Best of the Web Today – November 21, 2007
By JAMES TARANTO
La Corne d’Abondance
In the spirit of the holiday, we thought we’d organize today’s column around some things that we’re thankful for. First on the list: John Kerry. When he lost the presidential race three years ago, we had mixed feelings. On the one hand, relief, for Kerry seemed ill-suited for such an important job. (For all the complaints we hear these days about President Bush, we can’t remember anyone saying the country would be better off if only we’d elected Kerry.) But we also felt regret at the prospect of missing out on all the hilarity a Kerry presidency would have been sure to provide.
But as it turns out, Kerry is a comic perpetual motion machine. Even as the lowly junior senator from Massachusetts, he continues to make us laugh. The latest: A couple of weeks ago we attended The American Spectator’s annual dinner in Washington, where energy executive T. Boone Pickens issued a challenge. Pickens said he would pay $1 million to anyone who could prove that any of the allegations the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made about Kerry were false.
Earlier this week it was reported that Kerry was taking Pickens up on his offer (we noted it Monday). Yesterday Spectator editor Bob Tyrrell sent along the correspondence between Kerry and Pickens (Pickens’s reply comes first, then Kerry’s original letter), and it turns out there’s a lot less to this than meets the eye. Kerry merely asserts that “I am prepared to prove the lie beyond any reasonable doubt” and then demands the moolah:
I would request that your check be made payable to the Paralyzed Veterans of America. . . . My hope is that by sending this money to such a dedicated organization–founded for veterans, by veterans–some good can come out of the ugly smears and lies of the orchestrated campaign you bankrolled in 204 in an attempt to discredit my military record and the record of the men who served alongside me on the Swift Boats of the Mekong Delta.[*]
I would be more than happy to travel to Dallas with you in a mutually agreed upon public forum, or would invite you to join me in Massachusetts for a public dialogue and then together we could visit the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Norwood and see firsthand how we can put your money to good work for our veterans.
Pickens wasn’t born yesterday, however. He wrote back noting that Kerry actually had to prove it. He asked Kerry to send “the journal you maintained during your service in Vietnam” and “your military record, specifically your service records for the years , and copies of all movies and tapes made during your service.”
Well, Boone, good luck trying to get those military records. Kerry promised to release them 1,025 days ago, and an anxious nation (except for a few select reporters) still holds its breath.
We are thankful to the members of the U.S. military. In addition to risking life and limb to defend America, they also sometimes weather politically motivated slanders, like John Kerry’s against Vietnam veterans or John Murtha’s against Iraq veterans. Apparently this didn’t start with Vietnam, either. A reader calls our attention to an outline of a Continuing Legal Education program sponsored by one Todd Winegar, which makes the following claim:
– Difficult Cases and Clients
• Brainwashing and propaganda principles
• WWII – virtually no U.S. soldiers collaborated with the enemy; Korean War – more than 90% collaborated. The “step-by-step” process
We did a little Googling to find out what this was all about. It appears the reference is to prisoners of war in Korea, not soldiers in general, and that the claim is exaggerated to say the least. In 2004, Robert Chaldini, an Arizona State University psychologist, told ASU Research magazine (Arizona State University) that North Korean captors used “consistency,” which is “one of the six basic principles of influence”:
After the Korean War, a high percentage of American prisoners were found to have collaborated with the enemy in some way. Yet their behavior was not a result of physical torture, according to Cialdini. The prisoners were subjected to some very skillful uses of two key principles of influence.
The Korean captors began their work on prisoners based on the premise that Americans try to behave consistently with what they’ve said and done. They first asked prisoners to agree with seemingly innocuous statements, such as “The United States is not perfect.”
Once a prisoner had agreed to that statement, he might be asked to explain some of the ways in which his country is not perfect. He was then asked to write down those ways and sign his name to the document. Not wanting to become inconsistent in their actions or words, prisoners would comply with the request.
This request, and the ones that came after, would have been followed by a “public” reading. The prisoner would be told to read his list of imperfections to his fellow prisoners. They, in turn, would be more likely to also agree to imperfections in the United States because one of their fellow prisoners had already cited them. At that point, these prisoners succumbed to the principle of social proof. Humans rely heavily on the people around us for cues on how to think, feel, and act.
Eventually, the small step of consistently acknowledging imperfections, and the strong need for social proof, would lead to collaboration and charges of aiding and abetting the enemy.
Author Marty O’Brien has a somewhat different take:
American POWs in Korea were held to much stricter standards by their fellow Americans than their World War II fathers and older brothers who died in the prison camps in that war–and they were severely criticized for the slightest infraction of rules.
During World War II in Germany, it was commonplace for Americans who were captured by the Germans to cooperate with them in order to make life easier for themselves. In some of the Stalags, Germans and Americans cooperated quite freely and even put on Christmas shows together. Trading between the captors and the captives was winked at. Red Cross parcels were given up for privileges. In some instances, lasting friendships were developed between the enemies. The two sides got along quite well and there were no instances of Germans killing Americans in a systematic and brutal way in the prison camps.
Although POWs in other wars were regarded differently, in Korea, no slack was given to American G.I.s who were forced, upon threat of certain death, to cooperate with the enemy. The POWs behaved no differently than U.S. and allied POWs during the war in the Pacific in such places as Bataan, Corregidor, Singapore and Mukden, China, where the murderous Unit 731 operated.
The perfidious slander of our POWs came mostly from an alarming number of Americans who seemingly were sympathetic to or duped by the Communist propaganda apparatus and who were too willing to believe the worst about their fellow Americans. Others, who had never been POWs themselves, honestly believed that Americans under no circumstances should ever cooperate with the enemy even in the face of certain death.
The harsher standards dictated that even passive “cooperation” with the enemy was deemed to be traitorous “collaboration.” Sadly, too many Americans peddled that line and in the process slandered everyone unfortunate enough to get captured by the Communists. That rigid mind set led to the establishment of a new Code Conduct. Although the 1955 code had beneficial aspects, it should be noted that it was, nevertheless, scrapped in 1977 as unrealistic and unworkable–so much for good intentions!
By the way, the military’s America Supports You Web site is running a “Giving Thanks Campaign” so that you can send a text message of support to the troops in the field.
Enron vs. Enron
We are thankful for the Washington Post, which reminds us that a newspaper can be liberal without being as dreadful as the New York Times has lately become. Today Post columnist Ruth Marcus devastates Times columnist adviser Paul Krugman, whom she actually mentions by name. Marcus notes a Krugman column from last week in which the former Enron adviser pooh-poohs concerns about the solvency of Social Security.
“Somebody should introduce Paul Krugman to . . . Paul Krugman,” she writes, citing a series of old Krugman columns in which he sounded alarms about the solvency of Social Security. The best one is from a book review that appeared in the Times in 1996, before Krugman was a columnist. He wrote:
Responsible adults are supposed to plan more than seven years ahead. Yet if you think even briefly about what the Federal budget will look like in 20 years, you immediately realize that we are drifting inexorably toward crisis; if you think 30 years ahead, you wonder whether the Republic can be saved.
As far as we know, Krugman has never explained why he changed his mind, but one has to suspect it is for the same reason that, say, John Edwards went from being an alarmist about Saddam Hussein to being complacent about the whole war on terror–that is, political expediency.
Granted, a newspaper columnist is not subject to the same standards of intellectual rigor as an academic economist. Still, Krugman seems to think that the former has no obligation to be honest, that partisan opportunism is par for the course. He shows a great deal of contempt for his new profession.
We are thankful for Barack Obama’s honesty. So is Rudy Giuliani, as Fox News reports:
Obama has written before about his past drug use, but on Tuesday he took the rare and surprising step of talking about it in front of a group of high school students, telling them that he was a slacker when he was their age, more interested in basketball and girls than applying himself in school. . . .
In response to the principal’s question, the Illinois senator said: “I will confess to you that I was kind of a goof-off in high school. . . . I made some bad decisions that I’ve written about. There were times when I got into drinking and experimented with drugs. . . . There was a whole stretch of time when I didn’t really apply myself a lot.” . . .
GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who was campaigning in Iowa Tuesday, called Obama comments a “huge error.”
“It’s just not a good idea for people running for president of the United States, who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people, to talk about their personal failings while they were kids, because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘Well I can do that too,’ ” Romney said.
But Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani was more forgiving, saying at stop in Chicago, Ill., that “I respect his honesty. . . . I think that one of the things we need from our people who are running for office is not this pretense of perfection. . . .”
What a clever way for Giuliani to point out that not everyone in the Democratic field is so honest.
Father of the Year
We are thankful for the love and support our parents gave us when we were growing up, as we were reminded by the story of one Pakistani father in the Australian:
Horrifying new details emerged last night of the attempt by suicide bombers to kill [Benazir] Bhutto on her return home from exile last month.
Investigators from Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party said yesterday they believed the bomb, which killed 170 people and left hundreds more wounded, was strapped to a one-year-old child carried by its jihadist father.
They said the suicide bomber tried repeatedly to carry the baby to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle as she drove in a late-night cavalcade through the streets of Karachi.
“At the point where the bombs exploded, Benazir Bhutto herself saw the man with the child and asked him to come closer so that she could hug or kiss the infant,” investigators were reported as saying. “But someone came in between and a guard felt that the man with the child was not behaving normally. So the child was not allowed to come aboard Benazir’s vehicle.”
Ms Bhutto is said to have told investigators she recalls the face of the man who was carrying the infant. She has asked to see recordings made by television news channels to try to identify the man.
And you thought child sacrifice was a pagan practice.
We are thankful that we live in a free country, and that we work for a free newspaper, not a propaganda mill like . . . the Associated Press, which “reports” from Havana:
Cuba announced Tuesday it has set Jan. 20 for national elections that are part of the process of determining whether ailing leader Fidel Castro continues as president. . . .
There was no explicit mention of Fidel Castro, but the 81-year-old leader of the Cuban Revolution must be re-elected to the national parliament before he could repeat as president of the Council of State to remain in full power. . . .
Anyone 16 or older can vote in Cuba and casting a ballot is not mandatory. Membership in the Communist Party–the only legal political party on the island–also is not required.
Small dissident groups–which are tolerated but dismissed by Cuba’s government as mercenaries of the United States–boycotted the municipal elections.
Detractors of Cuba’s electoral process complain the country’s president is not directly elected by citizens and say voters feel heavy pressure to support pro-government candidates.
Those silly detractors! Can’t they read the news?
We are thankful that we are not warped–all right, that we aren’t more warped than we are–despite having grown up with “Sesame Street.” The New York Times reports that those shows we loved as a kid have now been deemed unsuitable for children. DVDs of early “Sesame Street” episodes contain a warning that “these early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child”:
Back then–as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969–a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole. . . .
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior”–smoking, eating pipes–“so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable–hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.
If it weren’t for “South Park,” there’d be nothing for kids to watch today!
We are thankful that we will never have to go to school again. Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV reminds us of one of the reasons why:
Two students at Waynesburg Central High School have been suspended for 10 days because of the way they depicted an activity they were trying to discourage.
John DiBuono and his classmate made a public service announcement for a TV workshop. They used crushed Smarties candies. In the video, his friend pretended to snort cocaine. It was supposed to be a message against using drugs.
In a statement, the Jerome Bartley, superintendent of the Central Greene School District, said: “Although the individuals involved were not using illicit drugs, the district’s policy prohibits look-a-like drugs, substances, liquids or devices.” . . .
In addition to the suspension, DiBuono, a 4.0 student, said he was told to attend drug counseling.
“The only words said in the entire public service announcement was, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ and now I’m being sent to rehabilitation conference,” he said. “I think it’s a little ridiculous.”
We suppose kids at Waynesburg aren’t allowed to drink water either. After all, it looks like vodka.
Hey, Who Turned Out the . . . Oh, Look! A Squirrel!
“Squirrels Briefly Kill Power in 2 Cities”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 20
At Least They Resolved the Question of Siamese Cats
“Issue of Burma Dogs Southeast Asian Summit”–headline, VOA.com, Nov. 20
If an Expert Bites a Dog, That’s News
“Dog-Bite Expert to Blame, Pathologist Says”–headline, Globe and Mail (Toronto), Nov. 20
It Really Is the World’s Biggest Bookstore
“Wayward Whale Found Dead in Amazon”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 21
Crazy Halloween Pranks
“Actor Pitched Toilet Paper”–headline, Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 20
‘We’re Really Obsessed With Nascar Down Here’
“Mississippi Police Chief Says Missing Student Ignored Due to Race”–headline, FoxNews.com, Nov. 21
“Police: Parents Found Passed Out Drunk”–headline, Times (Munster, Ind.), Nov. 21
Breaking News From 1801
“Marbury Starts and Is Treated to Boos”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 20
Bottom Stories of the Day
- “Hulk Hogan’s Son’s Driver’s License Suspended”–headline, FoxNews.com, Nov. 21
- “Indiana U. Not Chosen as Cite for 2008 Presidential Debates”–headline, CBSNews.com, Nov. 21
- “Downspout Program Could Cost Toronto $65M”–headline, CBC.ca, Nov. 21
- “Swift Boat Issue Becomes Crucial to Kerry Anew”–headline, Boston Globe, Nov. 21
The World Is Flat
Finally, we are thankful for Australia, one of America’s most reliable allies. News.com.au, soon to be a sister to this Web site, reports on some good news Down Under:
The nation’s breasts have had a growth spurt.
Australian women, who fitted a petite 12B a decade ago, are a shapely 14C.
Julie Malandin, general manager of bra maker Berlei, which conducted a study, said women were “bigger.”
According to BreastNotes.com, though, the average American woman is a 36C, so the Aussies have a long way to go.
(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Dennis Naughton, Yaakov Har-Oz, Ed Lasky, Paul Dyck, Doug Levene, Randy Rohn, Dean Nederveld, Michael Segal, Jim Beach, Greg Baruch, Brian Balint, Ethel Fenig, Mike Stevens, John Williamson, Bruce Campbell, Scott Wright, Bruce Goldman, Kyle Kyllan, Bryan Fischer, Stu Seman, Donald Kahn, Mark Fisher, Daniel Foty and Charlie Gaylord. If you have a tip, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please include the URL.)
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Today on OpinionJournal:
- Jeff Robbins: The U.S. can’t prevent the Palestinians and their Arab backers from making poor choices.
- Pete Wehner and Yuval Levin (from Commentary): Crime, drugs, welfare and other good news.
- Kim Strassel: Charles Gasparino’s vivid account of the battle between Richard Grasso and Eliot Spitzer.
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