sometimes their own families. It was routine for the abuses to be photographed in order to threaten the showing of the humiliating footage to family members." The New York Times reported on May 1 on the same investigation Newsweek was writing about and interviewed a released Kuwaiti, who spoke of three major hunger strikes, one of them touched off by "guards' handling copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into a pile and stomped on. A senior officer delivered an apology over the camp's loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop. Interpreters, standing outside each prison block, translated the officer's apology. A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans." So where does all this leave us? With a story that is not only true, but previously reported numerous times. So let's drop the "Lynch Newsweek" bull.

Seventeen people have died in these riots. They didn't die because of anything Newsweek did -- the riots were caused by what our government has done. Get your minds around it. Our country is guilty of torture. To quote myself once more: "What are you going to do about this? It's your country, your money, your government. You own this country, you run it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. The people we elected to public office do what you want them to. Perhaps you should get in touch with them."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Democrats surrender.

Here's CNN's take on the Downing street memo. Most instructive is this quote:

"After the minutes of the meeting became public, 89 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Bush asking for an explanation. The memo "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war, as well as the integrity of your administration," the letter said."

It's difficult to find an analogy for the pathetic bleatings of these Democrats. I think it's somewhat like having a number of lukewarm German opposition politicians during World War II finding out about an additional concentration camp through a secret memo and writing a letter to Hitler saying "This memo raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war, as well as the integrity of your administration." (And before anyone flips out at me for using a World War II analogy, I needed a conflict that we all agreed was wrong. Iraq II is not morally equivalent to the Nazi catastrophe.)

Troubling new questions? This memo tells us NOTHING we didn't already know. Spineless Democrats can pretend to be shocked and appalled to help appease their own tortured consciences. The House voted 296-133 approving the war--that's 70%. Where were they then?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nova explodes.

I read a Washington Post article this morning about the commuter bus that brings workers into downtown DC from Front Royal, Virginia. (Front Royal is about 70 miles west of the city as the crow flies.) The bus leaves at 5:00 AM and takes about 90 minutes to get into DC. In the evening, it heads out just before rush hour starts in earnest, and usually gets them home by 6 PM after a 2-hour ride. Here's why these iron road warriors do it:

"Even if there were no bus, Coulliette and Wieck said, they would not move from what they describe as bucolic bliss. Wieck and her husband live on an eight-acre spread they bought for $99,000 three years ago, where a burbling creek lulls them to sleep and bears eat apples from their tree.

When Coulliette and his children moved to the area last year from Charleston, S.C., he searched for a place in Ashburn in Loudoun County. Then he found he could pay far less for a bigger home in the mountains near Front Royal. Now they have a house on an acre so wooded they can see neighbors' houses only in the winter, when trees are bare."

I live in the zoo--Fairfax County--that these people have to slog through every day. I live 7 miles from work. My morning commute takes 20 minutes and my evening commute takes 18 minutes (on good days). The bucolic bliss that they've described is available still in isolated pockets much closer to DC--Clifton, Vienna, Great Falls--but the prices reflect it.

Everyone wants what these people have, just without the commute. Part of me admires what they're doing, especially since they take the bus. That's 3.5 hours of reading, and not supporting ExxonSaudiBPChevBinLaden. I just hope their kids aren't paying the price. If you can get home by 6 every night you're probably okay.

What do you think?

Friday, May 13, 2005


Two entries of my own. In this column Paul Krugman, a NYTimes writer I usually agree with, gets Walmart's CEO's name backwards: it's Lee Scott, not Scott Lee, as Mr. Krugman writes. That's pretty poor. He'll have a correction in a few days.

And, in Peter Singer's weird, hastily written book deconstructing the ethics of George W. Bush, he gets Marvin Olasky's name wrong, calling him Melvin.

This is sort of ironic, because 2 posts ago I referenced both Olasky and Singer. Eerie...

It also shows that despite the fact that Olasky thinks Peter Singer is the devil, Singer either 1) doesn't know Olasky is alive, or 2) had graduate students write the book. Both are plausible.

Do Singer or Krugman read the newspaper? From a future Krugman column: "In other news, World Magazine's former CEO Melvin "Scott Lee" Bolasky was arrested today." Thanks, fellas.


This article made me angry.

"In an explanation to readers, [Sacramento] Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez wrote that [staff member] Diana Griego Erwin could not adequately answer questions that first arose last month about whether "people mentioned in several recent columns actually existed." "This inquiry came at the end of a six-month string of personal crises in my life," Griego Erwin told The Times in an e-mail, "and, frankly, I didn't have the emotional reserve to answer The Bee's questions quickly enough."

I'm not sure how I should feel. A few conclusions seem to follow from this:

1) People journalists write about should exist.
2) Diana Griego Erwin is a tool whom I do not feel sorry for.
3) There's no crisis of journalistic integrity.

Despite polls showing that "the public," or, rather, "people who get polled," are losing faith in journalists, I find general conclusions about their ethics or integrity difficult to embrace. If newspeople want to have conferences about how they feel they are being viewed, or about technique, or about being a journalist in an age of blogs, iPods, cell phones and Diana Greigo Erwin's Non-Existent Subject Matter, then very well: I hope they succeed. But the public is easily swayed; I, for one, don't have some sort of "Journalistic Confidence Index" that rises and falls with the Jayson Blair stories. I don't freaking care. I get my news from 1,000 different sources.

I still think that our newspapers are "tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen," as Howard Zinn says in A People's History. Newspapers should be blisteringly skeptical of what anyone in power is doing, all the time.

Then again, I could be over or underreacting. Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I could be wrong about this, but whenever I read words like these, I'm stunned:

"Over 75 years later, we are well past the initial capture of the trench. Materialist philosophies that treat human beings as machines or animals possess the high ground in our culture -- academia, the most powerful media and many of our courts."

Marvin Olasky and others like him who say things like this are, in my opinion, correct; they're just talking about the wrong people. Materialists with no regard for people, their goals and their dreams do possess the high ground in our culture: they're our elected officials and the heads of the most powerful companies in the world.

Olasky honestly believes that people like Peter Singer, who sit in their ivory towers in American Universities writing books that 6 people a year read, making $150,000 a year and failing to live up to the ethics they prescribe for other people, have a greater effect on our daily lives than, say, Donald Rumsfeld or Kenneth Lay or George W. Bush or Alan Greenspan. The last time I checked, Singer was responsible for the deaths of no one, and (though like I said, fails to live up to his own system) is probably responsible for saving many, as he gives 10-25% of his income to charity every year. Rumsfeld, justified or not, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Every time a woman has an abortion it's a tragedy that should be prevented--granted. Abortion is ever before Olasky's mind, and I freely grant him that the American people are catastrophically failing to take care of the women who are forced to make these choices. But what is it every time an Enron collapses due to greed and theft and thousands of people lose their pensions, their life savings, and their careers? Nothing--the regrettable necessities of capitalism.

The truth

“I feel quite strongly that as long as we have our military in the Middle East fighting so that we can continue to purchase oil from that region, we have an obligation to find alternatives to foreign oil. It is difficult to justify the death of even one soldier when we are not doing everything in our power to explore options for oil within our country.”

Monday, May 09, 2005

Check me out.

This cartoon is good.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I own John Leo

John Leo's most recent column is devoted to something I usually attempt to undermine: the quick and thoughtless labeling of people. He comes out early with his thesis:

"Obvious point: When judging the credibility of controversial people in the news, readers and viewers deserve a fair account of their background and affiliations. If the issue is politics, we certainly need to know their political leanings."

Leo here conflates two things: the relevance of someone's background and affiliations to their credibility, and the relevance of someone's background and affiliations to the truth of the matter. With no thought to making a distinction between these issues, he only further muddies the waters he thinks he is clearing. He cites the example of the Italian journalist who was shot at in Iraq:

"Few news outlets reported all of the following facts, which surely bear on her probable credibility: She strongly opposed the American invasion, she identifies with the resistance to the United States in Iraq, she works for a Communist paper, and she is a Communist herself. "

Are those facts relevant to her credibility? Absolutely. Are they relevant to the fact of whether or not she was targeted on purpose? Absolutely not.

He uses a phrase I love to describe this data he feels is being withheld: "partisan connections." But the way the article is constructed, everyone has "partisan connections" except John Leo. What the hell is a partisan connection? Does John Leo really believe that there is a group of people who have no beliefs, preconceptions or agendas whatsoever, and that it is they who should be reporting on things so they can be objective? Fortunately for me and unfortunately for John Leo, his thesis collapses under its own weight, much like the statement "I am lying right now" does. For him to be consistent, he would need to start his article with "I'm John Leo, right-wing columnist with the following partisan connections..." Well, what are they, John?

More on defining "partisan" philosophically in my next posting.

Monday, May 02, 2005

On Thomas Friedman on Bill Gates

One person took issue with Friedman's attack on Bush, which he thought was irrelevant to the issue:

"I completely agree with Gates and this author, except where he blames Bush for the situation. I think he could've made his point without slamming Bush for it. I hate No Child Left Behind as much as the next guy, but it's the Democrats who are pushing so hard to fund public schools, the epitome of the obsolete system, rather than allowing parents to fund the more challenging and competitive private schools. I could just as easily rewrite his article blaming 3 decades of Democrat insistence upon pumping cash into this horribly obsolete system, and I would be just as justified as he is for blaming bush now, if not more so, I think."

Another thinks the conservative and liberal approaches both fail:

To show how out-of-touch I am with America, my first response was "so what?" It isn't that I don't care about this (to be honest, I don't very much) as much as it is that I don't get it at all. Why is it a problem that "'our high schools - even when they are working exactly as designed - cannot teach our kids what they need to know today'?" I am not even sure I understand what it is, exactly, that anybody needs to know "today" as opposed to anyother time in the context of high school curriculum. It is in these situations that I see clearest that I am, in many ways, a first class conservative.

In most situations, my allies are "liberals" because theyprovide the most salient (if sometimes strange and usually context- andimplication-free) critiques of "conservatives," which is what we now call people who are really war-mongering, gun-toting, individualist radicals sent to destroy the whole world. Usually, I think "liberals" get the problem, if not the solution. Every now and then, however, I read something by a "big media liberal" (I am not sure Friedman fits in that category, but I will go with it) and think, "Wow, one of us really misses the point of it all." Here is a case where I think that Friedman's assessment of W (and of Gates for that matter) is right on even though the crux of Gates's point is totally lost. Gates says, "'Training the work force of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a50-year-old mainframe.'" It seems to have totally escaped Friedman that, possibly, training anyone to do anything even remotely related to the workforce is a problematic - even disastrous goal in the context of primary and secondary education. And I just don't get it, especially in light of the fact that he figured out Gates's game ("'If we don't fix American education, I will not be able to hire your kids.'"). Either way, when I read articles like this, I begin to see that my ability to rely on "liberals" to counter "conservatives" is only temporary. Sooner or later, I am going to have to provide a conservative critique of "conservatives" and "liberals" alike."

A third spurns things:

"A while back there were some /. articles that talked about how the elderly in Korea were so far behind the times with the youth. The odd thing was that the elderly were using email and IM, and the youth were text messaging. What sort of culture must they have where their elderly can understand and accept technology that is only decades (or less) old? I know electronics must be cheap there, but how did they come to depend on it so much? In Japan you can get a 100Mbps fiber-optic internet connection in your home for the equivalent of $30/mo. I pay that much for 4Mbit (theoretical max-- I've not seen anything above 3)

Regarding schools: As soon as I got into college classes, I spurned my HS education. I was learning useful and interesting things, and all that had changed was the date. Realistically, though, the only way I could have learned the 'good' stuff was if I had a teacher with the foresight and intelligence to realize what was worthwhile (and the power to change the curriculum). Instead I got taught a useless programming language and *no* theory. IMHO, the solution is nigh-impossible. America is just too large to swing anything that has 'innovation' in the title. 19in LCDs on every lab computer won't make anyone smarter.

Talent in the workforce? Sure, we can get it. Some companies do a good job of it-- google, for one. The real impediment to that (to me, anyway) is the preponderance of documents and briefs and focus groups and taskings and enterprise IT all-in-one marketing scheme administrators who don't have the gift of free thought. I freaking hate documentation. Don't get me started."