April 30, 2003
 
'Helpful' Error Messages

Like many men, I do not like to spend much time shopping. I spend time researching what particular model may best suit my needs, but then I want to quickly acquire it. So I use mySimon a lot. It is a shopbot that searches the internet for the lowest price it can find on a given model. It is not perfect, but is helpful and usually saves time. However, today it had a problem.

Despite this amusing message, I still recommend the site.

 
 
 
April 29, 2003
 
Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Who is the web-savviest nation of them all? Not the United States, even though they held the title for three years running. Not Singapore, which was my guess (it is easy to run fiber optics over an entire island). According to IBM and the Economist, Sweden is now the most web-savvy nation of all.

"E-readiness" criteria spans a wide range, from telephone penetration to online security to intellectual property protection, translating into whether a country's business environment is conducive to Internet-based commercial opportunities. Covering the world's largest markets, the rankings aim to provide a useful guide for companies seeking to invest in technology-savvy countries, as well as governments looking to reap the benefits of the digital age.

"Northwest Europe, North America and Australia are at virtually similar levels," said Peter Korsten, European executive director at IBM's Institute for Business Value. Absent from the top 15 were France and Italy, which were clearly second league in "connectivity" and "consumer and business adoption". "They're laggards and that's a bit scary," Korsten said


I can understand why France is a laggard. Before the internet was adopted by the public, the French led the world with an innovative Minitel system that gave consumers access to some databases from home. Consumers could contact their banks, check movie times, and do many things that we now all do via the internet. And the French were doing this with Minitel long before the first web browser was created in the States. However, IMO, this is a large reason why the French have been very slow to adopt the internet. They already had some of the benefits, so they had less to gain by converting to the internet. However, I do not understand why Italy is lagging the rest of Europe. If anyone has any ideas, send me an email (quixote at this site dot com).

 
 
Prom Night (hat tip Lady Quixote)

Imagine you are the parents of a teenager who is going to the prom. You receive a letter from the school which already taught your child about sex. The letter includes the following statements:

We realize students may participate in reckless physical behavior. As a result of this knowledge, the school will be renting a limited amount of hotel rooms for private parties. Throughout the dance, we will also be distributing a `Bubbler Condom Care Package' containing free condoms and a brochure about the dangers of unprotected sex.

Fortunately, this was an anonymous prank. Presumably the prankster was one of the students who enjoyed a good laugh over this. I laughed too, but the scary thing is that this could actually be real in some school districts.

 
 
 
April 28, 2003
 
Education and Self-Esteem

Before I discuss a paper I recently read, let me give you some background on how professors generate articles. In theory, academics are in the business of creating knowledge. Rightly or wrongly, most professors at "research" (i.e., better funded) schools see research as their primary focus. Teaching and other service obligations are important, but take a back seat to creating knowledge. I always thought it would make an interesting study to see if taxpayers, students, and politicians shared the same priorities, but such is the current state of higher education in America.

Given this focus, professors at research institutions must publish to obtain tenure. Even after obtaining tenure, associate professors must continue to publish to become full professors and all must continue to publish to receive raises. The intent of this requirement was to increase the amount of knowledge created by professors. In practice, it buries good research under piles and piles of poor research done by professors who would prefer to concentrate on teaching or service, but are obligated to publish to succeed. So when a good paper is found, it well worth reading. I define a good paper as a well-written paper that clearly communicates a finding. A well-written paper based upon empirical (observed) data and with minimal scientific flaws is a jewel.

Professors Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs have published such a jewel in the May 2003 edition of Psychological Science in the Public Interest. They wrote a review on what is known about high self-esteem. A well written review is a great contribution because the authors sift through literally thousands of scientific reports on a subject, weed out those with major flaws, and summarize the findings of the good studies. This review on self-esteem clearly and objectively laid out the scientific findings on self-esteem that have been published since the seventies. I was most interested in their findings on self-esteem and academic performance.

We have not found evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic interventions or school programs) causes benefits. Our findings do not support continued widespread efforts to boost self-esteem in the hope that it will by itself foster improved outcomes. In view of the heterogeneity of self-esteem, indiscriminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism, with its less desirable consequences. [such as an increased tendency to bully others, to commit violence, and to cheat] Instead we recommend using praise to boost self-esteem as a reward for socially desirable behavior and self-improvement.

This conclusion was based upon many studies that were referenced in the article. I found two findings very interesting. If anything, self-esteem in America is high. The average person regards himself or herself as above average. Just like Lake Woebegone, everyone is better than average.

The article summarized the work of Professors Korsyth and Kerr (1999) who did an experiment with college students. Students who received poor grades on their first examination were randomly assigned to a research group (without their knowledge). The control group received an email from the professor each week with information about their next assignment. The experimental group also received this information, but the professor also included a personal message aimed at boosting their own self-esteem. The students who received the boost to self-esteem performed significantly worse than those in the control group on the next exams.

So by eliminating the common-sense connection between performance and praise (by praising poor performance), the students were less motivated to perform and did poorly. There is a lesson here for all of us no matter what role we play - teacher, parent, friend, co-worker. Indiscriminate praise is less than worthless, it is harmful. Hopefully, school programs that promote indiscriminate self-esteem will pay attention to these findings.

 
 
 
April 25, 2003
 
Watch Florida

Most celebrities believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity. In other words, bad press is better than no press. And if you can get in the middle of a controversy, you are assured of attention. To a large extent, this need for publicity applies to politicians as well. Look at Katherine Harris. She was the Secretary of State for Florida during the 2000 presidential elections. After certifying that George W. Bush won the State of Florida by 537 votes, she was hated by Democrats (even receiving death threats) and loved by Republicans. She made the most of her publicity, writing a book Center of the Storm and running for Congress in 2002. She won.

Now that she has been in office only four months, she may be running for the Senate in the 2004 election (hat tip Taegan Goddard). Currently, she refuses to comment on it, but it makes sense - especially if Senator Graham does not run for re-election. Graham may decide to concentrate on the presidential election and he probably has the best chance of winning against Bush than any other Democrat in my opinion. The Democratic Party would not want Graham running for both seats (even if this is allowed under Florida law - I am not sure about this). If Graham won both positions, he would obviously be President and Florida Governor Jeb Bush would appoint a Republican to Graham's vacant Senate seat. So it is unlikely Graham will run for both positions, at least not if he can win the Democratic primary.

Let me explain a few things. 1) I am not predicting that Graham will win the Democratic primary. If he does, I think he has the best chance of beating Bush because he might carry Florida. However, there are others running that may be more appealing to Democrats 2) Graham could decide to run for both positions and see how the early primaries go. If he is doing well, he can drop out of the Senate race and let another Democrat run. If he is doing poorly, he could drop out of the Presidential race and stay in the Senate race. So I predict he will run for both offices.

However, it all depends upon Graham. Politics being politics, there are always options. If Graham would prefer a chance at the Presidency and would settle for being Vice-President (which is also a chance at the Presidency), then he will probably not run for the Senate. This is because of how important Florida is in the election. Even if Graham does not win the Democratic primary, he will probably be the winner’s first choice for vice-president because it might swing Florida.

 
 
 
April 23, 2003
 
32 and Counting

Believe it or not, there are already thirty-two Democratic contenders for their party's presidential nominee. Project Vote Smart has been keeping tabs. It is way too early for me to get excited about the various contenders. Right now, I mostly watch just to see how the leaders differentiate themselves on the Liberation of Iraq and on abortion. Unfortunately, the Democrats seem as beholden to the pro-abortion crowd as the Republicans are tied to big corporations. Once abortion is finally made illegal again, I suspect this will finally open the door to pro-life Democrats being able to actually win their party's presidential nomination.

Speaking of abortion and Democrats, Senator Daschle's priest has told him he should not call himself Catholic since Daschle supports abortion. Apparently, this was supposed to be a private note between the priest and Daschle, but the press found out. Daschle was already expecting a tough race next year, this may prove the deciding factor in his upset

 
 
 
April 22, 2003
 
Nuclear Power, Revisited

The International Atomic Energy Agency is the UN agency whose responsibilities include the development of

nuclear safety standards and, based on these standards, promotes the achievement and maintenance of high levels of safety in applications of nuclear energy, as well as the protection of human health and the environment against ionizing radiation

Inspector Hans Blix was the leader of the IAEA for 16 years (1981 to 1997). On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear accident man has ever known occurred at Chernobyl. In a 1992 speech, Blix stated that The accident at Chernobyl occurred because of deficiencies in the design and because several safety systems had in fact been switched off. [emphasis added]. Last week Dean and yours truly had a disagreement about the safety of nuclear power. We both agreed that nuclear power has the potential to be a safe source of power and the engineering hurdles can be overcome. However, I oppose the production of any new nuclear facilities near human development because of the potential for human error. Chernobyl has been a case in point -- the human element in the equation turned off several safety systems that were designed to prevent such a disaster. This brings to mind an old engineer adage that you cannot make something foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

Today, another example of the problems with the human element and nuclear power was emailed to me by Drew (California). The concrete-and-steel sarcophagus containing the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine is in danger of collapsing, Russia's atomic energy minister said Tuesday. A little research turned up this piece of history. According to the Associated Press (January 13, 1987) the Swedish director-general of the U.N.-affiliated agency [Hans Blix] "expressed satisfaction" with the clean-up work Drew remembered that the IAEA had certified that the concrete shell around the reactor would last for centuries. I could not find verification of this, but it sounds reasonable given the half-life of the materials - some will still be hot in 3000 AD. Yet less than 20 years later, more containment is needed to prevent further environmental harm.

So, I will remain with the leftists (and a large number of independents and conservatives) on this issue. There are safer ways to obtain electricity than nuclear power. The costs of mistakes are just too high - and my reasons for opposing new nuclear facilities continues to be my assessment of human nature, not engineering constraints.

 
 
 
April 21, 2003
 
Politically Incorrect Murder

According to the Parsippany Daily Record (hat tip to the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web) the NOW thinks it is OK for anyone, not just abortionists, to kill babies before they are born.

The head of the National Organization for Women's Morris County chapter is opposing a double-murder charge in the Laci Peterson case, saying it could provide ammunition to the pro-life lobby.

The second murder charge against Peterson is crucial because he otherwise would not be eligible for the death penalty. The double-murder charge qualifies as a "special circumstance" for which capital punishment may be sought.


So if Scott Peterson had just beat his wife so that she lived but their 8-month old unborn son died, NOW thinks Scott should only be charged for the beating? Murder by any other name is still murder. How many more babies will die before this unconstitutional "right" to an abortion is overturned?

 
 
Protestor Psychology

This weekend I made the time for some personal reading. I found a report that described the motivation of many leftist protestors who wanted the US to stay out of Iraq.

The situation is extremely dangerous and uncertain. The Peace Wagers, brilliant, unwearied by the heaviest responsibility that anyone else may bear, are not bought traitors, but a phenomenon brought on by the Americans' creation of plenty beyond previous dreams of wealth, and their simultaneous minute dividing of experience into numerous parts, so that one man knows on the right paw of an animal, while another spends his life studying the root of the upper left tooth--this, and the withholding of responsibility for long periods of time, act as a rot on the sources of judgment, and here we see the result... These people are no part of any plot; but the plotters rely on the unwitting help of these brave cowards, these moronic geniuses...




These words were actually taken from some old science-fiction stories written in the late sixties and early seventies by Christopher Anvil (a scholar, who like myself, sometimes preferred writing under a pseudonym). These stories have been compiled into a book, Pandora's Legions - a delightful tale of what happens when Earth is conquered by aliens and starts exporting ideologies. Pretty soon, the tale is wagging the dog as the conquerors try to handle communism, mass protests, unbridled capitalism, and all of the other delights of Pandora's Planet (Earth).

I merely substituted Americans for Earthmen when I copied a report on the motivation of protestors from the book. While Anvil was obviously being tongue-in-check, it sounds very familiar, doesn't it? Anvil never mentioned human shields, but I don't think he would be surprised.

 
 
 
April 19, 2003
 
Operation Weasel (link via Command Post)

One of the reasons some politicians voted against liberating Iraq was that it would distract the Bush Administration from its war on terror. Other politicians have blasted the White House for concentrating on Iraq when they believe North Korea is the greater threat.

Well not only has North Korea's recent well-behaved (relatively) diplomacy been a result of the White House's policy of ignoring North Korea rants while pursing a multilateral Asian policy of containment, the US has also been working behind the scenes. Reuters released information showing the White House has successfully dealt a major blow to North Korea's nuclear program. With the help of Nauru, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Thailand, the Philippines and Spain, Operation Weasel successfully allowed up to 20 high-ranking North Korean military officers and nuclear scientists to defect to the United States.

While this incident is a major accomplishment for the Bush administration and its allies, it also epitomizes why the United States is one of the most successful countries in the world. People from all over the world want to live here and when offered the chance to obtain U.S. citizenship, brilliant scientists usually jump at the opportunity. From North Korea's perspective, this "brain drain" is a major blow to their future plans. From the U.S. perspective, this was a peaceful method of adding to our cultural and intellectual diversity while simultaneously hindering a rouge nation from its plans for developing nuclear technology.

 
 
 
April 17, 2003
 
Alternative Power vs. Nuclear Power

One of the pleasures of blogging is that it promotes the free exchange of ideas amongst people with various perspectives. This post started out as a response to one of Dean's comments, but I wrote enough on the matter that I decided to post it here. If you don't feel like reading all the comments at Dean's World, here is the latest post to which I am responding.

Yes, Admiral, I'm afraid that on nuclear power I'll have to consider you a luddite. Because the human factors involved in nuclear power are no greater than the human hazards involved in the handling of any hazardous material--and are usually less hazardous than what's found in the handling of other hazardous materials.

Sorry man. But living near a nuke plant wouldn't make you an expert, either. :-(

We have rejected the safest, most cost-effective, and least environmentally harmful power generation technology in history, and now some are upset that we might continue using artificial oil? :-(

As for the criminal possibilities in this new technology: the mind boggles, doesn't it?

And yes, if this thing pans out, it will be "a whole new world." How do you get rid of sewage? Make oil out of it. Old food? Ditto. Old plastic? Ditto.

Massive savings both in terms of landfill and cheap power.


Well, I guess I'll have to live with being considered a Luddite ;-) And no, I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, just a reasonably informed layman who has had similar discussions with experts who run nuclear powerplants.

But I strongly disagree with your characterization of nuclear power as the safest and least environmentally harmful power generation in history. Reasonable, intelligent, and well-informed experts in the field may disagree without being Luddites (in fact, some of those running the nuclear reactors I mentioned do not advocate building more of them - and they are certainly experts by any definition). I'll stipulate that nuclear power has the potential to be everything you advocate, but in practice it has fallen woefully short of its potential. Do you have any references to support your claim? I find it inconceivable that an intelligent person such as yourself would think nuclear power is safer and less environmentally harmful than some alternatives such as tapping geothermal energy. Do you really believe this? If so, please elaborate so I might understand. I'll start by providing a basic reference to geothermal projects.

Regarding the comparison of nuclear to hydroelectric power, the outcome of any comparison will be probably be determined by what criteria you use and if you use discuss theoretical implications vs. actual implications. For example, in theory nuclear waste can be safely stored. In practice, some escapes and gets into the local eco-system.

Let me give you two examples from when I resided in Tennessee. When the locals went deer hunting in National Parks in East Tennessee (not in Oak Ridge, just in public lands that were "downstream" of Oak Ridge (if downstream is the appropriate word for underwater rivers), they were supposed to get their deer scanned by an ORNL official for radiation. Approximately one out of three deer were confiscated by ORNL as being unsafe for human consumption. Make me wonder about how many wells are using that same ground water for human consumption and/or crop watering... Another example - sometime ago, ORNL put in geiger counters at their guarded entrance to ensure no one smuggled radioactive substances away from the lab. However, the guards were shocked to discover that when it rained, incoming cars were setting off the detectors. The rain had caused frogs - miles from ORNL - to hop onto the highway where many were run over by cars. Some of these frogs had consumed so much radioactive substances from their environment that the parts that stuck to the tires were setting off the geiger counters. And ORNL is considered to be one of the best-run nuclear facilities in the country... Short of buying a personal geiger detector, there is no way to protect myself from the dangers of radioactive contamination once this hazard has gotten into the ground water other than moving to another environment.

Yes, I agree hydro-electric power has some problems. Ignoring the risks of construction, which are true for any project (dams, nuclear power plants, tidal generators, etc.), the only risk to human life that hydro-electric generators pose is to those downstream if the dam is destroyed. In some cases, even this is not a risk (e.g,. if the hydro-electric facilities were destroyed at Niagara Falls the only loss of human life would be any tourists and workers who might be inside/under them at the time). Careful placement of hydro-electric projects and care about where downstream facilities are located can minimize any risk to human life. Other hydro-electric projects (such as tidal generators) pose no risk to humans after construction. Now the creation of most hydro-electric projects will have an environmental impact that will reduce the viability of some species and increase the viability of other species. But this comes back to the issue of criteria. I freely admit that I am human-centric. If a project benefits humanity but causes a variant of owl to become extinct from the region, I'll wave goodbye to the owl. I'll look for an eco-friendly solution, but humans come first. And the loss of a subspecies (in the region) will be compensated for as other animals are attracted by the change in environment. Compare this to the frogs and deer near Oak Ridge that are undergoing cancer and mutations due to a radioactive environment. There are legitimate reasons why 20% of the world's power is generated by hydro-electric generators (BTW, if you have a good source for how the world's power is generated by energy segment, I'd be quite interested - I do not really trust the few things I've found on the internet since they were posted by advocacy groups).

Well we may just agree to disagree on this issue, but I would like to better understand your perspective so long as you can provide some references. I can understand while you support nuclear power, but I have trouble understanding why you think it is safer than many other options.

And I would agree that anyone has problems with us moving to artificial oil - that is produced by eliminating waste products that are currently burned or buried - is truly a Luddite. As Voltaire said, the enemy of the good is the perfect. Artificial oil will have some disadvantages, but it is much better than our current situation. I'd be happy to switch to this technology while I await the perfection of an even better solutions such as hydrogen-based fuel cells or cold fusion. Even if the technology may provide a challenge to law enforcement...

 
 
A Green Solution for Fuel

Check out Dean's World. Dean posted some very interesting links to some new innovations that turn biological waste products (unused turkey parts, sewage, etc.) into oil. It seems very promising.

Make sure you read the comments. My blog time for today has been spent over there. Jump on in.

 
 
 
April 16, 2003
 
Making Abortion "Safe"

One of the nasty things about abortion - besides the fact it kills children - is that abortion clinics are the most unregulated source of surgery in America. Even veterinarians must meet higher standards than abortionists. I would think even pro-aborts would advocate ensuring abortion is at least safe for the mother, but this does not seem to be the case.

The situation has gotten bad enough that some victims of botched abortions have taken the State of Texas to court. What do they want? Money? Nope. They want the court to order the State of Texas to enforce existing laws regulating abortion clinics. Other than an article in the Houston Chronicle, the media seems to be ignoring this story. The judge is hoping it will go away via mediation – if not, court resumes May 22. I'll be watching and blogging as details unfold.

 
 
 
April 15, 2003
 
Teenage Pregnancy Rate

A new study has been released about teenage sexuality. Unlike many studies I have seen, this one was actually peer reviewed. It was published in the current edition of Adolescent and Family Health. I don't know much about this outfit so I cannot speak to their biases. However, I know a fair amount about scientific research and I have read their paper.

They use secondary data (data already collected). The data came from the U.S. Government (the National Center for Health Statistics) and the research arm of Planned Parenthood (the Alan Guttmacher Institute). So their data is either unbiased or biased toward a Planned Parenthood goal. Their conclusion is all the more powerful as it refutes an earlier AGI study.

The earlier AGI study concluded that 25 percent of the decline in the teen pregnancy rate has been due to abstinence and 75 percent to the increased use of more effective contraception. You may have seen these numbers in various media articles.

The new study used more sophisticated research methods to better examine the data. For example, the AGI counted non-virgin teenage girls who had not had sex in at least a year who did not become pregnant - naturally - as those who were "at risk for pregnancy." This obviously artificially inflated the effectiveness of the contraception methods. Once this mistake (or deliberate deception) was fixed, the birthrate among sexually active teenagers actually increased! The overwhelming majority of the decline in the US teenage birthrate can be explained by abstinence. Abstinence accounted for 67% of the decline among single teenage girls.

If you would like more details, an analysis is available here. It is written for the layperson. If you enjoy research, the actual report can be downloaded here.

 
 
Today's Counter Culture
 
 
 
April 11, 2003
 
Alas Canada

From the National Post

The Western oil company with the closest ties to the late Saddam is France's TotalFinaElf. That's not the curious fact, that's just business as usual in the Fifth Republic. This is the curious fact: As Diane wrote in February and again last week, "Total's biggest shareholder is Montreal's Paul Desmarais, whose youngest son is married to Prime Minister Jean Chretien's daughter."

Let's see if I've got this straight: TotalFinaElf's largest shareholder is a subsidiary of Montreal's Power Corp, whose co-chief executive is Jean Chretien's son-in-law, Andre Desmarais. Mr. Desmarais' brother, Paul Desmarais Jr., sits on the Total board.

... if it is all about oil, then the principal North American beneficiary of the continued enslavement of the Iraqi people is the family of the Canadian Prime Minister -- that's to say, his daughter, France Chretien, and his grandchildren.


The self-serving actions of France were not a surprise. But et tu, Canada? You deserve better than PM Chretien.

 
 
Bilateral Pork

According to ABC News, the House and Senate have almost finalized the War Package although they insisted on limiting President Bush's control of the funds. Over the objections of the White House, this War Package includes approximately $3.1 billion dollars in aid to US Airlines. According to a Bush administration official, We could buy them for less.

I did some research today and looked up the market values of the airlines mentioned by the Bush official. US Airways is not included in my research because they are still coming out of bankruptcy and technically have no market value. There are some airlines in the US that are not included in this graph as I only included those mentioned by the Bush official. The market value of the airlines will change with their stock prices - the values on the graph are based upon the market value when I looked them up today.


This is an outrage! This is pork with no economic justification. The Senators and Congressmen who voted for this should be ashamed of themselves. This is corporate welfare at its worse. How can politicians justify cutting welfare while shoveling taxpayer money to the airlines by the planeful? They can't.

If the airlines truly need this amount of money to stay afloat, let them go bankrupt. Or let them receive money equal to their market capitalization (the amount that is currently budgeted), but Uncle Sam would then own 50% of every airline that took taxpayer money. These stocks could be turned over the Social Security Administration for the benefit of all Americans.

I urge you to write your Congressman and Senators and ask them to stop this travesty. Feel free to link to this site and recommend that the airlines either be self-sufficient or must give equity to the American taxpayer in exchange for receiving their hard-earned money.

 
 
A Foreign Perspective

Thomas, a German friend of mine, emailed me today. He could not believe some of the stuff that he saw at the White House website and asked me if this was really official. The answer was no, he was being confused by US free speech.

www.whitehouse.gov is the official website for the White House. However, other people purchased the various whitehouse internet extensions. For example, whitehouse.com is a porn site. As distasteful as that is, at least it is obviously not the real whitehouse site. However, whitehouse.org is a spoof site done by crude leftists (think of a lame version of the Onion, done by liberals who think vomit protests are a constructive exercise of civil rights). From a foreign perspective, whitehouse.org could easily be confused for an official site.

This left me with mixed feelings. I was thrilled that Thomas asked me instead of simply assuming that the Bush White House had gone off the deep end. However, I fear that many Europeans may come across this site, confuse it for an official site, and not bother to ask anyone. Since a lot of my readers are European, I thought I would share this experience.

One piece of trivia for you - since the US invented the internet, the US government reserved the extension .gov for official US government sites (Federal and State sites). So if a site ends in .gov, it is official. If it does not end in .gov, it is probably not an official site of the US government. (Caveat: Local governments such as cities still use traditional extensions, not the .gov extension).

 
 
 
April 10, 2003
 
Contrasting Views

Iraq







some Arab countries




 
 
Cure for HEV

Tony Woodlief discusses the problems of those infected with HEV. It is indeed a serious problem. However he claims that there is no cure. I disagree. I posted such a cure a few weeks ago.

Whenever I receive an email from someone who suffers from HEV, I email them the cure. I am pleased to say that it usually works and has no adverse results on relationships.

Update: Tony writes I have noted your excellent solution in an update to my original post. I fear it won't cure the severest cases of HEV, but it's a start.

 
 
The German People Deserve Better, Part VII

When my inbox is flooded with links to one article, that is a good indication that I should review the link. Thomas Nephew's translation of a German article was definitely worth the read. Thanks all! Two German reporters, Jochen Bittner and Reiner Luyken, interviewed some of the UN inspectors who are currently in Cyprus while they wait to see if they will be needed after the liberation of Iraq.

Could this war have been prevented? Yes, say some [inspectors]. But with a surprising argument: Germany, France and Russia made war unavoidable with their purported peace politics. Gerhard Schroeder's categorical 'no' to military deployment was simply "crazy." "We might have been able to fulfill our mandate," one hears in the hotel lobby.

The 120 inspectors noticed soon, though, that they would not reach their goal without the full cooperation of Iraqis. But they waited in vain to be approached. A warning presentation by Hans Blix on January 15 in the Security Council didn't change things. Iraq made its first concessions when Secretary of State Colin Powell presented sensational pictures, videos, and tape recordings of mobile bioweapons labs, rocket launching ramps, and munitions bunkers. And as the American threat of war became more and more clear and found more support.

The excessive surveillance of the inspectors by minders of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), which UNMOVIC had long objected to, then dropped off. For the first time, three interviews took place with Iraqi scientists with no minders present. The Iraqis also delivered some weapons programs documents that had been demanded in vain until then.


Very interesting. So the inspectors themselves did not see any useful cooperation from Iraq until immediately after Powell gave his speech and Saddam's regime feared military action. What happened next?
Blix delivered a more conciliatory situation assessment on February 14. This was the basis for Germany, France and Russia to speak of "functioning inspections" and to increasingly distance themselves from America and Great Britain. The governments in Berlin, Paris, and Moscow felt confirmed in the conviction that their peace strategy would lead to success.

The inspectors in Baghdad saw things completely differently: their position was suddenly weakened. Documents were held back again. Scientists appeared -- if at all -- only with their own tape recorders. After the conversations they had to deliver the cassettes to the NMD. The hope for greater assertiveness that had grown following Powell's speech diminished again. "After February 14 we didn't get much any more."

In hindsight a clear pattern emerged, from the viewpoint of the UN inspectors: "Saddam Hussein followed every step in the Security Council closely. As soon as divisions appeared, cooperation diminished."

"We were dependent on military pressure", an inspector emphasizes. They made no progress without the US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and without the troop deployments to Kuwait. They experienced the diplomatic tug-of-war between Washington and the European peace axis as a historical irony: from their point of view, every demand for a peaceful solution reduced the pressure on Iraq and made peace more unlikely. Success was less a question of time than one of the credible threat of the use of force.

Was the mission programmed to fail? No, say the inspectors: a united Security Council might have forced a peaceful disarmament.


I am very pleased to see this. Not because the UN inspectors themselves blame France, Germany, and Russia for the failed inspection process. Most Americans already knew this; the views of the inspectors are merely additional confirmation about things that are self-evident to most American eyes.

I am very pleased because this article was written and published by Germans, in Germany, for a German audience. This is yet another reason why I am optimistic that German-American relations can improve after Iraq is liberated (unlike my opinion about Franco-American relations).

The German people deserve better than Schroeder, and they know it.

 
 
Franco-American Relations

A few weeks ago at the Command Post, I briefly discussed an article about European fears that they would be mostly left out of the business of reconstructing Iraq. The article quoted a Mr. Claude-Henri Valluy, a senior manager at a French firm who expressed the belief French firms would be shut out of the lucrative oil business in Iraq. I opined a desire that Mr. Valluy's concerns would come true.

As an example of how far the Command Post reaches, Mr. Valluy read my words there and contacted me.

Dear Admiral Quixote,

I noticed your answer about some part of my declaration regarding French fears about future market in Iraq.

I regret the fact that this article did not mention also the comments I made regarding the long common history shared by France and USA and the fact that although France does not share the US administration position on the Iraqi issue, France and the USA are tight by a common share of vital values and common culture and have a common history of over 200 years.

I would like also to raise the fact that I have also declared that I was really disappointed by the fact that a lot of people these days are trying to focus on what divides us for the moment rather than focusing on what gathers us together.

I think the only winners of all this stupid turmoil are the enemies of our shared values.

With Kind Regards

Claude-Henri Valluy


I appreciate the time you took to write me. From my reading of the article and your note, I perceive that you are a rational, concerned man and I suspect we would get along quite well if we were neighbors. I also agree that the one of the casualties of the present conflict has been the relations between many western nations. It is hard to remember that these relations were much friendlier just 18 months ago. However, this distancing is why I made my earlier remarks.

Obviously, the early Iraqi reconstruction projects should all go to US firms since the US will be paying for them with US taxpayer money. However, your concern was aimed at larger projects that will presumably be paid for from Iraqi oil revenue. I do not expect that these contracts will be limited to the US and would not mind if US firms did not receive any of these contracts so long as they all go to members of the coalition to the extent possible. Special treatment should be given to those willing to sacrifice lives to liberate Iraq. I am sure the Iraqis will also remember who was content to leave them at the mercies of Saddam as well and expect this will have an impact on future interactions.

However, I go beyond this. I think my government should cancel all existing contracts with French firms. The US should refuse to give any new contracts to French firms for at least five years and then they should reevaluate the situation. I do not advocate imposing trade barriers or even closing the US market to the French as some other Americans desire. But I do believe that governmental contracts are a big carrot and that a wise government should only allow bids from friendly countries. Friendly countries can disagree. Friendly countries do not actively scheme to thwart the plans of each other. Recent actions have shown that the French -- as a whole -- no longer value friendship with the US. Let me explain.

I have an appreciation of the historic ties between France and America. These ties started when we were fighting for our own freedom. I know very well that the support of France in our Revolutionary War aided our efforts. While the cynical among my countrymen point out that France was "merely" helping those fighting France's traditional enemy – the British, I disagree with their conclusion that France's efforts should then be ignored. So do most Americans -- one only needs to drive through the original thirteen states and note the number of towns named Lafayette. This historical relationship was best shown in the first World War, when Colonel Charles Stanton exclaimed "Lafayette, we are here!"

America's relationship with France was rather asymmetric from that point forward, with America coming to the aid of France in World War II, Indochina, and the Cold War. I certainly do not expect a country to be grateful forever -- in fact, I fear it is human nature to eventually resent benefactors -- but Americans are constantly perplexed why France seems to delight in attempts to thwart America, instead of just agreeing to disagree. For example, many in my government disagree with the actions of the French government in Africa. Yet we have not attempted to thwart France in doing what the French believe is the right thing to do.

Let us compare that to the recent events in Iraq. When Resolution 1441 was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council, there was a clear understanding by all the parties involved that Saddam had 60 days to comply or military force would be used. Blair and Bush trusted the UNSC to stand by their agreement. Instead, Chirac and a few others spent that time laying the groundwork to thwart military involvement. The French government may have even blackmailed other countries on the matter. There is no doubt France threatened eastern European nations by telling them to shut up if they wanted to get into the EU.

Americans have no problems with countries disagreeing with us. You won't find Americans upset with the Netherlands for their views on the war. However, we will not tolerate powers scheming to prevent us from doing what we believe is right. That crosses the line from disagreement to opposition. I have hopes that relations between Germany and the US will improve again after Iraq is a free country. I especially look forward to a Germany free of Schroeder. I take comfort in the fact that most Germans disapprove of how Schroeder has handled things. Compare that to the French. Because of his attempts to thwart America, Chirac is enjoying record levels of popularity at home. One in three Frenchmen hopes the Iraqis defeat the coalition. These are not the actions of a people who appreciate a close and special relationship with the United States.

For the first time in decades, France has the attention of the United States. This is not a good thing for the French. Actions have consequences and there will be negative consequences deriving from the actions of the French government. This is especially true since these actions are clearly supported by the majority of the French people.

So if you are ever in the US, I will personally be glad to take you out to dinner and have a delightful discussion with you. I believe you are part of a sensible minority in France. Unfortunately, you are in the minority. Until your government quits attempting to thwart the efforts of my country, I sincerely believe our countries will continue to grow apart. Until your government changes, I advocate the US having less and less to do with France.

With regrets and respect,

Admiral Quixote

 
 
Changes at Solport

I moved away from Blogger for a while and tried Movable Type. I got it up and running (an interesting exercise for someone who had never used cgi files), but eventually decided to drop it. It was not as easy to customize as Blogger. I want to control how my page looks, not use a generic template. So I'm reposting what I did at MT here. So the dates will be a bit off, but Solport should be back to normal next week.

 
 
 
April 01, 2003
 
Some Comment Needed

I have received more email from a simple graph I posted here and at the Command Post than any other post I have written. I titled the post No Comment Needed. Evidently I was wrong. Given the obvious interest in the subject, I have created a simpler graph based upon the data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). As SIPRI's name implies, they are a Swedish foundation. They are peace researchers and also track those who sell weapons with the hopes public pressure will reduce weapon sales.

This new graph is based on the same data. However, since the overwhelming majority of the comments focused on the differences between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), this graph only shows the weapon sales of these five countries by name. The remaining 17.5% sold by other countries is simply captured under Others.


Please note that the data only goes through 1990. This is why you may see news information about weapons provided by firms from other countries (e.g., Jordan, Germany, etc.) that is not captured here. SIPRI only felt confident in their information up to 1990. After Saddam invaded Kuwait, any and all arm trades to Iraq would be a violation of the United Nation sanctions. Obviously, these sellers did everything possible to hide these sales and SIPRI certainly does not have all of this information.

The percentages were based upon the dollar value of the weapons sold. In US dollars (all converted to 1990 dollars by SIPRI), Iraq had purchased 43.9 billion dollars of conventional weapons.

 
 
The Dog That Did Not Bark

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery when he notices that a guard dog did not bark. Likewise, Saddam's continued silence is strong circumstantial evidence that he is either badly injured or dead. Today, Iraqi TV announced that Saddam would address his country at 8:00 PM Iraqi time (noon Eastern). As the time approached, the obvious question was would Saddam appear in a way to prove he was still alive or would there be another video that could have easily been taken from the Iraqi TV archives?

Well, the answer was neither. The Iraqi Information Minister read a letter that was allegedly written by Saddam. The dog did not bark. Saddam is dead or incapacitated.

 

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