Saturday, May 21, 2005

In the Inbox

From: mr. Charles Brown.
24 river lane government
reserved area, Abuja.
Telephone:+234 803 881 4129

Attention please! strictly confidential!

Dear Friend,

With all due respect, i guess my letter will not embarrass you, since i have no previous correspondence with you. i strongly believed, i would not regret approaching you in this matter. i am mr.charles brown, a solicitor at law and the personal attorney to late mr. Mark Michelle, a french national. late mr.mark ichelle is a private oil consultant/contractor with the shell petroleum development in saudi arabia, herein after shall be referred to as
my client.

I have avery urgent and mutual business relationship to propose to you. on thursday june 6th 2000, my client and his wife with their three children were involved in an auto clash, all occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. since then, i have made several enquiries with his country's embassies to locate any of my clients extended relatives, this has also proved unsuccessful. after these several unsuccessful attempts, i decided to personally contact you with this business partnership proposal. i have contacted you to assist in repatriating a huge amount of money left behind by my client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the finance and security company where these huge deposit was lodged. the deceased had a deposit valued presently at $12,000,000.00 million us dollars (twelve million united state dollars) and company has issued me a notice to provide his next of kin or beneficiary by will otherwise have the account confiscated within the
thirty working days.

Having been unsuccessful in locating any of my late client relatives for over two (2) years now. i am now seeking your consent to present you as the next of kin/beneficiary to the deceased so that the proceeds of this account valued at $ 12 million united states dollars can be paid to you. it is not necessary to be a blood relation to late mr. mark michelle, neither is it necessary to bear the same surname with him. it is even not important for the stand-in next of kin to be a french national.

Already, i have worked out modalities for achieving my aim of appointing a next of kin as well as transfer the money abroad for us to share in the ratio of 60% for me and 40% to you. it is my intention to achieve this transfer in a legitimate way, all i required is your honest, co-operation,confidentiality and trust to enable us see this transaction through. the money transfer paper work itself will include a certificate of origin so that the receiving bank does not ask question. also the paper work will include proper certificate that the fund being transferred is from non-criminal sources. in short this will be a proper and legal money transfer with apparently no risk involved. the transaction is guaranteed to succeed without any problem.

As soon as i hear from you, i shall provide you with further clarification that you may need.

your urgent response will be highly anticipated and appreciated. Best wishes,

Mr.Charles Brown.
Telephone:+234 803 881 4129

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hating America?

Our pal Soxblog (whose real name, we can now report EXCLUSIVELY, is Dean Barnett) has a few posts up about whether or not the media is functioning as a Fifth Column, essentially aiding our enemies in the War on Terror. We can understand where he's coming from, but we beg to differ.

A little.

First of all, let's dispense with the notion that the "media" is in any way an organization of people working in concert toward a common goal. The term "media," as Dean uses it, is effectively meaningless. All newspapers? TV stations? Magazines? He's undercutting his argument at the outset by using a hollow generalization, more likely out of the convenience of the term than to be disengenuous.

That's why people who suggest that "the media is biased" are usually ignored or dismissed, as they should be. Putting it that way suggests a conspiracy carried out by the entire group, when the reality is that many of the people working in journalism happen to have a world view that leads them to embrace a more liberal political philosophy. This includes the men and women who have been hired by news organizations to report the news. Others work as editors or bureau chiefs and are responsible for making decisions about what is published or aired (see our related post below). So they decide what stories are important and what details in those stories are relevant. That is why, on balance, the media appears to be biased. But actually it's just the sum of thousands of people making thousands of decisions each day which reflect, either consciously or sub-consciously, their own personal opinions. It's human nature, and it happens with those on the left and those on the right.

But that doesn't explain things like the press reaction to the NEWSWEEK affair or the actions of 60 Minutes II in the memo scandal. Chalking it up to "media bias" does little to help us understand the lengths certain individuals in the MSM are willing to go to, in the eyes of Soxblog, do damage to the United States.

It starts with a post-modern view of the world. There is no absolute truth. Instead, truth is something that is defined by the individual, and our truth might be different than your truth. For many of you, this no doubt sounds very odd; unfortunately, many people have accepted it as a central tenet of their lives. These include many left-leaning individuals, including those working in journalism.

And if there is no absolute truth, facts don't have much value, do they? Instead, your own thoughts and feelings take precedent. That's why so many people thought that the exit polls were more accurate that the actual vote totals in the last election -- they just "knew in their hearts" that Kerry had won. Since the returns did not confirm that, they must be flawed. When you dispense with the concept of absolute truth, certified vote totals can't mean much.

But there is one type of truth that they wholeheartedly embrace: the "greater" truth. Perhaps the finest purveyor of a greater truth is everyone's favorite filmmaker, Michael Moore. The standard process for making a documentary is to gather facts (!) and interviews and footage related to a particular subject, and discover what the movie is about in the editing of all of those components together. Moore, on the other hand, starts with an assumption -- "Bush lied about WMD and sent our soldiers off to die in an unjust and unnecessary war" -- and then complies and manipulates footage to support that thesis. He ignores any evidence that contradicts his thesis; he's after the greater truth, which he knows "inherently." Moore is skillful enough that those watching his films begin to think he's got a point; it's only after Christopher Hitchens reminds the public of all the things that he left out or altered that his movies fall apart.

But that still doesn't address the question of whether or not Moore and those like him are out to sabotage America. Now, let's get something straight: are they hurting America? Undoubtedly. The fallout from the NEWSWEEK piece is confirmation of that. But are they acting as a Fifth Column to conduct such damage on purpose?


Frankly, they're not that smart. Remember, it's about the greater truth. They know certain things to be true: that Iraq never had WMDs, that Bush lied, that the war was all about oil, that Kerry won the election -- now it's just a matter of uncovering the information to confirm it. (Even journalists who don't believe in absolute truth know they need some facts...well, most of them.) These lapses in judgment are not conceieved as assaults on America; they're just efforts to prove themselves right.

So is the "media" a Fifth Column? Sometimes, to an outsider with perspective, it seems to function as such, but the reality is that its far too inept (as we're all finding out) to be acting in concert on anything. How do we know? Lucy Ramirez faxed us a memo from a Kinko's in Texas that said so...

Defining What is Fit to Print

LaShawn Barber has been taking some heat over her comments on the NEWSWEEK story. Here's what she said:
Whether Americans flushed the Koran down the toilet is irrelevant. Newsweek should not have reported it, even if true. It’s common sense, people. Those journalists knew how Muslims would react! Why would you hurt your own country and risk more deaths just to report this “fact?” To what end???

America-hating morons media!

Other than her last sentence, which is reflects poorly on her skills as a writer and undercuts the point she's trying to make, we don't think what she said was so outlandish. There's a difference, after all, in someone (say, the government) telling a media outlet (or blogger, for that matter) what it can and cannot print, and that same media outlet exercising its judgment in deciding those things for itself.

After all, isn't the slogan of our favorite newspaper (the New York Times) "All the news that's fit to print"? That seems to imply that some news is fit to print and some is not. It doesn't say "All the news that's true," (it probably couldn't get away with saying that after Jayson Blair anyway), so the veracity of a story shouldn't enter into the equation of whether it ought to be printed.

So what is used to determine what makes the Times? The judgment of its editors. (What pressure they must be under everyday to ensure that they don't miss any news that's fit to print!) How, one might ask, do they and other editors (like, say, those at NEWSWEEK) make those decisions?

Might they weigh, among other things, the impact this news might have on America's image abroad, or the efforts of those currently fighting in a war under its flag? Would it be proper to consider whether a detail as insignificant to most Americans as whether a copy of the Koran was torn or flushed in a toilet during interrogations aimed at gaining information that could lead to the capture of the man who masterminded the killings of 3,000 innocent Americans (well, innocent unless you're a student of Ward Churchill), ought to be printed in their magazine? Was the unsubstantiated report so vital (on the level of, say, the Pentagon Papers) that, after reading NEWSWEEK, that the American people rose up in droves to protest the alleged desecration of a Muslim holy text? I don't remember seeing that revolt reported on CBS (though that doesn't mean it didn't happen).

For that matter, I don't remember reading about these Koran allegations in the New York Times after NEWSWEEK "revealed/confirmed" them. And if the fine journalists at the New York Times didn't find the story fit to print, why should anyone be upset that LaShawn Barber doesn't?


Ann Coulter pretty much gets the last word on the NEWSWEEK story. Hilarious, and touching.

Breaking News

Antonio Villaraigosa elected mayor of Los Angeles.

Our reaction: yawn.

(More thoughts to follow. Maybe.)


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Oh, Please

The headline: Jane Fonda film banned from Kentucky theaters.

Our first reaction: come on. Please. Of course it's over what she said and did during the Vietnam War, which we assumed and was confirmed by the story.

Look, we get it that people were pissed off at what Jane did. Jane herself has apologized for the incident that led to her being dubbed, "Hanoi Jane." But people, that was 30 years ago. Jane Fonda did not direct the movie "Monster-in-Law," Jane Fonda did not produce the movie "Monster-in-Law," Jane Fonda happened to play one of the roles in "Monster-in-Law." It's a comedy -- about marriage and in-laws. It's not about Vietnam. It's not about Jane. It doesn't have a pro- or anti-war message (that we're away of). Why punish all of the other people involved with the creation of this movie -- as well as all of the people who'd like to see it (and many did/do, as it opened at number one) just because Jane did something wrong 30 years ago?

Yes, that anger is justified. But it also makes the person who possesses it petty and small. It happened a long time ago, it's been apologized for -- you don't like Jane Fonda. Fine. But this is not just Jane Fonda's movie.

And yet...this is America. Theater-owners, like any other business owners, have the right to choose what they'll sell (or in this case distribute) and what they won't. So this particular theater-owner certainly can choose not to show the film. For any number of reasons, that Jane Fonda is in it and he doesn't like her much being one of them. He can even plaster on his marquee "No Jane Fonda movie in this theater," which he did. And he attracted the attention of our old friend, the Associated Press.

Which means that there's a second side to this story. First, we're assuming that what the Associated Press is reporting is true. (If it turns out not to be the case, we'll retract this post.) It's pretty clear that this is being positioned by the AP as a red state nut going all crazy and over-reacting -- read the story yourself. The fact that it took place in Kentucky, which is included in the headline, and not, say, Vermont, seems to be considered fairly relevant to the reporter/editor. The other interesting aspect is the use of syntax. The theater-owner decides not to show "Monster-in-Law" because Fonda's in it; the AP proclaims that "Jane Fonda Film" has been "Banned from Kentucky Theaters." Well, kind of. Just two, owned by the same person. And he didn't ban the movie, he just chose not to show it. But then, that's less dramatic.

We don't feel too sorry for the owner being depicted as a bit of a yahoo -- he invited the publicity by proclaiming it from the theater marquee. It's hardly surprising that the AP took the story and ran with it. They did their part; he did his. He's getting the free publicity, after all, and a feeling among people with certain views that he's sticking it to the right group of people. (How effective one theater-owner can be in punishing Fonda for something she did 30+ years ago isn't really a big concern to them, or the AP for that matter.)

So, to recap: not showing "Monster-in-Law" because Hanoi Jane is in it is stupid. And so is calling someone's decision not to exhibit it a "ban." And somehow, none of us is surprised at any of this. Ah, America.

Dumbest HuffPost date

Can anyone tell me, are they going to bring back the draft? I have three sons -- all nearly teenagers -- and am terrified that they will. Why don't they make it that just Republican kids get called up?
The blogger? That well-regarded thinker, Kathy Ireland. Yeah.

UPDATE: Wait! It's a different Kathy Ireland. Who goes by Kathryn Ireland. (Even the model Kathy Ireland probably isn't dumb enough to post that.)

So, uh, about NEWSWEEK...

Everyone's talking about the NEWSWEEK problem. We'd call it a scandal, but it's not really that. It's more of a revelation of the inner workings of a MSM magazine, how it covers stories, the standards it uses, etc. Can we assume that other similar mistakes were made in the past? That's probably a safe bet. Have they also caused people to lose their lives? Hard to tell.

A few years ago, when Ari Fleischer said people need to watch what they say, everyone (well, stupid people) thought it signaled us entering a Big Brother phase. But really, this (the NEWSWEEK, uh, thing) is closer to what he was talking about. It's not about getting the story -- it's about getting the story right. That's the responsibility that all journalists have, bloggers included. People's lives are at stake in the war that we're fighting; it's high time that organizations like NEWSWEEK (and reporters like Mike Isikoff) started taking it seriously.

The Huffington Post

We've been reading the HuffPost like everyone else out there (don't lie!) and we want to say a few things.

First, these people are not bloggers. They're not getting comments from their readers, and unless a fellow HuffPost blogger takes umbrage at something they've written (and decided to start a little spat), there's no accountability.

Second, Arianna Huffington is annoying as hell. She happens to live in our neighborhood, so that's no surprise to us. But her little MC of the HuffPost bit is already wearing on our nerves. She also seems to have adapted a "messenger to the people" role about blogging; she's clearly trying to position herself as an expert on this emerging form of communication, and she's clearly not an expert. But what do the people know? Idiots, all of them! If only the media would truly report and inform them on...

Which brings us to our third note: stop with the "if only the media would report on..." whining. You want to expose something? Investigate it (or have your assistant investigate it). Then post on it. Then wait for feedback. If people poke holes in it, defend what you've written. Or, if you can't defend it, admit your mistake, stick your tail between your legs and realize that maybe the reason no media outlets are publicizing the conspiracy is because there was no conspiracy. And don't be late for your colonic.

Fourth: poor Byron York. He's playing by the real world rules. Jim Lampley -- a talented sportscaster -- is not. Lampley alleges something. York says, give us a break. Lampley says, you neocons never take us seriously! You're so mean! You can't actually rebut what I said, so you have to say mean things! York then notes multiple investigations that failed to find anything to support the allegations. Yes, notes Lampley, but they didn't prove the allegations were false! And of course they're going to say what they said -- they're part of the conspiracy! Now, the next time some nitwit posts something crazy, do you think that Byron York is going to take the time to rebut it? I mean, I imagine that he has a real life and obviously he has a real job and trying to convince Jim Lampley that Jim Lampley is crazy just takes too much time.

Fifth: this could be a good thing (the HuffPost). If they open it up to feedback. If these bloggers get called on their posts by commenters (and not just fellow bloggers). If they realize that it's about the quality of what they post, not the fact that they said something. And also if they LEARN HOW TO BLOG. Did none of them do their homework? Did none of them (except for the ones who already were bloggers) do any kind of research to find out the market they were getting into? Or did they just assume that they could pretty much redefine whatever it was that we people had established as the form and protocol these last few years? Yeah. Good luck.

Sixth: Nikki Finke usually has some interesting stuff in her LA Weekly column. But the HuffPost piece was sad.

Seventh: Did we mention that we live in Arianna's neighborhood? And that we're young and with it (you know, what the kids are saying these days). And that we're available to join the HuffPost blog? Yes, we're willing to join the HuffPost blog. We'll even make some cookies and bring them over to Arianna's place. Arianna, forget about that stuff we said about you earlier. We really love you and we love the Greek peoples and we love everything Greece-related and we were so going to vote for you in the recall election and you've got pretty much the sweetest gate leading up to your house in the whole neighborhood. So give us a call. We'll meet at Toscana (and we can go Dutch, that's cool). Or email us. (By the way, we're only one person but we write in the plural -- it makes it sound more official! Like we're a committee of thinkers or something!) casualobserver[at]

It's Pat!

Pat Buchanan is back this week with more controversial (!) statements, this time telling the Washington Times that conservatism is dead.
Mr. Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, says conservatism "is at war with itself over foreign policy, over deficit hawks versus supply-siders."

Unnamed phonies, he suggests, have infiltrated the movement.

There are "a lot of people who call themselves conservative but who, on many issues, I just don't consider as conservative. They are big-government people."
Let us say, first, that if conservatism is at war with itself, this is a good thing. The alternative -- standing still and refusing to take a critical look at what you really believe in and why -- is not an effective strategy for long term success. (See: Democratic Party.)

And there does seem to be a disconnect between old-school conservatives (like Buchanan) and the new breed of conservatives (which, for lack of a better term, have been labeled "neoconservatives"). Now, we're not the National Review, so we're not going to get into a big exegis on what conservatism means and the history of the movement, but we can speak about what Buchanan discussed from an anecdotal perspective. We grew up in a red state (that even voted for Dole!) in a conservative, religious household. We went off to college in Los Angeles. A few weeks into our first semester, 9/11 happened. And all of a sudden, everyone was a conservative.

When it came to the defense of our country, there wasn't much debate over the best philosophy for action. We were surprised at how many of our fellow students supported the President and the war in Iraq even in the face of left-leaning professors invoking the spector of Vietnam. These kids, for the most part, were not raised in a traditionally conservative household; instead of going to campus church services, they were in their dorms smoking pot. Socially, they were probably closer to libertarian than anything else. And as far as foreign policy, they were conservative.

These kids (and their parents) are a big reason why John Kerry couldn't beat George W. Bush. Sure, the less solid converts went back to their old ways when things went bad in Iraq, but a sizeable number of the new conservatives stuck with the President after realizing that Kerry didn't understand the War on Terror the same way that they and the President did.

And these people, along with a large percentage of long term conservatives, aren't quite as militant in their beliefs as Buchanon would like. That's the chasm between the old and the new. Whereas Pat and Friends are very concerned with the deficit, most of the new conservatives accept that certain government programs (like Social Security) can be beneficial and certainly aren't evil. As a idealist, we'd like to see the government involved in people's lives as little as possible; as realists, we know it's going to happen to a certain extent, so let's be smart about it.

Part of it, we think, is due to the change-the-world attitude that often infects the country's youth. That makes it easier to accept that the government functioning as a safety net without thinking that the sky is falling. Is this a softening of conservative values? Perhaps, but conservatism has always been something of a fluid notion to begin with; ironic, considering the base meaning of the term, but we're not talking about revising the basic principles here. Only adjusting to what degree they're carried out.

On a recent appearance on C-SPAN's Q-and-A series, Charles Krauthammer listed FDR as the greatest president of the 20th Century (this was before the President made his remarks about FDR at Yalta), in part because he saved democracy by "softening it up." It's easy to forget how communism was sweeping other parts of the world at the time; there were certainly many Americans frustrated with the current system and enamored with the ideas of Karl Marx. At that point in time, we practiced a very pure form of capitalism. Yes, it brought the country great wealth, but there was a heartless side to it as well. When the stock market crashed, that side was fully exposed. Someone had to do something, and because FDR softened up our economic system, he was able to ward off what may have been an impending revolution, one that would have been extremely destructive and difficult to recover from.

And what Pat Buchanan laments about contemporary conservatism sounds do us a bit like the softening up that FDR did back in the 1930s. For hard liners, it's not a welcome change, but in the long term, it might be just what the movement needs.

His other concern, about cultural decay, is not something that can really be controlled or impeded politically (and certainly not legislatively). In the end, the most effective way of turning the tide is to let things get "bad" enough that the majority of Americans see that taking a libertarian point of view on these kinds of social issues is not the best idea. And usually that happens when they start having kids of their own.

Deja Vu

We're back...again. Another extended sabbatical from blogging has come and gone, and we're rejuvenated. Time to jump back in with all of those impressive thoughts that you've come to expect from the Casual Observer.

A programming note: actually, this isn't a programming note, but it sounded good so we're going with it. Over the last few months (when we've been on leave), we've been keeping an eye on the blogosphere -- from the "inside" and also from what could be considered the outside: the standard MSM-dominated sphere. At times we have gotten our news from the internet, at times from newspapers, and at times from magazines. It's been interesting to see how plugged in one needs to be to keep up with what's going on. As far as we can tell, much of the blogosphere does serve as an echo chamber (especially since the presidential election is over and no longer providing new blogging material each day), with a few stories bubbling up to the general populace and a few notable bloggers weighing in on issues in the vein of the best op-ed columnists out there.

The point is that we've got a new perspective on all of this; one that -- hopefully -- makes us a better blogger. We'll see...