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  • Archive for January, 2004

    The Battle of Algiers

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 18th January 2004 (All posts by )

    I see that this classic film has been re-released and is now showing in various places around the country. (Here is the official movie website; or go here for the trailer. This really is a “must see,” both as art and because it is timely enough that it is being shown at the Pentagon.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters | 3 Comments »

    Sir Edward Grey’s Ghost on the Taiwan Strait

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 18th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Some times events outrun the good idea for a blog post you somehow don’t get around to typing up. I had an idea a while ago that the “strategic ambiguity” which had been, for some unaccountable reason, US policy regarding Taiwan, was dangerous and stupid.

    The analogy I saw was with the position of Britain vis a vis Kaiserian Germany in the period prior to World War I. Britain refused to make an unequivocal, publicly acknowledged alliance with France. Britain’s liberal government, led by Prime Minister Henry Asquith and Foreign Minister Edward Grey, seemed to think that they were preserving a balance between Britain’s interests and the isolationist and pacifist sentiments of many of their liberal colleagues. Also, by refusing to commit, they were able to get away with smaller defense budgets than an open military commitment would have required. They refused to come to grips with realistic eventualities, and willed the ends without willing the means.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in China | 1 Comment »

    Diplomacy AND Arms

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 18th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Instapundit links to a BBC story about Libya’s recent, newly-found diplomatic pliancy. The Beeb claims that it was American threats, not British and American diplomacy which has led to Khaddafy giving up his nuke program. This is news?

    Let me be the millionth person in Blogistan to repeat the ancient dictum, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” (I always thought it was Metternich who said this, but it was apparently Frederick the Great.) Either way, the old-timers understood that all the jaw-jaw in the world won’t move anybody off a position they think is advantageous unless there is the prospet of war-war (or some lesser threat) to compel them to do so.

    Modern liberals like talking so much that the mere fact that there might be consequences, if the talking is going nowhere, seems a bit scandalous to them. To the liberal, an endless faculty meeting, where nothing happens, is the model for the whole world. The Europeans, who don’t want to pay for real military power, like the “all talk, all the time” model, too. Sorry dudes. In international politics, death threats are the coin of the realm, and always will be.

    Diplomacy which has no threat underlying it, at minimum withholding some benefit, is mere chit-chat. War without the possibility of some negotiated resolution is mere arbitrary violence. You need both arms and talk, but arms are primary. Of course, when you are fighting against someone like al Qaeda, which isn’t a country, has no interests, has only one desire — your extinction– then there is nothing to talk about. That struggle is like Clausewitz’s hypothesized “absolute war”, which is unlimited in both means and ends and can only conclude with the annihiliation of one side or the other. (Goes who that is going to be.) Fortunately, Col. Khaddafy is someone who can be talked to, i.e. threatened. He has something to lose, and so he is amenable to threats. Which means, with him, diplomacy can work.

    UPDATE. This link (Via Drudge), shows some of the European leadership is composed of people who do understand the basics: EU Military Official Says, Time For Europe To Defend Itself. Finnish general, Gustav Hagglund, chairman of the EU’s military committee, proposes that “[t]he American and the European pillars (of NATO) would be responsible for their respective territorial defences, and would together engage in crisis management outside their own territories.” The U.S. forces wold tackle “high-intensity operations involving terrorism and weapons of mass destruction while Europeans would concentrate on sustained low-intensity crisis management such as conflict prevention.” Hmmm. Sounds like we get all the heavy lifting. I think the Europeans are going to need to add some more hard capabilities, like battalions of infantry and lots of tough, sneaky commandos, not just sending people to direct traffic after the USA has spilled blood somewhere. Still, this is more sensible than the status quo. These people need to develop some capacity to defend themselves and participate in imposing order on the world.

    A coalition of the willing must be a coalition of the capable. The Europeans need to start developing their capabilities. That will take sustained willpower. And cash. Let’s see how far they are willing to go.

    Posted in War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    Bad Thinking About Journalists’ Political Contributions

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th January 2004 (All posts by )

    This article details monetary contributions made by journalists to political campaigns. What a surprise: journalists have political preferences, just like the rest of us do.

    The article contains a number of quotes from media representatives who fret about the supposed corruption that comes from allowing journos to make campaign donations. IMO these concerns are backwards, and reveal a confusion about the nature of bias that is more troubling than any donations would be.

    The main effect of political donations in these cases is not to create bias but to reveal existing biases that might otherwise remain hidden. That’s good. The only objection to donations that I can think of is that campaigns might show favoritism to reporters in hopes of gaining donations from them. But even with a donation ban, journalists would always have the ability to provide favorable press coverage that is far more valuable to any campaign than would be the few thousand dollars that an individual journalist might contribute.

    The real problem here is that many journalists act as though the appearance of being unbiased is more important than bias itself. We have a class of media people who are as partisan as anybody, but engage in silly verbal kabuki dances in which they claim not to vote or participate in elections, as if that makes them less biased than they would have been if they did participate. And then they don’t understand why the public doesn’t trust them.

    Everybody is biased: it’s human nature. And the way for journalists to deal with it isn’t to remain ignorant, or shun open participation in politics, or engage in ostentatious rituals of non-partisanship. It is to admit their biases and allow their customers to make up their own minds about how to interpret information the media provide.

    Political contributions are among the clearest indicators, certainly clearer than words, of contributors’ political biases. Far from forbidding them, we should encourage journalists to make such contributions as long as they disclose them. The public is smart enough to evaluate the results. And by permitting political participation by journalists we might encourage better people to become journalists, because becoming a journalist would no longer mean trying to ignore one’s own carefully developed opinions, or abandoning a high-level career in the industry one covers. Disclosure, not bureaucratic restriction of behavior, is the answer here.

    (A similar argument applies to financial journalists and analysts, who should be allowed to trade stocks in industries they cover, as long as they disclose their trades.)

    Posted in The Press | 1 Comment »

    A Shocking Interview

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th January 2004 (All posts by )

    The establishment-left Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published this interview with the Israeli historian Benny Morris, who is widely known for his revisionist critiques of Zionism and Israel’s founders.

    The interview is remarkable, especially the second page, where Morris discusses the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Morris’s profound new pessimism regarding the possibility of Israel’s reaching a peaceful accommodation is astonishing. Indeed, not only is he pessimistic, his current position sounds almost like last year’s leftist caricature of the Israeli Right’s position.

    I forwarded the interview to a relative of mine who is sympathetic to the Israeli Left. She was shocked. In U.S. terms, it’s as if Anthony Lewis had come out in 1970 in favor of nuking North Vietnam.

    I don’t know much about Morris, and this is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if his new hard attitude foretells changes in the Israeli Left paralleling those that occurred in the American Left after 9/11. In our case there has been a broad split, with many serious liberals (in the current U.S. sense of the term) aligning themselves with the Bush administration on defense issues. It will be interesting to see if Morris’s apparent shift is idiosyncratic or the harbinger of a similar ideological move in the Israeli Left. My sense is that in Israel, as in the U.S., big things are happening, and that much of what’s going on is beneath the surface — or that we are too close to events to see what will be obvious to future historians.

    As I wrote, remarkable.

    Posted in Israel | 5 Comments »

    Sweden Confirms Its Neutrality Between Good And Evil

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th January 2004 (All posts by )

    The Swedes are throwing a hissy fit because the Israeli Ambassador, visiting a museum exhibit associated with a Swedish government-sponsored conference on genocide, took offense at a display of offensive “art” and literally pulled out its plug.

    (The Israeli government says that the Swedes promised not to link the conference to the Arab-Israeli conflict — which, BTW, Reuters mislabels “the Middle East conflict.”)

    Meanwhile, the “artist” — a lefty Israeli “peace” activist — said, essentially: Hey, what are you so upset about? It’s just an exhibit, we were trying to raise consciousness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what about freedom of expression, etc., etc. And a representative of the Swedish government expressed outrage that the ambassador had the temerity to damage sacred art, etc., etc.

    To the “artist” and the Swedish government, I say: fuck you. Yeah, the Israeli ambassador lost it, but you provoked him. He took the bait and now you get to tut-tut about his emotional reaction and make sanctimonious statements about “art.”

    The message I get is that the Swedish government cares more about art exhibits and moral posturing than it does about the lives of Jews. Would the Swedish government tolerate, at an official conference, an “art exhibit” portraying Hitler sailing in a lake of Jewish blood? More to the point, would the Swedes tolerate an exhibit showing the Jewish mass murderer Baruch Goldstein sailing in a lake of Arab blood? Would they tolerate an exhibit that could be interpreted as insulting to Muslims or Arabs? To ask this question is to answer it.

    Maybe I, like the Israeli ambassador, am overreacting, but my impression is that the ambassador isn’t the problem here.

    UPDATE: I am happy to learn that the Israeli government is supporting the ambassador:

    Sharon said he called Mazel Saturday night and thanked him for his stand against rising anti-Semitism. “We are witnessing a rise in anti-Semitism, and will increase our efforts to fight the phenomenon,” he reportedly told the cabinet.

    Good. Let the bastards worry about offending Jews, for a change.

    (Link: Yehudit)

    UPDATE 2: Bjørn Stærk has a contrary view.

    Posted in Europe, Israel | 18 Comments »

    New! – Vote Like A Pirate Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Arrr. . .. get off my bike path, matey!

    Exciting New Dem VP candidate?

    Posted in Photos | 10 Comments »

    Human Ingenuity

    Posted by Andy B on 15th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article addressing a problem I have worried over since September 2001; the vulnerability of cargo containers and the intermodal transit system to large scale catastrophic terrorism. Companies such as NaviTag and Savi have been working on “smart” cargo containers, steel boxes equipped with satellite tracking, two-way communication capabilities, and/or sensors to monitor temperature, shock, and radioactivity.

    Within the article, someone who finds fault with the new technology is an official of Maersk, the biggest container company in the world, who says the technology “could send out false alerts, leading to costly shutdowns of terminals”. I wonder what would be more costly, several one-day terminal shutdowns, or the cleanup from a low-tech radioactive dirty bomb shoved into an unsecured container somewhere along the way?

    Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

    Mark Steyn on the West’s Muslim Problem

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Right, as usual:

    Fifteen years ago, when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was declared and both his defenders and detractors managed to miss what the business was really about, the Times’s Clifford Longley nailed it very well. Surveying the threats from British Muslim groups, he wrote that certain Muslim beliefs “are not compatible with a plural society: Islam does not know how to exist as a minority culture. For it is not just a set of private individual principles and beliefs. Islam is a social creed above all, a radically different way of organising society as a whole.”

    Since then, societal organisation-wise, things seem to be going Islam’s way swimmingly – literally in the case of the French municipal pool which bowed to Muslim requests to institute single-sex bathing, but also in more important ways. Thus, I see the French interior minister flew to Egypt to seek the blessing for his new religious legislation of the big-time imam at the al-Azhar theological institute. Rather odd, don’t you think? After all, Egypt isn’t in the French interior. But, if Egypt doesn’t fall within the interior minister’s jurisdiction, France apparently falls within the imam’s.

    And so, when free speech, artistic expression, feminism and other totems of western pluralism clash directly with the Islamic lobby, Islam more often than not wins – and all the noisy types who run around crying “Censorship!” if a Texas radio station refuses to play the Bush-bashing Dixie Chicks suddenly fall silent. I don’t know about you, but this “multicultural Britain” business is beginning to feel like an interim phase.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

    The Struggle for Space

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 10th January 2004 (All posts by )

    As Jonathan kindly notes below, I’ve been space-blogging up a storm recently over on Arcturus, mainly because we’re in the busiest stretch of space news since the tragic events of last February. I feel that I owe Chicago Boyz some commentary of a less purely technical and more interdisciplinary nature.
    (Besides, I know what they’re thinking: He seems like a pretty good guy, but did the Common Core really take? So I need to prove myself by talking about, y’know, humanities and stuff.)
    Anyway, for the purposes of getting something out here for everybody to chew on, I’ve identified three conceptual difficulties that interested observers — mostly Americans, but plenty of foreigners as well — are experiencing as they hear the back-to-back news of varyingly successful ongoing activities in space and leaks of the Administration’s proposal for the next generation of space exploration.
    I’m listing them in order of (my perception of) increasing difficulty, or decreasing tractability. The first is pretty much negotiable. The second is much more fundamental, but subject to melioration. The third, in combination with sufficiently powerful political institutions, could be a show-stopper, the more so since I can’t recall ever seeing it written about elsewhere — it’s an “unknown unknown.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Posted in Photos | 6 Comments »

    Captive-Audience “Customer Service” vs. Real Service

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th January 2004 (All posts by )

    (I wrote most of this post last June but never completed it. Today’s announcement that JetBlue will offer, at no additional charge to all passengers, XM satellite radio — in addition to satellite TV which they already offer — reminded me that my original post was still topical.)

    ——

    A while ago I bought a cheap wallet from a retailer of modestly priced leather goods. Ten bucks on sale at one of the company’s airport shops. When the wallet’s money clip broke, I went to the company’s website, found a 24/7 phone number, called and was directed to a local store. I dropped by and they cheerfully replaced the clip and refused payment. That’s great service: not only is it pleasant to shop in their stores, but I can do so without risk because they stand behind their products.

    Contrast the leather store’s attitude with that of the typical airport concessionaire. He has you by the short hairs, especially if he sells food and you are hungry. You get charged $3 for a stale pretzel or a multiple of that for a crummy sandwich. And why not? Repeat business isn’t a factor, there’s little or no competition at the airport and you can’t go elsewhere. You pay up.

    National chains that don’t operate exclusively in airports, like Starbucks and the aforementioned leather shop, tend not to follow this pattern. Perhaps they realize that charging what the market will bear can in some circumstances alienate customers, and isn’t always worth it in the long run. Or maybe these firms see opportunity in providing reasonably-priced service to customers who are accustomed to being overcharged at places like airports.

    One of the problems with the major airlines — and I think it’s one of the reasons they are doing poorly — is that their attitude toward customers tends to resemble that of airport pretzel venders. They are willing to compete for business, up to a point, but want to treat customers as captives after tickets are purchased.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Customer Service | 13 Comments »

    The Palestinian Authority’s Abuse of Christians

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Lex alerted me to this column about the Palestinian Authority’s formal imposition of Islamic law in Judea and Samaria. He wrote:

    This is huge. It is the end of secular nationalism in the PA. This could be a major way to undermine support for the PA here in the USA. In effect, the PA, in the usual bone-headed fashion, has decided to become Islamic fundamentalists at the very moment when Islamic fundamentalists are getting the snot kicked out of them. All we need is to see the open persecution of Christians in Palestine and Bush’s core supporters will be screaming for open war against the PA.

    I’m skeptical that Christians as a group are going to change their behavior as a result of this information. Arafat and his PLO raped southern Lebanon and abused Lebanese Christians for years, without generating any organized reaction from Christians elsewhere. Nor has there been much public concern in the Christian onhealthy world about the large-scale emigration of Arab Christians from the areas now controlled by the PA. (The article notes that Christians now comprise less than 5% of the population in Bethlehem, which had a Christian majority in 1967. Apparently the New York Times considers this statistic less noteworthy than the percentage of female competitors in golf matches.)

    However, Lex may be on to something with his assertion about the potential U.S. political fallout of the PA’s abuses. While the mainstream press is likely to ignore the issue, it might be publicized via the Internet and talk radio. In that case there is a chance for a ground swell of anti-PA outrage on the part of American Christian conservatives who are among the core supporters of Bush whom Lex mentions. We can only hope.

    Whatever its domestic political effects, I hope that the PA’s mistreatment of Christians receives more attention than it has so far.

    Posted in Middle East | 9 Comments »

    Why Nobody Pays For My Predictions

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Maybe it’s because a lot of them are wrong. (1 Euro was worth about 1.22 US dollars when I made this prediction and is worth about 1.27 dollars now.)

    It’s a truism that market trends often continue beyond our expectations. This is especially true in currency and interest-rate markets, because these are dominated by governments that have the resources to make markets go where they want them to — at least for a while. The Euro is backed by nothing more than political expectations about the behavior of the European Central Bank; the Euro’s current historically high valuation vs. the dollar is largely a function of the Bush administration’s economic ineptitude and politically-driven dollar bashing. These factors are subject to change and sooner or later the Euro will lose value against the dollar. I don’t know when this will happen or how high it will go first.

    UPDATE: Paul Johnson makes a strong case for the Euro’s coming downfall, and argues that the U.S. should cultivate relationships with European countries that share its interests:

    I’ve always maintained that the moment France finds theEU to be no longer of use, it will break it up. A German revolt against the payments system could provide that moment. Hostility to the EU is rising in France anyway, to the point where no referendum on the proposed EU constitution can be held there for fear it would be voted down heavily.

    U.S. policymakers’ aims should be to forge close links with in-dividual countries that have strong common interests with America in wide areas of policy. Such nations include Britain, obviously (though not Ireland, which is sure to do the opposite of anything Britain does), Spain and Italy. The latter two are deeply resentful of French-German behavior and are anxious to have a powerful friend outside the EU to redress the internal balance of power.

    Johnson’s argument isn’t new, but it appears that events may at last be catching up to it.

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 12 Comments »

    Space Blogging Alert

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th January 2004 (All posts by )

    Jay is modest, so let me note that he has a number of excellent posts on the recent Mars and comet unmanned space expeditions, over at A Voyage to Arcturus.

    Check them out:

    Mars Post 1
    Mars Post 2
    Mars Post 3

    Comet Post 1
    Comet Post 2

    Posted in Space | 2 Comments »

    Amazing!

    Posted by Andy B on 4th January 2004 (All posts by )

    I watched the preliminary reports of the Mars Rover landing with my 6 month-old and his bottle. My first thought was, considering achievements such as this, where would we be as a species if we did not feel it necessary to devote so many assets to our own intra-species self defense. On the brighter side, I wonder what awesome accomplishments my kids will see unfold while giving their children midnight feedings.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

    Lex’s Best Music of 2003

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 2nd January 2004 (All posts by )

    The Cutters

    The Cutters

    This has been a year dominated by work and taking care of the kids. Still, a few memorable musical items managed to get onto the radar.

    Long-time readers know of my fanatical devotion to the music of Lisa Marr, (e.g.,here) formerly of Cub and Buck (and here), and currently of The Lisa Marr Experiment(a/k/a The LMX) and from time to time of the Beards. I discovered her because Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, whom my wife and I love more than almost anything, said in an interview (which I can’t find anymore …) that the only bands she liked were Cub and Buck. This set me on an internet search for what promised to be a new musical holy grail. I was not to be disappointed. I bought the Cub and Buck records for my wife for Christmas 2001. I ended up listening to them and getting into Lisa Marr’s music in the Spring of 2002. I was pretty blown away, especially by the Cub Record “Come Out, Come Out”. This led me in turn to the Beard’s unbelievably brilliant record,Funtown (and here), which was the best record of 2002, IMHO. I then bought and fell in love with the LMX’s 4 AM (and here). It was the most excited I have been about any currently active musician in years and years.

    Well, Ms. Marr blessed us with a new record in 2003, called American Jitters (or here.) “Jitters” is a very good record, with several excellent songs (especially “Niagara, Niagara”, “Monday Morning, Echo Park”, “Slaughterhouse Ceiling”), and one brilliant one (“The Boy With the Lou Reed Eyes”). (Full disclosure: several of the songs are by the guitar player, and I do not think they are in the same league as Ms. Marr’s songs.) Nonetheless, this is a very good record, certainly worth buying. (If you are not familiar with her music, I’d say start with Funtown (which has seven out of eleven songs by her, four by Kim Shattuck), and then 4 A.M. which has several positively brilliant songs.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Intelligence And Law Enforcement: Stewart Baker Gets It Half Right

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 2nd January 2004 (All posts by )

    Instapundit links to a thoughtful article by Stewart Baker about the underlying causes of U.S. pre-September 11 intelligence failures.

    Baker is right that there should be more cooperation between intelligence people and law enforcement people, and that increased after-the-fact auditing of law-enforcement activity is probably better than increased a priori regulation.

    However, he is only partially correct in his explanation of why the “effort to build information technology tools to find terrorists has stalled.” While it’s true that civil libertarians have hamstrung government efforts to deploy such tools, they have done so mainly for good reasons. Widely discussed information analysis proposals have been badly conceived: mining error-filled credit and financial databases is certain to produce a huge number of false positives, all of which must be evaluated. These proposals also appear to be designed, at least in part, to satisfy various old bureaucratic agendas. (Where have we read this before?)

    Civil libertarian skepticism about the government’s anti-terror analysis proposals parallels popular skepticism about airport security. In both of these areas government tends to favor ineffective and intrusive conventional solutions, and LE/intelligence pork barreling, over politically difficult courses of action (air passenger profiling; firing failed FBI and CIA decision makers) that go to the heart of the issue.

    While some of the opposition to the TIA program etc. has been overwrought or politically motivated, much opposition appears to originate out of sincere concern about the poor quality of the government’s proposals. I think we are more likely to make progress in this area if the Administration’s backers admit that this is the case, and encourage the government to improve its proposals, rather than continuing to try and deflect blame onto the critics.

    Posted in National Security | 2 Comments »