Archive for September, 2001

Patience and Persistence

Sunday, September 30th, 2001

Most will remember that President George W. Bush was once the managing general partner for the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team. Competition in sports is far less serious than real world conflict. However, at the risk of stretching a metaphor until it snaps, the case can be made that the habits, virtues, and disciplines associated with baseball may serve this President well now.

The comedian George Carlin once had a routine that compared baseball with football. Football, according to Carlin, is a militaristic activity where “the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault” while “baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game” played in a “park.”

Actually Carlin was wrong. Baseball is as fiercely competitive as football, but the rhythm, pace, and expectations are dissimilar. The differences between football and baseball in some ways mimic the differences between conventional war between massed armies and our present fight against global terrorism.

In football, intelligence, finesse and stealth can be important, but generally victory goes to the most aggressive, the biggest, and the strongest. For example, in World War II, the Americans did not defeat the Germans through cleverness or surgical military strikes as much as by out producing and overwhelming the Third Reich. Our productive capacity and population crushed the Nazis under its weight.

In baseball, the 162-game season is much longer than in football and endurance, patience, persistence, and focus are necessary virtues. No baseball team constantly dominates. Even the best teams loose about a third of their games. Defeats as well as victories punctuate ultimate success. Baseball, therefore, nurtures a constancy and devotion of spirit.

In the same way, the war with terrorism will be a day-by-day struggle with an adversary that will not succumb to force unless that force is wisely applied. Patience, and strength persistently used over months and years will test our endurance. Force and strength are important, but so are intelligence, guile, speed and boldness. Perhaps the 50-year victory over Soviet communism in the Cold War provides a model of low-key conflict carried on over a variety of levels. The War with the Barbary Pirates in the early nineteenth century, not unlike our current problem with state-less terrorists, extended over 15 years.

This conflict with radical terrorists is certainly no game and the stakes are tremendous. The analogy here is not meant to trivialize, but illuminate. In one real way, Carlin was right. The goal in baseball as well as the ultimate goal in our current struggle is to be “safe at home.”

The Fallacy of Root Causes

Saturday, September 22nd, 2001

“If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.” — W. Somerset Maugham, Strictly Personal.

When people speak of searching for the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, one can be certain that those causes are really the last things in which these people are interested. Some who seek such causes are so unfamiliar with abject evil that they fruitlessly search for rational explanations, where no such conventional rationality applies. Some habitually, in the words of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, “Blame America First.” As people immerse themselves in the soft rhetoric of understanding and sympathy, they can avoid looking squarely at hard unpleasant realities. They can simply fret about misunderstandings, while congratulating themselves on their moral sensitivity.

There is little secular rational reasoning for the anger of Islamic militants against the United States and the West. It has been over 50 years since countries like Britain and France have dominated areas of the Middle East. If Western values and customs have leaked into Islamic countries, it is because their own people have embraced them. It is strict Islamic theocracies that find it necessary to enforce religious restraints on freedom, particular its women.

Charles Krauthammer has recently pointed out that over the last decade the US has been involved in three wars, in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and Kosovo. In all these cases, American military power protected Muslims, sometimes against other Muslims. Before that, Americans helped the Afghani people resist Soviet domination. Rationality would suggest that gratitude from Islamic peoples is in order.

An alternative perennial complaint is that the root of the hatred of America in the Islamic world is American support of Israel. The fact that Israel is the only democracy in the area with a similar respect for individual liberties makes the US and Israel natural allies. Nonetheless, despite repeated acts of terrorism against Israel by radical Palestinians and other groups, the United States spent much of the 1990s pushing, pulling, and pressuring Israelis in a futile effort to swap “land for peace.” The Palestinian response to a dramatic Israeli peace overture last year, that even offered partial control of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, was a flat refusal to negotiate.

The truth is that only the Palestinians are strongly motivated by anti-Israeli fervor. While other Islamic countries vocally oppose Israel, for most Islamic countries anti-Israeli rhetoric is a convenient distraction to internal policy failures. Islamic aversion to Israel is born more of a reflexive support of Palestinian brethren than any strong geopolitical concern. Support of Israel is not a root cause the hatred of Americans. Even if it were, to abandon a democracy to theocratic tyrannies would be a repudiation of our own values.

The final argument by those in search of root causes is that terrorism is born of the wealth disparity caused by the West. While there is room for development in many poor Islamic countries, many others have become wealthy by selling oil. Bin Laden is a child of privilege and his agents who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were middle class and educated. Whatever the source of their discontent, it is not economic.

The real root cause of radical Islamic terrorism is its objection to history. Mainstream Islam is fully consistent with modern values of individualism, democracy, and tolerance. Islamic-Americans are both true to their faith and prosperous. However, there is a fundamentalist strain of Islam that has not accommodated itself to the twentieth century. Its adherents look back at centuries of cultural and military dominance of much of the world by Islamic culture and have not reconciled themselves to a world where modern Western values have created enormous wealth. Islam may be consistent with modernity, but modern wealth and affluence did not arise out of Islamic culture and a certain, broad-based resentment lingers. Leaders like Bin Laden and the late Ayatollah Khomeini exploit this resentment to impose their own form of religious tyranny with its rejection of both tolerance and respect for individual conscience. The real root causes of radical Islamic terrorism and the hatred of the United States by some are our values. We cannot eliminate these root causes without jettisoning our own values.

Unfortunately, the Islamic holy-warrior ethos, misdirected and used by the likes of Bin Laden and his agents for nefarious purposes, is usually stopped only by overwhelming military defeat. Reuel Marc Gerecht, in the Weekly Standard, explained how in 1898 the British defeated the Mahdist regime in Sudan with modern machine guns and artillery. The Ottomans crushed the “ultra-radical Iranian Shah Ismail at the battle of Chaldiran with musketry and sword” in 1514. According to Gerecht, “demonstrating with frightful clarity the indefatigability of the triumphant power” cracks the resolve of even the most committed warriors.

It is unlikely that reason and persuasion will prevail. Regular terrorist attacks on the West and on moderate Islamic countries will likely abate only with the forceful destruction of terrorists and their infrastructure. Very likely, American service people will die in the service of a culture, value system, and a country that allows people to squander their time looking for root causes. If ever there is confusion as to which side in this conflict represents evil and darkness, remember who deliberately killed innocents by slamming civilian airliners into buildings. If ever there is uncertainty as to who represents goodness and light, remember who fights for the freedom to ponder, publish, and argue about the root causes of conflict.

A Purpose for Our Generation

Saturday, September 15th, 2001

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free … And I’d gladly stand up next you and defend her still today. Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land. God bless the USA.” — Lee Greenwood, Proud to Be an American.

Partially prompted by Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation, there has been considerable recent interest in understanding and honoring the generation that endured the Great Depression and fought World War II. Leaving aside fruitless arguments about which American generation was really the greatest; there is much to be learned from that generation which fought the last great war.

Like them, we have recently experienced the jarring experience of having destruction rained upon America soil by foreign enemies. In 1941, over 2400 people were killed in a surprise attack from the Empire of Japan. Almost exactly sixty years later, on September 11, 2001 significantly more Americans were killed in a series of deadly terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. We need not dwell on the particulars of the two events other than to say in both cases foreign powers threatened Americans on American soil. This attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon constitutes the moral equivalent to the attack on Pearl Harbor for our generation. From successful the defeat of the Axis Powers by the “Greatest Generation,” there are important lessons to be learned on how to conduct a war.

Moral Clarity

Wars never arise in a vacuum. Many times the grievances of both sides have some merit. Germany was humiliated and treated unfairly by victorious powers after World War I. Although Japan was waging a war of aggression in Asia, American embargo of oil threatened a critical Japanese import.

Nonetheless, once Germany attacked its neighbors and once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, we had the moral self-confidence to realize that those other issues had little relevance to our aggressive conduct of war. Moral clarity was the recognition that World War II represented the real clash of good against evil, of freedom versus tyranny. Moral self-doubt was not allowed to become the enemy of action. Moral clarity meant that the cause we were fighting for was worth the sacrifice of both material well-being and human life. Engagement in the war was not an optional endeavor or a responsibility that could be avoided when the chore seemed too difficult.

In our case, moral clarity means acknowledging that the anger and desperation of Islamic extremists, which provide fertile ground for exploitation by evil opportunists, may have some legitimacy. Moral clarity also means having a sufficiently calibrated moral sense to recognize that such complaints do not justify the deliberate targeting of civilians, even women and children.

Moral clarity means realizing that the leaders of these terrorist groups seek to return to an age of fear and tyranny. They are striking out against not only Americans in particular, but the Western values of freedom, individual rights, commercial exchange, affluence, ethnic and religious diversity, and secular government. Our battle too represents a real clash of the forces of light against the forces of darkness. Moral clarity means appreciating that fidelity to our values requires resolve in the pursuit of this war on terrorism. There is no other morally responsible option.

Singularity of Purpose

When the country commits itself to a specific purpose, it implies that other purposes become subordinated. Winston Churchill, explained that during World War II he had “only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler…life is much simplified thereby.”

In our case, this does not mean American values should be jettisoned in pursuit of victory. But it does mean that we do not permit concerns about taxes or deficits or fuel prices or other inconveniences to deter our single-minded pursuit of victory. To use the words of John Kennedy with reference to the Cold War, “Let the word go out to friend and foe alike. This nation shall support any friend, oppose any foe, pay any price, and bear any burden to insure the survival and success of liberty.” This past week, we have just learned of an additional price.

Americans Are Americans

While the “Greatest Generation” may have shown us what is meant by moral clarity and singularity of purpose, they unfortunately also showed us the ugliness of racial bigotry. Japanese Americans, in particular, were all considered security risks and many were placed in internment camps during World War II. Because Japanese-Americans looked different from the majority of Americans, they were treated with far greater suspicion than German- and Italian-Americans.

Writing this week in the Washington Post, Muslim Reshma Yaqab lamented that every time he hears of a terrorist incident, he prays two prayers. The first prayer is for the victims and their families. The second prayer is that the perpetrator is not a Muslim.

Part of our present challenge in the pursuit of terrorism is to avoid assuming the same bitter and angry intolerance that consumes our enemies. There have been a number of reported threats directed against and vandalism of Arab owned stores and mosques. The overwhelming majority of ethnic Arabs and Muslims in the United States are good and honest people who contribute to their communities as they work to achieve the American dream. Most came to America to embrace not eschew American values. Undoubtedly, there were Islamic victims among the dead at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These families are no less saddened by their losses.

After the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, we perhaps deserved a short respite from history. Over the last decade, we could afford a little self-indulgence in pursuit of our private lives. We were awoken from this diversion on September 11, 2001. Each generation has its challenge. We now have a higher collective purpose to pursue. This challenge will define our generation and the kind of world we will leave our children.

Music in a High Bandwidth Era

Sunday, September 9th, 2001

In many ways, a visit to a college dorm is not appreciably different from a visit would have been twenty years ago. Sure the clothes, haircuts, and music have changed. Computers have replaced stereos as the appliance of choice. Yet, a modern dorm is still filled with post-adolescent boys a little t0o big for their rooms and pretty coeds who have discovered to their chagrin that there is not enough closet space in the rooms. After only a week, the dorms acquire the pungent aroma of a gym as dirty laundry accumulates. Ears are assaulted with music set at volumes deliberately loud enough to keep pests, like adults, away.However, in one radically important way dorms are very different from their counterparts of only a half-a-dozen years ago. College dorms are now drenched in a shower of ubiquitous bandwidth, from cable television hookups to broadband Internet connections. It is not surprising, therefore, that dorms represent laboratories where we might anticipate the consequences of such bandwidth before it is universally deployed in society at large.

Perhaps one of the first noticed consequences is the sharing of copyrighted digital versions of music across the Internet. When limited to the maximum transmission rate of 56K bits per second over dialup connections, it might take over 20 minutes to download a typical song, even with compression. This inconvenience was a significant barrier to Internet exchanges of copyrighted materials. At universities, bandwidths many times greater than a dialup connection decimated such inconveniences. Transmissions times were reduced to seconds and students began to accumulate entire libraries of music on their hard disks.

This free exchange of music radically reduces the incentive of people to purchase music. In the long run, if the creators of music are not compensated for their efforts they will be disinclined to create. Fearful of a potential drainage of revenue, the music industry sent forth a phalanx of lawyers to do battle with Napster, the clearinghouse for much of this music exchange. The lawyers succeeded in subduing Napster. One can no longer share copyrighted material via Napster.

Nonetheless, such exchanges continue unabated. Schemes for exchange have sprouted faster than any litigation could suppress. These alternate schemes involve peer-to-peer exchanges rather than easily isolated servers or the servers reside offshore, outside the easy reach of attorneys. It is clear the music industry will not be able to sustain its economic model solely through litigation. Rather than standing in the road while the truck of technology rushes forward, the music industry should hitch a ride and embrace the new technology.

Perhaps the experience with video recorded movies can serve as an example. At first, the movie industry fretted that the ease of copying of video tapes would depress movie attendance and movie video sales. Ultimately, the rise of inexpensive video tape rentals made movie copying more of a chore than simply borrowing a video from a store. Moreover, such stores offered the latest releases and the tapes were of uniformly higher quality than bootleg copies. Video duplication technology did not destroy the music industry. Rather it now provides an important source of revenue. Movies that died after only short runs in theaters had new lives as video rentals. Niche movies could be marketed to narrower audiences.

The ubiquitous high bandwidth that now enables unauthorized music duplication and transmission may render such replication unnecessary. Imagine if the music industry established its own network of high-speed music servers. For a modest subscription free, any computer on the network could have instant access to virtually any song that was ever recorded. With nearly instant, uniformly high-quality access, there would be little need to spend the time to download, organize, and maintain music libraries. New recordings would be available earlier and targeted to niche audiences. Sure duplication would continue at some rate, but if subscription rates were reasonable, there would be less incentive to bother with duplication.

As high bandwidth enters wireless networks, such a system would be even more valuable. Rather than downloading songs to a MP3 player, a single device, via a wireless connection, would have access anywhere to a music library far more extensive than could ever fit into a single portable device.

There are still technical barriers to such a future. However, the sooner the music industry and the entertainment industry in general embrace such a vision, the sooner they will realize the potential profits. Hire a few more engineers and a few less lawyers.

Liberal Bias

Sunday, September 2nd, 2001

There are few people in American journalism whose political acumen and experience are as well respected as Elizabeth Drew’s. For the past 40 years, she has observed and thoughtfully written about the American political system. Although she is an old-school Liberal, she has a reputation for trenchant analysis of political figures irrespective of political affiliation.Yet, no one is perfect. It was the weekend before the 1980 presidential election between incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. On the political commentary television program Agronsky and Company, she was asked to handicap the upcoming election. She thought it was “too close to call.” Despite the fact that polls were already indicating a Reagan landslide only days away, this Liberal political expert could not bring herself to acknowledge that Ronald Reagan would almost certainly win the pending election. She could not bring herself to believe that the country was about to elect not only a Conservative, but the most important Conservative spokesman of a generation as President of the United States.

This does not make Elizabeth Drew a fool, but a human. She is limited, like us all, in her ability to see beyond her beliefs, passions, and hopes, unable sometimes to distinguish between wishes and facts. It is precisely this effect that makes the Liberal bias in the national media so problematic.

Of course, the media are not monolithic. Small town newspapers and local television stations around the country tend to reflect the biases and outlooks of their local communities. There are plenty of Conservative editorial pages and journalists around the country. However, there can be little doubt that the national media centered in New York City and Washington, DC are far to the left of the country as a whole. Even if they merely reflected the local populations of New York and Washington, they would be to the left of the great major of Americans.

The fact that the journalists in the national media are dominantly Liberal is really beyond serious question. Evidence was clear as far back as 1981 when the S. R. Lichter and Stanley Rothman queried 240 journalists working for the national media and found that 81% percent voted for the Democratic candidate for president for every election from 1964 to 1972. More recently, Thomas Edsall, political reporter for the Washington Post cites 2001 Kaiser/Public Perspective survey that, “only a tiny fraction of the media identifies itself as Republican (4%) or Conservative (6%). This is in direct contrast to the public, which identifies itself as 24% Republican and 35% Conservative…”

A survey of over 1000 journalists in 1996 by the American Association of Newspaper Editors found that 61% of newsroom staffers identified themselves as Liberal/Democratic while only 15% were Conservative/Republican. Further, the larger the newspaper, the more liberal the staff was likely to be. A survey by Freedom Forum, a “nonpartisan, international foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people,” found that 89% of journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 while 43% of the voting public did. Even the self-described Liberal Jack Germond, political commentator and former political correspondent for the now-defunct Washington Star and the Baltimore Sun, conceded in the September 1, 2001 broadcast of Inside Washington that more reporters are Liberal.

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a left-leaning media-monitoring group has tried to counter the mountain of evidence suggesting that journalists are Liberal at surveys of its own. However, these surveys, perhaps deliberately, do not query about abortion, affirmative action, or other social issues where differences between journalists and the rest of the population are most dramatic. Instead, they asked questions about international trade agreements like NAFTA where the difference are more between populism and elitism as opposed to Conservative or Liberal. Using an issue that both President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich agreed upon does not seem like an effective tool for discriminating between Liberals and Conservatives.

Despite the labors of groups like FAIR to suggest that members of the media are Conservative, perceptions of the public at large tell a different story. In a 1998 Gallup Poll sponsored by the American Journalism Review, twice as many people perceived a liberal bias as opposed to a conservative media bias. A Freedom Forum poll agreed with the Gallup results with respect to Liberal bias save the latter poll found the public perceived only a slight Democratic bias in the media.

The problem of dominance of Liberals in the press is not that journalists gather in secret cabals to deliberately slant news. Of course, there are a few who engage in a studied and deliberate slanting of the news, but the most common bias is the inadvertent bias of agenda. Liberal journalists find certain issues important and pursue them to the exclusion of others and certain groups are portrayed more sympathetically. Liberal media will seek out the National Organization for Women for comments on the women’s perspective, not because they represent a majority of women. They do not. Rather, these journalists are more likely to know and respect members of the group.

It is these Liberal journalists who will report for days on Matthew Shepard, a homosexual who was brutally beaten to death, because the crime represents a metaphor for an issue they feel passionately about. It is these journalists who will, the same time, ignore the brutal rape and murder of a 13-year-old boy by two homosexuals as not important as a national story.

It is Liberal journalists, unfettered by a Conservative critique by their peers, who will refer to Kenneth Starr as the Republican independent prosecutor, while rarely mentioning the fact that Gary Condit is a Democrat. CNN has even inadvertently called Condit a Republican. Others suggest Condit is a Conservative, while rankings of Conservative and Liberal interest groups place him to the slightly to the left of center.

It is these journalists who unfairly associated the Conservative ascent of the Newt Gingrich Congress with the Oklahoma bombing by an anti-government fanatic. These same journalists would never make the same dreadful mistake of associating the fanatical anti-technology killer Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, with Al Gore’s environmentalism.

This problem is less of a concern for Conservatives in the media. It is not that Conservatives are smarter or morally superior. Rather it is that they know that their ideas will receive greater scrutiny. Conservatives are not burdened by the tyranny of unspoken and unquestioned assumptions that can blind their Liberal counterparts. Liberal journalists do not have the friction of incredulity of peers against which to hone their work. The real solution is for there to be greater representation in newsrooms by Conservatives, providing a real diversity of perspective.

Robert Samuelson in a recent op/ed piece represented a lonely voice in the wilderness questioning the appointment of Howell Raines, the very Liberal and passionate New York Times editorial page editor as the executive editor of the paper. It is Raines who will now choose what issues to cover, how to deploy reporters and what ultimately gets reported as news by what is arguably the nation’s most influential paper.

The point is not that Raines will not try to be balanced. It is that there are no institutional safeguards to help Raise see beyond his own perspective. The failure of the New York Times to recognize the necessity for such a counterbalance is just one more piece of evidence cementing the notion that the national media are finding impartiality too difficult a goal to attain.