Saturday, April 12, 2003

Cool link of the day: The NSA's Kids Page!

My college roomie's dad worked for the National Security Agency. He never wanted to talk about it.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Speaking of media criticism and The New York Times (scroll down to yesterday's post), Brooklyn's Alex Zucker does a helluva job of picking apart the paper.... Leaps and bounds better than what's-his-face, in my all-too-biased opinion. (Alex is an aquaintance of mine twice over: He's friends with two friends in Prague, and independently friends with two friends in New York.)

Sullivan bitches today of "The coming spin: You can see it now. Chaos. Looting. Disorder. Losing the peace.... By Sunday, or sooner, you-know-who [meaning, presumably, R.W. Apples of the Times] will probably have a front-page 'news analysis' that will describe the joy of liberation being transformed into the nightmare of a Hobbesian quicksand of ever-looming cliches."

Wait. I'm vehemently opposed to cliches, too, but this is supposed to be a criticism? That story is already panning out on CNN right now, and I'm afraid it's not "spin" at all. Sullivan's so-called critique is no better -- not a whit -- than those craven anti-war types surely complaining about the "propagandistic" pictures of Iraqis celebrating the downfull of Saddam. Fact: Iraqis are celebrating. Fact: There is chaos in Iraq. Deal with it already.

The real crime, if there is one, is what Alex points out on Stickfinger: "Not a word about humanitarian aid or relief for Iraq in the Monday, April 7, New York Times. Not a one."
"Czech President Vaclav Klaus yesterday rejected the idea of a common European Union foreign policy, and warned against building up the bloc as a counterweight to the United States."

Klaus said he would speak up foreign policy, and now he's speaking up. Klaus and what he represents (Eastern nationalism-cum-euroskepticism) is a much greater threat to European unity than the Iraq crisis. That's the "big picture" that's being ignored by the mainstream media. He's an odd one: He's eager to join the EU, but also sees Czech membership as a fait accompli and wastes no time attacking Brussels (and Berlin and Paris).

Of more local interest might be Klaus's outrageous hypocrisy -- or, perhaps, just plain old foot-in-mouth disease: "We must strengthen the transatlantic axis and not seek confrontation," he says. Oh really? If you believe the "unofficial sources" of the Final Word, a daily bulletin covering Czech news, Klaus asked the U.S. ambassador to remove the Czech Republic from the list of U.S. allies in the "coalition of the willing." The ambassador (Craig Stapleton, Bush's cousin-in-law and former parter in the Texas Rangers) got so angry he stormed out. Oops!

Locals have long predicted that Klaus will make some embarrassing diplomatic misstep sooner or later. Can one do better than piss off the U.S. and the E.U.?

Thursday, April 10, 2003

I think I’ve finally figured out what bothers me about the flood of media criticism these days, especially on the web, where news and pseudo-news proliferates like mad.

Everybody, it seems, is casting a critical eye on what they see and read in the media. The phenomenon is hardly limited to the bogging intelligentsia: Polls show that confidence in mainstream media has steadily eroded in recent years as a wider range of outlets (24-hour cable news and the Internet) become available. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum cite countless instances of bias in big media.

On the face of it, this would seem like a wonderful thing. One should, after all, question authority, and it’s good to encourage critical thinking among news consumers. But more and more, it’s looking a lot like the anecdote (not original, though I don’t know where I heard it) about the Jew and the Arab living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. In the old days, they both got all their news from local sources, say, The New York Times. This was seen as a bad thing: conventional wisdom says that dependence on one or a few news outlets is dangerous, and that a wider plurality of viewpoints will lead to healthier public debate and a better society. And indeed, one can argue that the Times is a terribly biased news source -- all the worse because it shrouds its bias in a veil of objectivity.

But consider today’s alternative: Both the Brooklyn Arab and the Brooklyn Jew go online to get their news. The first gets all his news from Al Jazeera’s web site. The second gets all his news from the online Jerusalem Post. They may live next door to one another, but in terms of their exposure to world events, they’re further apart than ever. They have almost no common ground. Despite the proliferation of news sources, both are in fact getting a narrower (and more biased) range of viewpoints than before.

Now consider two people divided by politics -- one on the right and another on the left. Both are increasingly conditioned not to trust what they see on TV or read in the papers. Witness the latest rash of BBC-bashing from hawkish media critics dismayed at the skeptical tone of the Beeb’s war reporting (shoutouts to crosstown blogger Steve Hercher). All the while, I'm forced to defend the BBC from the opposite side when a Czech friend (anti-war, and an editor for a major Czech daily) complains that their reporting is biased in favor of the coalition.

The alternative? Conservatives now gets their“news” from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or AndrewSullivan.com. Liberals, meanwhile, gets their “news” from Michael Moore and left-wing chat groups. You can see where this is going: Browsers will soon come equipped with news filters that screen out whatever doesn’t fit your own dogma.

UPDATE: Pragueblog reponds!
This guy has been almost (though not quite) as tragically amusing as the Iraqi Information Minister. Mohammed "I have no relationship with Saddam" al-Douri, the Iraqi UN envoy, fits the mold of the old school socialist functionary: "What have you been doing?" CNN asked on Tuesday. (These aren't direct quotes, but close enough.) "My job is the same. I am the permanent representative of Iraq to the United Nations," he replies. Yes, but what do you do??

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

This is the first picture I've put on my blog:
I have noticed the following phrase popping up a lot lately, so I've decided to make it my one-liner. (You know, the thing you say at the end of a sentence, whether or not it makes any sense, just because it sounds cool.) We have always been at war with Eurasia.
More humor at the expense of the slick Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed "God is grilling their stomachs in hell" al-Sahhaf. The San Francisco Chronicle writes:

Back at the parade grounds, the Fox News reporter relayed al-Sahhaf's sentiments to a U.S. soldier, who responded, "Maybe we should go over and say 'Hi.' " Indeed, it seems like the only appropriate ending for this televised point-counterpoint (with al-Sahhaf on one side and reality on the other) would be for a U.S. tank to roll by in the background of one of al-Sahhaf's news conferences with a soldier holding up a "Hi, Mom" sign.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

What about a trip to Longyearbyen, Norway, pop. 1,200. Come on, they have a Radisson. Check out the webcam.
Alex says this is a better New Yorker piece, filled with cultural tidbits and personal descriptions of a humorous character.

The people of Kurdistan are mostly Sunni Muslim, but pre-Islamic religions still survive, syncretistic practices are not uncommon, and, under the surface of intellectual life here, one finds resentment of the early Arab propagators of Islam.
Jalal Talabani, the chief of the P.U.K. ... is rotund and garrulous, a kind of Zorba the Kurd, who believes that there is no inappropriate time to crack jokes or to eat large quantities of barbecued meat.

Zorba the Kurd. Huh huh.
"Neocons are people who don't like muddling through -- both in the good and bad senses of what that means." Yes. From Talking Points Memo.
New Yorker narrative on life in Baghdad. You may view the unpleasant picture of the boy via This Modern World. ("THIS will break your heart." I didn't feel like posting the link directly.)
Could I get some freedom fries with my pesh merga, please.
Foreign troops? Here in Baghdad? Lies, all lies! We have beaten the infidel! (Ducks incoming shell.)

"Just across the Tigris River, seemingly in an orbit of his own, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was performing a daily denial routine so bizarre that it makes him seem like a character in a late-night comedy skit."

So says the Chicago Tribune. Josh Marshall weighs in here: "One almost expects before too long to see Al-Sahaf ... broadcasting from an American POW camp, telling listeners that reports of Iraqi battlefield reverses are vastly overstated."
I'm really not sure of the wisdom of firing at the Palestine Hotel, where foreign journalists stay (sort of the equivilant of Sarajevo's Holiday Inn) even if there are snipers there. Raid the place. Take out security, go in with force, gather everybody in the lobby and strip them down to their skivvies, then search the rooms. But tank fire?
Hey, this is where I went to school.

"It's a lonely place to be an antiwar protester on the Amherst campus," said Beatriz Wallace, a junior. In the dining hall, students have set out baskets of ribbons, some yellow, some red, white and blue.

Prowar students say they feel just as alienated. "The faculty, and events, has a chilling effect on discussions for the prowar side," said David Chen, a sophomore.

Boo hoo, ye poor oppressed liberals and ye poor oppressed conservatives. I am of the opinion that speech, by its very nature, is oppressive -- even if only mildly so compared to other forms of political persecution. Free speech is the freedom to tell somebody else to shut their cakehole. In fact, I feel vaguely oppressed every time I turn on the TV. So everybody should stop feeling sorry for themselves and get used to it.

Monday, April 07, 2003

I've been doing some reading on the flap about which mobile phone standard to deploy in post-war Iraq, something I joked about earlier. Apparently it all began with U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, a Republican who represents San Diego, headquarters of Qualcomm, a leading specialist in CDMA, the mobile phone standard used throughout the United States. (If you're wondering about the Arab-sounding name, Issa is in fact an Arab-American whose grandfather emigrated from Lebanon in 1914.) Here is the full text of the letter. Apparently Issa had gotten wind of a Pentagon plan to use the GSM technology used all over Europe (not to mention much of the world outside the U.S., including the Middle East) in Iraq. Issa learned (from his friends at Qualcomm, no doubt?) that not only was GSM developed in Europe (shock!) but that the letters stand for Groupe Speciale Mobile -- French no less! Issa objects that if this "European-based wireless technology" is used, "much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system will be manufactured in France by Alcatel, in Germany by Siemens, and elsewhere in western and northern Europe." Besides, he says, CDMA is "widely recognized as technically superior to European GSM technology."

Huh? I don't know much, but I know that U.S. mobile (sorry, "cell phone") development lags years behind Europe -- and that this guy's completely full of shit. GSM is used everywhere that I'm aware of except the U.S.; Issa's request is the equivilant of demanding that every PC user in Iraq to switch immediately to Macs. Also, GSM no longer stands for "Groupe Speciale Mobile" but the rather more Anglophonic "Global System for Mobilecommunications." But I guess he figured a little French-baiting wouldn't hurt his case.

Issa does make one minor good point in his letter, which is that CDMA phones "include an integrated global positioning system (GPS) feature that allows the precision location of callers in times of emergency." Presumably for aid workers who might get kidnapped. (This is only a good point if it's a valid point; not being an expert on mobile phone standards myself, I certainly wouldn't cite Rep. Issa as an authority on the subejct.)

The GSM Association, an industry trade group presumably representing GSM operators, has fired back, pointing out that every other Arab country uses GSM, and if you want roaming to work in the Middle East, you'd best stick to one standard -- a point that doesn't really hold up if the U.S. really plans to reshape the entire region.

For more, a blog called "Open Politics" has an informed post on this subject called, appropriately, "Say no to 'freedom phones'", with a better collection of links.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Tyrannous. CNN correspondant on now, giving a tour of one of Saddam's captured presidential palaces. He calls the viewers' attention to the "intricate detail" of the marble, the "beautiful woodwork," and on one of the upper levers, "a sun room -- somewhere to take your afternoon tea while you're talking to your generals." Very weird.

I know you were wondering where you could find good blogs from Edmonton and Kuwait City. There they are.