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November 05, 2007

Waiting for the media

The story of the Conservative party removing Mark Warner as a candidate in Toronto has been going on for almost a week now. But I'm still waiting for a reporter at some newspaper in this country to find out why it happened. They seem more interested in keeping themselves in the dark, the better to reinforce their preferred perceptions of the Conservatives. Here's the Globe last Friday:

Mark Warner, an international-trade lawyer who was elected by the riding association in Toronto Centre, says the party took issue with his participation in a local forum on income and equality. He was eventually given the green light to participate, he said, but on the condition that he remain silent throughout.

Mr. Warner said he believes he should be able to discuss issues that are pertinent to an urban downtown riding. And he doesn't believe he should have been disqualified as a candidate for saying so.

"The riding association made a choice to elect me as a candidate; the riding association was happy for me to continue as a candidate," Mr. Warner said. "If the national party wants to officiate the judgments of a local riding association, I think there are some questions there that democrats will want to discuss."

Possibly the ousted candidate is not the best qualified to explain why he was fired. And I wouldn't expect the party to fill in all the ugly details, because they don't want to be seen kicking someone when he's down (unless they're a Liberal). But sometimes reporting involves more than just phone calls to the key people; it involves turning over a few rocks and asking around. That's too much to ask of today's press, though. They're having too much fun in a fevered fantasyland of their own creation. Today's Star:
If the anti-Rae votes are split in Toronto Centre between the two parties, Rae's chances of winning are increased. But now, with Warner removed, some of that Conservative vote could drift to the NDP candidate, El-Farouk Khaki, a local immigration lawyer.

Warner himself, however, doesn't believe the Conservatives want to help the NDP. In fact, Warner told the Star he believes the Conservatives actually would be happy to see Rae in the House of Commons.

"They deny it when they talk to me," Warner said about his suspicions. However, he remains convinced Rae plays into the central Conservative attack strategy against Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

"I think the whole campaign is Harper strong, Dion weak," Warner said. Rae in the Commons as a strong performer would make Dion look weaker, Warner argues.

Got that? Getting rid of Warner was all part of a deep, Karl Rovish plot to... make Stéphane Dion look slightly weaker than he already does! I'm starting to see why the Conservatives wanted to get rid of this guy. But I'm sure he'd be a better candidate if he took his medications...

I've been a part of a Conservative riding association for many years. Choosing the candidates is done at the riding level, but the party can veto the choice. This is good because riding associations -- especially in areas with few Tories -- can get hijacked easily by a well-organized special interest. Candidates are also scrutinized carefully for criminal records or past memberships in objectionable groups. The Conservatives are probably more thorough than other parties in their investigations, but at least they don't veto a candidate for being the wrong gender.

I'm guessing problems with Warner have been going on for some time. I have no idea what they are, but I would guess that he was making promises that he had no authority to make. Or maybe he was the source of the Conservative 'ethnic strategy' leak of last month. Who knows? Too bad I can't find out in the news.

UPDATE: I've been complaining over at the National Post blog about the press' lack of curiosity in this story.

UPDATE II: I have been advised that Mark Warner is a trade and competition lawyer, not an immigration lawyer. I stand corrected.

October 30, 2007

The News Business as usual

The tale of two Google News searches...

Headless AND bodies AND Iraq:

Headless AND bodies AND Iraq AND (denied OR untrue OR false OR incorrect):

The rest of the story...

October 27, 2007

More insight from Jeffrey Simpson

Jeffrey Simpson has once again focused his keen mind on the Canadian political scene and revealed another completely obvious fact:

The GST cut is the triumph of base politics over sensible economics.

When the Harperites sat down to craft their last campaign document, they observed that the Liberals had in fact cut personal income taxes, but the public had not seen or appreciated those cuts. In fact, polls demonstrated that Canadians didn't even know their taxes had been reduced.

So the Harperites decided to give Canadians a tax cut they could see, feel and therefore appreciate at voting time; namely a reduction in the GST, whose creation by the Mulroney government had been attended with much political controversy.

Gosh. Politically motivated policy. Those Conservatives -- sorry, Harperites -- sure are devious.

In his zeal to roast those Harperites, Simpson makes a nice little logical error:

Lower consumption taxes stimulate more - wait for it - consumption, some of which leaks out of the economy in the form of purchasing imports and taking trips abroad.
A lower GST encourages leaving the country to shop?

Simpson argues that if there's a choice, it's better to focus on income and corporate taxes rather than the sales tax -- which may be true, but so what? Any tax cut is better than more taxes. Let's look at what he would have us do:

A sensible government - or sensible opposition parties - would not only scrap the forthcoming reduction but reinstitute the previously cut point, and then add another. The result would be about $15-billion additional dollars for the federal government.

Then, the government should follow the lead of Canada's best finance minister, Carole Taylor of British Columbia, who intends to levy a carbon tax to slow down the increase of greenhouse gas emissions and then reverse them.

I've heard there is a group known in some circles as the Dionistas who are woefully lacking in policy ideas. Perhaps they will be interested in Mr Simpson's wisdom.

October 24, 2007

Who could possibly think something like this could work?

If Mr. Flaherty is serious about stopping consumer gouging, spurring capital investment and attaining more balance in global markets, then he'll need much more than jawboning. He'll have to regulate retail margins to stop the current exchange-rate rip-off
The answer? Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union, who helpfully (though needlessly) points out:
I am a socialist
No kidding. Imagine a government department trying to monitor each transaction between two parties to determine if it is 'fair'. Imagine them trying to determine the 'real cost' of the simplest item while accounting for all the special discounts, extra services, and incentives that accompany many sales. Trying to create a 'carbon budget' would be simpler...

It's a real shame that the Globe and Mail has fallen to such low standards in who they let write for them. It's almost like they have no standards at all, really...

Okay, let me seriously answer Stanford's argument. The rising Canadian dollar has invisibly raised the prices on all goods and services in the country. Stanford believes that it's pointless to ask the evil, bloodsucking corporations to lower their prices, as Jim Flaherty has done, because, well... they're evil, bloodsucking corporations that only care about draining your pockets. That price rise is theirs, and they're going to keep it, and there's nothing any of you can do about it. [insert evil laugh here]

While I don't think they're evil, I do agree that companies would like to extract as much margin as they can in each transaction. That's the nature of business, and I think it's a good thing. But... those companies have competition. Consumers have choice, and they can look at price, and they can send a message to businesses that continue to overcharge. They don't have to shop there, and businesses that don't react to the changing currency situation will start to earn a bad reputation that will be very difficult to erase.

Of course, consumers will only be able to send this message if they're aware of what's happened themselves. There's been some grumbling for a little while, but the story hadn't made it into the mainstream. But Flaherty has now done that. What Stanford doesn't understand (beyond everything about economics) is that Flaherty was speaking to the consumers, not the retailers. He reminded them of their power and their role in the economy. People are talking about this issue. They will now be reevaluating their brand loyalties, and smart businesses will act quickly, as Walmart is already doing:

In a press release, the company said it has been negotiating with suppliers for more than a year to have wholesale prices better reflect the strengthening Canadian dollar.

"Canadians are not satisfied, Wal-Mart Canada is not satisfied, and negotiations continue," Mario Pilozzi, Wal-Mart Canada's president and CEO, said in the release.

"We are the agent for our customers, and will continue to work proactively with suppliers to negotiate lower prices. We are committed to turning our negotiations into many pleasant surprises for our customers between now and the New Year."

Leftists constantly want to take individual responsibilities away from people. I don't think it's really because they want the power for themselves -- though it is a nice bonus-- but because they think individuals are incapable of properly making decisions and are helpless at spurring change. Usually the powers they seek are minor, though they are numerous -- as the term 'creeping socialism' implies. But giving government the power to monitor and control consumer transactions would impose a totalitarian system almost instantly.

October 19, 2007

Canada's laziest columnist

Earlier in my blog career, friends of mine would occasionally drop by this page to have a look. Some of them were shocked. Where was the balance? How could I just take one side of an issue without clearly explaining the other? Why did I appear so certain of things that were still in dispute? I would respond that no one wants to read mushy prose that says nothing that isn't already known, doesn't have a point to make, and doesn't make a stand.

But what do I know? Evidently there must be some kind of market for that kind of journalistic tofu, because the Globe and Mail pays Jeffrey Simpson a hefty salary to produce it, day after day, and week after week. Do people read it? Why? Does he ever say anything that isn't totally obvious even to the most casual observer?

Take a look at his column today. Come on, just look at it. No really! Just this once try and read it! I'm trying to make a point.

It's about the maneuverings and strategies of the different parties in Parliament this week. It's a topic that interests me, and no one could say it's not full of drama. It's the stuff political junkies live for, and Simpson is supposed to be the Globe's top political columnist. Let's take a look at some of his keen insights:

Liberal weakness, real and imagined, has emboldened the other three parties in Parliament.

[...]

If an election really loomed, chances are the Bloc would be tacking and trimming, unless, of course, the party really does want an early vote on the theory that it will certainly do worse later than now.

[...]

In recent polls, the NDP remains in its accustomed position: around 15 per cent, give or take a few points. The NDP believes it has momentum; polls suggest otherwise.

[...]

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's white flag - the Liberals will not vote against the Throne Speech - removes whatever threat the Harperites might have felt of parliamentary defeat.

[...]

Mr. Harper, however, has decreed that many legislative initiatives flowing from the Throne Speech must be matters of confidence. This new doctrine expands, or rather distends, conventional practice to suit his purposes - namely, to put relentless pressure on the Liberals.

Gosh! He gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't he? If you actually steeled yourself to follow the link to the full column, you will have noted that the quotes above are not opening sentences pulled from a more penetrating paragraph; they are the paragraphs! The whole column is like that. One banal and very obvious point after another, until his word count is met. How can I get a job at the Globe and Mail?

October 01, 2007

Oooh! How sinister!

Crack investigative journalist Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen has blown the lid off a story that will rock Canada's political world. Apparently -- and make sure you're sitting down before reading this -- back in May a partisan Conservative blogger won a contract to do communications work for a federal Conservative MP. And to this day she has managed to help herself to an astonishing $350 from the hard-working taxpayers of this country! Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg. It's clear that all Conservative bloggers must be getting these types of sleazy contracts for writing their evil propaganda, because -- well, why else would they do it?

Personally, I'm outraged. To this day, no one has offered me any money!

Other facts from this eye-opening story:

  • Tintor's blog is "strongly opinionated"!
  • She "is also the past president of the federal Conservative association in Davenport"!
  • Her blog "is listed on the web page of the "Blogging Tories," a collection of conservative Internet commentators"!
  • "Some Liberal strategists grumble that the Tories use sympathetic bloggers to provide political spin"!
  • Tom Flanagan (Canada's Karl Rove) "cites in particular two members of the Blogging Tories, Steve Jank [sic] and Stephen Taylor, who write highly partisan blogs on federal politics"!
Do I have to draw you a map?

Seriously now, does anyone doubt there's an overlap between grassroots activists (like bloggers and riding association members) and the staff of various MPs? Is McGregor saying that if you are interested in politics and write about politics, you are ineligible to work in it? There's always the possibility that the government may reward a hard-working 'volunteer' with a high-paying, perk-laden, seat-warming job -- like, say, a spot in the Senate -- and I hope our press watches for these kinds of abuses of power. But you need to provide a little more evidence of a connection than the vague insinuations McGregor provides.

Ironically, most political blogs would be embarrassed by the lameness and pathetic research of this 'news story'. I certainly hope MP Peter Van Loan does nothing to Ms Tintor's contract on the basis of this nonsense.

July 30, 2007

The new brownshirts

Paramilitary groups, fanatically loyal to Vladimir Putin, are becoming more powerful in Russia.

Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.

Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.

Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear - supposedly a cause of sterility - and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments.

Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp's first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official.

Attempting to raise Russia's dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country's demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.

But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy.

Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.

Read the rest. The resemblance of these groups to the Nazi SA is frightening.

It never fails to amaze me. A violent and fanatical ideology is spreading through the Muslim world, killing thousands each year and breaking any opposition with murder and intimidation; Russia is quickly becoming a fascist state; China is already there and maintains its power through tight censorship and massive human rights abuses; genocide is occurring in Sudan -- yes, right at this very minute; and a tinpot dictator is dismantling a democracy in South America and using his country's wealth to export this tragedy to neighboring countries. Yet it seems to me that 90% of the outrage over the state of the world is directed at one man.

I truly believe that the intellectuals and media's mad obsession with this one man has given cover and comfort to these regimes. And one day we'll all pay the price for it.

July 12, 2007

A must-read takedown of the defeatists

The NY Times editorial last week urging a US retreat from Iraq was one of the most perplexing pieces I writing I have ever read. They seemed to understand that pulling the troops now would trigger a bloodbath that would make the current conflict look trivial, but they didn't seem to care. Victor Davis Hanson takes the whole preposterous thing apart.

(via LGF)

UPDATE: On a related note, take a look at this ABC reporter's attempt to get US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to answer a simple question on whether withdrawal will be good for Iraq. It's obvious he knows the truth too, but just doesn't care.

The comments to this post are also worth a read. There are lots of valuable insights to be found.

June 21, 2007

'It is like a feral beast'

Tony Blair has a few words for the media as he walks out the door:

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st-century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not actually the masters of this change, they're in many ways the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact." Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is often secondary to impact.

It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unraveling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressure as broadsheets. The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked.

The consequences of this are acute. First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light.

Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism, but there is a Ph.D. thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what has impact.

Third, the fear of missing out means that today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.

Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than, the news itself. So--for example--there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.

In turn, this leads to a fifth point which is the confusion of news and commentary. Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine.

Read the whole thing. Being Tony Blair, of course, he goes on to suggest that government may have a role in repairing these faults. I don't think so. But he's put his finger on some of the things that are wrong with the news today.

In today's media, a story on some new government policy initiative will open not with what that initiative is, but with a 'critic' saying what's wrong with it. The critic is not the official opposition, but just some unelected busybody fronting an organization claiming to represent some special interest group or be concerned with a particular issue. These sound-bite providers are summoned at will by the media, and are chosen for what they will say much more than any expertise or relevance they have to the story. And if for some reason they are not available the generic 'many', 'some', and 'critics' are always able to speak and let the reporter editorialize behind a facade of objectivity.

Then there is the reporting on motive. No action by the government is reported on without meandering asides as to what nefarious motives are behind it. The latest poll numbers and unrelated events will be woven into the story to cast doubt on the sincerity of all involved.

Skepticism and rebuttal are important to hear, but now they seem to crowd out the actual information. And I think it's just going to get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Fark's Drew Curtis has recently written a book about media stupidity. Some of the best quotes from it can be found here.

January 17, 2007

Talk about a war on reality...

I used to like Doonesbury. I really did. It had a good mix of characters, had interesting plotlines, and had some link to reality. I even liked the art. But that was quite a while ago. Now it seems Gary Trudeau seems to get his story ideas by taking the talking points of the worst enemies of the Bush administration and exaggerating them for comic effect. The result is a strip that really only belongs in a college newspaper.

A strip this week is a good example.

Trouble is, none of it is true. Blogger Christopher Taylor (not our Chris Taylor) actually went to the heroic lengths of calling the Park Service for confirmation of the story.

But even to think that it could be true strains the mind. No matter how diabolical and anti-science one might think the 'Bush Regime' is, it's hard to imagine them being so concerned with how the Parks Service describes the Grand Canyon that they would personally intervene. And even if they did care, they simply don't have the power to dictate the day-to-day policy of any branch of government.

To believe this story upon first hearing it is perhaps understandable. But surely any rational person would have a few questions about its veracity after a few moment's thought. But to take the time to put it into a comic strip to be seen by millions of people (creating an undestroyable urban myth) indicates Gary Trudeau is either a willing liar, or lives in a penthouse apartment in cloud-cuckoo land.

UPDATE: The skeptics at eSkeptic were insufficiently skeptical when they first heard this story and promptly flew off the handle. But since then they have regained their composure, admitted their error, and tried to track down the feeble story to its source.

October 24, 2006

CNN gets busted

One of the things I hate most about today's media is their willingness -- their eagerness, really -- to do the propaganda work for the worst scumbags on the planet. The airing by CNN of a video of a terrorist sniper training his rifle on an American soldier (though 'tastefully' fading to black before the shot is fired) is just the latest example. But this story seems to have crossed a line, and there has been a strong backlash.

Wolf Blitzer tried to do a bit of damage control yesterday, but it blew up in his face. CNN's 'military analyst', Gen David Grange, wound up agreeing with the Congressman that was pointing the finger at them. He couldn't deny that his employer was doing the 'promo' work for terrorists:

Grange agreed with Hunter: "Well, as a platoon leader in Vietnam, I would have said the same thing. I agree with you on that -- or even in Iraq today. My -- my concern is the power of information warfare, and how they use it. And I -- and I look at opportunities that we can turn around on the enemy, because they are winning the information warfare front. You can argue that our -- our -- the media in the United States supports that somewhat."
The most interesting part of the exchange for my part was Congressman Hunter's remark on why such a video is so dangerous -- which the media just cannot understand:
Hunter returned to his argument that the insurgents are getting their wishes granted by CNN, and might encourage further terrorism: "General, I look at it just the opposite. I think showing Americans being killed by terrorists, with -- apparently, with impunity, because the film doesn't show the terrorists then being pursued and killed. And lots of terrorists who have shot at Americans took their last shot at the Americans, because they themselves were killed in turn. But showing the world a film, and lots of terrorists out there watching their TV sets, a picture of an American being killed in a crowd by a terrorist who operates, apparently, with impunity, and gets away, is highly suggestive, I think, and highly instructive to them. And I think it's dangerous to Americans, not only uniformed Americans, but also tourists, Americans who might go abroad and be in one of those crowds one day, when somebody who saw that film, how you just walk up and kill them while they are in a crowd, decides to replicate that action."

October 05, 2006

Compare and contrast

Colby Cosh compares two reviews of a free concert held in Toronto: one by an enlightened critic in the Toronto Star, and the other by an attendee tapping out his her thoughts on his her cellphone. Guess which one gives a better picture of what the event was really like?

September 16, 2006

The press fans the flames

The Ottawa Citizen's David Warren describes in his column today how the BBC twisted the Pope's remarks to provoke the latest storm of outrage passing through the Middle East:

The BBC appears to have been quickest off the mark, to send around the world in many languages, including Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, and Malay, word that the Pope had insulted the Prophet of Islam, during an address in Bavaria.

He had not, of course. Pope Benedict XVI had instead quoted, carefully and without approval, remarks by the learned 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, in debate with a 14th-century learned Persian. He was trying to provide a little historical depth to present controversies about the meaning of "jihad", and his very point was that on their own respective theological terms, Muslims and Christians were bound to talk past each other today, in the same ways as they did seven centuries ago. But in the most conscientious media reports I have seen, even the Byzantine emperor is quoted out of context.

By turning the story back-to-front, so that what’s promised in the lead -- a crude attack on Islam -- is quietly withdrawn much later in the text, the BBC journalists were having a little mischief. The kind of mischief that is likely to end with Catholic priests and faithful butchered around the Muslim world. Either the writers were so jaw-droppingly ignorant, they did not realize this is what they were abetting (always a possibility with the postmodern journalist), or the malice was intended. There is no third possibility.

From the start, the BBC’s reports said the Pope would “face criticism from Muslim leaders” -- in the present tense. This is a form of dishonesty that has become common in journalism today. The flagrantly biased reporter, feigning objectivity, spices his story by just guessing what a man’s enemies will say, even before they have spoken.

While I don’t mean to pick especially on the BBC, when other mainstream media are often as culpable, they are worth singling out here to show the amount of sheer, murderous evil of which this taxpayer-funded network is capable.

The fact that the Pope was not insulting Islam is very clear if the context of his speech is understood, but the chance to stir up trouble by the BBC was too much to resist. The truth was simplified, and the suggestion was made that there was something to be outraged about. Warren predicts how the story will play out over the next week:
From now on, the reporting will be about the Muslim rage, and whether the Vatican has apologized yet. That is the “drama” the media will seek to capture -- the drama of the cockfight -- because they know no better kind. That the Pope said nothing intrinsically objectionable will be overlooked, in deference to the Muslim rage, just as the media hid the Danish cartoons from their viewers -- preventing them from discovering how mild they were.

But again: even without the BBC doing the devil’s work, with unbecoming enthusiasm, the story could have carried to the Muslim world, where a new wave of anti-Western, and specifically anti-Christian hysteria is now rising, similar to what was enhanced by tendentious misreporting after the Danish controversy. There are enough other agents provocateurs both in my business and outside it; and surely, enough radical Muslims digging for grievances to extend their own power.

The manufacture of grievances, to justify strident demands for their redress, is the tyrant’s stock-in-trade. It is what took Adolf Hitler to power over the Germans, and it is what today’s Islamic fanatics depend upon to control the Muslims, and push them towards an apocalyptic jihad against the West. Moreover, the basic tactic of bullying is to demand apologies for exaggerated or imaginary offences. It is to make the decent kneel before the indecent.

That the BBC provoked this latest 'scandal' should in no way absolve the Muslim world from their hyper-sensitivity to these imaginary slights. But pouring gasoline on a fire is not responsible journalism. People are going to wind up dead because of this.

September 15, 2006

The deluge begins

I'm really quite disgusted by the National Post today. Even beyond the lurid front page, inside the front section there are four pages given over to extensive coverage of Kimveer Gill, including no less than nine photos of him. There are long quotes from his website, the lyrics to his favourite songs, and more than you should ever want to know about this pathetic loser. I haven't looked at the other papers, But I'm sure there's more of the same there. If I was a distrubed suicidal selfish jerk starved for attention and respect, I'd be quite impressed at the attention being paid to Gill and might even want to emulate him.


August 30, 2006

The End of the Plame Kerfuffle?

I don't often listen to the CBC Radio News, but I recall listening to it a few months ago as one of the umpteen dozen 'revelations' of the Plame saga came to light. It was the top of the news, and was followed by interviews with at least a half a dozen 'experts' rounded up by the impartial reporters of our national broadcaster, who each claimed that Bush was toast, that this was the smoking gun, that this would finally connect the nefarious casual mentioning of a Bush critic's wife's profession to the evil machinations of the Bush administration.

And what was this new revelation? Only that Bush authorized a document to be declassified in order to rebut one of Joe Wilson's false claims. Which seems to be a reasonable response to a person who has used the authority of his work with the government in order to discredit it. But for the CBC and the other millions of Plame conspiracy freaks, this indicated that the White House had noticed Wilson's criticisms, and might have done even more to discredit him. Perhaps even going as far as to... getting a subordinate to casually mention to the press that Wilson's wife worked... for the CIA!

Anyways, due to the development of the internet, this non-story has probably spawned a greater word count than that of both Kennedy assasinations put together. It went on for years and years. And there was absolutely nothing there.

Hopefully the last 'revelation' of this ridiculous conspiracy theory has come to light: that Bush critic Richard Armitage was the 'leaker' of Plame's secret identity, and did it with no ill intent. I somehow doubt this fact will deter the most enthusiastic Plame conspiracy nuts, but maybe the rest of the media will at least shut up about it. It's important for the media to investigate the government and be suspicious of it, but it's also important for them to work at least partially in the real world. The idea that Bush would get 'revenge' on an attention-seeking nobody like Joe Wilson by revealing what his wife did was so ludicrous that is should have been laughed off the front pages. But instead they devoted enormous resources over three years in trying to prove this nutty theory -- when they had absolutely no evidence! It boggles my mind.

August 10, 2006

And now the other side of the story...

The National Post's Sonia Verma offers a far gloomier future for Lebanon than Béhé:

The Lebanese government estimates it will take between 40 and 50 years to rebuild the country's infrastructure.

Young people in their late 20s and 30s, who are old enough to remember the violence of the civil war and Israel's occupation of the south are also young enough to leave and start fresh somewhere else.

Local observers fear the trend of university-educated people leaving will only radicalize those who are left.

"Those who are leaving are those who can afford to leave and generally speaking these are politically liberal people," says Minia Boujaoude, a columnist with the left-leaning daily As-Safir.

"We need these people to rebuild Lebanon as a modern country. It can't fall to Hezbollah," she said.

At Ashrafieh Mall, a shopping centre in an upscale part of Beirut, the end-of-summer sales have started early, but nobody's buying. Inside, the air-conditioned shops, designer clothes and imported linens seem a world away from the war raging outside, but it is always close to people's hearts.

"When I see my friends leaving, I think this place will be thrown back 60 years in time," says Sami Zakhi, a young doctor who just opened his orthopedic practice.

Oh come on. Sixty years? While I can believe Béhé was being a little optimistic, this is absolute nonsense. And what about this: 'The Lebanese government estimates it will take between 40 and 50 years to rebuild the country's infrastructure.' Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the restraint Israel is showing and how much international aid will be flowing to Lebanon after this is over knows that this is ridiculous. But the statement is made with absolutely no skepticism or further investigation.

Adding more smoke to an already smokey scene is wrong, certainly; but this kind of willfully blind pessimism is far worse, surely.

July 31, 2006

The Echo Chamber Argument

Adam Radwanski has a column in the National Post today (behind the subscriber wall) where he makes the tired claim that all that is happening on political blogs is preaching to the converted. I've heard it before and don't buy it. Here's the summary of the problem as he perceives it:

The blogosphere is good for music and trading notes on pop culture. It can be great for sports commentary. It's a way to pass time for those interested in reading the mundane details of strangers' personal lives.

But what it is absolutely lousy for is political debate -- mostly because what it encourages is not debate at all, so much as support groups in which the converted preach to one another about the evils of some dark and mysterious enemy. Those frequenting blogs don't learn much and their views are rarely challenged. What they get out of the experience is having their own views reinforced over and over again, until even relative moderates are converted into hard-liners.

He doesn't really give any evidence for these claims. This is as close as he gets to explaining why this is:
The Internet has not done it alone; talk radio and Fox News have played their role. But what the blogosphere has going for it, more even than those outlets, is the ability to bring together people of one specific viewpoint from all over a given country.

For simple reasons of geography, other outlets cannot do that. A newspaper can be liberal or conservative in its editorial stance, but there simply aren't enough ideologues in any given city for it to be sustainable as a one-sided pamphlet. And with the broad base of viewers needed to draw in advertisers, the same usually goes for TV networks.

A Web site, however, is a different matter entirely. With little or no overhead and no geographic restrictions, it can be successful just by cobbling together a few thousands fans somewhere within a country's borders.

The result is that opinionated Americans no longer have to suffer the ordeal of encountering views they disagree with. Instead, they can simply go online and find an endless supply of writers eager to tell them that they're right and everyone else is wrong.

And of course, the style sheet for these kind of articles require the writer to close with a warning:
This would be a relatively minor concern if such fulminating was limited to the Internet. But conditioned by their online reading, as well as listening to Fox and talk radio, consumers are demanding the same stuff elsewhere.

The rise of an Ann Coulter on the right or an Al Franken on the left -- commentators who spend most of their time attacking cartoon versions of liberals and conservatives, respectively -- suggests where this culture is taking us.

And it's not just the big names: Go to the American politics section of your local bookstore, and you'll find that half the titles are simple-minded polemics against either the left or the right, many of them written by people who made their reputations online.

In Canada, we're moving slower. But there's little doubt we're headed in the same direction.

Here, the right is a little more organized than the left -- the "Blogging Tories" group creating a community of hundreds of like-minded blogs with similar obsessions (the liberal media, pacifists, etc.) to the ones found south of the border. But it's the Canadian left that has actually shown the biggest crossover into mainstream media, courtesy of Antonia Zerbisias -- a media columnist and blogger for the Toronto Star whose main job appears to be attacking conservative commentators on both sides of the border.

True, we don't yet have entire TV programs devoted to advancing an ideology. But with commentators increasingly emulating the zealous partisanship of the online crowd in the hope of eliciting similarly strong reactions, it might not be long. It's a trend that should remind us to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to seek out dissenting views and think critically about the perspectives being sold to us -- because the last thing we need is a nation of Right Girls and their sycophants.

The whole article is pretty lazy, and I'm sure Radawnski knows it. But if you haven't dipped into the blogosphere before, he presents it as how you would probably imagine it: a bunch of angry, red-faced loonies shouting their talking points over and over while they keep their fingers in their ears. But of course it isn't like that.

First of all, this 'two-camps' view of political discourse is nonsense. Sure, there are people that view themselves as 'right' or 'left', but many are just writing about things as they see them. All types of views are out there that don't easily fall into either 'side'. There are anti-war libertarians, neo-con liberals, so-con isolationists, and everything in-between. There's a great variety of views available.

And there is a lot of communication between even the most contrary of political positions. Blogs are not empty of discussion. If an idea is spinning through the 'left' side of the blogosphere, it will soon appear in the 'right' as well -- for debunking if possible, or just as comments by visiting members of the opposing camp. I see the blogosphere as a brain, with each blog acting somewhat as a synapse. They're all wired up in a way that's impossible to understand, and yet it works. When a useful or interesting idea appears on a blog somewhere, it might be picked up by other blogs in its neighborhood, subjected to close examination, commentary and refinement, and be forwarded along. It might eventually travel through dozens of blogs and may even travel the corpus callosum of the blogosphere to appear on blogs with a different ideological bent than the one that created it. Contrary to Radawnski's characterization, information on many blogs is not one-sided boilerplate, but may have been subjected to more scrutiny than most information in the mainstream media.

What bugs me most about the piece is its intrinsic conceit. There is the conceit that newspapers and other traditional media -- though not Fox News, which he disparages twice in an article ostensibly about blogs -- are a more balanced and honest source of information. When he writes of the importance 'to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to seek out dissenting views and think critically about the perspectives being sold to us', the self-congratulation is palpable -- and for me, completely undeserved. But there is also the conceit that blog readers and writers are unthinking dittoheads, interested only in preserving their cosy cocoon of safe assumptions. But from what I see, these are the people that 'think critically'. There are interested in the world and find the thin gruel of the lowest-common-denominator MSM insufficient for their needs.

A year and a half ago, the Post published another piece bashing blogs. Responding to it I wrote:

[T]he entire tone of this piece was a sneering, 'Ghod, those bloggers are just soooo lame', with which the editors of the Post seem to agree. I see this attitude often when the mainstream press mentions blogs, but other groups of enthusiastic amateurs are never covered in a similar light. You will never see mockery of customized car buffs, or amateur musicians, artists, film makers, and actors. But amateur political writers? Beneath contempt.
And the same hold true to this article. It's understandable, I guess. Considering the dwindling readerships of most newspapers, the last thing they would want to do is turn their customers on to the competition.

UPDATE: Greg Staples at Political Staples has some more commentary on this article.

July 26, 2006

The propaganda war heats up

As a rule, I try not to watch much TV news. It's too vapid, too emotional and too stupid for the most part. But I have seen a bit of the coverage in Lebanon, and I'm pretty disappointed. Much of it seems to be concerned with trying to cram as many crying women and bloody children into a two minute segment as possible. Israel may have the advantage in military might, but they always get creamed in the propaganda war.

Of course, this is all due to the media-terrorist feedback loop. They both need each other, and work together well. A CNN reporter has even admitted his coverage was the result of working with Hezbollah. James Taranto suggests this kind of coverage creates a danger for civilians:

Israel, unlike Hezbollah, is constrained by human decency. By using civilians as shields, Hezbollah hopes to limit the Jewish state's military options. Hezbollah wins either way, since if Israeli strikes do hurt or kill civilians, the international media, including CNN, depict this as the result of Israel's, rather than Hezbollah's, brutality.

A report like Cal Perry's, in other words, provides Hezbollah with an incentive to endanger Lebanese civilians further. CNN, then, must bear some degree of moral culpability for the suffering of Lebanon's population.

It's clear Hezbollah is using innocents to win the propaganda war. Israel has dropped leaflets advising civilians to flee, but Hezbollah has worked to prevent this. Their bodies are a military asset, and may be needed (in a mangled form) to appear on TV behind some blow-dried blowhard from Atlanta.

Cox and Forkum illustrates this attitude perfectly:

July 07, 2006

MSM quote of the day

In these violent times, Um Ahmed takes steps to ensure her safety, strapping on a suicide belt before going to bed at night.
(via Tim Blair)

June 15, 2006

Guilt of the media II

Terrorism is an information war disguised as a military operation. The press plays a symbiotic role, and isn't willing to address that.
Glenn Reynolds has a longish post (for him) on this subject, with lots of links.

June 14, 2006

Science meets junk science

We're all doomed. Everyone knows it. Or actually they don't know it. All those tubby sheeple trundling through the Wal-Mart to fill their SUVs with stuff they don't need sure don't seem to be aware. If they knew that our planet is going to overheat and cause massive devastation due to the use of those fossil fuels which will cause a apocalyptic economic implosion when they soon run out and we can't use them anymore, would they live the way they do?

This is the way the clever people in our world think. And it's not surprising considering the way the media promotes these doomsday scenarios. They also think that the only way to solve these potential catastrophes is to hand over some of their (and of course those blind sheeple's) dwindling supply of autonomy to the even wiser men than they that promise a solution. That those wise men are almost always the same as the prophets of doom doesn't seem to bother them.

The Financial Post is running a series of stories this week dealing with most of the big sources of potential global annihilation. They've asked scientists with in-depth knowledge of these subjects -- but whose views are not bleak enough for the media to quote -- to rebut some of the hysteria. Unfortunately, yesterday's article on Toxic Chemical Hysteria is not online (though Terence Corcoran's editorial on the subject still is), but today's piece on the Peak Oil Panic is very much worth reading:

Proponents of the imminent peak of global oil extraction -- led by Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, L.F. Ivanhoe, Richard Duncan and Kenneth Deffeyes -- resort to deliberately alarmist arguments as they mix incontestable facts with caricatures of complex realities, ignoring anything that does not fit their preconceived conclusions about the demise of modern civilization. Ivanhoe sees an early end of the oil era as "the inevitable doomsday," followed by "economic implosion" that will make "many of the world's developed societies look more like today's Russia than the U.S." Duncan's future brings massive unemployment, breadlines, homelessness and a catastrophic end of industrial civilization.

These conclusions are based on interpretations that lack any nuanced understanding of the human quest for energy, disregard the role of prices, ignore any historical perspectives and pre-suppose the end of human inventiveness and adaptability.

I will raise just three key points aimed at dismantling the foundations of this new catastrophist cult. First, these preachings are just the latest installments in a long history of failed peak forecasts. Second, the Peak Oil advocates argue that this time the circumstances are really different and that their forecasts will not fail -- but in order to believe that, one has to ignore a multitude of facts and possibilities that readily counteract their claims. Third, and most importantly, there is no reason why even an early peak of global oil production should trigger any catastrophic events.

As the say in the blogosphere: RTHT.

I can't help but think that there's some intrinsic religious aspect to these type of fears -- that there's something in humanity that is uncomfortable with an easy life. There's the idea that there's a cost for everything we enjoy -- that we must make sacrifices to balance our blessings. Even though religion is so passé to the clever people, this belief has not died, it has simply morphed into the new junk science cult.

June 13, 2006

The guilt of the media

David Warren has a great column on the synergy between the media and the terrorists that are trying to destabilize Iraq. And from that, he makes a strong case that Zarqawi's death is a great victory:

So much of the credit for his murderous successes, and those of other terrorists like him, must be given to the mainstream media -- both East and West. Journalists assiduously advance the terrorist cause, by reporting almost exclusively on allied setbacks and mistakes, and by their ceaseless improvisation of destructive criticism against "Bush" and other Western leaders and allies. Heroic, and largely successful reconstruction efforts in Iraq have been ignored; instead we have an endless spool of meticulously-reported terror hits. The Western media attention to, and celebration of, such unstable characters as Cindy Sheehan and Michael Berg, make their alliances obvious. The New York Times has been the bellwether for this. Almost every news item touching Iraq is spun to maximize its demoralizing effect on the allied war effort. And across America itself, editors look to the Times nightly front-page line-up for clues on how to slant their own coverage.

To an enemy who depends utterly on morale, in the absence of significant military abilities -- who has only such weaponry as he can rig or steal, and only such soldiers as he can recruit in secret; who has no secure territory to which he can retreat and regroup -- this constant and reliable support from the media is indispensable. Without it, the "resistance" in Iraq would have collapsed quickly, saving ten-thousands of lives; and the Afghan "resistance" would be in greater disarray (though it has the benefit of secure pasturage in remote tribal mountain fastnesses).

But Zarqawi's death goes beyond spinning. The very fact touched off huge celebrations across Iraq this week, as did the capture of Saddam Hussein before it. While our Western media are loath to cover these demonstrations -- lest they enhance President Bush's position in U.S. domestic politics -- their effect on the enemy in Iraq is profound. An enemy whose morale depended on Zarqawi's reputation for ruthlessness, against the hard fact of popular detestation, is left staring at a wall. He needs another Zarqawi to emerge, quickly.

I've pointed out this terrorist-media feedback loop before, and it sickens me. To terrorize (or demoralize) a population requires not just violent acts, but the delivery of threats and intimidation. Most of the world's media have been too eager to fill the role.