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Some Tasty Layne Musings on Ethics, Blogging, Journalism, etc.: Last week I received an e-mail from someone trying to put together a “voluntary weblogging 'code of practice.'” I wished him the best, but I truly hope we can continue to speak and act and write around here without codified mores, and without a net.

03/13/2003 08:25 PM  |  Comment (4)

Hey, People Who Maintain Frequently Updated Websites! Fill out this kid’s survey. (Via Havrilesky)

03/13/2003 03:46 PM  | 

My Last Word, Hopefully, on Freedom Toast & Whatnot: I wrote an e-mail to Glenn Reynolds last night explaining my position, and of course he responded with a: “Looks like you've got a good column practically written. Run with it.” So here it is:

I am just worried & over-sensitive about three trends:

1) The rhetorical tendency of "yeah, but he did it first!" Sure, it can be a funny rhetorical device -- the first hundred or so times -- but in the end, it's "yeah, but he did it first!"

2) The habit of making official U.S. policy and behavior, no matter how insignificant, based on the anti-war & obstructionist statements of allies. While of course you *must* adapt your diplomatic behavior to deal with the Schroeders and Chiracs of the world (and to emphasize -- I strongly dislike both, and the way they have behaved vis-a-vis the U.S.), doing things like snubbing Schroeder after the elections, or renaming cafeteria food, gives the impression of a petty and over-sensitive power, ready to punish friends for disagreeing. Quickly, this practice will discourage the free exchange of ideas (like, but not nearly as bad as, the way Chirac wants the post-commie kids to shut up about their pro-America stance). It will obstruct the flow of good information, and probably has (countries like Portugal and Bulgaria are incentivized to support us blindly at a time like now ... which is not to say at all that that's what they're *doing*, but to say the built-in incentive is there, and we will suffer if it grows).

Also, by hyper-reacting to specific actions related to the War effort, the U.S. will encourage on its own part a tendency to judge partner nations *on this criteria only*, or at least let it become the dominant determinant of who we decide is a friend or not. This, combined with the inevitable deal-making that comes with assuming & expending more power, means that we will be great pals with shitty countries, and angry quasi-friends with democracies that share many of our values and traditions. I think this is both stupid and dangerous -- we do not have a great track record of agitating for reform among the dictators we support, and I think supporting dictators qualifies as one of those "root causes" people get excited about.

Sure, I'm extrapolating a bit here. But I think it's incumbent upon the most powerful country in the world to develop thick skin, and respond to childish bullshit by rising above it, rather than sinking down to its level.

3) Leaders set some kind of moral tenor for the country. Now, I don't get *overly* excited by such things, but I think if a senior government official, for instance, uses "axis of weasels" to describe Chirac & co., he is emboldening the population to go several steps further, and legitimizing poisonous discourse. Already, you can see a progression of allowable jokes -- let's "Pave France," let's "Bomb Canada," etc. Many of these jokes are funny, of course, and I am definitely not the kind of person to take "offense" at them. But they veer into the genocidal, and I daresay if you saw jokes like that emanating from the ANSWER crowd, or directed toward Israel, you would give them no quarter.

I spent eight years in Europe hearing earfuls of the most simplistic anti-American crap imaginable (oftentimes from Americans themselves, of course). My reaction, always: Oh, aren't *they* being dumb. It was a signal of uncritical thinking. Seeing Americans take their justifiable anger at European actions, and their justifiable criticism thereof, and turn it into the same kind of formulations -- and then saying "well, they've been doing it for years, now it's payback time!" ... well, this has been disappointing. And I think the anger has long since clouded the judgment of some bloggers. I've read in recent days that, heck, *Russia* has more shared "values" with us than France or Germany. And Ledeen's comment (I think it was him) that the Franco-Germans are deliberately riding the backs of Islamic dictators to serve as a check on American power strikes me as madness.

This is not to say that I don’t think Chirac is a wretch, or that he isn’t endangering the transatlantic relationship, or that the degeneracy of the European chattering class isn’t a worrisome issue. In fact, I think this growing divide is one of the most significant things happening right now, and I am obsessed about it for rather personal reasons.

I think that as humans, commentators, politicians, Americans -- we should act with the utmost possible nobility, and with motives that are vigorously cleansed of cheapness, retribution, personal profit and other vices. We are the most powerful country on earth, and I read somewhere that power has been known, on occasion, to corrupt. I think we are also the most noble and anti-imperial "empire" ever. I want us to do an even *better* job, and as you know I am concerned that we will create a damned-if-we-do scenario unless we start looking for creative ways to *devolve* power and responsibility to the rest of the world, starting preferably with our oldest and most trusted allies. (I mean the Brits, of course, not the crafty cheese-eaters). I don't want any more Sept. 11s, and I worry very much that by increasing the globally held notion that nothing gets done unless it's Americans doing it, we are setting ourselves up to be targets indefinitely.

Which brings us far afield from "Freedom Fries," obviously. But somehow I think it's of a piece.

Incidentally, about a dozen times in the last month or two people have said to Emmanuelle, "Oh, I don't have anything against you *personally,* it's just your government." It's been sweet, but also kind of bizarre. I remember hearing versions of that a thousand times in Europe, and I wore it as a badge of honor. But I also remember thinking, "you people don't know how silly you sound right now." As I look around these days, I see a lot of familiar silliness. We can do better than that.

03/13/2003 11:30 AM  |  Comment (36)

Mom Fact-Checks My Ass!: (It’s a saying we have here, ma.) My darling mother left her first comment ever on my blog today! In the comments of my "Pianist" post there had been some debate over the pronunciation of the word, and I had written:

Growing up in a household with a classical PEEanist seven years my elder meant that I knew the musical term long before I had any reason to snicker.
Which brought this maternal observation:
Finally found some authentic contribution to make--actually your sister's most prestigious piano teachers all said piANist and I learned very quickly not to buck the trend. Ah, the memory is a treacherous beast.
Doh! Now, the rest of you play nice and leave comments about what a nice job she did raising me….Or at least encourage her to start her own blog, which would be killer. UPDATE: And now Aunt Sue has left a comment here!

03/12/2003 11:08 PM  |  Comment (3)

Sniff, Sniff: I see over at Virginia Postrel’s site that she, Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh and Nick Gillespie are going to appear on a panel about blogs at the Reason Weekend event in San Diego. I guess they didn’t want to muck it up with people who actually write for the magazine with some regularity….

Virginia, who's back in the town where she belongs, also has a lot of great stuff up about Los Angeles.

03/12/2003 10:51 PM  | 

Mead’s Champions: Quite unlike me, Jonah Goldberg thinks Walter Russell Mead’s Iraqi deaths column succeeds “brilliantly.” Jonah also misspells “Russell” and “Mead.” UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan calls it “The most concise and devastating piece yet on the alternative to war” … and also spells it “Meade” (I know: I’m setting myself up for a misspelling embarrassment here … but when I make 1/10th the blogging salary of either gentleman I’ll feel bad). Meanwhile Daniel Drezner factors in the rhetorical overreach, spells the names right, and comes out firmly in favor of Mead’s basic thesis.

03/12/2003 04:54 PM  |  Comment (7)

From Last Night’s Panel Discussion on Alternative Newspapers in L.A.: Moderated by Jill Stewart, featuring Dick Riordan, reported on (as usual) by Luke Ford:

Another LA Times public affairs officer, a tall black woman named Chris, angrily lectured the panel on the need to cater to its readers. And she demanded to know why Richard Riordan's LA Examiner paper billed itself as "blonde" in attitude. She clearly thought this was racist.

Most of those who questioned the panel instead gave angry speeches. One LA Press Club board member, Karen, wanted to know why there weren't more homosexuals and minorities writing for the alternative press. She said that Riordan's prototype only featured the work of two homosexuals, one of whom was in the closet. Who's that?

God, people are funny.

03/12/2003 04:43 PM  |  Comment (4)

Signs That You Woke up in an Alternative Universe: When eminently reasonable people consider the benefits of torture, when critics of Stupid Government consider the benefits of renaming congressional food; and when anyone, let alone someone who is attempting to defend the French, writes a passage like this:

What's being lost in the justified anger at the French is the uncomfortable fact that there is quite a bit to admire about France and its culture. Sorry, but there it is.
I think I’ll go outside for a few days.

03/12/2003 12:04 PM  |  Comment (29)

Happy Birthday, Ben Sullivan!: You can all give him the birthday present of bookmarking his terrific Science Blog.

Ben was the first person I ever met who was actually born and raised in Los Angeles. This has its side-effects, the vast majority of which are terrific. But last night, it also meant a crucial free round of margaritas and tequila shots just when he thought he’d made his escape from Casita del Campo. (Ben went to high school with the owners' son.)

03/12/2003 10:51 AM  |  Comment (1)

Awful News -- Djindjic Assassinated:

03/12/2003 10:35 AM  | 

Sgt. Stryker: ‘What in the World Makes You Think I’m a Conservative?’: Great stuff from a man I’m glad is defending my little Hollywood meth-shack:

Except for a short Alex P. Keaton phase in middle school, I don't think anyone's ever considered me a conservative until I started up this thing, so the question I put to you is: How in the hell am I considered a conservative and what's your definition of a conservative? […]

I don't think I've expressed my views on social issues outside of my normal derision of political parties and those who put the interests of a political group over those of the country. I guess that might be some sort of libertarian philosophy, but libertarians freak me out. […]

I don't like political parties, I like making fun of dipshit kooks, I support the GWOT, I don't care one way or another about Iraq and I don't think Bush is the caricature most on the right and left make him out to be (e.g. "dummy", "master rope-a-dope strategist", or "gun-slingin' cowboy" to name a few). Is that what makes me a conservative? Or is this one of those "anyone who doesn't agree with me is a conservative/liberal" deals? What makes someone a conservative?

03/12/2003 12:55 AM  |  Comment (17)

When the Hawks Co-opt the Doves’ Bullshit Math: Walter Russell Mead, who I respect greatly, is full of dukey here:

Based on Iraqi government figures, UNICEF estimates that containment kills roughly 5,000 Iraqi babies (children under 5 years of age) every month, or 60,000 per year.
Why is that wrong? Because, last time I looked (which was seven months, 13 months and 15 months ago, respectively), UNICEF had never used the word “containment,” nor had it “based” its figures on “Iraqi government figures.” Again and again, UNICEF has made the point that the figure of 5,000 “excess deaths” a month among children under five is due to a whole sump-bath of circumstances, of which sanctions, or “containment,” is just one. Those who quote UNICEF otherwise are ideologically biased, journalistically lazy, or both:
Saddam Hussein is 65; containing him for another 10 years condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death. Of these, 240,000 will be children under 5.

Those are the low-end estimates. Believe UNICEF and 10 more years kills 600,000 Iraqi babies and altogether almost 1 million Iraqis.

Unless UNICEF has come out with new numbers I’m not aware of, this is double-dukey. Anyone who is serious about assigning blame for dead Iraqis knows it is impossible to make such an omniscient statement as “condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death.” And, as far as I’m aware, UNICEF has not gotten into the business of predicting death in Iraq (I’m happy to be proved otherwise).

It is worth noting, too, that Mead makes the following plausible-but-horrific claims, without a shred of evidence backing them:

Hussein murders the babies.

But containment enables the slaughter. Containment kills. The slaughter of innocents is the worst cost of containment.

“Slaughter” implies some direct campaign of deliberate murder, as opposed to more vague programs of starvation. If there was a baby-slaughtering campaign -- and there might well have been, for all I know -- I would appreciate hearing about it.
Containment allows Saddam Hussein to control the political climate of the Middle East. If it serves his interest to provoke a crisis, he can shoot at U.S. planes. He can mobilize his troops near Kuwait. He can support terrorists and destabilize his neighbors. The United States must respond to these provocations.
“Control”? Really? This is a monster whose regime will not be in power come May. He is a broke and isolated and desperate totalitarian. He can (and has) shot at many a U.S. plane -- did a single crisis ensue? Sure, he “can mobilize his troops near Kuwait,” in a similar way that I “can mobilize drunks near Barbra Streisand’s house in Malibu.” Both are about as likely to happen; the difference being I wouldn’t get blown to bits on Day Two of the deployment. “Must” is a strong and specific word. “Provocations” is a weak and vague one.
Worse, containment forces the United States to keep large conventional forces in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region. That costs much more than money.

The existence of al Qaeda, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are part of the price the United States has paid to contain Saddam Hussein.

The link is clear and direct. Since 1991 the United States has had forces in Saudi Arabia. Those forces are there for one purpose only: to defend the kingdom (and its neighbors) from Iraqi attack. If Saddam Hussein had either fallen from power in 1991 or fulfilled the terms of his cease-fire agreement and disarmed, U.S. forces would have left Saudi Arabia.

But Iraqi defiance forced the United States to stay.

It is possible that each of Mead’s certainties (with my italicization) is 100% true. It is also possible that they are not. To my eyes, it seems entirely improbable that he was shown proof that his assertions were correct. If he was, I wish he would have shown them to us, instead of just asserting his confidence. This lil’ distinction becomes important:
[O]ne consequence was dire and direct. Osama bin Laden founded al Qaeda because U.S. forces stayed in Saudi Arabia.

This is the link between Saddam Hussein's defiance of international law and the events of Sept. 11; it is clear and compelling. No Iraqi violations, no Sept. 11.

So that is our cost.

This is some crazy-ass omniscience. How does Mead know, incontrovertibly, that Osama Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda because American troops stayed in Saudi Arabia (against their intentions, natch)? He does not tell. This is not to say that he is wrong, mind you, but that he has not come close to proving it, or even arguing it. My hunch is that the United States has made several promises of “temporary” deployments that have turned out to be more or less permanent, for whatever reasons. Even if the reasons here were totally noble -- and they might be -- there is no way, to my knowledge, that Mead knows that with the same kind of certainty with which he writes these sentences.
Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror -- with no end in sight.

This is disaster, not policy.

Powerful stuff. But what does “containing King Fahd” deliver, in comparison? Is he not a “psychopath”? Doesn’t his country have more to do with the fomenting of “anti-American terror”? Also, it is not the United States or Nations that “delivers” any subject people to their own dictator -- the poor schleps were likely born into their condition, and we are (understandably) agonizing over the appropriate way to free them.

There are terrific arguments for toppling Nasty McMustache (as one of my comments-people here so accurately named Hussein). Mead’s column ain’t one of them. Worse, it co-opts the opposition’s bogus stats as fact. Let me make one certain point clear, to my hawkish friends: DID YOU NOT LEARN, AFTER SEPT. 11, TO AVOID LYING, SELECTIVELY QUOTED BULLSHIT? Knock the shit off, already. (Thanks mucho to Stephen Green for the heads-up.) UPDATE FOR NATIONAL REVIEW READERS: As sort of gets discussed in the comments below, this is indeed a hair-splitting exercise, conducted mostly because I’d written previously on the topic. Mead’s basic thesis -- war is justified because it reduces a human rights catastrophe -- is powerful, and may well be right.

03/12/2003 12:22 AM  |  Comment (21)

Yglesias, to Freedom-Friers -- ‘GROW THE FUCK UP!’:

03/11/2003 11:44 AM  |  Comment (9)

Nick Denton’s Contrarian Take on L’affaire Moran:

03/11/2003 11:30 AM  |  Comment (3)

A Company Whose Website Is Filled With Meta-tags of Misspelled California City Names: Agenda Bender has the weird details. Thanks to Eckhart for the tip.

03/11/2003 11:13 AM  | 

Connecting the Dots With 20-20 Hindsight: Malcolm Gladwell gives us a timely and economically written reminder of why it can be foolish and even dangerous to look at a catastrophic event like the Sept. 11 massacre, and retroactively assert that all evidence pointed to it happening, if only we wouldn’t have been so stupid. If you think about it, such connect-the-dots post-mortems are favorite tools of ideologues, as well as honest inquirers. (Via Gary Farber, whose subscription must arrive a week before mine.)

03/11/2003 11:09 AM  |  Comment (3)

A Great Day for Any California Baby: The first avocado….

03/11/2003 12:33 AM  |  Comment (2)

Pre-Emptive Liberal Confirmation of Justice Volokh: From my neighbor Steve Smith, echoing a conversation I had with the professor just the other night:

[O]ne of the best blogs, liberal or conservative, is Volokh Conspiracy, a collaborative site led by the noted law professor, Eugene Volokh. His legal takes are challenging, and often convincing, and [he] would be a conservative I would whole-heartedly support for a Supreme Court nomination.
Why screw around with Estrada? We want Eugene!

03/11/2003 12:26 AM  |  Comment (10)

The Pianist: Saw it tonight. Terrific movie, much better than I expected. Recommend it highly.

03/10/2003 10:26 PM  |  Comment (16)

Sports-Music Simile of the Day: From BaseballPrimer.com:

Being a third baseman in the Texas system right now is like being a guitarist in the Yardbirds -- the future looks bright, the present is more hit and miss, and there are more of you than necessary.

03/10/2003 05:05 PM  |  Comment (2)

‘Drunk in Heaven … kinda seems redundant’:

03/10/2003 04:32 PM  | 

For my Pals From Manhappenin’ Beach: Check out The Aesthetic -- “The South Bay’s Journal of Art and Ideas.”

03/10/2003 04:17 PM  | 

Jeff Jarvis, on the Alterman-McGowan-Huffington-Garofalo panel: I think Jeff’s smarter and more interesting than any of them … though I’m not that familiar with McGowan.

03/10/2003 04:13 PM  | 

Compelling Point-Counterpoint on the War: Howard Owens and Micah Holmquist, two webloggers who occasionally drop comments at this site, go toe-to-toe over the war in Howard’s comments section. It turns out to be a decent microcosm of the war debate -- both score good points, both take cheap shots, then they end up talking past each other.

03/10/2003 12:43 AM  |  Comment (15)

Richard Perle: ‘Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly’: What pathetic, idiotic bullshit.

Here's Hersh’s recent New Yorker article about Perle's shadowy dealings with various Saudis, including the notorious Adnan Khashoggi.

Remember back in the fall of 2001, when many of us shared outrage at hyperbolic nonsense and the warping qualities of enclave-think? Every day -- and today in particular -- I see signs that the pendulum has swung back. Here’s something I wrote that December:

Intellectual conformity within like-minded groups is a distinctly non-partisan phenomenon. The same people who have skewered the anti-war Left while seeing their own battlefield predictions come more or less true could just as easily get it dead wrong next time, if they choose to gloat and preen instead of rigorously challenging their own assumptions.
Rigor truly does beat smearing your political opponent in the long run, even if it isn't always funny as, say, making jokes about paving France. (Via Atrios)

03/09/2003 11:43 PM  |  Comment (7)

What Would You Have Asked Bush at the Press Conference? I’ve skimmed through a lot of discussion about the other night’s performance, and about the order of the questions, etc. Suddenly, a happy image appeared in my head of Richard Bennett being the first reporter to ask a question at a presidential press conference, with a follow-up by Atrios. … So, if you were Helen Thomas, and Bush had decided not to snub the tradition of calling on her first, what one question would you have asked?

03/09/2003 05:41 PM  |  Comment (41)

Don't Mess With the Welches, Follow-up: Daily Pilot headline, about my butt-kicking niece Kindra Bailey, and her championship performance yesterday:

Daring Mesa Goalies Come Through at Zero Hour
Bailey sparkles before exiting with injury; Gentling proves ready in relief
Yeah, that’s right. A generous sampling of the story:
FULLERTON -- Though she produced a performance those in attendance won't soon forget, just how much Costa Mesa High girls soccer goalie Kindra Bailey remembers about Saturday night's CIF Southern Section Division III title game, is open to question.

Bailey, who made six saves and thwarted a handful of Walnut scoring threats the first 64 minutes of the scoreless tie, appeared to clash heads with a Walnut attacker as a corner kick sailed in front of the Mesa goal in the 65th minute at Cal State Fullerton.

Both Bailey and Walnut senior forward Nicki Becker remained on the ground for several minutes after the collision. Both had cuts tended to by support staff and both were eventually helped from the field. Becker, Walnut's scoring leader, returned to the game, but Bailey was replaced by senior Kaitlyn Gentling, who added one save and also collected several loose balls in the attacking zone to preserve the shutout.

Bailey, who watched the completion of the game sitting on a trainer's table set up on the sideline, walked onto the field for the postgame awards presentation. After removing an ice bag held over her nose, she was included in a team picture on the field to commemorate the co-championship, then was then taken by her mother to a hospital, said Mesa Coach Dan Johnston, who described Bailey's condition as "a little woozy." Bailey had adhesive bandages over what assistant coach Erin Van Horn said were a pair of cuts, aligned vertically from the center of her forehead to the bridge of her nose. Van Horn also said there was a knot on her forehead.

Her wounds were tangible evidence of the aggressiveness with which Bailey attacked her duties, capping her first varsity season, in which she shared time with Gentling, by helping produce her team's 14th shutout. It was the 10th time in the last 12 games Mesa's opponent failed to score, including 3 of 5 playoff games.

"She was phenomenal," Van Horn, a former Mesa keeper in her second season helping coach the Mustang goalies, said. "Our goalies haven't been tested a lot this year, but she was ready and she played to her potential."

Bailey's aggressiveness was obvious early and she repeatedly charged out to collect balls inside the 18-yard box, sliding into attackers four times in the first half to smother loose balls. She had three saves by halftime.

"She got more and more aggressive toward the end of the season," Van Horn said of last year's junior varsity keeper. "I think that semifinal game (the second playoff victory in which she played the entire contest), really helped her confidence."

Johnston and Bailey's teammates were also generous with praise.

"Kindra played great," said Johnston, who had alternated her with Gentling in the first-round and quarterfinal playoff wins. "(Bailey) came up big when she needed to. Kindra was fired up. She wanted to be a champion. I wish the rest of our team was that fired up in the first half."

"I was depressed when she got hurt, because she was playing very well and very aggressively," Gentling said. "We knew Walnut was a tough team and we had to play our best defense. Kindra played an awesome game."

Stacy Krikorian, a junior fullback who, along with senior sweeper Devin Denman, junior stopper Valerie Gomez, fullbacks Kara Jenkins, a junior, and Nelly Barrios, a senior, helped hand Walnut its fifth shutout this season, said it was fun to watch Bailey's development, particularly late in the season.

"It was a bummer when she got hurt, because she has was playing so well," Krikorian said. "She gives her all every minute she's in there. She was awesome tonight."

Perhaps Bailey's best effort came five minutes into the second half, when, having bolted about 10 yards from the cage, she blocked a strong shot from the right wing by Walnut offensive catalyst Christina Carriaga. The rebound rolled about 15 feet back out toward the middle of the box, but Bailey quickly pounced on it, before a Walnut player could do any more damage.

More praise and coverage here and here and here.

03/09/2003 04:24 PM  |  Comment (4)

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