Friday, August 19, 2005

Gratuitous insults at the BBC

The BBC website has a page called From the editor’s desk, which is a weekly column written by Pete Clifton, the BBC’s news website editor. He usually addresses issues and controversies about the BBC, and publishes comments solicited from readers. Last week, the BBC’s failure to pay “citizen contributors” for amateur pictures of the 7/7 bombings used by the BBC continued to be an on-going theme. One reader, identified as Alan from New York, wrote in criticizing the BBC’s claim that it wasn’t commercially profiting from its use of the photos, saying:
You must think people stupid... you use the pictures to attract clicks, which increases advertising revenues... that statement is insulting the intelligence of your readers, who had been kind enough to submit them.
This, of course, was a rather ignorant thing to say, given that the BBC does not use advertising and does not get its revenues from advertising. It gets revenues instead through government coercion, ie a tax, euphemistically called a “licence fee”. The BBC’s Paul Brannan, who was filling in for the vacationing Clifton, noted the license fee and then retorted:
Given that he, like all non licence-fee payers outside the UK, gets the BBC news website for free - and without advertisements - perhaps we should be asking for a contribution from him?

Today Clifton returned, and couldn’t help but congratulate his deputy for this slap. To aid him in slamming poor Alan one more time, Clifton enlisted the help of a reader:
My deputy Paul Brannan took over the column last week as I took another much-needed rest, and there were plenty of people applauding his sharp put down of Alan from New York, who had suggested the BBC was preoccupied with advertising revenues.

Bryan from Florida, USA, observed: "As an American let me apologise for Alan from New York. He is obviously a Republican and assumes that money is the only motivation for anything. It has been a few decades since I paid the licence fee while at RAF Upper Heyford, but I don't remember commercials then, and there are certainly no advertisements on the site. Thank you for the news. It's hard to come by in the States.

Gee, I wonder how he managed to pick that one out of the “plenty” of comments he received?

Anyway, today I submitted the following to Mr. Clifton. Watch his column to see if it ever sees the light of day (outside of here, that is.)

Mr. Clifton

Given that there were "plenty of people" applauding your colleague's put down of Alan from New York, I think it is revealing that you chose to publish the one that itself managed to gratuitously put down both Republicans and American news providers. As ever, the political left (not to mention undeserved arrogance) is alive and well at the BBC.

BTW, I tend to have a more sympathetic view of Alan's ignorance regarding the BBC's financing mechanisms. I mean, unless one had direct knowledge of it, who in their right mind would ever consider that in an otherwise relatively free country like the UK, coercive measures would be implemented in order to operate a government-funded news service? In Zimbabwe, maybe, but the UK? I can imagine that for the average American it comes as rather a surprise that the vaunted BBC is so well appreciated in its own country that it has to, um, force people to pay for it.

Scott Callahan

Poor (but greedy) America

The inimitable Polly Toynbee of The Guardian offers up her opinion of the whole Gate Gourmet saga which peaked with the closing down of British Airways at Heathrow for a day last week. It is a fairly typical leftist harangue against the cruelties of economic freedom, but what concerns us here is the wholly gratuitous swipe at America with which she concludes her screed.
People are left to presume that there is no alternative to some malign economic force beyond human control. The truth is that penury and greed are political choices, not economic destiny: we can be Nordic, not American, and we can be John Lewis, not Gate Gourmet, employers if we choose.
Ah yes… those quintessentially American "choices" of penury and greed. Best, however, not to look too closely at where the impoverished US ranks in the UN’s quality of life list, or at how much those greedy Americans are giving away to the rest of the world every year.

Best also not to contemplate too much about what Toynbee is actually saying, lest the power of her point be lost in a swamp of incoherence. You might be forced to see that penury and greed are not, in fact, “political choices” made by society at all, but that they are conditions of the individual to which a given society may respond with various policy choices. No society “chooses” either, and the existence of each certainly is more akin to destiny than to a choice, greed being an inherent characteristic of human nature (a fact of which leftists have always been in denial) and poverty, particularly when defined in relative terms as leftists are wont to do, being ubiquitous throughout human existence.

As usual, the force of Toynbee’s column is best felt by those who don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Gaps, gaps everywhere

If the BBC is to be believed, the UK is rife with "gaps".

Today we find out that the newly proposed ban on smoking, or more accurately the exemptions that might be written into the ban, will widen the "health gap". This is the same "health inequality gap" that we were told a week ago is already widening even without a ban on smoking. This is not to be confused with the "education gap" we heard about 3 weeks ago, although it is probably the very same "rich" people in good health that are also disturbingly high academic achievers. (If only the rich were a little more sick and a little less smart, that "gap" would go away and the Beeb could breath a little easier. ) I'm guessing that this "education gap" is somehow related to the "black pupil exclusion gap" we heard about in March and which sees more black kids than white kids kicked out of school. (The obvious solution to this gap problem: kick more white kids out of school). All of this, of course, will undoubtedly be exacerbated by the increasing use of the Internet, which, we were told on Tuesday, could widen the "wealth gap" by making it easier for people to find just the kind of neighborhood they want (don't've got to read it.) Earlier in June the Beeb combined the themes of an education gap and a wealth gap to come up with the "graduate earnings gap" which, you'll surely be happy to know (unless you are a graduate), is apparently not as wide as it might have been. And, speaking of graduates, although not enough of them are learning French and German, resulting in a "language gap", at least one university is doing its best to eliminate the nefarious "dental gap" that Norfolk (presumably and most especially Norfolk's poor, given the education, wealth, and health gaps) is suffering under.

The BBC's quest for a fully egalitarian UK in all measures of life continues unabated.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

UK media needs to read the NY Sun

Yesterday The New York Sun had some interesting news of which, at least to date, those who get their news strictly from the British media will probably be totally unaware.

The United Nations bankrolled the production of thousands of banners, bumper stickers, mugs, and T-shirts bearing the slogan "Today Gaza and Tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem," which have been widely distributed to Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza Strip, according to a U.N. official.

The U.N. support of the Palestinian Authority's propaganda operation in the midst of the Israeli evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip has provoked outrage from Israeli and Jewish leaders, who are blaming Turtle Bay for propagating an inflammatory message that they say encourages Palestinian Arab violence.

I wonder whether and when the likes of the BBC will pick this up.

Able Danger seeing some light

Able Danger – the military intelligence operation that had identified one of the 9/11 terrorist cells way back in 1999, but apparently was prevented from informing the FBI for legal reasons - is finally getting some play this side of the Atlantic, albeit not on the UK’s vaunted, and government funded, news service.

The Times’ Sam Knight seems to be paying the closest attention with two stories so far, one back on the 9th, when the story first broke in the States, and another just yesterday. The Independent also managed to get to the story early with this one on the 10th, but has failed to follow it up with anything new. The Guardian’s man in America, Julian Borger, finally managed to, er, dig up the story just today.

The BBC, on the other hand, has yet to discover it, with exactly zero Able Danger stories to date. It is, apparently, too caught up in the ever-important Sheehan-fest (6 stories in the last week) to waste precious journalistic real estate on a mere intelligence scandal. Especially one that raises more questions about the policies of his predecessor than those of the current president.

Keep up the groundbreaking work, Beeb.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

All Cindy, all the time

The Guardian makes its contribution to Sheehan-mania today with a new piece by Gary Younge headlined “US right targets anti-war mother”.
Rightwing criticism of a bereaved mother who is camped outside President George Bush's Texas ranch in protest at the conflict in Iraq intensified yesterday as her campaign struck a nerve with growing anti-war opinion in the country.
Forget for the moment Younge’s confusion between “growing anti-war opinion” and “bored reporters stuck in the West Texas heat”. Despite the “intensified” criticism from the right, Younge manages to cite by name the criticism of only a single person, Christopher Hitchens. Granted, Hitchens’ intense support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has deprived him of his previously exalted position on the left, resulting in his (self-) banishment from the pages of The Nation, and being a Brit probably makes him of a bit more interest to a UK audience than your average American pundit. But a man who continues to accuse Henry Kissinger of being a war criminal hardly stands out as your typical American right-winger.

Which is not to say that Younge is wrong. There has been plenty of criticism of the “bereaved mother”, and, indeed, most of it from the political right. But, far from simply making his audience aware of the criticisms, Younge’s article is plainly intended to discredit any such criticism as little more than partisan, “personal attacks”. He quotes an anonymous “pro-war commentator” as characterizing Sheehan as a “nut”, and cites Hitchens’ dismissal that Sheehan is “spouting piffle” and engaging in “dreary, sentimental nonsense.” Of the large quantity of substantive criticism (James Taranto, Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, or Linda Chavez, to cite a few), including Hitchens’ own well-reasoned objections to the Sheehan media frenzy, Younge has no time whatsoever. Clearly he is only interested in criticisms which make the critics, not Sheehan, look bad.

Or, for that matter, marginalized, which explains the presence of the “rightwing” characterization, despite Hitchens’ questionable bona fides as a full-fledged man of the right. Funny, that, how supporters of Sheehan are, well, just supporters, but her detractors are “rightwing”. (In fact, if The Guardian is any indication, there is virtually no such thing as an American leftwing. A search of their website articles for “rightwing US” turns up 51 articles. A search for “leftwing US” turns up exactly one…oddly, an article about mothers.)

The Guardian even manages a dig at Sheehan’s poor husband, who, as was noted yesterday, has filed for a divorce. After warning of increased “personal attacks on Sheehan as a result of this news, Younge tells us:
Patrick Sheehan, who was her high school boyfriend, is seeking a share of insurance money and benefits awarded by the US government after their soldier son's death in Iraq.
Sure, he’s seeking a share of all of their California-defined community assets, as pretty much all divorce participants do, but filling us in on the petty details of the divorce is hardly Younge’s point, is it? Better you be left with the impression that her husband seeks to profit from his son’s death than you think that even he is tired of her shenanigans.

Yes, The Guardian is just that low.

Anti-competitive competition

In a classic demonstration of the lack of fidelity to language seemingly inherent in government bureaucracies, the European Commission says it wants to increase market competition by, er, putting limits on who can compete.

The European Commission is putting pressure on the English Premier League to change the way it sells televised football rights, or face possible antitrust action for breaking EU competition law.

…the commission is looking for more concessions [from the Football Association], with some reports claiming it wants to limit any company's ownership to 50% of live games in future.


Lost in America

An American expat at The Guardian discovers yet one more thing to hate about the US…milk.

(After six and half years here in the UK, I for one still haven’t gotten used to the chunky bits of whatever-it-is that congeal on the spout of every milk carton even before it’s been opened. Blecchh.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Newsweek kudos

By the way, kudos to Newsweek which, rather than belabor the fact that Bush "refuses" to meet the demands of one mourning, media-hyped activist, decided to give us an interesting glimpse into what has happened on the many occassions when Bush has, at his own prompting, met with the families of servicemen killed in Iraq.

Although unable to entirely avoid the typical canards which define the box in which the media inevitably place Bush ("...he has never been known for admitting mistakes or regret"), Newsweek has provided a look at a generally unseen Bush. Well worth reading.

BBC - No stone unturned in its quest for quality news

The BBC, maintaining its responsibility to keep its audience up-to-date with the ins and outs of “protest mother” Cindy Sheehan, reports today the apparently irresistible news that Sheehan is getting divorced.

The husband of a bereaved mother camped outside US President George W Bush's Texas ranch has filed for divorce.

Patrick Sheehan cited "irreconcilable differences" with his wife of 28 years, Cindy Sheehan, who has demanded Mr Bush withdraws US troops from Iraq.

Why, exactly, the details of this woman’s personal travails are thought by the BBC to be of interest/value to its audience is anyone’s guess. Perhaps any reason to focus attention upon Sheehan’s continuing theatrics in Crawford is considered good enough reason for the Beeb. Of course, it might be of understandable interest if, as Sheehan is reported to have told The New York Times, the reasons for the divorce are the very antics for which she has gotten so much publicity. But the BBC, probably unwilling to tarnish the moral authority of Sheehan’s protest, instead attributes the split simply to “the stress of dealing with their son’s death.”

This only reinforces my belief, mentioned yesterday, that the media ought to be ashamed of itself for acting as enablers as Sheehan turns her private grief into a public spectacle.

Contempt from America

Harold Evans, the man whom the BBC has tapped to replace Alistair Cooke’s “Letter From America” with his own musings on the US, weighed in yesterday on the whole Intelligent Design debate. In doing so, Evans, just like his colleague Jonathon Beale previously, finds it necessary to misrepresent President Bush’s role in the controversy, albeit with a bit more literary flair, claiming that Bush has “sawed into a leafy, living branch of science - Darwinian evolution.”
He did it with his usual nonchalance, in an off-the-cuff response to a reporter, by coming out on the side of religious activists who are campaigning for public schools to retreat from Darwin and teach something called "intelligent design" or ID.
Anyone familiar with the actual exchange might be wondering just when and how Bush came out on the side of “retreat(ing) from Darwin”, but don’t fret. Our wizened BBC pundit is there to read between the lines for those of us who might have gotten taken in by, well, what was actually said.

Bush didn't saw through the Darwinian branch entirely. He said that ID should be taught alongside evolution "because part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought".

That may sound harmless enough - free speech and all that - but coming from a president already known for his disdain for scientific research, notably on global warming and stem cells, it has further dismayed the scientific community and many others.

Forget that Bush's problem is not with the science underlying claims of global warming, but rather the lack of it underlying the claim that man is its cause. Forget also that his opposition to (er, federal funding of) stem cell research is based on his consideration of ethics, not science, and that he’s even called for annual funding for that allegedly disdained scientific research into the use of umbilical placenta, adult, and animal stem cells in order to avoid the ethical dilemmas he sees with embryonic stem cells. But that is neither here nor there. As they say, never allow the facts to get in the way of a good story, and for the purposes of this story, you are supposed to simply accept that, as Evans concludes his commentary, “science altogether is in trouble with the Bush administration.”

As for that dismayed but amorphous “scientific community”, I suppose the 100 scientists who publicly proclaim themselves to be “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life,” and who think that “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged” just don’t figure in. Perhaps they’ve been excommunicated. The obediantly faithful do tend to do that to heretics.

Of course, no disposition on the teaching of evolution in the US would be complete without a recap of the famous “Monkey Trial” of John Scopes in 1925, and Evans doesn’t disappoint. Eager to rhetorically discredit ID, he briefly describes the trial and presents ID as merely a “sophisticated” evolution of the type of fundamentalist creationism that was ridiculed so successfully at the Scopes trial. (Get it? Evolution? Evans is nothing if not clever.) Actual ID proponents may claim, of course, that it has nothing to do with the Bible, but Evans apparently knows better.

Tthe real significance of the Scopes trial, however, goes right past Evans. Back in 1925, creationists were using the law to prohibit the introduction of a competing theory on the origins of man. Today, the evolutionists, having won the legal battle against creationism, are now doing precisely the same thing to ID. The irony is palpable. Yet it is an irony totally lost on Evans.

Presumably that's because Evans is a true man of faith when it comes to evolution. He says:
[A]s Charles Darwin demonstrated in his book Origin of Species in 1859, we weren't designed by any hidden hand in a single brilliant moment, but have all evolved from lower orders - ape to man - over hundreds of millions of years.
Demonstrated? One wonders, then, why Darwin called it then, and it remains characterized today, as, um, a theory. Has anyone ever “demonstrated” evolution in a replicable experiment? Evolution may be convincing, but it hasn't been "demonstrated". But again, don’t mention such things to the ever faithful Evans. You wouldn’t want to get excommunicated from the realm of “thinking Americans” who, we are told, are rather more concerned with where we are going to than with where we came from. Which, Evans promises, will be the subject of his report next week.

I just can’t wait.

Addendum: Do not confuse the above with a brief for intelligent design. My own personal views on the existence of a supreme being would tend to rule out the possibility of ID. But there are enough very smart people who disagree with me to make me significantly less disdainful of their views than Evans apparently is.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Redneck America?

One other thing about the Baxter article. Describing the impact of Bush’s vacations in Texas, she writes:
In the past, Bush’s visits to Crawford, where he clears scrubland and cuts logs with a chainsaw, have impressed voters in redneck America.
Since when have derogatory characterizations become acceptable group identifiers in news stories at The Times? If this is a new policy, I look forward to reading things like “In the past Rodham-Clinton’s speeches to the American Bar Association, in which she’s opposed tort-law reform, have impressed fundraisers in the shyster community.”

The Times hops on the Sheehan bandwagon

At the end of an article focusing primarily on conservative critics of Bush, Sunday Times reporter Sarah Baxter gives more play to Cindy Sheehan’s publicity campaign, highlighted earlier on TAE.

However, peace protesters are being drawn to his ranch inspired by Sheehan’s vigil in memory of her soldier son. Her mission as a “broken-hearted mother”, as she calls herself, has been covered around the clock by the American media.

“I see people in tents outside the White House all the time and they never get any attention,” said Judd Legum of the Center for American Progress, an activist group. “She seems to have found a soft spot.”

Bush’s refusal to meet Sheehan, despite expressing sympathy for her loss, has come to symbolise his air of isolation. Critics believe he needs to reconnect with the American people over the issues at stake.

Has come to symbolize his (presumed) air of isolation…to whom? Perhaps to Baxter (a fact she obviously cannot acknowledge in an ostensibly straight news article), but to me, and I think probably to other reasonably intelligent people, it symbolizes his political sanity. What politician in his right mind would consent to a publicity-stunt meeting aimed at drawing attention to a woman who gives speeches like this? (Frankly, the media ought to be ashamed of itself for putting the spotlight on a woman whose understandable grief has so unhinged her.)

Besides which, what Baxter doesn’t let you know is that, prior to her campaign to vilify Bush, he in fact already did meet with her. As recounted by her local California newspaper last year, Bush met with Sheehan and her family last June, part of a Bush effort to meet with families of American soldiers who have died in Iraq.

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.

"We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us," Pat said.

Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.

"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."

It seems Mrs. Sheehan, who now calls Bush a "lying bastard" and an “evil maniac”, has had a change of heart.