Thursday, November 21, 2002

TODAY'S ADDITION TO THE Snopes site has Barbara echoing my previously expressed thought that the story about the Swedish fast-food joint washing its toilet seats in the dishwasher was a little too vaguely sourced to be entirely certain about.
SO, YOU THINK LILEKS will bleat tonight about the WSJ's big Fargo story today? The article has a photo of a whole bunch of white people at some kind of outdoor celebration in the downtown area, which neighborhood has already been celebrated by Jimmy the Pop on one of his less prominent sub-sites.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

OVER AT SNOPES TODAY, there's a nice wrap-up of the much-blogged Peter Kirstein incident, in which Saint Xavier University history professor Kirstein sent a scathing and condemnatory e-mail to an Air Force Academy cadet who had e-mailed him for assistance in promoting an upcoming student conference. You've probably seen the original e-mails a few times before, but Snopes also has a few other e-mails and memos related to the incident -- including the auto-reply message that the president of Saint Xavier has begun using on his e-mail address, which quotes and briefly responds to a number of choice comments the university has received from other e-mailers.
HELPING SET THE STAGE FOR the NATO summit, the WSJ has a pretty good summary of the differences in perception that Bush has to contend with:
Here's the problem: The U.S. sees itself as highly vulnerable, standing in the cross hairs of every terrorist group in the sphere of radical Islam. The rest of the world sees the U.S. as invincible, and sometimes arrogant in its invincibility. Others simply can't understand why we are so afraid.

This is a profound disconnect, something akin to men being from Mars, women from Venus. America towers above the rest of the world as never before -- yet Americans themselves haven't felt so vulnerable since Pearl Harbor. If you are wondering why the U.S. seems to be talking past the rest of the world these days, and why there is so much resentment of the way the U.S. conducts itself, the answer starts within this disconnect.
A lot of this is stuff you've probably read elsewhere, and it doesn't take into account some of the challenging differences in political philosophy between the U.S. and many other countries, but it's a nice concise summary.

One thing that should be kept in mind is that our seeming military invincibility really only applies to traditional state-versus-state warfare, which is why the administration has had to cast much of the war against Islamism into a series of such traditional wars. When the actual enemy is a loose collection of militants who aren't part of a traditional state-sponsored military, there's no way to use our "invincible" military capability to destroy them unless we're going to go and annihilate entire civilian populations with nuclear weapons, and we know perfectly well that we're not going to do that, nor should we want to.

Of course, a fair number of the most over-the-top anti-war protesters you're seeing nowadays really do think we're looking for an opportunity to nuke people into oblivion, or at least destroy them with conventional bombs à la Dresden, which is one of the things that makes it so tough to discuss these issues calmly with this variety of protester. They also don't seem to have any comprehension of how we're trying to run a war these days, leading to such questions as "how are we saying we're helping the people in Baghdad by bombing Baghdad to smithereens?", as though our intent actually is to just bomb the crap out of Baghdad until nothing's left standing.

One of the things that makes it hard to convince people that the war the U.S. is planning isn't intended to involve the annihilation of cities is the sort of news and documentary footage that comes out nowadays, focusing entirely on bombed-out structures to give the impression that the entire city was reduced to rubble, rather than making it clear that the devastation seen in the news footage and photos was just the destruction of one or two buildings, or at most a very small part of the city. You saw this in Jenin this year, and you saw it in that Saira Shah documentary that used a few seconds of driving past bombed-out buildings to create the false impression that most of Kabul had been reduced to rubble -- which led to naïve questions last year about why we were just bombing rubble into smaller pieces of rubble.

This misunderstanding of the intentions and methods of modern-day warfare is a far more difficult perceptual gap to overcome. On the other hand, the people who misunderstand these matters the most are not people who are actually in power -- they're not, I don't think, the sort of people Bush is going to be having to convince this week at his summit -- and so the perceptual gap that the WSJ story describes is probably the more pressing one at the moment.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002


(From a recent entry in the Baltimore City Paper's insolent-recaps-of-newspaper-comics feature.)

Monday, November 18, 2002

REMEMBER THE PHOTO OF THE GUY protesting in Germany with his little girl up on his shoulder wearing a fake suicide-bomb belt? Sure, you remember. Well, he's actually gotten in some trouble for it:
BERLIN - A German court on Monday sentenced a Palestinian man to five months' probation for fitting his three children with mock explosives belts in an allusion to suicide bombers at a demonstration in Berlin earlier this ear.

The 33-year-old, identified only as Mohammed ell., was convicted by a district court of condoning criminal acts, and also was sentenced to do 300 hours' community work.
Of course, there are some people you just can't please, and I'm one of them -- I thought "Mohammed ell."'s getups for his kids were disgusting, but I'm not too fond of Germany's "ah, the hell with free speech" outlook either. But it looks like ell. has shown some remorse:
"The misery in the occupied territories is too great," he said, adding he would never allow his children to become suicide bombers.
Awwwwww. Well, now I feel better, don't you?

(Via Taranto.)
AH, THE PHONY CHIEF SEATTLE SPEECH! That bit of faux-1850s environmentalist bathos that sounds like it came from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter in the weeping-Indian-by-the-roadside era -- appropriately so, because it was in fact the work of a screenwriter for a 1972 environmentalist film, and doesn't appear to bear any resemblance to Chief Seattle's actual statements. But the faux Seattle speech still shows up in punk rockers' liner notes, and on bumperstickers, and in hastily photocopied fliers handed out at lefty protest rallies, and even, I'm told, in Al Gore's book Earth in the Balance. And now here it is in the geography section of last year's "Nation's Report Card" test:
"The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. How can you buy or sell the sky-the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people."

-Chief Seattle to President Franklin Pierce, 1855

17. Read the passage above. What does Chief Seattle believe about owning land?

Many other people in the United States hold views on owning land different from those of Chief Seattle. What are these views?
Now, I know that there are certain urban legends that will always be held by people of certain political beliefs. Conservatives will always believe that Nixon would have won the 1960 presidential election had it not been for the Daley machine's shenanigans in Chicago, never mind that Kennedy would have won the election even without the electoral votes from Illinois. Loony-libertarian tax protestors will always believe that the Supreme Court's decision in Brushaber v Union Pacific ruled that the federal government can't impose an income tax, never mind that the court actually ruled the opposite of that. Various anti-government lunatics will always believe that the presence of a decorative gold-colored fringe on the U.S. flag in a courtroom magically suspends the Constitution and transforms the court into a military tribunal. And environmental lefties will always believe that Chief Seattle made some stirring environmentalist oration in the 1850s, so it's no surprise to find it in the "Nation's Report Card" test, since the test is probably just some left-leaning political stunt, right?

Nope -- the test is actually the product of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, and is administered each year to prove that U.S. kids are dumber than rocks and so the Department of Education's budget appropriation needs to be increased we need to work harder to educate our kids. Hmmph -- heal thyself, and all that.
PEGGY NOONAN TODAY HAS ANOTHER inane whine about the poor little smokers who are allegedly discriminated against because of their voluntary behavior:
"Second hand smoke kills." But--how to put it?--we all know that's just politically correct propaganda invented by the prohibitionists, don't we? If you spend 24 hours a day in a 4-by-4-foot room with a chain smoker you'll feel it, and you'll be harmed by it. But are you damaged by the guy down the hall who smokes in the office at work? No, you're not, and you know it. You just don't like it. Your nostrils are dainty little organs, and your nostrils trump his rights.
Yes, you're precisely right that my nostrils (and watery eyes, and scratchy throat) trump his """"""""""""rights"""""""""""". (I'd like to fit more scare quotes on there till I successfully express my contempt for her use of the word "rights", but I'd probably break the blog template if I added that many quotation marks.) But I don't claim to be a liberal, so I guess I'm not guilty of the hypocrisy that Peggy describes in the rest of her rambling, typically asinine commentary. What's most important is that a properly functioning office ought to prohibit people from doing things that make it hard for the rest of us to work -- for similar reasons, we don't let people spend the day blasting rock music and masturbating in their cubicles, even though that might give them pleasure just as smoking does. Some smoker's desire to increase his pleasure at the expense of a comfortable working environment for the rest of the office doesn't translate to a right, nor does it mean that I should cry for him when he has to go stand outside in order to engage in his little pleasure ritual.

Now, Peggy does have a compromise solution that's not all that objectionable:
But you definitely wouldn't be harmed if the handful of smokers in your office were allowed to smoke only in a common room with good ventilation. Why wouldn't that be a civilized and acceptable compromise?
Sure, I wouldn't object to that if the employer was able to do so, but not every office has the space for such a room, and there's no reason to look down on an employer who isn't in the mood to give up expensive office space just to accommodate the pleasure rituals of the drug addicts on the staff.

(Man alive, it's articles like this that remind me that no matter how much leftists tick me off nowadays, conservatives are also still able to make blood vessels pop out of my forehead. I similarly have to restrain myself from throwing my radio against the wall and smashing it into ten billion pieces every time that mouth-breathing demagogue Limbaugh's voice issues from the speakers.)

Via Arthur Silber, whose opinion of the article is the opposite of mine.
IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE for me to pay $5000 for a Segway -- I'd get about a coupla hundred dollars of use out of it -- but it's still pretty cool. Cool, but useless. The thing weighs 83 pounds, so it'd be difficult to shlep it through the Metro. I couldn't really do more with it than go get groceries, or stop by a local restaurant or shopping center, but of course, I could do the same thing on the Metro for $2.20 round-trip, or a $1 parking plus a few pennies wear-and-tear on the car, or just walking. And who'd want to leave it outdoors, exposed to the elements, even if encrypted keys keep it from being driven away? I'm still unsure where the niche is: okay, cops who don't want to use bicycles, or warehouse personnel, or mail-carriers, or eccentric rich students at flat college campuses. (I can imagine a few of my law school professors getting one as a lark.)