Yesterday I sent a letter to the Washington Post, asking the paper to retract the specific claim that the Bush administration paid me "to help promote the president's proposal." For, as I wrote, "whether Howard Kurtz and the Washington Post acknowledge it or not, it is this specific charge and not the question of disclosure that is feeding the media coverage."
This morning, the editorial leadership of the Washington Post has done an honorable thing by retracting this charge: "[Gallagher] was not paid to covertly espouse administration views in her columns."
I hope that other media outlets that, relying on the reputation of the Washington Post, repeated that false charge as fact will show the same integrity and issue their own retractions or corrections. I specifically ask the New York Times to retract the charges made in its January 27 editorial "The Best Coverage Money Can Buy."
The quote appears in columnist Fred Hiatt's column, "The Rules of Punditry." Hiatt denies that the Post ever made the charge:
We have not written editorials about Gallagher; she was not paid to covertly espouse administration views in her columns. She was paid, as The Post disclosed, to write brochures and essays for the Bush administration on marriage policy; and she separately praised the administration's marriage policy in her syndicated column.
The latest is the syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, who did not disclose a $21,500 government writing contract for her promotion of Bush policy on strengthening marriage.
Neither the Post nor the times tied the HHS contract to Gallagher's column. Kurtz mentions that Gallagher expressed support for the Federal Marriage Amendment in "columns, television appearances and interviews" after the time of the contract, but states no connection between the two.
However, both columns use deceptive language to describe the nature of her HHS contract: "to help promote the president's proposal," "for her promotion of Bush policy." This masquerades the main purpose of the contract: to advise on how policy should be drafted. Anything that could be described as "promotion" was incidental. When you think about it, she promoted her own ideas much more than she promoted Bush's.
Hiatt makes an interesting remark:
So the Gallagher case is murkier. Since the Post story was published, she has described herself both as an "opinion journalist" and as a marriage expert entitled to do consulting work in the field. It seems to me these roles coexist uneasily if the consulting work is for the government. At a minimum, as she has since acknowledged, she should have disclosed her government payments in columns on the subject.
There is no conflict of interest between punditry and government contracting. The role of pundit is to express opinion; it is not necessary for the reader to know what factors, financial or otherwise, may influence the writer's bias, since bias is a given. Knowledge of such factors are necessary for news journalists, whose job is to tell people what happened, not what they believe.
I suspect that the confusion stems from the fact that pundits have historically emerged from the ranks of journalism, and an assumption that the code of ethics for both must be identical. There is certainly some strong overlap; for instance, neither should air claims that are provably false - an axiom that applies to every walk of life. But disclosure of bias motivation isn't a moral necessity for those in the bias business. Of course, an individual publisher can draft its own disclosure requirements; the employer decides the packaging and content of the product it carries, after all.
Update: In the latter part of this post I have neglected to address directly the central factor behind the disclosure issue. When I wrote of "factors, financial or otherwise," the biggest "otherwise" is, of course, past government employment. The reason for such disclosure is for the benefit of press organizations; they must be assured against any appearance of government manipulation of the press through any of its reporters and editors.
Do syndicated columnists owe the same obligation? No. These pundits have domain over their own output only; they don't have authority over the media company's janitor, much less its reporters or editors.
Besides, the biggest political sycophants receive no salary from the administrations they suck up to. Ever heard of Eleanor Clift? To the best of my knowledge, she never received a dime from the Clinton administration. A space alien visiting in the 90s might think otherwise, the way she fawned over the administration with scarcely any criticism. Chronic bootlicking is a bigger conflict of interest than a brief contracting job.
Update: There is yet one species of media animal I haven't taken into consideration. Not the person wh doubles as pundit and news journalist at the same organization; the stricter requirements of the latter kick in. I'm thinking of strict opinion writers (i.e. who no news reporting) who are employees of a newspaper's opinion section. These people interact daily with the newspaper staff, contribute more to the op-ed page than any individual syndicated columnist, and are in line to be promoted to editor of that (or some other) department.
The whole differences-in-disclosure-requirements issue is not only pundits vs. news journalists but also private contractors (syndicated columnists) vs. employees. I will sum up this matter tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Obsidian Order has some photos of a car explosion in Baghdad. At first I questioned the authenticity of the photos. The images are taken from different angles, but at first glance the car (except in Photo 7, where it is barely visible) seems to be straight-on relative to the camera - but in a blow-up of Photo 6 you can see the rear tire to the right. I still have questions about Photo 7; maybe it's me, but that fiery mushroom cloud looks more like Hollywood CGI than something you'd see in real life. I've never seen a car bomb go off, so I'm not exactly an expert.
The third and fourth photo (one appears to be an cropped enlargement of the other) may have caught a bit of shrapnel on film:
What catches Obsidian's attention is this:is this (emphasis in original):
The key and blindingly obvious point: there are at least three photojournalists from different outfits there exactly at the time it goes off! This is not a lucky coincidence. The pictures are clearly taken less than a minute after the original explosion and less than a minute apart. Also: all of the photographers are stringers, not regular staff photographers.
Interpretation: One, this was staged, the particulars of the bomb ensure it will be ineffective and safe from the distance from which it was photographed, but visually spectacular. The people running are most likely also staged. Two, the reporters were invited to see it. Three, they knew it was staged.
Update: About the seventh photo...I'm no explosives expert, but I've seen video of fireballs before. The fireball is a momentary phenomena; it is present with the initial formation of a mushroom cloud. Photo 7 looks like an explosion just as it is occurring. Photo 1 is clearly an explosion in an even earlier stage. Are they two stages of the same explosion, taken from two different angles and distances and only a second or two apart? That would support Obsidian's hypothesis that the event was staged and the photographers knew in advance.
On the surface, the placement of the mushroom cloud seems odd because its epicenter is to the left of the car and not on top of it. On first impression I was thinking of conventional car bombs where the explosive is placed within the car. But in the first image (assuming they're the same explosion - there were at least two) you can see some flame issuing from the left of the car. Obsidian says it looks like a white phosphorous shell was used to set off the explosion; a shell hitting the left side of the car would explain the placement of the mushroom cloud.
Photos 3 and 4 seem to have been taken moments after the explosion in 7; there's a lot less (but still plenty) of flame in the car, wisps of flame to its left, and the cloud of smoke is higher in the air. And the smoke from the second explosion shrouding the right side of the image is present only in photos 2, 5 and 6.
One more note. If you set paper on fire, you'll notice that blackened, smoldering bits of it will separate and float away. The "shrapnel" might be a bit of smoldering upholstery wafting away from the car.
The Difference Between Consulting, Advertising, And Opinion Journalism
In a recent column, Armstrong Williams apologized for his decision to run Department of Education ads promoting the "No Child Left Behind" act. Now Howard Kurtz has falsely accused Maggie Gallagher of doing the same thing. She did not. She was a paid consultant; NewsMax reports her explanation:
I was not paid to promote the President's marriage proposal. In 2001 I was approached by HHS to do research and writing, not on the President's $300 million marriage initiative, but on marriage: specifically four brochures on the social science evidence on the benefits of marriage for populations serviced by HHS (such as unwed parents), a draft of an essay for Wade Horn, and a training presentation on the social science evidence on the benefits of marriage for regional HHS managers.
I've been a marriage expert, researcher, and advocate for nearly twenty years. I've written two books on marriage, numerous articles in scholarly journals, as well as many newspaper columns and magazine articles.
My research and expertise is why HHS hired me, and why I accepted the work assignment. I have written a syndicated column for almost ten years, but my main work has been research and public education on marriage as a social institution.
Then she points to Kurtz's duplicity:
Moreover on Jan. 25, I offered Howard Kurtz copies of my contract and invoice as documentation of my work product. He had also received a copy of my January 25 column (below), explaining the exact nature of the work I performed, before he filed his story.
She also points out that the government hires consultants all the time:
It is not uncommon for researchers, scholars, or experts to get paid by the government to do work relating to their field of expertise. Nor is it considered unethical or shady: if anything, government funded work is considered a mark of an expert's respectability.
Anybody who follows - or reports - politics knows this, including Kurtz:
There is a trust-me aspect to [Seymour] Hersh's reporting, given his heavy reliance on unnamed sources. His latest piece quotes a "senior CIA official," "former high-level intelligence official," "military analyst," "government consultant" and "Pentagon consultant."
But how often do government agencies run ads for policy proposals?
Some have accused the Left of embracing a double standard for condemning the DOE ads on William's program yet approving the federal subsidy of the ideologically-driven PBS. There's one major difference between the two: government agencies aren't writing the script for Bill Moyers or Lou Dobbs (now with CNN) or PBS' other contributors. Nonetheless, in both the DOE ads and various PBS broadcasts, opinion receives taxpayer funding.
"It's too bad that Maggie Gallagher, in the process of apologizing for her mistake, has seen fit to blame the messenger. My story made quite clear that her work at HHS included writing brochures for the President's marriage initiative, ghostwriting a magazine article for a top official, and briefing other department officials on the issue. That sure sounds like promotion to me, but none of this would be a media controversy had Ms. Gallagher disclosed the contract in her writing trumpeting the Bush marriage plan."
Does Kurtz even know what policy consultants do? They give expert opinion on how policy should be drafted, and often they do some of the legwork in implementing that policy.
Why the scandal? Because Maggie Gallagher is a columnist, and many feel that columnists owe the public disclosure on any government contracts on their part that other citizens do not. (In 2002, the time of Gallagher's brief stint with HHS, no such disclosure was legally required.) But she is a columnist on the side; her main career is research. She is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. Don't tell me that nobody working for any other think tank ever did the kind of consulting work that Gallagher did.
EU Related News From Iceland Brief bio on host Hjörtur Jónas Guömundsson here. Blog is updated irregularly. As the title suggests, the blog focuses on European Union issues from a Eurosceptic viewpoint.
Update: In a fit of Eurodyslexia, I originally described Finland as "westernmost Scandinavia." To Americans, "west" conjures images of the frontier, and to those of English ancestry, the frontier of Europe is the east.
Philip Johnson, the architect who pioneered the "glass box" skyscraper design, died today at the age of 98. See his Wikipedia bio, which includes a list of some of his creations, which includes Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas, and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. See also Greatbuildigs.com's page on Johnson's one-storied creation The Glass House, built in 1949.
ABC's first choice to appear in that now-infamous skit, in which Terrell Owens was hit on by Nicolette Sheridan in a towel, was John Madden, aging - and white - announcer. If Madden had indeed been in the skot, I bet it wouldn't have provoked such outrage. Why? Because we wouldn't have seen a sexual encounter between a powerful black man and a sexy white woman. Almost thirty years after Loving vs Virginia, inter-racial sex is still taboo in many parts of this country.
This is vile on two counts. First, he parrots the Jesse Jacksons of the world who accuse the cultural right of being largely racist. Second, he implies the cultural right of a double-standard with nothing more than a what-if speculation - with no examples that the right has ignored similar incidents involving only white people.
Social conservatives don't need pety excuses to get upset when a strip-tease act invades an entertainment medium they've shared with children and families for decades (or generations, if one includes pre-broadcast-era professional football).
While growing up, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson was my favorite television show. The opening monologue was funny, as were the skits featuring such characters as Art Fern (see fansite here), Floyd R. Turbo (interesting Free Republic article here), and Carnac the Magnificent. But what really made the show was the guests. Watching the guest portion of the show wasn't like watching a series of interviews. It was like sitting in on friendly dinner convseration.
The Tonight Show launched the careers of many comics (including Jay Leno and David Letterman) and other entertainers like Bette Midler. It even prolonged a few aging careers; it's hard to imagine Rodney Dangerfield's acting career without those 70 Tonight Show appearances. The show also boosted the popularity of astronomer Carl Sagan. The San Diego Zoo's Joan Embry and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler and their hosts of exotic animals were recurring guests; the bush dog appearance is one of my favorites. The show also gave national attention to the National Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina, and the Piedmont Bird Calling Contest in Piedmont, California.
A Carnac gag may have inspired the exploding sheep meme recurring in video games and a few films. Carson says, "Sis boom bah," opens the envelope, and reads its contents: "The sound of a sheep exploding." It got the longest sustained laugh of any Carnac joke. It's safe to say that the video (the Wikipedia article links to it - Quicktime needed) won't be playing at the next PETA convention.
Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show for nearly 30 years, a record only recently broken by The Price Is Right's Bob Barker. See Wikipedia entry for bio. See also MSNBC's obituary, which includes a still from Carson's final Tonight Show appearance.
BUSH ON GAYS: He's not a homophobe, according to Lanny Davis. I never thought he was. In fact, that's why his extraordinary attack on gay relationships and citizens is so dispiriting. It's also counter-productive. Imagine if Bush had made a speech or remarks in which he had expressed his own view of the dignity of gay people and their relationships, even while believing that civil marriage should not be granted to them. Wouldn't that have helped him? But the far right prevents him from saying that, because they believe that gay people are either sick or sinful.
I've addressed this false dichotomy between tolerance of gays and acceptance of homosexuality before:
Mandated "tolerance" curricula is couched not toward teaching children that people can get along despite real or perceived shortcomings, but that students must swallow one particular view of homosexuality without question.
But doesn't Davis' tale of Bush getting on someone's case for calling someone a "queer" prove that Bush doesn't think anything is wrong with being gay? No. It proves that he objects to lashing out at people in spite - what the online community calls "flaming."
The nature of homosexuality can be questioned within the bounds of civility. Calling people "queers" is not within those bounds. Neither is calling people "homophobes," since the word's origins stem from the bigoted mindset illustrated two paragraphs up. Unfortunately, some use "homophobia" to refer even to genuine bigotry, that being personal animosity against gays. It is nonetheless wrong to use the language of bigots, even in nonbigoted context.
Evolution became established as fact, not because it won debates among armchair philosophers or logicians, but because it unified thousands of disparate observations by comparative anatomists, field naturalists, geologists, paleontologists, botanists and (later) geneticists and biochemists.
The book was written by anthropologist, historian, and senior editor of Natural History Magazine Richard Milner. The forward foreword was written by Stephen Jay Gould.
It's time to ask, bluntly, whether self-government can work for people not operating within a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Sadly - and predictably - Farah does little to explore his premise. He does not define the elements of the "Judeo-Christian worldview" necessary to sustain self-government. He does not demonstrate that competing worldviews lack one or more of those elements - except for this example:
It's worth noting that the new constitutions of both Iraq and Afghanistan pay tribute to Sharia law Islamic law. Has there ever been a peaceful, self-governing nation in the history of the world operating under the confines or even under the inspiration of Islamic law?
Sadly - and predictably - Andrew Sullivan does little to counter Farah's central claim. In the Derb nomination he mentions India, and here he lists off a few nominally democratic nations. Let's take a look at those countries (links, unless noted, from Wikipedia):
Athens Overwhelming majority polytheistic. Direct democracy, voters up to 6,000 of its population. Declared war with neighboring city-states to take their stuff. Macedonians eventually invaded and took their stuff.
Japan CIA Factbook says "observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%, other 16% (including Christian 0.7%)." Wikipedia describes Japanese as "usually hav[ing] indifferent feelings regarding religion and see[ing] it as something cultural or traditional." Declared war on neighbors to take their stuff while under the government structure established by the Meiji Restoration. Forced to change constitution under US occupation.
Take a look at the list and tell me which example does not belong with the rest. Here's a hint, from a list of "Pillars of Democracy" listed in an article at USINFO.STATE.GOV:
Sovereignty of the people.
Government based upon consent of the governed.
Guarantee of basic human rights.
Free and fair elections.
Equality before the law.
Due process of law.
Constitutional limits on government.
Social, economic, and political pluralism.
Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.
If you guessed Athens, you guessed correctly. Ancient Athens had voting, but it had little of the remaining "pillars."
(There is another standout of the remaining countries: India, the only one to rate as "mostly unfree" (score of 3.53) on the Index of Economic Freedom. The individual report is not yet available. Economic and other freedoms don't always go hand-in-hand, though, as illustrated by Singapore's second-place ranking, and by the fact that India trails Communist China slightly in the Index.)
Now look at the rest of the list. Add to it Taiwan. Do you see the common thread? Anglosphere influence. The "pillars of democracy," as a complete system, came directly from the American Revolution, whose leaders drew heavily from Anglosphere thinkers such as the Scottish Calvinist Samuel Rutherford and the English Puritan-by-birth-turned-Protestant-of-uncertain-identity John Locke. Democratization wasn't limited to the Anglosphere, as demonstrated by the histories of places such as Switzerland and Scandinavia, but Britain and especially the US led the most revolutionary and abrupt advances.
Is it a mere coincidence that true democratization originated in historically Christian nations? No. Each of the pillars is rooted in the same ethic, which I addressed in the most recent Henderson Prize award:
Given its nature, this prize concerns only one of the vast array of interrelated doctrines under the umbrella of Christianity: the formal philosophy professing that God values all humans and values them equally - or, as worded in the Declaration of Independence, "all Men are created equal." Paul expressed this ethic explicitly in his letter to the Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
So why is it called the Judeo-Christian ethic? Because many of the "pillars" were implicit in Jewish law. The David-and-Bathsheba story illustrates two of those principles: rule of law (over even kings) and minority rights (the victim was Uriah the Hittite).
(Theocracy is not part of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It was granted by God to only one people, which was cancelled when Hebrew governments reneged on their end of the bargain. Under a false legal interpretation of the Pentateuch, medieval rulers from Constantine on usurped theocratic authority that God didn't give them. The topic is explored extensively here.)
Keep in mind that true self-government has been around for just a little over two hundred years, and non-Western (and even some European) democracy only since the mid-20th century. Keep also in mind that Judeo-Christian ethics have been transplanted into non-Christian cultures before; one such example is charity that extends far beyond the charitable's normal circle of contacts and allegiances. The experiment is still young. We can make some educated guesses as to what types of societies will not allow it to thrive (Communism is a definite no-go), but we don't know enough to put together complete "can" and "can't" lists.
Glenn Reynolds approves of the Virginia Supreme Court's ruling that the state's law against unmarried sex violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
For those of you who brought your copy of the Constitution, turn to the 14th Amendment, Section 1 (emphasis added):
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Interpreting the "Equal Protection" clause is a two-step process. First question: is the presumed right in question protected by the Constitution? Sex is not a protected right in the US constitution. (On the flip side, the federal Constitution does not authorize Congress to regulate sexual activity, beyond on-the-job conduct of government employees, and, per the Commerce Clause, interstate sex trades.) Does the Virginia constitution grant a right to sex? No.
Second question: do apparent examples on unequal application of the law genuinely compare apples to apples? The races are equal with regard to zoning laws, but not with regard to laws that would affect discrimination in film and stage casting. Prisoners and the general population are equal with regard to protection from murder and theft, but not with regard to gun rights.
The Virginia ruling is flawed for two reasons. First, it is based on the flawed Lawrence v. Texas decision. The latter case fails the apples-to-apples test because the court did not demonstrate that heterosexuality and homosexuality are psychologically and sociologically equal - that one is no more dysfunctional than the other. Courts are not authorized to make scientific rulings, anyway; such issues must be decided by legislatures or by voter referendum. See this post for further details on my arguments against Lawrence, including my denunciation of substantive due process.
Second, the ruling relies on the wrong comparison. The apparent logic is: if a subset of unmarried sex (gay sex) is constitutionally protected, then all unmarried sex is constitutionally protected. The apples-and-apples test should be comparing unmarried sex to married sex. Again, the courts are not authorized to assess the psychological and sociological similarities or differences between the two.
Most people I know who think of unmarried sex as irresponsible (granted, I'm in Texas) don't want to criminalize it. We believe that fighting it is a private-sector marketplace-of-ideas concern. This social-conservative mindset is the swing vote that has pushed the decades-long trend toward such laws disappearing from state law books. Don't bastardize the court system - let the trend take its course. Don't run behind mommy's apron. Put it up for vote.
Idiotarianism From The Dallas Moring News Editrial Staff
This appeared in today's "Hits and Misses" column in the DMN (infernal subscription required):
Block that stereotype!
The Republicans announced this week that potty-mouthed pop star Kid Rock would not be performing at an inaugural concert after all – this after religious conservatives complained that the right-wing rapper is intolerably offensive. No complaints from the religious right over Guy Hovis, a former Lawrence Welk Show singer who is slated to warble the John Ashcroft-penned chestnut "Let the Eagles Soar" at the pre-inaugural warm-up. Excuse us, but isn't the musical Big Tent spacious enough for Republicans too young to be familiar with the words "Polident" and "Metamucil"?
Kid Rock is controversial because he is known for vulgar and misogynous lyrics. In other words, he was living up to the rap stereotype. (Defenders state that this represents a past that Kid Rock is moving away from. If so, he should make a clean break and apologize. And yes, Ted Nugent owes some apologies, too.)
It shouldn't be too difficult for inauguration day parties to find youth-friendly rock/pop acts that aren't vulgar and misogynous.
DMN mentions only two of dozens of singers slated to perform at inauguration day parties. To imply that the entertainment will be old-fogie-heavy because Kid Rock won't be playing is like saying that the blogosphere is female-heavy because Steven Den Beste stopped blogging.
"Pay For Everything In Dimes Day" To Protest Bush Inauguration
(Roiters) The Internet has recently been flooded with emails urging Americans to pay for everything they purchase in dimes on January 20, the day of President Bush's inauguration.
The yet-unknown originator of the email states the intent to protest the war in Iraq and the expense of the inauguration, which "could be better spent sending Hollywood celebrities to Banda Aceh to inspect the tsunami damage and raise awareness."
"We don't want to shut down the economy like some people," the email continues. "Because we know it won't work - people will only wait an extra day to do their shopping, and in the long run nobody will notice. But store clerks will remember having to count hundreds of dollars worth of dimes when people come in to buy clothing and appliances. They'll blame White House policy for it, and write nasty letters demanding that the administration spend its money more wisely so they don't have to go through that hassle again."
Some later versions of the emails name Bill Moyers as a supporter of the protest. "I've been too busy closing on a townhouse in Alexandria to mess with such nonsense," said the veteran journalist. He did not say how he would be paying for the townhouse.
The National Council Of Churches - Whose Side Are They On?
Jacob Laksin explores the history of the NCC at FrontPage Magazine. Summary: the NCC fought on the wrong side of domestic environmentalist policy, the Iraq War, and (more extensively than I had realized) the Cold War. The organization also has a history of fiscal mismanagement.
Read the whole thing - respecially if you belong to one of the 36 denominations that fund the organization:
African Methodist Episcopal Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches in the USA
The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Church of the Brethren
The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends United Meeting
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Hungarian Reformed Church in America
International Council of Community Churches
Korean Presbyterian Church in America
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Mar Thoma Church
Moravian Church in America Northern Province and Southern Province
National Baptist Convention of America
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
Orthodox Church in America
Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
What did you do in 2004 that you’d never done before?
Got dental bone grafts. Got a book autographed by a famous author.
Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My resolutions are in terms of making accomplishments, not in terms of giving up bad stuff, so it's a bit early to answer that.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Did anyone close to you die?
What countries did you visit?
I've only visited one foreign country in my life, on a mid-70s high school field trip to Nuevo Laredo.
What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
Lawyers, guns, and money. Well, money. And romance. And Instalanches.
What date from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory?
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Buying a better Ford Ranger than the one I had before.
What was your biggest failure?
Wrecking the old Ford Ranger.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
What was the best thing you bought?
Whose behavior merited celebration?
Dan Rather's pajama-clad fact-checkers.
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
People in the unfree parts of the Third World who hate the governments that stifle their freedoms less than they hate imaginary enemies (Americans, Jews, etc.) who have nothing to do with their plight.
Where did most of your money go?
Taxes, rent, and savings.
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
What song/album will always remind you of 2004?
"Men Without Shame" by Phantom, Rocker & Slick.
Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? Same.
Thinner or fatter? Same.
Richer or poorer? Moderately richer.
What do you wish you’d done more of?
Seeing the light of day (I work nights).
What do you wish you’d done less of?
Driving in Dallas.
How will you be spending Christmas?
Just another day off of work. I did my family celebration the week after.
Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
Did you fall in love in 2004?
How many one-night stands in this last year?
What was your favorite TV program?
Star Trek: Enterprise.
Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I dont' hate anybody - not even the guy who invented the necktie (it's a noose disguised as a fashion accessory).
What was the best book(s) you read?
Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell, The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel (see #1).
What was your greatest musical discovery?
What did you want and get?
Time off to visit relatives.
What did you want and not get?
What were your favorite films of this year?
Garfield, The Passion of The Christ, Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2 (haven't seen The Incredibles or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow yet)
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Turned 44. Went out to eat with a friend.
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Romance, of course.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
What kept you sane?
Prayer and hobbies.
Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Miranda "Eowyn" Otto.
What political issue stirred you the most?
Who did you miss?
Can't think of anybody right off.
Who was the best new person you met?
Virginia Postrel (see #1, #26).
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004.
Always copy your blog update to clipboard before publishing it.
Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"We all live ordinary average lives" - Joe Walsh, Ordinary Average Guy
Over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Pipes makes a critical observation about the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas:
The media dwell on the same apparent contradiction: one moment Abbas demands that Palestinian terrorists stop their attacks on Israel and the next he (literally) embraces them, calling them "heroes fighting for freedom." Also, he talks of both stopping the violence and of the "right of return" for over 4 million Palestinians to Israel, a well-known way of calling indirectly for the elimination of the Jewish state.
Actually, there is no contradiction. By insisting on a "right of return," Abbas signals that he, like Yasir Arafat and most Palestinians, intends to undo the events of 1948; that he rejects the very legitimacy of a Jewish state and will strive for its disappearance. But he differs from Arafat in being able to imagine more than one way of achieving this goal.
So what's the big deal about right of return? An August 2004 FPM article explains:
They are calling for 4.25 million Palestinian Arabs – refugees of the 1948-9 war and their descendants – to immigrate to Israel, turning the Jewish majority in that country into a minority and ending Jewish self-determination in a sovereign state. In other words, its exercise can have only one result: the ending of the Jewish state.
Likelihood of Confusion has a post ((link via Glenn) on the latest Ninth Circuit ruling. A website had posted a pic of Evel Knievel with two women and ran the caption, "You're never too old to be a pimp." He sued for defamation. The Ninth Circuit turned him down, on the grounds that "pimp" is not a defamatory term but the hip-hop equivalent of "stud."
New generations and subcultures always come up with their own expressions. But this? Has there ever been a time before my lifetime when a well-known derogatory term was transformed into a compliment? A stud is a guy who is popular with women. A pimp is a guy who abuses women:
Often, pimps will initially present themselves as lovers or father-figures to women before introducing them to prostitution and drug addiction. Although most pimp-prostitute relationships are abusive, few pimps use physical force or beat their prostitutes as marks and bruises bring down both the price of a prostitute and the social status of her pimp.
Apparently this sort of thing can go in the opposite direction, changing a well-known positive or innocuous term into a sexually suggestive or otherwise derogatory term. I appear to have stumbled across one in the comments to this post at In The Agora on Tom Wolfe's latest novel:
I think I'm missing something here...has someone changed the connotation of the phrase "hooking up" or something? I've seen it several times in this thread. It was always a generic term for "hey, let's get together."
Alas, I didn't get an answer, so I had to look myself. The fourth Google result (unless you count the two Amazon.com entries for the same Tom Wolfe book as one entry) is an article on Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Teenwire site. The author confirms the Generation X/Y usage of "hooking up" as a term for casual sex with "no romantic relationship brewing."
Since not everybody - especially not everybody older than Generation X (Tom Wolfe is a statistical outlier) - keeps up with the terminology of today's sexually reckless youth, I have to wonder how often people use "hooking up" in its original "let's get together" sense and are misinterpreted as saying "let's get together for relationship-free sex." That can be a lot more awkward than a Boomer misunderstanding the word "phat."
Update: In The Agora contributer Joshua Claybourn emails this response:
The answer is that slowly but surely "hooking up" is used more for the sexual suggestion and less for "let's get together." It still occassionally means getting together, but that's less and less true.
Two years ago Estonia tied the US in sixth place, both behind Ireland and New Zealand. Now the former Communist nation has taken fourth place, and the US trails the UK (by .15 points). The Heritage Foundation should calculate index scores for the individual states; no way that Texas is less economicaly free than Britain.
North Korea, once again, has the worst possible score of 5.0. In case you were wondering why Kim Jong-Il isn't pledging any tsunami relief funds...
Update: The links to the individual nation reports do not work at this time. Heritage must not have them online yet.
"What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy it may be, for some, the only job they can find."
- Dan Rather teasing a report on the CBS Evening News on March 31, the day four American civilians were killed and mutilated in Fallujah, Iraq.
"The story is true. The story is true....I appreciate the sources who took risks to authenticate our story. So, one, there is no internal investigation. Two, somebody may be shell-shocked, but it is not I, and it is not anybody at CBS News. Now, you can tell who is shell-shocked by the ferocity of the people who are spreading these rumors."
- Dan Rather in a September 10 sidewalk exchange with reporters, denying rumors that CBS would investigate whether or not the "memos" were forged. [62 points]
"Anybody who knows me knows that I am not politically motivated, not politically active for Democrats or Republicans, and that I'm independent. People who are so passionately partisan politically or ideologically committed basically say, ‘Because he won't report it our way, we're going to hang something bad around his neck and choke him with it, check him out of existence if we can, if not make him feel great pain.' They know that I'm fiercely independent and that's what drives them up a wall."
- Rather as quoted by USA Today's Peter Johnson and Jim Drinkard in a September 16 article. 
"Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story. They allege that the documents are fake....The 60 Minutes report was based not solely on the recovered documents, but on a preponderance of the evidence, including documents that were provided by what we consider to be solid sources and interviews with former officials of the Texas National Guard. If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far, there is none."
- Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, Sept. 10. 
"We cannot discriminate against someone because they have a criminal background." – Milwaukee Public Schools spokesman Phil Harris, explaining that state law allows convicted felons to work in public schools as long as their crime is not "substantially related" to the job. WISN-TV found a teachers' aide who had gone to prison for giving tequila and cocaine to a 17-year-old girl. (May 18 WISN-TV News)
What is the Washington Fallacy? It is my US-centric term for the error of pledging money to solve a problem before one has properly assessed what resources are needed to fix it. (Call it the Parliament Fallacy, or the Kremlin Fallacy, or whatever suits your nation of origin.) Ours, and other governments, draw budgets for new welfare programs without factoring in the changes in economic activity that the new program will create. They increase spending on current programs without assessing the program's actual budgetary needs. And, as illustrated by the global reaction to the tsunami, they dole out funds for disaster relief before the extent of the damage is really known.
Foreign aid carries a risk that goes beyond the Washington Fallacy, one that Rush Limbaugh raised at the beginning of today's show. He expressed fears of government embezzlement of relief funds. That sort of thing has happened before. Rush cited the Oil For Food program. (In a side note he remarked that Saddam killed more people than the tsunami did.) He also brought up the aid given in response to the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua. What happened there? Wikipedia answers that question in its entry on the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front):
Inspired and supported by the Cubans, the FSLN tried with little success to organize guerrilla warfare against Somoza in the 1960s. In the 1970s, it began to attract significant support from the country's increasingly politicized peasantry and from other sectors of the population in response to the dictatorship's brutality and corruption, especially after the earthquake that leveled Nicaragua's capital city of Managua on 23 December 1972. The earthquake killed 20,000 of the city's 400,000 residents and left another 250,000 homeless. Somoza's National Guard embezzled much of the international aid that flowed into the country to assist in reconstruction, and several parts of downtown Managua were never rebuilt. This overt corruption caused even people who had previously supported the regime, such as business leaders, to turn against Somoza and call for his overthrow.
Sadly, Wikipedia has no information on the Sandinistas' reign of terror. This April 15, 1985 speech by Ronald Reagan recounts horrors such as this:
We know the Sandinistas have ordered and are carrying out the forced relocation of tens of thousands of peasants. We have reports that 20,000 peasants have been moved in the past 2 months from their homes to relocation camps. Peasants who have escaped call themselves hostages and call the relocation camps concentration camps. The Communists themselves had admitted they're engaged in the forced resettlement of an estimated 65,000 people. Peasants and journalists tell of entire villages, homes, stores, and churches being burnt to the ground. They tell of animals slaughtered, crops burned, and villagers taken away at gunpoint in government trucks.
When Rush spoke I thought of another example, which explains the latter half of the title of this post: the Ethiopean Famine of the mid-80s. Wikipedia has no information about the tragedy of the relief efforts by Geldof and others in the articles on Bob Geldof, Do They Know It's Christmas?, Mengistu Haile Mariam, or the famine itself. In a Spectatorarticle dated today, Daniel Wolf explains the root cause of the famine:
In the time of Band Aid, 'negative angles' were out. It would have been negative, although true, to have emphasized that Mengistu was one of the most vicious African dictators of the previous quarter century, that he was fighting three wars at the time (two in the north, in Tigray and Eritrea, and one in the Oromo lands of the south), and that his troops were committing atrocities in the region where the famine was unfolding. It would have been distinctly negative to have reported that the dictator was using food as a weapon of war ? bombing crops and markets while setting up roadblocks to prevent the movement of food. The methods used by Mengistu's armies were bound to create famine, and they did.
Journalists and aid workers were not the only ones wary of confusing viewers at home with 'negative angles'. While it was Band Aid and, later, Live Aid that caught the imagination of the world, they funded only a small proportion of the aid effort: 90 per cent or more of the aid came from Western donor governments. As the governments would only deal with a recipient government, not with rebel movements, most of the aid ? again, roughly 90 per cent ? was channeled through Mengistu's hands.
So where did the money go? To Mengistu. To his military. Some aid reached the intended recipients, but a lot didn't. Read the rest of the article for details.
Relief aid should never be given to governments. It should be channeled through individuals and relief agencies, those who actually deliver the food and supplies and who rebuild the infrastructure.
You Go To Disaster Relief With The Economy That You Have
The other day I caught part of Tammy Bruce's talk radio show. (Her website is here.) She remarked that if the tsunami-ravaged countries had free (and thus robust) economies, they wouldn't need tens of billions of dollars of foreign aid. They would certainly have more funds for their own relief efforts, but that wasn't her point.
Countries with the free markets tend to have sturdy infrastructure. Tammy figures that if most of the tsunami victims weren't "living in huts" (quoted from memory), there wouldn't have been as much damage. Her assessment does seem logical - but since other parts of the world don't face tidal waves and flash flooding on such a grand scale, an apples-to-apples comparison with the tsunami is not available.
The Indian Ocean does have at least one recurring destructive weather phenomenon with counterparts affecting politically and economically advanced nations such as Taiwan, Japan, and the US: tropical cyclones. If economic liberty is a predictor of a nation's vulnerability to storm damage, that's a good place to look.
Indeed, the nations affected by the tsunami (this BBC article shows a map of the region) are lacking in economic freedom. The scores of each of the nations (except for Somalia, Seychelles, and Maldives, which were not rated) on the 2004 Index of Economic Freedom are listed below. Hyperlinks lead to the reports on the individual nations.