Monday, July 16, 2007

A Nation of Yahoos (White House Initial Benchmark Report)

I often skim the headlines on Yahoo and one thing I’ve never fully understood is just how a news story featured on Yahoo falls off the front page. I believe that an item stays there until newer items hit the top. If there are a bunch of stories then, regardless of the significance of the story whether it’s about executive privilege or Jessica Simpson’s newest diet, four newer stories knock it off the front page. Certain events though generate follow up stories, so the news item appears to stay on yahoo’s front page longer than it actually did because there are multiple stories about the same event that I tend to remember as the same news item. In the ten years that I’ve used the internet as my primary news source, I’ve mentally collected what I think of as “six hour Yahoo stories”, items that show up don’t attract follow up articles and quickly get pushed off the page by news about plastic surgery, the virtues of wine after dinner, or the latest price of a barrel of oil.

Probably because it’s the second biggest source of news stories after the state of Brad Pitt’s marriages , a lot of Iraq stories disappear after a six hour stay on Yahoo. In 2005 my favorite came out of Basra when British soldiers broke two British soldiers out of an Iraqi jail with a tank. The jailed soldiers apparently landed in jail when they were accused of shooting at Iraqi policemen. Even stranger, at the time they were arrested by Iraqi police, the British soldiers were dressed as civilians. Two years later, we have this equally weird story about American soldiers killing six Iraqi policemen.

Whose idea of progress is this and how bad is this stuff? If we couple it with a story like this one about U.S. soldiers possibly being encouraged to kill Iraqis, what do we have? Both the Iraqi and the American army/police may have deeper problems than we might imagine. Perhaps this is what happens when you have an administration that insists that it stands for the rule of law in Iraq, but doesn’t seem to believe in it quite as much in the United States.

In the meantime, there was an equally entertaining six hour story from the BALCO investigation. While Barry’s slipped into a dreadful slump, the defense attorney who leaked all that grand jury testimony to the San Francisco Chronicle got sentenced to two and a half years.
Here’s the irony, the guy asks the judge for the same deal that Lewis Libby got. Well it was worth a try I guess. The judge tells him, you want that kind of justice you better ask the president about it. So in our world, 30 months for leaking information about a steroid case isn’t excessive yet outing a CIA agent doesn’t get any time in prison? (note this parallel. No baseball players have been indicted in Balco) I’m definitely starting to understand why those Iraqis are having such a tough time grasping the American notion of “the rule of law” that we are trying so hard to get them to master over there.

One of the odd things about depending on the Yahoo home page (or any other news service for that matter) is the opposite situation. There were several articles on Yahoo about the White House’s Initial Benchmark Assessment Report released on July 12, 2007. If you read the articles, you would have learned that there were two interpretations of the thing. The Democrats and several prominent Republicans (none of whom were running for President in 2008) were pointing out that we hadn’t made satisfactory progress on most of the eighteen benchmarks. The Administration was claiming that there had actually been progress on eight of the benchmarks and there was thus still a chance of success in Iraq. The odd thing is that there is one thing you wouldn’t have learned from reading all those articles. I never saw anyone simply read the report itself and break it down. None of the articles even quoted the White House report directly including Tony Snow himself. Of course, that’s our fault. The White House released the report on its website for anyone to read instead of depending on Tony Snow’s or George W’s take on the thing. It’s only twenty five pages long and tellingly didn’t include a conclusion at the end, but you can reasonably count on most of America not even bothering to look at the thing.

Even the White House’s report sends a clear message.-the US is not making progress in Iraq. Think about any other job in the world, if you have 18 things you’re evaluated on and you show no significant progress in ten of them, you either get fired or you are expected to do something different to keep your job. Think about a basketball player who can play defense satisfactorily, but can’t pass, rebound, shoot, or dribble. What happens to him or her? So why is it that saying the following is even remotely defensible?

“Here’s my own report on how we’re doing over there, we’re not getting anywhere on most of our own benchmarks, so we’re going to keep doing more of the same thing.”

You want to know how bad it is? One of the signs of progress in the report is that a wide cross section of Iraqis agreed that blowing up a mosque full of people was a bad thing. How’s that for an encouraging starting point towards national reconciliation there? I can’t imagine what other questions they might have asked and not gotten agreement on. Say, do you think child abuse is a bad thing? How about starvation? Do you consider corruption bad? Actually, the report did leave out one other point of consensus in Iraq. Most Iraqis want a deadline for the US to get its troops out of their country.

Believe it or not, I saw that one on Yahoo some time ago, but it stayed up for such a short period of time that even the link went bad.



At 7/16/2007 02:52:00 PM, Blogger None said...

I read somewhere once:

… analogue (and maybe print - even if the photos were originally digital) is about traces, digital is about flow. I wonder if these things now flow past us too quickly on the Internet. Maybe we need the traces to linger longer in our hands and homes and memories?

There may be lots of truth to this. News cycles through our search portals on a min-by-min basis. While, that ol’ newsprint sits on out desks all day long. Sort of interesting to think about what this may (or may not)mean.

It has been interesting to read Nouri al-Maliki’s recent comments and his desire for the US to leave. Not to mention, the loss of four (out of ten) of the functioning Iraqi battalions. I’m just not sure if there is a “way forward”.

And Bonds, what a mess. At some point doesnt it become more profitable for him to not hit homeruns?

At 7/16/2007 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the link, very interesting point about "flow" vs. trace. very similar to what some people say about analog music recording vs. digital. though they don't think digital music flows either, it just starts and stops.

If people would only read the actual news out of Iraq, even the White House's official version, they would understand how screwed up it is. It's amazing how much of it is simply out there and in the open.

The whole bit with Barry is sort of sad for everyone.

At 7/17/2007 02:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do get more info with the net in the long run because I can bounce among chancelucky, huffpost, raw story, michaelmoore, truthout, truthdig, New york times, & washington post, most of which are more up-to-date than the dead-tree newspaper in the bathroom.

All this steroid stuff & Bonds is nonsense to me. He simply has the most perfect swing in baseball, the most cobra-quick & economical. For those of us lucky enough to have seen a lot of it over the years, it's stunning. Other roiders haven't got that swing.

I have put the direct white house Comments Line number & email addresses in my email signature & hope others do the same:

direct white house comments line # 1.202.456.1111. 6 am-2pm pdt. If busy, dial quickly again. No hold music.;

At 7/30/2007 10:21:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The dead tree version though does have the advantage of being more "permanent". Websites come and go constantly as do the stories. Also, it's much easier to fake a website. I think there will always be a place for having a "copy".

One of the weird things about Barry is that he's 43 and they're still walking him constantly even though he's presumably off the enhancement stuff.


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