Friday, April 30, 2004

Eric Coobs argues below that I fail to understand that the war in Aghanistan and the war in Iraq are both really just battlegrounds of one war: The War on Terrorism. I certainly do not agree that the wars are one and the same, any more than I believe that the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq are the same war. These are (or were) sovereign nations; lumping them together under the rubric of a war on terrorism violates international order and our own long-established precedents in ways that should trouble any conservative.

Perhaps I should explain my position on the Iraq War. I can't really say I opposed having a war with Iraq. I supported using the threat of force to compel compliance with UN resolutions. You can't coherently support the threat of force while opposing actual force. I did oppose the Iraqi war resolution because I believe in the Constitution, and the Constitution says that wars should be declared by Congress. Nothing that I see in the Constitution allows Congress to delegate that responsibility to the president.

I always thought Saddam could be pressured into compliance. He is evil, but he isn't crazy. More than anything, including his desire to punish both George Bushes, he wanted to maintain control of Iraq. That's why he allowed UN inspectors in. That's why he was destroying weapons that violated ceasefire sanctions even as troops were massing on his borders. The inspectors kept asking for more time, and it never made a lick of sense to me that they shouldn't have it. The whole situation eventually began to feel to me like World War I: We had to mobilize troops because we wanted to pose a threat; we had to start a war because we had mobilized the troops. Thus the threat becomes the war.

Wars are inherently destabilizing. They always produce unintended consequences, and most of those consequences are bad. That's why they should always be avoided when other options remain. I thought we still had plenty of options.

I never supported invading Iraq just because Saddam was a bad man. That has never been U.S. policy, and what has happened in the last year illustrates why. It's one thing to intervene in a foreign country for humanitarian purposes when the existing order has broken down, as in Rwanda, or Serbia, or Liberia. It's another to attack a country that is more or less stable.

Leaders like Saddam don't arise out of nowhere. He is the product of longstanding cultural, religious and political schisms in Iraq. It just seemed incredibly naive to me to think that we could kick him out of power, establish a Western-style democracy and make a graceful exit, all in record time. Nothing that has happened since has changed my opinion.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Just pulled my last shift of the semester up at the MSU-Billings writing lab and turned in the grades from my German class. Maybe I'll blog more now, or maybe just spend more time doing my real hobby. I mean job.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

In comments to the post below, I get a bit snippy with a writer who casually tosses off the usual slur about liberal journalists. Sorry, but he picked the wrong day to push that particular button. I had just been wading through a lengthy analysis at Instapundit (scroll down to the April 25 entries) that makes, or at least presents, some of the same arguments. What Instapundit says is pretty standard blogosphere fodder, but it's more annoying coming from him because he is a genuinely smart guy and a star of the blogging world. For my favorite response, go to an actual newsman.

I have written on this topic here and here, among other places, and I won't waste time repeating those arguments. But I do want to comment further on an Instapundit response that says low pay in journalism means that journalists are out of touch with their readers.

There is much to be said for this. A college graduate's first job in journalism pays less than any other degree out there. Reporters who are good at their work can eventually do much better, but many quit before that happens. News outlets rarely do much recruiting at the college level, underpay interns and make no effort to sign rising stars to see if they develop. This has consequences in local news coverage (although any knowledgeable person could come up with long lists of exceptions to the points I am about to make):

1. Beginning reporters rarely own homes so property taxes don't mean much to them. They don't have kids in school, so they don't care about the school board. SIDs, zoning issues, paved streets -- all the usual give and take of local politics -- don't have much relevance to their lives.
2. They don't get out much because they can't afford to get around. At the first newspaper where I worked, we hired so many newly minted college grads trying to coax a few thousand more miles out of their decrepit vehicles that we had a running joke we wanted to insert into employment ads: "Opening for general assignment reporter. Reliable transportation a must. Journalism skills preferred."
3. Young reporters know they will have to move up in the journalism world to make a decent living, so they feel no particular ties to the community in which they live. This is especially true in television.
4. They often work nights and weekends, so they aren't out and about when most people are. Instead, they tend to hang out with each other and bitch about their jobs.
5. The reality of low pay narrows the field of prospective journalism candidates. I think that's one reason so few conservatives go into the field. Money matters to them. Journalism attracts people who are motivated in other ways. Not many in the frat crowd wind up in journalism.
6. As a general sort of principle, the working poor probably are more likely to look on government spending as a way to help keep themselves afloat. They won't generally complain about welfare, public transportation, free clinics and publicly maintained parks and museums. If taxes go up, that's OK by them.
7. Although beginning journalists don't make much money, their bosses do. Newspaper analyst John Morton has called daily newspapers the most profitable legal business in America. Do well educated poor people who work for rich people ever resent that? Is that resentment reflected in their general attitude toward big business and corporate America? Did Butte miners back the union?
8. Because of the monk-like ethical expectations of their job, journalists don't get involved in politics, join activist groups or try in any of the usual ways to effect social change. Typically, they don't even join service clubs.
9. Because of their skeptical nature, journalists don't much go to church. Again, lots of exceptions here, but I think it's generally true.
10. Because so many readers casually dismiss journalists as inherently unethical, corrupt, politically biased and incompetent, journalists learn not to pay much attention to what people say about them. When a well-meaning critic says something that's genuinely constructive, it often gets lost in the cacophony.
11. For all that, most journalists remain convinced that they are doing socially important work with lasting value for freedom and democracy. Increasingly, they seem to be about the only people who still believe that.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I had an interesting evening Thursday night on a call-in talk show about the media and the environment on Yellowstone Public Radio. Kris Prinzing hosted, and I was on the panel along with Todd Wilkinson, an occasional Outpost contributor and author of Science Under Siege; and Frank Allen, head of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources in Missoula.

The Institutes recently completed a two-year study of environmental journalism in the West. The American Journalism Review wrote a story about it, and I wrote about it here, but apparently no other Montana newspaper has mentioned it.

It was a fun evening, although we probably all agreed on too many things for it to be riveting radio. I thought about throwing in a few contrarian opinions just to liven things up, but it's hard to take exception when people are saying things that I have been arguing for years: about the tyranny of "objectivity," the dangers of media consolidation, the political demonization of those who disagree, and the general lack of resources in Western newsrooms. Even the callers mostly agreed with what we had to say, except for one odd sort out of Red Lodge who wanted to talk about the Roberta Drew case and even took an incoherent shot at the proprietor of the City Lights blog. I thought about defending Ed, then I figured, hey, not my job. I hope you would do the same for me, Ed.

I think the whole discussion might be streamed online one day soon, but that entire topic is beyond my technological ken.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Jim Hightower has an outrageous item (scroll to the last item) about government attempts to block a Kansas beef producer from testing all of its cattle for mad cow disease. The government claims that it doesn't allow private testing, even by certified labs. The real reason? Hightower guesses (and he's probably right) that the big processors don't want to test all of their animals, and they don't want to have to compete against anybody who does.
Why people don't vote, No. 786: The GOP E-Brief chides Democratic Tracy Velazquez, running for Denny Rehberg's seat in the U.S. House, for "bragging up" the NCAA championships by basketball teams from her home state of Connecticut.

"Though Valezquez has good reason to be proud of her favorite Connecticut athletic programs," the E-Brief says, "it would be nice for her to show a little enthusiasm for some Montana sports teams as well."

What a great thing it is to live in a state with so few problems that political parties can spend their time worrying about the favorite sports teams of political opponents.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I am the richest guy in the world.

I'm the guy in the jazz song who says:

"I don't pay income tax
'cause that's just chicken feed.
When the mint runs short.
I call and say, 'What do you need?'"

Just today, I turned down millions of dollars from Angola, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Millions. Free money. Why me? Because people in those countries know how reliable I am, that's why.

And the lottery money. Millions from Amsterdam. Millions from Mexico City. I don't even answer the e-mails. What do I need with a few million more?

Startups want me on their board of directors. Entrepreneurs want to trade links. I can get Viagara for nothing.

I'm filthy rich. Stinko. Money lies around begging me to pick it up. I don't even lean over. I can't be bothered. I'm king of a cyber universe. Where others see spam, I see untold riches, stretching into an unending virtual future.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Andy Borowitz quotes Saddam Hussein's lawyer as saying that U.S. treatment of the deposed Iraqi leader is just plain cruel.
I keep wanting to write about this in The Outpost but never get around to it so here goes: I count myself among those who found School District 2's mail-in ballot highly unsatisfying. I get a vague but genuine swelling of pride from walking into American Lutheran Church and casting my ballot in person. It makes me feel better the rest of the day.

But this felt more like a paperwork exercise. I kept putting it off, like paying taxes. If the issues hadn't been so important, I might not have voted at all.

Obviously, that's a minority view. Turnout was probably double what it would have been in a normal election. That tells me that:

1. People are too damn lazy or shy to vote in person.
2. People like paperwork.
3. A lot of voters cast mail-in ballots who otherwise would have passed up the opportunity. I have to wonder about people who were motivated enough to invest a stamp but would have been too poorly motivated to actually go into a polling booth. Suppose they were motivated enough to really try to understand what was at stake?
4. Employers are insufficiently flexible in allowing workers off for a few minutes to go serve their country and vote.
5. Election Day ought to be a holiday. As I (and others) have argued, tie the general election in November in with Veterans Day, hold parades with marching bands, salute the flag, recite the Gettysburg Address, and just generally make all the slackers who don't bother to vote feel like the worthless slugs they are. People are dying for that right, dammit!
6. Or some combination of the above (except No. 2). Or I am overlooking something altogether.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The Laurel Outlook explains why it hasn't retracted a Brad Molnar story that I clarified back in February.
The Laurel Outlook gives an in-depth account of how the neighboring daily managed to move Laurel to Delaware. Gazette Editor Steve Prosinski points out that the false history appeared in an "advertorial" rather than a news section but admits that that the distinction is likely to be lost on most readers.

How well I know. I once edited a daily that rejected a wedding announcement because it was submitted after our deadline. The disappointed family bought an ad that eventually wound up in the New Yorker under the headline, if memory serves, "Social notes from all over." I have forgotten most of the errors the short article contained, but I do remember the featured music: "Yazoo, Joy of Mass Desiring." I think New Yorker readers, sophisticated though they might be, also missed the distinction that the errors were generated by the ad department, not editorial.

The Outlook also editorializes that the Gazette should perhaps rethink its policy of trying to suck advertising dollars out of neighboring communities by filling ad pages with bogus stories.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Helena Independent Record acknowledges the existence of the independent press.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

If you didn't read about the history of Laurel in The Billings Gazette's Explore Laurel section on Sunday, you should dig up a copy (I couldn't find it on the web). The article, ostensibly provided by the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, makes many amazing claims, among them:
-- The Laurel area originally was occupied by the Nanticoke Indians.
-- The area was claimed by both Maryland and Pennsylvania's Penn family until 1775.
-- Laurel was once home to the world's largest manufacturer of baskets.
-- Old Christ Church, built in 1771-1772 (before Lewis and Clark!), stands one mile east of Laurel.
-- A nearby cable ferry was once a station along the Underground Railroad and the center of operations for a hated slave trader.
This is little-known information that you wouldn't even find in the Montana News Association. But as a lengthy correction in today's issue notes, the Gazette won't stand behind this story, and it apologizes for any "confusion" it may have caused. The Chamber of Commerce apparently was in Laurel, Delaware, and the editor in charge, if any, not only didn't edit the story but never even glanced at it.
Guess I'll be changing my summer vacation plans to the East Coast.