Saturday, March 16, 2002

A CONTEMPORARY FAIRY TALE: Thomas Boswell looks at the Washington, D.C. sports scene through the lens of the tale of the genie who grants three wishes:

A genie might grant you three wishes. In storybooks, this never works out well for the poor sap who gets the wishes.
Within the last year, the fans of Washington's three major pro sports franchises got the equivalent of their own three wishes.
So far, just as in those diabolical genie fables, things aren't working out exactly as expected.
Sixteen teams make the NBA playoffs. Sixteen teams make the NHL playoffs. It's a challenge to miss 'em. But right now, it does not look like the Wizards or Caps will make the postseason. Somewhere a malicious genie is rolling on the floor laughing. And he probably can't wait for the Redskins' 2002 season to begin.
Maybe this is the same genie who got Ken Lay to wish that he could be "the most talked-about CEO in America."

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO... Paul Krugman recently used his NYT column to eulogize James Tobin, the Nobel Prize -winning economist who taught at Yale and served as an adviser to President Kennedy. Krugman's description of Tobin's work (and his usage of Tobin's government service to - surprise! bash everything connected to the Bush administration) is criticized by Ben Stein (yes, as in "Win Ben Stein's Money.")
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: An article by Tim Blair argues for the superiority of today's kids over previous versions, and attributes it to.. The Simpsons!

Friday, March 15, 2002

THE FORTY QUESTIONS (MORE OR LESS), OR "WHY IS THIS WAR DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHERS:" Victor Davis Hanson has that many (mostly rhetorical) questions regarding war-related issues.
Here are some of them:

Is there a difference between Palestinians preferring to kill Israeli civilians rather than soldiers, and Israelis preferring to kill Palestinian fighters rather than civilians?
Why are the EU and international agencies vocal about well-fed and humanely treated prisoners in Cuba, and yet said nothing when depraved comrades of these detainees recently executed an American soldier upon capture in Afghanistan, and murdered Danny Pearl?
If America forced Israel to give back every inch of the West Bank, if America withdrew all its troops from all Arab countries, if America increased its aid to Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan, if America sought to placate Saddam Hussein, remove all U.N. sanctions, and normalize relations with the Iraqi dictatorship, and if America sought to restore full relations with Iran without conditions, would the Muslim world really like the United States?
Why do Middle Easterners become far more enraged at Israelis for shooting hundreds of Muslims than at Iranians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Syrians, Indians, Algerians, Russians, Somalis, and Serbians for liquidating tens of thousands?
If nearly two-thirds of the Arabic world believe that Arabs were not involved in September 11, why should any American believe anything that two out of three people from that region say?
Will Palestinians cheer when Saddam Hussein launches chemical-laden missiles against Israel when we invade his country?

Just wondering...

SPEAKING TRUTH TO WEAKNESS: An outstanding piece by Michael Walzer, a leftist intellectual with tremendous intellectual integrity, in the latest issue of Dissent. He harshly criticizes his colleagues on the left for the feebleness of their response to the war on terror.
I would quote examples, but there were too many great bits to choose from. Go read it.
AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT... Steven Spielberg has made some changes to the version of E.T. about to be re-released. Most notably, he has digitally altered the guns in one chase scene to walkie-talkies - after all, a whole generation of children has been traumatized by the sight. My old college classmate Tim Carvell has some other editing suggestions for Mr. Spielberg.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

WELCOME: A special welcome to all those who have arrived through the referral of Mickey Kaus. I hope you'll enjoy your stay and come back occasionally. Thanks, Mickey!
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, VOL. I: An outstanding piece by Megan McArdle on why Netscape deserves to lose its civil suit against Microsoft, regardless of the dirty tricks playd by the latter against the former.
On her website, Megan amplifies on her article and notes:

The funny thing about the Netscape/Microsoft battle is that it's possible to argue that it was Netscape that acted like a monopoly: sitting there fat, dumb, and happy while someone else took their market share away.
... They built a great product, but they were not as aggressive about improvements as Microsoft was, especially on the consumer side. Unfortunately, they got a little soft in the days when they were the only game in town. Confident that there was no real competition from Microsoft, they introduced a passable browser -- Communicator 4.5 -- and some reportedly iffy server software. ... Netscape pretty clearly thought that it could takes its customers for granted because -- well, because it was Netscape. That's monopoly thinking.
Netscape was too confident that users would continue to use its technology simply because it was already the dominant technology in the market. They took the wrong lessons from Microsoft. Microsoft is not the technology leader in the market (by a long shot), but that doesn't mean the company doesn't innovate. It focuses its innovation on consumer features, which is what makes it so successful. Netscape assumed that once it had established dominance, it didn't matter that much what the company sold because the brand and the network effects would carry it. That's an assumption Microsoft never made, which is why it's around today.

For more food for thought defending Microsoft against one of the most common charges levied against it - namely, that Microsoft is the beneficiary of "path dependence" (that for reasons unrelated to quality, an "inferior" product became standard and made it inefficient to switch to the "superior" competitior), see this summary in the Economist of a book by Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis called Winners, Losers and Microsoft. (The most famous example of supposed "path dependence" is the QWERTY keyboard layout, which is supposedly less efficient than other models but gained currency through historical accidents. Liebowitz and Margolis debunk that example, as well.)
YOU JUST KNOW SOME PEOPLE WILL THINK THIS IS SERIOUS: From Sophismata, a link to the Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint. Really. I'm not kidding.
THE SOURCES OF KOFI ANNAN'S THINKING: SmarterTimes deconstructs the sources for Kofi Annan's use of the word "illegal" in describing the Israeli presene in the West Bank and Gaza.
"WHEN REALLY, REALLY STUPID BEHAVIOR IS INVOLVED, CAN BUD SELIG BE FAR BEHIND?" A memorable (and depressingly accurate) line from Doug Pappas' seventh entry in his series on interpreting baseball's financial statements. It has been revealing. (The stupid behavior he refers to was when Bud owned the Brewers, he took on a tremendous amount of debt to cover operating expenses rather than to finance investments - making it very difficult for the team to borrow money to finance its new stadium. This, from the man who now wants to penalize teams who borrow to finance revenue-increasing new stadiums and save money by signing players to long-term contracts.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

AND THE PROBLEM IS? Legendary anti-American and anti-Israeli columnist Robert Fisk has a piece in the Guardian where he loyally voices the supposed desires (for the U.S. to abandon Israel) and fears (that the U.S. will move against Iraq) of the Arab governments. No doubt faithfully repeating their thoughts, he writes:
Privately, pro-western leaders in the Arab world have grave concerns about the Bush theory of "regime change". For if Iraqis were helped to overthrow their dictatorial government, what if Egyptian or Saudi citizens also decided on a little "regime change" of their own?
NINE POINTS: In the middle of an otherwise conventional piece about BBC bias against Israel, Barry Rubin summarizes why Israel is skeptical of the effectiveness of a peace deal, in light of the last 18 months:

1. Seeing the "return" of refugees as a formula for massive violence and for Israel's destruction, though there is no Israeli objection to resettling refugees in a Palestinian state. It is Arafat and the Palestinian leadership who reject that solution.

2. The feeling that Israeli concessions will not bring peace but will be used to launch a new stage of attacks aimed at eliminating Israel entirely. It is Arafat and the PA which refuse to close the door firmly on such a future.

3. Doubt that Israeli concessions and a withdrawal would bring an end to violence, as terror attacks would continue across the Israel-Palestine border. Arafat and the PA have used the precedent of the south Lebanon withdrawal as proof that Israel is weak and should be attacked more intensely.

4. Doubt that Israeli concessions and a Palestinian state would bring peace with the Arab world, which would then use that state to continue the battle. It is Arab leaders and media that express the most uninhibited hatred and defamation of Israel.

5. Concern that a Palestinian refusal to agree to an end of the conflict even in return for a state has proven the danger of points 2, 3, and 4.

6. Awareness that Arafat's strategy is to keep the violence going and get a never-ending series of unilateral concessions without changing his own policy and goals. It is his behavior over the past 18 months that has raised such concerns.

7. Disputes over relatively small areas of land along the border and in east Jerusalem, which could probably be easily resolved. Arafat showed intransigence at Camp David and in the Clinton plan, with no perceptible change since.

8. Belief that Syria still defines its claim to the Golan Heights as including Israeli territory and rights to the water in the Sea of Galilee.

9. Mistrust of Western/international urgings for concessions and promises of guarantees, based on their refusal to back Israel while it has been facing such a brutal terrorist assault. Palestinians and other Arabs constantly claim that Israel's concessions demonstrate its weakness, and that killing more Israelis is thus justified, until victory.
SIDESHOW BOB: A typically sharp pice of analysis by Robert "Crazy Bob" Kuttner:
Whether it is an ill-specified axis of evil, or a decision to make tactical nuclear war thinkable, or a domestic ''shadow government,'' or deliberately leaked plans to attack Iraq, George W. Bush in his own way is as frightening as Al Qaeda.
HARBINGERS OF "NORMALIZATION": According to the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, the recently-celebrated Jewish holiday of Purim calls for the preparation of special holiday pastries filled with human blood. Again, this is from a newpaper from a government which is supposedly prepared to "normalize" a relationship with Israel.
It is easy to make fun of the "corrections" sometimes found in papers like the New York Times. But can you imagine what an equivalent section in this paper would look like if Saudi Arabia actually tried to follow through in the plan and signed a treaty with Israel? "This Just In: Jews Have A Right to Exist - Ignore Everything You Have Been Taught For The Last 50 Years."
SPEAK TO YOUR EDITORS: Thomas Friedman understands exactly what was novel about the Saudi "peace plan" described in his column, and exactly why watering it down even a little bit will make a big difference:

If Abdullah lets his message get watered down, it will signal not only that the Palestinians can't make real peace with Israel, but that the Arabs can't either. Therefore, no real acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East is possible — even if Israel fulfills all Arab requirements. For the Arab world, that would mean that bin Laden and Syria are in the driver's seat and that the Arab past will continue to bury the Arab future.
...Anwar el-Sadat also demanded full withdrawal. The reason he got it, though, was not because of what he demanded, but because of the psychological breakthrough to Israelis that he offered first. The reason Abdullah's remarks tantalized some Israelis was because they offered "full normalization." This needs to be elaborated. If, instead, it's washed out by the Arab League, the whole exercise will be remembered as wasted breath.

Do Friedman's editors read his columns?
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: This item must be seen to be believed.
MORE ON KOFI ANNAN: Mr. Annan no doubt represented the international consensus that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is "illegal." Is that actually true? Or is it just one of those things that is commonly believed because it is repeated so often, regardless as to whether or not the relevant legal sources actually proscribe it? (Especially when combined with the nasty international habit of blaming Israel whenever possible, and half the time when impossible.) Here's a crisp article by Dore Gold indicating that the latter is more likely. (Via SmarterTimes.)
WAR AND PEACE (PROCESSES): Michael Kelly explains how Israel can emulate Yasser Arafat:

What Israel must do is to adopt its own version of Arafat's phased war approach; it must pursue peace, or appear to pursue peace, as a phase in the longer war. It must meet Palestinian war with relentless war in return. But, simultaneously, it must become the aggressor in a new peace process -- whether or not that process will ultimately lead to a peace Israel can accept. The so-called Saudi plan currently on the table is a cynical and moth-eaten fraud put forth by a cynical and moth-eaten regime. In its ultimate proposals -- the abandonment of Jerusalem, the return of all Palestinian refugees -- it is purposely unworkable. Israel should nevertheless grasp it (or something equally unrealistic) as the basis for a new round of negotiations.

This won't produce peace. But Israel can learn from Arafat's strategy; the great thing now is to take the long view -- and meanwhile move the war to the next phase.

THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT: The Washington Post's editorial and op-ed pages have become far superior to those of the New York Times. An example is the Post's editorial regarding the Nuclear Posture Review. While not flawless, its critcism is far more measured and intelligent than the New York Times' hysterical outburst on the same topic.
If the Times' editors had actually given the matter any thought, it would have realized that with regard to the possibility of nuclear retalitation against Iraq or North Korea:
For more than a decade, the United States has sought to deter rogue states from using weapons of mass destruction by publicly suggesting that it might respond with a nuclear strike, and Pentagon planners have backed the threat by laying out theoretical targeting plans for Iraq, Iran and other such states. The policy, which the Clinton administration continued from the first Bush presidency, has been a success: Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons against his own people in the 1980s, did not dare to employ them against U.S. troops or allies during or after the Persian Gulf War. You wouldn't know it from recent scaremongering headlines and overheated rhetoric, but in this aspect the Bush review has merely reaffirmed a sensible strategy.
Note to NYT editors: "Recent scaremongering headlines and overheated rhetoric" - that's you.
A WARM DAY IN HELL: Bud Selig is at it again, announcing that he will enforce the "60/40 rule" (which states that baseball teams cannot have debt exceeding 40% of their value) in a manner aimed to penalize teams that do things that Selig doesn't like - i.e., sign players to long-term contracts and obtain private (rather than state) funding for new ballparks. Joe Sheehan discusses the plan's faults in detail, most notably:
Selig plans to set the value of clubs at twice their revenues, a number presumably pulled from the same place as the rest of baseball's numbers.

Three teams--the Expos, Marlins, and Red Sox--were sold this winter. The Red Sox had revenues of $177 million in 2001, and were sold for $660 million. The Expos had revenues of $34 million, and were sold for $120 million. The Marlins has revenues of $60.5 million, and were sold for $158 million.

Setting the asset value of clubs at double revenues is vastly underestimating their worth. The formula appears designed solely to mesh with the underlying idea here: scare clubs into spending less on salaries, and away from privately-funded ballparks. Make every team like the Brewers: profitable thanks to the work of other organizations and a pliable statehouse, and damn the product on the field.

...Hasn't his basic thought process been revealed? Invest in your product, and you're the enemy. Better to get the money from 1) taxpayers and 2) ballplayers, no matter how many lies have to be told to get it.

Enough said.
THE BENEFITS OF PROCRASTINATION: I was all set to write a long rant on the unbelievably illogical and inane New York Times editorial (even by NYT standards) regarding the recently leaked review of nuclear policy that the Bush administration has undertaken. But Scott Shuger has beaten me to the punch with a piece on a similar item in the LA Times. Glad to free-ride on his labor.
WORSE THAN MORAL EQUIVALENCE: Assuming Kofi Annan is correctly quoted in today's New York Times, his words provide more proof as to why the U.N. cannot be taken seriously on matters relating to Israel - in fact, why it must be actively opposed.
According to James Bennet, Annan said:

To the Israelis I say: you have the right to live in peace and security within secure internationally recognized borders. But you must end the illegal occupation," he said. "More urgently, you must stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."

He continued: "To the Palestinians I say: you have the inalienable right to a viable state within secure internationally recognized borders. But you must stop all acts of terror and all suicide bombings. It is doing immense harm to your cause, by weakening international support and making Israelis believe that it is their existence as a state, and not the occupation, that is being opposed."

First, only the Palestinians' rights to a state "within secure internationally recognized borders" is deemed "inalienable." Maybe that's just a quibble, but look at the nature of the criticisms: the Palestinians' terrorism is criticized on prudential grounds, as "doing immense harm to your cause." By contrast, the unqualified detailing of every action taken by Israel is criticized for its own sake. Apparently, only the Israelis' actions are wrong in and of themselves. This is worse than moral equivalence; it assumes the Palestinians' moral superiority. While no one should be surprised in light of the Durban "anti-racism" conference, a U.N.-sponsored orgy of anti-Semitism, it is always depressing to hear it from the organization's leader. It is also a useful reminder of the organization's true nature in this area.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

PEACE PROCESS SUICIDE: An interesting piece by Anne Applebaum in Slate citing Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist, on how the Oslo process created the seeds of the current terrorism. The ramifications are, Applebaum writes, that:

everyone involved should look hard at the past decade and ask a few tough questions. How wise was it, for example, to begin a peace process that had no clear outcome? How successful can such negotiations ever be if the partners involved have not yet agreed on what the endgame will look like—and have not yet renounced violence? How successful can they be if the interim arrangements simply create more frustration?

If Oslo did make the situation worse, then we all have some rethinking to do. By accepting long, drawn out, halfway solutions, the promoters of peace appear to have undermined the notion of "peace" itself. I hope it is not too late to restore it.

I think that in order to succeed, a peace process needs to confront the fundamental issues right away. A process which neglects fundamental disagreements in favor of "confidence-building measures" only promote misunderstandings regarding those fundamental issues, which will lead to more violence when they can no longer be ignored. You don't solve fundamental disagreements by agreeing on minor points; you solve them by arguing about them - be it at the negotiating table or the battlefield. While the latter sounds harsh, ignoring the need to determine who has won will only lead to more violence as a result of a failed "peace process," which failure will make peace harder to achieve.

Monday, March 11, 2002

ANNIVERSARY ITEM: In honor of the semi-annual anniversary of 9/11 and the horrifying images we witnessed again last night through CBS' extraordinary 9/11 documentary, here's a reminder of what one journalist saw on 9/11 in Lebanon. (Via Rod Dreher on National Review Online's "Corner.")
MORE ON "IT'S NOT OVER TIL IT'S OVER:" Another look at how we will know the war is over, from James Lileks.
THIS IS WHAT VICTORY MEANS: Another great column by Mark Steyn regarding the war. Here are his criteria for victory:
*Regime changes in Iraq and Iran.

*The liquidation of Saudi Arabia, with the territory partitioned between Jordan and the less unenlightened Gulf emirs.

*The dissolution of NATO: America needs to stop overguaranteeing European security. For one thing, it allows EU governments to fritter their revenues on lavish welfare programs that allow young Arab immigrants to sit around plotting terrorism at the taxpayer's expense.

*The embrace by the Middle East of the same reforms Turkey embarked on 80 years ago.

Worth considering. Even if you have reservations about points #2 and 3, the larger point is inarguable: we've only just begun.