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Afghan Civilian Deaths – More Than Sept. 11?: I have been worried by reports claiming that more Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs than U.S. residents were killed by Islamo-wingnuts Sept. 11. About two weeks ago, I read a particularly horrific item in the International Herald-Tribune about bombs killing scores of bewildered Afghans at a wedding party. Civilian deaths are a terrible consequence of war, and are dismissed or ignored far too easily in many pro-war circles. If indeed the number of innocent deaths is higher over there, it crosses some important moral threshold, and makes me feel much more queasy about supporting this war.

Well, Mark Steyn says the “4,000” deaths figure being bandied around is pure bullshit, and backs it up with a little fact-checking. According to him, Human Rights Watch puts the figure at closer to 1,000. That’s still heartbreaking, but it’s different. What’s not different, is the Fear of Facts exhibited daily by critics of U.S. policy and conduct in this war. If their cause is just, it will survive the truth. I am looking forward to strenuous, uncensored and non-partisan numbers we can trust.

UPDATE: Other people, I have since learned, were taking the air out of civilian-deaths inflation four weeks ago, while I was blissfully off-line and stuffing foie gras down my throat. Bruce Rolston was debunking Marc Herold’s math back on Dec. 20, and Charles Johnson added a couple of rhetorical kicks. I am still hungry for accurate info on the subject, should anyone have some.

1/19/2002 04:23:14 PM

Uncounted U.S. Aid: The fortunately named Steven Den Beste makes an interesting list of things the United States provides to the world that aren’t counted as traditional “aid” – hurricane tracking, GPS, piracy control, disease research, etc.

1/18/2002 11:54:30 AM

Irregardlessly…. Several alert Safirologist readers have called my attention to the fact that the word “irregardless,” which I typed in below, doesn’t really exist, except in the vocabularies of those lacking full command of the Rules of Scrabble. Being an irredeemable anti-irredentist, I will continue using the word, since to me it means something a little different than “regardless.”

1/18/2002 11:51:27 AM

Hollywood Blvd. Update: Since coming back from Europe, I’ve been trying to do at least one thing a day you can only do in Los Angeles. Tonight’s entry was a press screening of the new Count of Monte Cristo movie at the marvelously restored El Capitan Theater, which we’ve somehow managed to avoid for four years (it only plays Disney movies). Anyways, because our metro stop doesn’t have anywhere to park after dark yet, we were forced to drive the three miles ourselves. Three years ago, we would have been able to park on a nearby side street for free. Now, with the two-dozen hip new restaurants and bars, the brand new Hollywood and Highland pedestrian mall and various other improvements, there’s nowhere to park close for less than eight bucks. So we ended up near the Opium Den, where we had to walk almost the whole length of the money-stretch of street known my entire life for pointless filth, tourist crap and the stuff on the sidewalk. And yeah, it’s still full of T-shirt shacks and tattoo parlors, but the thing that stuck out on the walk back to the car – no graffiti. Even with all the metal slats closed over the storefronts, there was less graffiti on scummy Hollywood Blvd. than I saw on probably every European street I walked on during Christmas. If this street actually follows through on this rehabilitation stuff, it will be an achievement on par with some of the reconstruction I witnessed in Central Europe.

As for the movie – I’ll be curious to find out how much, if any, was shot after Sept. 11. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say some of the concepts of justice, mercy, revenge and God have a distinctly un-French ring.

1/17/2002 11:05:56 PM

The Backlash Continues… This is a link to an OJR column by my dear friend and bridge partner, the noted war correspondent Tim Cavanaugh, in which he gives a bracing what-for to people who publish personal websites that discuss current events.

1/17/2002 05:54:56 PM

Mort Zuckerman Piles on the Saudis: The U.S. News and World Report editor in chief apparently does not see things the same way as Wyche Fowler.
We cannot tolerate having at our throat a bunch of volatile sheiks, kings, generals, and dictators. We have kowtowed all too often to this bunch, hazarding the ideals, reputation, and safety of America through a deepening involvement with their decadence, a stain with which most Americans are blissfully unfamiliar. America must confront its vulnerability now.

1/17/2002 02:58:08 PM

Wyche Fowler, U.S. Ambassador-Turned Saudi Lapdog: Almost every time Madeleine Albright sets foot on a college campus, she gets heckled by protest kids still fuming at a comment she made on 60 Minutes nearly six years ago about the sanctions-era deaths in Iraq being “worth it.” As my upcoming Reason Magazine piece will show, her non-denial of Lesley Stahl’s absurd claim about 500,000 dead children became the Rosetta Stone of the anti-sanctions movement, and the foundation of a half-decade worth of terrible activist math (irregardless of the heartlessness of her statement). At any rate, I would like to nominate a lesser-known candidate for future protests, whether on campus or outside his Beltway office: Wyche Fowler, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996-2001.

Fowler, who was the kind of appointee the Saudis love (close to the president, didn’t speak Arabic), wasted little time after his retirement setting up “consulting contracts with several multinational firms to advise them on business in the Middle East,” pulling down fat lecture fees on topics like “Saudi Arabia: America's Strategic Trade Partner in the Middle East,” and raising funds for The Middle East Institute, of which he is chairman. You would think, given the involvement of the Saudis in Sept. 11, and the House of Saud’s scores of outrageous comments since, that Fowler might be a bit contrite over his role (or lack thereof) in exerting universal values of decency and cooperation on our corrupted allies. And you would be wrong.

For the last four months, Fowler has been generating headlines such as: “Former Ambassador: Saudis Aren’t to Blame” (Charlotte Observer, Nov. 27). Whenever the cable teevee shows can’t get a media-hating prince on air, Fowler is the next best thing. Last night he was at it again, on the Jeff Greenfield show:

GREENFIELD: Now Mr. Wyche Fowler, you were there for three or four years. Is Mr. Woolsey [former CIA director James, who had just ripped apart the House of Saud] describing the Saudi Arabia that you knew and lived in?

WYCHE FOWLER, JR., FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Well, in all respect to my friend, the former director of the CIA, I think that one of the problems of these discussions is that he painted them with a pretty broad brush. And there were some exaggerations there that I do not think that the facts would substantiate.

GREENFIELD: Such as?

FOWLER: For one thing, well for one thing, the -- whether or not you agree or disagree with the most conservative form of religion, the Wahabism, it does teach tolerance for Jews and Christians. They are people of the book, known as people of the Koran. The Crown Prince Abdullah, who is the titular ruler of the country now, has spoken out against terrorism. He has preached himself tolerance for Christians and Jews, as he believes is the interpretation that he must adhere to.

And though certainly we see that there have been some very bad apples developed in and around Saudi Arabia, in that region, who claim Islam as the reason for their terrorist activities, I won't debate Mr. Woolsey's Nazi example, but I would certainly say that you could not use one or two or even 10 of those and condemn all of Islam or the actions of Saudi Arabia even -- any more than you could condemn all of Christianity for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and some of his fundamentalist characters.

GREENFIELD: But truly, Mr. Ambassador, you saw in your time in Saudi Arabia, some pretty rough stuff on what is after all a state-controlled media. This is not a First Amendment country. I mean, they've done everything from report the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," that notorious czarist forgery about Jews, to some cases blaming the United States for committing some of these terrorist acts on itself. Did you ever raise this with the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, that this was really not helpful?

FOWLER: Well, we had been in discussions, but again, Jeff, and that goes back to your opening piece. There have been, in our urge for them to have a freedom of the press, such as in Qatar now and the famous al Jazeera. You are now having, for the first time, every kind of viewpoint. Well, not every kind in Saudi Arabia, but there is a loosening under what we would call far more freedom of speech.

And many things are said now on television in Arab stations from Egypt to Qatar to Saudi Arabia, that are not checked. And they speak in what we would consider some kind of wild and woolly and non-factual -- do not have the facts to back it up.

GREENFIELD: Ambassador Fowler, in terms of the clout, and I'll be very blunt about that, that the United States has, isn't the royal family situation that namely, that there's a fair amount of discontent among a lot of those folks in Saudi Arabia, doesn't that give the United States, with its military power, a lot more clout to press the Saudis for reform, that might otherwise have thought of, because of the issue of oil?

FOWLER: Well, I think again, Jeff, you're overlooking the fact that the Saudis themselves are seeking both economic reform. And the question whether is it will be coupled with what we in the West would identify as political reform.

Italics mine. Can you believe this apologist evasion? And this wasn’t an isolated incident. On CNN, Dec. 10:
BLITZER: Well, Wyche Fowler, you served in Saudi Arabia. You were the U.S. ambassador most recently. How is it going to play in Saudi Arabia, this [Osama bin Laden confession] videotape, if it's as compelling as the administration says it is?

WYCHE FOWLER, CHAIRMAN, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Well, I think it would be helpful. I think it would be helpful to the case that … we are making and that we believe. … There hadn't been any hatred being spewed out of Saudi Arabia or Egypt for that matter against us. All the hatred has been against bin Laden because he called for the overthrow of the Saudi government.
On Dateline MSNBC, Dec. 7:
DATELINE repeatedly asked the Saudi kingdom to discuss its relations with the US, but we received no response. Wyche Fowler, Jr., a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says America should be cautious about pushing too hard for democratic reforms.

Mr. WYCHE FOWLER, JR.: I don't think we can dictate to any country who have different cultures and have thousand-year histories of their structure, be it tribal, be it based on the Quran. We can't tell them that American democracy is the only way to govern their land.
In the Charlotte Observer, Dec. 2:
Q. There has been some criticism that the Saudis have not been vocal enough in their support of the United States with other Arab countries.

A: They have their own problems. They have terrorism. They can't just go up and hug Mother America when they've got an awful lot of people, including the bin Ladens of the world, who think that they ought to be going back to the 7th century and having nothing to do with Western democracy.

The fact that they aren't - I call it saluting - America, why should we ask them to do that? That just shows that we don't have any sensitivity to their own domestic problems.

Q. Some argue that greater political openness in Arab countries would lessen the appeal of Islamic fundamentalists. What are the prospects for democracy in Saudi Arabia?

A: You're not going to have this overnight transition anywhere in the Middle East into Western-style democracies. It's against their whole history. […]

Q. What are some common misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East?

A: Before Sept. 11, there were almost no misperceptions except those engendered by Hollywood that all Arabs are terrorists, villains and rag heads.

Other than that there weren't any misperceptions, there was just this total ignorance about that part of the world. Americans just have never, never been engaged - you can almost say flat out - in the foreign policy decisions of the United States.

From a Nov. 26 speech at his alma mater, Davidson University:
Amb. Fowler emphasized the Saudi affinity for the United States and that country's absolute cooperation in fighting terrorism.

"We are justifiably proud that Saudi Arabia has been our solid ally for 60 years," he said. […]

He also noted that it's distressing, but not surprising, that those involved were well-educated. He said political violence has often been fomented by educated people because they are less accepting of the notions of inferiority and injustice, and believe they can do something about it. "The educated have evil among them just as they have good among them," he said. […]

Fowler said the most pressing problem in Saudi Arabia, and one which could fuel terrorism if not addressed, is its overwhelming 3.8 percent birth rate. About half its population is age 18 or under, and many of those young people are faced with unemployment. The problem is exacerbated by the current low price of oil, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's income. […]

He deflected claims that Saudi officials have been anything less than fully cooperative in the fight against terror, and stated that Saudi Arabia is "uniquely pro-American." […]

In addition, Amb. Fowler said the bin Laden family (Osama is one of 52 children) has been so cooperative in the ongoing investigation that the family's construction firm has received contracts to work on U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia.

He also urged Americans not to criticize Saudi Arabia as not vocal enough in its support of America. He said, "Let them do it quietly, because they have their own domestic problems. Why should they salute the American flag or issue press releases of support every day? That sort of demand shows insensitivity to their domestic problems." […]

He said most Saudis are content with their government, which has provided citizens with free education, free health care, a modern infrastructure and road system, and shining cities.

In the Charlotte Observer, Nov. 27:
"You shouldn't indict Saudi Arabia as a premier terrorist state because of what happened on Sept. 11 any more than you can indict the state of Oklahoma," he said.
In the Washington Times, Nov. 7:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Arab states must do more to put their case across in the United States if they are to counter an often one-sided Middle East debate in Washington, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt said yesterday.

Ned Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, told Reuters news agency he was concerned by the absence of an effective voice to represent Arab viewpoints in the United States after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

He and former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Wyche Fowler, also a member of the think tank, are on the final leg of a tour that also included Egypt, Israel and Syria.

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 7:
"The Saudis don't like to issue a press release every day," said Wyche Fowler, ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration and a former U.S. senator from Georgia. "The Saudis are cooperating in every way that we are asking them to."
On the PBS Newshour, Oct. 3:
GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Fowler, it seems hard to figure out exactly how to read our relationship with Saudi Arabia right now. There are the public statements, which are very generalized statements of support, and then there seem to be some question about whether they would let us use their bases for launching attacks. Where do we stand with that that you can tell?

WYCHE FOWLER: Well, I think I can endorse that the cooperation by the Saudis with the United States could not be any closer.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Fowler, there are other issues which could also intervene in this kind of coalition building. Should the United States be turning its head away from issues like human rights concerns in Uzbekistan or concerns that the Saudis have supported Islamic fundamentalists?

WYCHE FOWLER: Well, again, we have to be careful as to who do we say and what.

GWEN IFILL: Allegations of.

WYCHE FOWLER: There are a lot of allegations that are not proven. For instance, I don't know of an instance where the Saudis have supported any kind of fundamental terrorism that has a direct link.

There’s lots more where this came from. This man has lived for at least 21 years at taxpayer expense – 16 in Congress, five as ambassador. He is cashing in on that experience as we speak, and in the process acting as an apologist for a corrupt regime of a country which produced 15 of the 19 terrorists Sept. 11. Gang up on Barbara Kingsolver and the goofy left all you want – for my money, no single misguided pundit has done as much harm to the country in this time of crisis as Wyche Fowler.

1/17/2002 11:58:21 AM

Sara Jane Olson, Four Other SLA Members Charged With 1975 Murder: Wow.

1/16/2002 07:05:55 PM

A Quick Note on Enron: It’s an important story – one of the highest-valued companies in the country, one which provided a quasi-revolutionary type of service, which has been accused by (opportunistic) California politicians of helping precipitate our energy crisis, and which is probably in the top five of all corporations in closeness to the Administration and Republican Party, crashes and burns in a cloud of fraud and irresponsibility. There are so many journalists on this now, that I’m reasonably confident some will unravel the deal, and maybe even explain it ways we can all understand. Without having read much on it, I can understand that Robert Rubin needs a public flogging for his irresponsible phone call, and Don Evans deserves to be mocked cruelly for answering a legitimate question about Enron’s over-sized access to governance with a bullshit homily about the “little guy in Oregon” who donated $37.38 to George Bush because that’s all he could afford, etc.

But I refuse to read anything that puts the word “gate” after Enron. I cannot stomach reading respectable newspapers talk about “potential scandal” and whatnot (notice how the Papers of Record cover these Beltway scandalgates the way cable teevee did Gary Condit? You know, asking questions like “So what’s next in this scandal?”). This is a fascinating business-politics story, but the sight of so many partisans (even and especially those who deny being partisans) automatically adopting reverse-Whitewater positions, and making wild assumptions about the opposition’s motivations for whatever … this is boring, trivial, unseemly, depressing, and I won’t read any of it.

1/16/2002 11:43:02 AM

Speaking of Nuanced Arguments…: My ex-colleague Geov Parrish makes the curious claim that
In many ways, Ronald Reagan did the worst possible thing for the memory of Dr. [Martin Luther] King by acceding -- reluctantly -- to the national holiday that bears King's name.
Er, why’s that?
Because the holiday has become a feel-good lie. […] [It's] as much about self-congratulatory patriotism that King was American as self-examination that American racism made him necessary and that our government, at every level, sought to destroy him.
I disagree. I remember reading a little children’s biography of MLK in the third or fourth grade, assigned by the teacher, and feeling a horrible knot in my gut at the idea that this man was put in jail, hounded as a commie, and (worst of all) forced to do what he did in the first place. He, along with Harriet Tubman (also assigned reading), became my first heroes. I believe King (like Jackie Robinson and Ali) are showered praise and given American-hero status precisely because we feel burning shame at what our country did very recently. I don’t know anyone who sees MLK as some kind of feel-good bedtime story. Then Parrish goes off the deep end.
If the King of 1955 or 1965 were alive today, he would be accused of treason for his pacifism, as he was reviled for "Communism" then; instead of the FBI trying to bring him down, he, and most of his associates, would be prosecutable under new anti-terrorism statutes.
What new anti-terrorism statutes? Name one anti-war critic who has been prosecuted under new anti-terrorism statutes. For that matter, name one government official or non-crazy writer who has specifically accused any pacifist of “treason.” Why is it so hard to make a case without exaggerating wildly?
And the moral outrage of Americans, that made his work so effective? We don't do that any more. A couple of months ago we nearly starved millions of Afghans to death -- instead of the few hundred thousand dying at the hands of U.S.-backed warlords today -- and virtually nobody even noticed in this country, let alone cared. It'd take a whole lot more than police dogs to make the news today. Ask any global justice demonstrator.
Italics mine. What, if not “moral outrage,” was behind U.S. intervention in the Balkans? (Oh yeah, Empire blah blah blah.) There’s more of the same, if you’re interested in such things.

1/16/2002 10:21:01 AM

The Warblog Backlash Gathers Steam: According to a creepy-looking guy named Justin Raimondo of Sunnyvale’s AntiWar.com,
Warbloggers … are the mutant offspring of Virginia Postrel, Andrew Sullivan, and Ariel Sharon. […]

To a man (and woman) they are as scathingly intolerant of any and all dissent on the War question as they are vehement in their contempt for Arabs – all Arabs: that is, Arabs as such – and support for the state of Israel. It's frightening, really, with so many sites – there must be hundreds of these little war-bots spawned in cyberspace, springing out of the psychic ether like Myrdmidons and lunging at anyone who doesn't toe the Party Line. […]

This United Front Against "Islamo-Fascism" takes on some pretty ugly connotations in the testosterone-drenched prose of one of the biggies – at least in his own mind – Ken Layne, a jack-of-all-trades media type who boasts that not only is he a college dropout, but he has also "lived and worked in many strange places. … Layne is at least as hateful as any article in Al Riyadh. […]

The warbloggers have taken the old leftie slogan, "the personal is the political," and used it as a weapon to bludgeon all opposition to their world-conquering spirit. […]

The aim of this sort of superheated ultra-emotional it's-all-about-me kind of rhetoric is to rule any and all criticism of US foreign policy out of order.

I would answer some of these highly nuanced criticisms, but I was scheduled to shoot an Arab at midnight. Or was that vote Libertarian? Or support Ariel Sharon and John Ashcroft? Or deport critics? It’s hard to keep track of all the stuff I’m supposed to believe in; thanks to the Antiwar kids for e-mailing me this reminder.

1/15/2002 11:11:28 PM

‘It is always easier for the winners to act nice’: The terrific blogger Natalie Solent, in a contrarian defense of feminism, dropped a few well-put lines applicable to life in general, and even the war:
It is always easier for the winners to act nice. My lord can dispense mercy to the peasants with a merry smile; I bet the peasants were a surly, resentful bunch. When women first broke into such professions as medicine and law, can you imagine what a bunch of obsessive harpies those first pioneers had to be? Feminism is, by hypothesis, a matter of looking at institutions and customs that have proceeded without opposition for centuries and pronouncing them wrong. It is seeing and denouncing a problem where no-one, even the victims, saw it before. It is hard to do this and stay welcome at parties.
Some Catholics I know can never quite understand the lifelong hostility by ex-churchmembers who’ve been fondled by a priest, or resent the ridiculous Cult of Mary, or simply can’t stomach the hypocrisy of a dominant religion. Peel back the side-paneling on a Limousine Liberal, and often you’ll see someone who went face to face, on the front lines, with the ugliest that America can muster. I have much more sympathy for them, than for people my age and younger who spout unlearned bullshit.

1/15/2002 10:26:40 PM

The Straw Hat, Finally Explained: Was digging through month-old e-mails, and ran across a thing from Little Stevie Den Beste alerting me to some minor disparagement I was being subjected to by the kids over at Metafilter, about a pre-vacation post on weblogs vs. newspaper op-ed pages. My five favorite barbs, in reverse order:
5. “He's guilty of a little self-congratulation of his own where weblogs and online writers are concerned.”
4. “All of these 'warbloggers' are where webloggers were 2 years ago, except these guys have even bigger egos.”
3. “All in all, this is a rambling and pointless article on a rambling and pointless subject.”
2. “Besides being pretty pointless, this article was excruciating to read.”
1. “Welch is Drudge’s mini-me: same lone gunman conceit, same populist rhetoric, similiar hat fetish.”
About the hat: I wore it exactly once in my life -- the bleary but joyful day after my wedding (it was a present, destroyed within 24 hours in what I presume was a bizarre guitar-playing accident). The original photo is actually in color, and you will see that certain ego-mad ‘warbloggers’ have been cropped out. A half-year later, when I was in Cuba, I sent a private e-mail to Ken Layne, which he immediately published on Tabloid.net. He needed a columnist-photo, so that was that. Saw no reason to change it over the years until yesterday, when technical problems forced me to give Reason a different photo … which has a rambling and pointless story of its own (with a much happier, as-yet-unpublished ending). Now you know.

1/15/2002 03:41:46 PM

Euro-anecdote: Alert reader Ray Eckhart asked for more stories about the new currency. Here’s one: Just after my first Euro transaction, we continued through the mountains toward Switzerland. Just before entering the long tunnel 20 miles before the border (can’t remember or find the name, durnit), we were stopped by two Austrian cops, who were flagging down cars with foreign plates just in front of the tunnel mouth. The biggest and dumbest of the two puffed his chest, wagged his finger, and shouted at us in German. “You don’t have a vignette! [Little sticker-deal you buy for 10 bucks and put in your window.] You must pay 120 Euros!” He was very proud of himself. Emmanuelle, struggling in German (it’s her fourth or fifth language, and they refused to speak English or French – “We are in Austria!” they explained), told them why we didn’t: We had a 2001 sticker when we came into the country on Dec. 29, and when we returned Jan. 4 we weren’t sure whether it applied to 2002 or not, and the Austrian border guards happily waved us on through from Hungary. Also, every place that claimed to sell the little things were closed. Finally, our window was littered with various national stickers – we aren’t the avoiding type – and this particular pre-tunnel operation smacked of the worst kind of Balkan/Hungarian cop-profiteering. He waved us into their unmarked gray van, where the guy was supposed to “speak French” (he didn’t). After a whole bunch of “Das is nicht gut!” from Emmanuelle, we gave up, because it was 10 p.m. in the snow, and we’d been driving for more than 12 hours.

What does this have to do with the Euro? It illustrates how having a currency union is one thing, but without harmonized systems on the tax-collection side (as happened when Germany and Italy unified their currencies in the 1800s), true unity is not possible. Even a supposedly borderless multilingual entity like the EU happily encourages profiteering thug-cops to take advantage of whatever intra-country confusion remains in the margins. If I ran the EU, I’d do whatever possible to normalize the motorway system (even if you can’t create a universal tariff – the French will never yield their toll cash-cow, even though it breaks the promise they made to their own people - keeping certain roadsigns the same color would be a good start). And I’d also forbid police from handling cash. It’s bad enough that places like L.A. have a system in which law enforcement is incentivized to hand out parking tickets (which fall disproportionally on the poor); letting them extract cash on the spot from foreigners makes Austrians look like Baja cops, or (even worse for their bruised national self-esteem) Hungarians and Slovaks.

1/15/2002 01:51:21 PM

Pro-Terrorist Bias at NY Times: Charles Johnson picks apart a New York Times feature article (not opinion piece) for its astonishing bias in favor of a Palestinian terrorist. It is not necessary to love Israel, Ariel Sharon, the occupation of the West Bank & Gaza, or the building of settlements, to appreciate Johnson’s vivisection.

1/15/2002 11:39:50 AM

Another New Column From Me: All Hail the Euro; Now Let a Euro-Military, and Euro-Responsibility, Come Next: This is my final WorkingForChange column, and marks a quasi-revelation I had on the Continent: Wherever and however possible, while still allowing the U.S. to act aggressively in its own interest and as the Leader of the Free World, the countries and the peoples of the world need to be given as much responsibility for their own governance and (especially?) defense as possible, as soon as possible. Without that, maturity on their part becomes impossible, and the U.S. will increasingly be seen as the only country with any influence on events, which strikes me as a lose-lose situation. And no, I haven’t read that Atlantic cover story yet. Layne’s already accusing me of becoming a Buchananite; I see it more as the next logical step of Wilsonianism….

1/15/2002 09:51:55 AM

New Column From Me! Expatriates, Enclaves and War: Well, it’s not really new (Dec. 18), but it was one of two of my vacation columns killed by WorkingForChange (for whom I no longer work), and I’m only getting round to posting it now. Hopefully, it has that timeless feel….

1/14/2002 07:15:11 PM

The Most Shocking Reality TV Show Ever: Nothing on the boob tube is more consistently outrageous, more infuriatingly banal, than CNN’s Reliable Sources. I had inadvertently seen about 30 seconds of this weekend’s version, before lunging to switch off the television when Howard Kurtz asked L.A. Times Deputy M.E. Leo Wolinsky “Are readers in LA still very interested in this war?” (Not only is it a ridiculous question, but the notion of an L.A. Times editor – even a respected one like Wolinsky – having any clue about what “readers in L.A.” want, is laughable.) Checking the transcript, there were several embarrassing moments, such as this assessment of the Enron situation from San Francisco Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein:
I heard earlier today on CNN a reference to crony capitalism. I'm not sure that it's risen to that level yet, at least we have no evidence. But having covered Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines for a number of years, that's a phrase that rings pretty interesting to me.
Er, what’s the point about journalism and Enron here? Oh yeah – that Phil Bronstein was once a swashbuckling foreign correspondent! At least he doesn’t lapse into journalistic cliché…
On the other hand, it's sort of a case of gambling in Casablanca. We're really shocked.
Well, maybe not. Later, Chicago Tribune Deputy M.E. Jim Warren had this shocking thing to say about his own reporters’ ignorance:
The company that Leo and I belong to, Tribune Company, is passing out stock options this year in lieu of raises, and most of our people don't even have a clue what a stock option is.
Good God. Nearly half of adult Americans now own stocks. Stock options have achieved prominence in the national debate through stories like Enron, and that minor Internet boom-and-bust thing of the 1990s. My brother, an unemployed machinist, knows what stock options are. If you work as a journalist in this country, especially at a West Coast paper like the Times, and don’t know what stock options are, you should be fired. Bronstein, though, rose to his colleagues’ defense:
The reality is, is that, you know, we do essentially the best we can. And I think at this point, we are doing the best we can in pursuing this.
Remember, Bronstein edits the San Francisco Chronicle. One of the most over-staffed, famously mediocre newspapers in the western world. And he’s satisfied. I thought editors and reporters were supposed to be continuously frustrated that they hadn’t done better. Next, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page talks about her improving paper’s Afghanistan coverage:
We have a small foreign staff, and we really sent a lot of people from our Washington bureau and from our life and money section, even, to the region to do reporting there. And we've rotated them back, because it's a difficult place to work. It's exhausting. Some of the people got sick. So, we have done a kind of rotation.
Off the top of my head, I could give Page the names of a dozen top-drawer available journalists with either direct experience in Afghanistan, or extensive background covering conflicts in the Balkans and Middle East. She could find them herself, with a few hours’ worth of Googling. Before she could explain USA Today’s policy of apparently not having foreign bureaus (or even stringers), the Swashbuckler jumped in to blame (who else?) the public:
Context is so crucial in this, because after the end of the Cold War, as those of us who were doing this kind of job knew, interest dropped dramatically. There was a precipitous drop in interest in the American public in foreign international news. And now, suddenly...
KURTZ: You could argue, Phil Bronstein, that a lot of journalists and editors and producers concluded that people didn't care about foreign news, and maybe it turns out that they were wrong.
BRONSTEIN: Well, I think they'd certainly be wrong if they assume that now, but the reality is, suddenly we're talking about very strange cultures, cultures that are strange to us, so a sort of isolationist’s view is not only inappropriate, but it doesn't give you any clue as to why what's going on is going on.
Don’t you feel relieved to know that at least Dashing Phil is here to explain “why what’s going on is going on” in these “very strange cultures”? Kurtz is providing a service, I suppose, by giving us a glimpse of the very strange culture of monopolist newsrooms. But it’s a dose best taken in transcript form.

1/14/2002 09:41:53 AM

‘Expert’ Web Design: Steve Yelvington, who’s one of the true veterans of newspaper web design, wrote a column recently criticizing news sites for having too many damned links on their front pages.
The eye and brain can't easily process clusters of more than seven choices , according to research in cognitive psychology that pre-dates the Web by a couple of decades. […] Cut the trivial. Accentuate what's important. Help the reader by getting to the point.
He also makes a couple of comments that seem to me typical of monopolist newspaperdom’s condescending “gatekeeper theory” (i.e., we are the keepers of the Great Gate of Information, doling out whatever bits we decide you need).
An editor organizes and selects. I like the French word for the process -- redaction -- which has to do with reducing, or compressing. […] Every word, every link we add takes away from the prominence of every other. When everything's important, nothing's important. Editing is about making choices on behalf of readers. Hard choices.
My former editor and current career adviser Henry Copeland, who now runs a company that designs and hosts newspaper websites, dressed Yelvington right down.
What really destroys a home page is not lots of links, but links that are poorly organized, categorically muddled, imbedded in a kaleidoscope of colors like... yes, it has to be said, www.americanpressinstitute.org, home to Yelvington's article. (Here's a challenge: go to that home page and try quickly to navigate to Yelvington's article without using the search function.) […] Given that site editors can guide readers with words, fonts, font sizes, headers, colors, columns, and decks, and that these readers can draw on past web-reading experience, a homepage's total link count is irrelevant to its usefulness.
So what do Yelvington’s design ideas look like in practice? Well, here’s his website…. Steve’s been helpful to me in the past, and I hope he’s not sore. Just trying to keep it real, etc.

1/14/2002 08:20:13 AM

George Washington’s Booze-Hounds: Another new blog, called Happy Fun Pundit, run by guys named Dan and Steve, has a good bit on weird presidential pets (such as Abe Lincoln’s pig). My favorite:
George Washington had a lot of dogs. Among them were Drunkard, Taster, Tipsy, and Tipler. I'm guessing old George liked to imbibe on occasion. He also had a dog named "Sweetlips" (make up your own joke).

1/13/2002 08:01:24 PM

New Blog of Note: I don’t know who “Dr. Frank” is, beyond seemingly being a yank living in the U.K., but he runs a terrific blog that you should check out. He also says nice things about me, which is pleasant.

Having been gone for less than a month, it seems that WarBlogland has roughly doubled, and a quarter of the oldsters have redesigned. If I can make one bit of encouragement, it’s to remind people (chiefly, myself) to not forget to look elsewhere for news & opinion. Reading the IHT (and cranky-ass William Pfaff) for a month, and meeting up with weird smart friends like Dan Langenkamp (bass player in my former band; also, played the last match of tennis in Taliban-era Afghanistan) was a good reminder that there’s more to life than blogs, you know (but not much more, not much more…).

1/13/2002 07:19:18 PM

The Real Unzipping of Paula Zahn: Just before the recent house-ad hubbub, funnyman Tim Cavanaugh gave Zahn a rhetorical stomping, blaming her (with evidence) for prolonging Communism, mangling furriner names, and (worst of all) treating her Arab guests with undisguised, unintelligent contempt. Here’s his conclusion; go read the whole thing, because it’s funny and good.
All of which makes it so tragic than even against such easy opponents, Zahn is incapable of coming across as anything but an overfed and underbred nitwit. If a team of French Immortals conferred for a decade to produce the most appalling possible travesty of an American, it's unlikely they could come up with a better Golem than Paula Zahn, beaming about the War on Terrorism (WOT), mispronouncing the names of Olympic athletes, accredited journalists and everybody in between, and getting into stupid arguments where her defensiveness is matched only by her incompetence. After watching a few hours of Zahn, even patriotic US citizens might find themselves fuming about the arrogant American cowboy who has finally gotten a taste of his own medicine.

Which is why Zahn doesn't just embarrass herself and her employers at CNN. She actually helps turn public opinion against the United States of America and makes it more difficult for us to wage the War on Terrorism (WOT). The total destruction of al-Qaeda will not be the end of the struggle. America will not be truly safe until we have smoked Paula Zahn out of her hole and brought her to justice.

1/13/2002 03:09:48 PM

A Proper Chick Hearn Tribute…: … was written, of course, by my pal Eric Neel, two weeks ago.
Chick's sound is the sound of rolled-down car windows on Sunset boulevard and air-conditioned interiors on jammed freeways, of transistor radios dangling from bicycle handle bars, and of boom boxes blaring in restaurant kitchens. It's the sound you hear at lifeguard stations from Huntington to Santa Monica, and in newsrooms, laundromats, liquor stores and bus stops all over the L.A. area.

People often talk about L.A. as a sort of disconnected place, but in my experience, no matter who or where people are, they feel connected to Chick, and unexpected little communities and unpredictable friendships crop up around his voice, because folks trust the way his sound makes new places and strange people feel familiar.

Every game day and night for almost 40 years, they've breathed him in like air, like his sound was the most basic element of who they were and where they lived. They moved through it, played along with it, leaned on it. It was a fact of life, the kind you plant your feet on.

1/13/2002 03:01:38 PM

Get Better, Chickie Baby: Last night I experienced something for the first time in my 33 years on the planet: A Laker broadcast without Chick Hearn. It was horrible; worse than seeing the tired boys lose to the dreadful Chicago Bulls, or watching Shaq throw an errant Marvin Hagler punch in the direction of some poor sap’s jug-head. Before his recent heart surgery, Chick had broadcast 3,338 consecutive games, a streak stretching back to 1965. He is a genius of the English language (check out this list of hilarious basketball terms he’s invented over the years), an uncommonly energetic and generous man, and (like Dodgers announcer Vin Scully) one of the few elemental sources of cohesion in notoriously fragmented Southern California. You should hear when he fields radio call-ins before games – unlike the obnoxious, performance-oriented Jim Rome “clones,” you get people of all ages and backgrounds, and each and every one of them thanks Chick for being there for us. If I could drop whatever it is that I’m doing and write three biographies of guys who might not be with us for much longer, they would be about Vinnie, Cal Worthington (who was a major figure in nurturing Southern California coOWN/CONTENT/?020114ta_talk_hertzberg">snurky little twaddle this week about how the NY Times’ temporary upside-down sports pages were a useful reminder that
news about sports is not really news at all—not, at any rate, in the sense that news about politics, economic and social developments, and international affairs is news […] The fact that one set of highly paid entertainers gets more points than another set of highly paid entertainers on a given day, while of surpassing and perfectly legitimate interest to many people, is not of great moment. To acknowledge this reality takes nothing away from the wholesome, character-building aspects of athletic competition. Nor does it imply disrespect for the craft of sportswriting, which, on account of the repetitive nature of the subject matter, places a premium on literary skill.
Balderdash, Hertzberg. You wouldn’t say that if your team wasn’t so crappy, and if you had the lifelong pleasure of listening to Chick Hearn.

1/13/2002 01:03:38 PM

Cockburn: It’s not Only About Oil, Conspiracy Nuts!: Lefty curmudgeon Alexander Cockburn, whose publication has never shied away from some out-there Secret Government accusations, rounds up some of the more popular conspiracy theories around and gives them a swift kick:
But does this mean that the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan "for oil"? Surely not. If stability was the goal, then war was a foolish option. The Bush regime hastened into war because America had sustained the greatest massacre on its soil since Pearl Harbor, and it faced the political imperative of finding an enemy at top speed on which to exact vengeance.
A related note: While at a delightful Budapest restaurant, I bumped into an old colleague who now runs the oil desk of a major wire service, and has been following the Caspian action for years. “My readers want to know,” I asked: “Is this war all about oil?” He laughed and laughed. “Bollocks!” he said.

1/13/2002 10:41:01 AM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

/a>: Last night I experienced something for the first time in my 33 years on the planet: A Laker broadcast without Chick Hearn. It was horrible; worse than seeing the tired boys lose to the dreadful Chicago Bulls, or watching Shaq throw an errant Marvin Hagler punch in the direction of some poor sap’s jug-head. Before his recent heart surgery, Chick had broadcast 3,338 consecutive games, a streak stretching back to 1965. He is a genius of the English language (check out this list of hilarious basketball terms he’s invented over the years), an uncommonly energetic and generous man, and (like Dodgers announcer Vin Scully) one of the few elemental sources of cohesion in notoriously fragmented Southern California. You should hear when he fields radio call-ins before games – unlike the obnoxious, performance-oriented Jim Rome “clones,” you get people of all ages and backgrounds, and each and every one of them thanks Chick for being there for us. If I could drop whatever it is that I’m doing and write three biographies of guys who might not be with us for much longer, they would be about Vinnie, Cal Worthington (who was a major figure in nurturing Southern California country music), and Chick Hearn. The game last night was actually unbearable to watch without him.

The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, who I usually enjoy when he writes about media, wrote some snurky little twaddle this week about how the NY Times’ temporary upside-down sports pages were a useful reminder that

news about sports is not really news at all—not, at any rate, in the sense that news about politics, economic and social developments, and international affairs is news […] The fact that one set of highly paid entertainers gets more points than another set of highly paid entertainers on a given day, while of surpassing and perfectly legitimate interest to many people, is not of great moment. To acknowledge this reality takes nothing away from the wholesome, character-building aspects of athletic competition. Nor does it imply disrespect for the craft of sportswriting, which, on account of the repetitive nature of the subject matter, places a premium on literary skill.
Balderdash, Hertzberg. You wouldn’t say that if your team wasn’t so crappy, and if you had the lifelong pleasure of listening to Chick Hearn.

1/13/2002 01:03:38 PM

Cockburn: It’s not Only About Oil, Conspiracy Nuts!: Lefty curmudgeon Alexander Cockburn, whose publication has never shied away from some out-there Secret Government accusations, rounds up some of the more popular conspiracy theories around and gives them a swift kick:
But does this mean that the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan "for oil"? Surely not. If stability was the goal, then war was a foolish option. The Bush regime hastened into war because America had sustained the greatest massacre on its soil since Pearl Harbor, and it faced the political imperative of finding an enemy at top speed on which to exact vengeance.
A related note: While at a delightful Budapest restaurant, I bumped into an old colleague who now runs the oil desk of a major wire service, and has been following the Caspian action for years. “My readers want to know,” I asked: “Is this war all about oil?” He laughed and laughed. “Bollocks!” he said.

1/13/2002 10:41:01 AM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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