Thursday, September 19, 2002

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: According to the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian terrorists took advantage of the lifting of a curfew in Jenin, Tulkarm and Hebron to carry out several murderous attacks over the last few days, including today's killing of several people in a Tel Aviv bus bombing.
NOT WORTH THE WAIT, BUT OFFERED FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT NONETHELESS: Enjoy the overhauled link sections on the right of this page. Some of the absences from the site over the summer were attributable, in part, to attempts at overhauling the format of the site and in efforts (now abandoned) to design a separate baseball blog. Instead, I've decided to keep everything in-house. I hope the links will augur a renewed dedication to the site.
LILEKS RULES, AGAIN: Here he illustrates why he's skeptical of weapons inspections in Iraq.
HIGH STANDARDS AT MY ALMA MATER: Columbia is famous (infamous, if you're a student) for allowing films to be shot on the campus. But I never expected them to allow this movie to be filmed there.
THEY REALLY SHOULD TEACH THIS IN BUSINESS SCHOOL: James Surowiecki discusses the acumen of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, noting the general applicability of many of his accomplishments:

Oakland's success is the fruit of what the legendary corporate theorist Michael Porter likes to call "strategic fit." Every part of its business is tightly linked with every other part, creating, in Porter's words, "a chain that is as strong as its strongest link." You get strategic fit only when you have a clear sense of what you are and of what you are not. "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do," Porter says. By choice and by necessity, Beane decided that the A's would never be a team of conventional stars. And that has made him the best general manager in baseball.

Of course, this is an oversimplified portrait. First, a large part of Oakland's success has been due to the extraordinary performance of its top three young starting pitchers (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito). Young pitchers are the most unreliable products in all of baseball, due to injuries; as such, Oakland has been extremely lucky. Second, Suroweicki does not discuss one of the most important strategies in the Oakland program: signing young players to long contracts very early in their careers, giving them financial security while saving money for the team in the long run. That way, the Athletics can have several "conventional stars" on their roster, contra Suroweicki's assertion (Miguel Tejada, their MVP-candidate shortstop, doesn't even walk much) - just at affordable prices. This strategy drove the Cleveland Indians' success in the 1990s, and is being successfully emulated by Oakland.
To back up Suroweicki's point about the difficulty of copying such methods, the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers have tried to emulate the tactic of signing young players to multi-year deals. Unfortunately for them, the players they produced and signed were by and large not as good as those produced and signed by Cleveland and Oakland. Talent assessment if the most important part of building a winning team. Possibly the most important achievement of Billy Beane is that he has forced baseball to recognize that in assessing talent, the sabermetric methods used by Oakland can compete with the more subjective observations that have held sway throughout most of baseball history.

(Thanks to David Pinto for the link.)
FOLLOWING THE STRONG HORSE: To the embarrassment of those who took all the self-interested protestations at face value, Jordan is apparently negotiating with the U.S. regarding the use of its territory in an attack on Iraq - and for purpose of defending Israel, no less!

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

ARAB FASHION SHOW: This must be seen to be believed:

The picture on the top of the dress is of Mohammed al-Durah, apparently killed by Palestinian gunmen.
PUTTING PEOPLE LAST: Brad DeLong cites to a (subscription only) Wall street Journal article wondering why pharmaceutical companies get such bad press, and gives blame where it is due:
"I think this is a place where you have to blame Democratic politicians, so eager to grab for an issue with traction that they have forgotten what their jobs really are."
THE WORST CONCEIVABLE INSULT: Has been coined by Prof. Reynolds.
ERIC ALTERMAN IS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH NUANCE: First, this is evil, and the Jewish terrorists responsible for it (or whoever else the guilty party may be) should be punished mercilessly. (Had there been any fatalities, I'd support the death penalty.) No "but" is applicable to the perpetrators.
That's all that should be said, and I know it's not worth it to waste cyberspace on this guy, but Eric Alterman really pushed my buttons with this post:

Ariel Sharon cannot or will not control the Jewish settler/terrorists. Perhaps he should be exiled from Israel and replaced with a leader of the Palestinians’ choosing. Also, the homes of the families of the Jewish settler terrorists should be blown up and their families should be exiled. Also, all the Jewish settlers who look like they might be terrorists should be jailed without trial and tortured. These people, after all, just don’t value human life the way we do.
Assuming Alterman is being grossly tongue-in-cheek, his real point is one of moral equivalene. And he's right to a degree; there is no moral difference between an Arab and a Jewish terrorist. But (and it feels ridiculous to have to point this out, but Alterman obviously does not get it) - the fact that individuals on both sides commit immoral acts do not mean that the two societies are morally equivalent.
When the Israelis:
1) grant extensive government support to groups like those who planted the bombs in question;
2) feature mothers who exhort their sons to kill themselves as long as they kill other innocent people as well (click here for another one)
(NOTE: The horrifying video links may no longer be working; I will attempt to update the links if this continues. Click here for a photo of Hamas family values.); and
3) feature waves of suicide bombers whose families are paid off by Iraq and Saudi Arabia (thus representing enemies (a) who are non-deterrable by conventional means and (b) whose families have a substantial incentive to encourage their career choice; see #2 above - the two unique factors behind the idea of destroying houses and/or exiling family members),
then Alterman can be taken seriously when he assumes a moral equivalence between Israeli and Palestinian societies. Until then, the correlation with and links between Palestinian society and its terrorists are far greater than those on the Israeli side, and our foreign policy deserves to reflect that disparity.
Recognition of the differences between Israeli and Palestinian society would seem to be a necessary precondition of an intellectually sophisticated approach to the conflict in the Middle East. But Alterman refuses to credit these nuances, preferring to see a black-and-white world where all are equally responsible for evil. Alterman's approach is appallingly simplistic. Is he channelling the spirit of the current president, whom he despises so? At least Bush correctly identifies black and white...

WHY KOFI ANNAN IS ACTING LIKE A FOOL: Brink Lindsey and Geitner Simmons both cite to this article by Charles Duelfer titled "The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq:"

[A]s demonstrated by the experience of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1991 to 1998, any weapons inspectors sent into Iraq under the ground rules of the existing UN Security Council resolutions and the existing Iraqi regime are doomed to fail. The only uncertainties are how long they will last, whether they will inhibit Iraq’s programs at all, and what role their presence will have in the overarching politics surrounding their almost inconsequential presence. Although inspectors accomplished much during their time in Iraq, their successes were temporary. The categorical goals established by the Security Council were not achievable at a price either the council or Iraq was willing to pay. It turned out that the permanent disarmament goals imposed on Iraq were out of proportion with the inspectors’ tools and the rewards and punishments the Security Council could practically impose. The result was a political and military muddle with the inspectors caught in the middle.
...It quickly became clear that the Security Council could not be involved in issues other than major breaches, and Iraq learned that small offenses would not be punished. Simply put, would the council want to go to war because some scruffy, arrogant inspector could not get into a building that might be empty and that Iraq said was important to its national sovereignty and dignity? Clearly not. Baghdad developed a good sense of how to limit access rights incrementally in ways to which the council could not respond proportionately. It learned to keep its obstruction below the threshold that would trigger a response from the council.
...Inherent in the design of Resolution 687 was the assumption that Iraq would value the ability to export oil and engage in normal commerce more than it valued weapons of mass destruction capability—an assumption that turned out to be dead wrong. Discussions with senior Iraqi officials eventually revealed the enormous importance the regime attached to these weapons.
For the regime, possession of weapons of mass destruction was an existential issue. Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz, among others, pointed out that, during the Iran-Iraq war, hitting cities deep in Iran with long-range missiles and countering of human wave attacks (particularly in the battle for al Fao) with massive use of chemical weapons saved Iraq. Moreover, Baghdad believes that its possession of biological and chemical weapons during the 1991 Gulf War helped deter the United States from marching on Baghdad. Thus, the regime has two experiences in which it feels its very survival was linked to possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Nothing in the UN resolutions changed that judgment by Iraq. If anything, the lesson Baghdad learned from the Gulf War is that such weapons—especially nuclear weapons—are even more important than they had thought. Senior Iraqis privately acknowledged that it had been a mistake to invade Kuwait before completing a nuclear weapon. They are convinced the outcome of the war would have been radically different if Washington had had to consider an Iraqi nuclear capability. Certainly, Saddam Hussein understands that today’s debate about invading Iraq to effect regime change would not be taking place if Baghdad could threaten to hit U.S. forces or Israel with a nuclear weapon.

Michael Kelly summarizes Iraq's decade of defying UN resolutions and inspections, and raws the appropriate conclusion: "I'd say the current Iraqi offer can be dispensed with, oh, now."

CHEM-WAR 101: Derek Lowe, a chemist, has a great series on the history and uses of chemical weapons. Start at the link and scroll up for all five posts on the matter.
(Thanks to Megan McArdle for the link.)
YES, THESE ARE NICHE HUMOR PIECES, BUT I LAUGHED SO HARD I COULDN'T BEAR NOT TO POST THEM: This first piece is aimed at Modern Orthodox Jews who are familiar with: (a) the intellectual crises that have been raging within Orthodoxy and one of its flagship institutions, Yeshiva University, (b) the tipping of segments (the size of which is disputed) of Lubavitch Hasidim into Christian-style messianism, and (c) the disputes about how to properly appreciate the complex legacy of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. If you meet those criteria, check this out and start laughing.
You can't get a more different subject than this great Bill Simmons piece. It is aimed at those who: (a) spent way too much of their adolescence watching bad horror movies and (b) are devotees of ESPN's "SportsCentury" series. If you meet both those criteria, this piece is one of the funniest things you will read in your entire life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

THE CONTINUING RELEVANCE OF THE GREAT WAR: David Gelertner has a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard arguing that the Europeans' actions and attitudes towards the war on terrorism are reminiscent of the 1920s, and show that the influences of World War I have been more lasting than those of World War II:

The First World War seemed unimaginable but turned out to be human, all too human when compared with the Second, which was too big for the mind to grasp. As the Second World War and its aftermath fade, they reveal a "new world order" that is strangely familiar--amazingly like the Western world of the 1920s, with its love of self-determination and loathing of imperialism and war, its liberal Germany, shrunken Russia, and map of Europe crammed with small states, with America's indifference to Europe and Europe's disdain for America, with Europe's casual, endemic anti-Semitism, her politically, financially, and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states who despise her, and her undertone of self-hatred and guilt.
...Once upon a time we thought of appeasement as a particular approach to Hitler. We have long since come to see that it is a Weltanschauung, an entire philosophical worldview that teaches the blood-guilt of Western man, the moral bankruptcy of the West, and the outrageousness of Western civilization's attempting to impose its values on anyone else. World War II and its aftermath clouded the issue, but self-hatred has long since reestablished itself as a dominant force in Europe and (less often and not yet decisively) the United States. It was a British idea originally; it was enthusiastically taken up by the French. Today (like so many other British ideas) it is believed more fervently in continental Europe than anywhere else.

Consider the "Continental attitude" towards our proposed war against Saddam Hussein. If you had the Second World War in mind, you might think: Nothing could be more dangerous than to dither while a bloody-minded tyrant builds his striking power. It is crazy to let him choose D-Day, on the theory that if you leave him alone long enough, he will switch personalities and call the whole thing off. Human adults do not switch personalities--but if someone were going to blaze a trail and be first, a bloody swaggering dictator is not the man. Hitler didn't change even when his whole world had burnt to ashes. The last testament he composed in his bunker in 1945 is strikingly like "Mein Kampf," dictated in the comfort of his five-star prison cell in 1924.

The wisdom of "act first, dither later" as an approach to threats from tyrannies was borne out by Western experience in the Cold War. When the Soviets threatened Western interests directly by trying to starve West Berlin, put nuclear missiles in Cuba, and float the Arabs to victory against Israel (in 1973) on a tidal wave of weaponry, America did not wring her hands and ponder; she acted fast, and won.

But suppose your attitudes were shaped, consciously or not, by the First World War and its aftermath. In that case, the lesson you'd take away would be very different: Whatever you do, never rush a war. Austria did not have to declare war against Serbia on July 28, 1914, but she was in a hurry to forestall proposed negotiations. Russia did not have to mobilize on the 30th, she was under no military threat, but she mobilized anyway. Germany did not have to go crashing into Belgium on August 4, she was in no danger of being overrun by hot-headed Flemings, but once she had mobilized (which she had to do because Russia had), her famous master-plan (to concentrate on the Western front, pivot through Belgium, and come down on France like a sledgehammer) would be exposed and rendered as useless as lightstruck film unless she hit right away.

Some Europeans know these details and some do not. But what every educated European knows is that World War I could have been prevented if only Europe hadn't been in such a demented hurry to fight. And the graveyards of World War I are a permanent feature of the European landscape. In consequence and in tribute, many Europeans are against all war on principle--defensive or offensive, just or unjust, mandatory or frivolous; and they hate Western civilization into the bargain. Can you blame them? The contempt for Western ideas, morality, religion, and traditions that is so prominent among European intellectuals is not the sheer malice it sometimes seems. Europe has earned the right to hate herself. If things go wrong, a scratch can fester. A pardonable act of (at worst) bad judgment--to whoop up a war along with throngs of your fellow citizens--can turn to scalding remorse as the death toll rises and rises. And such quiet emotions as private remorse can reshape history, when you sum up over a whole civilization.

There is much more, particularly on the resurgence of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe. Go read it.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM: A better-than-usual retrospective from the Miami Herald on some of its finer moments. Here are two of the all-time great corrections of printed stories:

``Last Sunday, The Herald erroneously reported that original Dolphin Johnny Holmes had been an insurance salesman in Raleigh, N.C., that he had won the New York lottery in 1982 and lost the money in a land swindle, that he had been charged with vehicular homicide but acquitted because his mother said she drove the car, and that he stated that the funniest thing he ever saw was Flipper spouting water on [coach] George Wilson. Each of these items was erroneous material published inadvertently. He was not an insurance salesman in Raleigh, did not win the lottery, neither he nor his mother was charged or involved in any way with a vehicular homicide, and he made no comment about Flipper or George Wilson. The Herald regrets the errors.''
The explanation? For a ''whatever happened to'' story about the 1966 Dolphins, an editor in sports pounded out some top-of-the-cortex stuff he made up as he sketched out an estimate for the length of the story. The ''dummy type'' came alive when reporters and editors working on the story copied the format and wrote over the fictional words -- except in the case of Johnny Holmes, whose name was typed in but not the real information about him. The dummy type made it into print. Holmes was never heard from.

• When police demanded a correction in 1995, Broward Managing Editor Joe Oglesby obliged: ``A Nov. 18 story about the firing of Oakland Park police officers Brian Rupp and Jay Santalucia incorrectly reported that they allegedly engaged in oral sex with juvenile prostitutes for 23 minutes during a videotaped sting operation. In fact, the tape is 23 minutes long, but the sex act lasted only part of the tape.''

(Via Nancy Nall.)

SOMEONE DOWN UNDER HAS HIS HEAD SCREWED ON RIGHT: Australian blogger Paul Wright has a wonderful post on the out-of-touch baby boomers in the media:

Last week Howell Raines, the editor of the New York Times no less, used Vietnam to twice trump discomfiting questioning on The News Hour, when asked why the NYT was running a campaign against the war, instead of just reporting it. Can you imagine the scorn a young Raines would have heaped on some 60 year old in 1964, who was trying to use a 40 year old war to explain Vietnam? But that is what Raines wants to do. His credentials as an anti-Vietnam protester have somehow proofed him against irrelevancy and fogiedom.
Home-grown Australian hipsters are still trading on their fame of decades past. It’s as if they refuse to realise the world has moved on. No, Che is still glamorous, Bush is the same as Nixon, they’re all in on it together. And if they use the occasional reference to acid and The Man, it will delay the onset of Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. Here’s a thought fellas: if you have to keep reminding your audience of how cool and revolutionary you were 35 years ago, people are entitled to wonder of what use you are today.
...There are no more draftee soldiers wasted on acid, no more draft card burnings, no moratorium marches. No-one cares if you’re a Conscientious Objector. Today’s military specialist is likely to be a college graduate with skills so rarified to be near magic. The soundtrack of the war will not be Hendrix or Joan Baez on a transistor. It’s industrial-techno downloaded at the base internet café, played on a personal MP3 player. Or maybe a Spanish language course for a final college credit. These are motivated, angry volunteers who fought hard and long to get where they are, and are as far removed from a conscript army as they are from Venusian Amazon women.
The only conscript soldiers that feature are the poor bastards in the enemy front lines. They know the score, because they heard it from the few that were lucky enough to live through the first Gulf War, and unlucky enough not to surrender. They understand that when the elite army is staying home, and their own officers are shooting deserters on the spot, the clock is ticking.
There are others involved who have no say. The passengers of jet liners turned into flying bombs. The office workers looking up from their spreadsheets to see religious bigotry at its finest hour. The beat-down families of Baghdad that stare dully as the cream of their army parks an anti-aircraft battery next to their kindergarten. The slaves of the Sudan. Starving North Korean parents eating bark so their children can live another day.
How can a 60’s radical make themselves relevant to an audience that has seen all the horror the Taliban has to offer? How do you stick up for the sovereign rights of a government that gleefully demands a new stadium as the condition for not using the UN-built soccer stadium for public executions? Where is the My Lai anger at seeing the sponsors of mass murder get pounded into jam?
Simple: shift the rules, and keep shifting them. The People’s Revolution has moved out of the basement and into the newspapers and the Senate Committee Room. Power to the People is now served by delay, equivalence, exploiting the balance of votes on the floor.
DEMAND PERFECT WAR. No civilian deaths. No civilian injuries. A thousand-fold decrease is not enough. Any civilian death is proof of aggression.
DEMAND PERFECT KNOWLEDGE. No action without proof to Western legal standards. No targeting without absolute certainty.
DEMAND Perfect Foresight. No action without a replacement government ready to go. Risk is uncertainty. Uncertainty is death. Don’t destabilise. Avoid quagmires. The future is unknown, therefore certain to be worse.
DEMAND Clean Hands. Don’t fight anywhere you have an interest. Don’t fight anywhere you have no business in. Failure to condemn is support. Failure to support is racism. Failure to intervene is corruption. Intervention is interference. The enemy is bad, but we are tainted too.
DEMAND Full Disclosure. Endless hearings. All secrecy is conspiracy. The ghost of Nixon stalks the earth.
The old revolutionaries need to keep an image in mind before they put their hand up: Eisenhower. No-one could fault his ability at war, his patriotism or his intellect. So outflank him call him outdated, out of touch, a relic. But consider: his war was only 25 years out of date when JFK ordered the troops into Vietnam. You war is older than that, and much more obsolete.

As Glenn Reynolds points out, the last figure is much closer to 15 years than 25 - making his point even stronger.

Wright also links to this post by Scott Koenig (aka the "IndePundit") arguing why it is likely that Osama bin Laden is dead or captured.
A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR ELECTION REFORM: Dave Barry has the last word on the latest election disaster in Florida.