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March 2004 Archives

March 2, 2004

A Tale Of Two T-Shirts

First, Harvard Rips Store's 'Old Voter' T-Shirt:

WASHINGTON - A Harvard political institute criticized the hip retailer Urban Outfitters on Monday for a new T-shirt campaign declaring that "Voting is for Old People."

The institute chided the Philadelphia-based clothing chain for appearing to wear its apathy on its chest, calling the T-shirt slogan "the wrong statement at the wrong time" in the pivotal presidential election year.

"The shirt's message could not be further from the truth," wrote Harvard Institute of Politics director Dan Glickman, the former congressman and Clinton administration agriculture secretary, and student chairman Ilan Graff in a letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Richard A. Hayne.

"We would be eager to work with you to suggest alternative products that send the right message to America's young people, and better reflect the considerable social conscience and political participation of today's youth," the letter said. "You might consider 'Voting Rocks!'"

Um, yeah. They might want to consider that Urban Outfitters wishes to remain a hip retailer.

Second, Anti-Boy T-Shirts Get Boost from Boycott:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The maker of T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" says business is booming despite -- or maybe because of -- protests that led some major U.S. retailers to stop selling them.

The shirts have been around for three years, but were recently thrust into the national spotlight by pundits debating whether feminism impugns the rights of males and whether a T-shirt could be an instrument of oppression.

How about nice T-shirts that say "Boys Rock!"?

What I find interesting is the differing tone of these articles. The protesters' concerns are taken seriously in the first one, derided in the second one. Theobligatory quote from the manufacturer is contrite in the first one, dismissive in the second one. Even the choice of protestors seems an attempt at bias - Harvard students and government officials in the first, talk-radio hosts in the second. And of course, compare the articles' titles.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with either shirt. I find it hard to believe that the shirts really discourage people from voting and encourage people to throw rocks at boys. And the shirts certainly aren't "instruments of oppression". But they can be a useful object lesson in double standards, as the first boy to wear a "Girls are dumb, throw bricks at them" shirt will soon find out.

March 4, 2004

Freakin' Sweet!

There will be new episodes of Family Guy starting next year! Woo hoo!

March 10, 2004

Drink alcohol or we'll fine you

Law of unintended consequences? Or just moronic law? Yet another one-size-fits-all "solution" turns out to have some serious problems in its implementation:

Of the roughly 20 hookah bars in New York City, about half are clustered along a short stretch of Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, known as Little Egypt. Here in the hazy cafes, owned mostly by Egyptian immigrants, men smoke fruit-flavored tobacco called shisha through water pipes called hookahs as they banter in Arabic, play chess or backgammon, or simply pass the day in a fragrant fog.

But big trouble has come to Little Egypt, causing the kind of jitters more often associated with the cigarette habit. Hookah shop owners say the city's Health Department has begun sending agents to Steinway Street to aggressively enforce the stringent smoking laws that took effect last spring - laws the owners had thought they could quietly sidestep.

Yes, but there's an exception in the law for "cigar bars," so these establishments are okay, right?


The owners have enlisted the help of their councilman, Peter Vallone Jr., who wrote to the city's health commissioner last week arguing that the shisha cafes are no different than the cigar bars that qualify for a legal exemption from the smoking laws. Mr. Vallone said that city law allows smoking if the bars draw at least 10 percent of their revenue from the sale of tobacco. Most of the shisha café owners say they earn well over half their revenue from tobacco.

But a Health Department official said yesterday that the cigar-bar exemption applied only to places that sell alcohol.

And they can't serve alcohol, because most of their clients are Muslims who don't drink.

So unless the law is changed, these businesses will be fined out of business by the fascistszealots at the Health Department, who have too much money in their budget, giving them the resources to employ agents to snoop around trying to catch people smoking at these bars.

Michael Bloomberg: Destroying free enterprise since 2003.

March 11, 2004

Hard to believe

Who woulda thunk that campaign finance "reform" would turn into a partisan weapon?

Then again, who would have thought that campaign finance "reform" would turn into a tool for corrupt politicians to enrich themselves at the public expense? Amusing is the New York Times' feigned naivete:

It was a far cry from what the reformers envisioned in 1996. Within a year, the new measures were credited with increasing the number of parties competing for power, and with helping the opposition win control of the lower house of Congress. Three years after that, a plain-talking politician named Vicente Fox was elected Mexico's first opposition president.

But the recent videotapes have brought the new system's drawbacks into focus. In a nation where more than half of all people live in poverty, Mexico's political system is the most expensive in Latin America. And the measures that opened the system to new parties also opened it to new capers.

Or is it real naivete? Have they never heard of the law of unintended consequences over at the New York Times?

Jesus Christ

I have not yet seen The Passion of the Christ, but I've been avidly following the discussions it has engendered. I've found most of the criticism rather irksome, but I wasn't really able to put my finger on exactly why. Then I read this sentence in a post by Debra Galant (linked to from Jeff Jarvis) and it came to me:

But the deeper fear, of course, was that this movie audience - if they knew I was Jewish - might tear me from limb to limb.

What bothers me about such criticism is its casual anti-Christian condescension. Here's Maureen Dowd with another example:

In "Braveheart" and "The Patriot," his other emotionally manipulative historical epics, you came out wanting to swing an ax into the skull of the nearest Englishman. Here, you want to kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth. And since the Romans have melted into history...

The assertion that the Romans have melted into history will surprise the many people who claim Roman ancestry. But the assertion that this country is one movie away from forming anti-Jewish mobs is frankly insulting. And more to the point, just plain wrong.

UPDATE (March 15): I swear I wrote the above before I even knew about Mark Steyn's column on the same subject. He makes just about exactly the same point I do, only being Mark Steyn, he makes it much better.

March 13, 2004

Good for only one thing

Brown University has established a panel to "examine" its "debt" to slavery. The panel is supposed to determine whether Brown should pay reparations to blacks.

Or, rather, it is supposed to determine that Brown should pay reparations to blacks, because, as Brown president Ruth Simmons explains:

Dr. Simmons said she would not reveal her opinion on reparations so as not to influence the committee.

``Here's the one thing I'll say,'' she said. ``If the committee comes back and says, `Oh it's been lovely and we've learned a lot,' but there's nothing in particular that they think Brown can do or should do, I will be very disappointed.''

Hint, hint, hint.

Oh, and reducting identity politics to the absurdum, Simmons added:

"I don't think there can be a person with a better background for dealing with this issue than me,'' she said. "If I have something to teach our students, if I have something to offer Brown, it's the fact that I am a descendant of slaves."
You'd think someone would be embarrassed to argue that she can't contribute anything, that someone who has multiple degrees from Harvard and a three decade career in academia is nothing more than what happened to people who have been dead for a century. But I guess in the modern era of skin color determining destiny, that's not even a remarkable statement. Unfortunately.

March 14, 2004

Thank god it's an election year

On Friday, the New York Times whined about the fact that Washington politicians weren't spending enough time interfering in our lives (*):

Call it legis-lite: the Republican leaders of Congress have been running one of the least demanding workloads in decades, politicking most of the year while scheduling only 94 days in session, 40 fewer than four years ago.
And yet, Congress still has plenty of free time for the important stuff; it's an election year, after all. I know, because Congress is taking time to inject itself (no pun intended) into the issue of... steroids in sports:
"Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies," warned McCain, R-Ariz. "I don't know what they are. But I can tell you, and the players you represent, the status quo is not acceptable."
Now, what John McCain thinks he can do about it -- steroid use without a prescription is already illegal, after all -- is beyond me. And the steroid rules are the result of collective bargaining between Major League Baseball and the Players' Association. But the fact that McCain thinks he should do something about the issue -- and the fact that nobody had the guts to tell him to shove his legislative remedies where the sun don't shine -- is disgusting. Is there a single person left in Washington -- okay, aside from Ron Paul -- who believes in limited government? What possible justification can there be for the Senate sticking its nose in the personal medical decisions of professional baseball players, or the rules of a private business like Major League Baseball?

(*) Actually, what the Times was complaining about was something different; it was complaining that Congress was spending one of its limited days in session on the issue of frivolous lawsuits -- a topic which is actually legitimate for the legislature to be addressing. The House passed a bill to ban tobacco-style tort lawsuits against the fast food industry. The Times had a fit, of course, because (gasp) "big business" might benefit.

The nation has a time-proven tort system that should not be tampered with to protect individual industries. The judiciary is capable of dismissing frivolous suits, and if any tort reform is needed, it should not be tailored to benefit any one class of defendants.
This is disingenuous on so many levels.
  1. What's been "time proven" is that the tort system is spinning more and more out of control.
  2. The judiciary may be capable of dismissing frivolous lawsuits, but even if it does so, each of those frivolous lawsuits cost the defendants -- and hence consumers -- tens of thousands of dollars. Somehow I doubt the Times would put forth the equivalently silly argument that it doesn't matter whether the government unfairly arrests immigrants because "the judiciary is capable of dismissing inappropriate criminal charges."
  3. Somehow I doubt even more strongly that the Times would endorse such a bill as this one if it applied to lots of industries rather than just fast food, so the argument that it's too narrowly tailored is disingenuous.

Democracy is good if my candidate wins

What do you call an election where the public prefers different candidates than you do? Well, if you're the New York Times, you call it "electoral retaliation."

Yes, you read that right. The Times, in yet another rant about Congressional attempts to rein in frivolous litigation, threw a tantrum a few weeks ago about a bill to protect firearm manufacturers, and they gave us this gem:

Proponents, counting on senators' raw fear of electoral retaliation if they dare to stand up on such an obvious issue of public safety, claim to be near the 60 votes needed to defeat any opposition filibuster.
Isn't that a rather unusual way to say that the proposed law would be popular? And yet the Times, which is fond of describing every conservative idea as "out of the mainstream," is suddenly complaining that senators are only supporting a law because most people want them to?

Can we get some communists in this country?

China has amended its constitution, officially protecting private property for the first time:

Five decades after sweeping to power, a period during which private property has been nationalized and bloody campaigns have been waged against landlords, China's parliament amended the constitution to add the clause: "Private property obtained legally is inviolable."
Boy, don't you wish our Constitution said that?

(Or at least that our Supreme Court justices would stop pretending that it didn't say that?)

Danger: Precautionary Principle At Work

Water, water, everywhere...except Aliso Viejo, California.

Less is more

More evidence that official numbers can't be taken at face value. Sopranos ratings fell from last season, sort of:

The total viewer figure fell by 1.3 million from the September 2002 fourth-season debut, although HBO explained yesterday that a change in how Nielsen Media Research reports the network's rating negatively impacted the numbers. According to an HBO spokeswoman, Nielsen had formerly lumped in HBO's viewers with those of HBO's suite of digital networks. The practice ended in January.
Nielsen ratings are, of course, trivial, but the larger point isn't: the media imbues statistics from any official-sounding source with a mystical aura of meaningfulness -- witness the latest claim from the Centers for "Disease" Control about deaths from obesity, and the credulous reporting thereof. And then the general public, which has no reason to doubt, parrots the media.

March 16, 2004

Share your milk and cookies, kids

Both Andrew Sullivan and David Bernstein link, disapprovingly, to a story quoting Romano Prodi, the head of the European commission, as saying, " 'It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists,' Prodi said." Both Sullivan and Bernstein are appalled (and rightly so) at the sentiment expressed by Prodi, but my sense is that they're both upset at the idea that Europeans can really believe that force isn't the answer.

But the rest of the message -- and granted that there may be translation issues (the story was published in La Stampa, in Italian) -- is worse, in my opinion. Note that Prodi speaks of "resolving" the "conflict." As if Al Qaeda and the U.S. were disputing responsibility for a fender-bender. How European. Can you imagine Bush -- or even Kerry -- talking about "resolving" the "conflict"? The U.S. goal is to win the conflict (or, rather, the war), not "resolve" it.

In other words, my complaint is less about the European inability to understand that violence is sometimes necessary -- though that's certainly a problem -- and more about the European lack of ambition. One gets the sense that the European attitude is that even if they believed force could defeat Al Qaeda, they would be opposed to employing it. That is, they would rather "resolve" the conflict than win it, even if they believed they could win it. And that, not the European blind spot on the usefulness of force, is the real problem. They want to compromise not because they believe they need to, but because they think compromise itself should be an end, rather than a means to an end.

Faith-based foreign policy

What's the difference between Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and an effective United Nations? There's evidence that the first two exist.

The New York Times can proclaim that the Spanish vote is a message to the Bush administration:

Mr. Zapatero now has an opportunity to use his new mandate to pressure Washington to seek U.N. help. The Bush administration has already learned it needs the United Nations.
Uh, yeah, whatever. What is it with liberals and the United Nations? I will concede that it would do the Iraqi rebuilding effort some good in terms of garnering European support if the United Nations were in charge in Iraq. And if that -- garnering European support -- were our goal, then the Times would be right to call for Bush to take note of that fact.

On the other hand, if our goal is actually to accomplish something in Iraq -- and I would suggest that it is -- then perhaps we need to stop fetishizing the "international community", and ask what good it can do. And its track record is quite poor, as this article about Bosnia demonstrates. A decade after the end of the Bosnian campaign, the country is still ethnically divided -- extensively:

MOSTAR, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Costly and redundant as it may seem, this city has two sets of nearly everything: hospitals, universities, primary schools, public transportation, even waste disposal services.

"Everything is duplicated because there are two peoples," explained Zoran Knezovic, the proud manager of the Zrinjski soccer team, made up almost entirely of ethnic Croats. Mostar also has another soccer team, Velez, which is mostly Muslim.

And it's being run as a dictatorship -- with the international community, not local leaders, as dictators.
Such criticism has been hard to deflect. Mostar's politicians, most of whom opposed the decrees, are elected, Bosnians and others point out, whereas Lord Ashdown is appointed — by foreigners.
Contrast that with the non-UN-run Iraq, where a multiethnic Iraqi governing council is in place, and plans are set to hand over power to an Iraqi government in the near future. Of course, Iraq has a long way to go, and we don't know how things will turn out. But at least it appears to be moving in the right direction -- while the UN bureaucracy in Bosnia appears to be doing what UN bureaucracies always appear to do: perpetuating itself by not solving anything.


Yet another piece of evidence for the 'don't believe official numbers' principle. Gregg Easterbrook takes the NCAA to task for their cavalier attitudes towards the "C" element of NCAA, particularly for basketball players. He points out that their graduation rates are not just poor, but embarrasingly such -- so much so that the NCAA has ceased reporting some of the numbers. That's all true -- but Easterbrook relies on official NCAA graduation statistics to make his point. And that seems reasonable; what could be more straightforward than a graduation rate statistic? Number of people who enrolled, and the number who graduated. Simple.

Or not. In fact, there are four problems, particularly when applied to college basketball, in the construction and interpretation of these statistics.

  1. The rates are 6-year graduation rates. While one would certainly hope that everyone could graduate within six years, not all do. This is a relatively minor point, as it seems likely that most students (and I use the term loosely) who don't graduate within six years never do -- but some might.
  2. The graduation rates use a ridiculous accounting method for transfers; those students essentially disappear into the ether. If a student enters a school, stays there for two years, and then transfers to a different school and graduates on-time from that school, he's counted no differently towards his first school than if he flunked out -- that is, they're penalized in the rate. Meanwhile, his second school gets no credit for him in their base graduation rate. (There is a separate statistic compiled by the NCAA for transfers, but nobody looks at that number when discussing a school's graduation rate.)
  3. Easterbrook would have you believe that all those student-athletes who fail to graduate are dropping out due to the, shall we say, lax attitude towards educating these students. Not so. A significant percentage are athletes who left school early to enter the NBA. We can debate whether or not underclassmen entering the NBA draft is a positive phenomenon -- but either way, it makes no sense to treat someone who forgoes his senior year for a multimillion dollar contract the same as someone who dropped out because he couldn't manage to spell cat if you spotted him the "c" and the "a."
  4. As the Jim Harrick scandal shows, whether a student graduates or not isn't very useful for comparative purposes; some schools actually require students to attend class, while others invent fake classes like Basketball 101, and then give enrollees As even when they don't satisfy the minimal requirements for those "classes."
The point here isn't that Easterbrook is wrong to complain; the way the NCAA pretends to be an amateur adjunct of academia when it's really a professional minor league where the players don't get paid is disgraceful. The point is that official statistics don't mean much unless you understand how they're constructed.

March 17, 2004

If you can't say it to someone's face, then don't say it...

Mark AR Kleiman doesn't think much of Bush's current campaign tack:

It's too early in the campaign season to be handing out the award for the dumbest charge, but Team Bush has certainly staked an early claim with its attack on John Kerry's comment -- known to be the truth by anyone who pays any attention to such things -- that many leaders in friendly countries overseas are rooting for him to win, though diplomacy prevents them from saying so in public.

The White House spokesgeek and others -- including Colin Powell, who surely knows better -- are demanding that Kerry identify the leaders who have told him privately that they're for him.

Well, "dumb" is probably the wrong word for it; as a tactic, it's quite brilliant, as it puts Kerry in an untenable position. Of course, Mark means that the charge is substantively dumb, not tactically dumb -- but I'm not sure I agree. It's a valid substantive criticism of Kerry that he stuck his foot in his mouth by saying something he shouldn't have.
Kerry's obvious response to this -- which he hasn't yet made, as far as I know -- is that when a foreign leader tells you something that he can't say in public, you're not supposed to quote him on it, because if you do then he'll never tell you anything again he doesn't want to have his name attached to. It's called "keeping confidences," and it's a very valuable charateristic to have in a President.
You know what else is a valuable characteristic to have in a President? Not revealing things people told you in private in the first place. If a person tells you something he "can't say in public," then you shouldn't say it in public, either -- at least not when the essence of the statement is the identity of the speaker. The violation of confidence isn't just using the speaker's name, but using the speaker's words. After all, without the speaker's identity, what Kerry is left with is, "Someone likes me better than Bush, but I won't tell you who." And Kleiman thinks that this makes Bush look foolish? I beg to differ.

By the way, why is Kerry bragging about this, anyway? is it really appropriate for a candidate for president to say, in effect, "Vote for me because I'm more popular in Europe"? Yes, I know, politics don't stop at the water's edge anymore -- if they ever did. But shouldn't one be a little more subtle about it? "Vote for me because I'll work to rebuild international alliances," perhaps? (It seems slightly less like a prom queen campaign speech if one uses the latter phrasing.)

March 21, 2004

But did she get married?

They can't get the big ones right, but boy are they all over the little ones. From the New York Times' Sunday Styles section this week:

Editor's Note

A report on Feb. 15 about the wedding of Riva Golan Ritvo and Alan Bruce Slifka included an erroneous account of the bride's education, which she supplied.

Ms. Ritvo, a child therapist, did not graduate from the University of Pennsylvania or receive a master's degree in occupational therapy or a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California. Though she attended Penn for a time, her bachelor's degree, in occupational therapy, is from U.S.C.

The Times should have corroborated the credentials before publishing the report.

Repeat: "which she supplied." Which raises the question: who turned her in?

What took 'em so long?

Breaking news: from Gaza:

Israeli helicopters fired missiles at Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin's car as it left his house for a mosque at daybreak Monday, residents said, and mosque loudspeakers said he was killed.
Good news, if true. And it shows how humane Israel is; it could have killed this guy at any time, but waited until it could get him without killing many innocent bystanders.
In announcing Yassin's death, Hamas said, "(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head."
For people who claim to welcome martyrdom, they sure get annoyed when people actually give them what they want.

Not from the NCAA Tournament

I'll take "Rising from the dead" for $1000, Alex: Zombies beat Jesus.

I hear Jesus had been a 3:2 favorite.

March 22, 2004

We need to get the UN into Iraq

More evidence that the liberation of Iraq will never be successful without the United Nations:

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro - Kosovo has declared a day of mourning for Monday, ordering flags to fly at half staff to grieve for the 28 people killed in ethnic Albanian mob violence directed at Serbs.


The attacks were the worst outbreak of violence since 1999, when a NATO air war ended a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians seeking independence. The war killed 10,000 ethnic people.

Kosovo has been an international protectorate since then, whose final status is to be decided by the United Nations (news - web sites). For now, it officially remains a part of Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state of Yugoslavia.

Why on earth does anybody -- this means you, Mr. New York Times -- think the United Nations can possibly assist the United States in building a new Iraq?

The usual suspects

As expected, everyone on the planet, except the United States, has rushed to condemn Israel for killing terrorist leader Ahmed Yassin of Hamas.

  • [Jack Straw of the UK]: "We therefore condemn it. It's unacceptable, it's unjustified and it's very unlikely to achieve its objective," he said.
  • France has condemned the killing, also describing it as against international law.
  • [Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller]: "As you know we are against extrajudicial killings. Terror and violence and retaliation is not the way ahead," he said.
Etc., etc.

Yeah, whatever.

Of course, it's just going to increase the "cycle of violence," and similar cliches. On the other hand, not killing him hasn't solved anything, now has it? Why is everyone so sure that something which has never worked -- pretending that there's a "peace process" -- will work, while being certain that killing those opposed to the peace process will "escalate" the situation?

But that aside, the (official) European complaint is that they oppose "extrajudicial" killing. Well, assuming for the sake of argument that they're right as a matter of law, how about as a matter of practicality? How many people -- on both sides -- would have died if Israel had tried to arrest Yassin? How big a force would Israel have had to send, just to protect itself? How much of Gaza would they have had to level? How many would have defended Yassin?

Is anybody naive enough to think that Israel wouldn't have been equally -- if not more strongly -- condemned for that approach? Remember the outcry over the Jenin massacre/hoax?

A nice place to visit, but...

Via Crescat Sententia, this useful travel story from the Economist:

He has perhaps the world's hardest job, but very little to do. Abdi Jimale Osman is Somalia's minister of tourism. His inbox is always empty; unsurprisingly, given that his anarchic homeland has not had a single officially acknowledged tourist in 14 years.
You know what they say: read the rest.

I wonder what that job pays, anyway.

March 24, 2004

The General Welfare

As the NY Times reports, "Despite the Sluggish Economy, Welfare Rolls Actually Shrank".

After Congress overhauled the nation's welfare system in 1996, the number of families receiving benefits dropped much faster than federal and state officials had expected. Even more remarkable, officials say, the rolls did not grow during the recession of 2001 or the sluggish economy since.

In fact, in the last three years, the number of families on welfare has declined slightly, to two million, which is less than half the number receiving public assistance when President Bill Clinton signed the welfare law in August 1996.

Experts suggest many reasons. People work harder to find jobs before seeking public assistance. Welfare recipients have learned job skills and a work ethic. States provide child care and other noncash help so they can keep jobs after leaving welfare. And, some experts say, new rules and requirements may intimidate poor people from seeking welfare.

The article does imply overall that it is a good thing that fewer people are on welfare (imagine that), but of course there are the obligatory quotes from those who don't agree:

Shawn Fremstad, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research and advocacy group, said, "Falling caseloads amid rising poverty should be a cause for concern."

Wendell E. Primus, a welfare official in the Clinton administration who resigned to protest signing of the 1996 law, amplified that concern: "It's an indictment of the welfare law, the welfare system, that it has not been more responsive to economic conditions."

Meaning, perhaps, that it hasn't been responsive in the way that Wendell E. Primus expected it to be a few years back:

To call welfare reform a "striking public policy success" would overstate its impact significantly. Let's see what happens during a recession and when more families reach the five-year time limit imposed by the 1996 law. Welfare reform is publicly perceived as successful because of dramatically reduced caseloads, increased employment of single mothers, declining child poverty, and even some increase in the percentage of children living in two-parent families. But these developments are not just due to welfare reform but also to the strong economy of the 1990s, which was able to raise real wages at the bottom of the scale and reduce unemployment to its lowest levels in 30 years

So now that the economy isn't as strong, Primus regards this success as a failure. Strange. Anyway, Mickey Kaus, on the same page, has a great rebuttal:

The 1996 welfare reform was a defeat for "Money Liberals," such as Wendell Primus, who are concerned above all else with getting money into the hands of those in the bottom quintiles of the income charts. Reform was a victory for the work ethic, and the notion that honoring this popular American value - by not giving cash to those who don't work - is ultimately the best way to build a decent society for poor and rich.

Read the whole thing (TM).

March 25, 2004

War is peace

A blogger named "Adam" is annoyed at me for being pleasantly surprised by the killing of leading terrorist Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Part of Adam's problem is the phenomenon, publicized by Mickey Kaus, of iberal "cocooning" -- that is, liberal control of the media preventing liberals from being exposed to conservative ideas, and then being unable to handle them. (Adam admits that "it's been so long since [he's] heard arguments for capital punishment," as if he were discussing phrenology or Marxist economics or some other long-discarded notion.)

But the larger problem is his naivete. Although demonstrating a slight bit of skepticism, he ultimately believes what makes him feel good to believe:

ieporent is still ignoring some important details, like the fact that as recently as January Yassin had been ready "in principle" for a truce (according to this Economist article). I'm as cynical as the next American when it comes to Hamas, but given Israel's dismissal of Yassin's proposal, I'm not sure who should have been arresting whom.
He might be cynical about Hamas, but he isn't cynical enough about the media. Was Hamas ready "in principle" for a truce? What does that even mean?

I'll tell you what it means. Assuming we take Hamas at its word, it means... diddlysquat:

Abd al-Aziz al-Rantissi, a Hamas official has said his organization could declare a 10-year truce with Israel if Israel withdraws from territory captured since 1967.

Rantissi said on Sunday that his organization had come to the conclusion it was difficult to liberate all their land at this stage, so they accept a phased liberation.


But Rantissi was clear and added that any such new proposal would not mean that Hamas recognized Israel or spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Rantisi said the truce could last 10 years, though "not more than 10 years."

This is what the Economist describes as being ready for a truce "in principle." Israel would give up everything, and in exchange Hamas wouldn't even recognize Israel's existence, let alone accept it; indeed, Hamas openly admits that their attempt to wipe Israel out would have just a temporary pause. And Israel is to blame for not accepting this proposal? Israel should apologize for killing the leader of the group that proposed this?

March 27, 2004

I only read it for the pictures

In the midst of the back-and-forth about responsibility for 9/11, we might wonder whether it could have been prevented, whether the government devoted enough attention to the problem of terrorism. Then we might wonder why, given the massive federal budget, they couldn't do more. With millions of federal employees, what was the problem?

Well, to get an idea, read this obscene story of government misallocation of resources. (Warning: not office-safe.) For months, an undercover federal agent was paid... to work out at a gym. And it wasn't because members of Al Qaeda trained there.

Ronnie can barely think about tomorrow. The week's workouts have taken their toll -- on his way out he grabs at a twinge deep inside his shoulder that feels like a torn muscle. But there's no stopping now, because Ronnie G. is on a mission. He is actually Iran White, a top undercover cop sure that he's about to crack the biggest case of his career. He has worn a wire and kept a Glock stuffed in his waistband for two months, all in a daring attempt to get close to Anderson and, ultimately, to Bonds himself. White is armed because he's looking for juice: He's on a hunt for steroids.
Yes, steroids. At a time when national security was, and is, of paramount importance, the federal government was, and is, investigating steroid use. What prompted this investigation? Was it a rumor that Islamic terrorists were dealing steroids to fund their operations? Nope; it was just a personal vendetta:
To White, [IRS agent] Novitzky -- who did not participate in this article -- seemed to have an unusual interest in the ballplayer. He mentioned Bonds frequently after a sighting or a Giants game. One day at court Novitzky struck up a conversation with White that went beyond the usual talk-radio banter.

"That Bonds. He's a great athlete," White says Novitzky told him. "You think he's on steroids?"

White took a moment before replying, in his bourbon-and-cotton voice, "I think they're all on steroids. All of our top major leaguers."

Novitzky seemed to care only about Bonds. "He's such an asshole to the press," he said. "I'd sure like to prove it."

Yes, the major investigation was prompted by a guy who wanted to prove that Barry Bonds was using steroids because he wasn't friendly to sports reporters. What this has to do with the federal government isn't exactly clear; what this has to do with the IRS's mission is even less obvious.

Surely, though, other law enforcement officials would inject some sanity into the mix, right? Nope. They were just as eager to go after the steroids. Why?

A few weeks after the April 17 meeting, White, Novitzky and a handful of other agents meet at the San Jose Federal building. According to White, Novitzky names Bonds, Jason Giambi and other major leaguers as targets of the investigation. Cracking down on BALCO just for money laundering would never merit such energy from law enforcement, but a connection to Bonds would launch it into headlines around the country. Prosecutor Nedrow sets the tone. "Gentlemen, this case is going to have to be done by the numbers," he says. "With all of the attorneys and the athletes, everything and everybody will be under scrutiny."
(Emphasis added.) Well, there you go. Headlines. Always an important consideration for law enforcement.

Yes, this is what government is wasting your money on, while claiming they need more money for "first responders" in the event of terrorism.

(The punch line to this joke of a story, incidentally, is that after all this work, Barry Bonds and other athletes were given immunity to testify against BALCO et al. before a grand jury. In other words, the feds couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute Bonds for anything, and indeed couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute the BALCO people without the help of the athletes.)

March 29, 2004

What do you get when you cross laundry, a dog, and a Hefty bag?

A few years ago, Georgetown law professor David Cole famously catalogued the list of characteristics that government agents over the years had cited as attributes of a drug courier profile. Among the characteristics cited were: arriving in the morning, arriving in the afternoon, arriving in the evening. Disembarking first, disembarking last, and disembarking in the middle of the crowd. Traveling alone, and traveling with someone. In short, these "profiles" were merely an excuse invented by police after the fact to justify their stops and searches of passengers.

To that list of absurdities, we can add taking out the trash on trash day. Police in Carlsbad, California raided the home of Dina Dagy. Why? She used a lot of electricity, a police dog "reacted as though it had smelled drugs," and the Dagys took out the trash. "Huh?" you may be thinking. No, really:

They also noticed the family had put its trash out that morning, something police say drug growers often do to hide the evidence. In the Dagys' case, however, it was trash day.
Yes, they made that argument with a straight face: putting out the trash is "something drug growers often do." Their other arguments were less silly, but no more legitimate:
When authorities noticed how high the [utility] bill for the Dagy home was, they sent a police dog to the neighborhood, and it reacted as though it had smelled drugs.
Of course, these sorts of dogs "react" by sitting down, which makes their slightly less than unambiguous. So based on lack of conservation, a tired dog, and some bags of trash -- which, incidentally, the police could simply have examined, since it is not constitutionally protected once it is placed out at the curb -- they were able to obtain a warrant.

Apparently, that's pretty common:

Authorities say they have already apologized verbally several times and were only following proper procedures. Tracking down marijuana growers by reviewing electricity bills, they say, is a common practice.
Your government at work, folks. Keeping America safe from terrorists and those who do too much laundry.

March 30, 2004

The Death of Common Sense

So it seems that some churches in residential neighborhoods in Queens are causing friction with their neighbors, because all the people coming to services are causing parking problems. The solution? Force all new religious institutions to build parking lots. Which may be oppressive enough, since real estate in New York is very expensive. But for certain groups, like Orthodox Jews, the rule is beyond idiotic. That's because Orthodox Jews don't drive to synagogue. They have no need for any parking spaces at all.

They know this, but, hey, government is government:

City Councilman Tony Avella, one of the authors of the proposed law, called it a necessary first step.

"You can't write a law for just one religion," Mr. Avella said of the Orthodox Jews' complaints.

Of course. So what's next, requiring Catholic churches to provide male and female bathrooms for priests?

And here's the real question: if government pays for Jews' parking spaces, would this pork barrel spending be kosher?

March 31, 2004

Look but don't touch?

Eugene Volokh's been blogging about child pornography lately (see here and here) and then follows up by responding to a reader's question:

Someone asked: Are pictures of naked children per se child pornography? As I understand it, most laws define child porn as pictures of minors engaging in sexual practices or lewdly exhibiting their genitals; that is the basis on which the child porn statutes were upheld against a First Amendment challenge. A picture of a nude child where the genitals aren't lewdly exhibited -- which probably refers to how they're likely to be seen by the typical observer, and not to the intentions of the minor -- presumably wouldn't be child pornography.
In fact, Eugene is exactly right, at least in one state, as this story about the cinematic classic Girls Gone Wild explains :
A video producer under fire for selling tapes of body-exposing behavior during spring break bacchanals won an important legal point when a Florida trial court ruled that showing breasts of girls did not meet the state's definition of sexual conduct.

Florida law bars the promotion or possession of photos or videotapes that depict sexual conduct by a child under the age of 18.


The defense countered that the images of a bare-chested minor did not constitute sexual conduct within the meaning of Florida law. According to the court ruling, state law says:

"Sexual conduct means actual or simulated sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality, masturbation or sadomachistic abuse; actual lewd exhibition of the genitals; actual physical contact with a person's clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if such person is a female, breast with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of either party. ."

"The videotape image of the minor does not reflect any actual physical contact with her clothed or unclothed breasts," wrote Judge Michael C. Overstreet of the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit in Bay County, Fla.

And no, I wasn't checking to see whether my collection's legal (I don't even live in Florida); it just happened to be posted to a mailing list I'm on. So just hide the tapes from your girlfriend; don't worry about the police. At least in Florida. At least until the legislature meets again.

About March 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in March 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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