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May 2002 Archives

May 1, 2002

Also, the Pacific Ocean is "really big."

The New York Times discovers that international law isn't clear, and can't be enforced. Is this news to anybody except Noam Chomsky?

Study shows nuclear war would hurt minorities

The New York Times loves this stuff: black and hispanic people pay higher interest rates for their mortgages than white people do. Or at least a new study being released today by the Center for Community Change claims that this is true. (According to the Times; I failed to find the study on the organization's badly-organized website.)

A far greater share of black and Hispanic homeowners with above-average incomes still have mortgages with higher interest rates than whites with comparable incomes, according to a study to be released today. The research suggests that conventional banks, despite recent progress, have failed to reach many minority borrowers who would qualify for good mortgages based on their salary and credit history, housing experts said.

In its most surprising finding, the study said that the racial disparities increased as homeowners' salaries rose. Among households that made at least 120 percent of the typical income in their metropolitan area, 32 percent of blacks held high-interest, or subprime, loans while only 11 percent of whites did. Among households that made 80 percent or less of the typical local salary, 56 percent of blacks had subprime loans and 25 percent of whites did.

"The market isn't working as it should," said Allen J. Fishbein, general counsel at the Center for Community Change, a housing advocacy group in Washington that conducted the study. "It's pretty striking."

The market isn't working as it should. Groups that produce absolutely no value for society, like the Center for Community Change, somehow manage to stay in "business". They can produce "research" with absolutely zero value, and yet somehow never get discredited. They can study the granting of credit by lenders without actually looking at the factors that lenders use in granting credit, and the Paper of Record still thinks they're worthy of receiving press coverage:
The study's authors acknowledged that their findings did not prove that minority borrowers unfairly pay high mortgage rates, because applicants' credit histories were not considered. But the authors said the gaps between subprime lending to whites and minority borrowers were probably too big to reflect only credit differences.
"Probably?" Ah. I believe that's the method lenders use for granting credit: "Well, you didn't put this information on the application, but you'll 'probably' pay it back. Have some money." Wouldn't science be so much easier if we could use the "probably" standard?

Maybe they'll even stop blaming Jews for the 9/11 attacks

Palestinian officials now admit that there was no Jenin massacre.

Palestinian officials yesterday put the death toll at 56 in the two-week Israeli assault on Jenin, dropping claims of a massacre of 500 that had sparked demands for a U.N. investigation.

The official Palestinian body count, which is not disproportionate to the 33 Israeli soldiers killed in the incursion, was disclosed by Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, the director of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement for the northern West Bank, after a team of four Palestinian-appointed investigators reported to him in his Jenin office.

So when does the apology arrive from the United Nations?

By the way, I think they call this "denial":

He no longer used the ubiquitous Palestinian charge of "massacre" and instead portrayed the battle as a "victory" for Palestinians in resisting Israeli forces. "Here the Israelis, who tried to break the Palestinian willpower, have been taught a lesson," Mr. Kadoura said.
I wonder if the Palestinians have ever heard of Pyrrhus?

Putting the "vice" in vice principal

I don't think any commentary I could provide would add anything to this story about school officials:

Angry parents demanded the resignation of a California high school vice principal Tuesday because she lifted the skirts of teenage girls at a dance in front of men and male classmates to make sure they were wearing "appropriate" underwear.

Parents at Rancho Bernardo High School in suburban San Diego say the vice principal, Rita Wilson, made the girls prove that they were not wearing thong underwear before they were allowed into the dance on Friday.

In some cases, said Rancho Bernardo parent Kim Teal, girls also were made to partially undress if Wilson or another teacher suspected that they weren't wearing bras.

Has anybody tried drug testing the vice principal?

Update: Having read the local coverage of the story, there's an even more horrifying element:

San Diego city police Officer Greg Bisesto said that while patrolling the dance, which was attended by about 725 students, he watched Wilson force dozens of girls to lift their skirts. He said he heard Wilson ask the questions: "Are you wearing underwear? If so, is it a thong? . . . Then let me check."

"I just thought, 'Oh, my God, what is she doing?' " Bisesto said. "This is totally out of line."


Bisesto, the police officer, said he approached Assistant Principal Michael Mosgrove and asked him to talk to Wilson about her behavior. Bisesto said he does not know if Mosgrove spoke with Wilson, but he said the examinations did not stop.

So a police officer watched what was happening and didn't do anything???!??!?!?

May 2, 2002

What's a few months -- or years -- between friends?

The Washington D.C. Department of Corrections apparently flips a coin to decide who to keep in jail.

A homeless man was mistakenly imprisoned at the D.C. jail and an adjacent correctional treatment facility for five months because Department of Corrections workers failed to update computer records to indicate that a court had ordered his release within two days of his arrest.


The District is facing a $440 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Joseph S. Heard, a deaf, mute and mentally ill man who was wrongfully kept behind bars at the jail for nearly two years after a misdemeanor trespassing charge against him was dismissed. Heard was freed in August when corrections officials discovered that files authorizing his release never arrived -- and that no one at the jail had bothered to check.

But they don't always keep people in jail wrongfully; sometimes they let them out wrongfully:
Another recent case of records mismanagement involved Michael D. Hamilton, 42, a convicted bank robber who is being held at the jail on a one- to three-year sentence for parole violation after serving more than 15 years in the Virginia prison system. On March 2, a Saturday, he was erroneously released from jail.

That night, a corrections records supervisor phoned the home of Hamilton's mother in Southeast Washington to say that the jail had made a mistake and that he had to return to the facility. Hamilton did so, but not until Monday morning. Relatives said he was granted permission by the records supervisor to finish out the weekend with his family, a claim the supervisor disputes.

Hey, isn't that how Yasser Arafat runs his prisons?

But I bet Saudi students were thrilled

How much money do you think the New York City Board of Education wasted to learn that some students are still upset about the attacks on 9/11? Which students are most affected?

Children who live or attend school near ground zero were most likely to experience mental health problems, but they were not so heavily affected as children from around the city who had relatives or acquaintances injured or killed in the attack. Symptoms included thinking obsessively about the attack; trying not to think, hear or talk about it; trouble sleeping; chronic nightmares; and shortened attention spans.
So, people who knew victims were most upset, and people who lived nearby were also very upset. And the people who died weren't too happy about the whole thing, either.

Our kind of lizard

Josh Chafetz over at OxBlog explains why Pervez Musharraf's (probably) corrupt election victory wasn't such a bad thing:

And he's our Lizard, too. Sure, we're being hypocritical when we support a dictatorship anywhere. It is of such hypocrisies that international relations is made. And sure, we should support a return to a real democracy, with freely contested elections, as soon as possible. But right now, Central Asia is in crisis, and in times of crisis, even democracies have turned to temporary dictatorships. Ancient Greek and Roman republics had provisions allowing for the appointment of an absolute dictator during wartime, and even American presidents -- including Lincoln and FDR -- have assumed extraordinary powers during times of war. The ancient democracies understood that there was a crucial distinction between a dictatorship, which may sometimes be necessary temporarily to save the republic, and a tyranny, which is always antithetical to democracy. In modern times, we have found that stable democracies can dispense with dictatorships, even in times of crisis (although they may have to increase the power of the elected executive somewhat). But Pakistan has never been a stable democracy, and, in a time of crisis such as this, perhaps the best we can do is to make sure that its dictatorship does not degenerate into a tyranny. That is, we should make sure that Musharraf remains the best Lizard for the job, and we should seek to get lizards out of office entirely as soon as possible.
P.S. If you want to know about the lizards, you have to go to Josh's page.

May 3, 2002

If planes are hijacked, only hijackers will have planes

Airline pilots want to be armed. Twenty thousand of them signed a petition to Congress demanding that they be allowed to keep guns in the cockpit. Showing that they don't really understand the issue, flight attendants disagreed:

Responding angrily, the union for flight attendants declared that it would fight the proposal unless the pilots agreed to use their guns not only to defend themselves, but also to ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the airplane.
So let me get this straight: the flight attendants (nee stewardesses) would rather have the plane hijacked than have pilots be the only ones not defenseless?

Besides, that response misses the point entirely; pilots wouldn't be using the guns to defend "themselves." They'd be using the guns to defend the cockpit. And defending the cockpit does "ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the plane." But most importantly, defending the cockpit protects us on the ground. If potential hijackers (nee Saudis) know that the pilots are armed, they may think twice about trying to hijack the plane in the first place, making everyone safer. 

Predictably, the disarm-Americans crowd was opposed, listing all the things that could go wrong, but ignoring the reasons why pilots would want to be armed.

Although a number of House members spoke in favor of arming pilots, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opposed the effort.

Oberstar said arming pilots would give "new meaning to the flying shotgun in the days of the Wild West." Oberstar called the bill "impatient" because it would distract the TSA from the larger tasks ahead, such as using machines to screen all checked luggage for explosives by year's end.

But the award for mindless cliche of the day goes to the nonvoting delegate from the nation's gun-free crime capital:
Another Democrat, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, said a gun in the cockpit could harm innocent bystanders. "We know guns in the homes are more likely to be used for killing relatives and for suicide," she said. "We have to consider guns in the cockpit might be used for more than the purpose intended."
We know that statistics in the Congress are more likely to be used for killing the truth, and for demagoguery. Perhaps we should ban Eleanor Holmes Norton, just to be safe.

May 4, 2002

Gee, maybe the sky isn't falling.

It's a fundamental tenet of journalism that good news gets buried ("Plane didn't crash") and bad news gets front page headlines. Perhaps that's why the New York Times hides their story about reduced carbon monoxide in New York City's air deep within the paper.

While the city violated the federal standard more than 150 times in 1978 alone, it has met the standard for nearly 10 years, according to the E.P.A., in part because of pollution controls on cars, and cleaner fuels.
Still, it's refreshing to at least see it reported. Too often the only news coverage of the environment is generated by environmental lobbyists' scare tactics.

May 5, 2002

Ultimately they're both French

The big French election is tomorrow. Everyone seems convinced that Le Pen is going to be slaughtered. Le Pen certainly seems resigned to it now; he has started with claims of "fraud" before the polls even open. But he has made an attempt to appear more moderate:

Mr Le Pen appeared to play down his extremist reputation on the eve of polling, telling Israeli TV that French Jews had nothing to fear from his election.

The National Front leader once referred to the Nazi genocide of the Jews as a "detail of history".

But he assured Israelis that he had condemned recent anti-Semitic violence in France and said he would be happy to visit Israel.

(And actually, come to think of it, that's more than Chirac has done.)

Still, I'm with Glenn Reynolds on this one: my rational side says that Le Pen is repugnant, so no, I don't want him to win. But there's a bit of schadenfreude here. The French are fond of being so superior, so fond of telling us how "simplistic" we are compared to them, and yet someone far more extreme than any major American candidate is a finalist. Maybe if he does well, without winning, it will be a lesson to them.

May 6, 2002

Has anybody checked the chads?

Well, Jacques Chirac smashed his opponent, Jean Le Pen, in today's runoff presidential election in France. There was no hidden base of support for Le Pen, as he got only a slightly higher percentage of the vote (18%) than he did in the initial round of the election. Voters really did prefer the corrupt to the extremist.

But not quite as strongly as the media would like us to believe:

Turnout was estimated at about 80 percent, higher than in the first round April 21, when about 28 percent of voters stayed home. That high abstention rate, and the large number of votes going to minor candidates of the far left and far right, led to Le Pen's strong finish.
If there was higher turnout and Le Pen got essentially the same percentage of the vote this time as he did last time, then obviously the high abstention rate did not play a significant role. And moreover, higher turnout and the same percentage means that Le Pen got a million more votes in this election than the last.

So, there's a half-full/half-empty glass here: on the one hand, Le Pen was overwhelmingly rejected, with 82% of the population voting against him. On the other hand, Le Pen got 18% of the vote. One-fifth of the population of France supported a candidate widely considered to be extremist, if not fascist. What does that say about the French electorate?

And of course, the French wouldn't be the French without controversy:

The idea that Chirac, having won with many votes from the left, is now set to roll back much of the left's legislation implemented during its five years in power, has Socialists and their labor union allies fuming. No sooner were the results announced than leftists began taking to the streets, protesting not against Le Pen, as they had for the last two weeks, but against Chirac.
Don't these people have anything better to do with their time?

May 7, 2002

Palestinians score major military victory over pool hall!

At least 15 people killed, and 60 more wounded, in a homicide bombing on a pool hall near Tel Aviv. Is it just a coincidence that there was a major terrorist bombing soon after Arafat was let out of isolation? Is it just a coincidence that this happened while Sharon was in Washington meeting with President Bush? Yeah, right.

This happened soon after a deal to end the Bethlehem siege fell apart, a deal which would send some of the terrorists wanted by Israel to Italy, since nobody bothered to ask Italy and Italy doesn't really want them. And apparently the Palestinians, other than Yasser Arafat, don't like the idea either. Hey, I have an idea -- maybe Israel and the U.S. should insist that Arafat be replaced with someone who actually represents Palestinians.

May 8, 2002

Guns are bad. The New York Times says so.

The Justice Department submitted briefs to the Supreme Court on Monday that said that the Second Amendment protected an individual right, not just a collective right, to bear arms. That the current administration believes this isn't news, of course, but the Times felt the need to mention that John Ashcroft had previously announced his position to the National Rifle Association. Actually, mentioning the NRA wasn't quite enough, so the Times had to elaborate: he wrote a "letter to the rifle association's chief lobbyist."

And then the Times had to try to prove that this is a novel theory, that John Ashcroft was going against established law. Unfortunately, since he wasn't, the Times had to make something up:

The Supreme Court's view has been that the the Second Amendment protected only those rights that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation of efficiency of a well regulated militia," as the court put it in United States v. Miller, a 1939 decision that remains the court's latest word on the subject.
Actually, this cleverly clips the Supreme Court quote in just the right part so that she can paraphrase it incorrectly. The Supreme Court's view in Miller is that the Second Amendment protected only those weapons that have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia. (The actual quote:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.
One is free to agree or disagree with the Supreme Court's interpretation -- though not in a news article -- but one should at least make an attempt to describe it accurately.

Media bias demonstrated

A recently-introduced feature of the search engine Google is a news search engine. Google gathers the most prominent headlines from around the web, sorting them by story, so you get several choices for most prominent events. Since Google displays them by headline, one of the cute features is that you get to see how different sources describe the same story. It struck me as worthy of comment today, as I happened to see the following headlines relating to a study about pesticides on organic food:

(Note that this is a snapshot at a given moment; the google page and/or the stories themselves may change by the time you read this.)

Note the different slants that different sources choose. The Globe and Times choose the most pro-organic spin, describing the food as having "far less" pesticides. The Mercury declines to editorialize, saying merely that the organic food has "less." And the Tribune takes the opposite approach, focusing on the negative side of organic food, that it isn't pesticide "free".

I don't know what was going through the minds of the editors who wrote those headlines, but it's hard to imagine that it's just a coincidence.

May 9, 2002

A second marriage

In Slate, Warren Bass argues that the popular new idea of building a fence around the West Bank won't solve Israel's security problem. He makes a three part argument: first, that it's technically too difficult to build an effective fence, partly because the border is too long and the terrain is rough, and partly because organized groups can always find ways around it. Second, that an effective fence will do more to stop trade, and thus destroy the Palestinian economy (sic), than it will do to stop terrorism.

And third, he argues that it isn't a diplomatic solution:

And that, ultimately, is the biggest reason to worry about the enthusiasm for a fence: It reinforces unilateralism and helps defer indefinitely the only possible solution—negotiated partition—that has any reasonable chance of bringing peace. Unilateral disengagement by Israel would replace the land-for-peace premise of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 with land-for-violence; gut the long-standing Israeli insistence that negotiations are the lone legitimate way to resolve Arab-Israeli tensions; encourage Palestinian militance; reinforce Hezbollah's crowing insistence that force works and talks don't; and make Jerusalem and the rest of the new frontier into a new front line.
Someone once described a second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. What on earth would lead anybody to believe, at this point, that a negotiated solution has any chance of bringing peace? Land-for-peace is a fraud. What that formula always meant was land for the promise of peace. But there isn't anybody Israel can negotiate with for peace; there's nobody whose promises are worth anything to Israel.

Of course, Israel will still need to decide how to handle the settlements, but to argue that a fence won't work because it will "encourage Palestinian militance" is insane. Is the Middle East suffering from a lack of militance right now?

Not taking it lying down

William Safire goes on the offensive, insisting that the Iraq-Mohammed Atta connection is still valid. He says that Atta did meet an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, and that the CIA is covering it up in order to cover their own asses over their screwups and their "inability to conduct covert operations."

Now, I don't have any way of knowing who's correct, but, as Safire says, the people saying the meeting did take place -- i.e., the Czech government -- have no apparent reason to lie, while the CIA does. Moreover, the fact that nobody in the Administration will deny it on the record speaks volumes.

Of course, in the end it shouldn't matter; Saddam needs to go, as soon as possible. Whether he was specifically involved in 9/11 is beside the point. He's an aggressive expansionist tyrant actively searching for weapons of mass destruction. So the only thing that this information can be used to accomplish is to quiet the Europeans down when they explain why we can't and shouldn't invade. But there's no possible way to shut them up, anyway, and even if we had absolute proof of Iraq's involvement, there would be plenty of European objections to our actions.

Insult to injury

What is it with the anti-Israel Los Angeles Times? Everything that goes wrong in the Middle East is the fault of Ariel Sharon:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke off his visit to Washington by essentially saying "forget it" to diplomacy after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 Israelis near Tel Aviv. No matter how reprehensible such bombings are--and they are terrorism--the Bush administration cannot allow itself Sharon's spiteful luxury.
Self-defense is a "spiteful luxury"? There we have it: sure, the bombings are "reprehensible," but. There's always that "but."
Only a sustained effort by other nations will force Israelis and Palestinians to the conference table.Los Angeles Times will again call the attacks "reprehensible. Which will be great comfort to the families of the victims.

Throwing tantrums

Silly me; I thought that the idea of a pro-Second Amendment administration supporting the Second Amendment would be a big yawner of a story. But the New York Times and the Washington Post treated it as big news, and today, the Times' Bob Herbert froths at the mouth in his rush to condemn John Ashcroft. That's easy for Herbert, because Ashcroft represents everything Herbert hates.

The first rule of bashing politicians for supporting the Second Amendment is to mention the National Rifle Association as much as possible (six times in one column, for those of you scoring at home). If you gave Herbert a choice between the NRA and NAMBLA (which promotes sex between men and boys), he wouldn't have to think very long before choosing the latter. So not only does Herbert mention the NRA, but he argues, quite ludicrously, that Ashcroft only took the "transparently political" position because the NRA "just happened to have been a major Ashcroft campaign contributor." As if there were something wrong with taking political positions, and as if there were no supporters of the Second Amendment until the NRA came along. And this exemplifies Herbert's biggest failing as a pundit: he simply cannot accept -- in fact, cannot comprehend -- the idea of honest policy disagreement. Politicians who disagree with his views are not just wrong, but venal, greedy, stupid, selfish, and/or racist.

The N.R.A. has seldom had a better friend in government than Mr. Ashcroft. That was proved again on Monday when the Justice Department, in a pair of briefs filed with the court, rejected the long-held view of the court, the Justice Department itself and most legal scholars that the Second Amendment protects only the right of state-organized militias to own firearms. Under that interpretation, anchored by a Supreme Court ruling in 1939, Congress and local governmental authorities have great freedom to regulate the possession and use of firearms by individuals.
Leaving aside Herbert's misrepresentation of the 1939 Miller ruling, I don't know how Herbert knows what "most legal scholars" think on the subject; it's certainly not a universal view, and there are very prominent legal scholars, including liberals like Lawrence Tribe, who would disagree.

But even that isn't enough for Herbert, so he goes on to become the latest person to play politics with the war on terrorism:

How weird is it that in this post-Sept.-11 atmosphere, when the Justice Department itself is in the forefront of the effort to narrow potential threats to security, the attorney general decides it would be a good idea to throw open the doors to a wholesale increase in gun ownership?
How weird is it, Bob? Perhaps that's because the Second Amendment is not a threat to security, but a guarantee of security?  It was despicable when Ashcroft accused Democratic critics of Bush of being treasonous, and it's despicable of Herbert to insinuate that protecting the Second Amendment is somehow promoting terrorism.

But guns are evil, and Ashcroft is evil, and Herbert doesn't want to let anybody forget that.

May 10, 2002

Second prize is two seats on the commission

The Bush administration, won a legal victory on Thursday, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled unanimously that President Bush gets to appoint a member to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission has exactly zero authority, and slightly less importance than that. They issued a disputed report on the 2000 presidential election in Florida, which nobody cared about (probably because the result was preordained: "Republicans racist. Republicans bad. Democrats good.") And if you can name one other thing they've done, you need to get out of the house more. They issue reports from time to time, always finding racism. (Samples: "Racism's Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska" and "BRIEFING ON BIOTERRORISM AND HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES ")

As it happens, the Commission has another vacancy, but there appears to be some confusion about this one, as well. The Washington Post says:

With one seat open, to be filled by the Senate president pro tempore, Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Republicans have gained an additional voice in Kirsanow but are still unlikely to tip the balance of the commission.
But the New York Times says:
The four Congressional appointments to the panel rotate between Democrats and Republicans, meaning Trent Lott, the Senate Republican leader, will select Mr. Redenbaugh's successor.
Lott, Byrd, whatever. One of those guys.

That explains Noam Chomsky

The Department of Education released the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, this one in history. And American students, particularly high school seniors, don't really know much of anything about it.

Only one in 10 high school seniors scored well enough on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to be considered proficient in American history, while 17 percent of eighth graders and 18 percent of fourth graders reached that level.
Diane Ravitch suggested one possible explanation -- that teachers don't know history:
Officials also were hard-pressed to explain why the overall results were so poor. Ravitch said they could reflect the fact that 54 percent of public high school students have history teachers who did not major or minor in the subject in college. In many schools, "the way they spell history teacher is c-o-a-c-h," she said.
Still, I have another theory: a culture which refuses to judge people honestly. If you read the study, the testers graded the short answer questions using the terms "Inappropriate," "Partial," "Essential," or "Complete." The worst one can do, if one completely screws up the question, is to give an "inappropriate" response. Whatever happened to "Incorrect"?

Or, on the other hand, maybe Americans are just stupid.

May 11, 2002

Never surrender

Eugene Volokh argues that if the Supreme Court fully supports the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, that this could help proponents of gun control:

And the right, if firmly accepted by the courts, may actually facilitate the enactment of modest gun controls. Today, many proposals, such as gun registration, are opposed largely because of a quite reasonable fear that they'll lead to D.C.-like gun prohibition.

But if the courts can make clear that the Constitution takes such a prohibition off the table, this slippery slope concern may become less serious. And some people may thus become willing to support compromise legislation, precisely because the core of the right will be protected--just as the radical and alarming Bill of Rights commands.

It's an interesting theory, but Rand Simberg disagrees...
While this may be true for "modest gun controls" in general, I don't think that it will have much effect in terms of resistance to registration. Even with a formally-recognized right to own guns, many will still view registration as a potential prelude to a rapid and preemptive confiscation, because any government that contemplates consfiscating guns is likely to be indifferent to Constitutional concerns.
...and I think he has the stronger point. In fact, I'd go further, arguing that even the "modest gun controls in general" would lead to furious fights.

We have an empirical data point to work with: abortion. Abortion has been constitutionally protected for three decades, through the terms of five Republican and two Democratic presidents. The right has been upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court, even though almost the entire Court has turned over since Roe v. Wade was decided (with only Chief Justice Rehnquist remaining). In sum, it's about as settled as a controversial Supreme Court ruling can possibly be.

And yet, this has not led to the end of the abortion debate. It has not led to the acceptance of "modest abortion controls." Every restriction, no matter how small, is treated as the camel's nose in the tent. Whether the issue is parental notification or "partial birth abortions" or a waiting period or mandatory counselling, the fight over abortion rights is as vicious as it ever was.

Why hasn't the Supreme Court's definitive stance ended the acrimony? Maybe it's because the abortion debate -- not just abortion itself -- is an industry. There are too many people, too many groups whose existence depends on the fight. The first rule of bureaucracies is that they're self-perpetuating. The National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Pro-Life Action League, the National Right to Life Committee -- these groups all have employees and vast fund-raising apparatuses. Sure, the 24-hour waiting period may be a relatively trivial issue, but if NARAL didn't make a mountain out of the molehill, what else would it have to do?

Similarly, on the gun control debate, you have the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, the Violence Policy Center, the Brady Campaign, Americans for Gun Safety, and others. If the Supreme Court "settled" the gun control debate, and if both sides accepted it, what would these groups do to raise money? What incentive would the Violence Policy Center have for supporting only the "modest gun controls" Eugene Volokh mentions? How would the NRA stay in business unless it kept a high profile by fighting the "compromise legislation?"

We shall see.

May 12, 2002

If the astronauts get bored, they can play Pong

NASA doesn't exactly keep up with the times, technologywise:

NASA needs parts no one makes anymore.

So to keep the shuttles flying, the space agency has begun trolling the Internet — including Yahoo and eBay — to find replacement parts for electronic gear that would strike a home computer user as primitive.

Officials say the agency recently bought a load of outdated medical equipment so it could scavenge Intel 8086 chips — a variant of those chips powered I.B.M.'s first personal computer, in 1981.

When the first shuttle roared into space that year, the 8086 played a critical role, at the heart of diagnostic equipment that made sure the shuttle's twin booster rockets were safe for blastoff.

Today, more than two decades later, booster testing still uses 8086 chips, which are increasingly scarce. NASA plans to create a $20 million automated checking system, with all new hardware and software. In the meantime, it is hoarding 8086's so that a failed one does not ground the nation's fleet of aging spaceships.

And you thought Ebay was only good for collecting Star Wars action figures.

Of course, in a few decades, you'll probably be able to buy a whole shuttle on Ebay.

May 13, 2002

Gasp: Bush's advisors are advising Bush

David Sanger, the New York Times' official hatchet man on the Bush Administration, now turns his sights on Karl Rove.

Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, is expanding his White House portfolio by inserting himself into the debate over how to deal with the Middle East, trade, terrorism, Latin America and other foreign policy matters, say outside advisers and administration officials, including some who are rankled by his growing involvement.

Mr. Rove's influence beyond domestic affairs has developed gradually and is hard to measure. As one of the president's closest advisers, he offers his counsel in private, usually only for the president's ears.

Yet increasingly, officials in the administration see or imagine his influence, citing the political significance of such instances as the president's turning his back on free trade to offer protection to farmers or steelworkers.

If that seems like underwhelming evidence to you, the rest of the article won't change your mind. Sanger cites not a single person by name who's willing to criticize Rove. All we have are unnamed "administration officials." And Sanger admits that Condoleezza Rice doesn't seem to have any problem with Rove.

So where does this come from? Aha:

Increasingly, administration officials say, Mr. Rove's involvement has put off Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is described by associates as questioning why someone with a background in domestic politics should be an important voice in foreign policy. They said Secretary Powell was not happy in January when Mr. Rove told the Republican Party's winter assembly in Austin, Tex., that the party should use Mr. Bush's handling of the war in Afghanistan for political advantage.


State Department officials are less charitable, perhaps because Mr. Rove is considered far more hawkish than Secretary Powell, and far more attuned to domestic politics.

A light dawns. Sanger's repeated attacks on the Bush Administration in the past have revolved around Bush's unwillingness to support Colin Powell's mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian war. Now we see Karl Rove being attacked for not falling into line behind Colin Powell. So that's it. David Sanger is simply Colin Powell's mouthpiece, and the Times is happy to provide space in the news section for Sanger's editorials.

Media code words

When you read the word "controversial" in the newspaper, just remember that what it really means is that the reporter disagrees with the idea:

During the 2000 election campaign, pro-Israel groups were among the biggest contributors to U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida. The Fort Lauderdale Democrat got $23,400, more than he received from groups representing education and health care interests.

But Deutsch says the pro-Israel money had nothing to do with his May 2 vote for a controversial House resolution expressing unequivocal support for Israel.

Controversial? The resolution passed, 352-21.

Bad news, good news

In Israel, Likud has voted against the establishment of any Palestinian state, and this is being portrayed as a major step backwards for Ariel Sharon and for peace. Perhaps I'm an eternal optimist, but I don't think this is a big deal.

First, this was not a Knesset vote. It was merely a party resolution with no force of law, allowing the party members to politically posture for their constituents without doing any real harm. This isn't even anything new, since Likud has never endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state.

Second, this seems like just another good cop-bad cop routine. Many in Europe, and some in the U.S., consider Sharon an extremist, an obstacle to peace. Now Sharon gets to point to this resolution and say, "See, I didn't support this. I'm a moderate." All those EUrocrats who fantasize about Shimon Peres coming back and making everything better now see what the consequences of ousting Sharon would really be. This strengthens Sharon's hand in dealing with the world, which strengthens his hand in dealing with the Palestinians.

May 14, 2002

All the news that's fit to rewrite...

Susanna Cornett catches the Newspaper of Record lying about Cuba's bioweapons program:

Another point of interest - compare this excerpt from the Associated Press article on iWon:

Bush administration officials stood by Undersecretary of State John Bolton's earlier remarks that he believed Cuba had "provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states."

Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that it was not a new statement by the Bush administration.

To this excerpt from the NY Times:

His comments came as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cast some doubt on assertions last week by a senior State Department official that Cuba was making such weapons.


She also quotes CNN, FoxNews, and the Washington Post -- all of which agree with the Associated Press, rather than the New York Times, in saying that Powell stood by Bolton's accusation. More demonstration of the power of the internet: not only are we not beholden to one publication's spin on the news, but we can quickly compare the different sources and see which one is taking liberties with the truth.

May 15, 2002

In case you were wondering

When Israelis break the law, the government does something about it:

Right-wing extremist Noam Federman was arrested Monday on suspicion of being involved in the plot to detonate a powerful bomb in the courtyard of a school for Arab girls in the A-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem two weeks ago.

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court extended Federman's remand Tuesday for a further eight days. Federman is a long-time supporter of assassinated Kach leader, Meir Kahane, and lives in the Jewish enclave of Hebron.

And I bet these (alleged) sickos won't be let out of prison as soon as everyone's back is turned. Maybe Arafat should take notes.

By the way, the paper describes those arrested as "suspected Jewish terrorists." Calling a terrorist a terrorist? Maybe Reuters should take notes.

May 16, 2002

I know I'm shocked

Apparently there's a big federal government spending program somewhere that doesn't have the desired effect. A new study shows that the government's anti-drug advertisements don't work. In fact, the study showed that there might have been an increase in drug use among people who saw the ads, though "it noted that further analysis was necessary before the ads could be directly tied to the increase."

Of course, you have to wonder about the quality of the results when you read:

The survey revealed no decline in the rate of drug use among those surveyed. But 80 percent of the parents who viewed the ads aimed at them were positively influenced to ask their child questions about their social lives and become more involved.
Gee, do you think parents are going to answer "No" to that question, regardless of what they actually did?

Certainly, the anti-drug commercials are the most benign element of the country's national drug policy. Trying to convince people not to use drugs is infinitely better than forcibly drug-testing them, kicking them out of school and/or their jobs, giving them criminal records, possibly locking them up, and otherwise invading their privacy and destroying their lives. But why would anybody who was rational think that kids (or adults, for that matter) choose to use drugs, or not, based on obvious, heavy-handed propaganda?

The anti-drug ads are designed to approach teen-agers on their own turf, offering electric guitar and skateboarding as cool alternatives to a generation too complex for "Just Say No."
Sure. Because the government is so good at promoting "cool."

Time to retire

I happened to run across this idiotic piece by Helen Thomas, who can't figure out why the United States might want to act against Iraq. Her argument is a combination of every logical fallacy one can imagine.

She starts with moral equivalence:

Yes, it violated U.N. resolutions in 1998 by ousting international weapons inspectors who were trying to make sure that it was not secretly producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

But other nations, including Israel, have violated U.N. resolutions, and we have not tried to oust their leaders.

Well, clearly Saddam Hussein is on the same level as the Israeli leadership. After all, Israel engaged in a large-scale military operation in Jenin and killed fifty people; Saddam engaged in a large-scale military operation in Halajba and killed fifty-thousand people. Surely there's no real difference there. Let's not even mention that Israel's leaders can be "ousted" peacefully; Iraq's cannot.

Then we get projection:

One explanation for Bush's fixation on ousting Saddam Hussein is that he wants to avenge his father, who was victorious against Iraq in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 but failed to unseat its ruler. Conservatives have long accused the elder Bush of not finishing the job in Baghdad.

However, considering the human cost, surely personal vengeance is not a valid reason to start a Middle East conflagration. Such a drastic move would anger even more the already alienated Arab world against America.

Bush, of course, has never given that "explanation," and has never cited that as a "reason." (And if this were a position of which Thomas approved, such as campaign finance "reform," would she describe it as "fixation?" Or would it be, say, a "commitment?")

Then we get "everyone else is doing it":

Another of the administration's arguments for an attack is that Iraq is a brutal dictatorship. It is, absolutely. But so are other nations -- Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Burma, Libya, for example. And Bush isn't trying to take them down.
And if Bush were trying to take them down, wouldn't Thomas be complaining about that?? (And aren't two of those the other members of the Axis of Evil, anyway?) Does the United States need to overthrow every evil government to justify overthrowing one evil government?

Iraq may be making doomsday chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But wouldn't the United States make a more persuasive case if it would publicly lay out whatever evidence it has, such as satellite photos?
Persuasive to whom? I wasn't aware that American foreign policy was supposed to be determined by whether Helen Thomas liked the idea. And I don't think anybody else around the world is confused on this point. Some don't care, and some are too timid to act even if they do -- but either way, they're not waiting for proof.
Assuming that Iraq has those weapons, it is not alone. There are many nations, including the United States, that have nuclear arsenals.
And? We're hardly worried about France bombing us. More to the point, does Thomas not understand that the whole idea is to oust Hussein before he develops the weapons? It would be an incredibly stupid policy to sit there twiddling our thumbs while Hussein is building an atomic bomb, and then attack him after he has succeeded.

And finally, we get to the Rodney King approach: can't we all just get along?

It would be better to keep international pressure on the Iraqi regime for unrestrained U.N.-conducted weapons inspections that might lead to a peaceful solution. A second round of negotiations on the subject resumed at the United Nations last week with Iraq hoping to extract some concessions -- lifting economic sanctions against the country and eliminating the no-fly zones overhead -- in exchange for its permitting the return of the inspectors.
No, Helen. We've tried the "international pressure" approach. Now we want to try the real pressure approach. Note that what Thomas wants is to try the "no pressure" approach -- to have us remove sanctions in exchange for "inspections." Thomas again confuses means and ends: the goal isn't inspections; the goal is to eliminate the Iraqi threat. Inspections are a means to that end.

What I can't figure out is why this editorial is coming out now (well, actually a week ago, but I just saw it.) It's a rehash of arguments that have been made for months.

Uh, nevermind?

A less-reported side of the DNA-testing-in-the-criminal-justice-system debate: convicts who fight for DNA testing which then confirms their guilt. I knew it happened sometimes, but not this much:

Harvey's guilt did not surprise experts in DNA testing, including his attorney, Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York. About half of all conclusive post-conviction tests inculpate the inmate, rather than prove his innocence.
Wow. I guess when you're in prison for the long haul, you have little to lose. That makes it even harder to understand why some prosecutors fight so hard against the tests. In the particular case profiled here:
"We always knew Harvey was a rapist. Now we know this man who claimed to be innocent is a liar," Horan said. "I was satisfied [with Harvey's guilt] from the beginning. That's why I opposed the waste of resources. . . . [The lab] could have spent the time on cases where the victims haven't had their day in court."
The logic there's a little lacking; the prosecutor's appeals wasted far more resources than the test itself did.

Of course, DNA testing isn't a panacea; there are many cases in which it's inapplicable. But given the level of accuracy compared with other evidence, it's hard to justify not using it whenever the results could be exculpatory.

Not necessarily the news

Good piece from Rob Walker in The New Republic on how bad the evening network news shows really are.

Having recently spent three weeks as one of the 25 million or so Americans who watch the networks' flagship broadcasts (a habit that, like many millions of other Americans, I gave up long ago), I have a news flash for both sides: If the network news divisions think they are producing an evening broadcast so noble that it deserves to be defended from the corporate huns, they're kidding themselves. And if the evening news isn't dramatic enough for those corporate honchos, it's not for lack of trying. It's not just the much-noted increase in "soft" news features that now eats up a large portion of each broadcast; even the hard news now comes with a hard sell in which emotional impact trumps intellectual content with appalling consistency. The evening anchors may still look and talk like paragons of wisdom and integrity right out of our nostalgia-clouded memory of The Good Old Days, but their broadcasts are something else. Or as they might put it, "Shameless hype. Trumped-up melodrama. It pretends. To be a public service. But just how dumb is your evening news?"


One of television's advantages over print is, of course, the power of actual footage. But often this seems to be the tail that wags the dog. One evening Jennings introduced the post-headlines segment by saying, "The Senate Judiciary Committee today agreed to delay the vote on a controversial White House nomination to a federal court." He showed a clip of Senators Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy quietly bickering at the hearing. "The question is," Jennings said, "do they or do they not know their microphones are not open?" The back-and-forth between Leahy and Hatch lasted about a minute, and then Jennings repeated his question: "Did they or did they not know their microphones were open?" Here are some other questions: Who was the nominee? For what court? What's the controversy? The clip shed no light on any of this, and neither did Jennings. (It was Thomas Pickering, nominated for the Fifth Circuit, who was at the center of a tussle over his civil rights record.) This segment, too, seemed designed to elicit a kind of content-free outrage: Viewers should be angry at all this pointless bickering between senators--and it must be pointless, given that the broadcast never explained what it was about.

It goes on.

I happened to catch Peter Jennings as a guest on Bill O'Reilly yesterday. For some reason, O'Reilly's argument was that the networks need to present more opinion, more commentary. But Jennings sensibly wondered why anybody should care what he thinks about various stories. And given how little news they actually show, to provide commentary wouldn't leave time for anything else other than commercials. Besides, Glenn Reynolds provides all the punditry this country needs.

May 18, 2002

He's not a mob hitman -- he just takes money from people and then kills other people

Nicholas Kristoff comes to the conclusion that it's not all Arafat's fault that there's no peace between Israel and Palestinians. His argument?

  1. Arafat was right not to negotiate at Camp David, because, after all, President Clinton and Ehud Barak were so desperate for peace that they made even more concessions to Arafat later on.

  2. After these extra concessions were made,
    This is the moment when Mr. Arafat should have leaped. Instead he dithered, and then went to the White House on Jan. 2, 2001, to deliver a final answer — which was so murky with reservations that when the Palestinians had left the room, Mr. Clinton and his advisers huddled to try to figure out what Mr. Arafat had said.
    I think Arafat said something like, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."

  3. Arafat stalled until the Israeli elections forced a halt to negotiations, and then Palestinian violence led to Ariel Sharon's victory.
Kristoff sums up his thinking:
All in all, it is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth.
"Your honor, sure, my client was friends with the people who robbed the bank, and sure, he was in the room when they planned the bank robbery, and sure, he let them borrow his guns, and sure, he provided the bank's blueprints to them, and sure, he was in the car waiting with the engine running while they went in and held up the bank, and sure, he drove them away before the police arrived. But that doesn't mean he was part of a conspiracy to rob the bank."

Remind me, if I'm ever on trial, not to hire Kristoff to deliver my closing argument to the jury.


Did it ever occur to Kristoff that Arafat's problem wasn't a lack of "courage," but a lack of will? Showing he doesn't get it, Kristoff quotes:

"Arafat was the way he always was — you can't pin him down — but he wanted to continue negotiating," recalled Robert Malley, a Clinton aide in the room.
Well of course he wanted to continue negotiating. Negotiating was (and is) great for Arafat. He continually got more and more promised to him without him having to actually do anything, and it prevented Israel from taking action against him. It was a no-lose situation for Arafat. Negotiations are fine. It's compromising that Arafat has trouble with. The peace "process" is wonderful for Arafat; it's peace he doesn't want.

May 19, 2002

Wolf! Wolf!

Oh, great. Now that the "revelations" that the Bush administration was "warned" about 9/11 have become public, be prepared for a whole lot more of this:

American intelligence agencies have intercepted a vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives over the last few months indicating that the terrorist organization is trying to carry out an operation as big as the Sept. 11 attacks or bigger, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.
But what sort of operation is it going to be?
"It's again not specific — not specific as to time, not specific as to place," one senior administration official said.


The intercepted communications do not point to any detailed plans for an attack, and even the messages mentioning mass casualties do not refer specifically to the use of weapons of mass destruction like chemical, biological or nuclear devices.

So, in short, something might happen somewhere, sometime.

Do we pay people to gather this sort of "information"? No, I shouldn't say that. It's tempting to make fun of it, but in fact it's the direct, foreseeable end result of the partisan criticism coming from Tom Daschle and his ilk. If you attack people for not revealing the information they have, then they're going to respond by revealing all the information they have, whether it's useful or whether it's something someone read in a fortune cookie.

Where's the harm in that? Simple: there's an unlimited amount of data that can be gathered. That's the (relatively) easy part. The government employs people to sift through it and separate the wheat from the chaff -- the difficult part. In the scapegoating environment which surrounds congressional hearings, people are going to be afraid to do that. Nobody in his right mind would want to be the person with an unconnected dot on his desk (or worse yet, in his trash can) when the next attack comes. So the wheat stays mixed in with the chaff, the hard work never gets done, and the real information is never identified as such.

And then there's the boy-who-cried-wolf atmosphere which is going to be created. The public -- and even law enforcement -- is going to stop taking warnings seriously when they come every week and never pan out. When the true warning comes, people won't know the difference.

May 20, 2002

Getting desperate?

I was just watching television, and happened to catch the latest War on Drugs commercial. Throwing out the bad acting and boiling it down to its essence:

Don't do drugs, or your parents might ground you.
Aren't you glad the brightest minds in the country are working on the drug problem? If we put them to work on the war on terrorism, we'll end up with commercials on Al-Jazeera saying, "Don't crash planes into buildings, or you'll never get your luggage back from the airline."

May 22, 2002

Sure, they want peace

If there's anybody who's still foolish enough to believe that Israel's neighbors are really interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel, nothing will convince them. For the rest of us, this story -- of continued attempts to delegitimize Israel's existence, won't really come as a surprise: Iran and other Muslim states are trying to get Israel expelled from the International Olympic Committee.

The dispute over the status of Israel emerged Wednesday as the world's 199 national Olympic committees opened their general assembly in the predominantly Muslim country of Malaysia.

Despite pressure from Iran and some Arab countries, Israeli delegates were granted visas and allowed to attend the meetings.

However, in a sign of the political sensitivities here, no high-ranking Malaysian government official attended the opening ceremony, and the Israeli flag was not displayed with the other national flags.

There are 199 countries with Olympic committees; 198 of them were allowed to fly their flags. This is the community of nations that Israel is supposed to trust?

But the real obscenity was the argument made:

Iranian Olympic chief Mostafa Hashemi, who sent the letter to Rogge, said the IOC should abide by its own charter.

"The Olympic Charter talks about peace and cooperation and says there should be no discrimination," he said. "The Israelis are committing genocide. With genocide, it's not possible to make peace."

Genocide, by the standards of the Jenin "massacre," I suppose. But which side of this war, exactly, refuses to abide by the Olympic Charter? Do these people think we've all forgotten the Munich Olympics?

May 29, 2002

Well, duh

Headline in the Washington Post: Chandra Levy Ruled A Homicide Victim . Glad we cleared that up, for the three or four people who thought she was killed by a swarm of killer squirrels.

And blind people probably shouldn't fly planes

The Supreme Court sensibly refused to hear the appeal of a dental hygienist who was removed from his job after his dentist-boss discovered he was HIV-positive. The Eleventh Circuit had held that the risk of passing the disease to patients justified the dentist's decision.

Waddell's lawyers argued that the appeals court ignored a previous Supreme Court decision and conflicts with rulings from other federal appeals courts. They asked the high court to use the case to underscore that an employer must have objective medical evidence to claim that an employee poses a risk to the health or safety of others.

Otherwise, ``a host of imaginable disasters could be hypothesized to exclude virtually any individual with a disability,'' Waddell's lawyers wrote.

Hmm. Fatal, communicable disease. Wheelchair. No, sorry, I don't see the slippery slope there.
``If left uncorrected, the 11th Circuit's decision threatens to undermine the public's confidence in the safety of dental treatment and the nation's health care system,'' the American Dental Association said in a friend of the court brief filed in Waddell's case.
So letting someone with AIDS treat patients won't cause problems, but banning this person from treating patients will "undermine the public's confidence." Uh, yeah.

There might be reasonable arguments against the dentist's decision -- but if that's the best one people can come up with, there obviously aren't. In fact, come to think of it, any political position justified on arguments about "undermining the public's confidence" is clearly a losing position. It doesn't really mean anything. Why can't people own cell phones? It might undermine public confidence in the nation's communications infrastructure. (See how easy it is?)

Sure, you have to feel sorry for the poor dental hygienist -- but it's easy for advocacy groups who will never be treated by this guy to insist that other members of the public ought to be guinea pigs to see how safe it really is. These are the same people, ideologically speaking, who endorse the "precautionary principle" in government regulation, which says that new technologies (genetically modified food, for instance) ought not to be allowed until they're proven safe. But when it comes to someone in a protected class, all of the sudden the principle gets reversed.

Not to sound all Pat Buchanany here, but...

The Justice Department is accusing at least three Florida counties of violating the Voting Rights Act, as part of the 2000 election fiasco fallout.

Also in the third county, the Civil Rights Division's investigation "indicated that a lack of bilingual poll workers resulted in considerable confusion at the polls, and that some poll workers were hostile to Hispanic voters."

In previous documents, the government has said that Orange and Osceola counties failed to have enough Spanish-speaking poll workers and did not provide election information in both Spanish and English.

The government alleges that Miami-Dade officials did not do enough to help Haitian American voters understand the ballot, according to a copy of a proposed agreement between the county and the Justice Department.

Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you have to be a citizen to vote? Why are we letting people become citizens if they aren't proficient in English? And when I say "proficient," I mean minimal competence, really. After all, how hard is it to translate "Ralph Nader" into Spanish? (Though apparently plenty of English speakers had trouble with the instructions, which said, "Don't vote for Pat Buchanan, stupid.")

Fat chance

Last week, the New York Times wrote a story about schools that are removing, or considering removing, so-called "junk food" from their cafeterias and/or vending machines. Then, in response, they printed six letters to the editor. What were those six?

  1. Junk food is bad, and schools need to provide recess for children.
  2. We must teach nutrition in schools. (by a professor of nutrition).
  3. The content of junk foods need to be regulated more by the government.
  4. Kids need to be taught about nutrition.
  5. Junk food needs to be banned from society.
  6. Junk food needs to be banned. Commercials for junk food should be, also.

Not a single letter saying, "This isn't the concern of schools, or the government. This is the concern of parents." No letters saying, "What someone chooses to eat is a private matter, not the business of anybody else." Of course, letters to the editor aren't the views of the editors -- but the choice of which letters to print does reflect their biases.

May 30, 2002

Bad government employee. Don't assist terrorists. Well, don't do it again.

Opinionjournal linked to the story of an FAA whistleblower who got his job back. He had warned his supervisors, and later the FBI, "that an airport security trainee might be linked to a Sept 11. hijacker." For doing so, he was fired(!)

That's absurd enough. But the part that didn't get emphasized:

"We concluded that his whistle-blowing activity was a contributing factor in the decision to fire him," said special counsel spokeswoman Jane McFarland. "The supervisors are going to get a letter of caution into their personnel file. When you reasonably believe that you're raising a matter of national concern or public health and safety, you should be protected."
A letter of caution?!?!?!?!? How about a demotion? Or immediate termination? Or better yet, how about if they're taken out and executed for treason? Remember, this is after 9/11. Just two days after. And these people are obstructing attempts to check for airline security problems? And nothing happens to them? Ain't civil service protection grand?

No good deed goes unpunished

The United Nations is finally doing something right, and some people are complaining about it.

U.N. war crimes prosecutors have been providing the United States with evidence of international terrorist activities they come across during their investigations, according to senior U.S. and U.N. officials.

Officials declined to characterize the nature or quality of the evidence. But the assistance underscores the deepening cooperation between U.N. agencies and the United States on anti-terrorism matters since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The assistance has alarmed some U.N. officials, who fear it may feed a perception that the United Nations is an instrument of U.S. military and foreign policy. They voiced concern that the assistance may compromise the United Nations' efforts to establish democracy in such places as Bosnia and endanger the lives of U.N. employees, particularly in the Middle East, where they would make an easy target for Islamic militants.

Well, certainly, we wouldn't want U.N. employees to be targets. That's what Israelis and Americans are for, right?

I didn't realize, incidentally, that fighting terrorism was merely "U.S. military and foreign policy." I thought it was pretty well accepted that it was a worldwide priority -- at least outside the Muslim world. And if providing information about terrorism compromises other U.N. efforts, then perhaps those other efforts ought to be reconsidered.

Better than the Weather Channel?

Just in case you had far too much free time:

First Ozzy. Now Anna Nicole Smith.

The former stripper who married a millionaire and posed nude for Playboy magazine is about to get her own reality TV show.

The daily life of Smith, 33, will be televised on E! Entertainment Television's new "The Anna Nicole Smith Show," network officials said Wednesday. The show is scheduled to debut in August.

Its creators promise the half-hour program will provide an inside look at the woman who in March was awarded $88 million from the estate of her late husband.

Okay, I know what Smith's appeal is. But after the first two episodes, what would you focus on?

Opening shots

Public defenders in Washington D.C. are challenging the city's virtually-complete ban on handguns on behalf of two of their clients who are charged with carrying guns without a license. This is the result of the Attorney General's recent pronouncement that he considered the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Of course, we get the obligatory whining from the anti-gun crowd:

Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy group, said it was inevitable that criminal defendants would use Ashcroft's arguments to challenge gun laws.

"People have been thinking about this as an abstract legal theory when it's been clear that Ashcroft's interpretation would have real-world consequences," Nosanchuk said.

I don't know which people were thinking of this "as an abstract legal theory"; I think most people who have thought about the issue at all realized that this was about the real-world right to own guns. Note the slanted description of the issue as "criminal defendants" challenging gun laws, as opposed to "citizens" challenging them.

Still, you should expect slanting; what you shouldn't expect are blatant lies:

The Second Amendment -- "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" -- was interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939 to apply only to militias and not to individuals.
It's one thing to disagree with a particular policy, or a particular Supreme Court decision. It's quite another to rewrite these decisions. The Miller case (the 1939 case that newspapers never seem to identify, perhaps so that readers can't fact-check them) does not say that the second amendment applies "only to militias and not to individuals." Rather, it clearly discusses the right as an individual one, because the individual rights interpretation does not conflict with the militia interpretation.

Given the Bush Administration's position, as well as the increasing acceptance in the legal community of the individual rights interpretation, the District's ban looks extremely vulnerable. That won't necessarily help the particular defendants involved in these cases, both of whom have criminal records which might justify restrictions of their second amendment rights. But it would be a major victory for the gun rights community. And if crime decreases in Washington as a result -- as John Lott's research suggests that it should -- it could turn out to be the gun control industry's Waterloo.

Central air, central planning

The New York Times is annoyed (what else is new?) at the Bush Administration.

An administration staffed with aggressive corporate executives might normally be expected to embrace cutting-edge solutions to the country's energy problems — especially when those solutions are accessible and affordable.
So what's a "cutting-edge solution," from the viewpoint of the editors of the New York Times? Why, federal regulation. What could be more cutting-edge than that? Aside maybe from a papal edict, I mean.

The Times is upset because the Bush Administration committed the unforgivable sin of proposing a mandatory 20% increase in fuel efficiency for central air conditioners. Why is that cause for alarm? Because one of Bill Clinton's eleventh hour decisions was to require a 30% increase. And thus, somehow, to the New York Times, a requirement that manufacturers increase efficiency by 20% reflects an "ideological suspicion of anything resembling top-down government." And ideology is always bad. Unless it's a liberal ideology.

And one of the main tenets of liberal ideology, incidentally, is that no cost is ever too high, as long as someone else is paying:

Most manufacturers have the ability to produce the more efficient units. But except for the second-largest maker, Goodman Manufacturing, none of the big companies wanted to proceed with the Clinton rule. They argued, and the Bush administration agreed, that the Clinton standard would make air-conditioners too expensive for low-income families and discourage others from replacing older systems. In actual fact, the up-front cost difference between the 20 and 30 percent standards is about $100 per unit — an amount that could be recovered through electricity savings in three to five years.
Well, no big deal then. I wonder if the editors of the New York Times are willing to front me $100 now. I promise to pay them back in three to five years.

A matter of perspective

While everyone else is holding up FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley as a hero for exposing the Bureau's incompetent failure to follow through in investigating Zacarias Moussaoui, law professor Jonathan Turley holds a different point of view:

What is astonishing is how little of her memo actually has been read or quoted beyond its most sensational suggestions, like the notion that Rowley and her colleagues might have been able to prevent one or more of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rowley's criticism of the FBI largely turns on disagreement over the meaning of probable cause. Rowley insists that there was probable cause to secure a search warrant for Moussaoui's computer and personal effects. The FBI headquarters disagreed, and it was right.

On Aug. 15, 2001, Moussaoui was arrested by the Immigration and Nationalization Service on a charge of overstaying his visa. At that time, the Minnesota office only had an "overstay" prisoner and a suspicion from an agent that he might be a terrorist because of his religious beliefs and flight training. If this hunch amounted to probable cause, it is hard to imagine what would not satisfy such a standard.


Rowley also places importance on a French report that "confirmed [Moussaoui's] radical fundamentalist Islamic" affiliations. This report was extremely vague and discounted by the FBI and other intelligence and foreign agencies.

Turley argues that the 9/11 attacks provided the probable cause which was lacking before. Of course, unless Turley knows far more about the French information than he's saying, I don't see how he can possibly come to a conclusion about the existence of probable cause. Moreover, Turley ignores the complaint by Rowley that the FBI didn't even try to get a warrant.

Note: the memo in question, written by Rowley, is here.

May 31, 2002

Coining a new term

I just wanted to give credit to Damian Penny for his important contribution to political theory:

Allow me to announce the discovery of Penny's Law: no matter how crazy a person may appear, there's always someone crazier.
And if you read some of his other entries, you'll see what he's talking about.

About May 2002

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in May 2002. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2002 is the previous archive.

June 2002 is the next archive.

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