Curveball
  Curveball  

"Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense."
- Mark Twain

"Anyone who combines politics and baseball is an idiot, because everyone knows that ping-pong is the greatest sport. Oh, and I'm really a Communist who hates NASCAR and listens to Joan Baez in the dark.
-- Glenn Reynolds

About the author
Andre Vladimir Sebastian is a figment of your imagination. Honestly, you really could have done better than him, now couldn't you? Next time, put a little effort into it.

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Barbarians
Little Green Footballs has linked to a disturbing story about the parents of Iman Salih Mutlak, the 22-year-old Iraqi woman who had tried to kill U.S. soldiers with hand grenades but was shot first. Her father has renounced her -- not for trying to kill Americans, but for leaving the house without permission or an escort. Said pop of his little girl, "When she left the house, she lost her innocence. Had she returned home, I would have killed her myself and drunk her blood." This is the nature of our enemy.

  posted by AVS @ 31.5.03


31.5.03  

 
Geldof's Solution
Three days ago I posted that Bob Geldof, who is trying to feed Africa again, should read P.J. O'Rourke on the subject of why Africa starves. Well, it seems Sir Bob (yeah, he was knighted) has spent some productive time in the library. In an op-ed for The Scotsman, he writes:

In the Eighties there was famine, and we all did Live Aid. There was a drought, the people lacked crops; but it takes more than drought and no crops to make a famine. We don't get famine in Kent, or in Kansas, when there is no rain - so why in Africa?

You need politics and economics as well as no crops to make a famine. In the Eighties in Ethiopia the politics was the longest war in the 20th century. What Band Aid could only do was apply an emergency sticking-plaster until the politics of want are put at the top of the world’s agenda.


But sadly, Bob didn't read enough. He still believes Africa can be saved with a cash bailout:

Sixty years ago Europe was wrecked. The Marshall Plan saved us.

After the Second World War, America gave one per cent of its GDP for four years in a row, to get us on our feet again. Certainly self-interest was involved: America wanted a bulwark against communism, someone friendly to trade with. But that doesn't invalidate it, and it can work again. It would not cost us a fraction of what it cost America 60 years ago.

Not one per cent, but 0.16 per cent would be enough - we would not even notice it in our economies.


He never notes the obvious flaw in his argument. The Marshall Plan was imposed upon a people whose governments had been forcibly replaced. The only way for a Marshall Plan for Africa to work would be to first remove their dictators and kleptocrats at gunpoint. Geldof is smart enough to see that politics is the problem. So why won't he take the logical final step in his line of reasoning and argue for regime change in despotic African nations? My guess is that he's still deluded by a quasi-Marxist sentiment that the redistribution of wealth will ultimately be able to solve the problem without resorting to war.

He does make an excellent point, though, in his next paragraph:

If you are worried about illegal immigration, the way to stop it, cheaply and efficiently and forever, is to make Africa a good place for Africans to live in. The vast majority of Ethiopians don't want to leave their homes.

Geldof could really have an influence deserving of his knightood if he were to be a little more realistic about his approach to the problems of poverty and famine in Africa. Debt relief and cash bailouts will help no one as long as African nations adhere to socialism.

  posted by AVS @ 31.5.03



 
This Is Just Cold


  posted by AVS @ 31.5.03



 
Holding Hands With The Devil
This afternoon a friend and I were discussing the FCC's likely relaxation of its broadcast media ownership rules (it votes on Monday). We're both solid free-market types. And we both dislike that the regulations will, in all probability, be relaxed, allowing companies to own more stations than they do now and reach a larger share of the population. Well, at one point he finally said, "screw intellectual consistency, Clear Channel is the devil," which summed up both our views rather nicely. If you have a Clear Channel radio station in your market, and you probably have more than one, you'll understand.

Actually, I don't think it's intellectually inconsistent for a free-marketer to be for heavy regulation of broadcast media ownership. Legally, the airwaves are considered a sort of public forum, and the idea is that unlike in a regular commercial marketplace, control of the airwaves is so important to the democratic exchange of ideas that the government must take preemptive action to prevent a handful of individuals or businesses from being able to filter the content that reaches that forum. You may say, well, how much idea exchanging is really going on here? News and information programming makes up a tiny fraction of the broadcast offerings. Yes, but cultural programming represents ideas, too. I think the argument that cable TV and the Internet are providing serious competition to the broadcast companies is simply not true. For one, the broadcast TV networks still dominate, reaching far more people than their cable competitors. Secondly, when you count all the cable networks that are owned by the parent companies of the broadcast networks, you still have five companies owning about 70 percent of the market, according to media analysts. There may be a lot more channels now, but there aren't that many more points of view. If anything, the FCC should further restrict ownership rules to encourage more voices to enter the forum.

I don't want us to wind up like Britain and have six channels (or however many the average Brit without a satellite dish has now). But I think the predominant reason TV and radio programming is so horrible is that the executives are grasping for the lowest common denominator in order to reach the highest possible market share. With movies and music this is less of a problem (unless you live in a small town with only one movie theater and one record store) because the industry has to appeal to niche markets. I can go into Best Buy and get every kind of music there is, or to Blockbuster or Amazon.com to find alternative films. With television and radio my choices remain highly limited. One way to curb that decline (perhaps it isn't the only or the best way, but it is a way) is to further restrict the amount of people broadcasters can reach. Forced into smaller markets, TV executives would have less incentive to dumb down the product to reach a mass audience. They could possibly reach their maximum audience by offering a higher quality prouct than they do now. I'm pretty much thinking out loud here, so maybe I'm missing an obvious reason why this wouldn't work. But I look to cable TV, where the inability to reach massive audiences produces networks focused on niche markets, and I see great TV, such as the History Channel, Discovery, National Geographic, ESPN, and C-SPAN. There's some crap out there, too, like Oxygen, but fools and idiots will find their way into any forum.

Consider the Donahue fiasco on MSNBC. Donahue had a long and very socially destructive career on broadcast television. When he moved to cable, he couldn't cut it. If the broadcast market had been sliced into tinier segments long ago, Donahue -- and Oprah and Jerry Springer and Montel Williams -- may never have been able to make it. They would have had to compete with a wider array of products, some of which would have been of a far superior quality.

Maybe I'm way off base and further deregulation will, as it has with every other industry in which it's been tried, produce a better product at a better price within broadcast media. But for now I'm highly skeptical that such an outcome will occur. And I don't think I'm alone among free market supporters. I've noticed that National Review has not jumped into this latest debate (or if they have I've missed it). But last year they ran a piece by NYU professor Elizabeth Crawford making an argument similar to mine.

  posted by AVS @ 30.5.03


30.5.03  

 
Bob Who?
Leave it to the snobs at The New York Times to ignore the most influential comedian in history and one of the most important people ever to turn 100 on the day he reached that milestone. Today is Bob Hope's 100th birthday, and this evening I checked the Times to see what they had to say about him. He wasn't on the main page. I did a search, which turned up a full page and a half of hits before getting to one lame AP story and one lame Reuters story on Hope's birthday celebrations. The paper of record didn't see fit to highlight the career of the most famous and noteworthy comic of the century on the occasion of his 100th birthday. That's because the Times had to make room for stories like this, American Culture's Debt to Gay Sons of Harvard. Makes you wonder how differently the Times would have covered Hope's centennial were he gay.

I had the pleasure of seeing Hope perform live when I was in high school. When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would watch old Bob Hope movies on Saturday mornings. In college I became a devoted Woody Allen fan only to discover later that Woody Allen's entire persona, as he freely admits, is a rip-off of Bob Hope. Hope was never the funniest comedian, nor the hippest. But he was the most prolific, most easily accessible, and the most widely loved. For the Times to give him the cold shoulder on his 100th birthday is more than in remarkably bad taste. It's poor news judgment.

Here are what some people not as snooty as The New York Times have been saying about Bob Hope:

Mary Steyn: If you only remember one thing about him, it’s this: Bob Hope has made more people laugh than anyone in human history. He’s the only comedian to have been, over the years, the Number One star in radio, in film, and then television, at a time when each of those media was at its highpoint. The Road pictures with Bing Crosby were the highest-grossing series in movie history till James Bond came along, his six decades with NBC hold the record for the longest contract in showbusiness, and his TV specials for the network remain among the most-watched programmes of all time. Plus he’s logged some ten million miles, playing up to 200 live performances a year until into his nineties.

President Bush creates Bob Hope Patriotism Award.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer movie critic William Arnold writes: Irving Berlin made it. So did George Abbott. George Burns squeaked by for a few weeks before leaving us. But there's really not much precedent for this day. Indeed, it's arguable that no American cultural figure with the standing of a Bob Hope has ever reached his 100th birthday.

His career is so full and his accomplishments so vast that it's hard to even sum them up on such an occasion. Vaudeville, Broadway, radio, television, movies, concerts. He mastered them all -- and made it look so easy we barely noticed his brilliance.


The Boston Globe notes Bob Hope's Century.

British MPs honor Bob.

The Motley Fool says Happy Birthday, Bob.

The BBC marks Hope's 100 years of comedy.

Library of Congress Bob Hope exhibit.

Links to Bob Hope jokes:

BobHope.com official joke page

BBC

Bob Hope's Jokes for the Memories

MSNBC

  posted by AVS @ 29.5.03


29.5.03  

 
The Misguided Aid To Africa
I posted yesterday that people like Bob Geldof -- people who believe more Western aid to Africa will improve the lot of Africans -- ought to read P.J. O'Rourke on the subject. Here is what P.J. wrote about Tanzania in 1998:

Tanzania has been smothered in help. It's received loans, grants, programs, projects, an entire railroad from the Chinese government (running 1.200 miles to nowhere in particular), and just plain cash. In 1994, by World Bank tally, foreign aid made up 29.1 percent of the Tanzanian GDP, more than the budget of the Tanzanian government. Whatever that government does, we better-off citizens of the world foot the bill. And we've been doing it for 37 years.

Tanzania is said by Africa scholar Sanford Ungar to be "the most-aided country in all of Africa." In the period immediately after independence, Tanzania was getting half a billion dollars in aid. Between 1970 and 1989, the CIA estimates, another $10.8 billion arrived. According to the World Bank, $5.4 billion more was given between 1990 and 1994. This is more than $20 billion, even without trying to pump the figure by adjusting for inflation.

John told me that good farmland in Tanzania sells for a million shillings an acre, about $1,650. Since there are 29 million Tanzanians, $20 billion would haev bought each family a larger-than-average farm plot, and everybody could have gone back to doing what they were doing before ujamaa (what the Tanzanians call socialism) was thought of. One reason that Tanzania is so poor is that we've paid them to be.


He continues pages later: Poor and shabby countries ought to have poor and shabby governments. They usually don't. There is some misappropriated opulence in Tanzania. The compound where the president lives has a house and grounds that make Bill Clinton's residence look like Roger's.

After Geldof, who aside from Band Aid is most famous for this and this, reads P.J., he ought to read Camilla Cavendish's piece in The Times today. She writes:

I once worked at the World Bank, and I think that Geldof of all people should recognise the Rat Trap. African regimes have been demanding money with moral menaces ever since foreign aid became a multigazillion-dollar industry. It is intolerable to ignore the terrible plight of the people in Ethiopia, who are once again facing possible famine. Yet all too often, well-meaning people become accomplices in a cruel charade. When Geldof invented “Band Aid”, he seemed to be acknowledging that aid can only ever be a temporary sticking-plaster on a gaping wound in countries whose governments prefer to keep their people poor. But now he is talking of a Marshall Plan for Africa, he needs to ask why 40 years of aid for Africa have achieved virtually nothing.

Many of the most corrupt African regimes are kept in power by aid. Most have destroyed their economies, and revenue from taxation is therefore negligible, so aid and crime keep them in the luxury to which they and their cronies have become all too accustomed. Some are ruthless in exploiting even emergency food aid. Soon after Geldof first highlighted the plight of Ethiopia in 1985, people in Uganda and Tanzania saw emergency shipments of yellow corn, that had been destined for Ethiopia, being sold in their streets. This not only deprived Ethiopians of desperately needed food, but also hurt farmers in the adjacent countries by depressing the price of their own maize.

Some regimes are little more than fiefdoms of robber barons who treat their country’s assets as their personal possessions. In Ethiopia, where Geldof was speaking, all land is state-owned. Last year the Ethiopian Economic Association issued a warning that the people would never be able to provide enough food for themselves until the Government let people own land and farm it. The report said that half of the population of 65 million did not have enough land for minimum food production. Since land cannot be used as collateral for loans, it is almost impossible to start a business. Yet the Government has continually shelved plans to denationalise land because this is an essential part of the patronage that keeps it in control.

Instead, it has demanded aid from the West even while spending up to half its budget on building up its army — most notably in 1999, when the Ethiopians were thought to be spending $2 million a day on arms, including several new MiG aircraft, which helped them to triumph over Eritrea in 2000.


I have yet to see anyone come up with a good response to Cavendish's point, articulated many times by many others for at least 30 years, that throwing money at African governments keeps the kleptocrats in power. This is so undeniably true, yet year after year pop stars and activists pressure Western governments to send yet more aid to keep Africa more impoverished. As O'Rourke wrote, one reason these African nations are so poor is that we've paid them to be.

  posted by AVS @ 28.5.03


28.5.03  

 
Pop Star Politics
The same day Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown met with Ariel Sharon, Bob Geldof met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Geldof had the more interesting things to say. Interesting because they're the same kind of drivel pop stars have been saying for years.

Geldof was astounded that 18 years after he founded Band Aid to "feed the world," the world remained unfed. Or more precisely, Africa remained unfed. And though he proclaimed, "I'm not a bleeding-heart liberal, I'm not a pacifist. I'm just fed up," he also called for the standard bleeding-heart-liberal solution: Western governments to give more aid to Africa and write off the debt of poor nations.

Geldof is less irritating than most pop stars, particularly Sting and Bono, who are intolerably earnest about their profundity, all the while putting gel in their hair or wearing leather and ridiculous sunglasses. At least Geldof has a sense of humor. I love this graph from the Telegraph story:

Asked about the phenomenon of "compassion fatigue" and why the West should still care about a dirt-poor country seemingly incapable of helping itself, Geldof replied: "Yes, I'm sick of it myself.

Geldof and Meles Zenawi would do well to read P.J. O'Rourke's All The Trouble In The World and Eat The Rich.



  posted by AVS @ 27.5.03


27.5.03  

 
555
This is why all phone numbers in film and television begin with 555. What were the producers of Bruce Almighty thinking? At least these people don't have it as tough as the poor saps who had the number 867-5309 in 1981.

  posted by AVS @ 27.5.03


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