STEVEN HAWKING is supposedly worrying about super-smart computers taking over the world. Personally, I doubt it. God knows there's no correlation between intelligence and world domination today, or in any part of human history. Hawking argues instead for using machines to amplify human intelligence, something he knows about firsthand, though not to the extent that this article suggests. My favorite take on the subject is in this comment from Slashdot, which demonstrates the normal progression of news stories all too well.
EXCELLENT COLUMN BY RICK STENGEL on traditional media's fear-hate-contempt of Internet news. Stengel notes that Internet news-browsing means a huge loss of power for traditional media, who have always packaged the news to suit their own views of what people should know. (That they did this isn't their fault -- they didn't really have a choice. What's their fault is thinking that this necessity must somehow be a virtue). Now people are getting their information in other ways, and it's tremendously upsetting to traditional power structures.
This is absolutely true. You can see it clearly in a lot of places, but one very clear example is in Tennessee, where the fight over whether to adopt an income tax turned out the way it did because of the Internet and talk radio. All the traditional major media organizations in the state supported an income tax. But tax opponents were very savvy in their use of email, websites, and talk radio. The speed of these technologies let them get inside the decision curve of the legislature: when the legislature, late in the session, suddenly decided to bring up the income tax again (after everyone thought it was dead), word was out via email within minutes, and in less than an hour there were a couple of thousand protesters at the Capitol. The same thing had happened the year before, but the legislature (which barely uses email) hasn't been quick to pick up on this trend.
You see it in other areas, where traditional slants and spins don't have as much traction as they used to. It represents the biggest political power shift since the Supreme Court forced one-person one-vote redistricting on state legislatures. Naturally, traditional media don't like it -- because the power that's shifting is mostly shifting away from them.
AN AMERICAN TRADITION is to dislike politicians who seem to want their offices too much. Nowadays, that's often made fun of as outdated. But in this oped Dan Walters makes the case that politicians who have too much of themselves invested in their jobs are likely to cause serious trouble when things go wrong: "No matter what the office, if its holder derives a fundamental sense of personal identity from his or her political career, the politician is too often willing to go to elaborate, even illicit, lengths to survive. To such politicians, losing a campaign or being driven from office is the psychological equivalent of a life-threatening crisis."
Walters gives examples: Nixon, LBJ, Clinton. I think he's probably right. But consider this: the barriers (including the many "ethics" laws) that we've put into place make running for office -- or even standing for appointed positions -- so unpleasant that well-balanced people are likely to be reluctant. Only those in it for full-bore ego gratification, who are willing to do anything to achieve high office, will be undeterred by all these rules. So we're actually sorting for the kinds of politicans that Walters describes as dangerous. And we're doing it in the name of good government.
LIES, DAMN LIES, AND MODERN LIFE: This article by John Leland from the New York Times Magazine uses (who else) Joseph Ellis as the springboard for an article on lies and invention. It's a nice piece. Almost as good as the one that got me a Pulitzer Prize. Yeah, that's it, a Pulitzer Prize. That's the ticket. It's on the mantel next to the Nobel....
ETHICS PROFESSIONALS: From time to time I make fun of the bloviations of ethics professionals. Well, it's time to do it again! (What, you thought this was the prelude to, like, some sort of apology?) In this story by Julian Barnes in the New York Times, we learn that Proctor & Gamble is being denounced by Unilever because its industrial spies stole documents from a trash bin.
But, as "a spokesman for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, said taking documents from the trash was a violation of the organization's ethics code only when the bins were on private property." Ah, well, that makes it OK!
To be fair, the spokesman went on to add that, nonetheless, this is a bad idea and looks bad if you're found out. But it's not unethical. Got that?
And isn't it hilarious that there's a "Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals" to begin with? And that this professional association for -- to "speak with stone" as the Greeks used to say -- company spies has an Ethics Code! I've co-written a book criticizing the overproliferation of ethics codes, and even I'm amused by this. If we'd used this as an example in the book, people probably would have thought we were making it up.
THEN AGAIN, THE FEDS ARE NO PRIZE EITHER: Apparently, the FBI had a CIA report that cast doubt on Wen Ho Lee's guilt, but ignored it in accord with the apparently longstanding FBI program of not letting evidence get in the way of prosecuting someone it's decided to nail. If businesses operated this way, they'd be sued out of existence. The government is shielded by something called "sovereign immunity," apparently on the basis that if the idiots who run things were actually accountable for all their mistakes, the government would collapse. Why does this not make me feel better?
EVEN MORE D.C. GOVERNMENT INCOMPETENCE: Two paramedics (who somehow had managed to avoid pregancy -- see below) saved a man's life by using a standard procedure called "needle decompression." Now they're in danger of being fired because the procedure isn't in D.C.'s outdated procedure manual, which was last revised in 1994.
MORE D.C. GOVERNMENT INCOMPETENCE: D.C. inmate Joseph Heard -- who can neither speak or hear -- was held in DC jails for almost two years even though there were no charges against him. He frantically wrote notes trying to get released, but the jailers ignored 'em. Quote: "They ignored my notes. I gave notes to different people, and I never received any help. I kept telling them over and over, and they just ignored it," Heard, 42, said through interpreters. "They just crumpled them up or threw them away, many times."
The "mole" in the Bush campaign just got a year in jail for mailing a stolen videotape to Gore HQ. Think these jailers -- who kept an innocent man locked up for nearly two years, while ignoring his pleas -- will get any time themselves? Fat chance.
DC is the only city directly run by the federal government. That should serve as a cautionary tale regarding expanded federal power. Shouldn't it?
HAVE AN ABORTION OR LOSE YOUR JOB: That's the position of D.C. Emergency Medical Services, according to this story. When I lived in DC, these guys were so slow (ambulances literally arriving as much as 12 hours after being called) that you could just about bring a pregnance to term on a call anyway. We used to say in DC that if you were having a heart attack you should call Domino's instead -- the pizza guy would definitely be there in 30 minutes, and you could ask him to drive you to the hospital. It's possible that they've improved since then, but I doubt it. Not much else in D.C. has.
HERE, courtesy of Slashdot, is a link to the Association for Computing Machinery's filing in the case of Felten v. RIAA. Felten, you may recall, is the Princeton professor whose presentation on encryptino was blocked by RIAA legal threats. Now he's suing to have the DMCA declared unconstitutional; ACM is taking his side in this amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief. Interesting reading, even for nonlawyers, if you're interested in this topic.
SPEAKING OF LABOR, an ILO study reported in the New York Times says that Americans work far more hours than the British, Germans, and even the Japanese. That seems right. However, as the study also notes, we're probably at the point of diminishing returns on work. Guess I'll go have a second cup of coffee, away from the computer!
I NOTICE THAT MY FELLOW ME-ZINERS like Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Virginia Postrel and Mickey Kaus seem to be taking the weekend off. (The Bullmoose has been AWOL for weeks). I, too, intend to celebrate Labor Day in the traditional fashion, by avoiding labor. InstaPundit, of course, isn't really work but a labor of love -- but I will be posting somewhat less often.
STEVE CHAPMAN DEFENDS POLYGAMY in this column in the Chicago Tribune. As Chapman points out, when NBA stars, rappers, or members of Congress are involved with multiple women, and even father children by them, they don't go to jail. It's only some guy, like recently convicted Utah polygamist Tom Green, who actually goes and marries 'em who gets locked up! Having said that, I note that the idea of polygamy appeals most to men who don't have any wives.
I PAY A LOT OF ATTENTION TO PRIVACY ISSUES, but here's a weblog that does nothing but that. If my stuff floats your boat, you'll love this place. Here's a story about protests in support of Dmitry Sklyarov that I got from there.
BUSH CAMPAIGN "MOLE" SENTENCED: Juanita Yvette Lozano, the "mole" in the Bush campaign who sent a debate-practice tape to the Gore campaign, has been sentenced to a year in prison. That seems a bit harsh for an act that was naughty, but hardly criminal. A suspended sentence should really have been enough. I'll bet that Joyce Gilchrist, the Oklahoma City police scientist who has sent innocent men to jail on phony testimony, won't serve that much time.
DMITRY SKLYAROV says he doesn't want to live in the United States. The authorities are too intrusive and overbearing. (Plus, they're acting as hired goons for the economic interests of corporations.)
RACISM? OR CASTEISM? This article from Mother Jones describes the Indian caste system, a matter of less concern to the U.N. Racism Conference even though it affects a lot more people than zionism (a Human Rights Watch writer describes India's system as akin to apartheid). The Indian government is just fine with this set of priorities. I imagine Mauritania, the Sudan, and Mali are just fine with the lack of emphasis on slavery, too. Jim Pinkerton thinks that Colin Powell should have attended and pointed these contradictions, and others, out. If I thought that Powell, in the mold of Vernon Walters or Margaret Thatcher, might have made this kind of point, I'd agree. But that's hardly his style. And anything less than head-on criticism, shorn of diplomatic mealy-mouthedness, would have been seen as an endorsement.
DAN BURTON SAVAGES AN ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR "STONEWALLING" AND PROMISES SUBPOENAS: More of Burton's partisan vendetta against Janet Reno? Er, no -- now it's John Ashcroft he's after.
BREAKING NEWS: (No, really -- actual news, not just punditry...) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has just decided the case of Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, which was the big plaintiff's suit brought in the sympathetic court of District Judge Jack Weinstein of Agent Orange litigation fame. The opinion isn't online yet, either at Westlaw or on the Web (check here or here later and it should be up), but an email I just got suggests that it was a pretty major blow, not just a defeat, to the anti-gun folks. Seems the court rejected a lot of factual findings -- including the absurd one that the manufacture and sale of firearms is unregulated -- as well as the legal arguments.
UPDATE: The case is available on LEXIS now, and I've read it quickly. No change from what I wrote above.
This is the latest in a string of defeats for anti-gun lawsuits based on product liability. Sanctions have already been imposed on plaintiffs in at least one case; at this point, I think it would be fair to characterize similar suits as sufficiently frivolous to be worthy of sanctions.
AN OBSERVATION: I've noticed that most of my email comes from two kinds of people: male lawyers and female techno-geeks. That's cool -- I like 'em both. Actually, I've noticed a lot of good matches between male lawyers and female techno-geeks, so maybe there's some underlying affinity there. But don't worry: although matchmaking weblogs are apparently growing more common, I don't see InstaPundit in that role.
BAD NEWS ABOUT KENNEDY: This article from Space.Com says that Kennedy was a lot less of a space visionary than most of us think. His interests were entirely political; it was just the speeches that were visionary. This matches something that Jerome Weisner -- who was an advisor to Kennedy on space -- told me some years ago. He said Kennedy was interested in space because it was a way to beat the Russians, not because he had any special interest in space. The tapes that are discussed in this article support that view. They also support the view that Jim Webb, the NASA administrator at the time, was an even better guy than I realized -- and I realized that he was good.
I DON'T GET ALL MY SOUTHEAST ASIA NEWS from Andrea See but I get most of the cool stuff that way. She explains that Singapore is imposing new requirements on entertainment venues that are much like those federal prosectors want to impose. (See below; also see this on legislation now before the Senate that does the same.) The funniest part: an explanation that these new rules are going to "encourage self-discipline." Oh, and don't worry: even though there's an election coming, they won't be applied to political events. Right. As Andrea says: "Methinks... too much... protest... y'know, that sort of thing. /chortles/"
SOLTYS & YATES: Here's another column noting the different treatment of Nikolay Soltis and Andrea Yates. More people seem to be noticing.
DC COPS: They leave the crooks on the streets, but they kept this guy in jail for two years even though there weren't any charges against him. Oops. There's a temptation to call this sort of episode a "Keystone Kops" episode, but that's not right. The Keystone Kops were funny.
NEW ORLEANS RAVE FOLLOWUP: I just ran across this terrific editorial from the New Orleans Times Picayune on the ridiculous effort by federal prosecutors to ban glowsticks as part of an anti-drug campaign. Final quote: "The June plea bargain was a convenient way out of the case for everyone involved. The Brunet brothers escaped going to jail. Prosecutors got to claim victory in their efforts to fight drugs at raves. But in the end, the deal was little more than feel-good justice. And its only real consequence is that a bunch of people may end up spending more time in court."
STILL MORE ON THE GUN PANEL: This article by Sam MacDonald in Reason reports on the first day's meeting: MacDonald says he was the only journalist present. His account of the panel is more friendly than the others I've linked to, though he makes a point of mentioning the bad or nonexistent data that current gun laws are based on. I hope he's right about its commitment to fairness. I also hope that MacDonald, along with other people, will be watching the study's work all along -- if the study's done right, it might be useful. If it's primarily a political tool for gun-control activists, as many fear, it will undermine research in the field for a decade.
Are they fair? I think the burden is on them to demonstrate that, by being sure their process is open to people with divergent views -- not the usual lineup of antigun folks operating under academic cover, plus a single NRA representative for "balance." We'll know as this goes along. And maybe they'll do a better job now that it's clear someone is watching.
NEWS FLASH -- PEOPLE WON'T PAY TOP DOLLAR FOR CRAP: That's the gist of this study on digital music purchasing, which finds that consumers don't want to pay top dollar for a product that's less useful than other alternatives. And, as this story in the New York Times illustrates, that's exactly what the major-label digital music sites are peddling: a product that's cumbersome to buy, full of annoying restrictions, and overpriced. No wonder they're failing: none of them has a user interface that's as friendly as Napster's. Which is funny since, you may recall, Napster was invented by a college kid.
READER MARK WHITTINGTON has this comment about the Hillary 2004 rumors: "I'm also reminded of the fact that some pundits called the Democratic slate in 1988 "the Seven Dwarves" because no one thought much of the folks who were running then. In 2004, would it therefore be 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves?' Just a thought."
INTERESTING POLL DATA FROM THE NAACP: Majorities of members think they won't get social security, oppose bills to ban racial profiling, and oppose reparations. Click here to see more.
THE NAS GUN PANEL GOT MORE FLAK FOR BEING STACKED TODAY: As this story on FoxNews.Com illustrates. As far as I know, this was first written about right here on InstaPundit, but the issue seems to be developing some traction. As it should.
I hope that Leon Kass's Biethics Commission will get the same kind of scrutiny, because it's likely to fall victim to the same kind of shenanigans.
WALTER SHAPIRO IS BACK FROM VACATION! And he has a great column on mandatory food warnings (now, believe it or not, on menus in Massachussetts). These things are easy to mock, but they're not harmless. As Shapiro says: "Misguided regulatory over-reach breeds disrespect for government." This is a very important point. People (like, say, Tom Daschle) who love government ought to be in the forefront of limiting its efforts to things that are actually important, and of making sure that it does them honestly and well. Instead, they tend to support all sorts of dumb things, and then try to avoid scrutiny of their idiocy -- which, paradoxically, tends to undermine support for government the most.
I believe that the mainstream anti-government mood in America started with the 55 MPH speed limit -- a transparently political and stupid enactment (designed mostly to make it look like the government was doing something about the energy crisis) that spawned bumper stickers reading: "It's not a good idea. It's just the law." Those bumper stickers were right. Trouble is, you can forfeit people's confidence a lot more easily than you can get it back.
OKAY, I'M DELIBERATELY IGNORING THE C*NDIT STUFF: I figure it's getting enough attention elsewhere. If you haven't gotten enough on this subject, check out this provocative TRB column by Andrew Sullivan. I don't promise I'll keep the 100% free label forever, but I will wait until there's something new to say. Sullivan, however, has been finding new things to say all along.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT UPDATE: According to this poll, 70% of women flirt with coworkers. 36% date them. Both, no doubt, are refreshing signs of women's progress and freedom. (Men who do this, of course, are pigs.)
THE STACKED NAS GUN PANEL discussed below comes under fire today from Yale scholar John Lott. While one of the panel members (see below) swears that he's not "rabidly antigun," Lott provides some more good reasons to doubt the panel's objectivity. Personally, I think the panel would have a lot more credibility if it looked at the benefits of gun ownership as well as the costs, and if it included people like Lott, or Gary Kleck, or other scholars who have looked at the upside of gun ownership. You can make anything look bad if you focus solely on costs, and not benefits. And what's Ben Civiletti doing on the panel? He's a politician, not a scientist. Oh, but he's a politician with a strong anti-gun record, which I guess is credential enough for this exercise. I don't mean to be harsh here, but if they didn't want this kind of criticism, all they had to do was approach the issue in a more balanced fashion. What worries me is that they're so blinded by preconceptions that they think including somebody like Civiletti is balanced.
GENDER RELATIONS UPDATE: The New York Times letters page runneth over with responses to Maureen Dowd's column (discussed below on 8/26) on women's dating expectations. I believe there really is a sea change in attitudes taking place.
MORE ON THE DMCA: Damien Cave has a very nice item in Salon featuring reactions to the Copyright Office's DMCA report. Read it. Send a copy to your senator -- especially if it's Dianne Feinstein (see below).
MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS: New Director Robert Mueller is supposed to be the guy who cleans up the FBI and gets it away from its thuggish roots. Er, except that while serving as Acting Deputy Attorney General just before his FBI confirmation, he approved the subpoena for an AP reporter's home telephone records as part of the Torricelli investigation. The story notes that Justice Department guidelines require that a reporter be given advance warning of such an action whenever possible, but that wasn't done here, making it impossible for the AP to challenge the action until after the documents were in government hands. So far, Mueller's chalking up an impressive record of respect for civil liberties. Well, it's making an impression, anyway.
NIKOLAY SOLTIS HAS BEEN CAUGHT and the authorities believe him to be mentally ill. But, as Andrew Sullivan has already noted, it is unlikely that Anna Quindlen or anyone like her will be writing in his defense. After all, he's a man. Wendy McElroy reports that the Houston N.O.W. chapter is asking women to send "cards and notes of caring" to Andrea Yates. (Also check out McElroy's iFeminists.com website).
THE U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE has released its long-awaited report on the DMCA and the early reports are not very positive. Also, this constituent letter from Dianne Feinstein suggests that she needs to get a clue. Upside (on the report, not Feinstein): the DMCA is horrible and needs to be repealed, or struck down. Better its rottenness should be fully evident than that some cosmetic changes be made that keep it alive.
THE U.N. RACISM CONFERENCE appears to be an even bigger embarrassment than I expected. This account from the New York Times gives a sense of the atmosphere, though I suspect it's even worse than the story makes it sound. Tom Wolfe should be covering this. Colin Powell should be congratulated for staying home.
HILLARY CLINTON won't back Gore in 2004 because, some say, she may run herself. Seems pretty laughable, but then, look at the other candidates and she seems stronger. Joe Lieberman, someone pointed out to me, looks just like the Dad in "Alf." Poor Al. He was so loyal, and the Clintons just keep treating him like dirt.
FROM THE MAILBAG: (Why do we still call it that when it's a just bunch of electrons? I guess "from the mail hard drive partition" doesn't have the same ring. Oh, well...) Rodney Hoffman, a lawyer from Boston, writes to correct my error in saying that there's no constitutional issue with Vanessa Leggett. He points out that the "DoJ types wanted her to sign an agreement turning over her work product and agreeing not to publish any of the material for no compensation. If that's not a Takings Clause issue, I don't know what is." He's right, of course. What I meant to say, and what I thought I said (I sound like Neil Armstrong here) is that there's no First Amendment issue with forcing her to testify. Hoffman raises an interesting issue here, too, which hasn't gotten enough general press coverage: why is DoJ suddenly so anxious to keep her from publishing the results of her investigative reporting? If that's their goal, then of course there is a First Amendment issue. (Oh, on rereading this I notice that Hoffman says "agreeing not to publish any of the material for no compensation." What he means, I believe, is that DoJ wanted her to turn over all her notes (including, by the way, all copies. leaving her with nothing) and to agree not to publish the material, but would not compensate her for the loss. This really does underscore that they seem most anxious to keep her from publishing at all. What's up? Are they hiding something? Mike Isikoff, call your office. Or, heck, even Mike McNulty.)
Allison Alvarez says I was wrong to say that male applications to college are falling. Actually, she says, in an email too long, thoughtful, and well-documented to answer here in full, they're rising. Er, okay. They're falling as a proportion. How's that? She also adds this observation about the University of Georgia:
So why is UGA so desperate for male students? Well, I grew up in Georgia and graduated just two years ago from a public high school on the outer rim of the Atlanta suburbs. Most of the males in my high school class who did not go on to college either went into military service or planned to find employment at the Ford factory or with flight operations at Delta Air Lines. These jobs, sometimes involving a few years of training, would eventually yield many of the participants' salaries that would outpace those of our masters degree educated high school teachers. Hence, to a lot male students there were more appealing options than taking on a university education.
Industrial work didn't seem to appeal to most of the women in my graduating class (for some reason women my age seem to have a mental block about machines, as a female engineering major this sort of bothers me). Thus, they saw a college education as the only way to save themselves from working
minimum wage at the super Wal-Mart.
Ms. Alvarez also disagrees with my argument that college is a hostile environment for males -- or, more precisely, that that fact actually dissuades any from going. I think she's wrong there. Higher education has acquired a very different reputation (even in such forgettable popular entertainments as the movie "P.C. U.") and I think awareness has spread. I hope universities will look at the question, anyway. We certainly do when we're concerned about the low turnout of any other group.
AOL: FRIEND TO DICTATORS? That's the gist of a story I found on The Occasional about an internal AOL memo on what to do in response to Chinese government requests for assistance in finding and punishing dissidents. This may be a bit unfair: the story makes clear that AOL is in a bind. One thing that would help AOL (and others) would be a statute forbidding any action regarding the Internet that is inconsistent with the way the First Amendment is applied domestically. If other countries want to export dictatorship, we should export freedom. If the Chinese don't like it, we can threaten to stop their goods at the border the way they want to block our information. Lots of other people want to sell us stuff, and we're running a huge trade deficit with China. If they cause trouble, we should throw the business to India, or some other place that's friendlier to freedom. Which is most places these days.
THE ECONOMY IN THE TOILET? Well, no. But I was saying (in the Slate Fray) over a year ago that we were headed into a recession; it seemed likely in March and much more than likely by May of 2000. Now the Dow is down again, big time and there's no cheer at NASDAQ either. The good news is that the recession has been slow coming. The question is, will it be just as slow to depart? My guess is that it won't be -- unless your standard for "recovery" is a resumption of the '98-99 tech bubble. But P/E ratios are still high, and as the market has reminded people, that's an old-fashioned measure, but one that works.
The good news is that people aren't panicking. There are so many people who are long-term retirement-oriented investors, who won't quit buying just because the market's down. For them, a down market is a good buying opportunity. They'll keep buying unless they're laid off. Some will be, but most won't. That should be a shock absorber that we've lacked in previous downturns.
Think I can get a copy of Jim Glassman's "Dow 36,000" cheap?
LOOSE THREADS IN THE SOCIAL FABRIC: Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn tells the story of a man who photographed some Amtrak cops in Chicago roughing up a drunk. The cops seized his camera and exposed the film. (He has witnesses). Zorn admits that this is a fairly minor civil rights violation, but he's right to say that things like this are important: "This claim shouldn't clog our courts. But it's worth noting because it describes one of those frequent little abuses that corrode respect for authority, breed mistrust and set even good people against those who ought to be their natural allies. The police may have gotten the film. But do they get the picture?"
The police took advantage of the fact that they were armed to intimidate this guy into surrendering his property. If you or I did the same thing, we'd be treated as criminals. Instead, the victim is being treated as a nuisance and a whiner. My advice: help him get some real revenge -- write your Congressperson and suggest they abolish Amtrak!
THOSE POOR MISUNDERSTOOD POLITICAL REFORMERS: Some time ago I read an article somewhere comparing the American Left's relationship with Stalinism to Germans' with Nazism. The idea was that when Germans thought of Nazism, they also thought of kindly Uncle Gunter, who was a Nazi but who wasn't so bad, kind to children and animals, etc. -- while when many of the American Left think of communism they think not of the Gulags but of Aunt Mildred the commie, who was a bit kooky but basically nice. This argument seems stronger in light of this passage by Helen Rogan in Slate's "Breakfast Table" today: "[T]he most interesting thing I've learned is how much loathing there still is toward the Weathermen and all their works. There's a widespread perception that they were a bunch of pampered, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing rich kids who took it upon themselves to bring down this great democracy of ours, no matter who was hurt in the process, and who, when they failed, got off easy." Rogan goes on to say that many of the Weathermen have done good work with kids and the socially disadvantaged in the years since.
Yeah, they may be nice people now, kind of like Uncle Gunter. But that doesn't lessen their responsibility for their actions, or change the fact that they were a bunch of pampered, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing rich kids who ... well, you get the idea. They get a pass from a lot of media and academic people because they remind them of their lost youth, and because a lot of today's boomer media and academic people either did this stuff in the '60s (or now pretend they did) or dated people who did, or had friends who dated people who did, and for whom it would be a betrayal of their (retrospectively golden) youth to acknowledge the truth. The main difference between the Weathermen and Timothy McVeigh was that McVeigh was more skilled with explosives.
BTW, I wrote more on this subject on August 25, for anyone who's interested.
WOMEN IN COLLEGE: I mentioned this before, but some people want hard data. According to this U.S. Census Bureau Report women make up 54% of college students, and have been a majority since 1979; they're an even bigger majority among "non-traditional" students (that is, older students) -- a nontrivial issue as this group now makes up 38% of all college students (see p.7). According to some articles I remember reading in the Chronicle of Higher Education women make up a bigger majority at large public institutions (except for specialty technical and engineering schools) and are not in the majority at the most selective private schools. I haven't seen anything on the prevalence of affirmative action in admissions for males, beyond anecdotal evidence that it happens in a number of schools and the mention in the Georgia case below that it was happening there. Does anyone know more about this, and want to share it? Email me if you do.
TRAFFIC hit another record yesterday. What's more, most of it is coming in as "direct hits," not referrals, meaning it's people who are coming on purpose, not just following a link. But there are some cool links. The latest: Virginia Postrel has a link on her very cool me-zine "The Scene" (now updated and running again after a series of nightmarish-sounding computer problems). Thanks, Virginia!
I think that one reason why computer sales are lagging is that upgrading and making changes is such a pain, and carries such risk. It's kept me on the same computer for two years, because it's adequate to my needs and the hassle of getting everything working right on a new one is more than I want to think about. The downtime and frustration are more of a barrier than the money, especially now that computers are so essential to living, work, etc. The computer industry would be dead without the services of the many geeks who help other, less skilled people, with their computer problems; more of the "gift economy," I guess, though the computer companies don't show enough gratitude to those guys.
POLISH SOFTWARE ENGINEERS ARE MAKING ME VERY HAPPY: Yeah, I know this sounds like it ought to be some sort of joke, but it's the literal truth. My brother and I and another guy have a small record label (it's not organized as a nonprofit, but it might as well be). Among other things, I do the mastering on our releases -- that's where you take a finished mix, and adjust the levels, apply equalization, fix problems with stereo imaging and phase relations, and generally make things sound better. That's pretty much all done with software these days, and I got some really cool plug-ins from a Polish company called PSP Audioware. They're dirt cheap, but they're the best things I've heard. I fooled around with them the other day, and everyone is astounded at the difference. This isn't some BS audiophile "I pretend to be able to hear which brand of cabling you're using" thing: the difference is astonishing. It's like going from a set of cheap speakers to a set of great ones.
Better still, the software was dirt cheap, and I bought it and downloaded it over the Internet. (Worked perfectly on setup, too, despite having to integrate with all sorts of other audio folderol on the system). Look for a lot more things like this, as countries (India, a lot of the former east bloc countries, Nigeria, etc.) with smart people but not a lot of other resources find that marketing smartness via the Internet makes sense. And globalization is supposed to be bad for these people?
SPEAKING OF MUSIC, reader Martin Pratt writes that the L.A. Times piece by Crispin Sartwell mentioned below is dead on, based on the European experience: "The 1990's are even now looked back upon as something of a golden era for British Art with internationally recognised artists like Damien Hurst and Tracey Emin coming to the fore driving the whole 'CoolBritannia' thing in 96-97 (which the Labour govt adopted and therefore ruined), the opening of the Tate Modern Gallery etc etc, British artists are getting used to walking away with prizes in European events. This was largely to do with the cut back in grant aid in the Thatcher years, so instead of mediocrity being state subsidised, the cream rose to the top. The reverse of this can be seen in Danish Art, for example, which has money thrown at it, but is dreadful."
THE perspicacious Mr. Pratt goes on to note that perhaps money and art just don't go together that well anyway: "Similarly you can look at the best eras in British pop and point to economic downturn, 1965-71 (Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who etc etc); 1976-mid '80's (the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the New Romantic movement, the Smiths); the dance explosion of the early 1990s; whereas as soon as the economy starts to pick up, you get Oasis." Indeed. In fact, I was just listening to a Mixmag compilation CD featuring dance music from 1991. It was damned good. As for Oasis, well, they're not damned good. Of course, I may just want to believe that lack of money and good art go together, since everything I do is as nonlucrative as InstaPundit. Er, it's a postmodern, postcapitalist gift economy kind of thing. Yeah, that's it.
ARTIST SAYS JESSE HELMS WAS RIGHT: No, it's not a typo. See this article in the Los Angeles Times. Quote: "So if you want a wild, cool, free art world in which people do what they want, you should absolutely oppose government funding. . . . if we think about the arts as a whole, it's easy to see that the endowments have moved us dramatically toward a fully institutionalized, bureaucratized and univocal art, an art that is infinitely more hostile to subversive voices of the right or the left or nowhere at all. For that reason, the NEA--like Jesse Helms' Senate career--should cease to exist. "
SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF: According to this article in the New York Times, the United States may be helping the Chinese avoid government Internet censorship. The government would be contracting with Safeweb to provide a network of computers that would be resistant to Chinese government blocking and monitoring.
This is exactly the sort of thing the United States ought to be doing. Now if the Chinese will just set up a similar network for use by Americans who want to thwart Echelon...
AMERICA SUFFERING FROM A NEWS SHORTAGE: That's the theme of this hilarious cartoon by Ruben Bolling. Don't miss it.
ANOTHER REASON WHY LAW ENFORCEMENT DISHONESTY AND INCOMPETENCE MATTER: This isn't a question of being anti-law-enforcement or pro-criminal, and this story on the unfolding Oklahoma crime lab debacle illustrates why. Joyce Gilchrist, an Oklahoma City police lab scientist, apparently had a penchant for giving the prosecution what it needed. The result: a twofold horror, with innocent people in jail and guilty people getting away with it. Jeffrey Pierce served 15 years in prison -- in large part because of the testimony of Gilchrist -- before he turned out to be innocent. Meanwhile, new evidence suggests who the real rapist is, but the delay occasioned by Pierce's wrongful conviction means that the statute of limitations has run, letting the real criminal off scot-free.
ASSUMING Gilchrist turns out to be guilty of the misconduct she is charged with, what punishment could possibly be enough for sending many people to jail and letting criminals go free? Life without parole? Death? What punishment will she actually get? Something a lot less than that, I expect. And what about the prosecutors who relied on her testimony -- did they know it was bogus? Will they be investigated? If it turns out they knew, will they be punished? Will anyone involved in this suffer a sentence as severe as Jeffrey Pierce, an innocent man, did?
LET ME BE CLEAR: Anyone can make mistakes. But what Gilchrist -- and probably some prosecutors -- appear to be guilty of isn't a mistake. It's nothing less than a criminal conspiracy of the worst kind, an outright perversion of justice. This sort of thing, where it's proved, ought to get the very worst punishment the system can mete out, because it is a betrayal of all the system stands for. But what it usually gets is a slap on the wrist.
I HOPE, of course, that this turns out to be much ado about nothing, and that a careful and thorough investigation (itself above reproach) will find that Gilchrist was capable and conscientious. She, as much as anyone, deserves the presumption of innocence and the full protection of due process. But those in the justice system who would deny those things to others should be shown no mercy at all.
UPDATE: This story suggests that Gilchrist may have given the anti-death-penalty lobby the smoking gun it's looking for: a clearly innocent man who was executed. The defendant was found guilty in part after testimony that sperm matching his were found on a victim. Now another scientist in the lab says no sperm were present at all. Is she being hailed as a hero for justice? No. She's been forced out of her job.
Of course, the fact that this guy was executed based on phony evidence doesn't prove he was innocent. But then, that's not really the point, is it?
A criminal lawyer I knew many years ago said he always had "scientific" evidence tests repeated by an independent lab. He said that about half the time, they got a different result than the police or FBI labs. To him, that proved either that the tests were no good, or the labs were stocked with liars. That was twenty years ago, but it's looking pretty prescient. Criminal lawyers out there, take note. Judges and jurors, too.
MY DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR 2004: (drumroll, please) None other than Gary Hart! Why? Well, he's got legislative experience. He's a recognized expert on defense policy. He's spent enough time in the wilderness not to have too swelled a head. And the sex scandal thing? Heck, compared to what came after him, he looks like a choirboy!
A VERY TO-THE-POINT OBSERVATION: From Slate's "The Fray:" "The whole trouble with "mainstream" media sex scandals is that they involve people no one would ever want to have sex with." Offhand, I can't think of an exception to this. Monica Lewinsky? No. Donna Rice? No. Elizabeth Ray? Forget it. Fanne Fox? Er... no.
THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK: Interesting item in the 11th Circuit's decision from Monday, striking down the University of Georgia's affirmative action system. Minorities got a .5 point "bonus" on their admissions score, which was held impermissible. But in fn. 7 of the opinion we learn that men got a .25 bonus. (The District Court had held that unconstitutional; it wasn't appealed by the University). This hasn't been reported much, but it raises several interesting issues. I'm told that this practice is not uncommon: men are applying to college in smaller numbers, and many large public institutions have a significant preponderance of women, leading admissions offices to try to even the numbers up. (Why aren't men applying? No one is sure, but I think a large factor is the anti-male atmosphere on many college campuses. My own campus featured a speaker a while back who referred to fraternities as "rape factories," and date-rape and sexual-harassment programs typically portray men in a rather negative light)
One might expect this to turn the affirmative action debate on its head, or at least to confuse it. Advocates of diversity and inclusiveness may decide that they didn't mean more men. Opponents of affirmative action may (either sincerely or out of a sense of mischief) demand preferences and outreach to male applicants, the establishment of "Men's Centers" so that men will be comfortable on majority-female campuses, more Men's Studies courses, etc. Regardless, I hope it's an issue that journalists will explore in more depth.
UPDATE ON THE NAS GUN STUDY: The NRO piece coauthored with Dave Kopel (see below) quotes a scholar as calling panel member Steven Levitt "rabidly antigun." The quote is accurate (that is, it is exactly what was said), but Levitt has emailed me, and says he's not rabidly antigun. He also refers me to an article he wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times on July 28, 2001 entitled "Pools more dangerous than guns." As far as I know it's not available on the Web -- it didn't turn up on Google just now. And (since the byline is "Steve Levitt" rather than "Steven Levitt") I had some trouble finding it on one of the pay services. (If you have access to NEXIS or whatever, you won't have any trouble now that you know this). But I eventually did. The first paragraph reads: "What's more dangerous: a swimming pool or a gun? When it comes to children, there is no comparison: A swimming pool is almost 100 times more deadly." This piece certainly isn't antigun, though in truth it's more about pool safety than comparative risk asssessment.
Contacted via email, my source (who prefers to remain unnamed) stands by the "rabidly antigun" statement. I don't know Levitt personally; I've read some of his work (which is good) but on topics other than guns. I suppose the real test of his fair-mindedness will be how he conducts himself on the study, if it goes ahead.
Well, there you have it. As an aside, one of the nice things about Web journalism (am I a journalist? ask Vanessa Leggett!) is that you can respond so quickly to this kind of thing. I couldn't even get the New York Times to run a correction once when they called me "Glenn Harlan Roberts" in an article. But don't get me started on that...
SAUCE FOR THE GANDER: Robert Samuelson takes the New York Times to task for Howell Raines' promotion, noting that Raines' ideology -- thoroughly demonstrated during his tenure as editorial page editor -- will make it rather difficult for the Times Corporation's many holdings to deny charges of liberal bias. I'm not sure I agree that Raines shouldn't have been promoted: bias is OK with me if you're honest about it. But Samuelson is surely right that the Times is far less sensitive to this sort of appearance issue where its own operations are concerned than with the same kinds of issues elsewhere. Quote: "Polls consistently show declining public trust in the media. This has many causes, some not easily remedied. But one is the perception of bias and the feeling that the press often violates its own professed standards of behavior. We aren't as tough on ourselves as we are on others."
GRATUITOUS PROMOTION: Earlier I noted the National Academy of Sciences' dubious study on "gun violence," which appears to be stacked to produce a particular result just in time for the 2004 elections. Today, Dave Kopel and I have a much lengthier treatment of this issue in NRO. All the good stuff is Kopel's.
MAUREEN DOWD ON MALE/FEMALE RELATIONS: "It doesn't matter if the woman is making as much money as the man, or more. She expects him to pay, both to prove her desirability and as a way of signaling romance. . . . (The feminist freeloading doesn't change with marriage. Professional women still want their husbands to get the checks at restaurants, pay the mortgage and get home by 6:30 to help with chores and kids.)" Dowd's analysis is echoed by men. One man she quotes says, "It used to be all about chivalry, but now it's more out of greed." Dowd should ask a male coworker to let her see the male-to-male samizdat of endlessly forwarded email on this theme. So far male bellyaching is more or less at the level of proto-feminist kaffeeklatsching, pre-Betty Friedan. Who will be the male version of Betty Friedan? I don't know, but it's coming.
AIRBRUSH AWARD: It used to be Joseph Stalin who airbrushed political foes out of the history textbooks. With digital technology, the American media seem to have taken up the practice with gusto. Last week I reported on Steven Spielberg's rumored plans to (digitally) airbrush the federal agents' guns out of the reissued E.T., replacing them with walkie-talkies. Now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has removed the online poll accompanying Tom Diaz's anti-gun screed. Yesterday it was running heavily against gun control. Then later, as I reported, it showed as "unavailable." Now there's no sign it was ever there. Guess the AJC didn't like the results, but removing it with no sign that it was ever present seems a little, well, creepily Orwellian.
TRAFFIC: Yesterday beat Monday's record-breaking traffic. I'm glad somebody besides my mother is reading this.
POT AND KETTLE DEPARTMENT: This story about MIT professor Ted Postol's one-man war against the Patriot missile and missile defense in general (Postol's winning, and he's being helped by the clumsiness of efforts to shut him up) has a real gem: a statement from a letter by (Clinton) White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, to Postol: "I must say that the overall impression you leave from your correspondence is that your brilliance is only exceeded by your arrogance." Actually, that's probably true, but considering the source it's a real belly laugh.
Postol is awfully hard on MIT President Charles Vest, who has actually defended him rather well. Postol disparages Vest's defense with the remark that "being in favor of free speech as a university president is not a very controversial position to take." Whoa, Ted, what decade are you living in? University presidents who seriously defend free speech aren't so easy to come by these days, and you're lucky to have one over you -- especially seeing how much federal money flows into MIT.
UPDATE: There's another item on Postol today in the Washington Post. Same clumsy & thuggish government behavior. But it lacks the amusing Podesta quote.
OUCH! "From the northernmost reaches of Canada to the tip of Chile, only three people in the Western Hemisphere languish in prison for doing the work of a journalist. Two of them are in jail in Cuba and the third has begun her second month of imprisonment in the United States." This is Paul McMasters of the Freedom Forum, describing the Vanessa Leggett case.
Also, a Washington lawyer who doesn't want to be named offers this observation, in response to my earlier posting asking why DOJ wants so badly to argue that Leggett isn't a journalist: "The answer to this seems pretty obvious to me. If everyone is a journalist, then everyone can refuse to divulge sources of information by invoking the so-called journalist's privilege. What could be worse for DOJ prosecutors than having to make a special showing whenever a witness clams up and says "I'm not going to tell you where I learned this piece of information, because I collected it for purposes of 'publishing' it on my home page. So what if only my grandmother reads my home page, it's still journalism!" Or, "Sorry, I'm planning on writing a book about this, so pound sand!" Or "Sorry, I'm starting up a weblog tomorrow, and unfortunately that little tidbit you need to put this criminal in jail was going to go in my first entry, so stuff your silly grand jury subpoena!" Justice White's opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes invokes this same concept in the course of rejecting a First Amendment-based journalist's privilege. (As you may know, the Supremes have never bought into a Constitutional journalist's privilege -- the lower courts have just sort of divined it from Justice Powell's concurring opinion in Branzburg. Some states have enacted statutes. At DOJ, it's just a matter of policy). DOJ's interest here is in maintaining the coercive power of a grand jury subpoena to the maximum extent possible. That means limiting the availability of the "journalist's privilege" to a small group: members of the working press. No big mystery."
Except that this just takes us back to my original question: why, then, does DOJ have special rules -- of its own making -- that treat journalists differently? They're not First Amendment based: the Supreme Court has never recognized a special privilege for "journalists" that others don't have. So why does DOJ have such a rule? As I suggested earlier, because of politics. Journalists have clout that non-journalists don't have. But there's nothing admirable about that, since it's basically a payoff to leave DOJ alone. And the kind of line-drawing it requires is itself a First Amendment violation, since it amounts to licensing of journalists.
Say, maybe the DOJ is really doing freedom a favor here. Its rule seems likely to collapse under the new realities of journalism. If it's barred from treating journalists differently, journalists will come to appreciate the "coercive power" of grand juries. Then maybe there will be more support for limiting prosecutorial power, which is out of hand in so many ways.
And, by the way, if circulation were all that mattered, Rush Limbaugh and the National Enquirer staff would be the most serious journalists in America.
BRIAN K. WEST UPDATE: You can see an email from Brian West's attorney, responding to the Department of Justice's press release reproduced below (Friday, 8/24, top item), here.
BIOTECH FOOD SCARES BOGUS: That's the point of Michael Fumento's piece on the various Greenpeace-mediated fear epidemics. The latest is "alien DNA" in bioetech soybeans. Of course, it's just a tiny bit of DNA from other kinds of soybean, and no different from what you'd find looking at human DNA (Fumento doesn't mention it, but we have loads of foreign DNA from bacteria, viruses, etc. nestled comfortably among our chromosomes, where it does no discernible harm). If Greenpeace were held to the standards it sets for the biotech industry, it would be sued out of existence. So far, bioengineered food hasn't done so much as make one person sick. How many people -- most of them poor third-worlders -- will die because of Greenpeace's fearmongering? When you ask Africans, they think Greenpeace's position is evil. That's right: not misguided, not overwrought, but evil. They know what's at stake. UPDATE: The link under "Africans" above isn't working at the moment; I don't know why. You might try this one instead; it has a similar, if somewhat more restrained, flavor.
ANDREW SULLIVAN HAS IT WRONG: He says that the most amazing thing about this Israeli missile attack on a Palestinian leader is the accuracy of the missiles. I disagree. What's most amazing is the reaction of some Americans who lived in the building (and were unhurt): "This is unacceptable.... We have American passports." What's amazing is that Americans will move into what is in fact a war zone, and expect the missiles to honor their passports. Sullivan is amazed that the missiles, in effect, did so. I'm amazed that anyone expected them to.
"MISTUH KRISTOL, HE DEAD." Well, maybe it's a distance from Heart of Darkness to The Weekly Standard, but this essay by Michael R. Allen about Conrad's treatment of the moral dangers of imperialism does put me in mind of the various "national greatness" conservatives who are out there advocating what amounts to an American Raj. (See this piece by Tom Ricks for more on that debate.) To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, a nation's got to know its limitations. We were established as an anti-imperial nation. Playing a quasi-imperial role during the Cold War strained our nation's institutions, and its soul, almost to the breaking point. Playing the role of global hegemon, without any struggle against an Evil Empire to give it a moral center, would surely destroy us.
BAD NEWS FOR MEN: Two writers say, in different ways, that the past several decades have been bad for men. Gavin McNett writes in Salon that the dating scene is one in which women are free to be jerks,and feel "empowered" by it, in a way men are not, and probably never were. Best quote:
What Bigge is struggling, under his prejudices, to say, and what Morton is saying without trying to, is that the power balance is askew, datingwise. Females have laxer restrictions upon them now and have gained a lot in the way of traditional male perquisites. Males haven't gained much slack, or many feminine perquisites, in return. Men -- well, "guys," rather -- haven't gained the feminine perk of commanding sympathy and protection: Bigge, nice and sweet, not bad-looking, can't get a date because he's sad and harmless. Chicks squish him. Ha! Morton, on the other hand, is protected from the traditional masculine sanction of looking like an arrogant, self-aggrandizing jerk.
In National Review Online the always-quirky John Derbyshire makes the same point:
It has often struck me how much more suitable this work is for women than for men — how, in fact, men seem rather out of place among the "tubes and cubes" of the modern office. No masculine values are visible here. . . . Such outlets as did once exist have been systematically sealed off by the feminists and "sexual harassment" warriors. Was it really only twelve years ago that my mixed-gender office in a big Wall Street trading house celebrated the boss's birthday by bringing in a full-monty stripper to entertain us? Yes, it was. If we did that today, we should be the subject of a 60 Minutes segment. The more boisterous manifestations of masculinity — physical courage, danger-seeking, the honor principle, belligerence, chivalry, endurance, small-group loyalty — which were once accessible to all men, in episodes of war or exploration if not in everyday life, have now been leached out to the extremes of our society — to small minorities of, at one extreme, super-rich sports and entertainment stars, and at the other, underclass desperadoes.
This is depressing. On the other hand, the mere fact that we're hearing this sort of thing more often, from sources as diverse as the above two and, as noted here back on August 15, by old-line feminists like Doris Lessing is some sign of progress. Men will be treated badly until they develop some backbone and -- as women did thirty years ago -- decide not to put up with that sort of thing.
INSTAPUNDIT SAID IT FIRST: (8/27 at 1:49 p.m.) But Dave Kopel says it better in a National Review Online piece about N.O.W.'s support for Andrea Yates. What would N.O.W. say if a men's group supported Nikolay Soltys the same way? Best quote:
Motherhood and fatherhood can both be very stressful. But that's not even a good excuse for abandoning one's small children by running off with a paramour. It's certainly no excuse for killing children. Why the double standard for Soltys and Yates?
WHY GUN CONTROL IS A LOSER FOR DEMOCRATS: Consider this article and poll in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The article, by gun-control activist and author Tom Diaz, is about .50 cal rifles -- popular with extreme long-distance target shooters (they have contests at 3 miles in Nevada) and rich Walter Mitty types. It says the guns are horrible, though it omits any mention of them actually being used in crime. The accompanying poll asks "Should sale of .50-caliber sniper rifles be regulated?" Despite the overwhelmingly negative portrayal in Diaz's article, and the rather slanted ("sniper rifles?") treatment in the poll question, at this point the poll is 72% against regulation. And the number of votes, 3624, suggests that this isn't just a few people voting more than once.
Now, this could be explained a lot of ways, but all are bad for Democrats on gun control. First, this poll could accurately reflect public sentiment. That's doubtful -- Internet polls seldom do. But if it does, then obviously the issue is a loser for Dems. Second, it could simply represent a strong pro-gun libertarian bias on the part of Internet users, especially in Georgia. There's probably something to that -- but what it means is that the best-informed, most vocal, and wealthiest segment of the populace is against this idea. Bad politics. Third, it could simply mean that pro-gun forces are a lot better at mobilizing their supporters to turn out on short notice and "stuff" polls like this. Again, though, this is bad news for Democrats, since it means that their supporters, even if more numerous, are weaker and more poorly organized.
There's some evidence that the Democratic Party is beginning to figure this out, which is good news for the Democrats and bad news for people like Tom Diaz. Indeed, the worst thing that has happened for the gun-control movement has been the translation of gun-control into a partisan Republicans vs. Democrats issue. Republicans used to avoid the gun crowd, but now embrace them, owing largely to the polarization that happened in the Clinton years. As with abortion, turning this into a red vs. blue issue makes it far less likely that anything will happen. But the culture warriors of the left have an entirely irrational attachment to gun control, one which could fairly be called religious in nature, just as the culture warriors of the right live for their own issues. UPDATE: Just went back to the AJC page to see how the poll was going. Now it's unavailable. Was it slashdotted by InstaPundit readers? Or did the officially anti-gun AJC not like the way it was going?
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST, (8/19) but now here's Robert Kuttner on the danger the Democrats are courting by making an issue of the "lost surplus:" "All of this gives the opposition Democrats lots of ammunition -- for now. But hold the champagne. This whole way of thinking about budget politics is a long-term trap for Democrats." Yep.
WHY PEOPLE HATE AIRLINES: This story is typical: agent screws up, then invokes obscure (and possibly made-up) rule to cover his ass at the passenger's expense. When passenger complains, threatens to call security. As I said, typical. Their problems are your problems, and your problems are your problem. This degree of blustering incompetence is more common among airline employees than government employees.
VANESSA LEGGETT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING: I speculated below that Vanessa Leggett may really be a stalking-horse for a broader Department of Justice effort to get at journalists. It looks like I was righter than I knew, as the Department of Justice is now going after the home telephone records of an AP reporter who has covered the investigation of Sen. Robert Torricelli.
DoJ is also subpoenaing bookstore purchase records of eight people. Remember the outrage when Ken Starr did this? Let's see if it appears again.
I don't think it's fair to blame Ashcroft for this -- at least, not yet. This is the initiative of Mary Jo White, a Clinton holdover. I believe (though I could be wrong) that these new investigative squeeze plays are the product of Justice's career bureaucrats, not of direction from Ashcroft and other political appointees. They're getting free rein because Ashcroft has recused himself on the basis that he served with Torricelli in the Senate. But some political appointee must have jurisdiction over this: if nothing else, Michael Chertoff, head of the Criminal Division, can exercise some oversight here. Will he?
TRAFFIC: Yesterday was InstaPundit's best day ever, breaking the 1000 mark -- in fact, blowing through it with over 1100 visitors. I'm glad people are actually interested in reading this stuff.
WHY NO E-BOOKS? Publishers can't figure out why E-books aren't selling. Here are some possibilities: (1) the technology is expensive and lame; (2) E-books cost about as much as hardcovers, even though all you get is a cumbersome download; (3) publishers are trying to load them up with annoying copy-protection technology that makes them less useful than real books; (4) they get bad press with idiocies like the Sklyarov persecution, er prosecution; (5) did I mention the technology is expensive and lame?
A MINOR VICTORY FOR PRIVACY: Borders has "suspended" its plan to put face-recognition technology into all of its stores. Send 'em an email here and tell 'em they did the right thing. Unless, that is, you routinely root for Big Brother. This demonstrates that social pressure, as much as law, regulates business behavior. If people won't stand for all this privacy-invading technology, it won't happen. If people put up with it, it will.
STILL MORE ON VANESSA LEGGETT: Dave Cullen writes with these comments: "I have been baffled throughout this controversy that journos keep buying into the Administration's preposterous argument that she wasn't a journalist. All I kept thinking was, "isn't it freedom of the press, not freedom of the journalist?" Who the hell came up with this straw man? And why are so many journos buying into it? Ridiculous. Thanks for being the first I've seen to state what ought to be the obvious."
Cullen raises an interesting question: Why is the Justice Department raising this straw man? Because the case is clearly a winner for them regardless under existing law. There are several explanations I can think of:
THIS IS A MAKEWEIGHT: Lawyers often add unnecessary additional arguments just to make their case seem stronger. This could be one of those -- except that lawyers usually don't fight very hard for those arguments, and Justice fought on this one.
THERE'S AN AGENDA: The other main reason you get arguments like this when they're unnecessary is that the agency in question is trying to make new law, and wants to first slip these points into cases it expects to win anyway, so as to generate favorable statements from the court (known as dictum) that may later be used in a case where the favored argument is the only one that applies. For reasons I'll discuss below, if DoJ is doing this it's really dumb. But that doesn't rule it out.
PRIDE OF AUTHORSHIP: This may just be an argument by someone -- perhaps someone senior -- who just doesn't want to give in.
Let's leave out arguments (1) and (3) and think about (2), the agenda argument. Why would DoJ have an agenda of establishing a difference between the "real" and the "fake" press? Several possibilities. One is political: the "real" press, with big media organizations behind it, can cause problems. Best to cater to it, without giving ground anywhere else. Another is the fear that web journalism and self-publishing otherwise mean that everyone is a journalist, which may offend someone's bureaucratic sense of propriety.
The "political" justification is bogus, but unavoidable. And it offers real temptations for DoJ because a surprising chunk of the mainstream press, eager to grab at anything that smacks of elitism or professionalism, will go for it. But it's a terrible idea, at least for the Bush Administration, as opposed to the career bureaucrats at Justice. That's because the "elite" or "mainstream" press is largely anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and pro-old-line liberalism. Most of the political and media gains that Republicans -- and conservatives and libertarians generally -- have made have come from media outside the traditional mainstream, like talk radio and the Internet. A policy that disadvantages nontraditional media is suicide for Republicans.
As for the bureaucratic propriety argument: who cares? The First Amendment isn't a right of the press: it's a right of the people. If you follow the Constitution, you don't have to make distinctions between the press and the people because everyone has the same rights.
If anyone close to the case knows more, feel free to give me an email. I'll relay your knowledge on confidentially if you like.
ANOTHER BLOW FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION as the Eleventh Circuit finds the University of Georgia's race-based affirmative action program unconstitutional. The program gave minority applicants extra points. Is the Bush administration's retreat on affirmative action issues taking place because they expect the courts to do their work for them?
PERSPECTIVE: "World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent" says The Onion. I love the USA Today-style bar graph.
Personally, I'd be happy to see the rate go down. But Leon Kass wouldn't be.
READER MARK SALLEY takes issue with me for calling the frozen embryo adoption issue "silly." Well, I don't know -- perhaps my take on it was influenced by Deroy Murdock's article, which, as I mentioned, reads almost like a parody. But hey -- it's a free country. Whether I think something is "silly" doesn't matter. If you want to adopt frozen embryos, go to it. Salley does point out that embryo adoptions are a lot cheaper, which I suppose makes sense.
N.O.W. IS SUPPORTING ANDREA YATES: According to this article in the Washington Post. This is merely continuing N.O.W.'s self-marginalization begun during the Clinton scandals. Best quote: ""It gives us a platform for something that obviously needs education," said Deborah Bell, president of Texas NOW. "One of our feminist beliefs is to be there for other women. Some good may come out of this tragedy." One can only imagine NOW's reaction if a men's organization took a similar stand for, say, Nikolai Soltys. Double standard? No more than usual. There's a lot of that going around these days.
DOUBLE STANDARD ON PRIVACY: Jeff Jacoby notes the developing double standard on privacy: government officials have it, we don't. The occasion for his column is an absurd Massachussetts Supreme Court decision in which a man who taped a traffic stop was criminally charged, and convicted, for violating the officers' privacy rights. Privacy rights in a public traffic stop, in the performance of their official duties? How come this is wrong, but ubiquitous security cameras, etc. aren't?
WORKING TO SAVE "MICROSCOPIC AMERICANS"? At first I wasn't sure if this Deroy Murdock column on a frozen-embryo adoption program was for real. The headline Frozen embryo adoption offers hope to microscopic Americans made me wonder if it was a parody. But it links to a website for Snowflakes.org and when I called the number I spoke to a friendly woman who assured me that it was for real. Yep, this is a program for adopting out "surplus" frozen embryos, and it's apparently not a parody. (One difference between a parody and a lie is the willingness to tell the truth when asked directly).
The 186 embryos they've thawed have led to 94 children, we're told. (Question: do they discard any in this process? Or do multiple implants? I should've asked, but was too busy chasing down the "is this for real?" angle). That's not going to make much of a dent in the nation's six-figure supply of frozen embryos, and I kind of wonder about these people's priorities when there are so many already-born children out there in need of adoption. It seems to me that this is mostly about making the life-begins-at-conception point for political reasons. Is it ethical to adopt a child (or a conceptus) just to make a political point? Considering all the reasons -- many of them bad -- for which children are conceived naturally every day, I won't criticize this. But it seems a bit silly, if harmless, to me.
SHOULD THE FBI DO BACKGROUND CHECKS ON JUDICIAL APPOINTEES? Stephen Yagman says no, and he's pretty persuasive. Leave aside the many things it gets wrong in day-to-day work (see the Wen Ho Lee story below): the FBI is going to find itself in court a lot, and its possession of private and personal information concerning judges, which turns up in background investigations, creates a conflict of interest. According to Yagman: "It is too difficult to know how the agency might use the confidential information it gets. Its powers are too great, its mentality and institutional history too blemished and its competence and credibility too low. Any confidence in its integrity is clearly unwarranted." Ouch. But he's right: the potential conflict is too great. His solution, an independent, joint executive-legislative office to do these investigations. It makes sense to me.
DMCA SOLUTION? This won't work, actually, but it's very cute. Thanks, Jeff, for publicizing this.
EXTREMISTS IN CONTROL AT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: That's the message of this letter by Zell Miller in the Washington Post. (I missed it this morning but followed the link from OpinionJournal.Com). Miller is right. The culture-warriors of the left have alienated a lot of moderates -- making them see red, as Miller says, "the color that dominated that 2000 election map."
STILL MORE FBI BAD NEWS: This story from the Washington Post says that, based on unreleased portions of a classified Justice Department report, the Wen Ho Lee investigation was even more of a debacle than the initial publicity suggests. Qote from the report's author: ""This investigation was a paradigm of how not to manage and work an important counterintelligence case," says the report, written by federal prosecutor Randy I. Bellows.
If Lee was a spy, Bellows concludes, the FBI let him get away. If he was not, the bureau blew repeated opportunities to consider other options -- including the possibility that nuclear weapons secrets were not obtained by the Chinese in the first place." Ouch. The details in the story live up to this assessment.
This is pretty damning stuff. Even if Wen Ho Lee really was a master spy rather than an innocent victim, the FBI doesn't come off any better. If he was innocent, FBI bungling put him through a wringer unjustly. If he was guilty, FBI bungling put him through a wringer ineptly, then let him get away. Either way, a bad job. What's worrisome about episodes like this is that you would expect the Bureau to do its best work in high-profile cases -- and, God help us, what if this is its best work? The continued survival of the FBI as an agency is going to come into question if we have many more scandals like this.
VANESSA LEGGETT UPDATE: This piece in the National Review Online asks a question that no one else (as far as I know) has asked: "While there's been a lot of attention about whether Leggett, who's writing a book, qualifies as a "journalist" and whether journalists should have immunity against grand-jury subpoenas, nobody is talking about how Leggett's case got into federal court in the first place — and how the case is another example of an out-of-control FBI." The rest of it is well worth reading.
CURE BETTER THAN THE DISEASE: This story on Slashdot is about a new TiVO-like gadget that will store two whole weeks' worth of continuous video -- enough to let you tape a whole season's worth of 12 shows and watch 'em all in the summer. The only bug in the system is that there aren't a dozen shows good enough to be worth taping 'em all.
Is it a coincidence that as TV viewing technology has gotten better, the shows have gotten worse?
BIG EMPLOYMENT CHANGE: Expect to see more companies replacing traditional employees with independent contractors. As this decision reported in the National Law Journal holds, "independent contractors" can't file civil rights suits under Title VII because they're not "employees." If this holds up, companies will have (another) powerful incentive to replace traditional employment with contracting. You can't blame the courts for this either, as Congress's language in this statute has been criticized repeatedly by the courts but has not been changed.
This kind of deep-structural economic change will have powerful political impacts. Already, the growth of self-employed people -- who are keenly aware of exactly how much they pay in taxes because it's not painlessly deducted from their paychecks -- has been a huge boon for the antitax movement. Expect that to accelerate. Who will take advantage of this change? Can Democrats -- thoroughly captivated by traditional labor unions -- respond to this change? Can Republicans? Libertarians?
RELIGION IN POLITICS ON THE LEFT: Interesting piece by John J. Pitney in the National Review Online about the influence of religion on leftist politics in America. That there is such an influence is no surprise -- at least to me, who spent his childhood surrounded with antiwar and civil rights clerics -- but Pitney makes a good point about the disparate treatment left-religion and right-religion get in the media. Personally, I don't think that preachers have any special advantage in talking about politics (I don't even think they have any special advantage talking about religion, and I'm hardly alone in that, as the Reformation demonstrated). But the piece does say some interesting things about the media filtration process.
GLOBAL DOWNTURN ON THE WAY? Andrea See points out this story indicating that mobile phone sales in Singapore are plummeting. This may just be a case of deep market penetration -- the impetus for growth may just have hit its natural limit. But Andrea thinks it's a bad sign, and she certainly knows more about Singapore than I do. For those who follow these things, it might be worth looking at similar figures for places that haven't topped out so thoroughly, like India.
MY OWN predictor: those little "take a penny, leave a penny" trays seem to always be empty now. I spoke about this with a store clerk who said that people don't seem nearly as anxious to get rid of change. That has to be psychological here -- unemployment in Knox County is at 2.3% -- but it's a noticeable change. I wonder how the shoe-repair index is doing?
CREEPING POLICE-STATISM: How many people have to be under direct supervision of law enforcement before you have a police state? Whatever the number is, at the current rate of growth it won't take us long to get there. According to these DOJ figures one out of 32 American adults -- over three percent of the population -- is in jail, on parole, or on probation. This represents a whopping forty-nine percent increase over the last ten years. Most of this growth appears to come from nonviolent drug offenses. Another example of how the Drug War is leading -- in this case directly, not metaphorically -- to the creation of a police state.
Okay, I don't want to go over the top. But really -- prisons are hellholes for the most part. And some people deserve to be in hellholes. But not all that many. Certainly not this many. I think that future historians will look back on this mass imprisonment the way we look on the internment of Japanese-American citizens in World War Two.
OVERLAWYERED.COM has a nice plug for InstaPundit on its site. More to the point, it has some items that InstaPundit readers might be interested in: a nice commentary on the Sklyarov case, and -- in a wonderful display of fairness and intellectual honesty -- a thorough debunking of some standard bogus-lawsuit stories: "The never-happened stories include tales about "Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas" (trips on her toddler in furniture store); "Carl Truman of Los Angeles" (hubcap theft) "Terrence Dickson of Bristol Pennsylvania" (trapped in house), "Jerry Williams of Little Rock Arkansas" (bit by dog after shooting it with pellet gun), "Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania" (slips on drink she threw), and "Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware" (breaks teeth while sneaking through window into club). All these incidents, to repeat, appear to be completely fictitious and unrelated to any actual persons with these names. "
Imagine that: a site dedicated to stamping out bogus lawsuits debunking phony tales of same that frequently appear in public debate. Can you imagine, say, an environmentalist or gun-control site similarly debunking urban legends frequently cited in support of its cause?
YOU STILL GO, GARY: Doonesbury ain't what it used to be: it's often tendentious, and just generally not as funny as it used to be. But this strip is terrific, and not so far from reality.
AL GORE, SR. & THE FBI -- UPDATE: Frank Cagle says that the Washington Post's story about the FBI's stalking of Al Gore, Sr. was unfair. Cagle notes that Gore, Sr. had close connections with Harry Dexter White (communist tool, or worse) and with Armand Hammer and Occidental Petroleum -- both items that might have raised legitimate suspicions. That's true, of course. The Post story, however certainly gives no hint that this had anything to do with Hoover's attitude about Gore. And the quotes from the agents' reports, which as I mentioned in my discussion Friday were pathetically toadying don't seem to show any suspicions of communist sympathies.
Of course, Hoover doesn't come off well even in Cagle's treatment: "I would not argue that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was not often silly, vindictive and ridiculous. I would add that he was also a fascist blackmailing bastard who may have been the most serious internal threat to our democracy in the latter half of the 20th Century. He was certainly more of a threat than the American Communist Party." It almost makes me feel sorry for Hoover, that this is what you hear from his defenders. Almost.
BUSH V. CONGRESS: These interesting poll numbers from RealClearPolitics show an interesting trend: since the tax rebate checks started going out, Bush's approval numbers are up. Congress's are down. I suppose the recent scandals aren't helping, either. No doubt this is one of the things that has led the White House to take on Congress so squarely.
CLARENCE PAGE is paying attention to Zimbabwe. Someone should. Best quote: " Like Idi Amin, [and] Slobodan Milosevic, Mugabe needs a nudge from the civilized world. The United States was slow to get on the right side of history in confronting South Africa's apartheid regime. We must not make the same mistake with Zimbabwe." He's right, of course.
EXCELLENT OPED ON THE SKLYAROV CASE: Writing in the Star-Tribune, Linda Seebach presents the whole story clearly enough to interest even non-hackers. Recognition of just how lousy and UnAmerican the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is has spread beyond the geek community. It's going mainstream. This increases the likelihood that the statute will be struck down, or amended. The entertainment companies have some muscle, but they're so unpopular that politicians will soon figure out that there's more to be gained by taking them on than by going along with them.
EXCELLENT COLUMN BY STEVE CHAPMAN on the futility of the drug war in Peru. Besides killing innocent people, it only succeeds in moving the traffic elsewhere. Best quote: "The problem lies in the law of supply and demand, which no government can repeal. The flow of drugs will continue as long as there are Americans willing to pay handsomely to get high. So maybe we should stop expecting the rest of the world to save us from ourselves."
TIME TO SWITCH TO BARNES & NOBLE? According to this article, Borders is deploying face-recognition technology in their stores to scan for "known shoplifters." Several questions: (1) where are they getting this list of "known" shoplifters? Shouldn't "known" (that is, convicted) shoplifters be in jail?; (2) if Borders is doing this kind of thing, how can we trust them with our customer information? (3) has Borders been bought out by Dr. Evil?.
A TURNING POINT? The big rap from David Broder's critics is that he's too much of a centrist, and too attuned to the pulse of the establishment. Maybe so, but if so it only makes this column more significant. Broder uses the appointment of Asa Hutchinson as the new Drug Czar to question the point of the "War on Drugs." A good column. Read it.
ASIDE: Isn't it kind of odd that we -- a democracy -- feel obliged to respond to events by appointing "Czars"? And has any "Czar" ever accomplished his/her objective? The Energy Czar didn't solve the energy crisis. The Inflation Czar didn't solve inflation. The Drug Czar hasn't done much about drugs. Just a thought.
MORE ON BRIAN K. WEST: Could InstaPundit be wrong? Could the authorities be right? The original story didn't leave much room for doubt, but some more recent items on Declan McCullagh's page suggest that at least some people are starting to doubt West's story. Stay tuned. However, regardless of the outcome of West's case, the point I made originally still stands: most programmers and system administrators have so little confidence in law enforcement that they wouldn't report a security problem they stumbled across to the siteowner for fear of being treated as criminals. That's the sad legacy of cases like the Steve Jackson Games case.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE: This Los Angeles Times article reports that states are taking the tobacco-settlement money, which was supposed to be spent on health care, smoking prevention, and transitional assistance for tobacco farmers who move to other crops, and instead spending it on, well, other stuff. Of course they are! Understatement of the week: "Relatively few states, however, are using the money to bolster their Medicaid programs--even though the original lawsuit against the tobacco companies was based on the huge expenses Medicaid incurred treating the health problems of low-income smokers." If I were a tobacco company (which I'm not -- the tobacco Reynoldses are, sadly, no relation) I'd be running commercials savaging the states for this. And if I were Bush, I'd be using it as an example of why you can't trust Congress with more money. Will they? Good question. But both benefit from a climate in which people don't trust government -- and both are constantly being handed opportunities like this one from people whose political interests would benefit from people trusting government, but who don't have the self-discipline to act in a way that would promote that trust. This lack of discipline, which stems in part from the post-Watergate dilution of seniority and leadership authority in Congress and most state legislatures, is probably the main reason for liberalism's decline over the same period of time.
THE SOUTH WON THE CIVIL WAR? Well, no, but this New York Times piece by David Brion Davis argues, with some truth, that the Confederacy won the peace, at least in an ideological sense, with revisionist views of slavery dominating the history books from the 1880s to the 1950s and sometimes later. (Economically, the South did considerably worse, of course). There are a lot of reasons for this. As Davis notes, many influential Northerners were implicated in slavery and in profiting off of slavery right up until the Civil War, and so had no interest in exploring its horrors. Furthermore, there was widespread prejudice against black people (even among a surprising number of abolitionists). And there was a desire to get past the war, and not to rile the South up too much for fear of starting another one (which was, in fact, a risk at a couple of points). Now that has changed. Why? Well, all these reasons are no longer operative. And, in an excellent passage, Davis notes that: "In this era of relativism, an interest in the debates over slavery and America's most destructive war can reflect a discontent with the present, on the part of both blacks and whites, and a longing for an era when moral issues seemed clear cut." To this I would add the growth of revisionist Civil War fiction -- especially books like Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South and his "Great War" series, which have forced more Americans to think seriously about the mindsets of the 19th century than any textbook.
"ANOTHER BUSH SUCCESS STORY" is the headline in the New York Times. What's the story (by Kit Seelye) about? Bush as a telecommuter. Amusing story -- and I suppose the White House will take positive headlines in the Times any way it can get them.
SOME IMPORTANT THOUGHTS ON IMMIGRATION: Douglas Newman writes about the costs of trying to close the borders in this essay from Spintech Magazine. Excellent points: the police state it would require to enforce Buchananite ideas about immigration is sure to do more harm than immigration could -- and probably to fail anyway. He's also right when he extols the hardworking nature of most immigrants: having quite a few Nigerian immigrants in my extended family, I can attest firsthand that they have a work ethic sadly lacking in many native-born Americans.
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