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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Are reporters trying to stay on kidnappers' good side?

When Baghdad fell and all of Saddam Hussein's crimes were about to be revealed, CNN wrote a mea culpa in the New York Times, admitting that in order to retain access to Hussein's regime, it hid what it knew about Saddam Hussein's many crimes against the Iraqi people. Is the same thing happening again? Now in Iraq we have Islamo-fascist and Baathist kidnappers murdering some reporters and freeing others. Is this scaring reporters into toeing the anti-war line as a condition for reporting on Iraq?

I thought of this today when Drudge linked to the Australian reporter, John Martinkus, who was freed after being Googled by his kidnappers. Curious to see what they found, I googled Martinkus myself and discovered that he is a darling of the anti-war left. One review of his book, Travels in American Iraq, is titled "A People Unbowed." If this review is accurate, Martinkus would seem to basically support the Michael Moore position that “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.”

Whether this interpretation of Martinkus' writings is warranted I cannot say. The question here is whether a reporter who Googled-out to be an optimist about the liberation of Iraq would have been freed, and whether reporters in Iraq are making this calculation. Anyone who is reporting from Iraq today is brave, but most of our reporters are on the left to begin with. Being intimidated into saying what they are prone to say anyway would probably not leave them too conscience stricken.

The enemy knows the importance of the press and would certainly like to co-opt them. Interdicting press intimidation by tracking down the kidnap rings should be a high priority for our intelligence operations. It is tempting to say that the press are all on the side of the enemy anyway, so why bother, but if press intimidation goes unchecked, the bias of the media will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Quiet George wins the peace

Kerry has repeatedly used this summer's upsurge in Iraqi violence to accuse President Bush of "rushing to war without having a plan to win the peace." As usual, Kerry gets it exactly backwards. The level of violence has actually been a result of the President's plan to win the peace.

We pulled back from Fallujah in April because there was no Iraqi government or army in place to turn a defeated city over to. Instead of going all-out to kill the enemy, we chose a rope-a-dope strategy that puts the enemy between a rock and a hard place. The Baathist holdouts and the Jihadis can only kill Iraqis, which makes ordinary Iraqis hate them. At the same time, it buys us the time to build up our Iraqi friends. Already the Iraqi army is strong enough that we can start killing the vermin in earnest, and look forward to having Iraqis both in the van (when language skills and Mosque invasions are needed) and in the rear (to take control of the routed areas in our wake).

This rope-a-dope has come at a heavy price. The enemy that we did not kill in April is running Fallujah's car-bomb factories. When Iraqi innocents are killed, ordinary Iraqis are rightly angry not just with the murderers, but with us as well. We took it on ourselves to be the protectors of ordinary Iraqis, but have done less than the maximum to kill their tormentors. But this price is for a reason. It offers the best chance--or at least a good chance, where good chances are hard to find--to win the peace.

The noose will tighten as elections approach. With the terrorist fight becoming ever more explicitly a fight against the expressed will of the Iraqi people, the terrorists will become ever more isolated. In the run up to the elections, all they can succeed in doing is to disenfranchise the rebellious Sunni towns, which no one else in the rest of the country, or in the rest of the world, will give a damn about. After the elections, the terrorists will just be criminals, who we can hunt down to the last man with overwhelming Iraqi support. Iraq will become a killing zone for all the foreign fighters and Baathist holdouts.

If it was up to me, I would have chosen the simpler plan to win the peace, going all out to kill the enemy every day, but the President's plan may offer the best guarantee of success. The elections are the enemy’s death knell, and to the extent that they don't participate, they lose all the worse. They cannot possibly win, and soon must quit or die.

When Kerry played up the Jihadist attacks this summer and used them to charge President bush with not having a plan to win the peace, the President could have explained our strategy--how we made a calculated gamble to let the enemy live today so that we could better win the peace tomorrow, when there is an Iraqi government and army to hand defeated territories over to, but spelling out our calculations would have hurt on the ground. It would have meant telling ordinary Iraqis that a calculation was made to let some of them die now, to avoid larger numbers dying should the peace not be won. By declining to discuss military calculations, President Bush put America's interests above his own partisan interests. This is a constant of George Bush's character.

The SEAL reservist who writes Froggy Ruminations noted the other day that Osama bin Laden is surely dead, but that George Bush never even intimates it, because a silent Al Qaeda leader is less inspiration to the enemy than a dead martyr. If Bush would simply state the obvious--that OBL's bones are rotting in Tora Bora--it would help his election chances here at home, but he places that second to the military value of preserving Al Qaeda's pretense that OBL is still alive.

In contrast, Kerry, Edwards and their henchmen eagerly attack the legitimacy of Iraqi interim president Allawi, calling him a spinner, a liar and a Bush "puppet," because they think it helps their electoral chances. The contrast in character and values could not be more complete. President Bush puts America's interests first no matter what. Kerry puts his partisan interests first, regardless of the cost to America. Now go do the right thing.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Did Chronicle editors turn a Sadr City report into a characterization of all Iraq?

This possibility is raised by an important difference between a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle and the same material on the reporter’s website.

The Chronicle article "Hatred, fear reign in 'liberated' Iraq" is a litany of woe posted by an American-Iranian reporter named Borzou Daragahi. (Yes, the Chronicle actually put "liberated" in scare quotes.) Daragahi's article was written late enough to include yesterday's Green Zone bombings, but did not include the positive news over the last several days that the Sadr Militia has been disarming, even though the Chronicle story is primarily about Sadr City. That prompted me to Google Daragahi to find out what other kind of biased trash he has written. The surprise came when I happened onto an important difference between the Chronicle piece and the same material as it appears on Daragahi's website (under "Letters from").

I had been particularly irked by the following line in the Chronicle article:
Throughout the country, graffiti-covered walls read "Iraq will be America's graveyard," "Long live the holy warriors," "The occupier will leave, by God," and "Traitors and spies beware."

That is a Sadr-City/Fallujah/Samarra phenomenon. It is NOT all over the country. Thus I was struck when the same paragraph on Daragahi's website only described the graffiti on one Sadr City wall:
The graffiti on the wall says: “Long live the resistance. Long live the holy warriors. The occupier will leave, by God. Traitors and spies beware.”

So how come the Chronicle piece was claiming that this graffiti was all over Iraq? Did Daragahi change it for the Chronicle piece, or did the Chronicle editors change it? I have emailed Mr. Daragahi with my query. If he decides to enlighten us further, I will update with his response.

Daragahi says that the Chronicle asked if the graffiti was more widespread. He confirmed that it was and he okayed the Chronicle's changes to his article.

The generous interpretation here would be that the Chronicle was digging for more facts, except it is obvious that they were only looking for facts that reflect badly on our war effort. For their purposes, Daragahi is even better than a fellow picker-and-chooser of reason and evidence. He seems to be an honest pessimist, overwhelmed by the chaos created by our decision to delay fighting until there is an Iraqi government and army in place to take defeated cities off of our hands.

Kerry's charge that Bush has no plan to win the peace is exactly backwards. Current hardships are precisely because of we have been playing rope-a-dope while we lay the groundwork for winning the peace. It is not surprising that Mr. Daragahi, who is not only a civilian but a hunted journalist, would not be able to see the forest for the trees. If anyone is in the thick of it, it is he. My prayers go out to you Barzou. If any Iraqis are reading, can someone please get this guy a gun?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

ABC tries to stoke Muslim outrage

Always ironic to hear Hannity's radio show interrupted by ABC newsbreaks. Today a female news-mouth intoned, with all the gravity she could muster, that U.S. warplanes were bombing the "holy city" of Fallujah.

This appellation has been used many times for Najaf and Karbala, but google indicates that this may be a first for Fallujah in the American media. There are two previous "holy city of Fallujah"s in online print, one by the U.K.'s Guardian (no surprise), and one by something called The Australian. That means ABC went head first into the sewer even before roto-Reuters got there! Wow.

But hey, why shouldn't ABC extend the "holy city" label? There is clearly an element of arbitrariness to these designations, so ABC would not be making full use of its resources if it did not use the label flexibly to further its goal of making our war effort look bad. If airstrikes against targets in a holy city are not necessarily outrageous in themselves, they would certainly carry the risk of stirring up widespread Muslim outrage. If outrage against Bush is your goal, Muslim outrage is as good as any, right? Good going ABC. Now get back to Hannity please.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

SF Chron buries Australia, slanders Afghanistan

As expected, today's San Francisco Chronicle buried the news that John Howard's conservative coalition won the Australian elections on Saturday. If the labor/anti-war candidate had won the banner headline would have been: "Bush loses ally in Australia." (That Liberal Media links to a such a banner headline when the Spanish surrendered electorally to Al Qaeda.)

Since the left lost in Australia, the election news is not on the Chronicle's front page. Neither is it a top Nation and World story on page 3. You have to wade back to page 15, after a page wide obituary for Jacques Derrida (French "there is no such thing as truth" literary theorist), where there finally appears the non-descript little one column headline: "Australia elects leader to 4th term." Apparently AP's headline for the same text revealed too much: "Australia's conservative prime minister easily wins fourth term, will keep troops in Iraq." When you have to expurgate AP, you are somewhere left of TASS.

2. Equally biased are today headlines about Afghanistan's first ever elections. An honest headline would have said: "Taliban/Al Qaeda fail to disrupt Afghan elections, probable losers challenge ink." Instead, the Chronicle headline gives credence to the anti-democratic behavior of the losers by giving credence to their cavil: "Afghan election snafu--wrong ink." The continuation headline blares across a full inside page: "Failure of anti-fraud ink threatens Afghan results."

The story itself reports neutrally enough:

A major hitch occurred when election workers at some polling places used the wrong ink to mark voters' thumbs. All 15 candidates challenging interim President Hamid Karzai called the results invalid and declared they would reject them.

U.N. and Afghan officials overseeing the election largely dismissed the complaints. They said any problems had been corrected during the day but promised to thoroughly investigate.

It also notes that election officials used photographs to identify voters. (In America we don't use either photographs or ink to prevent voter fraud, so the Afghanis are way ahead of us.) The story also ends with a perfect quote from an Afghan Taxi driver:
"The Taliban wanted to disrupt the process but didn't have the guns to do it," said Hamid Watek, a taxi driver. "Instead, our own politicians have done it for them by saying the whole thing is rubbish. That is better than the Taliban could have dreamed of."

The same criticism applies exactly to the Chronicle's headline writers. An honest headline would imply a Bush success, so for partisan political purposes, the Chronicle peddles the Taliban line instead. Disgusting.

3. The Chronicle also wins the prize of the week for the most biased headline on the Duelfer report. On Thursday (three days ago) the Chron ran the biased story from the Post that trumpeted Iraq's lack of WMD but elided Duelfer's findings that Saddam was preparing to restart WMD programs after sanctions were lifted, and that he was well on his way to using the U.N. sponsored Oil for Food program to buy his way out of the inspections/sanctions regime. (See Barone's expose of the WaPo report here.)

Where the WaPo headline distorted the facts ("U.S. 'Almost All Wrong' on Weapons: Report on Iraq Contradicts Bush Administration Claims"), the Chronicle goes one better. It doesn't even bother with facts, but goes directly to editorializing: "Reports put pressure on Bush over Iraq invasion." In the subhead it even editorializes the facts: "No WMDs, says latest assessment critical of U.S. policy." Duelfer did not do a policy assessment. He did an intelligence assessment. Free form anti-conservative spin, always and everywhere, is the Chronicle's fundamental modus operandi.

4. The Chronicle continues its Duelfer disinformation today, running an LA Times piece on page 3 that repeats the WaPo's distortions while adding to them. Headline: "Iraqi insurgents seek chemical weapons--likelihood of success grew with U.S occupation, report says." The story details how unspecialized chemists working with the "insurgents" had very limited success creating chemical weapons before they were captured by U.S. forces. There were no Iraqi insurgents before the occupation you see, so their likelihood of success could only go up once they existed. All that existed before the insurgency was chemical weapons specialists at the disposal of Al Qaeda terrorists. Boy, we really blew it trading that minor threat for those dangerous untrained chemists who are now in jail.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Global test: "legitimate in the eyes of other people"

Kerry's clarification of his "global test" for the use of pre-emptive force is very helpful. There had been a question of what it would mean to "prove to the world" that you have "legitimate reasons" for the use of force. (Debate transcript here.)

Now Kerry has clarified that what he means by legitimate is "legitimate in the eyes of other people." The rest of the world is to be the judge of our reasons.

Kerry's original statement was pretty clear in itself:
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

Still, there are ways to put a benign spin on this original formulation of Kerry's "test." Some commentators, like Mark Kleiman, suggest that this is not so different from Thomas Jefferson's "decent respect for the opinions of mankind." What is wrong with making sure you have good reasons?

The problem with this benign interpretation is that we DID have good reasons for invading Iraq, 27 of them by one count, and we went the extra mile a hundred times to lay out these reasons, and Kerry still doesn't think we did enough. Thus in practice at least, Kerry seems to think that his test is not passed unless the rest of the world actually agrees with us, and he has said this many times: that we should have held out until a larger coalition agreed to help us.

Also, the Jefferson parallel is not very parallel. As noted by Roland Patrick and JustOneMinute, Jefferson was simply explaining to the world. He did not concieve that there was any "test" the nation had to pass, or that we needed to "prove" our charges.

Since the Patrick's of the world were not about to convince the Kleiman's, it is nice of Kerry to clarify for us that his "global test" for legitimacy means legitimacy in the eyes of others: i.e. permission.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Using TrackBacks for trackacrosses

This is a rather long post that in the end comes to a pretty simple conclusion. TrackBacks are sometimes used to link to posts that one has not actually commented on, but that discuss the same subject as one's own post. In these cases, etiquitte calls for posting an update that "x, y, and z are also talking about this subject."

This raises the question of whether a distinction should be made between TrackBacks from articles that actually comment on the post they link to and TrackBacks from articles that merely cross-reference the linked to post. Is that distinction useful enough to users to warrant a separate button? If so, it would be easy enough to accomplish. HaloScan, MT, etcetera could just add a second window to its "manage TrackBacks" function, allowing individual TrackBacks to be designated either as TrackBacks or TrackAcrosses.

The discussion below comes to this simple assessment after a lot of technical discussion about informational efficiency. There is also a discussion of the relation between informational efficiency and reciprocity as moral standards. If that kind of stuff interests you, read on.

The Black Republican has posted a policy about deleting trackbacks that don't actually link to his posts.

He can do what he wants, of course, but I think this is the wrong response.

I have several times used TrackBacks to link to sites that are commenting on the same thing I am commenting on, without placing an update that links to these other commenters. Why? Because I am not commenting on their posts. I am just providing a link to my related discussion.

This seems a legitimate and important use of TrackBacks, unless someone wants to set up a separate TrackAcross function. One might think it is a simple enough matter update a post with links to any page where one has put TrackBacks, but this labor is not insignificant. It is probably about as much work as posting the TrackBacks. i.e. It doubles the work. If the information value of the link to those looking for information is the same in both directions, that would imply that people who are following a norm of reciprocation should provide both links. (Reciprocation is Black's rationale for his policy: "Trackbacks are kind a of mutual admiration society - each side links to the other. If it isn't mutual, I reserve the right to delete your ping.") But both links are not equally valuable.

TrackBacks are mainly used by low-traffic bloggers, trying let people on higher traffic sites know that they exist. If I put on my post an update with a link to a Captain's Quarters post where I placed a TrackBack, that update link might be as valuable to the individual user who sees it as the trackback on Cap's post is to the individual user who sees that, but a thousand times more people will see the TrackBack link on Cap's site than will see the update link on mine. If I am trying to be efficient with my time in terms of information value for the blogosphere (which is the only reason I blog in the first place) I won't bother with the update unless I think the TrackBacked-from post is especially important.

Indeed, if I think the track-backed from post is crap, I wouldn't provide an update link even if doing so was costless, because that would only misdirect my readers. I only want to link people to what I think is important. If I find a post that is saying crap about something that I have the right answer to, the informationally rational thing is TrackBack without updating. By the same standard (informational efficiency), what definitely should be deleted (if one has the time) is non-related TrackBacks, which simply muck up the information flow for people trying to find related items.

I posted a more general comment a while back (I think it was on Patterico) about the inefficiencies that are created by high-traffic/low-traffic assymetries and how they can be analyzed. I kept a word copy:

I wish all the nerve-center blogs would give a certain priority to posting links to important stuff posted on the periphery. Those of us who are consumers of the new media check a variety of blogs on a regular basis. I don't need links to Hugh Hewitt and Powerline (though I am glad to see them) because I check them out anyway. What is more important for the high-traffic blogs to do is be alert to those who are trying to forward important information, and help direct some eyeballs to what ought to recieve substantial attention, but is likely to remain unknown if higher traffic sights don't take notice.

The new media's success is precisely because of its inherent advantages in this area. Attention can be easily forwarded in networked fashion. The key is to do this efficiently. Eyeballs (and the brain power behind them) are the resources that the new-media seeks to distribute to their most valued use. Eyeball time does two things. It provides information the owner of the eyeballs, and it allows the owner of the eyeballs to forward information to other eyeballs. The former is a constant marginal value. If Michelle Malkin has something important to relate, it is as important to the millionth reader as to the first. In contrast, the forwarding function of eyeballs has diminishing marginal value. If the first hundred eyeballs confer a 50% chance that important information will filter up and receive its proper attention then the second hundred eyeballs will only confer about an additional 25% chance.

For the new media to be efficient, those who are directing eyeballs need to make sure they are accounting the diminishing marginal discovery value of eyeballs. That means that for two items of equal importance, priority should be given to what is coming from less trafficked sources. Information does not just filter up on its own. It needs to be grabbed and pulled up, and it may help if practitioners are self-conscious about accounting both inherent value and discovery value.

TrackBacks are an important tool that low traffic sites can use to do their part to try to direct attention to their own important contributions. To make this tool as inexpensive to use as possible, so that low traffic sites can get the most out of it, the flagging of important information should not be allowed only on condition that they do extra work that is not informationally efficient. Thus my policy on my own site will be to welcome trackacrosses from anybody who wants to use them, but please, if you think my discussion is particularly worthwhile, do link to it.

Lastly, maybe HaloScan and other blog tools should add the functionality to name a ping a TrackAcross instead of a TrackBack. All it would take is the addition of a second ping window to their "Manage TrackBacks" function. After all, this distinction is important information for people who are looking through TrackBack links. It tells them whether a particular link comments on the piece one has just read or whether it is simply a link to another discussion on the same subject.


In response to the comments I left on his post, Chris at Black Republican, left some interesting replies. For one, he added more about the importance of reciprocity (this was without seeing what I wrote about it in the post above):

...The fact is, Trackback was created for congenial reciprocity; using it without reciprocity is nothing but spam, and it's fairly rude.

If you need something more substantial than courtesy as a reason, think of it this way: your Trackback is essentially giving your blog free advertising on my bandwidth, and I'm getting nothing in return. Why should I agree to that, especially if I've never heard of you?

If you think your trackacross idea has merit, go talk to the guys at Slashdot or somewhere else to work out the code. Good luck getting bloggers to agree to include an ideal spamming tool on their sites.

Thinking again about the criterion of reciprocity, I shouldn't say that informational efficiency is a higher principle. Rather, my point is that the two are compatible. The kind of reciprocity I want from others is for them to link to my contributions according to the same principle of informational efficiency I use in linking to others. I'll comment on what I think is worth commenting on and link to what I think is relevant reason or evidence.

That wouldn't work very well if everyone was contrarian and only thought their own thoughts were worthwhile. Then people would just try to direct people to themselves and not link to others except out of self-interest, adhering to a tit-for-tat strategy of reciprocal cooperation to induce people to trade links with them. (Chris's TrackBack policy is a little firmer than tit-for-tat, threatening permanent non-cooperation.) But bloggers are obviously not selfish. People link to each other all the time precisely because they think others are worth paying attention to, and that seems to me to be the right standard.

To abide by a principle of informational efficiency is to not want eyeballs for eyeballs sake, but to want eyeballs to be directed to what is the most important, whether it be on one's own site or elsewhere. If you treat me according to that standard, that is the only reciprocity I want. I don't want people looking at my posts when they can find better understanding elsewhere. If everybody uses their best judgment about how best to direct each other's attention, that is ideal.

Chris also thinks that the idea of not linking to crap is censorious, and I am inclined to agree. Chris writes:
Bluntly speaking, you're acting as a censor. Who are you to make the decision that something is crap? If you only provide a link when you and the person you're linking to agree, you're not providing efficiency - you're creating an echo chamber. What I'm doing is discouraging censorious behavior and encouraging debate by withdrawing linkage that does not reciprocate, regardless if the person is agreeing with my position or not.

Spot on. But I don't think that is inconsistent with the standard of informational efficiency that I am advocating. Chris recognizes the value of linking to contrary opinons and so do I. So why did I raise the example of not linking to crap? I hadn't thought it through. Crap can be good (to READ, even if the million flies as Kos and Talking Points ARE all wrong). So set aside the business about not linking to crap. I take it back, and it was a side-issue to begin with. The main reason I am in favor of assymetry in placing trackbacks is because placing trackbacks is work, and there is assymetry in the value. As a result, full accounting of value will generally lead to assymetry in linking.

As for Chris' concern about spam, if the TrackArosses were administered by HaloScan just like TrackBacks, there would be no additional spam risk, except that what spam does get through on TrackBacks could be interated on TrackAcrosses. (Chris hadn't seen my post above about entering TrackAcrosses in a second HaloScan window, so he was not being obtuse to think that TrackArosses could add a whole other spam headache.)

The other concern of Chris's that I think is important is his bandwith concern, not gigabyte bandwidth but eyeball bandwidth. Obviously Chris thinks that what he writes is worth paying attention to, so he wants to give pride of place those links that comment on his contributions. The correct answer I think is to have TrackBacks and TrackArosses under separate links and let readers look at whichever they want.

My final thought for the night: before too long somebody will automate the option of inserting "x,y and z are also talking about this issue" in their posts when TrackBacks are left. At that point there will no longer be a labor issue. The only question will be how much help it is to readers to be able to distinguish between linked posts that actually comment on what they just read and posts that simply self-cross-reference it. Will that distinction be valuable enough to mark with a separate button? Maybe.

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