Saturday, May 18, 2002

Bizquick gives its “inane press release of the day” award for Thursday to Starbucks for their announcement of their Summer Heat Relief Tour 2002.

Not just inane, but pretty tasteless, given that 622 people have died in a heat wave in India.
The what-did-Bush-know-when pile-on has now officially reached hysterical levels, as History News Network's P.M. Carpenter's call to the administration's opponents to "Grab a Louisville Slugger" shows (found via Atrios).

I'm not thrilled at all with the spin emmanating from 1600 Pennsylvania on this issue, as I think my current page header makes clear. But I believe it's damned important to keep in mind that these are not normal times, and as much fun as it may be to beat up on idiots (especially idiots holding public office with whom you hold substantive disagreements), we'd better remember what our priority should be right about now: to win this war.

Carpenter gleefully paints the what-if scenario of where we'd be had Clinton or Gore been in office last September: "Presidential initiatives would be halted cold in their tracks--and permanently. For the remainder of his term, a Clinton or Gore would experience imposed paralyzation, plagued eight days a week by ever-mounting Republican investigations." And concludes: "Turnabout is but fair."

Perhaps. Probably, in fact. But frankly I don't give two shakes about what's "fair" at the moment --- what I care about is ensuring that our government does the absolute best job possible of ensuring the safety of this country. And while I can't know for sure whether Carpenter really does hope that Bush gets his "turnabout" and ends up with an administration in "imposed paralyzation", I would hope it's obvious to anyone that this would be an extraordinarily bad thing right about now.

Does this mean Bush and the administration should get a free pass? Absolutely not. What it means is that any intelligent criticism of the administration must be focused not on simply discrediting Bush or making his appointees look incompetent. It has to be focused on actual constructive criticism of the current course of the government, and on bringing every available intelligent mind to focus on the issue of how we can make it function better. Because we're not talking about whether the estate tax gets revised or not this year. We're talking about how we're going to defend our families and fellow citizens against a still-at-large group of homicidal maniacs who would like very much to kill us.

Should Tenet or Rice or Mueller get fired for their respective failures to prevent 9/11? Maybe. I don't have enough information yet to form a judgment. But the criteria I'll apply in making that judgment will not be whether they "deserve" it, or whether a Clinton appointee in their place would be fired -- it will be whether removing them from office will improve, or harm, this country's ability to defend itself.

I think many, if not most, of the voices being raised in alarm and dismay about the administration's handling of the pre-9/11 warnings --- and their current lack of candor --- genuinely do have the old and honorable aim of improving our society and government through open discussion and criticism. But some, including Carpenter, seem to be failing to grasp the danger involved in politically castrating the President of the United States when, ever so incidentally, we happen to be at war.

The N.Y. Times (registration required) has a preview today of a Vatican legal scholar's upcoming article in which he argues that "Roman Catholic bishops should not turn over allegations or records of sexual abuse by priests to the civil authorities".

The obvious tagline here was "they still don't get it", but that's gotten to be a truism. The learned fellow also apparently offers this helpful insight: "From a canonical point of view, the bishop or religious superior is neither morally nor legally responsible for a criminal act committed by one of his clerics."

It's hard to know even where to start, and I don't have the energy this early in the morning pre-coffee. Take it away, Mr. Sullivan...

Friday, May 17, 2002

Meryl was kind enough to send some linkage my way today, so a big 'hey there' to any of her regulars stopping by. And just to be clear: no, you won't find any actual blackmail photos of her on the site. Sorry!
Instapundit says that "the Blogosphere is the Rolling Stone of the 21st century".

Does that mean Glenn gets to be Cameron Crowe?
The BBC quotes one of Iran's ruling conservative clerics saying that Iran "is on the threshold of an explosion. If popular discontent increases, society and the regime will be threatened."

While this kind of statement comes regularly from the "reformers" in Iran, this fellow is on the conservative side of the fence, and hence his statement bears greater significance.

I'll regard this as tentatively hopeful for now; let's just hope that the ruling Islamists don't take the Chinese approach to quelling dissent.
I'm not sure if I just don't understand German culture or if this is genuinely weird.

Update: OK, it's apparently bizarro world day in Germany.
Michael Moore got a standing ovation at Cannes at the premiere of his new film, Bowling for Columbine.

I think I'll get out of the way now before I get caught in the incoming fire from Instapundit & the rest o' the blogosphere...
Is anyone else reading the print publication The Week?

It's basically Slate's Today's Papers in print form --- about 40 pages each week with excerpts from the top stories of global media. Quite handy for those of us with web-induced short attention spans.

They have a web site here, but it is basically just for subscribing to the print publication. Costs about $50 annually; kinda pricey (I believe my fiancee wangled us a freebie deal of some sort, which I guess is why it started showing up in our mailbox) but check it out if you're into that sort o' thing...

Anti-Semitism at San Francisco State University: Meryl Yourish is covering the hell out of this issue, and incidentally demonstrating that the line between weblogging and journalism is a rather fine, blurry one --- if it can be said to exist at all.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen has an interesting take on The Rules of Innovation with regards to new businesses and how they compete with incumbents.

Some of his advice is a bit banal ("Innovations fail when managers attempt to implement them within organizations that are incapable of succeeding. Managers can determine the innovation limits of their organizations quite precisely by asking three questions: (1) Do I have the resources to succeed?...") but the main thrusts of the piece cross the border into the subtle realm of ideas that are obvious when you think about them --- except you didn't really think about them before.

Notably, Christensen starts by commenting on the evolution of process control and quality assurance: "The 'Quality Movement' of the 1980s and ’90s subsequently taught us that there isn’t randomness in processes. Every deviation of the actual value from the target has a cause."

This is dead on, and is a favorite topic of mine in my line o' work, which is software development. All too often I encounter people trying to debug a mysterious system crash or other fault that they claim is "random". There ain't no such animal as "random" behavior from a computer, at least until we get true quantum computers up and running. Random, as Christensen points out, is all too often lazy shorthand for "deterministically driven by variables I am unaware of or don't understand".

The second, and more central, thrust of his analysis is dividing new products and technologies into those that are sustaining and those that are disruptive --- and arguing that essentially, new businesses are far more likely to succeed when they introduce disruptive technologies, whereas they'll get their hat handed to them by the incumbents if they aim at sustaining technologies.

This isn't exactly major news, but Christensen's analysis lends some valuable rigor to the gut instinct that leads one to believe this must be true...check it out.
George Lucas thinks using technology to create digital versions of film stars is a bad idea.

I think he's simply trying to distract us from the fact that he's already got the technology and has utilized it in his last two films ... it's the only rational explanation for the night-of-the-living-dead performances he's gotten...

Kids These Days: it seems "freaking" is the latest media shorthand for the latest teenage dance style to upset the old folks. Freaking, explains the Washington Post (via MSNBC), "makes the lambada look like the hokeypokey". ( Self pity note: First I missed the free-love 60's, now this. Damn....)

The story details the various efforts taken by flummoxed high school administrators to discourage said Forbidden Dance, including those at Stone Ridge High School, where "the deejay froze the freaking several times during a recent dance by playing the 'Barney' theme song."

I'm pretty sure this is a violation of the Geneva Convention. Where's UNCHR when you need it?

The Washington Post digs deeper into the "who knew what when" of pre-September 11th warnings. It's not a pretty picture.
Nicholas Kristof has a well-balanced piece summarizing the Clinton-era Arafat / Barak negotiations in the N.Y. Times today (registration required). His facts seem right to me --- but the conclusion he draws from them is a bit squirrelly.

Kristof is backpeddling from his own previous columns in which he "sneered at Mr. Arafat and reiterated the common view that he had rejected very generous peace deals proffered by Ehud Barak." He proceeds to walk through the peace offer put on the table by Barak and Clinton at Camp David and ---more significantly --- the more generous offers which followed.

But after detailing Arafat's dithering and clear failure to grab the best deal ever offered (or, as has been widely been pointed out, offer a counterproposal), Kristol goes waffly and concludes:

"All in all, it is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth."

Hmmm. Lacks courage --- check. Refused to accept last reasonable offer --- check. "Maddening, vacilating, and passive negotiator" --- check. Supports violence when negotiation doesn't go to his liking --- check.

What, exactly, would make Arafat a poor negotiating partner? I'd tend to agree that calling negotiation "pointless" is an overstatement --- certainly at the very least from a cynical realpolitik perspective. But going into it with any illusions that Arafat is a rational partner in the process is simple stupidity.

Stick to those guns, Nick.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Glenn over at Instapundit is The Man, of course, and can be relied on for sound and sensible punditry on all subjects and at all hours. Even he, however, occasionally falls victim to the lure of oversimplification --- specifically, the temptation to lump together groups of individuals, particularly when they're doing something odious.

In Instapundit's case, the target du jour is "the French". Actually, they've been a favorite target of Instapundit and other blogs for quite a while. With synagogues burning across the country, it isn't any wonder.

But precision in language is important, and it is that phrase ---- "The French" --- that's the problem. I know Glenn knows that not all French are torching Jewish houses of worship, but that's not the point. In this case, it is more or less harmless fun. But generalizations like this are dangerous --- not for any of the usual PC notions that they are racist or any such (although sometimes they are), but simply because they get in the way of genuinely useful critical thinking about problems.

The worst example of this is when we talk about "The Palestinians" and "The Israelis". All too much coverage makes it sounds like there are two sides to the current conflict. I count at least four: Israelis who want peace; Israelis who don't; Palestinians who want peace, and Palestinians who don't. And even that segmentation is a deceptive oversimplification, I suspect. When you think of "the two sides" as monolithic, the events of the last few years in Middle East make absolutely no sense --- the two sides seem clearly to be acting irrationally and against their own interests. But when you slice down further --- and avoid the easy turns of the phrase like "the Palestinians" --- you get a clearer picture of reality, because in fact, each side is riddled with factions whose interests are not common.

Hence, the importance of precise language... or as "the French" would say, langue précise...

Well, it's done. The blog is open to the public... I considered waiting a few days to build up a backlog of posts, but why bother. If you like what you see today, there'll be more of it tomorrow...
Has it occured to anyone that Andrew Sullivan may have let "slip" his alleged exile from the pages of the NY Times Magazine not by accident (ha!), nor even out of a desire to improve his reputation and denigrate Howell Raines, but simply to perform a real-life experiment to see just how powerful the blogosphere in general (and his blog in particular) has become?

Sullivan's always demonstrated a keen interest in the power-o-the-blog, and in its ability to provide a counterweight to Big Media. And so I picture Andrew waking up one day last week, thinking idly about his banishment from the Times, and then the thought occuring to him: "I wonder what would happen if..."

Once he'd gotten that far, I can't imagine him being able to resist the possibility of finding out whether his little blog provides him a more powerful media soapbox than The New York Times does Raines.

I'm unconvinced that Sullivan has opened this can of worms because he's seeking any particular outcome, even one as base as just humiliating Raines. I think he's interested in watching the process play out...
The news of the day (yesterday, to be precise) is the White House's minor little revelation that there was indeed some warning that Al Qaeda planned to hijack American airliners. Somehow this tidbit appears to have slipped everyone's mind at 1600 Pennsylvania until just yesterday. Tip of the hat to Instapundit (5/15 at 10:31 pm and again 5/16 at 9:03 am) for providing the definitive debunking of the arguments why it's OK that the FBI, CIA, INS and the rest of the federal government "couldn't conceive" of this kind of attack ever occuring.

Free advice to the White House for the weeks to come:
Remember the first rule of political scandals --- It's not the offense that gets you in the end, it's the coverup.