Thursday, April 04, 2002

Future Books
A while back I wrote about the digital future of scholarly journals. The Wall Street Journal's Taste page has an article about the benefits of digital printing that help keep low volume books in print.

Take "The Lysenko Affair." Despite a title evocative of Tom Clancy, it has not exactly been a bestseller for the University of Chicago Press. David Joravsky's nonfiction account of the 30-year reign of a fanatical Soviet agronomist has sold about 2,500 copies since it was first published in paperback in 1986. And while the interest of Soviet specialists and sociologists of science has helped to keep the book on Chicago's backlist, even their support has been dwindling of late.

But "The Lysenko Affair" isn't done yet. In fact, it might never go out of print, thanks to a new technology--the short-run digital printing machine. Luckily for Mr. Joravsky, the University of Chicago Press has one.

The press's new production facility--known as Chicago Digital Distribution Center--will make it cost-effective to print books in batches as small as 25. In the past, publishers required a press run of about 1,200 copies to keep such books in print, which often meant that unsold copies would pile up in warehouses, adding to inventory costs. But digital printing changes all that.


As someone who is partial to some obscure books, this sounds great to me. For example, I've been lusting after the three volume Origins of the War of 1914 by Luigi Albertini. It is long out of print and used copies are going for around $300 for the set. I can't afford that, but if it was reissued for $40 or $50 a volume I'd buy it.

This will certainly impact the world of vanity publishing as well. If 25 copy production runs are profitable just about anyone who wanted could self publish a book.

Cool stuff, and an example of why digital technology need not doom the printed medium.
Canadians on Europeans
Excellent post on Instapundit of a letter from a Canadian reader.
American Opinions
Best of the Web links to a CBS News poll on American opinions on the Middle East. The complete poll is available in PDF format. The short summary:
  • Bush enjoys 77% approval overall, 80% on anti-terrorism.
  • Americans support Israel over the Palestinians by a 52% to 10% margin. That number is pretty consistent across party lines.
  • They think that Arafat does not want peace by a 70% to 14% margin. For the Israeli government those numbers are 33% to 47%.
  • They approve of the recent Israeli military actions by a 65% to 23% margin.
  • We think that the majority of Palestinians do not support suicide bombings by a 53% to 33% margin.

Given the almost hysterical media reaction to the Israeli military actions it is interesting that the man in the street sides with Israel. Where I suspect the media is having an impact is in this area:

But what may bother Americans most is the worry that Israel’s military actions may only have made things worse. Sixty-three percent say Israel’s military response has made terror attacks against the Jewish state more likely. Hardly any think the attacks have made Israel safer.

CBS bases this on the results for this poll question:

Do you think the current fighting between Israel and the Palestinians will make terrorist attacks against Israel more likely to happen in the near future, less likely to happen, or won't it make any difference?

So does the public buy into the cycle of violence theory that has been pushed by the media? Or are they listening to the question and judging that yes, in the near future attacks may increase while feeling that in the long run military action will reduce the attacks? Perhaps if we heard less about who many potatoes Arafat has to eat and a little more about the lack of any suicide bombings since Monday those numbers would be a bit different.
Palestinian Opinions
My girlfriend Murphy goes to school with an Arab American girl who feels strongly that Israel is wrong in the present conflict. While talking with her Murphy realized that there are very few Palestinian voices in the media. As she put it:

There is an incredibly disproportionately SMALL number of people who are speaking on behalf of the ) Palestinians or Arabs.

You don't like Arafat, and flame him in your blog.

Fine.

Who are the voices, not necessarily political, who are giving the Palestinian (from an inside perspective) side of the story?

I am not hearing it...Not even on NPR, that wildly pro-palestinian radio...They only have experts that are western experts who have "studied" the issue.

Why don' we have Arab faces and Arab voices telling us their perspective?


I replied to her in email, but this is an interesting question so I'm addressing it here as well. There are a couple of reasons you don't hear alternative voices. First if you are accused of being a collaborator you are likely to be summarily executed. This does not make you anxious to give opinions that are different than the approved ones. There are lots of folks around with automatic weapons ready to kill collaborators.

This is not a recent phenoinum. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group report from the mid 1990's lists examples of repression of opposition parties by the Palistianian Authority.

Second, the Palestinians are not getting a lot of alternative information. They are hearing one point of view, that put out by the Palestinian Authority (PA). That doesn't lead to a lot of alternative viewpoints. This also happens in the schools. The Center for Monitoring The Impact Of Peace has an excellent report on the Palestinian schools and text books. Here is an example of an exercise from a 7th grade Palestinian text book (no direct link due to site framing):

"Why do the Jews hate Muslim unity and want to cause division among them? Give an example of the evil attempts of the Jews, from events happening today."

In contrast here is what the same group has to say about Israeli text books from their summary:

"A. The legitimacy of the State of Israel as independent Jewish state on the territory of the Land of Israel and the immigration of Jews to the country are never questioned.
B. There is no indoctrination against the Arabs as a nation, nor a negative presentation of Islam. Rather, Islam, the Arab culture and the Arabs' contribution to human civilization are presented in a positive light.
C. No book calls for violence or war. Many books express the yearning for peace between Israel and the Arab countries."

As for NPR the only people on western TV are Arafat's people spouting the party line. There are not tons of opportunities to interview people in the middle of a war zone so you get the suits on the satellite feed. Plus the news people tend to book the same guests over and over. That way they know what they are getting, not just in terms of content but in terms of people who can speak coherently and not drool on camera. I'm not a big NPR fan. I think they are biased. But I don't see any news outlet doing much better than they are at presenting non PA views. To me that has more to do with the lack of available alternative viewpoints and spokesmen than any bias.

So what are the people thinking? That is hard to determine. A quick web search with Google turned up a poll from December 2000, 15 months ago. I ignored the recent and much dumped on USA Today poll of the Arab world from last month as it was roundly trashed for poor methodology and is not regarded as meaningful. This poll seems to be a good poll under the circumstances and reports a margin of error of +/- 3 percent, with a confidence level of 95%.

When they asked

...about the performance of the Palestinian Authority in general, 55.5% of respondents said that the Palestinian Authority's performance is good. On previous JMCC polls, we could detect a gradual decline in the percentage of respondents who say that the performance of the Palestinian authority is good. 79.6% of respondents said that the Palestinian Authority's performance was good in April 1997, and the percentage has been declining gradually since then to its lowest value of 55.5% at the current poll.

Evaluation of the performance of the Palestinian authority was highly correlated with the faction that the respondent trusts most. 80.5% of respondents who stated that they trusted Fateh most said that the Palestinian Authority's performance in general is good, as opposed to only 33.6% of respondents who indicated that they trusted Islamic factions most, 47.2% of respondents who indicated that they trusted other factions most, and 44.2% of respondents who indicated that they did not trust any faction
most.

Respondent's evaluation of the performance of Palestinian Authority as being good was also correlated with place of residence (59.0% in the West Bank/East Jerusalem and 49.3% in Gaza Strip), type of community (50.9% in a city, 54.0% in a refugee camp, and 64.2% in a village) , and level of education (61.2% who had less than secondary education and 52.6% who had secondary or higher education).


The key points here is that the more educated you are, the less you like the PA (Arafat's government). And if you exclude those who identify with Fateh (Arafat's organization) the support for the PA drops below 50%. This suggests that if the opportunity for new government was offered Fateh would have trouble remaining in power.

The elections that were supposed to take place March 30, 1999 were canceled by Arafat because his security people thought they wouldn't do well (story only reports the recommendation but the elections were canceled). Local elections were scheduled for right about now but have been canceled due to the fighting.

A small number of people are speaking because others are afraid, not available to the TV cameras, or believe those that are speaking. We lack the ability to accurately judge what is on the mind of the average Palestinian. We are denied the chance to hear different viewpoints because viable political opposition is suppressed.
"Real" Media On Blogging
A lot of of the mainstream media doesn't understand blogging. Not terribly surprising as a lot of bloggers aren't quite sure what blogging is. The media though seems even more clueless, like when I try to explain what a web site is to my grandmother.

Some do get it, like Norah Vincent in the LA Times:

Web logs are infuriating because they are thoughtful alternatives to the self-important New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and their toady satellites, much of whose reporting has become hardly less biased than the bloggers'. Bloggers at least have the honesty to admit their biases up front. They don't pretend to be objective.

But they do provide a healthy criticism of the liberal establishment's hopelessly arrogant monotone. What's more, they make news interactive, so that we can all stop yelling at the television and actually do something. Readers can opine, as well as argue, grapple or exchange expletives with their host. That's something you'll never get in print.

As one popular blogger, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist James Lileks (lileks.com), put it: "The newspaper is a lecture. The Web is a conversation." Amen.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

The Middle East Mess
Thought some more about the situation in Israel. If I was the Prime Minister over there, here is what I would be trying to do. Arafat not a viable negotiating partner. First he can not deliver peace even if I cut a deal with him. He is unwilling or unable to work against terrorist groups like Hamas. Second he has repeatedly failed to live up to agreements. If he can't deliver on the Oslo deal, why should he be trusted to do more.

Thus the first move toward peace is to remove Arafat and allow some other Palestinian leadership to emerge. It is critical that Israel have no strings attached to the new leadership. Any attempt to say "Joe Mohammad would be a good choice" would taint that candidate in the eyes of the Arabs. What I would want is someone who is deeply concerned for his people and committed to a non-violent solution. And I'd want them to be pro-democratic. This is probably the weakest part of the plan, as there is no certainty that sort of person is going to take charge post-Arafat. But given the suicide bombings going on right now how much worse could it get?

While going after Arafat, engage in a diplomatic offensive. I would not expect to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs or Europeans, but so long as the US was friendly and supportive and other nations neutral the situation would be tolerable. The message would need to be "We will not tolerate constant suicide bombings of our civilians. We are willing to negotiate in good faith with reliable partners. Anyone who does not condemn suicide bombings vocally and consistently is not a reliable partner."

While the public diplomatic campaign runs, send word quietly that Israel is serious about finding a viable, long term solution. This should include some meaningful concessions and a list of demands Israel expects in return for those concessions. I would not wait for the US or Europe or Saudi Arabia to dictate the terms of the debate. Push forward a workable plan and put the ball in the Palestinian court.

There is no certainty this would achieve anything, but it is the best idea I have at the moment.
Blogger Down Time
Don't blame me- I tried to post today but Blogger was having some sort of problem. Seems to be working again. And this is not a complaint. It is free after all!

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Grand Canyon
I'm surprised at how few people I know have been to the Grand Canyon. I thought I was the only person who had managed to miss it. Other than seeing it from 35,000 feet in a jet.

Some things just can not be done justice to in a photo. The Grand Canyon is one of them. But it is also something that can't be done justice to in person. It is so far down that in most places you can not see the Colorado River at the bottom.



The scale is so vast that you lack a point of reference to judge what you are looking at. It all seems very unreal. But there is a cure for that- walk to the bottom.

I'm just guessing that is the cure, because I did not have the time to do the hike. Plus I had twisted my knee a couple of days before and I doubt I would have been able to do the distance. I'll go back and try it when I have the chance.

That line in the photo that looks like a creek bed is the Bright Angel Trail. It is a long way down in this photo that was taken at the rim of the canyon. Going down isn't too bad- it is the up that kills you!
Do Something
One of the reasons I was knocking CNN on the topic of the situation in the Middle East was the fact that they were really pushing the "Why doesn't the President do something?" angle. It would be fairly stupid to take action if:
  • We are incapable of doing anything useful and thus would look weak.
  • We like what is happening (terrorists being blasted by tanks).
  • There is no plan for action and the President is working to create that plan and the support it would need.
CNN never bothered to address any of those scenarios. My feelings is that Bush decided he could not do anything productive and secretly agrees with the Israeli moves against Arafat.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Israel
I find myself hard pressed to say much negative about the Israeli actions against the PA. They have suffered constant terrorist attacks. Arafat claims he is not behind these attacks, but has made no effort to stop those responsible. They use his territory as a safe base of operations. It is hard to negotiate in good faith with someone who quietly supports those who want to kill you. Even if I grant that the Palestinians have been oppressed by Israel I still see Israel doing all the good faith confidence building measures. If the Isaelis back off now the message will be that suicide bombing works. A retreat is not going to end the violence. It is likely to continue it as Palestinian demands escalate.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

Back!
I'm back from a six day, 2000+ mile trip around the southern part of the Colorado Plateau. That means I was at Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks. There were still traces of snow on the ground at all three and the weather was a bit chilly but otherwise near perfect. I avoided the news (mostly) and only did the occasional email check from the road. My initial thoughts:
  • Americans like SUVs. I’d say the majority of vehicles at the parks were SUVs. Good number of mini-vans as well but SUVs definitely take the prize. Anyone who hates SUVs never tried to tour the southwest with two adults, two kids, and the family dog. I was glad to be doing the trip in my Honda CR-V with just two people.
  • They aren’t kidding when they say the animals at the Grand Canyon are used to humans. I almost lost my entire soft pretzel to a brazen squirrel.
  • The Grand Canyon looks fake. I guess I rode the Disneyland train too many times.
  • There are plenty of Europeans vacationing over here. I didn’t hear any of them bashing anyone. Of course they were probably doing that in their own languages.
  • There is an awful lot of empty spaces left in America. And they are worth seeing.
  • Bryce Canyon is more interesting than Zion Canyon. The Grand Canyon is so unreal I don't know how to rank it.
  • 2000 miles is a lot of driving and it is nice to be back home.

I'm still catching up on the news and the coverage I heard today on CNN didn't exactly make me feel like I had an unbiased view of the Israeli situation. I'll toss my two cents in when I have a better feel.