Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What's the stupid law behind that?

I spend a lot of time on the L.A. freeways commuting now, and I've yet to find a good NPR station. So I've been listening to commercial radio, and putting up with the ads. I hate those rapid-fire disclaimers at the ends of the commercials. At first it makes me annoyed at the companies themselves. But then I realize that they almost certainly have no choice in the matter. They are probably just abiding by some pointless law mandating that they say so if there are additional restrictions, if participation may vary, or if the offer is not available in some areas, or whatever. Again, the government is assuming the general populace is a mass of dolts who can't manage their own purchasing choices. I personally assume that not every detail of an offer is spelled out in a 30 second ad, and that if I want to go through with the purchase, I should look further into the matter.

This is just the latest in a long string of serious problems and lesser annoyances that I've pondered, about which I've come to the conclusion that there is an ill-conceived law behind the malady. I think when people take a look at the world's problems, we'd be much better off if everybody started asking, "What's the stupid law behind that?" I think most people would find that to be a surprisingly fruitful inquiry.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Isolation doesn't work

Fareed Zakaria closed this week's episode of his PBS show Foreign Exchange with the following editorial gem (click here for full transcript):

We’ve had a policy of regime change against Fidel Castro for the last four decades and it isn’t working. There’s a lesson here; take Cuba and Iran. We’ve tried isolation and punishment and sanctions on both for years--decades. Yet, both regimes remain firmly in power thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam.
By contrast, look at Libya and Vietnam. Washington has taken a strikingly different tact towards them normalizing relations with Vietnam, nudging Libya towards reform; both are still dictatorships to be sure, but Vietnam is opening and slowly and Libya has renounced terrorism and welcomed tourists and trade.
By piling on sanctions and keeping a country totally isolated, the United States only insures that the state becomes more powerful and civil society remains weak. But to change a regime short of war, you actually have to do the opposite--empower society--not the state, and it is commerce, contact, and information that are the most powerful agents of change in today’s world. This Administration should have more faith in the power of capitalism.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Don't leave Iraq to the Jihadis

Another interesting moment in Jon Stewart's interview with crackpot journalist Seymour Hersh, was when Stewar expressed his belief that we can and should keep trying to clean up the mess we made in Iraq, but not with the current administration. An odd reverse of that sentiment is apparently growing in the U.S. heartland. Reuters reports that many voters in Broken Bow, Nebraska still support the president, but want to cut our losses and get out of Iraq.

As much as I'm frustrated with the incompetence of the Bush administration with the Iraq occupation, I still think pulling out would be disastrous. If we left Iraq to the Jihadis, we would have only succeeded in replacing a contained, secular dictator with an uncontrollable, rabid theocracy. Whether or not Iraq had been a potential source of global terror before we invaded, it would certainly become so if we let the Jihadis rule the roost. For the sake of innocents in Iraq and innocents at home, we must see this war through, until we figure out a way to win.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Infitada and Balushistran

For the second time Jon Stewart gave quack journalist Seymour Hersh(streaming video) from the New Yorker a platform. This is unfortunate. Both times Hersh spouted rapid-fire loony predictions about global crises. He sounds like Woody Allen playing a conspiracy theorist. Last time he predicted an American attack on Iran. This time he was blurting out nonsense about an Iraqi "Tet Offensive" and a "Battle for Baghdad". He also made the ridiculous claim that the ascension of former Crown Prince Abdullah to the throne of Saudi Arabia was a big deal, because Abdullah would bring on an oil spike since he didn't like the way America was dealing with the Palestinian "infitada" (read inTIFAda), as he put it. Stewart, who is often refreshingly impartial with his barbs, challenged him on that point by pointing out correctly that Abdullah has been holding true power anyway (ever since King Fahd had a stroke). Unfortunately he butchered the Latin language to do it, calling Abdullah the "ipso de facto" ruler. Steward also didn't let his fellow liberal of the hook when Hersh rambled something about "Balushistran" (Don't check your map. You won't find it.). "Now you're just making cities up. Balushistan!" Stewart corrected him. It's actually none of what either of them said. It's Baluchistan, and it's a region.

I am pleased that Stewart didn't let Hersh walk away unmocked. But while it's par-for-the-course that a wooly old mag like the New Yorker would give Hersh a platform, I'd hope an honest, sharp, clever show like the Daily Show would be as hard on Hersh as it is on other hack journalists like Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

Insect V. Mollusk

Businesses running Windows 2000 computers all over the world, including the farm equipment maker Caterpillar, have been beset by a worm, which is malicious code that travels directly through internet connections, instead of e-mail, allowing Wired to construct this marvelous sentence:

"Caterpillar worked Tuesday to clean up effects from the worm"

It makes the business and IT world seem like some strange biosphere. Funny thing is, as ironic as Wired is, I don't think they meant it as a joke, judging from the context.

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