Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Moved to another URL

The Belmont Club has moved to this URL: The underlying cause of the outage was probably that the blog had gotten too big. I finally got Blogger to publish through the expedient of deleting some very old and forgettable posts. But I won't push my luck. Henceforward, all new posts will be at the new site

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Choose your Ghetto

KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, asks whether a de facto test of political correctness is being required of prospective teachers. In an article in Higher-Ed Views, Johnson writes:

The program at my own institution, Brooklyn College, exemplifies how application of NCATE’s new approach can easily be used to screen out potential public school teachers who hold undesirable political beliefs. Brooklyn’s education faculty, which assumes as fact that “an education centered on social justice prepares the highest quality of future teachers,” recently launched a pilot initiative to assess all education students on whether they are “knowledgeable about, sensitive to and responsive to issues of diversity and social justice as these influence curriculum and pedagogy, school culture, relationships with colleagues and members of the school community, and candidates’ analysis of student work and behavior.”

At the undergraduate level, these high-sounding principles have been translated into practice through a required class called “Language and Literacy Development in Secondary Education.” According to numerous students, the course’s instructor demanded that they recognize “white English” as the “oppressors’ language.” Without explanation, the class spent its session before Election Day screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. When several students complained to the professor about the course’s politicized content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.

Johnson argues that a required commitment to "social justice" is sometimes used as a proxy to require a set of political beliefs. But in a sense this requirement only sets the seal on a long-term trend. Citing a survey "of 1,643 faculty members at 183 four-year colleges and universities" by three political scientists, he noted that the great majority of faculty members were self-described liberals.

Faculty members in the study were asked to place themselves on the political spectrum, and 72 percent identified as liberal while only 15 percent identified as conservative, with the remainder in the middle. The professors were also asked about party affiliation, and here the breakdown was 50 percent Democrats, 11 percent Republicans, and the rest independent and third parties. The study also broke down the findings by academic discipline, and found that humanities faculty members were the most likely (81 percent) to be liberal. The liberal percentage was at its highest in English literature (88 percent), followed by performing arts and psychology (both 84 percent), fine arts (83 percent), political science (81 percent). Other fields have more balance. The liberal-conservative split is 61-29 in education, 55-39 in economics, 53-47 in nursing, 51-19 in engineering, and 49-39 in business.

Some reviewers of Johnson's work sharply disagree. One Modern Languages professor said "I have worked with many colleagues over the years whose political and religious affiliations remained unknown to me. When I recommended hiring candidates, I always did so based on their academic credentials." Another basically argued that conservativism is positively correlated with intellectual inferiority. Hence there was no bias.

I think that a more thorough and unbiased study will reveal that far fewer conservative Christians opt to pursue academic careers (outside of religiously affiliated schools) than other groups. This, as I’ve noted previously, is because scholarship in prestigious research universities IMPLIES skepticism, questioning, challenging assumptions, revising traditions, and subverting dominant ideologies—goals that the most conservative scholars and students resist. ... The real dispute is whether or not this isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be. Just as the media must remain “liberal” enough to question and challenge political authority, universities are, in fact, one of the remaining bastions of liberal thinking. Conservative beliefs and attitudes already dominate the political, religious, and social spheres in America (not to mention public school boards around the country), and it’s quite obvious that these recent attacks on “liberal academia” are an attempt to spread that dominant influence into our colleges and universities. So let’s be clear on where and why the battle lines are being drawn.

Another commentator also believed that self-selection was a factor in creating a liberal-conservative imbalance. But he did not put it down to 'smart people choosing a smart career'. He argued that liberals and conservatives diverged in their job choices because they valued different kinds of careers.

there also is the issue of the pool for recruitment. Why are there no conservatives? Probably because conservatives tend to seek private sector jobs that pay more. In every field, the liberals are those paid the least. In physics or political science or english, teaching faculty are paid significantly less than those finding either private sector jobs or those in academic administration. So, the pool for junior faculty is more liberal because conservatives get higher paying positions in the private sector. Inside the university, conservatives become administrators (and again, are paid more).

To this way of thinking, each political persuasion creates its own ghetto by self-selection in which a liberalism is as unlikely to be found in some settings as conservativism in others. But while this may be the case it would be different from formally requiring a political point of view as a pre-requisite for entering into a career.

Gorgeous George Galloway 2

A number of readers (JG) and commenters have written to say that the Senate only posts prepared statements. Therefore under those terms, Galloway will not have submitted a statement and there is nothing unusual about it not being on the Senate Website and I apologize for the dramatic flourish. More interestingly, commenter Rick Ballard suggests (I think) that the Senate OFF hearings aren't really going anywhere. The Belmont Club post said, "Unless the Oil for Food hearings have come to a complete dead end, Coleman and Levin's examination of Galloway aren't the pointless thrashings of Senators at a loss to respond to the devastating wit of the British MP but tantalizing clues to the direction they wish the investigations to take," to which Rick Ballard said:

I rarely disagree with your analysis but I see zero evidence that calling Mr. Galloway in response to his taunting of the committee served any purpose whatsoever. Look at the lead up to his appearance and you see pure spotlight politics, if he comes the committee gets ink if he refuses, the committee gets ink. On top of that add the leak of the minority report to the Guardian prior to its publication but after the invitation to Galloway and all I see is Washington politics as usual.

To anyone thinking that the minority report was "innoculation" against charges that the Senate was ignoring American misdeeds wrt OFF I would ask - why did the Dem staff spend the majority of 128 pages on transactions that amounted to far less than 1% of the stolen OFF funds? Sen. Coleman may indeed be a bright and honorable man but Carl Levin hisses when he speaks and can slide through grass undetected. The Galloway/Pasqua report is here and the minority report is here. Until I see full exploration of the Strong/Desmarais/Paribas links by this committee I'm afraid that I'm going to regard it as a smokescreen. Don Kofi is a sottocapo figurehead being set up to take a fall for Mr. Big. The PowerCorp/Total/Final/Elf connections are where the real trail leads - that and the material supplier kick backs - not the oil surcharges.

Maybe they are headed for a dead end. It's entirely possible that Rick Ballard is essentially right about the Senate Committee, that it is hunting with blanks. In this scenario there are too many places that the Oil For Food scandal shouldn't go; owing to the extremely sensitive nature of the connections, so only low-hanging fruit like Kojo Annan, Zhirinovsky and George Galloway are going to take the heat. Galloway, with a kind of perverted sense of honor, may have felt the kind of outrage a small timer feels when being made to hold the bag and lashed out at the Senate investigation because he knows he was low man on the totem. It would be sad if Rick Ballard were right, though it is entirely possible. In the case the Oil For Food scandal isn't the road to justice, but simply a fuzzy glimpse into the corrupt world of international politics in the last years of the 20th century.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Gorgeous George Galloway

Reader KM points out in a private email that the testimony of George Galloway before the US Senate has gone missing. According to VUNet:

The website for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has removed testimony from UK MP George Galloway from its website. All other witness testimonies for the hearings on the Oil for Food scandal are available on the Committee's website in PDF form. But Galloway's testimony is the only document not on the site. ... Press representatives for the Committee had no comment.

The Senate Committee website itself has these terse entries, here reproduced verbatim which does not say that the testimony has been removed but that "Mr Galloway did not submit a statement".

Panel 1
Mark L. Greenblatt [View PDF] , Counsel , U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Steven A. Groves [View PDF] , Counsel , U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Dan M. Berkovitz [View PDF] , Counsel to the Minority , U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Panel 2
George Galloway , Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow , Great Britain
Mr Galloway did not submit a statement

Panel 3
Thomas A. Schweich [View PDF] , Chief of Staff, U.S. Mission to the United Nations , U. S. Department of State
Robert W. Werner [View PDF] , Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control , U. S. Department of the Treasury
Peter Reddaway [View PDF] , Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs , George Washington University

The declaration that "Mr Galloway did not submit a statement" is curious given the fact that he spoke for 47 minutes before the Senate, a performance which Christopher Hitchens, no admirer of Galloway, believed was a rhetorical "humiliation" of the Senate. A verbatim transcript of Galloway's testimony, together with a video record of the proceedings can be found at the Information Clearing House. To account for the discrepancy between the factual existence of Galloway's testimony and its nonappearance in the Senate website raises the possibility that Mr. Galloway's oral testimony is considered distinct from a written statement by the Senate rules or it has been expunged from the record because it puts the Senators in a bad light. But there is a third possibility.

The really striking thing about the Galloway's testimony as transcribed by the Information Clearing House is how the Senators and the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow were pursuing a non-collision course. Galloway had come to score press and public relations points at which, by all accounts, he was successful at doing. But Senator Coleman and Levin seemed totally uninterested in responding to Galloway's sharp political jibes. It was almost as if the Senators were deaf to his political posturing. Instead, they focused exclusively and repeatedly on two things: Galloway's relationship with Fawaz Zureikat and Tariq Aziz. Zureikat was a board member of Galloway's Mariam foundation who is also implicated in the Oil For Food deals. Tariq Aziz was Saddam's vice president.

SEN. COLEMAN: If I can get back to Mr. Zureikat one more time. Do you recall a time when he specifically -- when you had a conversation with him about oil dealings in Iraq?

GALLOWAY: I have already answered that question. I can assure you, Mr. Zureikat never gave me a penny from an oil deal, from a cake deal, from a bread deal, or from any deal. He donated money to our campaign, which we publicly brandished on all of our literature, along with the other donors to the campaign.

SEN. COLEMAN: Again, Mr. Galloway, a simple question. I'm looking for either a yes or no. Did you ever have a conversation with Mr. Zureikat where he informed you that he had oil dealings with Iraq, yes or no?

GALLOWAY: Not before this Daily Telegraph report, no. ...

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D): Thank you, Mr. Galloway.

Mr. Galloway, could you take a look at the Exhibit Number 12...


SEN. LEVIN: ... where your name is in parenthesis after Mr. Zureikat's?--

GALLOWAY: Before Mr. Zureikat's, if I'm looking at the right exhibit--

SEN. LEVIN: I'm sorry. I was going to finish my sentence -- my question, though. My question was, where your name is in parenthesis after Mr. Zureikat's company.

GALLOWAY: I apologize, Senator.

SEN. LEVIN: That's all right. Now, that document--assuming it's an accurate translation of the document underneath it--would you... you're not alleging here today that the document is a forgery, I gather?

GALLOWAY: Well, I have no idea, Senator, if it's a forgery or not.

SEN. LEVIN: But you're not alleging.

GALLOWAY: I'm saying that the information insofar as it relates to me is fake.

SEN. LEVIN: I -- is wrong?

GALLOWAY: It's wrong.

SEN. LEVIN: But you're not alleging that the document...

GALLOWAY: Well, I have no way of knowing, Senator.

SEN. LEVIN: That's fine. So you're not alleging?

GALLOWAY: No, I have no way -- I have no way of knowing. This is the first time...

SEN. LEVIN: Is it fair to say since you don't know, you're not alleging?

GALLOWAY: Well, it would have been nice to have seen it before today.

SEN. LEVIN: Is it fair to say, though, that either because you've not seen it before or because -- otherwise, you don't know. You're not alleging the document's a fake. Is that fair to say?

GALLOWAY: I haven't had it in my possession long enough to form a view about that.

SEN. LEVIN: All right. Would you let the subcommittee know after you've had it in your possession long enough whether you consider the document a fake.

GALLOWAY: Yes, although there is a -- there is an academic quality about it, Senator Levin, because you have already found me guilty before you -- before you actually allowed me to come here and speak for myself.

SEN. LEVIN: Well, in order to attempt to clear your name, would you...

GALLOWAY: Well, let's be clear about something.

SEN. LEVIN: Well, let me finish my question. Let me be clear about that, first of all. Would you submit to the subcommittee after you've had a chance to review this document whether or not, in your judgment, it is a forgery? Will you do that?

GALLOWAY: Well, if you will give me the original. I mean, this is not -- presumably, you wrote this English translation.

SEN. LEVIN: Yes, and there's a copy underneath it of the...

GALLOWAY: Well, yes, there is a copy of a gray blur. If you'll give me -- if you'll give me the original ...

SEN. LEVIN: The copy of the original.


GALLOWAY: Give me the original in a decipherable way, then of course I'll...

SEN. LEVIN: That would be fine. We appreciate that.


It is clear that Coleman and Levin were attempting to pin Galloway down on what he knew and when he knew it. They were also attempting to get him to categorically declare himself on the veracity of the Zureikat document. In the end, Galloway denied talking to Zureikat about oil deals with Saddam before it became a public issue. He also undertook to evaluate the veracity of the document which named him -- in parenthesis admittedly -- in one a document related to Oil for Food.

SEN. LEVIN: ... I wanted just to ask you about Tariq Aziz.


SEN. LEVIN: Tariq Aziz. You've indicated you, you--who you didn't talk to and who you did talk to. Did you have conversations with Tariq Aziz about the award of oil allocations? That's my question.


SEN. LEVIN: Thank you. I'm done. Thank you.

SEN. COLEMAN: Just one follow-up on the Tariq Aziz question. How often did you uh ... Can you describe the relation with Tariq Aziz?

GALLOWAY: Friendly.

SEN. COLEMAN: How often did you meet him?

GALLOWAY: Many times.

SEN. COLEMAN: Can you give an estimate of that?

GALLOWAY: No. Many times.

SEN. COLEMAN: Is it more than five?

GALLOWAY: Yes, sir.

SEN. COLEMAN: More than ten?


SEN. COLEMAN: Fifteen? Around fifteen?

GALLOWAY: Well, we're getting nearer, but I haven't counted. But many times. I'm saying to you "Many times," and I'm saying to you that I was friendly with him.

SEN. COLEMAN: And you describe him as "a very dear friend"?

GALLOWAY: I think you've quoted me as saying "a dear, dear friend." I don't often use the double adjective, but--

SEN. COLEMAN: --I was looking into your heart on that.--

GALLOWAY: --but "friend" I have no problem with. Senator, just before you go on--I do hope that you'll avail yourself of this dossier that I have produced. And I am really speaking through you to Senator Levin. This is what I have said about Saddam Hussein.

SEN. COLEMAN: Well, we'll enter that into the record without objection. I have no further questions of the witness. You're excused, Mr. Galloway.

GALLOWAY: Thank you very much.

In the exchange above it is abundantly clear that both Coleman and Levin simply wanted to enter Galloway's denial of having discussed Oil for Food business with Tariq Aziz in the record. Levin immediately ends his questioning after eliciting Galloway's "Never". Coleman is content to merely establish that Aziz and Galloway were "friends" who had met "many times" before saying "I have no further questions of the witness".

Unless the Oil for Food hearings have come to a complete dead end, Coleman and Levin's examination of Galloway aren't the pointless thrashings of Senators at a loss to respond to the devastating wit of the British MP but tantalizing clues to the direction they wish the investigations to take. The question that must have been in Galloway's mind -- and which is uppermost in mine -- is what else did the Senators know? The persons named by the Senate investigation so far -- Zhirinovsky, Pasqua and Galloway -- reads less like a list of principals than a list of fixers. The truly remarkable thing about Galloway's many meetings with Tariq Aziz was how much time the Iraqi was willing to devote to an obscure British backbencher with no official power. The unspoken question is why Saddam should take the trouble to bribe Galloway, if it were Galloway who was being bribed. The Senators were building a causal bridge to something, but to what? I am in no position to say, but will guess that Galloway's testimony and its disappearance from the Senate website can only be understood in the context of what Coleman and Levin were trying to achieve. My own sense is that the investigations are cautiously nearing far bigger game than George Galloway; but that his evidence or his refusal to give it is somehow crucial to achieving this larger goal. Other pieces of the puzzle may exist but there are two the public know about which may cast an interesting light in hindsight on Galloway's words. The first is contained in the Volcker Commission files which investigator Robert Parton turned over to the Senate Committee and the second is the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz. George Galloway may have appeared in the Senate but even he must be uncertain, until the missing pieces are played on the board, what he really said.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The High Hand

Glenn Reynolds notes that the New York Times coverage of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan may not really be about prisoner abuse or even Afghanistan, but about maintaining the prestige of Newsweek. He calls it "circling the wagons", the idea being to teach press critics an object lesson in how expensive it is to humiliate the mass media by catching them at sloppy reporting by flooding the zone with stories similar to the one which was discredited . That may or may not be the case, but it is nearly undeniable that the effect of the media's coverage of American misdeeds has been to make the slightest infraction against enemy combatants ruinously expensive. Not only the treatment of the enemy combatants themselves, but their articles of religious worship have become the subject of such scrutiny that Korans must handled with actual gloves in a ceremonial fashion, a fact that must be triumph for the jihadi cause in and of itself. While nothing is wrong with ensuring the proper treatment of enemy prisoners, the implicit moral superiority that has been accorded America's enemy and his effects recalls Rudyard Kipling's The Grave of the Hundred Dead.

Kipling described how the 19th century Indian Army maintained the myth of the Raj and upheld his prestige to compensate for their small numbers and military weakness. When a Subaltern of the First Shikaris is slain in a jungle ambush, his men know that they must teach the Burmans, first and foremost, how blasphemous it was to hurt one of the elect. For the sake of their masters and themselves the Shikaris raid the home village of the foe and slay them to the last man. "And Sniders squibbed no more; for the Burmans said that a white man's head must be paid for with heads five-score". Kipling's verse finds its modern analogue not in punitive visitations against "insurgent" strongholds in Afghanistan or Iraq -- which would be eagerly reported by the press if they could at all find them -- but in calls for the arrest of the American President or the dismissal of the the Secretary of Defense for a handful of cases of prisoner abuse gleaned from a global battlefield.

For example, a court in The Hague turned down a demand by a dozen plaintiffs who wanted to force the Dutch government to arrest US President George W Bush when he visits the Netherlands. Donald Rumsfeld has been repeatedly asked to resign over 'widespread prison' abuse in Abu Ghraib. The point of these calls for lopsided retribution is to drive home just how dangerous it is to trifle with sacred person and belief system of the enemy. It aims to paralyze anyone who even contemplates such an act of lese majeste. The modern "grave of a hundred dead" isn't a pyramid of skulls over the tomb of British Subaltern: it's an American Secretary of Defense's head on a stake over a photograph of a jihadi wearing a pair of panties as a hat. It is front-page calls for an abject American apology for flushing a Koran down a toilet even if it was never flushed down a toilet at all, except on the pages of Newsweek. It is calls for an admission of guilt if only the mere possibility of guilt existed. And if that were not psychological domination at par with the worst the British Empire could offer in its heyday then nothing is. There are Empires today of a different sort, but they maintain the power by much the same means.

There'll be some who say that toppling Saddam was meant to be an object lesson to the Arab world. If so, it has sent mixed messages because it was never prosecuted with the kind of frightening brutality that some have advocated. The image of the US after OIF is one of a giant afraid to hurt or even give offense to its enemies. Even in the battles of the First and Second Fallujah there were always extraordinary efforts to preserve mosques and similar places, probably to the glee and wonderment of the enemy. If the Kevin Sites incident and the subsequent investigation proved anything it was that the Marines were no Shikaris.

But if the US has been at pains to avoid the image of ruthlessness, the enemy by contrast has made a special effort to magnify his brutality by attacking mosques, beheading women, mutilating children, etc. often on camera. And the really disappointing thing it is that the intended intimidation works. If George Galloway's standard response to his critics is a lawsuit and radical Islam's first recourse is a fatwa then terror's first answer to insult is always the Grave of a Hundred Dead. Intimidation brings them respect from the very people who style themselves immune to intimidation. It is plain to the lowliest stringer from the most obscure tabloid that to insult America is cheap but to insult the local 'militants' very, very expensive. Kipling's cynical dictum is proven again and the lesson not forgotten.

We live in a strange world where the Beslan story vanishes in weeks while Abu Ghraib lives on for years. Maybe it reflects the inherent importance of the stories but it more probably demonstrates the media's ability to prolong the life of some stories while ignoring others. I hope it is not impertinent to observe that the media's demeanor towards terrorism bears more than a passing resemblance to cheap cowardice; but though outwardly similar it really springs from a high-minded idealism, deep courage and profound learning. Or so I hope.

The Grave of a Hundred Dead

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

A Snider squibbed in the jungle-
Somebody laughed and fled,
And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Jemadar Hira Lal,
Took command of the party,
Twenty rifles in all,
Marched them down to the river
As the day was beginning to fall.

They buried the boy by the river,
A blanket over his face-
They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
The men of an alien race-
They made a samadh in his honour,
A mark for his resting-place.

For they swore by the Holy Water,
They swore by the salt they ate,
That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
Should go to his God in state,
With fifty file of Burmans
To open him Heaven's Gate.

The men of the First Shikaris
Marched till the break of day,
Till they came to the rebel village
The village of Pabengmay-
A jingal covered the clearing,
Caltrops hampered the way.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Bidding them load with ball,
Halted a dozen rifles
Under the village wall;
Sent out a flanking-party
With Jemadar Hira Lal.

The men of the First Shikaris
Shouted and smote and slew,
Turning the grinning jingal
On to the howling crew.
The Jemadar's flanking-party
Butchered the folk who flew.

Long was the morn of slaughter,
Long was the list of slain,
Five score heads were taken,
Five score heads and twain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back to their grave again,

Each man bearing a basket
Red as his palms that day,
Red as the blazing village-
The village of Pabengmay
And the "drip-drip-drip" from the baskets
Reddened the grass by the way

They made a pile of their trophies
High as a tall man's chin,
Head upon head distorted,
Set in a sightless grin,
Anger and pain and terror
Stamped on the smoke-scorched skin.

Subadar Prag Tewarri
Put the head of the Boh
On the top of the mound of triumph,
The head of his son below-
With the sword and the peacock banner
That the world might behold and know.

Thus the samadh was perfect,
Thus was the lesson plain
Of the wrath of the First Shikaris-
The price of white man slain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back into camp again.

Then a silence came to the river,
A hush fell over the shore,
And Bohs that were brave departed,
And Sniders squibbed no more;
For the Burmans said
That a white man's head
Must be paid for with heads five-score.

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Great White North

The drama surrounding attempts by Canadian PM Paul Martin to hang on to power by ignoring a no confidence vote and then offering a Conservative oppositionist a Cabinet post to switch sides has taken an dramatic turn. Conservative Canadian MP Gurmant Grewal tape recorded an attempt by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Tim Murphy to bribe him to change his vote. Andrew Coyne highlights some snippets of the recorded conversation which are best heard against the background of squeezebox music playing  'Speak softly, love, so no one hears us but the sky. ...'

Murphy: "if anybody is asked the question, 'Well is there a deal?' and you say, 'No.' Well you want that to be the truth. ... So you didn't approach. We didn't approach."

A recent Belmont Club post noted that 'victories' won by the Left with these tactics were more properly understood as acts of desperation by those who feared their long term decline, as if in slipping from the pinnacle, they despaired of ever regaining it again.

The survival of Paul Martin's government, shaken by scandal after scandal, has been bought at the price of violating the spirit of the Westminister system by ignoring what was effectively a vote of no-confidence until they could bribe someone to cross the aisle to square the count. Martin survived but only by bending the rulebook. A Canadian conservative victory without Martin's shennanigans would have been an unremarkable and narrow electoral triumph. But the Liberal Party of Canada's actions now mean that the issues dividing political factions in the Great White North are fundamental. By demonstrating a determination to hold on to power at all costs Martin is increasing the likelihood of a radical, rather than an incremental solution to the Canadian crisis.

Mark Steyn has more in his article A Constitutional Coup

In the forthcoming Western Standard , I make the point that “the big flaw at the heart of the Westminster system is that in order to function as intended – by codes and conventions – it depends on a certain modesty and circumspection from the political class.” Perhaps it was always a long shot to expect a man as hollow as Paul Martin to understand that. ... But the fact remains: by any understanding of our system of government, if the effect of “an extra week’s delay” is to maintain themselves in power by one vote they otherwise would not have had, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a constitutional coup. Like Robert Mugabe, Paul Martin has simply declared that the constitution is whatever he says it is.

What characterizes much of the Left today as exemplified by behavior from George Galloway to Paul Martin is the increasing necessity to maintain their position By Any Means Necessary. While that is dangerous and infuriating, it is a reliable indicator that they have lost control of the system. Things just aren't working the way they used to. And that, despite everything, is cause for hope.

The Road to Perdition

Two factors that are normally considered in evaluating the outcome of a contemplated action are encapsulated in the notion of an expected value. An expected value is calculated from two independent components: the probability of an outcome and the 'payoff' of that outcome, where a 'payoff' can be negative: that is, a loss. But into the mathematics comes the human factor, expressed in our risk/return profile. People can choose between two mathematically equal expected values depending on their degree of risk aversion. For example, in making a wager, one might be willing to accept a large risk of losing a small amount and but be unwilling to take a small risk of losing a very large amount, even though they may have the same expected value. That's why few people are willing to play Russian roulette even for large sums of money.

In relation to the Newsweek Koran story fiasco, the existence of a wartime situation distorts the editorial process to the degree that it increases the consequences of a mistake. The probability of making an editorial mistake may be the same as it was ten years ago, given the same standards of news confirmation, but the consequences of an error may have drastically increased in a post-September 11 world where news is disseminated to distant combat zones in the blink of an eye. Newspapers are not alone in facing drastically changed payoff profiles for traditionally accepted practices. By the standards of World War 2 the modern US military has objectively reduced the probability of civilian casualties, prisoner abuse, etc to a degree that General Eisenhower or MacArthur would never have dreamed possible. Unfortunately, the political consequences of those events have grown to such an extent that their increase dominates the reduction in probability in the final product -- the expected value.

All of this is common sense, but it is easy to forget when one is blamed for doing what has always been done. The consequential difference between Woodward's 'Deep Throat' and Isikoff's 'anonymous source' is not necessarily the character or competence of one over the other; nor even the veracity of their informants. It's the thirty years between their stories: it's the fact that there's a war on. In the world of probability times payoff, good intentions are not a factor. Whether one means well or acts maliciously is irrelevant to changing the practical outcome of an event. Thus, the US military has learned it is not enough not to desire reducing collateral damage, it is important to create systems and procedures to achieve this. The small diameter bomb, special targeting software to reduce the footprint of blasts, training, and many other programs costing billions are a more serous proof that avoiding civilian casualties is a priority than any number of heartfelt declarations, however sincere. Because if the size of the payoff has grown, one had better damn well lower the probability to keep the expected value constant.

So when Newsweek went to press with the Koran story on the basis of an anonymous informant and no confirmation (other one denial from an official and the absence of a denial from another) it was not really doing anything untraditional, but it had failed to take into account the changed nature of the world. The US Air Force could well have argued that sending massed formations of heavy bombers to carpet-bomb the Muslim world was not any different from what Curtis Le May and Air Marshall Arthur Harris did during the 'Good War'; but that would have been absurd. The amazing thing is how long it took to understand how the times had changed for the Press as well. That may be in part because the Press is spared the immediate and terrible feedback of combat, to which the military is continuously subjected. The military effort to reduce collateral damage is driven largely by self-interest: the need to avoid unnecessary hostility from civilians in combat zones and to maintain political acceptability for its assigned missions. The requirements of survival have forced the military to evolve. But the Press in holding itself above responsibility has escaped into a kind of Lost World which is even now being shaken by a cataclysm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Agent 2

The Drudgereport carried a report of this strangely shrill exchange at a press briefing between Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and reporters. The words in the exchange are important, but not nearly as significant as the atmospherics which evoke Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --

Q You're pressuring them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --

Q It's not pressure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report....

Q Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military --

Q You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm coming to your question, and you're not letting me have a chance to respond. But our military goes out of their way to handle the Koran with care and respect. There are policies and practices that are in place. This report was wrong. Newsweek, itself, stated that it was wrong. And so now I think it's incumbent and -- incumbent upon Newsweek to do their part to help repair the damage. And they can do that through ways that they see best, but one way that would be good would be to point out what the policies and practices are in that part of the world, because it's in that region where this report has been exploited and used to cause lasting damage to the image of the United States of America. It has had serious consequences. And so that's all I'm saying, is that we would encourage them to take steps to help repair the damage. And I think that they recognize the importance of doing that. That's all I'm saying.

Q As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story.

The resentment is palpable. Not the resentment of the spokesman of a Commander in Chief of a military vilified in an article that has already been retracted, but the resentment of reporters whose prerogatives have been questioned. "With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek?", one asks. McClellan actually cannot finish a sentence in answer, because one of the prerogatives of this particular reporter is to ask the questions. "You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends." And the question, although put in different words each time, is monomanaically the same: when did you stop beating your wife? "As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story." And because "somebody wrote a story" the presumption was that the story had to be true, the retraction notwithstanding, as if it never existed, as if the retraction were completely irrelevant from the discussion. In a sense it is, because there was never a retraction. There may have been words which resembled a retraction, but it was never, ever really made because it is absolutely impossible to ever make it.

Three Weddings and a Funeral

Four apparently disconnected events in the past few days have served as the bellweather in the crisis called the Global War on Terror, a name now too narrow to be apt, because it has entailed a confrontation not only between terror and civilization but also Muslims and Christians, Left and Right, Democracy and Facism, the Old World and the New and much else. The four events are the George Galloway testimony before the US Senate; the survival through questionable constitutional tactics of the Liberal Government in Canada; the retraction by Newsweek of its Koran-flushing story and finally, the events in Uzbekistan.

The thread common to Galloway, the manuevers of the Canadian Paul Martin administration and Newsweek article is the extent to which the once-magisterial Left is now resorting to the shrillest and cheapest tactics as defensive maneuvers. Take George Galloway. His grandstand performance before the Coleman committee was brilliant employment of a weak hand. Galloway understood his weakness on substantive issues and turned his testimony into a screed, attempting to change the ground of the debate. It was wonderful theater, but still a weak hand. The Coleman hearings are about Oil For Food; lost in the noise is the essential fact that Galloway was a loose cannon under oath. In his blather he has connected some dots which are going to stay connected, long after Galloway's fifteen minutes of media fame have faded. I think George Galloway will see his theatrical performance replayed more often than he would like.

The survival of Paul Martin's government, shaken by scandal after scandal,  has been bought at the price of violating the spirit of the Westminister system by ignoring after what was effectively a vote of no-confidence until they could bribe someone to cross the aisle to square the count. Martin survived but only by bending the rulebook. A Canadian conservative victory without Martin's shennanigans would have been an unremarkable and narrow electoral triumph. But the Liberal Party of Canada's actions now mean that the issues dividing political factions in the Great White North are fundamental. By demonstrating a determination to hold on to power at all costs Martin is increasing the likelihood of a radical, rather than an incremental solution to the Canadian crisis.

The Newsweek affair was, in its way, a demonstration of how the mighty have fallen. The Koran-flushing story can only be understood in the context of the media's unexpected failure to play is accustomed role in the shaping the agenda on the War on Terror, the debate over the United Nations and above all, the 2004 elections. Watching Newsweek build a vaporous story and getting caught out is like seeing a once great prize-fighter resorting to eye-gouging, headbutting and ear-biting on his inevitable slide down into the undercard. Like Galloway and Martin, the Newsweek performance is one of ferocity, but ferocity in decline. There was a time when the Left was represented by the Jaures and the Jean Paul Sartres. Franco Molina once wrote a line for a Para general in the Battle of Algiers: 'Why is it that the Sartres are all born on the other side?" The Left could afford to speak down to its critics. But if Solina had waited a few decades more he would have seen them replaced by George Galloway, Michael Moore, Robert Fisk and Ward Churchill, who now await only the arrival of Bozo the Clown to become the Five Amigos.

The bad news comes not from the headlines but the backpages, in Uzbekistan where it is possible that the United States, in throwing in with President Karimov, has entered into a tactical alliance with a tyrant against radical Islamism: making him an ally -- yes -- but a tyrant just the same. Dan Darling at Winds of Change lays the case out dispassionately for his quondam utility and possible future liability.

Karimov runs an exceedingly tight and draconian ship, but until quite recently ... the majority of the population was hesitant about standing up to him either because they thought that he may be a tyrant and a strongman, but that in so doing he held the country together and prevented it from descending into chaos. ... This is one of the reasons why this protest/rebellion, regardless of the cause, is such a significant development: it means that for a growing number of Uzbeks, the view of Karimov as being a necessary evil has now weakened to the point where large numbers of them are able to protest or even take up arms against his government, with the latter in particular being a pretty big indication that somebody in Uzbekistan thinks they have a chance of bringing down his regime. ... The willingness to stand up to Karimov (the fact that these protests are even occurring is a sign of the impotency of his fearsome police state) is probably a good thing in the long run in the sense of eventually producing a stable democracy in the country. On the flip side, it also provides some definite windows of opportunity for Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU to exploit if they can move quickly, since both groups have been at the forefront of visible opposition to the regime.

This survey of events suggests (and it just my opinion) that the real strategic danger to the cause of freedom and democracy isn't from the noisemakers of the Left but from the temptation to betray principles for tactical gain. It lies on the very same path that Galloway, Martin and Newsweek, in their cunning, have taken. The Left hitched its wagon to the worst men of the 20th and 21st century and it is dragging them into the dustbin of history. Let's go the other way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Agent

The Agency Problem arises when a conflict of interest arises between a principal and his agent. The press often represents itself as an 'agent' of the larger society, a seeker after the truth on behalf of the public. It is perfectly legitimate to ask whether a conflict of interest can arise between the media and the public. A moment's reflection is enough to establish it is not always the case that the press -- whether a newspaper or an individual blogger -- has interests which completely coincide with the general public because any media entity is a proper subset of the public: being a part it cannot be the whole. In the case of the Newsweek decision to print a poorly sourced story on the descreation of a Koran at Guantanamo Naval Base it is pertinent to ask how the costs and benefits of the magazine's action would be distributed; whether the interests of the agent substantially coincide with the principal -- the public -- in whose name the press often claims to act. But any boost in circulation would accrue benefits to the employees and stockholders of Newsweek and not to general members of the public unless they had shares. It is equally clear that any externalities arising from the Koran story would not normally be borne by Newsweek. Though people might die, places destroyed or riots occur they would not likely happen to people or places associated with Newsweek.

The fallacy in the argument, of course, is the premise that Newsweek acts as an agent for the general public. It isn't, and is free from any responsibility as a public agent in the uproar it has caused by its retracted story. Newsweek is not an agent, but the purveyor of a product for which there happens to be a market protected by the First Amendment. This should be clear, and there is nothing wrong with it. But the question arises: to what extent is a commercial organization free to dump the external costs of their business on others. For historical and political reasons, society has been reluctant to make the purveyors of this sort of information accountable for the full cost of their speech, reasoning it would be better for society -- the Commons -- to bear the externality than to risk restricting expression. As in any case where an economic actor does not bear the entire cost of its actions, there is a tendency to overexploit the capacity of the Commons; to privately appropriate the gains and leave the effluent on the village green to be swept up by everyone else.

In this specific case, it is possible to entirely dispose of the argument that responsbility is somehow the "Bush Adminstration's" because Newsweek itself has retracted the Koran story. Whatever else the "Bush Administration" may be guilty of, it is not guilty in this particular case; but since Newsweek will not bear the costs of its mistake (because it is under no agency obligation to do so) it is equally clear that the costs must be borne by someone else in this particular case also: by the Commons; in this instance largely by the elected agents of the public, i.e. the government and its representatives, that is, by someone in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The interesting question is what should prevent this from happening again and the answer, insofar as I can see, is nothing. The system works that way by design choice. One thing that may create pressure for change is the increasing cost of dumping such externalities onto the Commons. In a world where certain groups are likely to detonate car bombs or radiological devices in response to any real or imagined slight, the Commons may be unable to bear the external costs of news organizations mindlessly purveying inflammatory and poorly-sourced news products. That is essentially the argument for censorship in wartime. Yet censorship itself imposes such huge costs that it is questionable whether such a cure would be better than the disease. In the past the choice of evils was avoided by resorting to social pressure like appeals to patriotism or personal requests. A newsmagazine in 1944 would probably not even considered publishing the equivalent of the Koran story on the basis of the slightest of sources and without any collateral confirmation whatsoever. But we're not in Kansas any more. Without that self restraint there is nothing for it but for the Commons to keep bearing the full cost of Newsweek-type journalism until the system snaps, to the detriment of all.