Ted Koppel Is a Moron

Ted Koppel claims that opposition to the war based on 3,500 deaths — “the number of those killed” — is a misguided when compared to the deaths by vehicular accident in the US.

Aside from the fact that 100 deaths in 150,000 soldiers per month (we had 122 in May) translates to a death rate more than 55 times the chance of an American dying on the road in any given month, he seems to have neglected the number of Iraqis dead as a result of the US invasion on completely unjustified grounds. Numbers of the dead there — in a country which was no threat to the US — range up to well over a half a million. More than the dead in Darfur. And the US is responsible for that.

Then, of course, there’s nearly 10% of the population that has been turned into refugees. Koppel claims to worry that the conflict might bleed into neighboring countries. But if he’d been paying attention, he’d know that Syria, Jordan, and other neighbors are already straining with the flood of Iraqis driven from their country by conflict.

I opposed the war not because I thought a lot of American soldiers would get killed but because the reasons the administration gave were so transparently false, and I didn’t want to see tens of thousands of innocent people killed because of a war carried out under false pretenses. Apparently, Ted Koppel doesn’t have a problem with that, so long as the death toll — of Americans — isn’t too high.

Where Koppel goes even further off the rails is here:

So, the level of outrage and the growing opposition to the Iraq war has to be connected to something other than simply the number of those killed. After all, we lose that many people in traffic accidents every month, with barely a murmur of protest.

Where the Bush administration has failed, tragically and repeatedly, is in explaining to the American public why U.S. forces were sent into Iraq in the first place, and why they must remain there now.

Has the administration failed to tell us that they thought Iraq under Saddam was a threat? Koppel claims that “chaos and anarchy” were “at least partially, unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq”. At least? It’s as if the last four years have made no impact on Koppel. US forces were sent to Iraq under the false pretense of a threat to the region from a dictator who didn’t even control his own airspace. Troops were sent into Iraq to look for WMDs that didn’t exist, drone planes that couldn’t have existed, and Ted Koppel even now manages to pretend that Iraq posed some sort of threat to “stability in the Persian Gulf”.

Ted Koppel is a moron.

The Good News About Prostitution

Today, while listening to a “Morning Edition” interview by host Steve Inskeep with correspondent Rob Gifford about a book Gifford has written on China, I had to wonder if I was hearing a contender for the post of the next Tom “Mustache of Understanding” Friedman. While he was describing the types of economic changes China’s undergoing — even in its more remote places — Inskeep prompted him to recount the story of meeting a particular entrepreneur (my transcript, from 1:53 into the interview):

ROB GIFFORD: That’s right, that’s right, he was one of my favorites. And he was in the middle of the Gobi Desert. I was just walking along the street and he came up to me — two of them, actually — and showed me their bag, and it said “Amway” on it. And we just got to talking and they took me to their, sort of, sales event that evening. Everyone brought a friend to try and get them to be involved in Amway. Really, to take part in this Chinese Dream.

STEVE INSKEEP: May I just mention, Rob, since you’re talking about the Chinese Dream: Isn’t Amway, a company that sells all kinds of products, but the name is actually supposedly short for “American Way”?

GIFFORD: That’s a very good point, Steve. When they translate it into Chinese it doesn’t actually…they don’t actually translate the “American” bit of it, but I think everybody knows it’s an American company. And I think that says a lot about where China’s going. It’s going toward — it’s already reached, in many instances — borderline capitalism. And communism, nobody believes in communism any more. People don’t want to work for Marx and Lenin. They want to work for Amway and other Western companies that are there.

Amway. Apparently Amway’s doing more than a billion dollars of business in China a year. But if Inskeep and Gifford think that multi-level marketing operations lift a significant number of the people involved out of their current tax bracket, they’re deluded. Even in the US 99% of the people who get involved in MLMs either lose money or make nothing. (At least the Chinese aren’t the Albanians, who had a pyramid scheme — MLM without the product — suck in one-sixth of their population and collapse the economy after the fall of communism.)

Just after that, they discuss Gifford’s interview with a prostitute who tells him of the “hopelessness” she feels as a 19-year-old woman from a rural area without any prospects or skills, left out of the booming Chinese economy. I have to admit, I felt a little hopelessness myself when I heard this question (at 4:13):

INSKEEP: This woman was quite frustrated with her circumstances. Were there others who saw a house of prostitution like this as an opportunity for themselves?

Then they have a little chuckle about how Gifford expensed the talk with the prostitute.

Seriously. Prostitution and Amway? Does Inskeep or Gifford know anyone who sells Amway at the ground level? Ever met a prostitute they haven’t paid? The prospects for either one making it big are pretty grim. They need to put down the “good news” pills every once in a while. Albania’s economy nearly collapsed just a few years ago because of a pyramid scheme. Widespread prostitution is not a good thing in a country that has had problems acknowledging outbreaks of disease. Those types of questions might be a bit more important than whether Rob Gifford was reimbursed for his hostess expenses. Not that I expect he’d probably be able to answer them, given the tenor of the conversation this morning.

Senate Democrats: Actually Going Backwards On Iraq After Five Years

With the votes in the House and Senate today, responsibility for the Iraq war has been successfully transferred from the Republicans and George W. Bush to the Democratically-controlled Congress. Not only that, but the passage of HR 2206 (U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007) actually shows the Democrats with less willingness to stand up to the Bush administration than the 2002 Iraq authorization to use military force.

As I remarked earlier today, despite the Democrats now having a majority in the House of Representatives, more than four years of war in Iraq, and a President with approval ratings in the freezing zone, the numbers show a virtually identical ratio of Democrats voting to halt Bush’s insane Iraq fantasies, with just a 1% increase to 62%.

What’s worse, in the Senate, the numbers have gone backwards. There were 50 Democrats in the Senate when the AUMF passed in 2002 (sure, they could have stopped it then, too). There are 49 Democrats in the Senate now, with a couple of Independents caucusing with them (or, in the case of Joe Lieberman, spying on them). 21 Democrats (42%) voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002. Today, just 10 (20%) voted against the supplemental appropriation bill.

The Democrats have bought the war now: a lemon car that’s leaking blood from the crankcase. They’ve bought it without a warranty or the ability to return it. The dealer’s “Everything Must Go!” sign is already up on the White House lot.

Just before the Iraq war began, Sen. George McGovern quoted President Lyndon Johnson as saying: “It’s awfully easy to get into war. It’s awfully tough to get out.”

House Democrats: No Change on Iraq After Nearly Five Years

The Iraq supplemental appropriation passed in the House today on a vote of 280-142, with only two Republicans joining the 140 Democrats who don’t believe George W. Bush should be given carte blanche for four more months.

That’s only nine more “nay” votes (and only 14 more Democrats) than voted against the initial decision to give the President the authority to go into Iraq in October 2002, back when the Republicans still had the majority.

In five years, the percentage of Democrats voting against the Iraq war in the House has gone all the way from 60.8% to 61.9%.

Oregonians for Fake Recycling

Oregonians for Real Recycling email

I don’t know at this point in the day what — if any — decision has been made by the Oregon House on SB 707, which would add water bottles to the deposit system currently in place for beer and soda cans and bottles, but I hope it passes. I have to admit I’m appalled at the tactics of a group calling itself “Oregonians for Real Recycling”, which is casting the deposit proposal as “a tax on products like bottled water!” (their exclamation point) and calling it the “water bottle tax” bill. It’s not a tax. And any attempt to portray it as such is likely a first step in an attempt to roll back the Bottle Bill by claiming it, too, is a tax.

Really, this is just blatantly deceptive advertising. And I’ve gotten four of their emails in the past day.

And as for the “Oregonians”, the supporters include Anheuser-Busch, Coors Brewing Company, 7-Eleven, Albertson’s, Safeway, Winco, and the American Beverage Association.

Question for John Edwards

John Edwards did a town hall here in Portland a couple of weeks back. I tried to get there to ask a question but got held up in a traffic jam on I84 and didn’t make it. But this is what I would have asked him if I’d made it and been lucky enough to get the opportunity:

A January 2007 New Yorker article reported you saying:

“I was on the Intelligence committee so I got direct information from the intelligence community. And then I had a series of meetings with former Clinton Administration people. And they were all saying the same thing.”

How does that square with Sen. Durbin’s statement last week? Who were the people who gave you incorrect information about the threat Iraq posed? Finally, do you have any idea who those people are currently advising and would they have any role in your administration’s decisions on national security and foreign policy?

I’ve tried getting answers from the Edwards campaign on that topic for four months now with no response.

Follow the Money! Whoops!

Stacks of Cash

Image from Guardian Unlimited

The Los Angeles Times reports that while the CIA can’t find Osama bin Laden, they have somehow been able to figure out that Al Qaeda is “increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in a country where economic life has been ruled by a despot for the past thirty years and with an increasingly violent multi-party conflict taking a toll on the current state of affairs so that the per capita GDP is less than $3,000, large sums of cash might not exactly be in great supply. Then again, if you think about the fact that the US managed to lose $9,000,000,000 that it knows about, just between October 2003 and June 2004 when Paul Bremer was in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority, part of 281 palettes — 363 tons — of cash shipped on C-130 cargo planes from the Federal Reserve Bank in NYC, it doesn’t seem hard to believe that some of that made its way to Pakistan.

I have to admit, at first I was suspicious of the “money from Iraq” story, because it seemed a little too pat that all of a sudden there was some sort of proof of a money link to Al Qaeda from Iraq, but then I realized that there’s probably some sort of record of the serial numbers on the cash we shipped to Iraq. If the CIA or the Pakistani security services have picked up people with cash, they’re sure to have tried to track it back. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it leads to the CPA.

Directorstar Galactica

Cylon: Replaced by CGI

Image via Greenfield Games, original from Kropserkel.com

Ever get the feeling that you’re part of a ragtag group of beaten-down survivors constantly on the run from the unending hordes of Flashlons? That the ship you’re on is constantly blowing gaskets and leaking air and the engineers are doing their best to keep things running but they sure as hell aren’t making major improvements? That not only is everyone around you getting old but that there aren’t many new faces showing up?

How many Director users are left? Who knows? The Macromedia management was so secretive about sales figures that I never heard anything about how many users there were even at the peak of its popularity late in the last millenium.

This was always an issue in the matter of Director book sales estimates. The size of the market of Director users had a direct bearing on the number of copies you could expect to sell and the quantity of books that could be published. Books have an inherent overhead: it takes the same amount of time to write and edit a book that gets read by one person as it does if 20,000 people read it. But the author and the publisher make a lot more money in the latter case.

Specialty books, on advanced programming topics, never really made an inroad into the Diredctor market. One of the first of the few was Peter Small’s Lingo Sorcery, which came out for Director 4 and was the introduction to the concept of object-oriented programming for many users who had no formal programming training. But Director never had the number of books on topics like data-driven applications, multi-user applications, or even programmatic animation that Flash has had (apart from a few books that tried to capitalize on the 3D capabilities of Director 8.5). The Flash user base is simply large and robust enough to support multiple books on non-general topics. Not that all Flash books do well, you can glut any market. See my Special Edition Using Flash 5 for an example of that.

I recently came across some information about the once-upon-a-time size of the Director market. Now it probably helps to know that as an author, if you sold 20,000 Director books, you were doing pretty well. That’s not a lot of books in absolute terms, given the amount of work it takes to produce a book six hundred to a thousand pages long, but in Director numbers, it meant you’d done OK. Neither of my Director books ever sold that many copies.

Anyway, the number I saw for Macromedia’s Director revenue was from the late 1990s, around the period of Director 7 and 8, which were products I worked on as a contractor, writing Lingo for the Behavior Library (along with James Newton). The figure was in the range of $55-$65 million annually for Director. At the time, Director was sold as Director Shockwave Studio (which included Fireworks and a sound editor). The retail price for the full Studio was $999, upgrades to the Studio were $499, and you could upgrade to Director 7 alone for $449. So let’s run some numbers.

First, assumptions. Let’s use $60 million dollars of revenue as a base since that’s in the middle of the range. Director was sold both directly by Macromedia in bundle prices and through resellers, where Macromedia wouldn’t get the entire price as revenue, so let’s discount all retail prices by a generous 20%.

Using those figures, if every Director sale was for a new Studio, that would be 75,000 copies. That would be the low end. On the other end, if all sales had were for upgrades to the Studio, the number would be 150,000. Some people, of course, wouldn’t have upgraded. The real number of Director 7 sales is likely on the higher end of that range, with more upgrades (at a lower price) weighting the figure to 120,000 or so.

Then, of course, there were a number of Director users who didn’t upgrade to version 7. Even if that was half of the user base, that put the total number of Director users worldwide at somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 back in the day. Which would explain why 20,000 copies of a Director book selling would be considered pretty good, what with 8-10% of the user base buying a copy. Even more impressive is the fact that since most of the books were version-specific, that figure would be about twice that compared to the number of new users.

Hey, I don’t know for sure that the figure I have to work from is completely correct. I may be misestimating how discounts affected sales figures. It’s hard to say, because nobody tells me anything. I doubt we’ll see any hard numbers on Director sales, historical or otherwise, but I’m fairly certain that if the size of the Director user base had been such that it was still making $60 million in sales for Macromedia in more recent years, it would have an engineering team the size it used to and there would be enough people to support a few more books, even if $60 million is only about 2% of the Adobe’s 2006 revenues.

How many of us are left, I wonder?