Did They Make The Trains Run On Time, Too?

CCRM has their weekly outrage posted. It’s by Allen Pizzey at CBS from November 25th. According to Mr. Pizzey:

The Taliban claims infighting and excesses of the United Front prompted people in Kandahar and other ethnic Pashtun provinces to ask them to keep fighting. Considering that tribal warfare and its attended looting and lawlessness helped propel the Taliban to power five years ago, who is to dispute that some Afghans may consider their law and order form of Islam a better alternative? A lack of women’s rights, bans on music and other archaic laws may offend westerners but in many parts of Afghanistan such strictures aren’t that much of a step backwards.

End Of The Blue Meanies

Los Angeles reader (and web designer extraordinaire) Bill Simon makes an interesting point about the cultural change since 911.

I can’t believe my ears. I am hearing Christmas music and it is only the beginning of December! It is not just in stores, as one might expect, but KMZT is playing it. Then, while listening to “hold” music (as I was waiting for a company to pick up their phone), I was hearing, “Oh Holy Night.” KOST FM is playing holiday music all the time. Have you noticed this? It is as if September 11th not only awoke our sense of patriotism, but also the spirit that’s embodied in the Christmas holiday. I am 55 and I remember a time maybe 35-40 years ago when, for weeks before Christmas, the radio stations (like the original KRLA!) played Christmas music, intermixed with their top 40 tunes. But just a few years ago I couldn’t find Christmas music on the radio even on Christmas day! I am Jewish and I don’t have any religious ties to Christmas. But I missed the music and the feeling of the season it provided. It had gotten so bad that I had to go out and buy Christmas Carol CDs. Now the music is back and I LOVE it.

He also follows up the thought with this (particularly apropos in light of the loss of George Harrison last week):

An ice age is receding. The Grinch is gone. The Blue Meenies, in the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” have been defeated. The people in Pepper Land (who the Blue Meenies had turned to stone) are coming back to life. When I saw the look on the faces of the liberated Afghani people as they listened to music, danced in the streets, sang songs and flew kites, I couldn’t help thinking about the Blue Meenies. The Blue Meenies hated music, flowers, love, and laughter. And remarkably, liberating Afghanistan from the Blue Meenies apparently liberated us from them as well. Hurray!!!

Good analogy. And in thinking about it, this is really a classical story (and movie) theme. I happened to catch the end of the movie Tron last night, and it had the same thing–the evil Master Control Program was defeated, and all the lights slowly lit up, and the people of the computer world came out of hiding, and started celebrating. Or think Wizard of Oz–Ding, Dong, the witch is dead…

Life imitates art imitates life.

Nonsense From Matt Miller

Just heard an auditorial (that’s spoken editorial–I just made up the word) from Matt Miller on NPR’s Morning Edition, in which he was gleefully pointing out that, as a result of 911, the argument about private vs government charity should be over–government wins. His “argument,” (if one can actually dignify it with such a word) is that, since the Red Cross has played bait and switch with their donations, and been shown to be bureaucratic, that we should now prefer government for such functions.


He also “argued” that since the Red Cross only raised a billion dollars, and the goverment had already put in forty billion, clearly private charity just wasn’t up to the challenge and didn’t have the necessary resources.

Double huh?

Let’s take his first “point.” He seems to be arguing that because at least one private charity screwed up, that we should now put our trust in government. Of course, he neglects to mention that now that we know that that particular charity screwed up, we have a choice to not give to it any more. And if lots of them are similarly screwing up, it potentially opens up a market opportunity for charities that can advertise, “Hey, we’re a new kind of charity–we’ll actually give money to people.” Of course, part of the problem is all of the idiotic rules that apply to charities due to their non-profit tax status, rules laid down by…government. Miller mentions this, but only in passing, as though it’s not really relevant. His preferred solution is for us to just continue involuntarily giving money to a government bureaucracy that remains effectively unaccountable to, well, anyone. And we’re now supposed to find this preferable?

As to the relative resources issue, he misses a couple key points. First of all, it’s not clear how much of that forty billion was a requirement, as opposed to a desirement. My impression at the time was that it was a number pulled pretty much out of the air, bid up from the original twenty billion after a meeting in the Oval Office with Senators Schumer and Clinton (the same meeting in which Bush made his delicious comment about “not sending a ten-million-dollar missile into a ten-dollar tent and hitting a camel in the butt,” right in front of her Highness). Much of it was to actually go to upstate New York for economic recovery. And of course, even to the degree that it was legitimately related to 911, it was bailouts of industries (e.g., insurance, airlines). Regardless of your opinion on whether or not this is a legitimate role of government, to compare it with charity is, at best, disingenuous. But that’s Matt Miller. Finally, even if it were true that private charity is not capable of raising sufficient funds for the true needs, isn’t it just possible that this is because so much money goes into the bottomless maw of government that charitable donors are feeling too pinched to give as much as they want? It is, after all, only a tax deduction–not a credit. Make it the latter, and see how the fundraising goes…

Anyway, he ended up the silly little commentary by saying, “now can we finally admit that government is better, and quit talking about privatizing social security and charity”?

Sorry, Matt, not until you come up with some real arguments.

A Lesson For The Media?

There’s an interesting story in the Denver Post that points out that the WTC bombing actually wasn’t the first foreign attack on US mainland soil since the War of 1812, as many have mistakenly pointed out. I had forgotten about this myself, but the Japanese did send balloon bombs over during the war, and some of them did quite a bit of damage (this story points out that one made it at least as far east as Fort Collins, CO).

The real point of the story is that few were aware of it at the time (or even now) because the media made a conscious decision to not publicize it. As a result, the Japanese thought it was a flop and stopped wasting resources doing it.

A Need For True Nation Building

In today’s Opinion Journal, David Rieff argues, I believe correctly, that we are going to have to take a more activist role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan than simply letting political events take their course while pledging aid, and we cannot count on the UN to do it right. That is a recipe for a return to the chaos, factionalism and oppression that we have seen for the past decades. While the people themselves might choose democracy, it isn’t clear that they will be allowed to, absent a forceful approach by the US. Otherwise, our aid will be wasted as much of the IMF and World Bank funding is today.

If we are going to have an equivalent of a Marshall plan, we will have to follow the successful political model implied by that, as we did in Japan and Germany–a temporary (benign as possible) colonialization to allow time for the inculcation of the values of democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, experience also indicates that this is a job that will take not months, but years, and perhaps a decade or more.

The same will apply to other countries (e.g., Iraq) that we liberate as part of this war.

The Economist Still Doesn’t Get It

Well, they obviously didn’t read my last disquisition in response to their muddled leader about manned space. In the latest issue, they seem to welcome Sean O’Keefe as the new NASA head, because they think that he’s a bean counter who will shut down that yucky manned space program and give them back their beloved robotic space science. I can see why they might be a little confused. As their article notes (apologies for the quaint old-world spelling):

…O’Keefe ruffled feathers in Washington, DC, when he presented the House Science Committee with exactly the kind of chart that space enthusiasts hate to see: a side-by-side comparison of government spending on manned space flight against spending on other research programmes. His graph showed that the National Institute of Health’s cancer research centre received $4 billion in federal funds last year, but the space station got twice as much. “I mean, why put that in that graph like that?” asked Dave Weldon, a Florida congressman whose district includes the Kennedy Space Centre. “The reason that I’m particularly bothered by this is, you know, you’re here for the administration and the administration claims to be a big supporter of manned spaceflight.”

I’m not sure where the reporter comes up with that number–station doesn’t get “twice that much”–it gets about the same. He may be taking all of NASA’s manned space activities, including Shuttle, to come up with something close to “twice that much,” but it’s misleading, if not false, reportage.

Anyway, it’s beside the point. Unfortunately, both the good congressman and the reporters at The Economist continue to equate “manned spaceflight” with multibillion-dollar boondoggles that provide jobs in Houston, Huntsville and Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately for The Economist’s science reporter, such a chart showing JPL missions against the rest of the federal science budget wouldn’t reflect well on space in general, manned or unmanned.

I say again–we do not have a space program (or programme) for the purposes of science–if that were its purpose it would justify little more budget than in any other industrialized country (much much less than its current one percent of the federal whole).

My take on O’Keefe is that he is actually more than just a bean counter. He’s a seasoned technical manager with a good track record of recognizing problems and cleaning them up. Rumor has it that he was selected specifically by Dick Cheney and will have his ear and support. That little briefing last month was indeed battleground preparation for a showdown between the White House and the Congress over space policy. We just had eight years of an administration that had zero interest in space, other than as a foreign policy tool, at loggerheads with a Congress that saw it primarily as a source of pork and patronage.

The real question is, just what does this administration want to do in space? Is O’Keefe going to “do the thing right,” or do the right thing? I’m moderately hopeful that it will first be the former, and then, the latter. And if the upcoming housecleaning results in an actual national debate on space policy, and why we have a space program, that will be a very good thing, regardless of what happens to the “manned space programme.”

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!