Saturday, May 31, 2003

I have a lot of sympathy for Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger who provided the world with a lot of interesting information before and through the war with Iraq. He was subjected to a lot of illogical speculation that he was an Iraqi agent distributing misinformation. The Ottawa Citizen article where the case was really laid out is no longer online, but I found it difficult to believe that Salam (who I have read for months) could possibly be an Iraqi secret agent charged with giving misinformation to the world.

For one thing, the Iraqi attempts at misinformation, exemplified by Baghdad Bob, were so pathetic that an intelligence operation as sophisticated as Salam Pax didn't make sense. Consider the highly incompetent way that the entire Iraqi government operation (especially the military) operated -- Salam doesn't fit in as a part of that. Secondly, I couldn't imagine an Iraqi agent claiming to be gay, because that's too dangerous a thing to say in any Arab country. It didn't make sense, and I'm glad that the truth is now coming out.

Salam now has a gig writing for The Guardian, and I will continue to look forward to reading him. Though I think that Bryan Preston has some interesting thoughts, I just think that speculation about someone's character is a dangerous thing. Let's let Salam continue to tell us his own story until we have some reason to doubt it.

Update: Here's an interesting story from someone who unwitting employed Salam as a translator.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Fred Kaplan has laid out the best case to date about why it matters that we find WMD in Iraq and why the failure to do so is a serious problem. I certainly don't believe that finding WMD is necessary to "justify" our invasion of Iraq -- there are at least a dozen other good reasons for the war, but Kaplan is certainly correct that WMD was the reason used to "sell" the war to the world.

I would like to add that I have been increasingly concerned about the performance of the CIA and whether that organization needs some wholesale changes. First, there were the failures associated with 9/11, then the bad intel resulting in two failed attempts to bomb Saddam during the war, then the attempt to sabotage the Pentagon's introduction of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC into Iraq (which has resulted in the capture of many most-wanted Iraqis). The CIA didn't just say that Saddam might have WMD; it was sure. Given the recent performance of the CIA, spy movies like The Bourne Identity (which I just watched last night) just seem silly.

Update: excellent comments from Bill Buckley

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

I'll start my new blog by linking to this Reuters story (and AP and HealthScoutNews), about condoms in schools that is an absolute farce. The article is written (and the study was obviously done) for the express purpose of advocating that schools make condoms available to students. It loudly trumpets the "fact" that distribution of condoms does not increase sexual activity, but the study proves no such thing!

This study uses a survey that relies on students' self-reporting of their sexual habits. These studies are notoriously unreliable, because students often take them as a joke. I remember one survey from my own high school experience when half of my class (in rural Louisiana) decided to put their race down as "Hawaiian." Using similar surveys from 9 high schools in Massachusetts that offer condoms and making a national story out of it is a sad excuse for science and a sadder excuse for journalism, especially when the study explicitly points out that the schools involved "tended to have more black and Asian students, as well as students whose first language wasn't English."

The study and the stories completely ignore the evidence that they don't like. The bigger news from the study was that "the Massachusetts study found that teen pregnancy rates were the same in schools regardless of their condom policies." So, in other words, they were a total waste of tax dollars.

The AP story buries these three paragraphs (Reuters ignores this stuff completely):

"Curiously, though, the study found that students at schools with condom programs were no more likely than others to say that condoms were easily available, even though they were more likely to use them.
[That's not "curious;" it's obvious, because condoms are easily available to everyone.]

Researchers said it may not have been that making condoms available prompted teens to use them, but that communities that were likely to adopt the programs were also more likely to support condom use to begin with.

The study did not compare teenage sexual behavior before and after condom programs were instituted, researchers note, so the study does not prove that the program changed anyone's behavior. "

Translation: nobody knows if condom distribution actually accomplished anything! I didn't see a mention in any of the articles about the fact that other recent studies indicate that condom distribution doesn't work and doesn't increase condom use.

Anyone can buy condoms at any drugstore or Walmart. All teens know this. All teens who want condoms can get them. Therefore, we don't need to spend taxpayer dollars buying condoms. 'Nuff said.

Update: congrats to Todd Hertz for figuring a lot of this out as well. He also references a Family Research Council article that points out some of the same things.

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