All posts by Rand Simberg

Turncoat Of The Year

I watched the McLaughlin Group Saturday night, and they devoted the half hour to year-end awards. One of the categories was “Turncoat Of The Year.” Most of them nominated Johnny Jihad. Interestingly (at least to your feeble-minded correspondent), none of them nominated my choice. And they spent quite a bit of time discussing him in two other categories–“Worst Politician Of The Year,” and “Most Significant Political Event Of The Year.” That man was Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords.

I don’t know if he deserves the “Worst Politician” award, though he’s certainly a worthy nominee (he achieved none of the goals that he had hoped for with his switch from Republican to…well, whatever he is, though he did make Tom Daschle a front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004).

But when it comes to being a turncoat, he made Taliban Johnnie look like a piker. While he was indeed a traitor, John Walker’s actions had no noticeable effect on the outcome, as far as we know. No Americans were shot who wouldn’t have been otherwise, no useful secrets were revealed, etc.

Dairy-Support Jim, on the other hand, overturned an election result singlehandedly (much more so than the Supreme Court can even be said to have done, particularly since the media recount showed that Bush would have won even with the rules stipulated by the marsupials on the Florida Supreme Court).

Before his decision, the Republicans were setting the agenda in both houses of Congress. After, Tom Daschle, protege of the obstreperous George Mitchell, was Senate majority leader. As a result, we got among many other things, no corporate tax cuts, and the idiotic federalization of airport security personnel. And there will be many more downstream effects, even if the Republicans can win back a majority next year.

So I think that he should have won the trifecta–worst politician (though perhaps Gary Condit can given him a run for the money), most significant political event, and turncoat of the year 2001.

We Are The World, We Are The Media

Tom Mangan follows up with one more thought on the “Media Casualties” piece.

I understood that you were lampooning the blowdried armchair worriers (as opposed the armchair warriors, each of whom seems to have a weblog), but I felt that someone should rise in defense of the regular people who do what I do for a living. I’ve been told a thousand times, “Tom, we’re not talking about the guy covering the City Council in Des Moines, we’re talking about THE MEDIA.”

Thing is, we’re all “the media” these days. One of the things I haven’t seen among the warbloggers is much recognition that they have become part of the media. Glenn Reynolds gets 30,000 visitors a day and writes for Fox News but still seems to think of the media as someone else. It reminds me of those people who attack the “politicians” while asking us to elect them to political office. Spare me the anti-politics politicians and the anti-media media personalities.

Well, sure. Mr. Berners-Lee is the Gutenberg of our age, and he’s given us all printing presses. And maybe in a few years, most of the American public will be getting their news and opinions from me, and snot-nosed upstarts will be cracking wise at my stupid comments. (Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. Maybe the day after I actually start getting my peanuts.)

UPI columnist Jim Bennett has an interesting piece on this very subject–the possibility that, as Gutenberg’s invention spurred a reformation of the medieval Church, the web will force a similar restructuring of our ossified elite “opinion leaders.” And in fact, to mix a metaphor, though the title said “Media” casualties, I actually meant to use both a broader, and a narrower brush with my rhetorical daisy cutter. Broader in the sense that academia and Hollywood should have been included as well, though the only reference to the former was Sunera Thobani, toward the end (perhaps I should have done something about “Oliver” to handle the tinsel-town intelligentsia…). Narrower in the sense that there are of course many good reporters of integrity out there, doing a good job. Some of them even have journalism degrees, though I remain convinced that this is a handicap–not a credential–for the job. The target was those who not only think that they’re smarter than us, and can and should decide what’s best for us to learn, and what we should think, but who at the same time masquerade as “objective.”

For example, Captain Dan “the Newsman” Rather, proclaims himself to be unstintingly fair and objective in his reporting, but anyone who watches him for five minutes can tell exactly where his sympathies lie. In 1994, as the Republicans won the Congress, he had a look on his face as though terrorists had broken into the CBS studios and were shooting the hostages. In the same recent interview with Bill O’Reilly in which he proclaimed his objectivity, he also stated his opinion that Bill Clinton was “an honest man.” How can we be expected to take such people seriously?

It’s not a matter of dishonesty–I’m sure that Mr. Rather genuinely believes that his personal views don’t affect his reporting. In fact, he may not even believe that he’s a liberal. He probably thinks that his views are in the mainstream, because in the circles that he hangs out in, they are. The media and academia can no more recognize their own liberal bias than fish can recognize water–it’s simply an unescapable feature of their environment.

The modern liberals, at the major papers, in the broadcast empires, and at the universities, have had a lockhold on the levers of information for decades now, but that era is coming to an end, largely due to the web. And if it sounds like I’m saying that as if it’s a good thing, it’s because it is.

Meet The New Anti-Semite, Same As The Old Anti-Semite

In today’s Spectator, Mark Steyn has another profound and amusing piece on the anti-Semitism (and anti-Americanism) of the European elite.

Americans are resigned to Britain?s and Europe?s need to ?damn? Israel, if only because they?re used to being on the receiving end themselves. Among British Conservatives, anti-Zionism tends to go hand in hand with anti-Americanism ? or, to put it in a more positive light, Europhiles tend also to be Arabists (Ian Gilmour, etc.). This is perfectly understandable: a certain type of Englishman looks at an Arab and sees a desert version of his most cherished self-delusions. Where Jews are modern, urban and scientific, Arabs are feudal, rural and romantic. Jews wear homburgs; Arabs wear flowing robes and head-dresses. Jews are famously ?in trade?; Arabs are just as famously hopeless at economic creativity: they have oil, but require foreigners to extract it and refine it. A backward culture that loves dressing up and places no value on professional activity will always appeal to a segment of the English elite. Look at the Prince of Wales in that wannabe Bedouin get-up he wore to meet Brother bin Laden the other week. Scarcely had he tossed the Highgrove hejab in the washer than he went out and gave a speech denouncing the ?arrogance? of skyscrapers. In America, blacks talk of the ?white Negro?; the Prince comes over like a white Arab.

There’s a lot of other great stuff here as well, including the insight (which should have been obvious, but for some reason is not, to many) that Americans support Israel not because the Jews run America, but because it’s the only thing resembling a democracy in the Middle East.

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

Well, in addition to my heart-rending visit to the media hospital…

I actually had a pleasant flight from LAX to St. Louis, except that I once again got randomly pulled out of line at boarding time and thoroughly searched. I had my passport and ticket out to show, and thought that I replaced all when I was done with the search. But upon arrival at Lambert, in the baggage-claim area, my passport was nowhere to be found. I suspect that the security guy, either through some legerdemain, or just sloppiness, caused it to disappear. I’m hoping that it will be in the mail when I get back to California Friday night, but if not I’ll have to call LAX and see if I can track it down. It would have expired shortly anyway, but it had lots of neat stamps in it. Anyway, consider it another 911-related loss, as I certainly would have had no call to take it out of my briefcase prior to that date, since it was a domestic flight…

I met Patricia at the airport, and we drove down to the Lake of the Ozarks and then up to Columbia, MO to spend the weekend and Christmas with her family. She is one of ten children, and most of them show up at these events with their many descendants, so there is a large variety of kids around. She had picked up a teddy bear at the Grande Supermarket in Isla Verde just prior to leaving Puerto Rico. It was white (no doubt a tropical polar bear), and when a button was pressed, it sang. It sang to a salsa, or perhaps merenge tune–I’m not sure which–in impeccable Spanglish, as would befit a boriqueno bear.


Dond’ esta Santa Claus?

Dond’ esta Santa Claus?

And all the toys he brings…

And it repeats. There’s no chorus.

It’s just adorable, and I could listen to it all day, except that after about five repetitions, I develop an overwhelming urge to take it out in the driveway and thoroughly flatten it into ursine bits with an SUV.

But she gives it to one of her many toddler nieces, and it is taken away to her house, safely out of my hearing, and thus is spared. In a visit to the ACE hardware to purchase some other Christmas sundries, and repair items for her mother’s house, she spies a Christmas moose (a Christmoose, as it were) with similar musical talents. However, instead of singing in Spanglish to a single Caribbean beat, it has a larger repertoire of Christmas carols, and it dances as it plays them (just the upper body), and since its dance is really a sort of wiggling of its upper torso as it belts out the tunes, and it actually does it in a sitting position, it sometimes, in its melodious excitement, topples over to the side as the song reaches a crescendo.

Very cute. Being cute, and being a moose, for which she has a notorious weakness, I purchase it for her.

Anyway, many presents were exchanged, much food was eaten, and much rum and wine was drunk (as well as bourbon, but not by yours truly). The rum was also procured in Puerto Rico–she picked up some Bacardi Reserve, and some Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum–just the thing for an old buccaneer like me.

That’s all for now–I’m working on a description of my journey from St. Louis to Detroit, which was a travel disaster, and not because of 911. More later.


Reader Tom Mangan writes:

I can’t help reminding you that Western journalists have suffered more

combat casualties than the military they are covering.

I work in a newsroom and people much like me (though braver) have been

killed trying to cover this war. Others merely maimed for life. That is,

DEAD, daddy not coming home, mommy applying for the life insurance, etc.

I’m not saying news people are owed any special protection from satire,

I’m just saying that your MASH metaphor is tasteless and offensive to

the friends and families of the dead and wounded.

Humor at the expense of the dead works if it’s say, the former dictator

of Spain. It’s not funny when it’s regular people with regular jobs who

got killed trying to earn their paycheck. You wouldn’t ridicule the

firefighters killed on Sept. 11, though I’m sure there would be

opportunities for humor if you were properly twisted.

He’s right, and in fact I have pointed this out (that the press casualties have in fact been higher than military, which is more of a commentary on how competent the military campaign is than how high the press casualties are). But I was not satirizing those brave journalists who are actually on the front line really covering the war and have in fact been seriously injured or killed–I was going after the armchair media generals back in the states and other countries, and specific people like Ted Rall and Robert Fisk (the latter of whom was not a war casualty per se, but was simply subject to a mugging, and who have also been mercilessly and justifiably pummeled by others). I thought that this would be obvious, but if it wasn’t, I hope it’s clear now.


I appreciate all the comments on my piece about the media casualties–it’s the most comments that I’ve ever gotten on a post, and it also resulted in the highest level of hits to date (thanks to links from Instapundit, Samizdata, Andragna and Vehrs, and Joanne Jacobs, among probably others).

But, in the spirit of the season, and the busking tradition, please, no applause.

Just throw money.

There’s a little button over there to the left…

No, but seriously, sometimes stuff like this almost writes itself. It’s actually difficult to parody some of these folks, because it’s hard to outdo what they themselves say. Just read some of it, watch a few episodes of MASH for the schmaltz factor, and voila…

Media Casualties Mount As War Success Continues

The ranks of print, web and broadcast pundits and journalists continue to be decimated by enemy action as the war progresses. The total number of casualties are becoming almost uncountable, and are overwhelming the limited field emergency facilities. This reporter got a first-hand view of the devastation and tragedy in a visit to a typical field hospital.

At the entrance the doctors, assisted by editors, are performing triage. They quickly sort through the injured, making snap decisions to place them in three categories: those who can be quickly bandaged up with some minor counseling and facts, and sent back to the front; those who continue to pontificate under the burden of so much maleducation and inability to think, and so many wrong ideas, broken syllogisms, and inappropriate conclusions, that they are beyond redemption; and those who are grievously confused, but can be saved with immediate attention.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the infirmary is the smell. The stench assaults the nose–it’s a pungent blend of moldering printer’s ink and decaying sanctimony.

Inside, those who are lucid are still bewildered at the stunning reversal of fortune that caused so many casualties. One older reporter is a grizzled veteran of the successful Tet Offensive, in which a US victory on the ground had been successfully converted into an ignominious setback in the papers and television news, with little organized resistance.

“When we arrived at the front, everything was going our way, just as we expected. The US Air Force had been pounding the Taliban for weeks, with no obvious effect. We thought that the battlefield was prepared for a major propaganda advance. But just as we started to move out seriously, with fusillades of stories about Vietnam analogies, and the futility of just chasing down terrorists without addressing why the world hates us, the Taliban and Al Qaeda started to collapse without warning. We came under fire ourselves. Huge shellbursts of cruel reality and vicious satire were exploding all around us, and dangerous facts were whizzing just past our ears, sometimes right in one and out the other…”

The fire from the webloggers, or “bloggers,” had been particularly devastating, with pinpoint accuracy and precision.

Dazed, he continued, “…it wasn’t supposed to be like this. In basic journalism training, they told us we were the best and the brightest–we knew it all. How could a bunch of unpaid internet guys without journalism degrees or training tear us to pieces like that?”

“…My partner and I were working on a big story on the clear parallels between the American invasion of Afghanistan, and the failures of the British and Russia in the same place. But I haven’t seen him here. Can you tell me what’s happened to him?”

The doctor gently tells him that they’re still trying to find out.

“Tell me, doc, will I ever be able to write again? Will anyone ever believe me?”

She just smiles, and pats his hand.

She takes me aside after we leave the bedside and tells me softly, “I don’t think that he’s well enough to take the news right now. But his partner was transferred to the Des Moines Daily Dispatch to do obits.”

The carnage might not have been so horrendous had these been fresh reporters, but many of them were already suffering battle fatigue from two previous disastrous campaigns: the eight-year war to convince the American people that Bill Clinton was a great president, and the more recent year-and-a-half futile struggle, lost decisively three months ago, to portray George W. Bush as an ineffective idiot. The final rout at the Battle of the Pardons had taken much out of them, and after Bush achieved his 90% approval rating in September, they weren’t really prepared to be thrown into the Afghan breach.

Many lie in a delirium, still unable to comprehend the incomprehensible. A woman named Maureen lies, pathetically, in a fetal position. She rocks back and forth, gently cradling her keyboard in her arms, as she whimpers, barely audible, “quagmire, murky…they’re bogged down–they must be bogged down…quagmire…”

For some, a lucky few, catatonia is a blessed escape. One poor wretch named Ted just sits up in his bed all day. His brow is furrowed, and his eyes are unfocused, or focused on some distant unreality, unseeable by the rest of us.

Old newsroom veterans call it the “thousand-word stare.” They’ve all seen it–that look you get as you gaze intently at a blank computer screen, in a futile attempt to conjure up some words that will somehow spin an obvious and just victory into humiliating and immoral failure.

He had been leading a frontal assault on common sense, when he was cut down in a withering fire of logic and irony by a brigade of blogger sharpshooters and fact checkers. The hits were effective, but not always clean. He lived, but his syntax was badly mangled, and his credibility was shattered beyond any hope of salvaging it.

Down the hall come blood-curdling screams from an emergency surgical unit. The doctor explains, “We’re low on anaesthetics. We’ve requisitioned supplies, but it’s hard to get anyone to respond. For some reason, there seems to be very little sympathy for these people.”

The cries of agony continue–it is almost unbearable to hear. “Sometimes, the only way to save them is emergency removal of fatally-flawed precepts and paradigms. There’s no time to do it gently.”

For some, though, perhaps death would be kinder. One man, by the name of Robert, had to have so many false assumptions, invalid premises, and logical fallacies removed that there was little left. They couldn’t excise the last vestiges of self loathing–to do so would have left him with nothing at all. Now, he just wanders the halls with a bandage on his head, like a post-post-modernist zombie. As he staggers along, he mutters under his breath, “I’m a Western oppressor. Beat me…stone me. Ooooohhhh, I’m such a naughty little tool of the phallocentric oligarchy. Spank me…spank me until my tender little bum is a rosy red…”

An orderly brushes past him, wearing nose plugs. He is carrying, at arms’ length, a slop-bucket full of stale cliches, failed paradigms and illogical conclusions, in search of some place to dump them where they won’t contaminate the local educational system.

Even for those who will eventually recover, the road to becoming productive may be long and painful. Many have experienced nothing their entire lives except misreporting war and politics, and are untrained and unfit for anything else. Without some way of transitioning them back into civil society, they will remain a dangerous source of social instability. The necessary rehabilitation can often involve months, even years, of special therapy, to regain, or in some cases, to achieve for the first time, the use of their minds.

Many will require relearning, or even unlearning, many things they’ve always taken for granted. They will have to start at the very beginning, with Logic 101. After months of painful mental exercises and thought, they will be gradually eased into actual history, rhetoric, and economics courses, as their minds grow stronger.

I stop by one of the therapy centers to observe.

“Now Sunera, let’s try this again. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore…?”

Sunera frowns, and sweat appears on her forehead. Hesitantly, she ventures, “Therefore…Socrates is the basis of male-centered western patriarchal violence that continues to brutalize women and grind them under its bootheels…?”

“No, Sunera,” the therapist explains patiently. “We’re practicing logic here. Lo-gic. Remember what I told you about logic?”

I close the door quietly. It will indeed be a long and hard road.

As I leave, I see a general at the entrance with a doctor, staring at the row of beds.

“Where do they find people like this?,” he asks in amazement.

The doctor answers, quietly, “As long as there are schools of journalism, we will never run out…”

(Copyright 2001, by Rand Simberg)

Holiday Hiatus

I’m going back to visit family in St. Louis, Columbia, MO and southeast Michigan. My flight leaves early tomorrow morning, returns next Friday evening, and over the next week I’ll be posting sporadically, if at all. I assume that the world will struggle on without my timeless insights, as it did up until a couple months ago, when I started doing this. But I’ll have a laptop with me, so if I find some time, I’ll check in occasionally.

But if not, happy holidays to all.