Monday, August 25, 2003
Interesting bit from this article about the Japanese holding up a North Korean vessel in a Japanese port:
[Police] stood guard as right-wing extremists blasted the incoming ship with chants of "Go Home!" Supporters of a group of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea decades ago to train communist spies chimed in, demanding the return of loved ones.

At the ferry terminal, pro-Pyongyang Japanese residents waved North Korean flags under a banner reading: "Long live the glorious fatherland, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
Four thoughts:

1. I like how the anti-NK camp is "right-wing extremists." Nothing else in the article justifies that particular word. The "pro-Pyongyang" side is simply "Japanese residents." I guess support of Stalinism doesn't qualify as extremism in the AP style book.

2. I have doubts that there are really Japanese residents -- even of Korean background -- that would be pro-"glorious fatherland, the DPRK." This is most likely astroturfing by Pyongyang. Then again, it's always a possibility: it's not like pro-idiocy groups don't exist within our own shores.

3. Why didn't those pro-DPRK people volunteer to travel to North Korea, instead of the innocents who were kidnapped? Or in exchange for them, say?

4. Where does the UN stand on that whole issue, anyway? North Korea has even admitted to the problem, so can I expect condemnation and outrage from Kofi Annan and The Gum Flappers any time now? Aaaany time now....

Friday, August 22, 2003
Instapundit seems taken aback and troubled by this story:
American investigators looking into the suicide bombing of the United Nations compound on Tuesday are focusing on the possibility that the attackers were assisted by Iraqi security guards who worked there, a senior American official here said today.

The official said all of the guards at the compound were agents of the Iraqi secret services, to whom they reported on United Nations activities before the war.
My only reaction is, well, duh! It's not like this is some kind of new tactic -- in most countries, not just police states like Iraq, "staff" who work at enemy outposts are usually agents of the local intelligence services. You've got precious close access to enemy staff, equipment, and documents, where anything glimpsed might give a crucial insight, and every slip-up needs to be taken advantage of -- would anyone really send an ordinary work-a-day slob into that environment, and blow such an opportunity? Come on -- of course the guards at the UN HQ in Iraq were really Mukhabarat agents. So were the plumbers, the electricians, the nearby waiters and barbers and tailors -- hell, most of the prostitutes probably filed contact reports. This isn't wild-eyed paranoia, it's just common sense, and part of the diplomatic game.

IP also asks, "But why on Earth did the U.N. hire guys who had been spying on them as guards?" That I couldn't tell you, but my best guess would be simple arrogance, inertia, and incompetence. We're talking about the UN here, after all.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
It's late, I'm tired, and I don't feel like dealing in heavy stuff, so instead, I'll engage in some Joe Conason-style idiocy by making a transparently partisan and one-sided list. The original list by Joe Conason I found over at Megan's, where I've made some un-pithy comments; the article it comes from is at Salon, though you'll have to shell out real moolah to get the whole thing. Reading its summary was enough to convince me that my money would be better spent elsewhere -- for example, I could deposit it in an Enron pension fund. Megan kindly republishes Conason's list, saving me the effort of paying for Salon:
If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights -- you can thank liberals. If your food is not poisoned and your water is drinkable -- you can thank liberals. If your parents are eligible for Medicare and Social Security, so they can grow old in dignity without bankrupting your family -- you can thank liberals. If our rivers are getting cleaner and our air isn't black with pollution; if our wilderness is protected and our countryside is still green -- you can thank liberals. If people of all races can share the same public facilities; if everyone has the right to vote; if couples fall in love and marry regardless of race; if we have finally begun to transcend a segregated society -- you can thank liberals. Progressive innovations like those and so many others were achieved by long, difficult struggles against entrenched power. What defined conservatism, and conservatives, was their opposition to every one of those advances. The country we know and love today was built by those victories for liberalism -- with the support of the American people.
You know, honestly -- I'm not really all that right-wing. My mind is not made up on many things, and I am certainly not of the opinion that Medicare or protection of the environment is just Communism by another name! etc. But stuff like this... well, let's just say it doesn't really help the left wing when I read it. I've given plenty of objections on Megan's site; no point in repeating them here. Specifically, I voiced some major misgivings about the use of the terms conservative and liberal; feel free to give them a read if you get hit with bouts of insonmia. Still, I'll use the words here the way tradition -- and Conason -- allows them to be misused. For the purposes of this post, liberal is a synonym for left-winger and conservative really means right-winger. Pejman, who is solidly to my right, has tried to come up with his own list of what conservatives should be thanked for. However, I think it misses the mark in places:
If you are one of those people who believed that the Soviet Union really was an "Evil Empire," didn't laugh when Ronald Reagan consigned it to the "ash heap of history," and was glad when it--and the Warsaw Pact--fell, you can thank conservatives... If you believe that you should keep more of your money through tax reductions, and that you can handle your money better than the government, you can thank conservatives. If you believe that the Second Amendment should be taken seriously when it says that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," you can thank conservatives... If you believe that people should have the right to invest their Social Security retirement in private markets, you can thank conservatives for championing this issue. If you like the idea of free markets in general, you can thank conservatives.
The problem is that these statements aren't really designed for broad appeal. If you fit any of these criteria -- well, you are a conservative, really. Conason's list has an advantage in that it appeals to consequences, and takes credit for things that are universally liked: I mean, really, who wants filthy rivers and poisoned food? (How did the human race ever survive all that poisoned food, anyway...) When it comes to Conason-style demagoguery, Pejman just doesn't rate. How he sleeps at night knowing this, frankly, I will never understand.

Let's see if I can do better. Without further ado, here's what I think a right-wing version of Conason's list should sound like:

If you own a nice house in the location of your choice; if you were not "assigned" your meager apartment by a bureaucrat according to "need"; if you have an air conditioner to run when it's hot, and cheap hot water for your shower -- you can thank conservatives. If you enjoy our country's high productivity and high standard of living; if you like knowing that you are paid for your work and that you are free to choose another career -- you can thank conservatives. If you drive a car to work, drop off your kids and run errands at your own pace, and arrive at the time of your choosing without being tied down to schedules arranged at your local transit authority -- you can thank conservatives. If you own more than one car, allowing your family even more flexibility and control over where you live, where you work, and how you get around -- you can thank conservatives.

If your country is the technological leader of the world, producing wonders of electronics, telecommunications, transportation, and medicine that were science fiction only a few years ago -- you can thank conservatives. If your doctor's visits are not rationed, and your surgery does not require a month-long wait -- you can thank conservatives. If today you are able to live thanks to advanced surgery, and tomorrow miraculous new drugs are developed and made available to cure cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes -- you can thank conservatives. If you are able to snag a few cheap plane tickets to visit friends across the country, you can thank conservatives. (If you couldn't find cheap air fare, but were able to jump in your car and drive a few states over -- still thank conservatives.) If you are able to open a business without waiting years for permission -- you can thank conservatives. If you are able to keep enough of your paycheck to cover luxuries such as your computer -- thank conservatives.

If your country is not a decaying, hollowed-out shell of its former glory, able only to impotently spit venom about "simplisme" -- thank conservatives. If you are not dominated by an evil, tyrannical doctrine -- be it Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, or Islamism -- thank conservatives. If you are Jewish, and still have a land to call your own -- thank conservatives. If you are Iraqi, and will never again worry about being shredded -- thank conservatives. (If you have family members tortured to death between November '02 and March '03 -- thank a liberal for that.) If you do not have to tremble before the words of thuggish dictators; if you, your wife, your sister, or your daughter never wears a burka, if your life is not spent fearing a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice -- thank conservatives. If you are able to indulge in "sinful" pleasures such as drinking, smoking, or eating high-fat foods -- thank conservatives. If, one day, you have a choice of not sending your child to a delapidated public school whose primary mission is keeing teachers' union members employed -- thank a conservative. If your children are not considered state property -- thank conservatives. If you are able to post your opinions on a global network, without having to receive "license" from bureaucrats, pending proof that you will be operating "in the public interest" -- thank conservatives for that, too. If you're able to wake up every morning, feeling that you ultimately control your own destiny, and are not at the constant mercy of The People -- thank a conservative.
Before people write angry letters -- yes, this whole list is stupid, simplistic, and grossly unfair. That is the whole point -- it's classic demagoguery. Frankly, I hate the sanctification/vilification exercises both sides of the political debate engage in; I know liberals, and I know conservatives, and the fruitcake contingent of each camp aside, most have the same principles, and want roughly the same things, which is why our society is so successful. (If either side were anything like its opponents describe, the U.S. would be one miserable hellhole to live in, that's for sure -- between all those crypto-fascist racist brown-people-killin' conserrrvatives and the proto-communist authoritarian France- and UN-worshippin' librulls.) But hey, occasional demagoguery is fun -- and it seems good enough for Conason.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
It seems that Arab terror activity in Israel has diminished, so Israelis are picking up the slack.
One woman was killed and four other people were wounded by an explosion yesterday at the entrance to a Tel Aviv restaurant. The explosive device apparently was intended to harm a criminal figure, but its detonator malfunctioned and the bomb missed its mark, police said. The dead woman was identified as Sara Ben Edri, 56, of Tel Aviv.
The poor dead woman was an immigrant from Iraq. Sometimes this stuff is just too weird -- and far too tragic -- for words.

Update: I really hate it when I speak too soon...

Monday, August 18, 2003
Well, that didn't take long. Only a few years after the Internet "economy" collapsed, we are once again getting hype from Silicon Valley, complete with a new technology "under development," name dropping, promises of world domination and cures for baldness, and of course, revolution:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Airgo Networks, a secretive Silicon Valley start-up composed of a superteam of wireless pioneers, on Monday said it will reveal plans for what analysts say could offer a revolution in wireless transmission quality...

Airgo, of Palo Alto, California, will begin offering sample versions of its short-range radio antenna chips to equipment makers that promise to boost the speed, range and reliability of wireless devices indoors and between nearby buildings...

The antenna technology also can transmit high-definition TV signals inside homes and improve indoor mobile telephone reception, positioning the company to become the latest in a line of Silicon Valley fairy-tale successes, consultant Craig Mathias of the Farpoint Group in Ashland, Massachusetts, said...

The privately held company includes a dream team of developers, including the Stanford University engineering team that pioneered MIMO [multiple-input/multiple-output technology] and co-founder Dr. Richard van Nee, patent holder on much of the technology used in the 802.11 standards...

"Wireless LAN (Local Area Network) is our first market," Raleigh said. "Our ambition is to be the most successful wireless equipment maker in the world."
I am no expert on wireless technology (see this guy), but I do know breathless hype when I see it. It's nice to have ambitions and all, but it sounds like Airgo needs to spend its money on a couple of PR flacks with a clue about expectation management.

By the way, I think what Reuters refers to is described in this press release (MS-Word doc, 37.5 KB). The technology exists, and it really does give a boost to wireless network speeds.

Using Airgo’s unique multiple antenna system, the AGN100 extends existing Wi-Fi rates to 108 Mbps per channel while remaining compatible with all common Wi-Fi standards. In head-to-head testing, the AGN100 demonstrated range that was two to six times that of competing WLAN chipsets, resulting in an order-of-magnitude increase in the area covered by each access point.
108 Mbps is certainly impressive. The current prevailing 802.11b rates only 11 Mbps under ideal conditions; 802.11a boosts that to about 55. I don't mean to diminish Airgo's engineering accomplishments; I just wish "serious reporters" would cut the hype a bit.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
A few months back, just after the Columbia launch (and before its tragic end), I inadvertently gained some notoriety by slopping together what I thought was a pretty obvious parody, describing the purported Arab reaction to an Israeli astronaut in space.
In Gaza City today, thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets, many firing weapons into the air. "With our blood and our souls, we will strike the orbital Zionists," chanted the protestors...
I thought lines like the above were a pretty good giveaway that this was an exaggerated spoof, but to my amazement and chagrin, some people took the "story" a bit too seriously, including those who really ought to know better. Back then, I couldn't really fathom how anyone might mistake such a ridiculous yarn for reality.

Now I'm beginning to understand:

Angry fans of a Pop Idol-style Arab television show have staged a protest after a Lebanese singer was voted out.

About 150 supporters of Melhem Zein gathered outside a Beirut television studio after he lost out in the semi-final of Superstar...

Zein's fans were furious at the show's outcome. "With our blood and souls, we sacrifice for you Melhem," they shouted.
I give up. This stuff can't be parodied.

Source: This comment by Haiku at LGF.

I don't listen to talk radio much, but I'll catch pieces of a show here and there on occasion. And here's something that's been bugging me for a while: why all the ads? It seems like there's at least equal time split between ads and content. Now, I can understand low-reach, local shows airing at 10 AM weekdays having that kind of scheduling: their audiences are limited, ad rates have to be low, so they cram lots of cheap ads into the mix and hope to break even. That's straighforward enough.

But then, it seems like the same production values are present at national shows with established names hosting them. I mean, surely Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can command premium rates, allowing them to have fewer ads at higher prices? Even the local affiliates -- at least those in large cities -- ought to be able to sell that airtime to bigger clients at higher prices, resulting in fewer ads that are of higher production quality (read: less irritating). Yet we still get what seems like 3-5 minute show segments, interrupted by 2-3 minute series of ads for "memory programs," "vocabulary builders," Gold Bond, herbal products, and other assorted infomercial refuse. What's the deal?

I can't remember where I found this (probably at Daily Pundit), but Howard Veit has a very insightful viewpoint on the whole clash of civilizations (which involves more than just us Westerners and Muslims). I don't agree with everything he says -- hell, I disagree with much of it -- but it is still worthwhile reading, and something we all should keep in mind.

What we show all these other cultures as a better way, is our "culture", not our Bill of Rights. One rap song is enough for everyone to say "get out of my life". India is now a certified power. They have the bomb, a ton of money, a successful university system turning out some of the world's top programmers and scientists. They are a net food exporter. They think they are every bit as good as us. They are right, because they have money too.
Umm, and don't read it if you are bothered by gratuitous scatological references. You've been warned.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Hi. I'm Ralph Nader. Please vote for this guy. Wow, I'm sad. I am always sad. What I need is a nice piece of pie.

The show of political support at the Green Party's San Francisco headquarters took an unscripted turn Tuesday when a prankster burst into the room and slammed a cream pie into Nader's face. The culprit fled through a side door.

Camejo later suggested the pie assault was the work of Democrats who may feel threatened by the Green Party's growing popularity.
Fools. It was Gary Coleman's secret band of thugs all along. The world don't move to the beat of just one drum, y'know.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
This is just all kinds of creepy and wrong:
JACKSON, Miss. - Students in Biloxi public schools started classes this week under the watchful eye of Webcams that will keep track of every classroom and hallway.

School and security officials said they believed Biloxi is one of the first districts in the nation to install cameras in every classroom.

Biloxi started installing the cameras two years ago, and now that the project is complete, there are more than 500 cameras in district schools, said Deputy Superintendent Robert Voles...

The cameras, which don't record sound, are contained in circular domes on the ceiling, giving a sweeping view of the classroom. Administrators can view the images on the Internet by entering a password.
Naturally, it's done to give some people the warm-fuzzy feeling of being watched by an older sibling:
Voles said the camera installation is a precaution, and that students and teachers have said they feel safer. The cameras were paid for with casino revenue received by the district, which has 6,500 students...

State Rep. Les Barnett Jr. says having cameras in the classrooms of North Bay Elementary School, where his two children are enrolled, gives him a sense of security.
I don't know why this bothers me so much. It just seems like something out of bad 1980s science fiction.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Charles Johnson links to an MSNBC story on rapes and other atrocities committed by Arab immigrant youth in the Parisian ghettoes. He praises the story:
Normally politically correct to a fault, MSNBC/Newsweek today has a mostly unflinching look at the nightmarish life of young women in the Muslim ghettos of France: Sexism in the Cités.
I agree with Charles that it's nice of the MSNBC to at least acknowledge and report on the problem. Still, the reporters (as well as the French government) maintain a judgement-free, root-causes, it's-not-really-their-fault position that is just infuriating:
Built by socially progressive governments in the 1960s, [the cités have] since been taken over by a generation of mostly Arab immigrants—impoverished, cut off from their native lands and culture, ghettoized...
Such stories, then, are not just about urban crime and rough neighborhoods. They reflect a core issue of Muslim integration in Europe. Can the young men and women of the cites break out, or will they become ever more isolated, turning inward against themselves? Will they build their lives and relationships on egalitarian values, or on the worst of Islam and the Internet? Young men trapped in a world with no jobs and no future, and violently confused about sex, tend to make women the symbols and the victims of the frustrations around them.
“[The raped girls are] locked up in a world where their fathers have failed to break out of unemployment, where they have failed at finishing school or finding a job,” says a young woman activist with another group, Female Voices, Rebel Voices. Lacking hope or the opportunity for a better life, she adds, “all the men have left is their virility.” And some have savage ways of asserting it.
Those poor boys -- they lack jobs and are confused about whether rape is a bad thing! What do you expect them to do, anyway -- they lack hope! Seems like no atrocity on the planet can't be excused by a lack of "hope." Gang rapes, suicide bombings, mass murder -- for every worthless scumbag committing some new horror, you can always find some educated progressive to apologetically explain that what the man needed was hope.

At least MSNBC has dared to mention Islam and Arab traditions as part of the cause -- I'm sure they'll get plenty of angry letters about it, too.

The excuse-making reaches its apogee in this tsk-tsk-ain't-that-a-shame conclusion:

The problem is that to help the women of the cites in the long run, you have to help the men—not only to find jobs and education, but to learn to live in Western societies. And precious little has been done about that.
Wow, so these alleged men need more handouts from those mean old French: it's not enough to feed and house them for life, now the French have to find jobs for them and ways to integrate them into a western society, so that the "men" learn not to rape women. I mean, this is just beyond words, and talk about your inversion: normally, integration into a society happens after the newcomers learn the rules. (Never mind that the Arabs aren't interested in integration, and that the rule against raping women isn't exactly unique to the West. I believe it's dealt with pretty harshly in the Arab world, though of course the woman is often killed, too, do defend the so-called "honor" of the so-called "men" in her family.) But no, see, we can never actually blame the crime on the perpetrators, much less -- oh, I don't know -- imprison or deport them. No, no, their savagery is all the fault of those who have allowed them to live in France, and have provided all the necessities of life, at their own expense.

All that's missing is the requisite line about Israeli occupation.