Thursday, July 08, 2004

Some folks I know once mentioned to an acquaintance of theirs how much nicer it was to fly business class to Tokyo -- only to have the guy declare with the wave of a hand that the only proper way to fly was first class. Then there's Ben Stein:

It hit me like an atomic bomb last week as I boarded a morning flight from Boston to Phoenix on America West Airlines. Here is a basic series of truths: Modern business is largely about air travel. Modern air travel is largely torture. Therefore, much of modern business is torture.

I was sitting in my incredibly cramped seat in the incredibly cramped, tiny first-class cabin and I got up to use the lavatory. As I did, I looked back in coach in what I think was a Boeing 757, a long, wide single-aisle plane with three-and-three coach seating that seemingly went back forever. The passengers were galley slaves on a Roman trireme, chained to their seats in the hold. They were lashed to their pagers, their BlackBerries, their cellphones, lashed to their employers and their duties to keep rowing for the empire until they died at their posts.

The solution for those who wish to travel in a modicum of comfort? You must have your own private jet. You really must.

Speaking of which, I'll be flying to Japan tomorrow for the start of a somewhat extended trip -- coach, barring unforseen good luck. I'm not sure how much, or whether, I'll be able to blog while away; if not, look for new entries the last week of July.

A stock arbitrageur named Brooke Allen recently held a competition to win an entry-level job ($40,000). Says one participant:

"Going to those sessions was like watching a train wreck in slow motion," Mr. Bozanich said. It was, he said, "a testament to the bad economy that so many overqualified people would come in for one lousy programming trainee position."

Mr. Bozanich said he thought Mr. Allen was genuinely motivated to help the trainees find work, but he also considered the process inevitably exploitative.

Mr. Allen himself doesn't see it that way at all:

"People understood they were taking a risk and could drop out any time," he said. "No one gave off a sense of desperation."

Or perhaps the ones who did give off a sense of desperation were gone so quickly they were forgotten.

At least in this instance, the contestants were getting training -- in this case, in a somewhat obscure computer language called APL. The same article refers to another contest at an ad agency involving actual unpaid work, in which

10 people ... participated in a weeklong competition for an entry-level advertising job. The group worked on making pitches and it devised a promotional campaign for Crunch Fitness. Every night, management voted two contestants out.

At the end of which, they could either hire the winners... or hold another contest.

Update: link to the article corrected.

No link to this story in Google news, or through the Times Link Generator, unfortunately, so it will go stale...

Ethics in the modern age: Some colleges are offering high school guidance counselors not only free, all-expenses paid trips to visit, but tickets to the local symphony, sporting events, and in one case, a little gambling money at the racetrack. Is it a problem?

Both the counselors and the colleges belong to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which prohibits "unprofessional promotional tactics." The policy explicitly bars counselors from accepting "any reward or remuneration" for the direct "placement" of a student at a college. But when it comes to accepting gifts from the institutions the counselors may encourage students to apply to, the rules are silent, leaving most in the industry to use their own judgment.

So, as long as the colleges don't pay recruiting fees for any specific student, no problem at all. Who needs common sense when we have written standards?

Dubya's crew promised to restore seriousness to Washington. Here's how:

An internal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program's chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged.

A report on the investigation, issued Tuesday, says the administrator of Medicare, Thomas A. Scully, issued the threat to Richard S. Foster while lawmakers were considering huge changes in the program last year. As a result, Mr. Foster's cost estimate did not become known until after the legislation was enacted.

At least a few Republican Congressmen are on record as saying they would not have voted for the bill if they'd known the true cost.

Oh, well. At least they weren't lying about a blowjob.

Meanwhile, on matters of more global significance, they're threatening to finally get serious about Pakistani nuclear proliferation (which that government has so far papered over by claiming that the head of their nuclear labs was doing it on his own -- and then giving him an immediate full pardon). Unless, that is, the Pakistanis turn over some high-level al-Qaeda leaders in time for them to use as campaign props:

One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."

Other sources for this multiply-sourced story say that they're putting heavy pressure on the Pakistanis for an announcement coinciding with the DNC.

They're serious. Very serious. About getting their way.

via Athenae at Eschaton and Kevin Drum.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The difference between Abu Ghraib under its current and former management: we kill fewer people, but we abuse more children. Plus: they were big on mutilation. We don't leave visible marks. But if you think about folks watching their kids getting tortured, that's not the same as saying we left no scars...

via Holden, guest blogging at Eschaton...

A little news from Boston -- the Boston University book store, located maybe a couple of blocks from Fenway Park (in a street grid so messy that it matters how you count) has declared a discount on baseball books from now until the Red Sox win the World Series.

If you want to take advantage of this offer, there is no need to rush.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Defenders of slavery in the antebellum South had one ready answer for scoffers from the North: that the "wage slavery" conditions of Northern factory workers were just as bad. Some of them even went on long jags about how cruel factory owners could just discard workers who were too aged and infirm to stay on the job, whereas benevolent slaveowners could not.

All bullshit, of course, but every so often there's a reminder that we put up with intrusions from employers which people of a prior age might not. This week's: due to the slip of a legislative pen, Virginia has restored the right of numerous workers to claim Saturday and Sunday off as a religious day of rest, a right which was once on the books.

(I have to say I don't know if the law ever granted slaves a similar privilege in Virginia, by the way. But somehow, I really, really doubt it).

For those of you who got an early break on the holiday weekend, here's a brief list of Dubya's crew's propaganda points which seem to have started fraying at the edges...
  • The widely-played shot of a crowd in Baghdad pulling down the statue of Saddam in Baghdad's Firdos Square has been exposed as a staged event, instigated and controlled by American officers. (I might add that this is the point where the views of the al-Jazeera reporters in Control Room -- the documentary you must see if you already knew all that stuff Moore was talking about in Fahrenheit 9/11 -- diverge most from the consensus American media picture, as it emerged at the time. Good on them).

    (via Atrios)

  • Then there's the case of the terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, who the Pentagon has cited lately as a main cog in the Iraqi resistance. And (surprise!) nobody has any reason to doubt that. But Zarqawi's been causing trouble for a while -- he was cited by Dubya as part of the reason for going to war, even though we knew where he was, and it was in a part of Iraq where our air force was denying Saddam control. And given all that, people are asking why we didn't attack Zarqawi before the war. Jim Miklaszewski claims that the Pentagon had plans to do exactly that -- and that three separate times, Dubya's national security council killed the plan because "the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

    Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy(!) has been digging into the story. His reluctant conclusion: it holds up, and the official denials don't:

    The character of that official denial seems to be: unless we had 100% certainty that Zarqawi himself was in the camp at any given moment, the failure to attack is not an oddity requiring explanation.

    That's as contrasted with the much lower standard of proof demanded for the "decapitation" bombing raids on buildings where somebody thought they overheard something in a tea shop about Saddam maybe being there sometime this week -- raids on civilian areas (as opposed to, say, isolated armed camps in the desert) which killed dozens of innocents each.

    via Brad DeLong.

  • Major General Janis Karpinski, former head of detention operations at Abu Ghraib, says Rumsfeld did too approve "interrogation" techniques that violate any reasonable interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. And she's also got a lot of other things to say about, among other things, Israeli interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and plans to detain the poor zhlubs at Guantanamo, without trial, forever:

    One of the members of [Gen. Miller's Guantanamo] team was a JAG officer, a lawyer from down there. And I said to her ? she was a lieutenant colonel, I believe ? and I said to her, "You know, we're having problems with releasing some of these prisoners. What are you doing?" And she said, "Oh, we're not releasing anybody." And I said, "What's going to be the end state?" And she said, "Most of these prisoners will never leave Guantanamo Bay. They'll spend the rest of their lives in detention." And I said, "How do they get visits from home?" She said, "These are terrorists, ma'am. They're not entitled to visitors from home."

    The Israeli bit is one of these things which people are accustomed to call an explosive charge -- except, like the Abu Ghraib photos themselves, it might conceivably have less of an effect than Americans would expect because the Iraqis themselves already knew.

    Incidentally, Karpinski has obvious personal motives for trying to pin the blame on higher-ups, but even so, in what universe is a U.S. military officer making claims like this in public not a story that anything calling itself a news bulleting should shout from the rooftops?

    via King of Zembla.

  • Lastly, if that's not enough, The Poor Man is putting up a Dubya Lie of the Day. Sometimes more than one a day. Frankly, I hope his original material doesn't get lost in the flood...

Sunday, July 04, 2004

A little more than two centuries ago, some folks in America decided they had a real problem with the British Empire. Now, on the same land, we have folks who seem to think that the main problem with the British Empire was that they weren't in charge of it -- and who call themselves American patriots. For them, a poem:

Recessional -- Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old--
   Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
   Or lesser breeds without the law--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard--
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard--
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!