InstaPundit.Com

1/12/2002

SECURITY UPDATE: The FAA is requesting comments on whether pilots should be armed, and with what. They're due by February 14. Of course, the FAA isn't accepting regular USPS mail. But you can submit comments via their website here -- just note the docket number from the notice and follow the instructions.

ANOTHER BLOGGER pointing out that this punditry thing isn't as hard as a whole bunch of people have been pretending. I love this part, addressed to Jonah Goldberg: "It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say: show me an NRO reader without his or her own blog, and I'll show you an NRO reader who just hasn't stumbled upon InstaPundit yet."

Well, one of InstaPundit's goals was to show that most anyone could do this stuff. And, obviously, I've succeeded. I choose to take that as a compliment. . . .

NORWEGIAN PROSECUTORS serving as hired thugs for the MPAA? Why not? Ours have been doing it for years.

PRAETORIAN ALERT: I just ran across this column on the Secret Service from a couple of days ago, and it's well worth reading. But here's the key passage:

I say "used to be" because the whole detail has started to show signs of reduced professionalism, not in how they guard the president but in their dealings with the general public.

In the last decade or two, instead of being low-key guardians of the president's person, the detail has started to look more like Praetorian guards, the owners of all they survey - whether or not they're currently guarding the POTUS.

From ripping down signs that they find offensive to their "primaries" to lawsuits for "discrimination" that often go nowhere, the individuals of the detail have started to show an overweaning arrogance, a naive hubris that needs to be taken in hand. . . .

This is absolutely right. Arrogance, and trading on proximity to the President, ought to be absolute, no-excuses, no-appeal career-enders for Secret Service agents.

THE TEXT OF MUSHARRAF'S SPEECH is available on Bjorn Staerk's page.

ENRON UPDATE: Tony Adragna references this press release as evidence that the Big Five accounting firms are "circling the wagons."

JEFF JARVIS says we've entered the post-PC era. Funny, I was discussing with a colleague the other day the Ally McBealization of our female law students: leather pants and pierced-belly-button-baring sweaters are unremarkable now, where they would have been utterly unthinkable on female law students just a few years ago. (And it must have Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin seething.)

I do think that there's a change in the wind. We have a long way to go, but things are certainly different.

TIM BLAIR WRITES of the gratitude of sweatshop workers in Bangladesh toward the Western activists who have freed them.

MATT WELCH defends McDonald's and promotes Harvard undergraduates. Nice to have you back, Matt.

AL HUNT SIDES WITH LARRY SUMMERS and savages Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. This was in the WSJ yesterday, but it's now available on OpinionJournal.

IT'S ANOTHER 9/11 MIRACLE, according to this story of something that survived flame and rubble.

Considering, I don't think it was a miracle at all. The miracle would have been if crashing airliners could have made a dent. Come to think of it, we may have been sitting, unawares, on a secret weapon against terrorists all along.

IT'S POSSIBLE TO DO INTERESTING WORK ON RACE IN AMERICA, at least when you're not Cornel West.

MORE EVIDENCE THAT THE WAR ON TERROR ISN'T UNDER CONTROL: The U.S. government is still selling documents on how to make germ weapons, including information on how to make spores inhalable, and how to weaponize smallpox.

I'm all for declassification of stuff that doesn't need to be classified. But is this stuff that doesn't need to be classified?

MUSHARRAF, I'm convinced, is doing the best he can. (Though, worrisomely, the State Department agrees.) I don't know, though, if it will be enough. Suman Palit offers several scenarios for what comes next. It's not entirely encouraging.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

You know, I've had a sneeking suspicion that Musharef worked this all out with the Indians ahead of time (maybe or maybe not before the parlimentary attack) to provide him with the leverage to pull an Attaturk-like reform/secularization.

Of course, it is dangerous way to do it, since it runs the danger of looking like he's kowtowing to the Indians.

Yes. On the other hand, there are a lot of American troops in the area now, and we'd be likely to provide backing for an Ataturk-like reform. That has its own political risks, but since we have a lot of experienced special forces there, we could probably do it in a way that wouldn't make too many weaves.

NEWS FROM THE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS FRONT: Reader Dave Kopel writes:

The musical Tommy is currently playing in Denver. As you know, Tommy is "that deaf, dumb and blind kid" who becomes a Pinball Wizard.

The Boulder Daily Camera, on Friday, couldn't bring itself to say "deaf, dumb and blind." Instead, Tommy was described as a the story of an "abused, physically challenged" boy who becomes a pinball player.

I guess Pete Townsend should have written "That physically challenged kid sure plays mean pinball."

Of course, Tommy is NOT "physically challenged." His problems are not physical, but are the result of the mental trauma of seeing his father killed.
Of course, the really amazing thing is that the Camera would use the term "wizard," which might be construed as offensive to Wiccans.

CHANGE COMES TO KANDAHAR now that the Taliban are gone. And I mean change.

AIR SECURITY "REEKS," according to InstaPundit reader (and NYU law student) Jonathan Wishnia:

I have just returned from an international flight from Dublin to JFK during which I had my belongings searched twice. This was quite upsetting not because I was searched but because the search was so useless. Neither time did they check all the pockets of my bags or ANYTHING on my person (ie. empty your pockets, please). They also ignored a lead sealed bag of film and two cameras (I even OFFERED to turn them on, but they said no), either of which could easily have been explosive. They basically touched around in my bag for sharp objects, finding nothing obviously (I went to great pains to remove my nail clippers from the overhead compartment bags). They asked me if I had sharp objects, I said no, they said ok. Not a real tough screening. If I wanted to get anything through that process, I could have done so with ease.

And yes, I am a mere law student who has never taken a course in airline safety. But, like yourself, I am analytical (often to the point of fault), and this security reeks.

Yes, that's been my experience. Intrusive but ineffective. I remain unconvinced that this is doing any good at all, besides keeping bureaucrats busy and convincing the gullible that something is being done.

UPDATE: A reader suggests that I add a link to this story, which makes clear that anyone paying attention to Al Qaeda should have foreseen something like what happened on 9/11. Indeed.

The pieces of the puzzle were there, but complacency, as much as anything, kept them from being put together. (Unless, as is conceivable, they saw this coming and it happened anyway because of a failed "sting," which would be bad in a different way. But there's no actual evidence that this is the case.) At any rate, the combination of obvious cluelessness (inept but intrusive searches) and dropped balls (follow the link) says to me that the burden of proof is on the security services and their defenders, not the critics.

DAVID BROOKS REVIEWS Richard Posner on the failure of public intellectuals. Not a terrific review, but not bad. Here's a good excerpt:

But this book is no parody. And so watching Posner try to apply economic laws to public debate is a bit like watching a Martian trying to use statistics to explain a senior prom. He is able to detect a few crude patterns, but he's missing the fraught complexity of the thing. Just consider the serial posturings of your average panel discussion -- the sycophantic introductions, the flattering references by the panelists to one another's work, the showtime vehemence of the professional radical, the slow-talking gravity of the emeritus thumb-sucker, the pompous pose of cogitation that symposiasts adopt as they pretend to listen to the other speakers. None of this is reducible to supply and demand. Cornel West cannot be captured in a chart.
I'm not so sure that Brooks is right about this. There's a big market for people who simultaneously provoke and (partially -- but only partially) assuage white guilt (just as there's a big market for strippers who simultaneously provoke, and partially -- but only partially -- assuage male lust). The market for such is greater than the supply, which means that even mediocre guilt-assuagers will do very well, as Cornel West clearly has. Is that so hard? And it's pretty much Posner's thesis, as I understand it. (And strippers, etc., are always trying to cross over into the big time by making movies, or recording albums. Sound familiar? Traci Lords even tried DJ-ing and released a CD! The parallels abound, at least until you look at a photo of Cornel West).

I think that the real problem with public intellectuals is the lack of a feedback loop. They're not held accountable for being wrong (the WSJ story by Matthew Rose, in which he needled pundits for being wrong about the war, was a rare exception). They're not criticized for their views much, and they tend to play to a particular constituency that wants to hear particular views, rather than valuing rightness. It's a species of performance art more than a species of intellectual activity. (This seems to be Posner's thesis, too, though I haven't read the book).

It's my hope that the Internet, talk radio, and other rapid-response approaches will introduce some feedback into the system. It seems to be happening.

UPDATE: Reader Eugene Volokh has this observation on the Brooks passage quoted above:

It was traditionally the radical left that mocked common politenesses and conventional puffing as some sort of shocking dishonesty, and I'm sorry to see Brooks falling into the same error. Yes, panelists refer to each other's work in a positive way; that's just good manners, acknowledging that someone with whom you might disagree has added something valuable to the debate. Yes, you pretend to listen to other speakers, even if they're boring, and you try to do it with a pose of cogitation and not incredulity or just plain sleepiness. Yes, as a moderator you introduce panelists positively, but that's not because you're trying to get something out of them (other than hoping that they'll show up at the organization's conferences in the future), but because you're grateful that they agreed to participate (often for free), and because you want to impress the audience with the panel's quality.

These points are not, I think, critical to Brooks' column, but that just makes them even more troubling. Because Brooks dislikes the academy, he faults it not just for its bad qualities, but for its good ones. And in so doing, he reinforces the notion that the petty courtesies of life -- courtesies that ultimately make society much more livable and effective -- must somehow be replaced by a brutal and misplaced honesty.

I agree with this observation, and I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't even notice that aspect to Brooks' point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader writes to say that only on InstaPundit are you likely to see Richard Posner and Traci Lords cheek-by-jowl, if you will. I think that was intended as a compliment, but I'm not entirely sure.

THE REAL ENRON SCANDAL: More evidence for Will Vehrs' contention that this should be called the Arthur Andersen scandal: Now Andersen admits that its employees destroyed a lot of important documents that shouldn't have been destroyed, and that will be important to the investigation.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is predicting a meta-scandal, in which it becomes obvious that everyone in Washington, regardless of party, is on the take. Among other things (read the whole post) he notes that Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was making calls for Enron, too.

If it breaks into meta-scandal, I'm calling it a victory for the GOP. True, they may take more hits in the short term. But the more the government looks like it's generally corrupt and in the pocket of special interests, the less support there is for higher taxes, new programs, and similar things that tend to be Democratic, rather than Republican, priorities.

UPDATE: The meta-scandal prediction is looking better, as this article on Democratic involvement with Enron makes clear.

1/11/2002

CHARLEY REESE gets taken down and proves that you can be right-wing and anti-American.

A READER TOOK EXCEPTION TO MY COMMENTS ON ANTI-TERRORISM AND SECURITY below, and sent this missive:

Actually, before September 11, security officials were mostly worried about the sort of bomb attack that downed the Pan Am jet at Lockerbie and was suspected initially of downing TWA Flight 800. These attacks appear to be by far the easiest way to kill several hundred people with the least risk to the terrorists themselves. So far, at least, nobody has died from a bomb on an American plane since Lockerbie.

Why do law professors, who are responsible for nothing more difficult than dragging themselves into a classroom to regurgitate some memorized syllogisms in the current interpretation of Constitutional law, automatically assume that they are smarter than the people responsible for the safety of extremely complex systems that must invite 700 million strangers each year into the center of big pieces of fast-moving machinery run by companies that must sustain operations in fiercely competitive markets?

I remember back in the 1960s when some lawyers thought they were smarter than everyone else, and saved the rest of us rubes from our follies by reinventing the criminal justice system for us. Just the increase in the homicide rate since the Federalization of local justice in the 1960s has cost about 300,000 extra dead Americans on the street. The terrorists and bureaucrats still have a way to go to match that total.

Well, let's look at this. If security people were really so worried about bombs in luggage, then why -- even now -- is checked luggage not screened? Either this isn't true, or they were rather lacking in the execution department.

As for dropping the ball, here are a few things we know: One of the terrorists acted so suspiciously at a Phoenix flight school that the flight school called the FAA -- which responded by sending someone to help him with his English. When Zacarias Moussaoui was acting suspiciously at his flight school, it took multiple calls to the FBI, and a flight instructor's heated warning that a loaded airliner could be a weapon, to get any action. They finally did arrest him, but show no signs of having taken that warning to heart.

After 9/11, many security officials said they couldn't have expected the scenario that transpired -- even though it was very close to one dreamed up by the teenage Columbine killers, and was also the key event in a Tom Clancy novel.

Now the security precautions they're taking are a joke -- managing to be completely inadequate yet heavily intrusive. The most successful line of defense on and since 9/11 has been angry passengers, not those professionals.

I'll ignore the slurs on my day job, except to say that if I taught my classes the way the security establishment has dealt with air terrorism, I'd still be muttering vaguely that Plessy v. Ferguson might someday be overruled. (Note to nonlawyers: it was, in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended segregation). I don't want to be smarter than these guys, but as a lawyer I have this tendency to look at the evidence.

The rest is pure non sequitur, and hardly calls for a response.

Note to readers: the guy who sent this isn't usually this way; he's sent me email before and it hasn't been like this. I don't know what got into him. But I stand by my statement: security isn't up to the job. It wasn't before 9/11, and if it's doing any better now, they're doing a masterful job of concealing it.

Organizations that succeed -- especially in wartime -- do so by ensuring that bad news gets to the top. Eisenhower made a big point of that in World War Two. The Vietnamese made a big point of it when they were fighting us. The suppression of bad news and the concealment of failure are the hallmarks of dysfunctional organizations. Look at the security establishment, and see where it fits in, based on the evidence so far.

JOSH MARSHALL raises a point that may kill the Enron "scandal" before it gets started. At least, it's going to make those all-important scandal-machinery-stoking hearings kind of hard:

How many of the Senators and Congresspersons on these committees received campaign contributions from Enron? And do they have to recuse themselves?

And will anyone be left to run the committees?

Say, was this Ashcroft's sneaky plan in loudly recusing himself because he had gotten contributions from Enron executives when he was in Congress?

UPDATE: Following Josh Marshall's link to the OpenSecrets.Org site, I discovered that Enron (and its executive corps) has given money to practically everyone (including, on the very first page, Jim Jeffords and Hillary Rodham Clinton! Though Chuck Schumer got by far the most of any Democrat -- hint: look at his committee assignments). Soft money went, in copious amounts, to both Republican and Democratic congressional and senatorial campaign committees, and both national committees. Josh Marshall is right that in recent years much more overall went to Republicans, but conflict-of-interest analysis doesn't partake of such common-sense proportionality, which is one of its flaws.

Enron (or its executives) didn't give any money to Henry Waxman as best as I can tell, but there's a contribution from somebody called the "Lighthouse Energy Group," which serves "clients with ambitious agendas throughout the energy industry" (And it's "prospering!") It seems pretty likely that Lighthouse was acting on behalf of either Enron or a competitor (based on a google search of Lighthouse's principals, probably but not certainly the latter: they're alt-energy types mostly, but Enron has a wind power subsidiary so that doesn't prove anything). Either way this seems like a conflict for Waxman, doesn't it? (Yeah, sure, such a claim will be largely bogus -- but so will nearly all the claims of "links" and "conflicts" that will be made in this matter).

If this matter fails to reach scandal-status, despite Don Van Natta's fond hopes, it will be because so many Democrats will be implicated, too. And there's almost no chance that we'll get to the real problem: that the "scandalous" behavior people are complaining about is typical, and that every Fortune 500 company throws money around Washington like a drunken sailor. And members of Congress don't just take it: they shake the tree to make sure it falls out.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Say, it's worth noting that Rand Simberg anticipated this point days ago, though his focus was on Clinton Administration ties to Enron.

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader points out this Byron York column on the subject from yesterday. My head was so dizzied by Jonah Goldberg's praise that I never got to it. but I think it's dead on. Funny that he missed the Schumer angle, though.

HMM. Here's one of those small items that may turn out to be big.

MATT WELCH IS BACK! He's even got a new column in the Online Journalism Review.

'Bout time, Matt. With you gone, Natalie Solent and Shiloh Bucher on cold-turkey hiatuses (hiati?), Layne claiming that he's working on his book, and so on, the rest of us here in Blogland have had to carry a heavy load. We're expecting you to pick up your share of the chores now that you're back. None of this "I'm sooo tired after my trip to Europe" crap, OK?

BELLESILES UPDATE: This editorial from the Omaha World-Herald suggests that word is spreading regarding Bellesiles' bogus research.

I haven't noticed NPR giving this topic the attention that they've given the Ambrose story, though.

OH NOOO -- NOW I'M A TERRORIST! Reader Arthur Fleischman writes:

I guess that your "unjust" attack on the "intellect" of Muslim scholars makes you a terrorist too! Whoopie!

"Muslim scholars from around the world yesterday spelled out their definition of terrorism saying ‘it covers all acts of aggression unjustly committed by individuals, groups or states against human beings including attacks on their religion, life, intellect, property or honor’." http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=11893

I'm reminded of the way that "racist" was hijacked at Durbin. Do you think that these people really believe that redefining words actually shifts guilt? I don't know which is more disturbing...the cynicism of manipulating langage so brazenly or the possibility that they take this stuff as scholarship.

Hmm...maybe the mullahs should record a rap CD. We take some pretty flakey stuff as scholarship too. (I'm not suggesting an "equivalence" argument). Hahaha.

Actually, the mullahs have released a rap album, more or less. Listen to "1924" for some unhappy thoughts on the end of the Caliphate.

But, I have to admit, it's better than Cornel West's rap album.

MUSLIM SCHOLARS MEET TO DEFINE TERRORISM AND AGREE: ISRAEL TO BLAME -- No, this isn't a headline from The Onion. It's real. And they wonder why we don't take them seriously?

ANDREW SULLIVAN ADDRESSES Clinton's legacy post-9/11.

HOWARD KURTZ says coverage of the Enron collapse is shifting to full-fledged scandal mode. Well, it figures. It usually happens at about this stage in an Administration, and the war isn't generating enough news to prevent it.

My prediction: there will be lots of attention to technicalities and appearances, but not much to whether anyone actually did anything wrong. If nobody did, the attention to technicalities and appearances will come from people trying to create a scandal out of nothing. If, on the other hand, there is actual wrongdoing, technicalities and appearances will be used by the accused to create a smokescreen behind which the actual wrongdoing will disappear.

This is how political ethics, and the media coverage of them, work these days. My book on the subject (written with Peter Morgan; thanks to Amazon you can read the most important chapter for free) was alternately seen as pro-Clinton or anti-Clinton depending on how the winds were blowing at the time.

Funny that the main beneficiaries of our ethical rules are the members of the Ethics Establisment -- the media people, pundits, lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists -- rather than the actual American people. Why, it's as if the whole thing has been a scam all along!

JONAH GOLDBERG is writing about bloggers today. He even says, "The most promising up-and-comer is Glenn Reynolds's Instapundit."

Of course, some might question his taste given his excessive fondness for pepperoni. But not me. Mmm: pepperoni!

PRESIDENT BUSH HAS SIGNED recess appointments for Otto Reich (who now has responsibility for the Argentine debacle and more), and for Eugene Scalia.

BACKUP: There's a link to a backup site on the left. There's nothing there now, but if Blogger stalls out big time this link will take you to a temporary page that will have information and updates. I'm working on a full-fledged backup site now.

CORNEL-O-RAMA: Rod Dreher looks at Cornel West's outside income and discovers some disturbing things. Most upsetting is West's response to a request that he spend some time teaching at a historically black college.

EVERYBODY KEPT EMAILING ME ABOUT THIS ESSAY BY VICTOR DAVIS HANSON. I liked it, but it raised a few questions, so I sent it to the holder of the prestigious-but-anonymous InstaPundit Chair of Islamic History for evaluation. Here's what I got back:

Hanson has a few relevant points... particularly about the hypocrisy of Islamic spokesmen regarding the relative evils of Israel and states like Iraq in terms of Arab lives. But, he is WAY off base with dopy ideas like 'there is no notion of "Western" ideas such as constitutions, freedom, citizen etc'. This, frankly, is as stupid as Reagan's old "there is no word for 'Freedom' in Russian" line. Spare me, please. It is talk like this that made Said's career. The fact is that these ideas have been around in Islam for ages... and that they got many of them from the same source as "the West"... from the Greeks! The trick is that these concepts became de-legitimized, particularly by the ruling and religious elite.

One of the sad realities is that within the popular Islamic mindset, "western ideals" were tried under colonialism (which, just as elsewhere, made a mockery of concepts of popular sovereignty, human rights, and political legitimacy) and in the 1950's through 1970's. Of course, the rule of Nationalists like Nasser or dictators like the Shah hardly seems "Western" to us, but to many there, that was the "grand experiment". The question is, really, how do we "re-legitimize" these ideals and cast them as
compatible with moderate Islam?

Yes, the "Islam" that we are confronting now is not actually pure. It is decadent. We Westerners would have more in common with the Islamic scholars of the 12th and 13th century than with those today, who unlike their forebears are afraid of new ideas, afraid of thought, and afraid of freedom.

We need to remind people of that. Especially, we need to remind people in the Islamic world.

A DELIGHTFUL LOOK AT CORNEL WEST'S, ER, QUALIFICATIONS IN THE HARVARD CRIMSON:

Cornel West is above such pettiness, though -- he is shielded not only by his manifest brilliance, but by what an essay in The Cornel West Reader calls his "ego-deflating humility." This humility is on prominent display at (where else?) cornelwest.com, which introduces the professor's CD, Sketches of My Culture, with the announcement that "in all modesty, this project constitutes a watershed moment in musical history." A lesser man, having produced such a watershed work, might have been tempted to caper and preen, to indulge in self-congratulation. But Cornel West, modest genius that he is, does everything with "ego-deflating humility."

Such modesty is rare -- but rarer still is West's political genius, which sets him apart from Harvard's dusty academic scribblers and dreary pedants. Who but Cornel West would have seen the possibilities inherent in Bill Bradley's noble, tragic 2000 presidential campaign, which failed to win a single primary only thanks to the machinations of America's misogynist, homophobic, racist power elite? And who but Cornel West, having tasted the bitter cup of failure, would return to the political arena so quickly, laboring in the vineyards for the as-yet-unannounced presidential campaign of the Rev. Al Sharpton? In fact, who but Professor West would see that Al Sharpton -- regarded by many lesser minds as an "anti-Semitic and unrepentantly dishonest demagogue" might "fuse the best of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.," and thus be the key to racial reconciliation in America?

Read the whole thing.

WHEN I HIT "PUBLISH" on Blogger, it seems to work, but the stuff doesn't appear on the page. I guess it's stuck in a queue somewhere. If you're reading this, it managed to escape.

RICHARD STROUT said that the secret to being a successful writer is to "sell every piece three times." (I've also heard this attributed to Ted Sturgeon and Gene Wolfe). Josh Marshall says that Stephen Ambrose does it, too. He's not the only one, of course. I remember being miffed when I found that a chapter in a Catharine MacKinnon book was a word-for-word reproduction of a law review article of hers that I had edited when I was a student -- with absolutely no credit being given to the law review, even in a "previously appeared" note in the back.

So what? Such notice would have been generous, but not giving it is hardly plagiarism. I guess Marshall's point is that once you're used to recycling your own stuff, you're not as attuned to other people's stuff: everything starts to sound familiar. Maybe. Though if this explanation is true, then lots of other people should have Ambrose's problem. Then again, it's entirely possible that they do.

I wish Marshall would tell us what "famous historian" lifted a book from an obscure dissertation.

DON'T LET UP ON LADENISM: That's the point of this oped by Marc Gerecht in the New York Times. And he's absolutely right.

The Ladenites have never been especially smart or competent -- remember the guy from the WTC truck-bombing who went back for his $200 deposit on the truck?

But they don't have to be smart or competent, because they're persistent, and willing to learn from their mistakes. These are characteristics -- especially the latter one -- that are notably absent from the Western nations' response to terrorism. As Jim Pinkerton mentions, we should have anticipated the 9/11 attacks, but didn't. Our security was still focused on preventing '70s-style hijackings, and complacent because it was succeeding in preventing those.

The terrorists have a learning curve. It's not at all clear that the antiterror bureaucracy does. What's more, the inept terrorists get weeded out. The inept bureaucrats soldier on.

CORNEL WEST UPDATE: I just ran across this item from The New Republic, which goes to the heart of the matter: "So the question is: Will West continue to do nothing at Harvard? Or head south to do nothing at Princeton?"

ANDREW SULLIVAN has some interesting observations about Mike Kinsley's treatment of Bernard Goldberg's book, Bias. I haven't read the book -- but the fuming incoherence of the establishment-media response to it is convincing me of Goldberg's thesis quite nicely on its own.

MICHAEL BARONE analyzes Daschle's strategy. Worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

And why did Democrats want then–and want now–a tax increase? Because, as one Democratic politician said to me when I suggested he might support income tax indexing, which would reduce revenues but avoid raises in effective tax rates: "No. I want the government to have the money." Democrats believe that more government spending can help people in need and will be a good thing for our country. That is what, more than anything else, most of them are in politics for. This is something reasonable people can and do believe; the problem is that most voters don't. So the politicians talk about "fiscal discipline" rather than higher taxes.
I think he's right about this. I think that Bush's strategy -- of pointedly telling people that Daschle is for a tax increase, and that Bush will tell you that but Daschle won't (interesting switch on Mondale) -- is probably the best antidote.

The rest of Barone's column is excellent, too. Don't miss it.

THE LIES THE SAUDIS TELL: Jeff Jacoby has the first installment of a two-part series on Saudi lies about America in the Boston Globe.

1/10/2002

JOHN STRYKER takes down Ted Rall's latest column while complaining: "These guys are making it too easy."

Yeah. They are. Much too easy. Hmm. Instead of Ted Rall's bogus conspiracy theories, a far more plausible conspiracy theory presents itself: Ted Rall and Noam Chomsky are both paid provocateurs, assigned by the CIA to discredit any nascent antiwar movement by their sheer, self-evident idiocy. Pretty believable, huh?

Well, what's more plausible? The provocateur theory -- or that they actually believe the ridiculous stuff they've been saying? Occam's razor says . . . provocateurs!

FRENCH (AND BRITISH) ANTISEMITISM are discussed in this piece by Tom Gross. The "Invade France" lobby is just getting more ammunition.

JIM PINKERTON SAYS we're still complacent about terrorism. I agree. Nearly all the "security" that has been put in place since 9/11 is cosmetic -- designed to convince the rubes that something's being done and not much more. (The rubes, actually don't seem to be dumb enough to fall for this, as any quick perusal of the Internet or talk radio will prove, which raises the question of who the fools are, here).

Pinkerton makes an important point, which is that there was lots of information floating around about the dangers of airplanes as weapons (crashing a 747 into Manhattan was part of the Columbine killers' master plan, though they never got that far, and there was lots of evidence that terrorists were interested, too.) If teenage Americans and twentysomething Saudis can think of these things, you'd expect that the folks in charge of defending America would have done so, but you'd be wrong.

Hmm. We haven't fired the people who dropped the ball, and as far as I know we haven't brought in any new people. So let's just hope that the people who couldn't think creatively enough to anticipate 9/11 have suddenly gotten a lot more creative.

WHEN WIRES GET CROSSED AT THE A.P.: Reader Stephen Green writes: "According to a new report on Forbes.com, the soon-to-be-released rap CD from Stephen Ambrose has at least two rhythm tracks lifted directly from Cornel West's new album, Songs In The Key of Afro-Centricity. Stay posted for details."

CRITICIZING THE POST OFFICE: George Spencer asks the penetrating question: Who wants to stick "Neuter & Spay" stamps on letters?

Ugh. Not me. There's some interesting stuff based on George's experience living in Saudi Arabia. Like most Americans who have lived there -- as Virginia Postrel pointed out a while back -- he doesn't like the Saudis. He also disses Debka.

A READER DISPUTES JOSH MARSHALL AND MICKEY KAUS on the treatment of Stephen Ambrose:

I don't get where the free pass is--the stories on Ambrose have come from the Weekly Standard and Forbes. Are they no longer part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?
Yeah, I think Mickey and Josh have given up on that angle.

BELLESILES NON-UPDATE: A reader writes:

I saw your note on the NPR teaser. The real break through will be if they run anything on Bellesiles.
If they have, I missed it. But I'll bet they haven't.

NPR JUST RAN A TEASER on a Stephen Ambrose story. Sounds like it'll be a doozy.

I think I'll turn Josh Marshall's left/right question around: where were these people on Rigoberta Menchu?

UPDATE: Fairer than the teaser made it sound -- though the passages they used were awfully short.

THIS PIECE BY JACOB WEISBERG on Mark Racicot is fine as far as it goes (though somewhat obsolete already). As I mentioned below, I agree with it.

But Weisberg's a bit late in identifying the meaninglessness of modern ethics law, which is designed entirely to maintain the appearance of propriety while the usual crap goes on beneath an increasingly thin veneer of bogus ethical regulation. Hey, somebody should write a book on that theme!

CORNEL WEST is featured in Slate's "Fine Whine" feature today, complaining that Larry Summers hadn't listened to a single note of his CD.

Oh. Maybe that's why Summers backed down -- he didn't fully appreciate the extent of the problem. Meanwhile, reader Charles Murtaugh points out that this article, in which the quote appears, also contains support for Josh Marshall's theory that this is really a Gore/Bradley proxy war.

WENDY KAMINER ON GUNS: A surprisingly balancedand sensitive piece in The American Prospect. Hey, maybe Kuttner really has lost control!

WHAT DO AL SHARPTON, MARY JO WHITE, LARRY SUMMERS, AND THE JERK WHO DISSED TIGER WOODS HAVE IN COMMON? They're all in Jay Nordlinger's column. Read it; I've got to teach Constitutional Law this afternoon, so you won't be hearing any more from me for a while.

AL SHARPTON IS SLIMMED-DOWN, HYPED-UP AND READY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. And George Will is loving it. Watch out, George: the provocateur strategy has its risks. The Germans loved it when they sent Lenin back to Russia, too.

KIMBERLY STRASSEL has some nice reflections on the "Faces of Ground Zero" photo exhibit. I've seen the photos, and they're terrific.

TIM BLAIR outdoes himself with this one.

CONCEALED WEAPONS: A RIGHT? An Ohio judge has ruled that Ohio's law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons violates the state constitution. It's not entirely clear from the news report how much this is a right-to-bear-arms case and how much it's a due-process/right-to-self-defense case. But it's interesting -- and, I think, indicative of a change in public opinion. A decision like this would have been far less likely a few years ago.

FINGERPRINT EVIDENCE has come under fire recently, and now a federal judge has issued a landmark ruling that fingerprint "matching" doesn't meet the test for scientific evidence under the Supreme Court's Daubert decision. Very interesting. Stay tuned.

IN THE MIDST OF DEFENDING URBAN LANDSCAPES, James Lileks offers the kind of observation that makes him, well, James Lileks:

Everyone I know who lives in the suburbs loves where they live. That’s why they live there. The government did not put a gun to people’s heads and demand that they pack up, head out on these new-fangled freeways and get out of Dodge. If people leave a city, there’s a reason, and it behooves the city to find out what it was. Bad schools; small lots; taxes; crime; stupid civic leaders more interested in patronage and extortion than governing - that’s why people leave. And they’re not going to come back because a light-rail line passes 15 blocks from their house. They’re certainly not going to be impressed by urban theorists who want them to walk to the corner store every day and schlep home the groceries instead of driving to a big store and buying a week’s worth of foodstuffs. I did that for four years. I dreamed of a day when I could buy those big 24-roll packs of toilet paper instead buying a single roll every other day because I also had to carry beer, meat and milk.
Beer, meat and milk. I also admire a guy who's got his priorities in order.

Seriously, though, people like the suburbs because they give them what they want (including easy navigation by car, which they do -- my driving commute to work is shorter than my walk to work was when I was a hip urbanite). People who want people to live in cities should focus on trying to offer the amenities that people want, rather than trying to make people live without them.

MARC RACICOT WILL GIVE UP LOBBYING while he's GOP chair.

Of course he will. He has to. This was a preordained conclusion. He should have realized that when he took the job, and spared himself, and the GOP, some entirely avoidable bad press, the effect of which won't be dispelled by this change.

What was he thinking?

"HOW MANY PEOPLE WORK AT THE BBC?" "About a third of them," answers the reader who sent this gem, in which we learn that changing a lightbulb (and this is not a joke) takes 40 days and costs 19 pounds.

I believe this. When I was at Yale Law School I was on the building committee, where I learned that Yale's union rules allowed only electricians ($55/hour) and not custodians ($7/hour) to change lightbulbs. This explained why the place was so dim: it was so expensive they'd send an electrician around once a month for this duty, meaning that a bulb could be out for up to 29 days before being replaced.

This kind of idiocy is one reason why unions aren't as popular in America as they might be. In a country that worships work and productivity -- and where people expect things to be fixed, rather than suffering stoically when they don't -- this sort of thing approaches blasphemy. Thank God.

MORE BRUTAL AFGHAN WINTER NEWS:

Dear Mr. Reynolds: If you had been listening to NPR this evening you might have been amazed by the news that opium farmers find this to be the perfect time to plant their next crop of opium poppies. According to Eric Weiner farmers all over Afghanistan are tending crops of poppies that are now " a few inches high". Unless I miss my guess, the winters can't be too brutal if seedlings can make it through to a searing summer. After all, this isn't winter wheat.
Well, I don't know much about poppies, except that I seem to remember some sort of absurd DEA scheme to try to stop garden stores from selling the seeds. (Touch my poppy-seed bagel, feds, and I'm calling for a revolution!) But I've never heard that they like to poke up through the snow, like crocuses. I think a lot more people would plant 'em if they did.

OUT ON A LIMB: Okay, I don't have much evidence for this. But. . . Is it possible that all the Iraq-talk is misdirection, and that we're really at work destabilizing Iran? The mullahs there seem increasingly desperate and nervous. Remember that the Taliban started acting that way with no visible cause in early October. . . .

And Michael Ledeen has gone mysteriously silent on the subject, after flogging it hard not long ago.

STILL MORE AMBROSE PROBLEMS. Dang.

JOSH MARSHALL explains what's really going on with the Cornel West / Larry Summers headbanging. Interesting.

THE BRUTAL AFGHAN WINTER: Not so bad to Americans, because whatever the world's bad weather is, somewhere around here has it. (The winter at Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, is much worse than the "Brutal Afghan Winter.") Virginia Postrel, who should have been enlightening us more this week instead of indulging her fascination with Dylan McDermott, has this observation:

Fearsome winters? Desert heat? Altitude? Swamps? Tornados? You name it, we've got it. And where the weather is perfect, we give you...earthquakes (and no water). This is no green and pleasant isle. In such an environment, you can either be stoic, suffer, and die early or you can irrigate, and air condition, and develop sunscreen and high-tech fleece. "North America is a land for everyone; it is also a land where the strongest do best."
Yep. People who survive Buffalo winters and Dallas summers know how to overcome weather.

Stoicism? That's for losers. We're Americans: We don't endure adversity, baby -- we conquer it.

UPDATE: Reader Glenn Crawford writes:

Third World Solution: Eke a living out of the desert.

American Solution: "Viva Las Vegas!"

Amen, brother.

BLOGGER SEEMS TO BE WORKING AGAIN. Woohoo! However, the InstaPundit staff is working on contingency plans, just in case.

A BUNCH OF PEOPLE EMAILED ME LINKS to this Ron Rosenbaum piece on Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan -- most with references to the passage in which Rosenbaum says Sullivan's blog has made him an irresistible force for shaping public opinion since 9/11. Great piece.

1/9/2002

BLOGGER IS STILL NOT WORKING RIGHT, though Ev is promising a fix soon. Just remember: if this setup craters, I'll have the InstaPundit.Com address directed to the new site as soon as that's clear. You might want to bookmark Instapundit.com (not the instapundit.blogspot.com address) just in case.

I want Blogger to live, because it's nurtured a whole new community. And I'm going to keep supporting it (heck, I'd pay a monthly fee for it). But fortune favors the well-prepared, so I'm looking at contingency plans. One way or another InstaPundit will continue -- though I'd really rather it were on Blogger.

NOW FAMILIES ARE ASKING FOR A federal grand jury to investigate claims that Columbine students may have been killed by police bullets.

I think it's a good idea.

A READER DIRECTED ME to this interesting interview, and it was interesting. But often what's most interesting about such pieces is a little throwaway line that's so obvious it's almost unnoticed -- but amazingly powerful when it is. Here's the line from this one:

Actually the media always ask black academics to review black books.
Now, this is obviously true, but you seldom see anyone say it in such a matter-of-fact way.

But isn't this practice by the media kind of, well, racist?

SOMETIME IN THE NEXT DAY OR TWO, InstaPundit will pass the 1.5 million visits mark. Pretty cool!

SAUDIS BRAG that they get hatred of the Jews with their mother's milk, reports Ken Layne, who suggests that we put the "Full-Bore-Fact-Check" on them. Absolutely. Also follow Ken's links to some other Saudi fact-checking.

The Saudis are a disgrace. Saud delenda est!

"IT'S NOT TERRORISM" -- Reader Charles Chapman notes that airplanes crashed into office buildings with notes of support for bin Laden aren't terrorism, according to the government. Neither is an armed, threatening nuke-plant worker.

The trend began with Tom Ridge assuring one and all that the first anthrax attack was not an attack at all, but simply the first case of inhalation anthrax in the history of man caught from a mountain stream. The trend continued with the efforts to confiscate nail clippers, while failing to inspect luggage. National Guard troops guarding those who were not inspecting the luggage. Trying to convince the public that deliberately flying an airplane into the side of a building was somehow not an act of terror. Now we hear that a threatened armed assault on a nuclear power plant is merely "a potential workplace violence issue."

It is the triumph of the concern for public relations over the concern for public safety. Such conduct serves no purpose other than to undermine the credibility of our public officials.

I think the anthrax statement was Tommy Thompson more than Tom Ridge, but the point stands.

As a judge once asked a lawyer (not me, fortunately) during an oral argument I saw: "How stupid do you think we are?"

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE NOMINATION: A reader suggests that I nominate Donald Rumsfeld, "for the improvement in the huminatarian situation in Afghanistan."

Ooohh. That's so good I just might do it.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE MEDIA is that they're just too darn patriotic, according to Joan Konner of the Columbia School of Journalism.

Oh.

YUCCA MOUNTAIN will open as soon as Thursday for the storage of nuclear waste, after years of political struggles, according to this report. Funny, I was just listening to a story on NPR about the Bush Administration's fuel-cell car initiative (they spun it as a case of Bush "torpedoing" an earlier Clinton battery-car initiative) and thinking that either way, if this was going to mean anything in terms of ending dependence on oil, we'd have to see a push forward on nuclear power. (At least until my preferred alternative, orbital or nanotech-based solar becomes practical). I guess somebody in the Bush Administration is thinking the same thing.

MY TENNESSEE READERS -- any any others who have a reason to care about Tennessee politics -- may be interested in blogger Frank Cagle's new "Morning Briefing Service."

INDIAN LIBERTARIAN BLOGGER AND DEVOTED BOW-HUNTER SUMAN PALIT writes to express doubts about a story referenced in today's Best of the Web. I went to check the site and, in fact, the story, about PETA & deer hunting, turns out to be a hoax. (WSJ has updated the page to reflect that). But I just think it's cool that I'm getting email from Indian libertarian blogger / bow-hunters.

BRUTAL AFGHAN SUMMER UPDATE: Reader James Taranto asks: "Has anyone checked to see if Afghanistan is in the Southern hemisphere? If it is, that would explain everything." Sadly, things are not this simple -- but I love the question.

JONAH GOLDBERG takes apart Tom Shales' review of Bias even though, as he says, Shales' review is so weak that it speaks for itself. It does. Several people emailed me with the review, and it was so bad that I couldn't really think of anything to say besides "boy is this bad." Goldberg's more creative than me, though he admits that it was a challenge.

Not having read Bias, I have no idea if it's good. But after reading Shales' review, I still didn't. All I knew was that Shales didn't like it, and that I liked Shales a lot less than when I started.

ARGENTINA'S ELITES are compared unfavorably to Thailand's in this dispatch from Buenos Aires by Joshua Kurlantzick.

EVERYBODY'S GOT ISSUES in the new PunditWatch! Will Vehrs' work just gets better.

WE HAVE A WINNER! Reader Carter Wood sends this link to a story that mentions the "scorching Afghan summer" and talks (hilariously in retrospect) about how badly the US will fare against a fierce enemy where technological superiority is useless.

But this was a close one, since the contest actually refers to the "incipient" summer, not summers in general, so I'm extending the contest with this proviso: I'll award another prize, but only for new references to the brutal Afghan summer, and how it will make the American mission there impossible, or nearly so.

ROB MORSE has some interesting observations on the American Historical Association's conference in San Francisco. There's talk of Stephen Ambrose (resented for his popularity), Michael Bellesiles (an object of schadenfreude), lobbying for money to archive electronic documents, and more. Morse says that historians should be as important now as physicists in the 1950s -- and notes that the many bestselling books of history (to which I would add the booming market in historical fiction and "alternate history" by people like Harry Turtledove, H.N. Turteltaub (Turtledove again, who writes so much he uses a pseudonym to avoid competing with himself), S.M. Stirling, David Drake & Eric Flint, etc. prove that there's public interest.

People care about this stuff. Historians should take note. (Link via Bill Quick.)

GUNS IN BRITAIN: Iaian Murray says I'm righter than I know about guns and crime in Britain. Since he's a bigshot statistician, I guess his opinion is worth something. Of course, I tend to be persuaded by people who think I'm right.

READER CHARLES AUSTIN in a display of cleverness above and beyond the call, asks if my mention of the Brutal Afghan Summer counts for the contest.

No, it doesn't. But nice try!

READER DAVE DILATUSH echoes concerns about the "brutal Afghan summer" but accuses me of rosy-eyed optimism:

But aren't you all forgetting something? What about those Brutal Afghan Springtimes? You know, those clear, balmy days that utterly sap the will to fight, when everyone is too busy flying kites or playing Buzkashi in the warm sunshine to bother chasing after Al Qaeda stragglers? How will our war effort fare under such conditions?
Yes, another reason to worry. And there are so many!

MY TECHCENTRALSTATION COLUMN FOR THIS WEEK IS UP: And it's about . . . weblogs! Enjoy.

IF THIS PAGE IS LOADING SLOWLY the problem is Amazon, which isn't serving up the Honors button on the left. (On some browsers this won't matter; on others it will). If yours is one of the latter, try hitting "stop" after a few seconds and you should get the page without the Honors System donation button. Big loss, I know, but better than nothing.

THE BRUTAL AFGHAN SUMMER -- A READER CHALLENGE FROM MICHAEL MANG:

I was entertaining myself listening to NPR this morning, noting the predictability of the coverage and the intellectual sloppiness which characterizes most of their content. While listening to a British aid worker describe the problems of feeding the Afghan people (paraphrased "...well, the Americans have dropped enough food for almost everybody, but the people on the margins of society here are in desperate need because the onset of winter is just around the corner...") [I had a thought]. I propose a contest for Instapundit. I would like to challenge your correspondents to note the first press reference to the incipient onset of the brutal Afghan summer, which brought about the downfall of the British Empire because the battle-hardened Afghan guerillas could easily fight under the harsh conditions which prevail in this remote corner of the planet. There may only be a small window left before summer strikes and stops the battle and the aid convoys.

Here in Minnesota, with forecast highs in the 40's and less snow than South Carolina, we too are waiting for the onset of winter.

Consider it done. The first reader to provide documented evidence (e.g., with a link or NEXIS-retrievable citation) will receive an InstaPundit coffee mug or t-shirt. I'm kind of jealous, though: the "brutal Tennessee winter" seems much worse than Minnesota's. Go figure.

BRITAIN'S FAILED GUN CONFISCATION -- UPDATE: This story on Britain's crime wave from the Washington Post contains the following gem:

Hand guns were outlawed in Britain in 1997 after the massacre of 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. Some 160,000 handguns were surrendered to police.

Dave Rodgers, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said the ban made little difference to the number of guns in the hands of criminals. According to a recent survey, the number of crimes in which a handgun was reported increased nationally from 2,648 in 1997-98 to 3,685 in 1999-2000."The underground supply of guns does not seem to have dried up at all," he said.

Gee, go figure. As a reader comments: "Imagine that: criminals who don't pay attention to a law banning handguns. Now isn't this just what the "gun nuts" have been telling us for years: a gun ban will only disarm honest citizens, and the criminals won't pay any attention to it?" Yep.

A few British readers responded to my post comparing Knoxville crime to British crime by noting that British crime is still much lower. That's true -- though the comparison is skewed the other way, since the city of Knoxville proper contains all the high-crime neighborhoods in a much larger metropolitan area, while the crime rate for Britain as a whole contains lots of low-crime areas outside of urban centers. But the key point is that the Knoxville murder rate has been dropping since guns became easier to carry (and while overall gun ownership has skyrocketed). Meanwhile the British rate has been climbing rapidly since guns were confiscated from honest citizens -- but not, as the article above demonstrates, from criminals.

Project these trend lines out a few years, and Britain won't be able to boast of low crime any more. In fact, given the British government's move toward the strategy of anarcho-tyranny formerly favored by failing inner-city governments in America, I think that skyrocketing crime in Britain is pretty close to a certainty. In my experience, British writers like to believe that their culture ensures niceness, but ignore the fact that their government has, as a matter of policy, been assaulting traditional British culture for decades. When we tried that sort of thing here, we got a lot of crime. They will, too.

ARAFAT: TWO-FACED LIAR! Well, duh. But some people apparently still need convincing, and Michael Kelly lays out the case.

You can't have a peace process when the people you're negotiating with don't want peace. Arafat doesn't want peace. The only way to get peace in the Middle East is for Arafat and his backers to suffer a devastating defeat and have peace imposed upon them. Hard.

SHILOH BUCHER PRAISES the new spirit of resistance --- in the form of American Airlines' refusal to cave before what increasingly appear to be selfish, stupid, and arrogant complaints from the bumped Secret Service agent.

The more I learn about this case, the more I think this guy deserves not just to lose his case, but to be fired. When the President's bodyguards start threatening people based on their status -- as he apparently did -- it feels more like a banana republic than America. And the Secret Service has been increasingly thuggish in its dealings with American citizens for years anyway. It's time to rein 'em in.

JOANNE JACOBS has this key observation:

This is the key difference between anti-idiots and idiotarians: We like to make distinctions. Idiotarians can't tell X (animals, targeting civilians, requiring burqas, etc.) from Y (people, trying to avoid civilian casualties, allowing bikinis, etc.).
Yes, thinking critically, strangely enough, requires the ability to make reasoned distinctions. This seems to be lost on those who confuse critical blather with critical thinking.

ANDY BOROWITZ PLAGIARISM SHOCKER! Andy Borowitz makes The New York Times with his take on originality and authorship.

READER ANDY FREEMAN NOTES this article from Slate on the Nobel Peace Prize nominations and asks who I intend to nominate. (Nominating people for the Peace Prize is one of the few perks of being a law professor).

Well, I nominated Arthur C. Clarke last time, and I thought he'd have a good shot in 2001 given the year and the dearth of serious candidates.

Instead, Kofi Annan got it. The last time I tried with Clarke, Yasser Arafat got it. So I've pretty much given up on the Nobels. I'm afraid if I were to try again, Slobodan Milosevic would get it.

Serious Blogger problems. Please be patient.

1/8/2002

NOW YOU, TOO, CAN BE AN INCOHERENT, AMERICA-HATING ACADEMIC, thanks to the wonders of the ChomskyBot! I love this.

REMEMBER THOSE AID WORKERS who were worried about the war leading to starvation? Now, it turns out, some aid workers are stealing food. I guess that's proof they don't think there's a problem anymore. . . .

Some NGOs have a bad reputation in Jalalabad, with everyone from UN officials to residents openly suspecting that NGO directors' nice cars and clothes were paid for by profits from pilfered donations. At one NGO office yesterday, a brand new large-screen TV and vacuum cleaner were in the receiving room - unheard-of luxuries in this country.
Gee, people who operate with other people's money, in places where there's no law, and with no market constraints, might be feathering their own nests? Imagine that.

MARK STEYN TAKES ON THE ONCE-DREADED BRUTAL AFGHAN WINTER (Remember that?). It's a must-read.

Whatever happened to the "brutal Afghan winter"? It was "fast approaching" back in late September, and apparently it's still "fast approaching" today. "Winter is fast, fast approaching," reported ABC's Nightline on September 26th.

Two weeks on, New York's Daily News announced that, "realistically, U.S. forces have a window of two or three weeks before the brutal Afghan winter begins to foreclose options." . . . [Many more doomladen examples omitted -- read the whole column!]

Yesterday, it was 55 and clear in Kandahar and Herat. Ghurian checked in at 55, with 62 predicted for tomorrow. Fifty-seven and sunny in Bost and Laskar, with 64 expected on Thursday. In Kabul, it was 55, though with the windchill factored in it was only -- let me see now -- 54.

Just under four months ago, when the doommongers first started alerting us to the "fast approaching" "brutal Afghan winter," it was 70 degrees and I was sitting here in shorts and T-shirt. Today, in my corner of Quebec, the daytime high is 21, the predicted overnight low is 5 degrees, and tomorrow we'll be lucky to hit 14.

In Toronto it's 28, New York 38. Overseas? Belfast and Glasgow report 46, London 44, Birmingham and Manchester 42. If those Afghan refugees clogging up the French end of the Channel Tunnel ever make it through to Dover, they face a gruelling battle for survival against the horrors of the brutal British winter.

Honestly, why should we listen to the press when they can't even get the weather right?

ARAB INFLUENCE ON WESTERN CULTURE: Ken Layne has a great post on this.

ER, I'M OKAY: A couple of people were actually worried by my posting hiatus. I was out doing research for my next TCS column (not tomorrow's, but the one next week). But some posts got held up in Blogger-limbo for a few hours, which made my absence seem longer than it was. But it wasn't all that long, really. Was it?

I do have a non-blogging life, you know, however unlikely that may appear. Really. I do. Honest.

But I appreciate the concern.

MILITARY EFFECTIVENESS: Nicholas von Hoffman suggested on November 14 (!) that we didn't know how to deal with people who "don’t fight by the rules taught at the Army War College."

Now this article tells of how a handful of Green Berets killed over 1,300 Al Qaeda:

"You bomb one side of a hill and push them in one direction, then bomb the next hill over and push guys the other way. Then, when they're all bunched up, you bring in more planes and drop right on them. Eventually they learn, but then you start doing something else."

Tiger 03 had had occasional direct contact with its enemies, but tried to stay remote from the ground fighting, according to "JJ", the team's intelligence specialist.

"Our mission is not necessarily to outfight the enemy," he said. "We would rather out-think them."

Out-thinking one's opponents. Apparently, that never occurred to von Hoffman. But, you know, even the Al Qaeda eventually learn, so maybe there's hope for him.

SALON SEXWATCH UPDATE: Salon's lame sex advice column is back, and it's still 100% sex free -- though it does include gems like this: "I just don't see what's wrong with living with your folks. It's better than living with dudes who steal your pot."

Actually, I want to be fair: that piece of advice, in context, isn't all that bad. And this column (perhaps because of the extended Christmas-and-New-Year hiatus, or perhaps because of the learning curve) is actually okay as advice columns go, I guess: it's not "Mr. Blue" or anything, but it's decent.

But why, why, why is Salon marketing this as a "Sex" feature? Can't they find people who, you know, actually write about sex? As I usually point out by way of contrast, the Daily Cal's student columnist, Rachael Klein, does a much better job than you find at Salon.

NOTE to Rachael Klein fans (who, judging by my email, are legion): the Daily Cal is still on hiatus, but she has apparently set up a web archive of her columns here. So you can revisit those thrilling days of yesteryear until the Cal starts up for 2002, which I suppose will be next week.

DODGING A BULLET: Another asteroid came (fairly) close to the earth yesterday. But that's not the real news. The real news is how late it was discovered, and how many more asteroids are unknown out there.

According to experts, the recent discovery and close approach of 2001 YB5 suggests that something nasty could creep up on us at any time.

Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, told BBC News Online: "The fact that this object was discovered less than a month ago leads to the question of if we would have had enough time to do anything about it had it been on a collision course with us.

"Of course the answer is no; there is nothing we could have done about it."

We must settle and civilize the solar system -- and, ultimately, beyond -- because the Earth is too fragile a basket to hold all of our eggs.

UPDATE: A reader wrote to say that he appreciated my subtle wit in using a phrase from Robert Heinlein (about the eggs) without attribution, thus commenting on the Ambrose plagiarism flap. Well, actually, I thought I was paraphrasing Buzz Aldrin -- though Buzz may well have gotten it from Heinlein, or vice versa. Which just illustrates how silly it is to take this stuff too far. (Er, and how my subtlety does have limits, which should be no surprise). I've gotten a bunch of Ambrose-related emails: I may post highlights later.

THE FRENCH WAR ON TERRORISM: According to this story, French government officials got kickbacks from ransom paid to middle-eastern terrorists.

You know, Charles Johnson's "invade France" poll is starting to look prophetic rather than silly.

TAKING ON PETA: This article in the WSJ talks about the Ringling Bros. response. Excerpt:

Many companies find it easier to just buy pesky activists off by caving in to their demands or donating large sums to the very groups that torment them. Some even seek broad sponsorship and association with groups that despise them in hopes it will cast a greenish, new-age light on their products.

Groups like PETA and PAWS aren't accustomed to enemies who fight back. PETA once registered the domain name ringlingbrothers.com to set up a site loosely alleging unspeakable abuses suffered by circus animals. But when one Internet jokester registered the site PETA.org for a group he called People Eating Tasty Animals, the group threw a fit and successfully challenged his ownership of the name.

It will be interesting to see what happens when one of its favorite punching bags, Ringling Bros., starts punching back. After the recent California verdict, Ringling producer Kenneth Feld wasn't mincing words. "A small group of extremists does not have the right to impose their radical views on the people of California to prevent the majority, who want to see animals in the circus, from doing so," he said. . . . But the fringe pressure groups of the world have learned that American business usually pays up. With its talent for showmanship, maybe the circus will set an example of how the mau-mau crowd can be beaten at its own game. Now that would be the greatest show on earth.

Bring it on.

FAREED ZAKARIA knows a lot about the Byzantine politics of the middle east. So, naturally, he has some good advice for Larry Summers on dealing with Harvard faculty.

THIS STORY SAYS satellite radio is booming. But they've actually sold 25-30,000 subscriptions/receivers so far. Quotes like this inspire skepticism:

"We've answered the question, `Will people pay for radio?' " said Hugh Panero, XM's president and chief executive, who joined the company from the cable television industry three years ago.
Hmm. Well, InstaPundit is "booming" too, then: I get about that many visits a day. Maybe I should do a press release:
"We've answered the question: will people pay for Internet punditry by a relative unknown who happens to type really fast?" said Glenn Reynolds, President and Chief Executive Officer of web titan InstaPundit.Com.
Okay, that's not really a fair comparison: nobody is ponying up hundreds of dollars -- well, okay, actually one person has ponied up hundreds of dollars, and quite a few have stuffed twenties or fifties in the Amazon tip jar over there -- but I wouldn't have much traffic if I charged like satellite radio. Besides, Mickey Kaus has already done the tongue-in-cheek dot-com press release schtick.

But still, while the percentage growth is huge -- and I want satellite radio to succeed -- there's a whiff of hype in the New York Times' story. They've got multiple satellites to support, plus programming, licensing, etc. At a guess, I'd say they're maybe 2-3% of the way to profitability.

1/7/2002

AN INTERESTING PIECE ON TURKEY and the Kemalist legacy in Tuesday's New York Times. If the Turks can't make a secularist Islamic country work, it won't be for lack of trying. And it'll be bad news for everyone.

BELLESILES UPDATE: John Wilson, author of one of the glowing reviews that Bellesiles' book received when it first appeared, reflects on his error in this piece, which was forwarded to me by Jeremy Lott of SpinTech Magazine.

Hmm. Joseph Ellis, Michael Bellesiles, Stephen Ambrose. What is it with historians this year, anyway?

CONSPIRACY THEORY UPDATE: Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall have it all wrong about Stephen Ambrose. Not about his, er, copying. But about the left/right split. Their theory was that right-wingers were cutting Ambrose (who they implicitly cast as a right-winger) too much slack. But that didn't make any sense: it was Fred Barnes and The Weekly Standard -- Right-Wing Central Command -- that broke the Ambrose story.

But now it's all clear. CNN is running an Aaron Brown interview with George McGovern based on the book. And suddenly it hit me: Ambrose's book, and the publicity surrounding it, are a vehicle for rehabilitating George McGovern, who just happens to be a friend of Stephen Ambrose. But now that effort is likely to take a major hit thanks to Ambrose's, er, problems. So the real problem isn't right-wingers giving Ambrose too much slack: instead, we have a vast right-wing conspiracy to take down George McGovern one more time!

Take it away, well, everyone at The Nation except maybe Christopher Hitchens.

DROPSCAN IS BACK: And Shiloh is keeping her New Year's Resolution with lots of interesting new posts.

LOADS OF GOOD STUFF FROM HOWARD KURTZ on teenage suicide pilots, Harvard, the Daschle marriage, and more.

Say, speaking of the teenage suicide pilot -- that's all he was. Nobody else died. Reminds me of the "crack suicide squad" from the Judean People's front.

CAL ULLMAN has this observation about Cornel West's album on Where Hiphop and Libertarianism Meet:

I heard some of Cornel West's rap album on CSPAN today. It is awfull. He is not rapping to start with. Rapping seems to be a requirement for a rap album.
Yes, I think that's why so many have compared it to William Shatner's spoken-word record. Of course, I think that Shatner's release is a valuable kitsch item now, so maybe I should snap up a few of those Cornel West CDs. But somehow I don't think they'll have the staying power of old Bill.

OKAY. I'M WRONG. MICKEY KAUS IS RIGHT. At least Forbes.Com says it has identified a pattern of lifting quotes, citing the source, but not indicating that they were someone else's language in a number of Ambrose's books. Example:

In his Custer book, Ambrose borrows phrases from the late Jay Monaghan's Custer: The Life of General George Armstrong Custer, published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1959. Ambrose footnotes the paragraphs containing these words and phrases and he cites Monaghan as a source. But several times he presents Monaghan's words as his own, without quotation marks.
This may not, exactly, be plagiarism. (Or maybe it's Josh Marshall's misdemeanor plagiarism, which I think is a very useful concept). But while anyone can make a mistake -- and people are often too prone to seize on mistakes of this sort, or to find similarities where they don't really exist -- this is a pattern, maybe not of plagiarism, but of sloppy and ungentlemanly work habits that border on plagiarism. Anyone could accidentally parallel someone else, or even accidentally mix up a few scraps of stuff. But this clearly goes beyond that. Ambrose is going to explain himself for an unnamed TV show. He's got a lot of 'splainin' to do.

LARRY SUMMERS SHOULD HAVE INSISTED ON A "GAG" ORDER, a reader writes. Because now that Summers has (kinda-sorta) "apologized," the previously-silent Cornel West is on the attack. That's how faculty are, Larry, when they smell fear. You can't let them smell fear.

THE RETAIL SUPPORT BRIGADE earns a Unit Citation for saving the economy, according to this story in U.S. News & World Report. Though the term is InstaPundit's the original source of the idea was this column by Scott Norvell.

THE FIFTH BEATLE? (Or is it the Fifth Ex-Beatle?) Reader R.R. Ryan sends this interesting observation on Stephen Ambrose:

There are obvious differences between the Harrison and Ambrose cases, but the essence is the same:a couple of terrific riffs were lifted wholesale. While it's obvious Mr. Harrison must have heard the Chiffon's He's So Fine, and Mr. Ambrose acknowleged having used Mr. Childers' work, both men seem adept enough in their respective fields to disguise theft if theft was their goal. In the first case, as I recall, it was determined that while Mr. Harrison had lifted a portion of the contested work, it was unintentional. It's sometimes difficult to prove theft of physical items. Possession is not always enough, and frequently results in nothing more than forfeiture of the item in question. That is essentially what happened to the former Beatle. In the current case a settlement between the two parties would seem to be in order, and the rest of us should let it drop. Mr. Ambrose will have enough to handle with his future editors and reviewers.
This is a parallel that I never would have come up with, which is why reader email is so cool.

LOSER PAYS: Well, in a limited way. Reader Mark Seecoff writes:

The State of Washington (alone in the U.S. so far as I know) by statute (R.C.W. 9A.16.110, link below) pays attorneys' fees and defense costs to defendants acquitted of criminal charges on a successful self-defense claim. This may be one reason that Bernhard-Goetz-type prosecutions are rare here. (Another is that WA issues CCW quite reasonably.)
He helpfully forwards this link to the statute.

Pretty interesting. I like it. Perhaps we should suggest it to the Brits.

TECHCENTRALSTATION, where I write a weekly column, has a newly designed website. I think it looks better. The lead story right now predicts political disaster for Bush as a result of a proposed emissions trading scheme. There's also an article on a topic featured here several months ago: siccing bounty hunters on Osama bin Laden.

Well, I do recall that Boba Fett was the only one besides the Emperor and Princess Leia that Darth Vader treated with respect. . . .

ANOTHER GREAT LILEKS RANT -- ER, EXCUSE ME, SCREED: On the insufferable Stephanie Salter. Yeah, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, I suppose. But who ever thought that shooting fish in a barrel could be so, well, fun? Excerpt:

Salter, on the other hand, is quintessential Old Media, and as such it’s instructive to see what passes for wisdom in the world of print. . . . The folks in blogdom write daily at least, and even if they just post links there’s generally a quip, a remark, a bit of wit that’s sharper than 99% of most editorial page writing. Bloggers are usually having fun, whereas the grunting lumps of dead-pulp punditdom are Shaping the Dialogue, and Forming the Discourse, and, more to the point, Cashing the Paycheck. This makes their laziness all the more indefensible.
It just gets better.

ENRON AS BRIAR PATCH: Rand Simberg says that Joe Lieberman's investigation into Enron will wind up incriminating a lot of Democrats who sold favors to Enron during the Clinton Administration. Wouldn't surprise me: no smart corporation spends all its money in one party.

Right, Mr. Gates?

COINCIDENCE? Knoxville, where I live, is a place where people are, well, armed to the teeth. Since a change a few years ago, Tennessee law makes concealed-weapons permits available to any honest citizen who takes a training class, and lots of people have 'em. (Still more carry illegally, a practice that is winked at by police because it is so widespread -- what's a joke in Stephanie Plum novels comes close to being a way of life here). And guess what -- last year we had a grand total of 13 murders in a city with a population of around 200,000. (The metro population is about 550,000, but that includes all of Knox County and much of some surrounding counties; I don't have figures on that but it's probably proportionately lower because the highest-crime neighborhoods are in the city). By contrast, in Britain, where they've passed the most confiscatory gun laws in the history of English-speaking nations, gun murders are skyrocketing. Gee, you mean when you disarm the honest people, the crooks get bolder? And people who are willing to break the law won't obey gun laws either? Who'da thunk it?

BUSTED! Best of the Web points out that I used the past tense with regard to Sirhan Sirhan. He's still alive, so I shouldn't have done that. Advantage: Taranto!

Guess I just fell victim to wishful thinking.

STUART TAYLOR TALKS ABOUT SUBSTANCE, while Tony Lewis calls opponents racists in this all-too-typical exchange on, what else, Harvard and Cornel West. Hint: if you don't usually read Slate, scroll down and click on "read messages" to see what readers have to say. I haven't looked yet, but I predict that Lewis will receive a thorough Fisking in "The Fray."

UPDATE: A reader says that Lewis doesn't call anyone a racist. Huh? Read what he says about the Wall Street Journal: "The extreme critics, like the Wall Street Journal, really pine for the days when there were few or no blacks at Harvard" -- sounds like he's calling 'em racists to me.

Another reader dissects a different statement of Lewis's:

Loved those lines from Tony Lewis about Cornel West: "Cornel West is an original, and I don't want to get into the war over his work". Very diplomatic. A translation from Lewis' favorite language, Pusillanimese: "West hasn't written anything worth a tinker's damn, but that wouldn't serve my tactic of calling everybody a racist, so..."
Well, unlike Tony Lewis, I don't claim to be able to read the minds of people with whom I disagree, but this sounds plausible to me. Though I think Cornel West did produce some actual scholarship, back in the days before he became a celebrity instead of a scholar.

IF YOU'VE CLICKED THROUGH FROM SLATE's "On Other Websites" and are looking for the Stephen Ambrose stuff, scroll down. The biggest item is here, and just below, but there are several posts scattered around. You should also check out writer Bill Quick's take on the subject, and this one, based on sad experience, from Tony Adragna. Quick more or less agrees with me. Adragna more or less doesn't.

TAKING THE OFFENSIVE: PETA's lawsuit against Ringling Brothers has apparently spurred a counteroffensive. Someone who I assume to be a Ringling Bros. PR person has emailed that Ringling Bros. will be taking out full-page ads in major newspapers denouncing PETA. The old "keep it quiet and hope they'll go away" approach -- which has never worked -- is giving way to a more confrontational strategy.

I'm going to try to confirm this by phone before I run any excerpts from the ad -- given that PETA is involved, I'm reluctant to take anything at face value. But I hope it's true.

UPDATE: I called Ringling Brothers' PR office up to confirm (looking up the number, not relying on the number on the release) and it's true. More later.

FRED BARNES, who broke the Ambrose story, now has an update. He thinks the copying was inadvertent, and that Ambrose has spread himself too thin (which has to be true -- only Harry Turtledove publishes more, and Turtledove writes fiction, and so doesn't have to keep research straight in the fashion of a historian).

READER ROBERT CURLEE SENDS THIS CONTEMPTIBLE EMAIL:

Do you not see that the issue here with the Ambrose story is concretely tied to that of Bellesiles and Clinton? What do they all have in common if not PUBLIC LYING? Each has said, "Trust me. You can believe me and in what I have said, what I have put into words for all to see and measure." Each has said, in essence, "I am credible. You should believe me and not those who accuse me of speaking untruthfully."

Now, Bellesiles, whom you have rightly upbraided, has not even owned up to his own untruthfulness, and as for Clinton, he has always maintained he never told an untruth -- we simply did not discern his hidden connotations in what he publicly proclaimed to be the unvarnished truth. To his credit, Ambrose has done better than they, admitting some significant degree of culpability, but, really . . . would such blatant plagiarism EVER be tolerated, when known, in a doctoral candidate if it were discovered by his examining committee?

You and I -- and everyone else who has ever gone to grad school -- knows that it would not. So why all the slack cut to Ambrose? Would Dr. Childers be as kind to a doctoral candidate on whose committee he
sat? I sincerely doubt it. Dr. Childers, not among the physicians but as adept as they in covering the sins -- and, sometimes, crimes -- of their own, needs to reconsider his own public exculpation of Ambrose's public lying. And you need likewise to reconsider your softpeddling of the import of Ambrose's academic transgressions.

Gee, you watch out for Cornel West, can't you at least watch out for a white guy?

It's the ending, of course, that makes it contemptible. Last I checked, Michael Bellesiles was white, and the author is obviously aware that I've criticized him. And, as I suggested yesterday, comparisons of the Ambrose and West affairs are facile and bogus.

But it's the quick retreat to racism itself that makes this so contemptible. The notion that criticizing a black scholar must be racist is itself racist. It also ensures that black scholars, thus freed from criticism, will be taken less seriously (because everyone knows that critics will be called racist) and will do worse work (because they won't benefit from criticism). This is intellectual ghettoization in a very literal sense.

Having spent some time debunking bogus plagiarism charges (such as the Biden affair, the Stewart and Feder "fraudbuster" attack on historian Stephen Oates, etc.) perhaps I view such charges with too jaundiced an eye. (I don't think so, but I'm naturally biased toward my own views). But to leap from the earlier discussion to a claim of racism, as Curlee's email does, is pathetic -- and all too typical. The argument from racism is now the first resort of people who don't have an argument. It has done tremendous damage to politics and academia -- far more than was ever done by the McCarthy era, which was shorter, and did less harm to free and open discussion at its peak than bogus cries of racism do today.

I don't usually deal with hate mail here because (1) I get very little of it, really; and (2) I think it's generally a bad idea to give those sorts of people attention. But Curlee's letter is illustrative of a serious pathology in modern political and intellectual discourse, and that pathology deserves to be spotlighted.

UPDATE: The editor of the book in which I defend Oates says that the Ambrose case is different. (I didn't know he reads InstaPundit!). After talking with him, I think the Josh Marshall approach -- in which there are choices between plagiarist/pariah and off-scot-free -- makes sense. Maybe it's "negligent plagiarism"? The problem with that is that plagiarism is traditionally considered to require intent -- though Mickey Kaus seems to want to make it a strict-liability offense in which intent is irrelevant. That just seems wrong to me. It would make charges of plagiarism easy to make and evaluate, of course. But is making life easier for accusers and enforcers the main goal of such rules? Should it be?

TV VS. THE INTERNET: This cartoon captures it all.

THERE WON'T ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND: At least, not if this kind of thinking persists. The Tories (!) have decided that they're against "giving" people the right to defend their homes.

HOWARD KURTZ slams the Justice Department with these dueling headlines:

"Federal investigators believe they have enough evidence to indict Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) for allegedly taking illegal gifts and lying about it -- and could charge him soon, sources told The Post" -- New York Post, May 27, 2001"

'Torch' Gets Away Clean After Probe" -- Friday's New York Post

Personally, with the same moral certainty that Mickey Kaus feels about Stephen Ambrose, I'm convinced that The Torch was guilty as sin. But (1) they shouldn't have been leaking this stuff beforehand; and (2) now they look really dumb.

The Administration -- like all administrations -- hates leaks. But when was the last time you heard of a high-profile federal criminal investigation that didn't leak? And when was the last time you heard of one of those leakers being punished? Or even of a serious effort to find them?

The FBI has the same investigators out looking for the Richard Jewell leakers that O.J. has looking for the "real killer."

WAS THE TEEN CESSNA-CRASHER actually Arab? Reader George Spencer points out this story that reports that the family name was originally Bishara.

UPDATE Reader Dennis Mangan points out that "Bishara" was also RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan's middle name. Good catch! I knew that sounded familiar, but it didn't register. Some enterprising journalist should look into this. It's probably just a coincidence, but. . . .

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL sees a silver lining in the Larry Summers / Cornel West affair, based on what Summers didn't say. Well, maybe.

The real question is whether he'll follow through, and whether he'll get support from alumni for doing so.

WILLIAM SAFIRE has a good one today on punditry, "counterprogramming," and criticism of the Bush Administration. I'm glad I don't have to read his email, though. I have enough trouble getting through my own.

IF TOM RIDGE IS DOING ANYTHING USEFUL, it's being kept awfully quiet. I'm with Ken Layne on the absurd response to the 15-year-old suicide pilot:

Associated Press: Cops Say Teen Pilot Supported bin Laden. A suicide note was found. Why does Do-Nothing Tom Ridge insist this has "nothing to do with terrorism"? Somebody commits a terrorist act -- a suicide crash of a hijacked plane into an American skyscraper -- in support of a terrorist war against the West. It doesn't matter if the kid acted alone (which it seems he did) or if the kid went crazy (which of the Saudi hijackers wasn't crazy?). It's a terrorist act. Deal with it, Tom. Or go back to goddamned Pennsylvania.
You tell 'em, Ken.

MICKEY KAUS is still going after Stephen Ambrose with both barrels blazing -- though he's dropped the silly "double standard" claim he was making yesterday.

I don't know -- this just doesn't look as bad to me as it obviously does to him. Maybe I'll take Barnes' article with me to the bookstore and actually look at both books (if they have Childers') and see if that changes my mind.

But all I can think of is a famous law review article from last year that was, ahem, rather derivative of something I published in the Virginia Law Review, but that gave me exactly one footnote. No, it didn't steal any of my exact language -- it just operated in a framework that I was the very first to set out in print, and gave me next to no credit. Plagiarism? Well, I didn't think so. I just thought it was a bit cheesy. I'm still trying to see the difference between these two cases.

1/6/2002

OLLIE NORTH has an op-ed saying that Bill Clinton will never overcome his reputation as a liar. I'm speechless, and that doesn't happen much.

UPDATE: A lot of people found this obscure, and emailed to tell me so. Give this man a prize, though:

Further to my previous email - I apologise for being thick - your Olli North thing was a go at his hypocrisy at having lied to Congress. A pot calling the kettle black sort of thing. I guess I just tend not to think about the details of US politics.

JEFF JACOBY PRONOUNCES THE END of Larry Summers' presidency at Harvard.

BILL QUICK has some more cogent thoughts on L'Affaire Ambrose and on Josh Marshall's and Mickey Kaus's response to it -- along with mine. (Links to everything are below).

WE'RE IN THE MIDST OF A WAR AGAINST TERRORISM, thousands dead, the rest of us worried about smallpox, anthrax, smuggled nukes, dirty nukes, truck-bombs, car-bombs, luggage-bombs and even shoe-bombs. But The New York Times editors think that we should be worried about sparklers. Puhleez.

In a post way back in August I made fun of this, with a reference to the very cool Keith Robertson book, Henry Reed's Journey, which tells the story of a 14-year-old boy crossing America in search of fireworks. It was a great parable of creeping nanny-statism, and it just kind of figures that The New York Times would be on the wrong side of this issue.

Somebody should send Gail Collins a copy. And maybe a few sparklers.

SOME INTERESTING THOUGHTS on anti-westernism from The New York Review of Books, of all places.

TIM BLAIR TAKES ON Western arrogance and leaves it utterly defeated.

AVOID THE RUSH: James Lileks looks back on the year to come. Yeah, you read that right. My favorite is the part about the legs.

SLAVERY IN MODERN AMERICA? Well, as modern as it can be when it's in the household of a Saudi princess. (Via Rand Simberg).

HURRAY! PUNDITWATCH has the Sunday talk shows covered. I missed it last week.

GREAT NEW HITCHENS PIECE:

That would-be martyr John Walker--the mujahid of Marin County--has done something more than give a bad name to my favorite Scotch whiskey. He has illuminated the utter unfitness of our police and intelligence chiefs for the supreme power they now wish and propose to award themselves. And he has also accidentally exposed the stupidity and nastiness of the Patriot Act. Consider: With no resources beyond his own evidently rather feeble ones he was able to join the Taliban and become a confidant of the Al Qaeda network; an accomplishment completely beyond the wit or strength of our multibillion-dollar CIA, which possessed no human asset within a thousand miles of anywhere Osama bin Laden happened to be.
Read the whole thing.

STILL MORE ON STEPHEN AMBROSE: My historian brother weighs in and suggests that I'm being too easy on Ambrose, but that Barnes is being too hard:

Even if the quotes exempted by Barnes in his article are the only ones lifted (as they appear to be) from Childers, it is pretty bad. Much worse, at one point Ambrose appears to use Childers' material and falsely attribute it McGovern. That is a serious no-no. Now, it is true that "pop" histories and certain other texts (such as textbooks) don't have to cite with the same rigor as monographs or journal articles -- the idea being that these texts are by nature distillations of more scholarly material. Still, utilizing whole passages, as Ambrose appears to be doing without applying the footnote form that he seems to use elsewhere in the text is a pretty serious. That isn't distillation. That _is_ plagiarism.

Conversely, the point in Barnes' essay where he suggests that Ambrose's use of footnote for a "six paragraph passage" that is allegedly very similar to a passage in Childers is a bit harsh. In a popular history, citing a six-page passage from Childers would be perfectly legitimate. The question, however, is does Ambrose do that every time he quotes/paraphrases material from Childers' work? If he is going to do it once, he ought to do it every time. [In a followup email, my brother adds that publishers hate footnotes and are always trying to get authors to remove them, and that he's fighting about that with his publisher right now; I guess this business will strengthen his hand!]

My question is, did Ambrose steal this stuff, or just mislabel it? That's a question of intent, and you can't answer it simply by pasting excerpts next to each other. All that proves is that other people's work is mixed in with his. It doesn't say how it got there.

Intent is a big deal. It's the difference between murder and an accident. And it allows for intermediate stages, like negligence, or gross negligence (an analysis that, I suggest, is likely to apply here). The press, on the other hand, wants a smoking gun, and a bright-line rule, because it's easier to cover things that way. And if these don't exist, it has a tendency to create them. That itself is a species of intellectual laziness, and there's nothing admirable about it. So far, the most nuanced treatment I've seen is Bill Quick's, cited below.

The story may not have legs. The fact that Childers himself says he doesn't think Ambrose plagiarized may also account for why people are going easier on Ambrose than, say, Mickey Kaus thinks they should. Bearing in mind that I haven't read the books, I think what we have here is probably a case of sloppy research and insufficient credit -- a regrettably common academic sin -- being blown up into plagiarism because there's no journalistic pigeonhole for anything else.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall calls this misdemeanor plagiarism, and presents a reasonably sophisticated analysis. Rather oddly, however, he says "conservatives" are giving Ambrose a "general pass" here. Why is that odd? Because I thought Fred Barnes was a conservative, and he's the one who broke the story. Meanwhile, Mickey Kaus says the same thing, though the only examples he gives of people giving Ambrose a pass are me and the New York Times. I don't think I'm a conservative (instead I belong to Charles Johnson's new anti-Idiot party), and I feel sure that nobody except maybe Noam Chomsky thinks the Times is conservative.

I believe that what's going on here is an attempt to set up an equivalence: "Hey, you guys picked on Cornel West for his lame rap CD, but you're giving Ambrose a pass." This seems like rather a stretch to me. West isn't being accused of stealing his music (indeed, the thrust of commentary is that it's not worth stealing). The two simply aren't comparable -- and it's pretty hard to set up a left/right split here when Salon is picking on West and The Weekly Standard broke the Ambrose story. But I promise that if Ambrose ever releases a lame rap CD and calls it a watershed moment in musical history by one of our "most preeminent" minds, I'll be right there to make fun of him too. And if Cornel West is charged with plagiarism, I'll stand up for him, if he deserves it, just like I did for Joe Biden

Give it up, guys.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ambrose has apologized and said he'll fix things in the next edition. Just as Bill Quick suggested in the item I quote below.

MICKEY KAUS says I'm too easy on Stephen Ambrose. Well, maybe. And he suggests that I wouldn't go as easy on Ambrose if his name were Gates (Skip -- not Bill) or West. But if he'd read my book (still available! makes great wedding and bar mitzvah presents!) he'd see that the plagiarism chapter I refer to spends a lot of time defending Joe Biden for his role in a once-earthshaking and now-forgotten scandal involving a chunk of a speech that came originally from a Neil Kinnock commercial. So I don't think I can be accused of selective outrage here.

My point was that plagiarism charges are never dealt with in the only way that makes sense -- by actually putting everything in context and comparing the works as a whole. Why? I guess because (1) that's work; and (2) it requires actual thought and judgment. Here's what Professor K.R. St. Onge, author of another leading book on plagiarism, said about the Biden affair:

It is typical of plagiarism charges that often the significance of what was used is totally ignored in favor of the fact that it was used. . . . The Biden case is a painful and dreadfully pointed reminder of the state of ethics of the educated elite. It had no uneducated participants. The case was addressed only on the grounds of superficial propriety; no deeper ethical concerns intruded. . . . It is a precise measure of our ethics, our notions of plagiarism, and our rationality, that the New York Times would lend dignity to such charges and that the media would so sedulously attend to appearances to the total exclusion of content and significance.
My point was to warn against doing that again and -- with all respect and affection -- that seems to be a trap that Kaus is in danger of falling into.

Of course, I do think that it's fair to say that we should hold historians (even "popular" historians like Ambrose) to a higher standard than politicians like Joe Biden. Nonetheless, I think that context matters a lot. Not having read either of the two books, I don't feel qualified, as I said before, to say whether this amounts to plagiarism. Bill Quick, a professional writer and bigshot with the SFWA (who thus should be more sensitive to these things) seems to think it's not:

I would add the modifier "accidentally." This may seem a copout to the non-writer, who can't imagine such things being inadvertent. But any writer, particularly a historian who must mentally juggle dozens, even hundreds of research sources as he composes, will understand how, without meaning to,some things will bleed into others, and things that seem original on writing are actually reflections of some bit of research floating in the author's mind.

All I believe is required here is either rewriting, (or more thorough footnoting) and an apology from Ambrose to Childers. These things happen. That in one instance Ambrose even puts Childers's prose into George McGovern's mouth indicates to me these appropriations are most likely inadvertent.

For those reporters who are working on this story, Lindey's book is Plagiarism and Originality (Harper & Row, 1952); St. Onge's is The Melancholy Anatomy of Plagiarism (University Press of America, 1988). Both are still in print, and should be available in just about any library. (They're also, in a rarity for academic works, short, well-written, and to the point. And my book, which has a chapter on plagiarism and ethics, is mentioned below, and there's an Amazon click-through on the "About Me" page.)

Just don't go off half-cocked, is all I ask. And I think I'm fairly evenhanded on this. I didn't say anything about historian Michael Bellesiles' dubious research for many months, until the case was quite clear -- even when I spoke on a panel at Stanford with him last Spring. An accusation of fraud or plagiarism is nothing to make lightly, or on the basis of a few items. Is it too much to ask that people spend a weekend squaring things away before launching an assault?

Finally, to the extent that Kaus thinks that there's a right-wing political angle to this (and, as someone who spends a fair amount of time fencing with anti-evolutionists and school-prayer fans, I'm always bemused to be called "right-wing" anyway), what's the explanation for the fact that the accusation originates in The Weekly Standard? (And can he, or anyone, imagine The Nation charging fraud or shoddiness in the works of Cornel West or Eric Foner?)

From Alexander Lindey, Plagiarism and Originality, pp. 60-61:

Whether the virtues of parallels outweigh the vices is open to debate. The fact remains that the vices are considerable.

1. Any method of comparison which lists and underscores similarities and suppresses or minimizes differences is necessarily misleading.

2. Parallels are too readily susceptible of manipulation. Superficial resemblances may be made to appear as of the essence.

3. Parallel-hunters do not, as a rule, set out to be truthful and impartial. They are hell-bent on proving a point.

4. Parallel-hunting is predicated on the use of lowest common denominators. Virtually all literature, even teh most original, can be reduced to such terms and thereby shown to be unoriginal. So viewed, Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper plagiarizes Dickens' David Copperfield. Both deal with England, both describe the slums of London, both see their hero exalted beyond his original station. To regard any two books in this light, however, is to ignore every factor that differentiates one man's throughts, reactions and literary expression from another's.

5. Parallel columns operate piecemeal. They wrench phrases and passages out of context. A product of the imagination is individible. It depends on totality of effect. To remove details from their setting is to falsify them.

6. Parallels fail to indicate the proportion which the purportedly borrowed material bears to the sum total of the source, or to the whole of the new work. Without such information a just appraisal is impossible.

7. The practitioners of the technique resort tooo often to sleight of hand. They employ language, not to record facts or to describe things accurately, but as props in a rhetorical hocus-pocus which, by describing different things in identical words, appears to make them magically alike.

8. A double-column analysis is a dissection. An autopsy will reveal a great deal about a cadaver, but very little about the spirit of the man who once inhabited it.

9. Most parallels rest on the assumption that if two successive things are similar, the second one was copied from the first. This assumption disregards all the other possible causes of similarity.


Applying these to the case at hand, many -- though not all -- don't apply. It seems very likely to me that the language in Ambrose's book came from Childers' book. But is that plagiarism?

Classically, plagiarism constitutes taking someone's work as a whole and passing it off as one's own, which pretty clearly didn't happen here -- at least, it's not what Barnes is alleging. (I repeat, I haven't read the books, and I think that doing so is important). At most, based on what Barnes says, what we have is sloppy work. It has become a fad to call the repetition of short passages "plagiarism," but that doesn't fit the classical definition -- and by using the word "copycat" Barnes clearly means to criticize more than Ambrose's efficiency in organizing his research materials. What's more, Mickey Kaus is clearly ringing the plagiarism-alarm bell.

Journalists, of course, have a weird double-standard on plagiarism. They in fact lift people's ideas in their entirety without attribution all the time (a woman from the Atlantic Monthly once interviewed me for an entire hour, plus several followup calls -- then wrote the story putting all my quotes into the mouths of more famous people (who, to be fair, I'm sure she called and got to say those things again) and left me out of it entirely, which to my mind is plagiarism but which to a journalist would not be -- it's "additional sourcing.") And journalists at all levels reprint press releases on a steady basis, often without any indication of where the information came from -- and don't get me started on the (ab)use of "Video News Releases," which are designed to let television journalists look like they've covered something when they haven't. Yet Kaus is no doubt right when he says he's known journalists who got canned for lifting far less verbiage than Ambrose is accused of.

The rule for journalists seems to be: idea theft is fine; prose theft is fine if it comes from people who don't mind, as with a press release (even if the reader is fooled as to the source); but if you use even a short passage verbatim from another journalist -- perhaps because that is easily proved -- then you're a pariah. As a norm for journalists, this may make sense (though it seems awfully, er, convenient in a lot of ways) but (1) it's not clear it has a lot to do with ethics; and (2) there's no obvious reason why the somewhat self-serving rules that journalists apply to themselves should be applied in exactly the same fashion to other people.

Had enough? I have. It's snowing here, and I'm going sledding with my daughter.




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