Friday, March 29, 2002

MUST READ: Generally, I avoid using Mind Over What Matters as a reflector link site for the same National Review columns that Glenn Reynolds is reading -- but if you're still inclined to imagine a case for moral equivalency in the Middle East, Victor Davis Hanson's Postmodern Palestine should set you straight. Read this piece, and then come back and make your case for Arafat's legitimacy.

ARAFAT DEATH WATCH, DAY 1: The Nobel Prize Winner has shown surprising restraint -- on the one hand proclaiming that he would sooner die a martyr than be taken alive -- but all the while, spectacularly failing to make himself a target. Early reports suggest that he has retreated to an underground bunker.

Tick ... tick ... tick ...

ARAFAT DEATH WATCH [00:00:00]: At this hour, the news is flying fast and furious. Bulldozers tearing down the fence surrounding Arafat's compound ... Now tanks are inside the compound ... his office is being pounded by heavy artillery ... The building is on fire ... At least two of Arafat's bodyguards are reported to have been wounded ... IDF troops are storming the complex ... Prime Minister Sharon is addressing the nation now, in Hebrew ... Paraphrased translation: This is the beginning of an extended operation to "isolate" Arafat ...

Considering that he's been under virtual house arrest for the past three months, what does "isolate" mean? Will they now confiscate his cellphone? Cut up his credit cards? Sharon uses the word "isolate" repeatedly, without elaboration. Are we talking about Arafat's head being isloated from his shoulders? All he'll say is that "Isolate means isolate!"

Steve Den Beste lays even odds that Arafat will be dead within 48 hours, or almost certainly within a week. My guess is that the world will have been rid of the two-faced Nobel Peace Prize-winner by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.

The level of outrage following the Passover Massacre has risen to such a level that Sharon has no political alternative. There is no longer such a thing as "acceptable losses" in the service of a peace process that has been so utterly exposed as a pointless fiction. To allow Arafat to die in combat invites world condemnation and the spectre of more awful terrorist reprisals -- but the Israeli public will tolerate casualties to bring about an end to the Palestinian Authority, just as surely as America was prepared to accept military losses to destroy Al Qaida.

(Not surprisingly, the Jerusalem Post website is running glacier-slow this evening. Everyone wants to know what's going down. They're probably experiencing server meltdown.)

We shall see what news tomorrow brings ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Milton Berle was the "killer app" that transformed television from a luxury gadget into a standard home appliance. Mark Evanier posts a tribute suitable for those of the Seinfeld generation, who -- like me -- never had the opportunity to see a live airing of The Texaco Star Theater. Here's an excerpt:
Like many of my generation, I never laughed that much at Milton Berle and there was a time when I wondered why this pushy guy was so revered. In time, I think I came to understand that it had to do with innovation and longevity, two qualities that are rarely found -- at least, together -- in the comedy stars who began in television. Milton Berle was of another era, already an established performer before he or anyone appeared on TV, forced to invent and reinvent in front of an entire nation. Fortunately, he was a master showman and more than equal to the task.
Jeff Jarvis has a slightly different take:
People will be wailing about how he represented the "golden age" of TV. But that's bull. Early television was bad vaudeville; it was tinny, not golden: silly, slapstick, obvious, easy. The truth is that the golden age of TV is now; television today is filled with far greater talent and imagination and artistry. I don't mean to detract from Miltie's pioneering in a new medium; can't take that away from him. But I just have to say that young people should ignore all the nostaglic claptrap they are about to hear; things weren't always better in the old days; sometimes, things actually get better over time and TV is one of those things.

On the nosie, Jeff.

Friday, March 22, 2002

KA-CHING!!!! For the very first time since this enterprise was launched six months ago, some kind, anonymous soul with excellent taste in Blogerature has donated $10 to the Mind Over What Matters tip jar! Why, I'm positively beaming! At this rate, I'll have my back taxes paid off in about ... 30,000 years!

Of course, what's really important here is whoring for links. So, this week, let me also kindly thank Matt Welch, Natalie Solent, W. T. Quick, Geoffrey Barto -- did I miss anyone? -- of course, the "Gold Standard," good ol' InstaGuy -- for their insightful and often-challenging feedback and follow-up on my humble verbiage. Also, props to everyone who's participating in our new "Comments" feedback loops.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

German TV report: Palestinians likely killed Gaza boy

Excerpted from the Jerusalem Post:
A German documentary producer who thoroughly investigated the killing of a Palestinian boy a year-and-a-half ago said yesterday it is "much more likely" 12-year-old Muhammad ad-Dura was killed by Palestinian gunmen, and not by Israeli soldiers.

Dura was shot to death in a Gaza Strip crossfire on September 30, 2000, while crouching for safety with his father. The incident was filmed by the France2 television network, and the pictures had a dramatic impact on the public perception of Israel's use of force, with the IDF widely accused of killing the boy.

The video footage of Dura and his father crouching in an alley as bullets whizzed passed them, and then the bleeding dying boy cradled in his father's arms provoked international outrage when it was broadcast.

In an interview with IBA English News, producer Esther Shapira said the purpose of the series was to "understand the truth behind the pictures we see on television." She said that going into the project initially, "I thought it was clear it was an Israeli who fired the shot since we were talking about a Palestinian boy."

But as she began to delve into the incident, serious doubts were raised as to whether it had been Israeli and not Palestinian gunfire that killed the boy.

She said forensic evidence showed Dura had been shot either from in front or from above, the direction from which the Palestinian gunmen had been firing. For it to have been IDF fire that killed him, the shot would have had to enter from the side.

"According to our findings, it is much more likely it was a Palestinian bullet, not an Israeli bullet, that killed him," Shapira said.

The documentary also did not unequivocally conclude one way or the other, but did ask enough questions to leave the viewer with doubts about the conventional wisdom.

Among the questions raised were who had an interest in killing the boy; whether France2, which filmed the incident, released all the footage in its possession; whether it was possible to hit Dura from where the soldiers were positioned; where are the bullets taken from the boy's body; why did the Palestinians not investigate the incident; and who ordered the footage broadcast continuously on Palestinian television.

Wanna take any bets that this story will be broadcast continuously on Palestinian television as well?

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

DON'T GO AWAY MAD... Before the name Andrea Yates sails off the headline ticker at the bottom of our national screens and into oblivion, I just want to weigh in on this one point:

There is an important distinction to be made between the parts of the mind that formulate strategy, and the parts that distinguish between moral and amoral actions. What most puzzles me about those who condemn Andrea Yates as the epitome of all evil is that they are equating strategic thinking with the ability to make moral judgment -- that if the former was not impaired, surely the latter must not have been impaired either, and therefore she is a heinous criminal rather than a madwoman.

This, I do not accept.

We can all agree that Yates was an able strategist -- that she had enough presence of mind to commit the murders at her convenience -- that the children were executed with precision planning. and determination.

But just because she had the presence of mind to design and execute a strategy, it does not necessarily follow that Yates was mentally capable enough to take a step back, appreciate the immorality of her actions, and simply elect not to do the deed.

Without citing chapter and verse from the testimony, I think it was pretty clear that, in Andrea Yates' tortured mind, she did not imagine for a moment that there was a rational alternative available to her.

I don't mean to suggest that she should have been given probation, a hug and a coupon for a free tubal ligation -- but what possible point is there in incarcerating her in a criminal prison? To teach her a lesson, so that she'll think twice next time? As a deterrent to other mentally ill mothers who have fleeting visions of drowning their own babies? This was not justice served; this was an angry jury looking for someone to punish for a horror that could not have been foreseen or prevented. They might as well have convicted an F-5 tornado.

The only saving grace to come out of this sad episode is that Yates dodged the death penalty. At least the jury recognized that there was more than enough tragedy to go around, and we won't have to keep revisiting this case as it oozes through the appeals process for the next dozen-odd years. And perhaps Andrea Yates will find some measure of peace ... in solitary.

My old buddy Harry Broertjes writes:
I think you stretched a bit too far with your analogy to Moonwatcher in 2001 because, it seems to me, Ariel Sharon and his close supporters are Feelers rather than Thinkers, and Sharon has the bloodlust of Moonwatcher. (A bloodlust that, by the way, you sanitized fairly thoroughly.) Sharon's words and actions all point toward his having the bone in his hand and the desire to kill all those who are different from him and his people and to drive them from the land. It's hard to imagine his not being happy if somehow all Palestinians were eliminated -- or at least removed from lands they have lived on for centuries longer than 90 percent or more of today's Israeli Jewish families. Ariel Sharon is not a man to promote political, social, intellectual or any other kind of advancement; if anything, he shares far more in common with his opponents than he would care to admit.
By describing a war precisely between the Thinkers and Feelers, I do admit that I've oversimplified the issue. If you subscribe to Keirsey personality type theory, there are actually four different personality components, and therefore, sixteen (four squared) distinct personality types. If you're going to seriously psychoanalyze Ariel Sharon, the component you're grasping for is the Perceiver-Judger continuuum -- and Sharon is absolutely a Judger, in that he sees the conflict in stark terms of absolute right and wrong. But Sharon the Thinker -- the political leader and military strategist -- puts the restraints on Sharon the Judger, which is why we have not yet had that next war. Political realities do not permit him to act on bloodlust.

Make no mistake -- I am no great fan of Sharon, and it bothers me not in the least that his days in office are numbered. He's flailing about, trying to placate the hardliners and peaceniks every alternate day, and ultimately solving no problems and satisfying no one. His coalition will fall soon enough.

But meanwhile Sharon, as Israel's democratically elected leader, represents the interests of an electorate which, on balance, is of a more thoughtful and enlightened bent than their neighbors. Reasonable men and women can debate the validity of Palestinian claims and pertinent 50-year-old U.N. resolutions. But in the end, very simply, most Israeli citizens favor peaceful coexistence, while -- according to recent polls -- an enormous majority of Palestinians believe that suicide bombings targeting civilians should continue until all of their demands have been satisfied. Such are not thinking men and women; indeed, such people barely qualify for membership in the human race.

Harry also adds:
I appreciated your defense of [Jim] Shooter and the link to the CBR interview, which I hadn't seen. Here's a link to a different interview that covers much the same ground -- amazingly, I bookmarked it three or four years ago, and the site's still up and running. Check it out if you haven't seen it already.

My balancing act between political commentary and cultural ephemera sure does lead to some rather abrupt transitions, eh? But in revisiting Shooter's Marvel legacy recently, it got me to thinking -- how different things might have been if he'd been able to air his side of the story in Real Time, just as Peter David and Joe Quesada are right this moment publicly airing their own dirty laundry over a twenty-five cent price increase on Petey's Captain Marvel title.

MORAL EQUIVALENCY WATCH: Orson Scott Card is fed up with Geraldo Rivera. James Lileks minces no words, either. All I can add is, where's the ticket-holders' line?

UPDATE I: Howard Mortman adds: "If Geraldo denounces Israel while Israel is securing its border, then the terrorists will have won." And they did.

UPDATE II: Chris Brown chimes in, via e-mail: "It is a noble sentiment when [Geraldo] says he would die for Israel. My problem with him is the way he's procrastinating about it. (For all that you and fellow Bloggers detest Ted Rall, I'd suggest that he's still higher in the media food chain than Geraldo. For starters, he never hosted a talk show called, "Geraldo," and I think that's worth points in Heaven right there.)

Monday, March 18, 2002

D'OHHH!: Juan Gato examines the "Thinkers vs. Feelers" paradigm in the conflict represented between Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders. Homer, the consummate Corrupted Feeler -- his entire life is about instant gratification -- vs. Ned, whose carefully structured life bears all the hallmarks of a Moral Thinker. (D'ohhh! Why didn't I think of that analogy? Much hipper than my dated "2001" references, and not nearly so ambiguous or open to interpretation.)

WE GET LETTERS: Gary (Amygdala) Farber catches me in an apparent misrecollection:
Er, actually, Clarke had the monolith give Moonwatcher the idea of tool-using. That's the point of the jump-cut to the space ship: from one tool to another, a big leap on our scale, but a small leap on the Alien scale, including as measured by their quasi-tool, the monolith. If you doubt this, I refer you to the books "Lost Worlds of 2001" written by Clarke himself, and to Jerome Agel's book on the making of 2001.
I don't doubt it at all. It's been a very, very long time since I read the original Clarke novel. But in my feeble defense, I only referred to the novel (in the piece below) as a convenience, so that I could refer to the Thinking Hominid by name. For the purposes of my larger observation, I was describing the scene, not from the novel but from the Kubrick film -- and, insasmuch as the scene, as filmed, contained no clarifying dialogue or omnicient narration, the viewer is free to infer whatever they like. Such are the perils of ambiguous artistry.

In fact, regardless of the filmmakers' intent, I can make a strong case for my interpretation of events, because it resonates so clearly in the last half of the second act, with Dave Bowman taking the place of the Thinker, and HAL becoming the Corrupted Feeler. I would put it to you that, if you could read Dave's thoughts while he wordlessly performs that microprocessor-ectomy on HAL, they'd be along these lines:

HAL, you have demonstrated by your prior actions that you are dangerous, you are unpredictable, you cannot be trusted -- and I cannot negotiate with you in good faith. So, for the sake of my own survival, and so that my people may continue to evolve! -- and as much as it pains me to make this terrible choice -- I have no choice but to kill you before you kill me.

Friday, March 15, 2002

Via e-mail, Christopher Jones wonders:
You ask an interesting question ("Which side are we on?"), but the more interesting question is "Why?". Can you explain -- in terms of concrete American national interest -- why we are on the side of the Israelis? I've never seen such an explanation.

I'm not advocating that we should be on the side of the Palestinians; I prefer neutrality and disengagement. Two peoples are fighting over the right to rule a single area of land. I don't see how it affects the United States no matter which side wins, any more than we should choose up sides between the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.
Fair question. If we don't fairly address that question from time to time, we tend to "assume" that a debatable point has already been agreed to, without ever actually winning the point on merit. That would be intellectually dishonest.

In fact, your question gives me an opportunity to expound on the central themes of Rational Discourse, Skeptical Inquiry and Intellectual Honesty -- the guiding principles of Mind Over What Matters. So, if you'll allow me this somewhat roundabout digression:

The human race is perpetually at war -- not simply between the good guys and the bad guys, nor even between liberals and conservatives. If only it were so convenient to draw the lines in this struggle so starkly, but it's more complicated than black hats and white hats. Forgive me the cliche, but it's the whole dual-nature-of-man hat. It's a war between the Thinkers and the Feelers.

What's more, it's a war that is necessary to our growth and evolution as a species. It's what gave us the impetus to crawl out of the primordial ooze and build miniature golf courses, invent TIVO and solve Fermat's Last Theorem.

Remember the moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the Monolith-enhanced "smart" hominid -- he was called Moonwatcher in the Arthur C. Clarke novel -- picks up a bone and smashes it into the cranium of his menacing neighbor, the "dumb" hominid from across the pond? For all the times that I watched that scene in years past, I misinterpreted it. I always figured that the Monolith introduced the concept of war to the human race, and that's what (according to Clarke) kick-started us on the path to intelligence.

But that's not it. On a more recent viewing and upon years of reflection, I now realize that the Monolith had given Moonwatcher the morality-neutral gift of insight. He could not yet put his insights into words, but in effect he was saying this:

"You --- hey, you! The ugly one! Yes, you! Listen up! You're competing with me for the rights to scarce resources -- for land, for water, for survival. To that extent, we have common ground. I understand that. Ideally, we ought to be able to negotiate. Perhaps if we shared a common language, a common culture, we could give it a shot. But here's the thing, sir: You have demonstrated by your prior actions that you are dangerous, you are unpredictable, you cannot be trusted -- and if you ever get your hands on a bigger bone than mine, and figure out how it works, I know you'll kill me before you'd ever negotiate in good faith. So, for the sake of my own survival, and for my family and my descendents -- and as much as it pains me to make this terrible choice -- I have no choice but to kill you first."

Two million years of evolution later, we're still engaged in the same struggle, fighting over tiny parcels of land so that our side's DNA may survive into another generation. On one side, The Thinkers: The Vulcans; the INTPs; the enlightened, the architects, the strategists; the scientists and logicians. Those for whom knowledge is more than a means to an end, as the process of gaining knowledge can be fulfillling for its own sake. On the other side of the chasm, The Feelers: The Klingons, the ESFJs; the religious fundamentalists, bureaucrats, judges, self-aggrandizers and NASCAR drivers. Those who take comfort in ritual, in immediate gratification. They never stop to ask "why," because knowledge of larger truths doesn't change anything.

The struggle continues to this day, because these two fundamentally different sides of human nature can never be reconciled -- although, lord knows, we try. Thinkers will dabble in "touchy-feely" activities -- not to enjoy them, but to try to understand why they are so compelling to their opposites -- or at least to keep their Feeler spouses happy. Nor do I mean to suggest that, being unskilled at intellectual pursuits, Feelers are stupid. On the contrary: To preserve their fiefdoms, they can be deviously clever. When pressed to argue their case, Feelers hide the data that doesn't support their position. They lie with statistics and distorted bar charts. They master the art of demagoguery. That's how so many of them manage to win elections.

But in the end, it is the Thinkers -- those whose words and deeds are governed by Intellectual Honesty, those who demand adherance to high standards of critical thinking, both by their opponents and of themselves -- it is the Thinkers who hold the high moral ground in any argument. By definition.

The Constitution of the United States of America is, at its core, a Grand Experiment of Great Thinkers -- and a successful experiment by any thoughtful standard. Some might even say that it was inevitable -- that, over time, Thinking Men and Women would evaluate all the bad results of less successful forms of governments, and something like American Democracy would eventually emerge from trial and error. (Milton called this process the "Self-Righting Principle.") Some might say that the demise of Soviet Communism, or the uniting of the European economies under a common currency, are clear indicators that the rest of the world is gradually coming to see the advantages of our Grand Experiment in Unified Democracy, and that it's only a matter of time before all industrialized countries follow our lead.

To the extent that it is in our interests to promote our core values, preserve our freedoms and our way of life, of course we'd like to see other countries follow our lead, and support those which have already. And so we must support and be allied with Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, the only nation in the region with a free press, free elections, and a thriving economy based on human productivity (rather than upon a single, volatile natural resource and unabashed thuggery).

Agreed, Israel is not 100% in the right. Their policy of erecting settlements on disputed territory has served as a deliberate provocation and an unnecessary obstacle to peace. But this is a matter of policy, and reasonable men and women can argue policy, effecting change through fair hearing and debate.

Nor is Palestine 100% in the wrong. Their is a case to be made that these refugees have been forced to live as the subjects of a brutal occupation, stripped of human rights and liberties. If individual Israeli soldiers have committed war atrocities against Palestinian civilians, such instances cannot be brushed under the carpet.

But any outside meddler who seeks a meeting of minds between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who attempts to dictate a solution by granting Palestinian terror moral equivalency with Israeli pre-emptive defense measures, is engaging in the worst sort of Intellectual Dishonesty from the git-go. It would have been no less disingenuous to require that Roosevelt concede that Pearl Harbor was justified by legitimate Japanese grievances with American foreign policy, as a first step toward ironing out the framework for peace with Hirohito. This is so obviously wrong that it goes without saying. Yet, for some reason, it has to be argued that Sharon must address Arafat's grievances before there can be a framework of Middle East peace. Excuse me, but who is the aggressor and who is the aggrieved party here?

This might have been a more complicated position to stake out prior to 9/11, because much of the background texture was hypothetical, and both actors had blood on their hands. But after 9/11, the argument is no longer abstract. We must choose sides. We must support Israel because their struggle for survival is now ours. If the Moral Thinkers of this world are to triumph over the Corrupt Feelers, Israel must win the next war. They are our proxies in the region. They need America's support when it comes time to provide intelligence and materiel. We cannot fight the battle for them, and they cannot do it alone.

It will be tragic, and it will be bloody. We'll get tons of grief from French journalists. But as one of those astute characters from "West Wing" remarked recently, "They'll like us when we win."

There is no other solution. Because we now know that the ugly guy across the pond isn't just looking for a bigger bone. When he gets his mits on a portable weapon of mass destruction, he'll gladly vaporize himself along with Tel-Aviv or Seattle, just to pound his bone that much deeper.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

WHICH SIDE ARE WE ON? I have no doubt that he spoke from the heart when, at this afternoon's press conference George Bush said that a halt to bloodshed in the Middle East depends on a willingness to "create conditions for peace" and that Israel's actions of late have been "counterproductive."

To the amazement of no one, the press corps -- ever fearful of allowing thoughtful challenge to be perceived as liberal bias -- failed to ask the obvious follow-up question: When will America's forces end its own "counterproductive" assault on Afghan civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

But even if some brave soul had lobbed that hardball, I doubt that Bush would have understood the parallel. Indeed, by risking an unscripted encounter with the media, Bush has made his fitness for high office questionable again, revealing that undercurrent of intellectual shallowness that we've been trying, very hard, to ignore for the past six months.

For all his weak protestations to the contrary, Bush now invites serious speculation that he shares his father's callous indifference to Israel. "The Jews aren't going to vote for us, anyway," James Baker famously advised Bush 41. Let them take a few Scud hits if they want us to keep writing those foreign aid checks.

When we're ready to take on Saddam again, might Bush 43 tell Ariel Sharon to be prepared to take a few chemical weapon hits? Does Colin Powell whisper in his boss's ear that there are no Jewish Republicans to speak of, and no Israeli oilfields to lose?

Having failed to take this opportunity to make a distinction between civilian casualties of deliberate Palestinian terrorism and those tragically caught in Israeli pre-emptive strikes or defensive actions, can Bush even say whose side we're on now?

These are now fair and reasonable questions.

Certainly, matters of political expediency require no intellectual consistency. Caving on steel tariffs runs contrary to every conservative principle of free markets -- but here, Bush is playing a game of semantics that he can probably win. The average citizen does not understand that tariffs are the equivalent of tax increases, and won't hold it against him. He'll get heat from the conservative punditry, yes -- but Bush didn't get into office by portraying himself as conservative. He got into office by conveying that he could see into people's hearts and recognize their innate goodness. Tariffs, shmariffs. The votes of four key industrial states are worth far more than mere principles.

But caving on the preservation of democracy in the Middle East? What could he be thinking?

Therein lies the problem. Bush isn't thinking. He's feeling. Regarding the loss of "innocent life" in the Middle East, Bush wears his heart on his sleeve. "It breaks my heart," he lamented. Of that I have no doubt. He should share that with Laura, privately. But it was utterly thoughtless to say so before the entire world. It only served to makes him appear weak and easily manipulated.

Imagine what Arafat is thinking this evening: "So the American President Bush singles out Israel's intransigence as the stumbling block for Middle East peace, and he has no stomach for civilian casualties? Excellent! Then our strategy is working! We'll just keep producing more civilian casualties, and more and more, until that big-hearted American President can take no more, and finally prevails upon Israel to accede to the Right of Return."

And then, truly, the terrorists will have won.

There's only one way to describe what Bush did today: Caving on terrorism. Amazing. I can't imagine how Ari Fleischer -- or, for that matter, Bush-lovers like Andrew Sullivan or Peggy Noonan -- will spin this one.

UPDATE I: This page has been severely critical of Andrew Sullivan from time to time, but let's give the man credit where it's due: On this issue he is absolutely right. No spin. No agenda. Just insight:
The best interpretation is that Bush is being tactical. In order to deal with Iraq, we need to say these things to keep the Arab world (however duplicitously) part of the coalition. Once we have dealt with Iraq, we can let the Israelis deal more firmly with Arafat, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

But I don’t buy it. What we need to be saying now more than ever is that terrorism will not be tolerated – anywhere, by anyone. There’s a whiff of James Baker about all this wobbling.
[emphasis mine -ed.] If I were an Israeli fighting for my country, I’d be truly afraid of what lies ahead.
To which I can only add, if his anti-Israel stance was a political bluff, then I could take Dubya's watch and his car any day of the week. Jerry Seinfeld has a more convincing poker face.

UPDATE II: Jim Treacher illustrates a different beef with Bush's press conference remarks here, and adds: "I guess if we can't hunt Bin Laden down, we'll try to get him with our withering indifference."

Meet my flatmates.

TRANSTERRESTRIAL MUSE Rand Simberg wonders why Adobe Systems would make a sizeable investment in Salon, which he characterizes as a bottomless money pit.

No big mystery here. Between Salon and Adobe, there's synergy to be had. For all its faults as a business model, and whatever you think of their politics, Salon is still a fairly well-recognized source of interesting, provocative and frequently updated reading material. Adobe's own business plan is heavily dependent upon establishing Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) as a universal electronic publishing and content distribution standard. So, it's only in Adobe's interest that they should be able to point to a steady source of content which is available as a PDF download.

(The obvious follow-up question, though, is: Where do I go to sign up for the Adobe subsidy to distribute Mind Over What Matters to the masses in PDF?)

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Mind Over What Matters belatedly joins the Blogosphere with a Comments/Feedback feature. Have at me.

Monday, March 11, 2002

ALL YOU NEED IS CASH: Megan McArdle takes umbrage over reports that some ill-informed Democratic office-holders have just discovered that their Campaign Finance Reform bill contains insufficient loopholes to favor fundraising by Democratic incumbents. Megan laments:
Okay, so they kept up the pressure on the issue for years to pass a law that it turns out they only voted for because they thought they'd be able to sneak around it. I'm supposed to feel sorry about this?
That the pending CFR bill would lopsidedly favor future Republican fundraising initatives should have come as no surprise to anyone. For years, this point has been solidly pounded home, often with some bemusement, by the entire mainstream politcal analysis corps. I frankly doubt that all that many Dems have been caught unaware -- and certainly those who were deserve to be be on the losing side of the next election.

What's more perplexing than the D's apparently taking a principled stand in defiance of their own incumbent self-interest is that the R's are continuing to resist a sea-change in fundraising law that will apparently unlevel the playing field in their own favor.

Perhaps what the D's are prepared to risk (and what the R's most fear) is the Mickey Kaus-endorsed position -- that any significant change in the usual money-flow dynamics will radically diffuse the power of fundraising -- at least temporarily, until the flow carves out its own natural channels again. And meanwhile, at least for a time, the electorate will have to focus on the message instead of the money.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

WHAT A PRICK! Protein Wisdom responds to Ted Rall's most odious cartoon to date.

UPDATE: James Treacher's talking clip-art weighs in.

Electrolite puts it succinctly: "What we see here is the long history of admirable efforts to defend artistic independence being twisted into a rationale for letting someone behave monstrously."

Bill Sherman, generally tolerant of Ralls' "hamfisted and loud" political voice, comes down hard: "This isn’t political commentary – it’s self-righteous thuggishness: the work of a man too blinkered by ideology to gauge the mean of rhetorical decency."

James Lileks sums it up neatly: "Rall’s cartoon was the equivalent of pissing on a grave to protest the high cost of tombstones."

Ted Rall explains that Danny Pearl's widow failed to live up to his expectations, and was thus fair game: "She kept appearing on television and it seemed pointless and tacky. ... If your husband is dead, don't you have more important things to do than go on television?"

WHY BOTHER?: I was going to say something about this piece of antisemetic rubbish, courtesy of our friends at The Guardian, but I couldn't hold down my lunch long enough to formulate a coherent response:
Assuming a "plague on both your houses" approach is not just a travesty of the facts. It shuts out all prospect of a solution. If one side is as bad as the other, then any settlement is out of the question since both sides will go on killing each other in any event. A rational assessment of the roles of oppressed and oppressor, on the other hand, tells us not only why people are killing each other, but also how they can be stopped from doing so.

If the reason for the violence is the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, then the obvious solution is for the Israelis to get out of that territory and disband the settlements. If the Israeli government just won't budge on either withdrawal or the settlements, then the obvious answer is for the west to impose sanctions -- to cut off the massive economic subsidies and arms shipments that have built up the Israeli economy and its military machine.
But if you were expecting a bookend to this "devil's advocate" argument -- a shred of historical balance that might have begun with "On the other hand, if the reason for the violence is that Arafat will accept no solution that doesn't end with the wholesale destruction of the State of Israel..." -- well, there was none. I'm still trying to scrape my jaw back from the floor.

Fortunately, Grasshoppa has rendered anything more that could have been said redundant.

MISDEMEANOR PLAGIARISM UPDATE: So, of course, 12 hours later The Professor pull-quotes the exact same Lileks paragraph as I did. If this infraction constitutes misdemeanor plagiarism, all's I can say is, look at the time-stamps.

Meanwhile, Slate asks: Who's the better apologizer, Goodwin or Ambrose?

Mind Over What Matters stakes out this position on misdemeanor plagiarism: When it comes to works of fiction, there's nothing funnier than a throwaway unattributed quotation. Who doesn't guffaw out loud every time Stewie Griffin, diminutive hero of Fox's Family Guy, spontaneously relives whole scenes from Broadway musicals that predate his birth by a good 40 or 50 years? Or when Crow the Robot pretends to recognize the handiwork of 1970's ARP synth wizard Rick Wakeman in the soundtrack of some long-forgotten Lithouanian sci-fi film?

The answer is -- almost no one in the target demographic guffaws out loud. Such obscure cultural references are the author's way of winking at those elite few who've snuck in from outside the target demographic. It's the author's coded message to the right people -- the smart people -- that they've achieved membership in the "inner circle," with all the rights and priviliges accorded thereto -- which is to say that they could carry their end of the conversation if they happened to meet up with the author at a cocktail party.

But writers of non-fiction must understand that one simply cannot go about tossing off lengthy, unattributed quotes from another body of work, as if counting on the audience to treat such references as a sop to "the right people" who are smart enought to "get it." In fiction, such usages may be employed liberally, as an alternative to original thought, where it can pass for irony or serve double-duty as structural punctuation. But in non-fiction, it's just plain stealing. And when it comes to light that Goodwin and Ambrose have pulled this trick repeatedly throughout their works and careers, all that can be said is that they've literally outsmarted themselves.

For its part, however, Mind Over What Matters will continue to reference the esoteric hierchary of DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes in its Perma-Links ghetto, smugly secure in its culturally malnourished certainty that "the right people" are "getting" it.

(So far, my short list of "right people" includes Gary Farber and Ben Kepple for sure -- and for neoblogger Bill Sherman, it goes without even asking -- while Megan McArdle has privately confessed that the reference has whooshed right over her head. No small feat, that, as I can now personally attest to both her intelligence and stature!)

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

NOT A PRETTY PICTURE: James Lileks imagines what The Guardian will have to say when I'm gone:
There are European columnists in respectable newspapers who would write about the event, and no matter how much sympathy they evinced towards the start, you’d be waiting for the fulcrum of the BUT, and you’d find it. There are reasonable, rational people writing for newspapers grounded in the Western empirical tradition who would feel it was their duty to explain the nuking of New York, and place it in context. They remember Hiroshima, but not Pearl Harbor. (It would be a hallmark of their intellect that New York could suffer both -- a sneak attack and a nuke -- and they would remain America’s fault.) They would bring up the camp at Gitmo; they would recycle all the false numbers about Iraqi sanction deaths and Afghan casualties, and if they shed a tear it would be for the Motherwells in the museums and the immigrants who, being new to the poisonous shores of America and being guilty of nothing but misguided hope, were blameless.

GRACE UNDER FIRE: Told of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to invite Arafat and himself to Sharm e-Sheikh, [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon said, "I'd like to come, but Arafat can't make it."

If the Bushies had had their way, there wouldn't have been a single reporter covering the Afghan war. They couldn't stop them from going, so they sent a message, chilling and clear: we don't care if you die. In fact, we hope you do.
Why is it always the Danny Pearls, and never the Ted Ralls?

Monday, March 04, 2002

DENNIS MILLER SHOCKER! (Courtesy of The Borowitz Report)
Comedian Dennis Miller, fired from ABC's "Monday Night Football" last week, lashed out at ABC Sports today in a blistering tirade packed with obscure literary and pop cultural references that may take his former bosses years to decipher.

"When I heard you were replacing me with Madden, I was like, isn't that the guy who played Reuben Kincaid on 'The Partridge Family?'" Miller said, in an apparent reference to football announcer John Madden and former TV actor Dave Madden.

It is believed that only three or four people in North America, excluding Miller himself, are sufficiently aware of both Maddens in order to understand, and therefore enjoy, Miller's confusing remark.

NEW AND RECOMMENDED: Bill Sherman has a Blog now! Highly recommended for those who appreciate my own diversions into cultural ephemera! (Now, the trick is, where can I fit Bill within my PermaLink hierarchy without offending Ben Kepple?)

Also, waste no time devouring every word over at Cut on the Bias. (Crikeys! How am I supposed to find any time to write new content when there's so much great stuff to read?)

Friday, March 01, 2002

A LITTLE COMIC BOOK HISTORY: Sorry, warbloggers -- we're going to take a little side trip into an alternate universe -- the Marvel Comics universe, to be precise. If this topic seems too far astray for your tastes, consider this a scroll alert and check out one of the many other fine writers in the "Link Ghetto" at your immediate right:

Regarding my nominations for People Who Should Blog. Justin Slotman says: Jim Shooter, Jay? You're kidding. Insert New Universe joke here. I mean, he'd never blog unless he thought he could make money off of it.

Justin, my friend, you've bought into a myth. The New Universe is yet another case in point where Shooter was vilified unmercifully for a disaster that was beyond his control. He has told this story at some length himself, elsewhere -- but in a nutshell, it boils down to this:

The New Marvel Universe was conceived as a 25th Anniversary tribute to the original Spider-Man / Fantastic Four Universe -- the idea being to create a new imprint for a set of eight wildly original new series, set in their own continuity, separate and apart from the "old" universe. It was supposed to be sort of a "second coming" of Marvel.

Initially, Shooter made a presentation and secured a suitable big budget to develop, launch and promote the New Universe imprint. Said budget was originally to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Based on the assurance of big bucks, he was able secure some correspondingly big-name talent, and the titles were solicited to distributors accordingly.

But after those commitments were made, some nameless Marvel Vice President In Charge Of Justifying His Own Job decided, arbitrarily, to cut back the New Universe budget to a few tens of thousands of dollars. Needless to say, when the money dried up, most of the talent bailed. And it only got worse. By the time the first issues were due, the budget had been pared back to a few thousand dollars, so that the books had to be written and drawn largely by unskilled neophytes or otherwise unemployable hacks -- and when the money ran out, the rest of it was Jim and a few loyal staffers filling in the gaps, working more-or-less for free.

Of course it was crap. Shooter's feet were cut out from under him. Management ruined the project almost before it got started. Not Jim's fault! But Shooter takes the lumps for what seemed like an ill-conceived disaster, because his name was at the top of the masthead at the time.

Beyond that debacle, Shooter was much maligned because he had a vision of how to run a professional publishing company, and he forced that vision on a whole lot of prima-donna artists and writers who were accustomed to getting their own way. By comparison, his immediate predecessors were pushovers. Not to speak ill of the dead, but when he held the Editor-In-Chief position right before Shooter, Archie Goodwin was in way over his head. He could not impose deadlines and make them stick. His first, second and third priorities were to be well-liked. If the books shipped on time, all the better -- but they had to pull a reprint due to missed deadlines, what the hell.

Which is not to say that Shooter made no errors in judgment along the way. He'll be the first to 'fess up to the ones which were legitimately his. But a lot of the crap that's been attributed to him is simply unfair. John Byrne and Chris Claremont still run around screaming to this day that Shooter screwed them a dozens way to Sunday. Maybe so -- I certainly wasn't privvy to their creative battles. But understand that Byrne and Claremont would always take their huge egos crying to the fan press every time they didn't get their way, while Jim Shooter would quietly take his lumps and just do his job -- which was, mostly, to run interference between the talent and suits, try to make the books as good as they could be, and above all, get them out on time.

Here's a story you never heard about in the fan press -- but I know it to be factual, firsthand, because my better half was Marvel's in-house letter column typesetter for several years -- and in fact, I used to do a little freelancing there myself: When he couldn't secure Christmas bonuses for Marvel's underpaid production staff, Jim took the cash out of his own pocket to make their holidays a little more joyous. Another thing you never heard about was how Shooter fought to keep their medical benefits package intact, when the suits wanted to eviscerate it. You never heard about these things because Shooter didn't take his petty administrative battles to the fan press. It didn't matter to him whether he was liked or excoriated regularly. He took his job seriously, and he did what had to be done.

It's been about 15 years since I last spoke to Jim Shooter. I've followed his post-Marvel career only peripherally -- mostly, it seems to have been a series of sad stories about raising investment capital to start one new comic book company after another, only to be betrayed by crooks and frauds. Shooter's an interesting guy, a prodigy with incredible talent and vision, but cursed with an Orson Welles-like "failed genius" life story of crushing disappointments, of projects gone horribly awry. It's probably pointless to hope -- but maybe some parts of that amazing life story would finally trickle into the public record if only Jim had a Blog of his own, where he could set the record straight, on his own terms.

So hey, Jim -- (if you're Googling your own name out there) -- why not jump in? The water's fine.

UPDATE: Actually, Jim did try to set much of the record straight in this interview.

Gone and Forgotten hilariously chronicles another overbloated Marvel masterpiece gone sour, Secret Wars II.