Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
I'm back, but catching up at work and allocating time to working on my review Dinesh D'Souza's lecture, which will come later this week. Since I am strapped for time, I'll take some easy shots at an easy target, Michael Moore.
Some video was made public last week of the Columbine shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, practicing their shots in the woods. Shooting (oddly enough) bowling balls and trees and laughing it up imagining it's someone's head. It's pretty disgusting. Of course Michael Moore managed to exploit the tragedy into an academy award for himself for "Bowling for Columbine", which as far as I can tell, has not yet reduced gun violence in the United States. But we all know that's cause Cowboy Bush is president. Right?
You know, I also saw Moore on Bill Maher's cable show (can't think of the name) a few weeks, or months, ago. First he mentioned that he hadn't been searched on the way in to the studio as comprehensively as he was victim to last year and quipped, "Did we catch bin Laden or something? Did I not hear about it?" The audience laughed. It seems Moore is quite concerned about security.
He began carping about how there isn't really a threat, and how Republicans and the right are exaggerating the terrorist threat for their own ends, you know the argument -- Big Business, Bush, Oil. Oil, Bush, Big Business. HALLIBURTON, Bush, Oil etc., etc. -- to support his position he cites statistics showing a significant decreases in terrorist attacks the world over in 2002, and I've read the reports, he is correct. At this point, if Bill Maher had half the interviewing prowess that his ego insists upon he would have said to Michael, " You're so right Michael, now what policy or conditions do you think explain this drop?"
I can't imagine Moore being anything but speechless, so either he is thick headed or I am thick headed, cause to me it's pretty clear that the war on terror and the fact that we've been dropping bombs on terrorist training camps and regimes that support them for the last 20 months or so explains it all. That and the fact that most dictators in the Middle East, are now well aware of the fact that if a terrorist attack were to originate from their country, they could get in line behind Saddam for history's dustbin.
Anyway, Michael Moore's new book asks "Dude, Where's My Country?" and my first thought is of Ashton Kutcher's character in the movie whose namesake became Moore's book title. My next thought is "Dude, look 90 miles south."
Anyway, the point of this was to point to this link to this critical review that documents Moore's habits of playing "fast and loose with the truth." If you scroll down there is a link to a companion piece outlining all of the errors found in the book.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
I'll be out of town now through the weekend. Dinesh D'Souza will be speaking at Monmouth, College (IL) this morning actually, in about 9 hours. I better pack and get going. And thanks to a former professor, I have a seat at the luncheon with him.
It's homecoming weekend as well and they're dedicating the new $22 million Huff Athletic Center. It's amazing how much can change on a campus in just a few years. I will, of course, post my thoughts on D'Souza's lecture here when I get back. See ya then.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Drugs, Murder, and Race in Chicago
(Part I of a II part series)
I've driven through the area many times, even in broad daylight trade is in high gear. Their bravado is surreal, almost like watching a movie. 'Touters' walk the streets yelling some variation of "rocks and blows! Whatcha need!?" and direct customers to the point of purchase. This is the drug trade on the West Side of Chicago. It runs with the efficiency and openness of a Portillos drive-thru.
It is this openness that prompted Operation Double Play, a massive drug sting targeting West Side neighborhoods. The operation involves officers getting to drug hot spots early on the day and arresting dealers, the police later return posing as dealers, leading potential buyers down alleys or between buildings to be arrested, processed, and their vehicle (if they arrived in one) impounded. Since August over 2,500 arrests have been made.
It is a two pronged strategy, both buyers and sellers are targeted, in an attempt to push the drug dealing out of the neighborhoods, as Chief of Patrol James Maurer told the Chicago Tribune: "We're going to make it so unprofitable to run a dope ring in this city, you're going to have to move to Iowa. I want the message to go out that this is not a city to buy dope in."
Last Thursday the Chicago Police sent that message again, in what they called the "largest one day operation of its kind of any city in the nation." And it was as "nearly 1,000 police officers from across the city, accompanied by dozens of TV cameras and reporters invited to witness the operation, spread over 20 locations throughout the Austin and Grand Central Districts on the West Side."
But it's not so much size and ambition of the sting that is staggering, but rather that the CPD actually publicized plans of the sting that morning. Apparently, they made the assumption that those interested in buying crack and heroin aren't likely to read the morning paper or listen to morning news radio. They were right, the sting netted 463 arrests by nightfall then was shut down for the safety of the officers. That alone is a testament to the cavalier nature of the West Side drug trade I alluded to previously.
So who were the buyers? Of those arrested, estimates say about 1/4 were local to the neighborhood, 1/3 came from out of state or the suburbs, and the rest from other neighborhoods in the city. The racial breakdown hasn't been given for this past weekend, but Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times points to these numbers in her Sunday column:
In previous stings, police arrested a total of 1,871 people. Of that number, 1,256 were black, 361 white, 293 Hispanic, and 4 were Asian. But don't let those numbers fool you. Because police are targeting drug spots on the West Side, obviously more African-American drug users are being snared.
I am not exactly sure what she thinks those numbers may fool me into believing, I think though she is trying to point to the fact that drug stings in black neighborhoods will tend to yield more arrests of blacks. True enough, and a worthy note for those that thought the West Side may be a white neighborhood.
"If police had set up stings in Pilsen, Little Village or at any of the North Side drug spots, I suspect even more white drug users would have been caught. Even more white drug users than what? It's not clear, does she mean more whites than blacks would be arrested in stings in those neighborhoods? She might be right. Does she mean such a sting would net more whites overall than the West Side sting? No way, not in absolute numbers, the drug trade in those neighborhoods is much less voluminous and much less violent. They aren't dealing on open street corners all day (where a sting would be most effective) and those neighborhoods as not subject to anywhere near the number of shootings and murders as places like Humboldt Park, Rockwell Gardens, or Englewood.
And this is where her column gets ever more curious. If I didn't know better I would think she's implying that police shouldn't fight crime in black neighborhoods, unless they can do it without arresting more blacks than whites. I'll let you decide.
Although some people make excuses about why blacks are selling drugs on the corners in the first place, they're missing the point. Most white people won't set foot in a predominantly black neighborhood. They don't shop there. They don't invest their money in setting up businesses there. They don't even drive through there.
I'm not sure I've ever in my life heard one offer an "excuse" that explained "why blacks are selling drugs on the corners in the first place" and even if I had heard or come up with one on my own, I would have been "missing the point" anyway. Because the point is whites don't invest or spend money in black neighborhoods, so why should they be allowed to go there to buy drugs? I'm trying to follow that logic and I keep concluding that if whites would ever start investing in black neighborhoods then it would be fine for them to buy drugs there, at least in Mary Mitchell's mind. Never mind though, because whites DO shop in black neighborhoods, in fact Mary herself points to 361 that tried to. Of course it is illegal drugs, but never the less a black man selling something in his "predominantly black neighborhood" got a bunch of money from a lot of "white druggies". If her argument is race and economics, then it makes no difference if that white kid walks away with sack of heroin or sack of groceries as long as he pays a black man.
So why should black neighborhoods be the dumping ground for the dregs of white society?
The same suburbanites who drive into the city looking for drugs would run a black pusher off their street corners at the barrel of a shotgun. But on Thursday, white druggies were crawling over West Side drug spots. Police posing as drug dealers lured them in like fishermen.That is a shaky assumption. I tend to think that the stereotypical surburbanite Mary dreamed up probably would take a pass on the "shotgun confrontation with a gangbanger" scenario in favor of an anonymous call to 911..... then go to bed.
There's something else.
Well Mary's 'something else' began with her going to the white drug spot and the black drug spot and contrasting the differences of the two groups. (she also notes the failure of white and black drug users to unite their addicted voices and purchase their drugs from a single location) The blacks included, trashy women, kids, hospital workers and a man who owned nine buildings in the area, in other words, people from a wide range of backgrounds and varying degrees of success. Though, I'll give credit where it is due, she was insightful enough to point out that, if not for a sting targeting drug purchasers, the police would have no reason to stop any of the drug purchasers. Sharp.
Since I went to two different drug spots -- one primarily frequented by black drug users, and one primarily frequented by white drug users (even drug users are segregated in this town), I couldn't help but notice differences in the two groups.
The black drug users included unkempt women with missing teeth, juveniles, a young hospital worker, and a man who claimed he owned nine buildings in the area.
Still, it didn't take much nerve for any of them to stagger up the narrow gangway in a neighborhood where people are so impoverished that when police arrived to set up the sting, they discovered someone had stolen the broken-down furniture they left behind after their last sting.
Absent the sting, police wouldn't have had any reason to stop any of the black druggies, even in a hot drug spot. After all, they could have lived in the neighborhood.
The whites. Well she didn't really offer much, except maybe a little disdain.
But white people? How are the hundreds of white drug users getting away running in and out of black neighborhoods buying narcotics? Again, they aren't getting away with it, did she forget (again) about the aforementioned 361 whites that were arrested?
Law-abiding citizens should have chased them all the way back to the suburbs. Isn't that what would happen if the situation were reversed? Oh, now I see, she doesn't mean getting away with it from the police, she means that whenever whites enter black neighborhoods, blacks should respond by chasing the whites "all the way back to the suburbs", (after all, that's what THEY would have done) as opposed to the current situation where they make a chunky profit off white kids (who don't invest or shop in black neighborhoods) and they chase themselves back to the suburbs. Huh?
On to her observations of the white drug buyers, well buyer really, she only mentions one so we'll make him the representative of all white suburbanites who buy drugs on the West Side.
I put this question to Phillip Santucci, 22, after he was busted in the 4800 block of West Arthington on suspicion of trying to buy heroin.
Yeah, if he knew where to get drugs in Downers Grove he wouldn't have driven to the 4800 block of West Arthington. In an attempt to further her point, she goes on to list some of the various suburbs that those arrested call home, as though each one has a 100% percent population of rich white kids, for which she also prefers separate punishments for.
"What does your neighborhood look like?" I asked.
"It's nice," he said.
"Are there any drug dealers standing around selling drugs?"
"No, I don't know where to get drugs in Downers Grove," he said.
All of the suspects were given the option of being under a year's supervision, community service or drug school.
She finishes with this.
White suspects caught in these areas should be required to spend a year volunteering with an anti-violence group.
Although police officials say about one-third of those who have been arrested in the ongoing stings come from the suburbs, a police officer said it seems more like 80 percent.
Profile white people? That is her solution to the problem -- to racially profile white people? In her attempt to characterize this epidemic in terms of race, Mitchell compartmentalizes every aspect into neat little categories of white, black, suburbanite, black druggies, and white druggies followed by recommendations as to how one group should wholly treat the other. Wake up Mary, this is not about race, this is not a CPD conspiracy to come up with a plan to arrest as many blacks as possible. These white kids don't come into the west side hoping to create "havoc" for blacks, only to go home laughing (clucking?) about it. They come in nervous and desperate for drugs. Havoc steps in because profits are high and gangbangers compete for "shelf space" (i.e. street corners) and they are not competing by offering a lower price or superior product. Do you think all of those shootings are because Bob the Blood gave Calvin the Crip the evil eye at the mall? No. This is about turf wars, motivated by profit and settled with violence. For gangs, displacement leads to aggressive attempts to take over turf in new markets. Over the last few years, Chicago has seen more than its share of displacement as Mayor Daley tears down the disaster of high rise public housing that his father started.
"They are destroying this community," he said. "There are some really nice people around here, and these people come in and add to their troubles."
It is a shame that the hapless Cubs fan who interfered with the fateful foul ball had to leave Wrigley Field under police protection, but Santucci and others like him breeze into the black community, creating havoc, without a bit of fear. By the time the shooting stops, they are back home in DuPage, Lake and Kane counties clucking their tongues over the mayhem that goes on in the city.
Maybe it's time to racially profile some white people for a change.
The result has been a bloody turf war that, over the past few years, has pushed Chicago to be the murder capital of the United States. What passes for improvement is that as of the end of September homicides in Chicago are down 7% on the year -- from 489 to 455. This is why the West Side was targeted. Officer Maurer was on the Roe and Garry show last week. In response to a caller who questioned the validity of the sting under the charge of racism, Maurer responded (and I'm paraphrasing here as I don't know the exact quote) -- ‘The people that live in these neighborhoods have enough obstacles in their life already, many are single mothers, many are living at or near the poverty level, many work late and have to come home at night. They shouldn't also have to worry about their children or themselves being shot every time they step out of their house. That is why we are there.'
Progress has been made, murders are down a whopping 75% on the West Side from a year ago. As long time Chicago journalist Carol Marin observed last month
"When the doors of those oversized police wagons flew open, close to 70 plainclothes tactical officers jumped out in plain sight.
Even Mary Mitchell couldn't ignore that, as she quoted Commander Eugene Ellis in Thursday's column "We get calls from people just thanking us for the peace and quiet for two or three days."
You couldn't miss them if you tried.
People in that neighborhood cheered. Mothers and their children came outside to sit on a battered playground and watch."
To be sure it's a small victory, but still it's victory against crime in a part of the city that needs it most. How will this effect the wider war on drugs? It won't. Arrest all the dealers you want for selling dime bags and crack rocks on the corner. As long as there's potential for that kind of money, there will be another kid out there trying to make it, until he is arrested, then replaced again, and 'round and 'round we go. How many years are we going to continue to lock up dealers and addicts before we realize that no long term good has come of it, especially when contrasted with the costs. When are we going to have a real debate about decriminalizing drugs? How many more years of innocents killed by crossfire are we going to tolerate before making any changes in national drug policy? What are the costs and potential benefits of legalizing or at least decriminalizing drugs? If drugs are legal, what will gangs have to fight over? Remember, if not for Prohibition, Al Capone would have never been.
Answers to these questions and more coming in Part II.
Note:The Carol Marin column listed above cannot be accessed without paying for it. You can find a free version of the text here.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Wind? I'm not sure we even had sails.
This is a much more succinct commentary on the feeling of Cub fans than I can offer up. So click on it and then come back and read on.
I fell for it. I bought into the Cubs, I held the belief that this year really was going to be different, that these were different Cubs. Then the impossible happened, three strait losses, the last two at home with Prior and Wood on the mound. This is the same old Cubs, believe in them and they break your heart. The Curse is real, what else can you say? When none of the logical explanations apply you have to believe whatever possibilities remain, no matter how improbable. The saddest site though was the older men and women outside the stadium crying after the game. They thought they were going to see something special, something different from their Cubs that they followed their whole lives, it was not to be. So what now? Dynamite Wrigley and start over? **Sigh** I guess I'll try and take Dan Drezner's advice for Cubs fans from Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments"
"Are you in adversity? Do not mourn in the darkness of solitude, do not regulate your sorrow according to the indulgent sympathy of your intimate friends; return, as soon as possible, to the day-light of the world and of society. Live with strangers, with those who know nothing, or care nothing about your misfortune; do not even shun the company of enemies; but give yourself the pleasure of mortifying their malignant joy, by making them feel how little you are affected by your calamity, and how much you are above it."
I'll try... sheesh. Much good came of this though. As I mentioned, a friend of mine from High School lives at Waveland and Sheffield -- strait away center field. I watched most of the games there. TVs on the porch, food and multiple kegs each night. The experience of the games right outside Wrigley Field surrounded by old high school friends was something I'll never forget. Some nights, like game 6, were almost like a full on H.S. reunion, except the people I had no interest in seeing , weren't there. This wasn't just a baseball team in the playoffs, this was the nationally known "loveable losers" that just won their first playoff series in 95 years on the verge of making an appearance in the World Series. But it was more than just making an appearance, this was a chance to have the hottest pitcher in the league wrap it up in six and then front load the rotation so the two hottest pitchers in the league would start games 1,2,6, and 7. It was a legitimate shot to win it all. This is what made the excitement and intensity in the air so palpable, almost overwhelming at times. You could feel the roar of the crowd in the stadium and surrounding neighborhoods like a freight train. This is what I hope to remember and take away from the experience.
I have also tried to keep some notes of my experiences and planned to post them all when the season ended, I didn't know it would come so soon, but here are somewhat rambling firsthand accounts:
Game 1 of the series vs the Marlins, I rode my bike up to Wrigleyville, it was a beautiful October night in Chicago; 40's the week before, now it's in the 70's, we had 4-5 days in a row of this. Very rare in Chicago. The atmosphere was electric, the Cubs just won their first playoff series in 95 years! It really looks like the lovable losers era may be coming to an end, especially with those two young arms we got.
My friend Eric was predicting strikeouts by Sosa all night, and he was betting on them so he got his money and then was cheering Sosa strikeouts. It was pissing us all off. Then Sammy comes up in the ninth, Cubs down 8-6, Lofton on second, two outs. Eric taps me on the shoulder and calmly says, "I'm going to go catch the home run ball."
Then he takes off jogging down Waveland. A few pitches later, Sammy swings, the crowd roars and the ball is coming over the fence right at Eric, it bounces about 5 feet in front of him, he's in position to play it on the bounce, then finds himself at the bottom of a mob of people, with a guy underneath him screaming that his leg is about to be snapped in half. He tried to bridge to keep the weight of the pile up off the guy, but also was swatting for the ball. (The next night the police wouldn't let you congregate in the street) He didn't get it, but then came back and had a great story to relate to us that I just related to you.
What an amazing thing I told him, given the context of the Cubs, to not only predict a Sosa home run (that leaves the park!) in the ninth to tie the game, but to also say you are going to catch it -- and then REALLY ALMOST DO IT. Where else, when else could this happen?
On another night, it was game 6, the police were actually cracking down a bit. I did hear on the radio that day a sound bite where a police official made it known that no one would be permitted to walk on the streets surrounding the field with open alcohol. He went on to asked that the bars in the area do their best to not let any patrons leave with drinks, and stressed that nobody should be walking on the streets "holding anything but themselves." Yeah, I thought that was illegal too, at least in public. In any case, the police did come by the party and break up those that had gathered just outside the fenced in area of the front yard (The TV was on the porch and was HIGHLY visible from the sidewalk). They requested that the TV and the kegs be moved inside. So the TV was brought in and put in the window, which means it was about two feet to the left and two inches higher than its original position, (which means it was HIGHLY visible from the sidewalk) and the kegs were brought up four steps and re-positioned just inside the front door. The cops were happy and so were we. The best part of the night though was this. One of my former high school classmates donned a reflective orange construction vest that Neer had on hand. He grabbed a blow up blue Cubs bat - like made of beach ball material - and positioned himself out front and directed traffic and I mean directed. All the poses and blow up souvenir bat motions you could imagine. He was giving some kid an ass chewing for walking around with a drink, or something. The best part was we were never bothered again. Each time the police sauntered by Randy, in his orange construction vest, got all official, and gave them a "I got it all under control"nod, they acknowledged and kept walking. He earned us "immunity"the rest of the night.
Finally, I have to tell this, it's the glowstick story. What follows is pretty immature and certainly falls well within the bounds of toilet humor. Mom and Grandma don't read this.
The Glowstick Story. The first night I went to Neer's I of course had occasion to ask where the bathroom was. He said it was on the side of the building, a hole in the cement, just look for the glowstick. Sure enough, on the side of the building, there was a hole in the ground with a glowstick in it. You just peed in the hole, on the glowstick (a techno snobs dream), it always looked like it would overflow, but somehow never did. About the 7th inning of game seven a new group of people showed up, no idea who they were. Apparently, they came in through the back, and as the walked along the side of the building, one of the girls reportedly exclaimed "oh my God I found a glowstick!"and picked it up and carried to the front of the party. Of course, immediately every guy recognized the glowstick for what it was -- something that had been marinating in pee that we all contributed more than a few times over the last 28 hours. It was non-stop laughter, and I'm guessing that anyone reading this that wasn't there isn't laughing. But I assure you, it was one of the funniest things in the world. People were making loud comments and the girl was embarrassed, I had a handful of peanuts and asked Eric if he would pee on them before I ate them, of course I said this loud enough for her to hear and she didn't appreciate it. In the end though she laughed about it and "the glowstick girl"even let us take pictures of her with us and the glowstick, I hope they turn out, and I will post the pictures if I ever get them scanned in and find someone to host them.
So many laughs and so many friends to share it all with. Thanks so much to Neer, truly one of the greatest guys I've ever had the privilege to know, for opening up his home and making it all possible. We'll get ‘em next year!!
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
How demoralizing. How dissapointing. Just when it seems the curse of the Cubs has been broken. A 3 games to two lead, the unflappable Mark Prior on the mound for game 5. There he was, into the 8th, ignoring, indeed defying, the tremendous weight of years of futility and ghostly whispers of the Cubs past. A few minutes and the Cubs are in The Series! What happened next was not supposed to, and the usually average Rick Morrissey nails it in his column today:
It has the potential to be a tale of such woe as to render all the horror stories that went before it a collection of harmless fairy tales. Of course it happened this way. Had to. The Cubs lost to the Marlins 8-3 because of a chain of events that looked like a biblical plague by the time it was over.
It started because the aforementioned gentleman deflected a foul ball along the left-field line just before Moises Alou was about to catch it in the eighth inning. The Cubs were five outs away from the World Series at the time. Alou screamed at the guy, and if you're into foreshadowing, everything pretty much went black right there. Instead of being the second out of the inning, Luis Castillo eventually walked, and the Marlins had men on first and third. It was still 3-0 Cubs, but a shiver ran up and down the spine of Wrigley Field.
And just like that, as if history had been waiting to once again knee the Cubs in a very painful, personal place, the Marlins attacked. Mark Prior, untouchable for most of seven innings, seemed to come unglued in the process. The runs came like a river, and worse, didn't seem at all concerned that the Cubs were 58 years removed from their last World Series.
A single by Ivan Rodriguez ... an error by the Cubs' Alex Gonzalez on a routine grounder ... eight runs in the inning ... some sort of record ... lots of celebrating by the Marlins. A bizarre, restless dream.
If you're keeping score, it goes: Billy Goat curse, 1969, 1984, 1989 and a swarthy guy with a chisel waiting to etch a new line on the headstone.
It was amazing, like nothing I've ever felt. 5 outs away from the World Series, the streets outside Wrigley were packed, the celebration was about to begin..... then everything changed. I could feel the life and energy sucked right out of the atmosphere, blank stares all around, Cubs fans with that familiar sinking feeling. A crowd of 50,000 walking in silence through Wrigleyville.... very, very eerie.
I fear not (yet) though, this year WILL be different, we have a fireballing Texan with a mean streak taking the mound, city and team on his back for this decisive game. I'm heading to Wrigley to bear witness. See you tomorrow.
Monday, October 13, 2003
Here's an article from The Observer that is certainly critical of Bush and Blair but is also critical of the anti-war crowd, it notes:
From the very beginning, the anti-war lobby has refused to listen to those Iraqis who supported war over continued tyranny. Banners saying 'Freedom for Iraq' were confiscated at anti-war rallies and photographs of Halabja, where Saddam gassed 5,000 Kurdish civilians, were seized. No voice was given to people such as Freshta Raper, who lost 21 relatives in Halabja and wanted to ask: 'How many of you have asked an Iraqi mother how she felt when forced to watch her son being executed? How many know that these mothers had to applaud as their sons died? What is more moral: freeing an oppressed, brutalised people from a vicious tyrant or allowing millions to continue suffering indefinitely?' (Emphasis added)
I am not trying to be emotive here, the above account is not some isolated incident, it is not an over-dramatization of the rare exception, no, this was the rule in Iraq. This was systemic. It continues to amaze me that leading politicians continue to be critical of the removal of Saddam Hussein. Of course there many are dictators in the world, and we cannot remove them all, but that is no excuse for not removing them when the opportunity presents itself. It is hard for me to understand the perspective that the world is a worse place now that Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to his own people and stability in the region. So many lives will be so much better off as this thought from a university lecturer in Baghdad conveys, "I feel as if I have been born again. Iraq was a prison above ground and a mass grave beneath it."
He is not alone, so many others have now been born again, they have a chance at life, a chance at thinking and expressing their own thoughts, a chance to be human. Most importantly though Iraqi parents and children's fears of future imprisonment have been replaced by hope of a brighter future. Regardless of what you think about this war, the end result is millions of human beings are now free, this is an objective fact and one the free world should be proud of, as The Observer piece goes on:
For the first time in almost half a century, Iraq has no executions, no political prisoners, no torture and almost no limits on freedom of expression. Having a satellite receiver no longer means imprisonment or even death. There are almost 200 newspapers and magazines that require no police permit and suffer no censorship, and more than 70 political parties and dozens of NGOs. Old professional associations have held elections and new associations have sprung up. People can demonstrate freely - and do.
Unemployment is still a huge problem, but more people have jobs and salaries have risen both for qualified people seeking work in the private sector and for civil servants. Shops are overflowing with imported goods. Food prices are lower thanin Saddam's last years. In Baghdad, the electricity is on more often than off. (In Lebanon, that took years to achieve.) More Iraqi policemen are on the streets, directing traffic, guarding buildings and enforcing the law. Approximately 85 per cent of primary and secondary schools have reopened. Outside Baghdad, security and services are better and crime is lower.
Western reporters detail, quite properly, the misdeeds, the crimes even, of the occupying forces. But this is only part of the story. 'The behaviour of US occupation troops has indeed at times been unacceptable, but on many more occasions it has been innocuous,' says Mustafa Alrawi, managing editor of English-language weekly Iraq Today.
Much criticism has been leveled at the Bush administration for "winning the war but not the peace" or "not having a plan" for post-war occupation. This criticism would carry much more validity though if critics could actually point to an example of a nation whose outlaw regime was deposed and then converted into a functioning democracy in six months time. General MacArthur and General Lucious Clay did not have clear ideas on how to rebuild post-war Japan, but they learned from experience, they made changes on the fly, improvised and eventually succeeded. It was not easy and it took time as Germany surrendered in 1945, but did not hold federal elections until 1949. Given the historical perspective of conquer and occupation, it would seem to me that post-war Iraq is, actually, doing particularly well.
The Cubs and why they take so much of my time. I have this friend that lives on the corner of Sheffield and Waveland (strait away center). Every Cubs game, home or away, he has multiple kegs, tv's and food in his front yard. It is quite an amazing experience, especially when you can turn around and see, feel, and hear a packed Wrigley Field. Home run balls are landing within 200 feet of us!
Given their national reputation of loveable losers, and the century of futility as evidence, I don't know if one can truly appreaciate what this means to the city of Chicago without living here. Yes we had the Bulls, and the '85 Bears, but take those away and the Cubs, Sox, and Blackhawks have some of the longest dry spells in sports.
When the Cubs won the division that Saturday afternoon I was at actually at work --yeah on a Saturday! I left to watch the last few innings at home, then when I saw the celebration on the street, I jumped on my bike and rode up there, I had to see what it was like. I saw people cheering, drinking, dancing and puking. And drinking some more. I saw old men, some wiping tears from their eyes, some hugging their wives, lifelong Cubs fans, lifelong witnesses of Cubs failures. But now, there is hope again, real hope that is riding 2 young arms. That is how much this means, that is why there is such a palpable excitement and energy in the air.
More on this when the season is over.
Saturday, October 11, 2003
In Dusty We Trusty!
Let's get another one tonight!
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
The Search for Truth in Iraq
Perhaps the only thing harder to come by in Iraq than WMD's is the truth. On July 14th, I wrote about Judge Merritt who went to Iraq and came back with some interesting information (see archives to the right, and maybe all the way at the bottom for some reason). Here's another judge that, upon visiting Iraq for himself, gained a new perspective. Judge Donald E. Walter wrote this op-ed piece on his experience and here's an excerpt from a speech he gave on the same subject:
Despite my initial opposition to the war, I am now convinced, whether we find any weapons of mass destruction or prove Saddam sheltered and financed terrorists, absolutely, we should have overthrown the Baathists, indeed, we should have done it sooner. What changed my mind? When we left mid June, 57 mass graves had been found, one with the bodies of 1200 children. There have been credible reports of murder, brutality and torture of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi citizens. There is poverty on a monumental scale and fear on a larger one. That fear is still palpable. I have seen the machines and places of torture. I will tell you one story told to me by the Chief of Pediatrics at the Medical College in Basra. It was one of the most shocking to me, but I heard worse. One of Saddam's security agents was sent to question a Shiite in his home. The interrogation took place in the living room in the presence of the man's wife, who held their three month old child. A question was asked and the thug did not like the answer; he asked it again, same answer. He grabbed the baby from its mother and plucked its eye out. And then repeated his question. Worse things happened with the knowledge, indeed with the participation, of Saddam, his family and the Baathist regime. Thousands suffered while we were messing about with France and Russia and Germany and the UN. Every one of them knew what was going on there, but France and the UN were making millions administering the food for oil program. We cannot, I know, remake the world, nor do I believe we should. We cannot stamp out evil, I know. But this time we were morally right and our economic and strategic interests were involved. I submit that just because we can't do everything doesn't mean that we should do nothing. We must have the moral courage to see this through, to do whatever it takes to secure responsible government for the Iraqi people. Having decided to topple Saddam, we cannot abandon those who trust us. I fear we will quit as the horrors of war come into our living rooms. Look at the stories you are getting from the media today. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news may destroy our will to fulfill the obligations we have assumed. WE ARE NOT GETTING THE WHOLE TRUTH FROM THE NEWS MEDIA.
And why is that? Bias? Laziness? Why is it that first hand reports seem to differ so much from what major print and TV journalism is telling us? For months I have been reading letters from or about soldiers, traveling musicians (see same musicians second letter from Syria here) congressmen from both sides of the aisle seem to indicate there is much more going on. Ike Skelton (D-Mo), the House Armed Service Committee's ranking member, just returned from Iraq and made this observation, "The media stresses the wounds, the injuries, and the deaths, as they should, but for instance in Northern Iraq, Gen Patraeus has 3,100 projects --from soccer fields to schools to refineries -- all good stuff that isn't being reported."
Consistently, they say that 90% of Iraqis are friendly and thankful to see coalition troops. Their market shelves are stocked with goods and the seeds of commerce, entrepreneurism, and most importantly, democracy, as this wonderful bit from Andrew Sullivan suggests, have been planted. Schools are opening and women are attending classes. Debate, protest and free speech are rampant. There are currently over 150 newspapers that have sprung up within the country (the only Arab country with a free press in the Middle East). But looking at what the mainstream media has been reporting you would think that absolutely nothing happens in Iraq save for attacks on G.I's.
So what to believe? Is Iraq a quagmire or is it improving? Both carry some validity, but big media seems to only cover one. It is well worth noting that the vast majority of attacks on coalition forces take place in what's known as the Sunni Triangle, a Baathist stronghold (It runs west from Baghdad to Fallujah and Ramadi, north to Tikrit and back down to Baghdad and is a fairly small portion of the country, nonetheless journalists seem to spend a fairly large portion of their time there. As this Wall Street Journal piece suggests, "More of the media should embed themselves with the Iraqi people outside the Sunni Triangle, rather than inside the Baghdad bunker." Yeah, it looks to be laziness more than anything. Stay in the hotel all day and continue with the cookie cutter meme of "troops ambushed, RPG attack, (X) number dead and (X) number wounded" that is fed to them by coalition information briefings or, venture out and do some real reporting? I guess we know what the answer to that has been so far.
My question is then, where have all our noble reporters in search of truth gone? Iraq's future, and quite possibly the success of the war on terror are hanging in the balance and this is what we get? It is imperative that we see this occupation through and help transform Iraq into a free society. The only way that we'll fail is if we lose our resolve. The motivation behind these guerilla attacks is not one of military strategy but to create a state of chaos and headlines of U.S. casualties, in hopes of turning the media's vision of quagmire into a self-fulfilling prophecy. What the Islamo-fascist movement fears most is a democratic Iraq, it would mean the beginning of the end of their existence (if 9/11 wasn't that). Democracy in the Middle East means all neighborhood dictators are in trouble. Look at a map -- with democracies budding in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran would literally be surrounded by success. Iran is a country ripe for internal revolution, they have a substantial middle class that has grown quite weary of the culture of the mullahcracy ruling their lives. With freedom on all sides, I don't think they could stand the internal pressure much longer. But the key to wider Middle Eastern democracy is insuring that free societies take root in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be cheap, it's not going to be fast, and there will be innocent lives lost. The Islamo-fascist movement has made it clear that it will not go away, and it certainly won't go as long as there are dictators ruling countries that allow conditions of poverty and hopelessness to persist within. These authoritarian regimes control all media and information and successfully redirect the despair and anger of the populace towards an enemy that isn't them - specifically America, and the West in general. In the long run, the most effective way to combat the terror movement is by fostering open and tolerant societies the world over.
As Iraq is half a world away, the media necessarily plays an important role in this. We don't need positive reporting, we don't need negative reporting, what we need is an accurate picture of what is really going on in Iraq. There are problems and we need to hear about them, so we can spend the appropriate resources solving them. The future of Iraq and the war on terror is at stake here. We know it, even Al-Qaeda knows it, as this quote from a recently published book by Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden's closest associates suggests "It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy."
The major print media, with their narrow focus on the "Iraq as quagmire" narrative is only aiding that cause. As Representative John Marshall (D-GA) observed upon his return from Iraq "They (media) are dwelling upon the mistakes, the ambushes, the soldiers killed, the wounded, the Blumbergs. Fair enough. But it is not balancing this bad news with "the rest of the story," the progress made daily, the good news. The falsely bleak picture weakens our national resolve, discourages Iraqi cooperation and emboldens our enemy.
Here's some related articles that I recomend, all thanks to InstaPundit:
Jack Kelly quotes a piece that says this:
"Six months before, the world had cheered as the statues of the dictator came crashing down. The Americans had seemed heroic. But now things were going very badly. The occupation was chaotic, the American soldiers were hated and they were facing threats from the surviving supporters of the dictator, whose whereabouts were uncertain.
You can read the rest here.
"Washington seemed unwilling to pay the enormous bill for reconstruction, and the president didn't appear to have any kind of workable plan to manage the transition to democracy. European allies, distrustful of the arrogant American outlook, were wary of cooperating." Doug Saunders was writing not of Iraq in September, 2003. He was writing about Germany in November 1945.
Chief Wiggles, an intelligence officer in Iraq, expresses his dissapointment with the media here. As well as a heartwarming story of a young Iraqi girl and her mother. The Chief has also started a program where we can send toys and other life necessities like toothpaste, soap, and hair brushes to Iraqi children, there is even pictures of these donated items being distributed, start here.
Jonathan Rauch writes:
The fact that the Bush administration keeps adjusting its course, often contravening its own plans or preferences, is a hopeful sign. . . .
Only trial and error, otherwise known as muddling through, can work in Iraq. There is no other way. Muddling through is not pretty, but never underestimate America's genius for it. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington never enjoyed the luxury of planning, but they were two of the finest muddlers-through the world has ever known, and they did all right.
There is much more.
Here'a report from a 52 year old foreign service officer in Iraq who, on a short return trip home, had this response to U.S. media coverage "There's just an incredible amount of productive stuff going on over there, with a lot of Iraqi participation," he said. "To come here and see it portrayed as a failure in the making -- it's very superficial and inaccurate."
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Cubs!! Michael Moore and (of course) Arnold. Wow, Cubs fever has gone wild! The city is in a frenzy. Their first playoff series win in 95 YEARS!!! It has been a welcome distraction though, at times I let this website stress me out too much. I have to try and keep it fun and not look at it as work, at least not until someone is paying me to do it. Please keep checking, I promise I will have a column up tomorrow, it's on the media and the real story in Iraq. But until this magical Cubs season comes to an end, it will occupy much of my free time.
In the meantime the obnoxious Michael Moore an excerpt from his new book has seven questions for Mr. Bush, which he disgustingly claims to be asking on behalf of the World Trade Center vicitms (sic). Well I don't think Bush will answer but Tim Blair does offer some answers for Mr. Moore that you don't want to miss. And you certainly don't want to miss these hilarious seven questions asked of Mr. Moore here. Ha Ha Ha! (Via InstaPundit)
Also the California recall is today, the story the last few days has been that Arnold is in the lead but, apparently slipping because of the numerous women that, after years of silence, have now come forward with groping allegations. Where were these women before though? It's not like Arnold was an unknown until he entered the California governors race, he's been rich and famous for a number of years now. Is it because we tend to expect that behavior from movie stars? If that is the case, then these allegations should not be too surprising, after all we knew he was a movie star going in right? Just a thought. Now go read the Michael Moore stuff above and go CUBS!!!!!