I'm the FNG as an Obsidian Wings front-page blogger.
My first appearance at Obsidian Wings was via a post by Katherine R. on December 16th, 2003, when she linked to a post of mine, and named it Post Of The Week. This attracted my attention to Obsidian Wings, with its first set of bloggers, Moe Lane, Katherine R, and Von.
"The effects of global warming
have touched every continent. Drought and deserts are spreading, while
from the other floods and hurricanes unseen before the previous decades
have now become frequent," bin Laden said in the audiotape, aired on
the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera.
The terror leader noted Washington's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gases
and painted the United States as in the thrall of major corporations
that he said "are the true criminals against the global climate" and
are to blame for the global economic crisis, driving "tens of millions into poverty and unemployment."
What a devilishly clever plan to destroy the world.
Laden surely knows that if he rails against climate change, Americans
will reflexively champion global warming. Temperatures will soar,
decadent Western civilizations will bake and crumble and their parched
ruins will be swept away by rising seas. The earth will be scourged by
famine, pestilence, war, and plagues too numerous to name. At last, Bin
Laden will seize his chance to usher in the medieval Caliphate of his
Don't let the bearded villain get away with it. Call your member of congress today and demand action on climate change.
Michael Kinsley will never live down his latest column, a rant against fact checking:
"Fact checking" is a tradition of some publications, mainly magazines,
in which one set of employees, called fact checkers, is called upon to
reconfirm every fact in an article by another set of employees, called
writers, generally by finding these facts in newspapers, which don't
have fact checkers. During a blameless journalistic career, in which I
have sometimes had occasion to mock this practice, I have always
resisted criticism from colleagues that my real problem is with the
facts themselves. But I'm beginning to think they may be right. Who can
take facts seriously after reading the daily "Corrections"
column in the New York Times? Although the purpose of this column is to
demonstrate the Times's rectitude about taking facts seriously, the
facts it corrects are generally so bizarre or trivial and its tone so
schoolmarmish that the effect is to make the whole pursuit of factual
accuracy seem ridiculous. [WaPo]
Kinsley proceeds to list several minor errors that recently triggered Times corrections. These include misidentifying the brother of the president of Ecuador, Patricio Fabricio Correa, as "Fabricio Patricio Correa," and referring to the long-distance phone service Voxox as "Vovox."
Of all the bizarre things to complain about... The problem isn't stupid corrections, it's the stupid mistakes that need correcting. Better fact checking could have prevented those errors. (Maybe a fact checker would have caught my error, above.)
The fad for elaborate and abject corrections, and factual accuracy in
general, is based on the misperception that when people complain about
the media getting it all wrong, what bothers them is that the newspaper
identified the mountain inside Denali National Park as Mount Denali (as
it is "referred to by many,"
the Times defensively put it the other day) and not by its official
name of Mount McKinley, which "has not been officially changed." [emphasis added]
I'm speechless. Does Kinsley really think that concern for factual accuracy is a fad? Does he realize that he's handed his critics a stick to beat him, and anyone who cites his work?
The Times is scrupulous about these details because it aspires to be the newspaper of record. The paper doesn't always live up to its own high standards, but at least it has a policy of publicly correcting itself when it falls short.
Rigorous fact checking is a way that a wealthy institution like the Times distinguishes its product in a competitive media market. Few smaller outlets can afford multiple layers of quality control. No matter how carefully a writer checks her own work, it's no substitute for the scrutiny of a trained professional editor. Because, by definition, you don't see the mistakes you don't see. The Times' attention to detail is a true public service because those of us who lack copy editors can check names and dates against the Times with relative confidence.
Narrow factual accuracy isn't sufficient for high quality journalism, but it's still necessary.
As much as I support JimJon Henke's attempt to convince the RNC to distance itself from the lunatics at WorldNetDaily -- also supported by Megan McArdle -- it isn't likely to work that way. Unless and until WND does something epically idiotic, the RNC will only keep its distance. It won't disown. That's because a good portion of WND readers are Republican voters and a party can't afford to insult its supporters -- no matter how insane they may be. [UPDATE: AARRGHHHH. It's Jon Henke, not Jim Henke. If it's any consolation, Jon, I've also called Publius by the wrong (first) name .... and he's my coblogger.]
I realize that's a tough pill to swallow, but a party accepting a degree of insanity in its supporters is sometimes rational. Insanity is an issue-by-issue occurrence for most people.* A birther may have quite reasonable views about, say, tax issues or the environment, even if they can't see (or think) straight about President Obama's birthplace. It's not necessarily all crazy all the time.
We saw this during the Bush years, when Democrats were down on their luck. (Not quite a far down on their luck as Republicans are today, but pretty far down.) For example, McArdle relates an exchange that she had with a liberal correspondent who seemed pretty reasonable .... until he/she revealed his/her fear that President Bush might become "El Presidente" via some (undescribed) coup. Similarly, in one poll, nearly half of Democrats thought it very likely (22.6%) or somewhat likely (28.2%) that "[p]eople in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the [sic] United States to go to war in the Middle East." These are all crazy beliefs, and yet the folks who held them probably didn't have equally crazy views about everything. They were probably well within the Democratic mainstream on most issues -- indeed, probably within the mainstream mainstream on most issue.
None of this is to excuse WND. It represents everything that I think is wrong with the modern Republican party. None of this is to excuse the birthers. They're wrong, and there is more than a whiff of racism emanating from too many of them.** But I do think that Henke's most recent challenge is unrealistic. Like the Democrats did with their crazies, the RNC will distance itself from its crazies -- but it won't disown them. (Yet.)
Still, I applaud Henke for keeping the pressure on. The next time WND says or does something nutty -- which probably won't be long -- he'll have more ammunition to get it out of the tent. And that would be a good thing for both Republicans and the country.
Glenn Greenwald has had an interesting back and forth with Chuck Todd about comments Todd made on MSNBC's Morning Joe, in which he said, among other things, that the question whether torture should be investigated were "cable catnip" that threatens to distract us from important issues, and that it is "very dangerous" to investigate such things. You can read his comments and watch the video here. The transcript of Glenn's subsequent podcast with Todd is here.
It's quite something. Todd repeatedly argues that it would be much too messy and political to actually hold government officials accountable for breaking the law. For instance, when Glenn asks why we shouldn't prosecute such officials when we think they've broken the law, Todd replies:
"I agree, in a perfect world - Glenn, in a perfect world, yes. And if you could also guarantee me, that this wouldn't become a show trial, and wouldn't be put, and created so that we had nightly debates about it, that is the ideal way to handle this."
Why only in a perfect world? And what, as Glenn asks, is wrong with "nightly debate about whether our government committed crimes" -- at least when there's credible evidence that it did?
It's worth reading the podcast transcript in its entirety. Here I just want to make three points. First, the idea that we should not prosecute government officials who break the law whenever it would cause some sort of political fight amounts to the view that we should never prosecute government officials who break the law at all. And this idea is incredibly dangerous. We are supposed to have a government that is bound by law. If no member of the government is ever prosecuted when there's evidence that s/he broke the law, then the only reason why government officials would obey the law is their own conscience and sense of duty. Sometimes that's sufficient, but we'd be fools to rely on it.
Second, the idea that we should not prosecute politicians who break the law is just one more example of the idea that people with power should be able to live by different rules. When someone borrows an ordinary person's car and, unbeknownst to her, uses it to sell drugs, sending her to jail is "being tough on crime"; when a government official abuses his office, even hinting at prosecution is just "cable catnip" and a sign that you're a member of "the hard left".
This idea is odious, and it's antithetical to everything this country is supposed to stand for. People with power and privilege have a lot of advantages already. In particular, they will probably always do better in the legal system than the rest of us, since they can afford to hire very good lawyers. For that very reason, we should resist with all our might the idea that they should be given even more privileges.
Third: the reason why Chuck Todd seems to think that it would be "dangerous" to prosecute government officials when there is evidence that they have broken the law is that it might turn into what he calls "a political trial", and might even become "political footballs". I do not believe that this is a good reason not to investigate crimes. (Lots of trials become "political footballs": the trial of the officers who beat Rodney King, for instance, or Marion Barry's trial for crack cocaine. Does anyone think that we should simply have given those officers or Marion Barry a pass?) But politicized trials do do damage, and so it's worth asking: how might we minimize the chances that some trial might be unduly politicized?
The best answer I can think of is: the media might really try to do a good job of explaining the issues. When someone tried to say something misleading, they could call that person out. When prosecution of a government official was unwarranted, they could make that clear. And when there really was a plausible case that a government official had committed a crime, they could make that clear as well.
Which is to say: if Chuck Todd were really worried about trials being politicized, he would be in a wonderful position to prevent that from happening.
But I don't see much evidence that he is interested in that. In the podcast with Glenn, Chuck Todd makes (by my count) plain errors on five important factual questions. He is wrong about the kind of prosecutor under consideration, he is wrong to think that what Holder is proposing to investigate is interrogations that conform to Yoo's legal opinions, he is wrong about the duties of Justice Department lawyers, he was wrong about the legal status of firing the US Attorneys, and he was wrong about the state of American public opinion. And those are just the plain, obvious errors: I'm not counting things like his claim that prosecutions would harm our image abroad, or that there's a serious debate about whether Yoo's memos were defensible.
That's a lot of factual mistakes for one short podcast -- enough to make me think that Chuck Todd is not as concerned as he ought to be about getting it right. If he were, and if he could bring some of his colleagues along, we might not have to worry nearly as much about politicization.
We should expect more of our journalists. They need to get the facts right. They need to figure out the legal issues at stake in a case like this, not just listen to flacks from both sides, throw up their hands, and say "it's not black and white!" If he did a better job, he wouldn't have to worry so much about politicizing the justice system, and he might take pride in the fact that he helped shed light on complicated issues, when he might have just gotten lazy.
Of course, it's not just Chuck Todd, who is, alas, one of the better TV journalists out there. He's just the one who cited the incompetence of his profession as a reason to abandon the rule of law.
It's nice to get definitive proof that some bloggers really don't bother to do basic research before posting something, and we got some today. Here's a scary article from Investment Business Daily:
"It didn't take long to run into an "uh-oh" moment when reading the House's "health care for all Americans" bill. Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal. (...)
Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:
"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.
So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised -- with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers."
That sounds scary! It also sounds completely implausible. So I went and looked at the actual bill, and there that paragraph was, on p. 16, in a section defining the term "Grandfathered Health Insurance Coverage". The fact that it's in a definition might lead readers to conclude that it doesn't mean that you can't buy individual insurance after the bill takes effect, but only that you can't buy such insurance and have it meet the bill's definition of "Grandfathered Health Insurance Coverage". There is a difference.
"Grandfathered Health Insurance" is mentioned in Sec. 102, Sec. 202, and Sec. 401. Unless my search engine has melted down, these are the only mentions of "Grandfathered Health Insurance" in the bill. None of them even comes close to banning private individual insurance. Check for yourselves.
Since those claims are so obviously false to anyone who reads the actual bill, or even skims the relevant sections, I conclude that these bloggers did not bother to check them out before they posted. Which is to say: they didn't bother to do the most basic, rudimentary research that any blogger ought to do.
Tom Maguire, on the other hand, did, and spotted the mistake. Kudos.
This matters. One of the real mistakes many conservatives made, I think, was to dismiss people who disagreed with them. It's an easy thing to do: by definition, people who disagree with you say things that you think are false, and it's a short step from 'false' to 'obviously mendacious', 'intellectually irresponsible', 'flat-out insane', or something else that means that you just don't have to take the person in question seriously any more. If you want to keep yourself honest, you should listen to the people who disagree with you. But since life is short, it's nice to find an actual, objective test for things like intellectual irresponsibility, one that lets you just see that some people are, really and truly, intellectually irresponsible, and thus that you can dismiss them forever, and read them only for laughs, while saving your precious free time for others who deserve it more.
This is just such a test. Tom Maguire passed. The other bloggers I listed failed. That's useful information.
Fester at Newhoggers links to a set of right-wing bloggers' predictions for 2003. It's pretty stunning. For instance:
If we go into Iraq, how many casualties do you expect to see (on the side of the US and our allies)
John Hawkins: "Probably 300 or less" Charles Johnson:"Very few" Henry Hanks: "Less than 200" Laurence Simon: "A Few hundred" Rachael Lucas: "Less than three thousand" Scott Ott: "Dozens" Glenn Reynolds: "Fewer than 100" Tim Blair: "Below 50" Ken Layne: "a few hundred" Steven Den Beste: "50-150"
"John Hawkins: If and when do you see the United States hitting Iraq? How do you think it'll work out?
Tim Blair: It all depends on Iraq’s fearsome Elite Republican Guard. Why, those feisty desert warriors could hold out for minutes. Dozens of US troops will be required. Perhaps they’ll even need their weapons."
Except for Rachel Lucas', those are some pretty embarrassing predictions. I'm not sure I see how anyone could think that the casualties in Iraq would be "fewer than 100", as Glenn Reynolds thought. I suppose if one imagined that we'd just roll into Baghdad, depose Saddam, and head home, that might be in the right ballpark, but that just raises the question: how could anyone think that that was likely to happen? A variant of this mistake would be thinking that invading Iraq would be like the Gulf War; this would overlook the huge difference between rolling back a recent invasion, which allows you to simply reinstate the original government and leave, and deposing a longstanding government, which requires creating a new one.
These are mistakes that ordinary people could easily make. But no one who has thought seriously about war should ever make them. (That includes Donald "don't talk to me about planning for the occupation" Rumsfeld.) New governments do not appear by magic. People who have been brutalized by dictatorships do not suddenly start believing in the rule of law. This takes work, and time, and a lot more focus that we gave it for the first five years of the war. And it leads to more than "dozens" of casualties.
If you haven't thought seriously enough about these things, the right answer to the question "How many casualties do you expect to see?" is "I don't know". In retrospect, it's clear that none of these people, except for Ms. Lucas, had any idea what they were talking about. Unfortunately, they didn't know that either.
David Brooks wrote a column the other day complaining about the demise of the "dignity code". He expanded on this point on MSNBC Today:
"You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here."
News flash: This has been happening to people forever, at least if you count women as people. Back when George Washington was writing out his "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation", which Brooks cites as an example of the Dignity Code, Thomas Jefferson was hitting on Sally Hemings. A professor whose class I was enrolled in once grabbed my breasts at a party. Every woman I know has stories like this. Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys; not being a straight guy, I wouldn't know. But if it is, that isn't because no one ever groped anyone in a public setting before.
Honestly: this is like complaining about the recent breakdown of our longstanding social strictures against violence, and citing as evidence the fact that some white person somewhere got lynched last year.
So I'm left to wonder: why did David Brooks write this column? Is it (a) because none of his female friends and relations ever told him about the existence of sexual harassment? Or (b) because he doesn't think that public groping violates the Dignity Code when you do it to women, because for some reason women just don't count?
Inquiring minds want to know.
(PS: Ann Althouse's response (h/t) is an inadvertent classic: "Perhaps the Republican Senator just periodically patted him on the thigh and technically the fingers extended into the inner part." "Technically", indeed.)
Anderson Cooper interviewed Sarah Palin's spokesperson tonight. He asked what Sarah Palin would be doing next. Here's her answer:
"STAPLETON: OH, everything under the sun that you can possibly think of.
And what she has said and what she did say in her speech was, just alone, getting out there and working with candidates and for candidates to get the right people in office who have those same ideas and ideals, and energy independence and who will work for stronger national security and more support for..."
I see. Sarah Palin resigned as Governor so that she could help people who share her "ideas and ideals" get elected to political office. Maybe if she works really hard at it, she could even get one of them elected governor.