Iraq's government declared today an official holiday, and issued congratulations to Christians here on the birth of Christ. Iran, after a fashion, did the same thing.

The message begins with Ahmadinejad congratulating Christians and the people of Britain on the anniversary of the birth of Christ, which Christians celebrate on Christmas Day.

"If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers," he says.
Christmas is nearly over here -- the sun is setting even now. I hope your Christmas is a good one. As for me, I had the occasion to listen to the son of an African King give a sermon while wearing the uniform of an officer of the United States; a sermon he read to a chivalry gathered in a foreign land in order to free it of a heritage of tyranny.

At the end of the last hymn, the chaplain said, "Now we must blow out the candles. Perhaps we should sing happy birthday." And we did.

Si linguis hominum loquar, et angelorum, caritatem autem non habeam, factus sum velut æs sonans, aut cymbalum tinniens. Et si habuero prophetiam, et noverim mysteria omnia, et omnem scientiam: et si habuero omnem fidem ita ut montes transferam, caritatem autem non habuero, nihil sum. Et si distribuero in cibos pauperum omnes facultates meas, et si tradidero corpus meum ita ut ardeam, caritatem autem non habuero, nihil mihi prodest.... Nunc autem manent fides, spes, caritas, tria hæc: major autem horum est caritas.

If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don't have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love, it profits me nothing.... Now faith, hope, and love remain--these three. The greatest of these is love.
Such was the reading tonight, before the hymns. It was the hymns, though.


Could Watergate Be Uncovered Today?

The Washington Post considers the question given the passage of the infamous "Deep Throat," and decides it's really gotten easier:

New technology actually makes investigative reporting somewhat easier. We can now use computers and the Internet to search records and other information, and we can use pre-paid cell phones for conversations with confidential sources. Of course, an administration under siege would also have more sophisticated resources for investigating leaks and marshaling counter-attacks in the news media and the blogosphere.

Reporters working today on a story such as Watergate would be unlikely to be left relatively alone, along with their sources, for as long as Bob and Carl were. Now, from day one, the story would be all over the Internet, and hordes of reporters and bloggers would immediately join the chase. The story would become fodder for around-the-clock argument among the blowhards on cable television and the Internet. Opinion polls would be constantly stirring up and measuring the public's reaction.

So the conspiracy and the cover-up would unravel much more quickly -- and their political impact would probably be felt much sooner. Nixon was re-elected five months after the burglary in 1972, and Watergate was not much of an issue during the campaign. That would not happen today.
But, ah -- will it remain easier?
In today's cacophonous media world, in which news, rumor, opinion and infotainment from every kind of source are jumbled together and often presented indiscriminately, how would such an improbable-sounding story ever get verified?

As newsrooms rapidly shrink, will they still have the resources, steadily amassed by newspapers since Watergate, for investigative reporting that takes months and even years of sustained work.
That final period is, as they say, "sic." Perhaps he is right that the famous layers of editing and fact-checking have already begun to unravel!

On the subject of conspiracy-outing, however, let me suggest a more dangerous problem than lack of editors: confirmation bias.

We know that the Bush administration couldn't keep a secret. It seems like the New York Times or the Washington Post broke a new story about some secret program or activity by the CIA or DOD based on anonymous testimony. Deep Throat is now Old Hat. State, CIA and even DOD are riddled with people who feel it is their constitutional right to talk to the press about secret programs if they have concerns about them.

The press hammered the Bush administration with this, year in and out. There is no doubt that Bush's high negatives track to a large degree to the unrelenting negative coverage he has received throughout his presidency. They did not bring down the President, but he certainly wasn't allowed to run any conspiracies -- not even the ones a President might ought to be running.

This is an example of the confirmation bias at work: once you have decided a person is bad, you readily believe bad things about them. Indeed, it may make something seem bad that you might have thought was good if a "good person" was doing it.

Now comes a new President, and his relationship with the press is different. They chose him. Barack Obama is our President-elect because the media wanted him to be. The positive coverage he has received over the last year is unprecedented in my lifetime; Popes don't usually get this kind of coverage.

We've seen an initial taste of the problem in the FISA controversy. If you were a strong Bush-blaster, the FISA issue was the worst thing in the world. It was about an end to civil liberties, the destruction of privacy, an out-of-control President trying to build a power to spy on the American people. If you were a hardcore Bush defender, it was about a noble man trying to use carefully limited power to fulfill his duty to keep Americans safe at home. The rhetoric was hot and heavy.

Since Obama reversed himself on FISA, it has largely dropped off the radar. People who previously derided it as the worst thing ever haven't changed their mind, as far as I know. But now the President will be Obama, a deliberate and thoughtful man of decent principles, so it's not so bad. We can take some time to work it out. The rhetoric has cooled.

By the same token, people who were glad to have Bush at the helm to guard their families must now consider whether a shady Chicago-way politician with inexplicable foreign ties can be trusted with such power.

As for the media, it elected Obama. He is their guy. If you went to them and laid out a conspiracy, gave them the phone numbers to call, gave them photos of the people they needed to interview, and just asked them to go confirm it -- would they?

Frankly, I doubt it. Confirmation bias is very powerful stuff, and lives right at the foundation of our thinking. I believe they would look at the facts, say to themselves, "There's doubtless some explanation for all this," do a pro forma inquiry just so they felt they had done their duty (the results of which would likewise be colored by confirmation bias), and declare there was nothing to the story.

If that's the case, the problem isn't the lack of editors -- and the new technology may not be enough to save us. Perhaps Obama will enjoy more leeway to carry out the conspiracies that a President ought to carry out. He is likely also to enjoy the leeway to carry out the sort that a President ought not to carry out. But we don't have to worry about that -- he's a good guy. Right?