Thursday, October 27, 2005

Extreme Home Makeover: Iraq Edition

It's not often I recommend an article from Variety to non-pros (as Variety calls people who don't work in showbiz), but this week's cover story from the weekly magazine really deserves a wide audience (which this blog won't give it, but maybe people will read and link themselves).

I should note that is a subscription website. But it often has deals where u can view an ad to read one article. Hopefully that is in place if anyone clicks through, as they should. to read the whole thing.

It's about the TV business in Iraq, which is booming. And it's really fascinating. Here is they interesting/disturbing reason why things are so good if you run a TV network in Iraq:

Since the April 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, the area has seen the birth of 30 TV stations, the same number of radio stations and an estimated 180 newspapers.

The quality of the programming may be uneven, but Iraq's new breed of media moguls have one thing in their favor: When your audience is afraid to go outside, it's good for ratings.

The article has details on a number of popular Iraqi TV shows. But this one has to be my favorite. Again, it's fascinating and disturbing at once:

In the local home-improvement series, the chipper hosts don't merely redecorate a kitchen: They rebuild a war-torn home from the ground up.

It's really worth reading.
(And another example of the liberal media only focusing on bad news in Iraq, I suppose)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Are there any standards for trend journalism?

I know this is an old complaint by media critics, but I'm continually amazed by the substance-free "trend" pieces in major newspapers and magazines.

I'm up early working this morning and while taking a break I read this ridiculous article in the New York Times: "For Some College Graduates, a Fanciful Detour (or Two) Before Their Careers Begin."

The thesis appears to be this:
Like a growing number of graduates, they are taking time away from school and the vigorous pursuit of a career. Some are looking for new experiences; others want to test potential careers or devote themselves to public service for a while; still others simply want to have a good time after the rigors of high school and college.

"Growing number" is of course a fudge phrase to indicate the author has no hard data to back up the piece besides some anecdotes. But the best part about the article is always the evidence buried in it that casts severe doubt on the thesis. Like this:

Students who take a timeout are still a minority of all graduates, career counselors said, and not every counselor said the number was expanding. At Ohio State, the proportion of graduates who opt for nontraditional alternatives is small and has remained fairly steady, said Martha M. Garland, the dean of undergraduate studies.

I also love that one of the three examples chosen in the lead to demonstate the thesis doesn't actually make the point at all once you read. Here is the description of him from the lede:

Steve Wiener has been crisscrossing the country in a large van, taking international tourists to see major cities and national parks.

But near the end, we find out some more info about Steve:

Mr. Wiener, who has been leading tour groups through the United States and Canada since June, has had a variety of experiences since graduating from U.C.L.A. in 2002 with a major in political science. He worked for a few months in Dublin and then spent two years as a corporate recruiter in Oakland and San Francisco, where he learned, he said, that the business world was not for him.

So it turns out Steve actually did start a career when he graduated. He just didn't like it. So now he's taking a break until he goes to graduate school. Which makes sense because graduate school generally starts in the fall and if you have 6 months or a year until then, it doesn't make much sense to get a career-oriented job. That's not a trend. It's common sense and I'm quite sure people did it in the 90s and 80s.

The one trend I would believe is that more people are putting off careers for a year to do service work (though perhaps I'm biased having taken a year off after college to do that myself). So if they had gotten data on how many people are doing AmeriCorps, growth of other service programs like Teach for America, any growth in the Peace Corps (though I don't think there has been any), etc, there might have been a story.

But then the New York Times doesn't even seem to understand what service is, given this graf from the story:

Other students, he said, are motivated by idealism to seek out community service programs. Kathy L. Sims, director of U.C.L.A's career center, said that every year about 60 new graduates of the university go to Japan to teach English for a year.

Travelling to Japan to earn a salary teaching tuition-paying students English is not service.

Author Alan Finder and his editors should be embarassed by this "article" that's actually just a waste of space.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bush jumps the shark

Is there any doubt left that with the Harriet Miers nomination, the Bush Administration has finally jumped the shark?

This whole debacle has reinforced every major criticism opponents of Bush have made over the past 5 years: cronyism, ineptitude, lack of planning, not taking governance seriously, refusal to admit a mistake in the face of overwhelming evidence, and a plain old lack of intelligence.

An article in today's LA Times (which I have delivered on the weekends since it's cheap and I have time to at least skim a paper on the weekends) pretty much sealed the deal that this nomination is an outright disaster and jump the shark moment. Here are the first five paragraphs, which almost made my head explode:

WASHINGTON — Asked to describe the constitutional issues she had worked on during her legal career, Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers had relatively little to say on the questionnaire she sent to the Senate this week.

And what she did say left many constitutional experts shaking their heads.

At one point, Miers described her service on the Dallas City Council in 1989. When the city was sued on allegations that it violated the Voting Rights Act, she said, "the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."

But the Supreme Court repeatedly has said the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws" does not mean that city councils or state legislatures must have the same proportion of blacks, Latinos and Asians as the voting population.

"That's a terrible answer. There is no proportional representation requirement under the equal protection clause," said New York University law professor Burt Neuborne, a voting rights expert. "If a first-year law student wrote that and submitted it in class, I would send it back and say it was unacceptable."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Three years later and still drinking the Kool-Aid

In trying to defend Judy Miller, or at least go after her attackers ("enemy of my enemy is my friend" and so forth), Glenn Reynolds makes this ridiculous statement that shows the fantasyland defenders of Bush's Iraq policy still live in:

I also think it's interesting to see how many people are now pretending (1) that Miller's WMD/Iraq reporting didn't start until the Bush Administration's war buildup, when actually it goes back to the 1990s; and (2) that nobody else thought that we'd find vast WMD stockpiles when we invaded, when in fact everyone thought we would. (The valuable lesson for would-be Saddams -- don't run a bluff against the United States -- is also lost).

Point 1 hardly seems relevant. Alot of people thought Saddam had or was trying to get WMD in the late 90s. That doesn't necessarily justify thinking the same thing 5 YEARS LATER. Especially when you the stakes are a war that will result in tens of thousands of death and the commitment of massive military resources that could be used elsewhere (like maybe catching the people who attacked us on 9/11). In the late '90s, it was much more likely Saddam still had some of the materials we know he had in the early '90s, much of which degraded by five years later (see "All the President's Spin" for some details on this). Furthermore, despite all the spying and inspectiong, we never happened upon any evidence Saddam had WMD in the intervening five years.

Then there's the even more absurd point 2. Everyone most certainly didn't think we would find WMD. Here's a name that immediately pops to mind: Scott Ritter. Of course, he only had the qualification of being the lead weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, not teaching law in Tennessee. But here, nevertheless, is what he said in an interview with Time Magazine in September, 2002:
I've said that no one has backed up any allegations that Iraq has reconstituted WMD capability with anything that remotely resembles substantive fact... The question is, has someone found that what Iraq has done goes beyond simple sanctions violations? We have tremendous capabilities to detect any effort by Iraq to obtain prohibited capability. The fact that no one has shown that he has acquired that capability doesn't necessarily translate into incompetence on the part of the intelligence community. It may mean that he hasn't done anything.

Then there's that final parenthetical comment. Yes, I guess the lesson is that you shouldn't run a bluff against the U.S. But the next logical step is that instead of running a bluff, you should actually get nuclear weapons. Which is, of course, a lesson that North Korea and Iran have learned quite well.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thinning the national appointment book

Allow me to be the latest of billions of bloggers pointing to this great New Republic article about the legions of incompetent Bush cronies running the most powerful government on Earth.

While Bush's penchant for valuing people he knows (or who gave money) over people actually qualified for jobs is of course extremely disturbing, especially in really technocratic but important agencies like FEMA or Consumer Products Safety Commission, it also made me think how crazy our federal system of appointments is.

Every 4 or 8 years, a new president appoints literally thousands of people to jobs both huge and fairly obscure. It's unreasonable to expect him to be able to locate and select the right people for that many jobs all while he is busy governing and getting his agenda through Congress and other things presidents do. It's also unreasonable to expect the Senate to vet all those people.

Of course Presidents need to be able to put people in key positions who will put his priorities into action. And we need to have the military equivalent of "civilian control" in every department so the people can exercise their power, not insiders. But there has to be some way to balance that with a bureaucratic means to highlight people particularly qualified for these mid level technocratic jobs that the President can't reasonably pay alot of attention to. Maybe fewer appointments? Or a vetting process for all appointments by experts on the topic similar to the way the ABA rates judicial appointees? There has to be some better way that a President or even his aides (most of whom are political experts, not policy wonks) flailing about to figure out who should be region 10 director for the EPA.

That wouldn't fundamentally solve the problem of a President like Bush who doesn't give a shit about governing well, but at least it could minimize his potential damage. And it would make the job of the best President, and the Senate, simpler so they can focus their energies without worrying so much about the next Michael Brown.

For instance, they could focus on really important grossly unqualified nominees like Harriet Miers. I was disappointed at Democrats who voted against the tolerable John Roberts, and I'll be severely disappointed if they don't form a united front against Miers and make her cronyism appointment a major political issue.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Barack rocks

Check out this message to DailyKos activists and tell me this guy doesn't totally rock. His values are in the right place and he seems to understand what it really takes to move a progressive agenda forward. It has been a while since I read a long statement I agreed with so much.

If he was only a few years more experienced, I would say he should be the Democrats' guy in 2008.

Then again, I remember hearing then-Governor Howard Dean speak at the College Democrats convention in 1997 and thinking he was the perfect smart and savvy center-left politician to lead the Democrats to the White House. And I was big into Wesley Clark early in the campaign two years ago.

So my record of picking out future Democratic winners early isn't great.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My AmeriCorps experience

I just discovered that an essay I wrote for a book published by AmeriCorps to promote National Civilian Community Corps, the AmeriCorps program I did, is online.

It may be my favorite thing I have ever written. It's certainly the thing I am most proud to have gotten published, moreso than even my book or the various TV projects I have done.

Since it's my blog, I get to say pretentious things like that and recommend you read it. So check it out already: