A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, August 03, 2002
SIGNS OF HOPE: Sometimes multilateralism can come through in a big way. In an attempt to make its bid for EU membership more attractive, Turkey tries to clean up its crappy human rights record by enacting reforms granting rights to Kurds and abolishing the death penality.
IT MAKES MY EYES BLEED: After spending screens and screens whining about the anti-war, liberal bias of Howell Raines' NYT and taking cuts like calling The Guardian "the ground zero of leftist, anti-war, anti-American Euro-weenie sentiment," Andrew Sullivan approvingly cites this unctuous WSJ pro-war editorial. In Europe, writers understand that newspapers are supposed to be partisan and they have enough self-respect to refrain from hypocritically whining about it. Here, party apparatchiks like Sullivan get their boxers in a bunch over "bias," but only if it's the kind of bias that they don't agree with. He's worse than a creep; he's simply a hack.
Friday, August 02, 2002
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: We'd like to think that where there's a sense of irony, there's hope for peace. The IDF's codename for its operation in Nablus in response to yesterday's university bombing: "Maybe this time."
Thursday, August 01, 2002
JUST FILE THEM UNDER "WE HATE THEM": Let's see: so according to this U.S. court decision, the alleged terrorists and terrorist sympathizers being held in Guantanamo have no standing at all in American courts, and according to the Bush administration, they have no standing under the Geneva Convention either. So I guess neither habeas corpus nor innocent until proven guilty are going to mean anything if you're not American and the U.S. has a hunch that you might have helped or spoken with a terrorist. Good thing we're completely confident that all of those bastards are guilty, or else we might feel a bit uneasy about completely suspending the Rule of Law in dealing with them.

Wouldn't it be handy if we had some sort of permanent International Criminal Court so that the U.S. could prosecute them without looking as though it's making up the rules as it goes along? Oops, I almost forgot that the Bush Administration hates the idea of a world court so much that it tried to delegitimize it by holding the Bosnia peacekeeping mission hostage.
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
SMOKIN', II: Matt's completely right when he points out the ineffectiveness of trying to control smoking by raising cigarette taxes in a small geographic territory. A far smarter solution would have been to raise cigarette taxes in a coordinated manner as three Canadian provinces did recently.

But I have to disagree with the contention that excise taxes "barely ever raise significant revenue AND lower consumption." This can clearly happen if the additional revenue generated by the increased tax rate on the cigarettes that are still bought exceeds the taxes lost as a result of reduced consumption. And this is a common situation, since cigarettes are addictive—in economic terms, cigarettes have a low but non-zero demand elasticity. For evidence that it does work from a source that the WSJ usually trusts, see The World Bank's research supporting this contention.

SMOKIN' NEW TAXES: Besides the obvious political benefits of being able to claim to raise revenue and appear strong against big tabacco, is anyone thinking through the new cigarette taxes in NYC? The Wall Street Journal hits it on the head today (Editorial, front section). Massive excise taxes barely ever raise significant revenue AND lower consumption, the two goals are simply contradictory. What the nex tax does is punish everyone too poor to be able to drive to New Jersey or Westchester. Reducing teen smoking is a noble goal, but it's not worth this injustice to lower income folks, especially when it's designed and implemented by their "friends", the democrats.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
STRATEGIC INFORMATION, REDUX?: Should anyone be surprised that the Bush administration's announcement that it is developing a new "Office of Global Communications" is getting almost no play in the major U.S. media outlets?
HOPE, DESPAIR, AND SESAME: It's hard to do much more than smile sadly and cross your fingers after reading this NYT article on the fragility of Middle East co-operation as seen through the lens of muppets.
I WAS GREATLY DISAPPOINTED by Donahue’s MSNBC show on legalizing marijuana last night. What could have been an interesting "debate" lost much of its credibility when Phil sent multiple waves of pro-legalization talking heads—including New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson against a very embattled ex-drug czar Gen (ret.) Barry McCaffery. Add to this the phone-in callers who seem screened to favour the decriminalization line and Donahue openly admitting early on that he’s pro-decriminalization, and the final product was a segment that seemed less like a debate and more like a WWF RAW-style gang beatdown on the General, except without the steel chairs.

While McCaffrey’s arguments were much worse than those of the pro–legalization/decrim people (Donahue excluded; someone please buy that man some cue cards or at least an extra dose of Geritol), the only thing the casual viewer probably would have picked up was the blatant unfairness of the General trying to fend off attacks from all sides at once. I have little doubt that the War on Drugs is horribly stupid and wasteful, but I’m not the kind of person Donahue needs to convince.

If Donahue had given both sides even odds, that would have been a radical enough move in the zany prohibitionary world that is the United States. I’m confident that in a legitimate debate, the legalization side comes out on top. Instead, by stacking the deck the way that he did, that show will be more likely dismissed as the unbalanced fantasy of a raving lefty.

Then again, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get U.S. cable TV. The pessimistic side of me suggests that U.S. cable is a masturbatory arena where you win by finding a big choir and impressing it by humiliating people who disagree with you on live TV. On this theory, Donahue will make it by being the slightly gentler and kinder O’Reilly of the Left. At which point, I'll just brew myself a nice cup of hot cocoa and follow the lead of the throngs of the happy eschatologically minded Christians who have made the Left Behind series hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List (ever wonder whether the kids who run this list at the Grey Lady have ever considered crafting a Veto Stick for times like these?).

Can Anyone Spell "Comparative Advantage"?

WHY, oh why, on Earth do all three major cable news networks always decide to cover the exact same thing at the exact same time, especially when the event isn’t really all that newsworthy? Case in point, yesterday’s breaking story about the MD train derailment that managed to sweep everything else that was scheduled for hours on end so that slack–jawed home viewers could stare at damage. Forget about the Middle East, anti-terrorism, and corporate scandals--everybody, come look at the twisted metal and ambulance lights! Ooh, spinal boards.

It begs the question as to whether any of the networks' strategists have ever considered cutting away from the spectacle-of-the-moment early in order to win over viewers more interested in hard news.

Focus groups must reveal that damage is what pulls in the viewers, but doesn't anyone understand the basic concept of comparative advantage?

Sometimes I wonder if the networks recruit their news directors by driving by car accidents and picking up the people who stare the longest. Those gawkers are among the lowest forms of humanity; if I could have been Dante, those bastids would have gotten their own Circle.

It's hard to complain when it's been so much worse than before: this isn't 1/143263263262th as bad as when the entire world ’o U.S. cable news stopped for 16 hours in the middle of April so that they could cover the earth–shattering Robert Blake arrest. Items overlooked that day: Powell's return from the Middle East and the U.S. Air Force’s accidental bombing of a platoon of Canadian soldiers, killing 4 members of the Princess Pats (major props if you’re American and you remembered that last item).