Hundreds of young men decked with tinsel wander outside Senegal's mosques, hawking plastic Christmas trees. Women pray to Allah on a sidewalk where an inflatable Santa Claus happens to be hanging.
Senegal may be 95 percent Muslim, but it certainly knows it's Christmas. In fact, for this nation of 12 million it's a national holiday.
Blame it on globalization, which has turned the West's yuletide icons into a worldwide commodity. Or the Internet, or Hollywood, or the availability of travel that allows new generations of Senegalese to sample Christmas at close quarters. But mainly, Senegalese revel in the trappings of Christmas because they can and want to. . . . Secularism elsewhere may mean the freedom not to celebrate a religious holiday. In Senegal many interpret it to mean they should celebrate all of them.
Someone tell John Gibson!
posted at 04:26 PM by Glenn Reynolds
BRIDGES TO NOWHERE: They're not dead. They're baaack!
It rocketed across the Internet a week ago, a startling newspaper report that agents from the US Department of Homeland Security had visited a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at his New Bedford home simply because he had tried to borrow Mao Tse-Tung's ''Little Red Book" for a history seminar on totalitarian goverments. . . .
But yesterday, the student confessed that he had made it up after being confronted by the professor who had repeated the story to a Standard-Times reporter.
The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, said he went to his former student's house and asked about inconsistencies in his story. The 22-year-old student admitted it was a hoax, Williams said.
''I made it up," the professor recalled him saying. ''I'm sorry. . . . I'm so relieved that it's over."
The student was not identified in any reports. The Globe interviewed him Thursday but decided not to write a story about his assertion, because of doubts about its veracity. The student could not be reached yesterday.
Williams said the student gave no explanation. But Williams, who praised the student as hard-working and likeable, said he was shaken by the deception.
''I feel as if I was lied to, and I have no idea why," said Williams, an associate professor of Islamic history. He said the possibility the government was scrutinizing books borrowed by his students ''disturbed me tremendously."
I'm disturbed tremendously that such a suspicious story was accepted so uncritically by alleged critical thinkers -- and I'm a bit surprised that the student's identity is still being protected. Why shouldn't we know who's behind this?
UPDATE: Tim Blair: "Molly Ivins and James Carville lied to the American people! Well, not really, but they did repeat information that was later shown to be false—which is the same thing, if you’re one of them Bush-hatin’ folks, yessir (must ... stop ... channelling ... Ivins)."
HERE'S A FOLLOWUP on that missing-explosives case:
Authorities arrested four men and were searching for one more person in connection with the theft of 400 pounds of explosives _ enough to flatten a large building _ from a storage depot.
All of the explosives and detonating materials were recovered, and there was no evidence to suggest the theft was connected to terrorism, said Wayne Dixie of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION's report, the story of a U. Mass. Dartmouth student visited by Homeland Security agents because he requested Mao's Little Red Book from the library appears to be a hoax. Can't say I'm surprised.
posted at 03:28 PM by Glenn Reynolds
ADS: By the way, the Pajamas Media folks are still testing ads, and your feedback is still welcome. We quickly established that people don't like ads with annoying, repetitive audio clips though I probably could have told them that up front . . . .
posted at 03:04 PM by Glenn Reynolds
STEM CELL GOOD NEWS: Don Ho says he's feeling "100% better."
UPDATE: Good news for autologous stem cell transplants, but bad news for embryonic stem cell research:
Scientists fretted Friday that a spectacular cloning fraud that hid in plain sight has set back legitimate stem cell work around the world.
Cloning experts and stem cell scientists said research in the potentially revolutionary field of regenerative medicine will continue unabated. But they said public confidence in their work had been weakened by a sham branded by experts as the most visible case of scientific fraud they could recall.
Scientists also struggled to explain how they didn't earlier catch the charismatic South Korean veterinarian's claim in a Science paper published in May that he cloned 11 human embryos to produce stem cells.
This is very unfortunate.
posted at 02:50 PM by Glenn Reynolds
AMAZON UPDATE: The Serenity DVD I mentioned below showed up on time today. I guess it was just the notification email that was wrong.
There are many criticisms one can make of Washington, and most of them, the result of the intended imperfection of our politics, fall under the heading of "it was ever thus." But the men and women we send to the nation's capital have always purported a certain pretense to seriousness on things that mattered--foreign policy and the larger domestic issues. The year 2005 was a large fall from seriousness.
2005 was already the year of the demagogue, having been dominated for months by the endlessly echoed falsehood that the president "lied us into war." But the year ends with yet another round of demagoguery.
CASS SUNSTEIN was on Hugh Hewitt's show talking about the NSA intercepts. The transcript is here.
posted at 11:30 AM by Glenn Reynolds
R.I.P., JIM HAWKINS: Yes, blogging has been light -- and somewhat distracted -- the past few days. That's because Jim Hawkins died last weekend. A friend of mine, and an even closer friend of my brother's, he was a fine human being. He raced cars and snowmobiles, skydived, and played guitar in rundown blues bars. (In Knoxville, he played with the late Sara Jordan of The Jordan Project.) But he died not from any of those activities, but from lung cancer at the age of 40. It was a sad ending to a good life, and more proof that in this world you don't always get what you deserve.
I remember him as always cheerful, even when things were going badly. At the memorial service, it was obvious how many lives he had touched, and how much he meant to many people. (I found out last night that he went out Christmas carolling every year with the family of a friend from Junior High School, something that I never would have guessed about him).
Jim developed very serious and aggressive lung cancer, fought it through the entire round of chemotherapies, and died with grace and dignity, leaving his wife, family and friends sad, but with memories of his strength and courage that are an obvious comfort to them (and us) even now, and that will be more so with the passage of time. We should all go out so well, if not so soon.
His death is a reminder that we should live life well, while we can. Jim certainly did.
PROBLEMS WITH AMAZON SHIPPING? Reader Nora Cannon writes:
Are you hearing anything about Amazon having an awful Christmas season for delays and cancellations? I have 2 shipments that still haven't left them and 1 in transit - all ordered at the beginning of December. Our daughter-in-law is in the same situation, even though she ordered at the end of November. I have heard the these sorts of complaints from a couple of other moms, though I don't know their details of ordering. It has been years since I went "to the mall" for Christmas shopping, because on-line with Amazon and others has always been so satisfactory, but anecdotally at least something is bad wrong.
PS If they would quit filling my in-box with e-mails suggesting that I order by the 23rd for Christmas delivery, I might be more tolerant, LOL.
Yeah. I've been getting some deliveries very quickly -- yesterday I got a DVD I had ordered the day before. And I just ordered a book that promised delivery tomorrow. On the other hand, I got an email today saying that the Serenity DVD I had ordered had shipped via UPS -- but that I wouldn't get it until 12/27. I don't know why. Maybe it's a UPS problem, or maybe glitches are just inevitable this time of year. I haven't heard anything, and their home page is still pushing 1-day "accelerated delivery." What are you folks experiencing?
Anyway, to be safe I just bought one of these (the old one died, and this one has an iPod dock!) and chose to pick it up at Circuit City rather than have it shipped, just in case.
UPDATE: Mixed reviews so far. Reader John Pike emails:
hey, glenn....like a good instapundit reader I ordered serenity (for my geeky but sexy girlfriend) from amazon on 12/19 and specified 2-day delivery....received it yesterday on the 21st...see attached screen shot from Amazon...
I have probably gotten 12-15 packages from Amazon in the past 2 weeks; none took longer than expected (I also ordered a 32-inch LCD tv that made it here in 4 days).
Geeky but sexy? Geeky is sexy! On the other hand, reader David Hodges emails:
I ordered a Christopher Buckley book on December 6 and it still hasn't come yet. I e-mailed them and said if I didn't receive it by Friday that I would cancel my order. The only explanation I got was holiday glitches. I suspect they are having a lot of trouble with orders right now.
Reader Kevin Myers emails:
Regarding your post about Amazon shipping, I ordered a digital camera from them to arrive before Christmas. It was advertised to ship within 24 hours, after that time period they placed it in the dreaded "shipping soon" phase where I couldn't cancel it. They charged my credit card, and it was still "shipping soon". When I emailed to complain (after 4 days) they assured me it would arrive by the 23rd, even gave me a $15 gift certificate (which leads me to believe they know they're having problems). The next day the item went back to "not yet shipped" and I was sent an email saying it wouldn't ship until after Christmas.
As I told them, it would have been nice if I would have been told sooner of their problem in inventory as I could have purchased the camera somewhere else. I also checked the item again on their site, and it is still listed as shipping within 24 hours.
And reader Eric Owens emails:
I had ordered a ton of stuff for Christmas, on December 4. None had been delivered. I finally called, using the online call feature. The problem was that Amazon planned to ship all the items at once (an option I may or may not have selected) and one item (which shall remain unnamed lest the recipient be a reader of instapundit) was backlogged.
I canceled that one thing, causing everything else to get shipped pretty much immediately. Then, I ordered the backlogged item through a z-shop, and I am confident it will arrive on time since most of the z-shops are just little stores throughout the country, without huge warehouses.
Maybe others will have success with this method if they are having problems.
Good point. I've had that problem before, though since I got "Amazon Prime" with free shipping, I just set everything to ship as items come available, rather than consolidating orders to save on shipping.
And reader Ryan Kelley emails:
Hey Glenn. I had two shipments put in on the 13th and 15th that hadn't shipped. One just went out this morning and they put it as 2-day UPS shipping (even though it was 'Super Saver'). I'm betting the other goes out today too and both arrive on my doorstep tomorrow.
I had the same experience last year. I started to get concerned but they ended up getting it to me on time. Looks like they're doing it again this year. I don't think it's particularly good marketing but this year I'm not freaking out. They did say it'd be here on the 23rd when I ordered them.
It doesn't sound as if they're having huge problems, but obviously if you're ordering stuff today and absolutely have to have it tomorrow, well, you could be taking a chance. But then, it is December 22d.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Lots more emails, reporting both good and bad experiences, in roughly equal proportions. Doesn't sound like they're having a big systemic problem, but some stuff is falling through the cracks, which I guess is no surprise. My email is proof that Amazon enjoys a lot of customer loyalty, but that you can lose that loyalty pretty fast if people have a bad experience.
posted at 01:37 PM by Glenn Reynolds
LOOKS LIKE THE NYC TRANSIT STRIKE IS ENDING. Good.
As Ryan Sager noted this morning, the strike opened up a class war -- just not the one the union was expecting. "[T]here is a class confrontation of a kind going on — but it's not between rich and poor. It's between the working class and what might be called the government-worker class. The gap between the two groups has been growing for a while." He notes the impact of the quickly (but not quickly-enough) removed blog comments, too.
posted at 12:48 PM by Glenn Reynolds
A HARD-HITTING INTERVIEW by Erin Chapin -- though sitting in the interviewee's lap probably violates some sort of rule of journalistic ethics.
Fashioned by the state's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nanotechnology, the report represents California's second attempt in recent years to position itself at the forefront of a potential superscience, although the approach would presumably be different than in 2004, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 71, the $3 billion stem cell research initiative.
The report, obtained by The Chronicle, says the governor, state and federal legislators, and state bureaucracies must jump into nanotechnology, an emerging field that visionaries say could transform much of human life and be a major engine of the future world economy, generating hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars annually. While the report also addresses ethical, safety and environmental concerns, it urges California to act quickly or risk losing its nanotech edge to other states and nations.
True -- though lowering real estate prices in Silicon Valley would help that, too.
posted at 10:54 AM by Glenn Reynolds
PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW if I'm going to rerun the Digital Camera Carnival again this week. Nope! If anybody else wants to host one, go ahead.
posted at 08:13 AM by Glenn Reynolds
HMM: "[T]he UK will start recording the movements of all vehicles on the roads, upgrading the already existing CCTV network so that they can automatically read license plates numbers as they pass by, and keeping that information for two years. And with no FISA court authorization." This gives me an idea: Perhaps Bush should simply say that he's surrendering to critics' demands that we take a "more European" approach to national security.
posted at 08:07 AM by Glenn Reynolds
I'LL GIVE UP MY IPOD AND MY XM2Go when they pry them from my cold, dead hands. Which this guy thinks might not be such a bad idea:
"Our culture is about distraction, numbing oneself," said David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in high-tech issues. "There is no self-reflection, no sitting still. It's absolutely exhausting." . . .
"Part of the reason is the hype, the commercial selling of it," he said. "Some people feel the products will improve the quality of their lives. But do we really need to be connected in every way, shape or form?"
So are we numbed, or connected? Either way, I think he's wrong. I think the gadgets really do improve my life, and I'd hate to do without laptops, iPods, etc.
New York commuters began Day 3 without subways and buses Thursday, and union leaders faced a court date to explain why they shouldn't be held in criminal contempt for halting the city's mass transit system.
As legal and financial pressures mounted on the union, State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones ordered Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint and his deputies to appear in court Thursday, warning jail time was a "distinct possibility."
The people being hurt by the strike, unfortunately, are mostly people who make less than the transit workers do. Small businesses are being gutted by this; the last few days before Christmas is the busiest time of the year for most retail establishments, and their customers can't get to them. One of the news shows had small businessmen complaining that this was going to bankrupt them, and I've no doubt that it's true for at least some of New York's retail stores, which often operate on a shoestring.
Meanwhile, poor workers, who tend to work hourly, are losing salary that they can ill-afford.
The U.S. economy grew at the fastest pace in 1 1/2 years in the summer as booming auto sales offset the adverse effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the year is expected to end with much slower growth.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, grew at a 4.1 per cent annual rate from July through September.
That was down from a 4.3 per cent estimate made a month ago but it was still the fastest pace since early 2004. The gain was even more remarkable considering that the country was hit by devastating hurricanes and gasoline prices that topped $3 US per gallon.
Let's hope this lasts.
posted at 07:02 PM by Glenn Reynolds
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mark Tapscott has two pieces of interesting news.
posted at 05:39 PM by Glenn Reynolds
DAN DARLING: "CIA Director Porter Goss and FBI Director Mueller's visits to Turkey received extremely little attention in the Western press, but from the stuff that's leaked out in the Turkish press, there is reason to think that it might do well for all of us to pay attention to what's going on there."
posted at 05:31 PM by Glenn Reynolds
LUTTIG SLAPS THE ADMINISTRATION in the Padilla case, suggesting that claims that the Fourth Circuit is a "constitution-free zone" were, um, premature.
UPDATE: Still more from Omar here, and worries from Publius. I'm not sure what to make of events so far, but Kaus's argument that more, closer-together elections would be better is looking pretty good.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Michael McFatter thinks Publius's concerns are premature:
But this is precisely the point at which democrats don't exchange blows and instead follow the law. His characterization of "real liberal democracy" being composed of groups who are genuinely "working for the better of the whole country" is I think a little Pollyannish. What distinguishes real liberal democracies from psuedo-democracies is that when a crisis has arisen, like now, leaders seek a resolution which involves compromise on both sides within the rule of law. We have yet to see what Iraqis will do, but this was always going to be the riskiest part of the plan. Will they truly reject quasi-fascist tribalism for peace and prosperity or will the region persist in the road to self-destruction. It's always been in their hands. Our invasion and assistance has only made the choice explicit and more immediate.
Democratization is a process, not an event. We'll soon see just how far along in the process we've progressed.
President Bush's post- Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents.
This may or may not be right as a matter of law, but as with the Jamie Gorelick testimony I noted below, it undercuts the silly notion that this argument is a novel creation of the out-of-control Bushitler regime.
UPDATE: Orin Kerr has more thoughts on the story. In answer to one of his concerns, the question of U.S. jurisdiction over satellites does not depend on whether they are over the United States, but rather on whether they are carried on the U.S. registry. Whether this impacts the Fourth Amendment analysis is not clear; the argument as to whether the constitution "follows the flag" onto U.S. spacecraft is unsettled, though the answer is probably "not necessarily." That topic gets more discussion here; should it become more important I'll post something on it.
Meanwhile, via the comments to Orin's post, here's a post by Cass Sunstein that also supports the Bush Administration's position:
It is therefore reasonable to say that the AUMF, by authorizing the use of "all necessary and appropriate force," also authorizes surveillance of those associated with Al Qaeda or any other organizations that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks" of September 11.
The reason is that surveillance, including wiretapping, is reasonably believed to be an incident of the use of force. It standardly occurs during war. If the President's wiretapping has been limited to those reasonably believed to be associated with Al Qaeda and its affiliates -- as indeed he has said -- then the Attorney General's argument is entirely plausible.
Read the whole thing; we don't know, of course, exactly who was being wiretapped, which matters. Regardless, the Bushitler claims seem quite ill-founded.
UPDATE: Bill Quick says the press doesn't care about the history here.
WILL THE '06 ELECTIONS BE LIKE '02?The Hotline blog thinks they might.
UPDATE: James Somers emails:
If you'd asked me (and you didn't) three months ago, I would have said '06 is looking like '94. But it is indeed heading towards the '02 paradigm now instead. The "domestic spying" issue reinforces this. I expect CNN, CBS, etc, will be too frightened to actually commission a poll on the NSA wiretap issue. They know what they'll find - a solid majority of Americans is going to have no problem with what the Administration has done here. In fact, they probably already assumed it was doing exactly this sort of thing.
But for some people, it's always 1972 - you know, back when George McGovern won in a landslide because Americans were anti-Vietnam war.
IN THE MAIL: Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain. The cover art, as I think you'll agree, is delightfully retro, and it gets an excellent blurb from Cory Doctorow.
posted at 09:58 AM by Glenn Reynolds
DAVID WHITE says the White House has finally woken up.
posted at 09:56 AM by Glenn Reynolds
DAN GILLMOR is launching a nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for Citizens' Media: "We need a thriving media and journalism ecosystem. We need what big institutions do so well, but we also need the bottom-up -- or, more accurately, edge-in -- knowledge and ideas of what I've called the "former audience" that has become a vital part of the system. I'm also anxious to see that it's done honorably and in a way that helps foster a truly informed citizenry. I think I can help."
I'm a fan of Dan's, and I hope to help too.
posted at 09:54 AM by Glenn Reynolds
DENSITY IS DESTINY: An interesting look at sprawl, urbanization, and the red-blue divide.
PROF. TOM SMITH on the NSA flap: "There probably is a law review article here (though one a top 20 review would never publish, because they would not be able to understand it) about how to adapt the law of search to technologies that depend on much more sophisticated treatments of probability than 'probable cause.'"
Whatever the policy grounds underlying Young's determined advocacy of the projects, evidence has emerged that the issue is also a family matter, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Alaska paper reports that Young's son-in-law, Art Nelson, is a minority participant in a partnership that owns a prime 60-acre tract of land near the Knik Arm project. Nelson, who is also Chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, owns a 10 percent share of Point Bluff LLC, which has four other members.
I'm shocked, shocked to hear this.
UPDATE: Reader Steve Wells emails:
The benefits of Young's family are not disputed, but a quick correction: that's not the bridge to nowhere. The bridge to nowhere would link Ketchikan, a city in the extreme southeast of Alaska, with Gravina Island, which has a population of 50 people. It also is where the Ketchikan airport is. The bridge that would benefit Don Young's family, though, is across the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. It would be a bridge across a tidal inlet right next to Anchorage and would open up a great deal of acreage in close proximity to Anchorage as well as cut substantial commute time from some outlying communities. It really is not a bridge to nowhere and would be beneficial.
However, having said that, I want to say that 1) I'm not at all surprised that Don Young's family will benefit; and 2) Alaska has more than enough money to pay for the bridge itself and we should not rely upon Congress to pay for it. I would make this modest proposal: Alaska, whether through the State or through private enterprise (which would be much preferable to my libertarian/anarchist politics), builds both bridges and Congress lets us drill in ANWR.
Yes, that's clear if you follow the link to read the story, but I guess not really from the excerpt.
posted at 04:40 PM by Glenn Reynolds
THE NYC TRANSIT WORKERS' UNION has an unofficial blog, and it's getting an earful in the comments. Here are some excerpts:
[S]econdly, if i could meet the masterminds behind this strike, i'd personally spit in each of their faces. I know fifty people at my campus who now cannot return to their families for the holiday season, and are being forced to spend their break in a hotel off campus until the transit system is running again. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves doing something this stupid this time of the year. Every single worker participating in the strike is extremely selfish and short sighted.
You guys really have a lot of balls. All you do is drive around in circles. Your job isn't hard at all. You get paid as much as cops and firemen, while much more as teachers. Something is wrong. You're asking for way too much here.
I am thoroughly disgusted with the TWU. Who are you to think you're above the law? Who are you to take well-paying jobs (for your education levels) serving millions of people and then hold us hostage by striking?
I have a 16 month old son who will be taken to day care today in his STROLLER. In 20 degree weather. I am paid hourly and will lose today's salary.
The city's subway and bus workers went on strike Tuesday for the first time in more than 25 years, stranding millions of commuters, holiday shoppers and tourists at the height of the Christmas rush. A judge promptly slapped the union with a $1 million-a-day fine.
State Justice Theodore Jones leveled the sanction against the Transport Workers Union for violating a state law that bars public employees from going on strike.
Attorneys for the city and state had asked Jones to hit the union with a "very potent fine" for defying the law.
"This is a very, very sad day in the history of labor relations for New York City," the judge said in imposing the fine.
Already, trains in Paris, Cairo, and Calcutta operate with computerized or automated systems. In Paris, the Meteor Project was launched in 1998, with an automatic piloting system that controls the train line’s traffic, regulates speed, manages alarm devices, and allows for traffic of automatic and traditional conductor trains on the same line.There have been no serious accidents reported since this system deployed in the late 1990s, and more than a billion people have been transported. Computers make the trains run on time and they don’t threaten to walk off the job. All of us are replaceable, but some are more quickly replaceable than others. Already,the MTA spends 80% of its operating budget on personnel expenses.
MORE ON THE WHOLE NSA STORY: I don't have much to add on the legal analysis linked to earlier, though I still wonder why, exactly, the Administration didn't just go through FISA. Noah Schachtman continues to pursue the technological theory -- that the methodology being used didn't fit under the FISA umbrella.
Independent from the question of whether this is legal, of course, is the separate charge that the program represents a Bushitlerian departure from prior standards. That seems to be hard to maintain -- in many ways, Bush's policies are merely a continuation of those under Clinton, only with somewhat more vigor post 9/11. If you want to look back on the Clinton Administration as some sort of civil-liberties golden age, you probably shouldn't read this report from the CATO Institute entitled "Dereliction of Duty: The Constitutional Record of President Clinton." But here's a relevant excerpt:
The Clinton administration has repeatedly attempted to play down the significance of the warrant clause. In fact, President Clinton has asserted the power to conduct warrantless searches, warrantless drug testing of public school students, and warrantless wiretapping.
The Clinton administration claims that it can bypass the warrant clause for "national security" purposes. In July 1994 Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick told the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the president "has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches for foreign intelligence purposes."  According to Gorelick, the president (or his attorney general) need only satisfy himself that an American is working in conjunction with a foreign power before a search can take place. . . .
It is unclear why the president made warrantless roving wiretaps a priority matter since judges routinely approve wiretap applications by federal prosecutors. According to a 1995 report by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, it had been years since a federal district court turned down a prosecutor's request for a wiretap order.  President Clinton is apparently seeking to free his administration from any potential judicial interference with its wiretapping plans. There is a problem, of course, with the power that the president desires: it is precisely the sort of unchecked power that the Fourth Amendment's warrant clause was designed to curb. As the Supreme Court noted in Katz v. United States (1967), the judicial procedure of antecedent justification before a neutral magistrate is a "constitutional precondition," not only to the search of a home, but also to eavesdropping on private conversations within the home. 
President Clinton also lobbied for and signed the Orwellian Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which is forcing every telephone company in America to retrofit its phone lines and networks so that they will be more accessible to police wiretaps.
Whether this view is right or not is a separate question from the easy-to-refute claim that it's an entirely unprecedented creation of the power-mad Bushitler Administration. It's odd, then, that it's the easy-to-refute claim that's being pushed.
If you'd like more on this topic, Jeff Goldstein has a huge, link-rich roundup.
UPDATE: Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1979!
posted at 01:20 PM by Glenn Reynolds
GOOD NEWS FROM FREEDOM HOUSE: "The number of electoral democracies around the world rose from 119 to 122 this year, setting a new record as freedom made inroads in the Middle East and Africa, an independent monitoring group said."
EVEN THOUGH I put up the big book recommendation post last night, people keep sending stuff in. I'll see what I can do with it.
posted at 09:24 AM by Glenn Reynolds
MARSHALL WITTMAN thinks the Democrats are blowing it on national security. "Rather than the 2006 election being about the GOP' s weak ethics, it may be about the Democrats' anemic defense credentials."
Personally, I wish the two parties were both good on defense, so I could pay more attention to other issues.
posted at 09:21 AM by Glenn Reynolds
WORKING AT HOME: The Wall Street Journal reports that telecommuters get less respect:
Many people seem to think that jobs that can be done at home aren't real jobs. Never mind that home-office dwellers are their own cafeteria staff, shipping-and-receiving clerks and janitors. They never get credit for cutting an employer's costs, or saving commuting time to do more work. Instead, managers believe that if they aren't there to witness someone working, it can't be happening. They envision homebound workers getting away with something, like lounging in their bathrobes and watching "General Hospital."
It's as if they believe that the people working under their noses don't waste a tremendous amount of time talking about last night's college basketball game, making bids on eBay, or reading only like-minded blogs while on company time. The misconceptions are yet another indication that vacuous symbols of productivity, rather than productivity itself, are all that really count.
Read the whole thing. This sounds funny, but it actually matters, in terms of energy efficiency and environmental cleanliness.
posted at 09:15 AM by Glenn Reynolds
EARLY ELECTION RESULTS are coming out in Iraq. Omar has a report, and people aren't happy about how well the religious parties did. Here's more from Kerry DuPont.
Note that, as Omar reported yesterday, the preliminary results leaking out aren't official, aren't complete, and seem to be being leaked as an effort to stir things up on behalf of various factions. So stay tuned to see how things develop.
UPDATE: And, in fact, see Omar's update to see how fast things change.
So, we should all give a big Christmas thank you to the Transit Workers Union, who in calling the strike, have become the Grinches for many New Yorkers. We should also reassess the wisdom of allowing our governments and transportation systems to be held hostage by unions.
Read the whole thing.
posted at 09:05 AM by Glenn Reynolds
WHY A FEDERAL VIDEOGAME LAW is a bad idea: My TechCentralStationTCS Daily column is up.
THIS IS TROUBLING: "About 150 pounds of commercial plastic explosives has disappeared from a private storage site, along with 2,500 blasting caps and 20,000 feet of explosive detonation cord, authorities said Monday." These things usually turn out to be just ordinary industrial theft, not terrorism. I hope this turns out that way.
posted at 11:59 PM by Glenn Reynolds
BOLIVIA HAS ELECTED A SOCIALIST who promises to legalize coca production. I expect Evo Morales to be another tedious Latin American lefty disaster, but I don't think the coca-legalization move is so dumb. The anti-coca program has been a disaster, and ineffective to boot. And contrary to what Gateway Pundit jokes, I think this is probably bad news for crack dealers.
Legalize the stuff, tax it like tobacco, and let the trial lawyers sue sellers for any product defects or dangers. Morales won't know what hit him.
Montana Sen. Max Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is donating $18,892 he once got from Abramoff's clients and associates to seven tribal colleges in his state. The committee is part of a wide-ranging congressional investigation of Abramoff's activities.
Included in the total is an estimated $1,892 that was never reported for the use of Abramoff's skybox at the MCI (NASDAQ:MCIP) Center in downtown Washington, D.C., in March 2001. . . .
North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, returned $67,000 in donations earlier this month. That committee is also investigating Abramoff.
Somebody was complaining that I haven't paid enough attention to Abramoff. Hope this makes 'em happy!
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS: I asked for 'em, and I got 'em! Here goes:
Reader Michael Gebert writes:
For good history, I would champion the author William Lee Miller, who's written two books which knocked the cobwebs off a familiar era-- America around the time of the Civil War. Arguing About Slavery is about the debates in Congress over slavery (and the debate over whether Congress even had the right to debate it, etc.); full of wonderfully overripe chunks of 19th century bloviation from the Congressional records of the day, it also shows how the South, by overplaying its hand, turned Northern public opinion toward abolition, a lesson in the excesses of extremism which certain members of Congress could certainly learn from today. And Lincoln's Virtues is a terrific book about Lincoln the practical politician and how he balanced his ideals with what it took to win office and be effective; a great book about how you can achieve power without losing your soul and, indeed, accomplishing in the end exactly what you set out to do.
The three most interesting/entertaining books that I read in the last year:
The Right Nation, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Two British reporters discuss the rise of the American right over 40 years. They are so balanced in their analysis that it is almost impossible to divine the political opinions of the authors. Simply the best book on American politics that I have ever read.
New Glory, by Ralph Peters. Beautifully written, Peters spares almost nobody in this analysis of American geopolitics. Whether on the inside of the Bush administration or to its left or right, there is something in this book that will challenge your assumptions and force you to confront your own biases.
Old Boys, by Charles McCarry. A very thought-provoking spy novel by a former spy, both literate and entertaining. How retired old cold warriors on the outside limber up to rescue a comrade and interdict an Islamist nuclear weapon, all in the same very black op. A stupendous thriller by an unheralded master of the craft.
Jefferson Perkins emails:
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Perhaps the most important philosophical work of the 20th Century, and I don't think it's going to be recommended by most of today's faculty. One liberal friend of mine refuses to even read it, his mind might be poisoned or something -- Written in 1957, it is as eerily prescient as de Toqueville in some matters, such as the expansion in size and power of the federal government.
The Federalist Society's little booklet containing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Hayek's Road to Serfdom. Although it's a little dated, as Hayek focussed on post WWII "Central Planning" rather than other governmental mischief.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the best fantasy series ever written, period. I don't know whether these works have been elevated into "English Literature" as yet -- but they should be.
Richard Kemmer writes, "This book about the Reformation is superb."
Shakespeare: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd. This is what I'm reading now. I adore Ackroyd. I've also read "London" and have a couple other of his books on my Amazon wish list. Now if I can just get my dad to part with his complete Shakespeare that he claims to have in the attic :-)
President Bush's approval rating has surged in recent weeks, reversing what had been an extended period of decline, with Americans now expressing renewed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq, the campaign against terrorism and the U.S. economy, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.
Bush's overall approval rating rose to 47 percent, up from 39 percent in early November, with 52 percent saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job. His approval rating on Iraq jumped 10 percentage points since early November to 46 percent, while his rating on the economy rose 11 percentage points to 47 percent. A clear majority, 56 percent, said they approve of the way Bush is handling the fight against terrorism -- a traditional strong point in his reputation that nonetheless had flagged to 48 percent in the November poll. . . . A solid majority (60 percent) agrees with Bush on his opposition to setting a timetable for withdrawing forces. Of the 39 percent who favor a deadline, 31 percent would like to see all U.S. troops removed by the end of next year. The poll also found Americans slightly more receptive to a candidate for Congress next year who opposes a timetable than to one who supports a timetable.
This poll predates last night's speech and this morning's press conference, of course.
posted at 07:02 PM by Glenn Reynolds
BRENDAN O'NEILL: "Bin Laden's script: ghost-written in the West." Plus there's this:
Is it that the dumbing down of public life is now so complete that even a loon like bin Laden can get five stars from literary pundits for saying things like 'kill the Americans and seize their money wherever and whenever [you] find them' (December 1998) and 'My kidneys are all right' (November 2001)?
I think he stole that last from The Who, with a slight translation error creeping in . . . . Read the whole thing, which is a pretty damning indictment of a lot of literary -- and political -- punditry.
posted at 06:21 PM by Glenn Reynolds
ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR: Where I usually wind up . . . .
My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. My answer is extra-cautious for two reasons. First, there is some wiggle room in FISA, depending on technical details we don't know of how the surveillance was done. Second, there is at least a colorable argument -- if, I think in the end, an unpersuasive one -- that the surveillance was authorized by the Authorization to Use Miltary Force as construed in the Hamdi opinion.
Meanwhile, Marty Lederman also has a long post, and observes:
In his press conference this morning, the President focused on two things: (i) defending the legality of his Executive Orders authorizing eavesdropping of conversations involving U.S. persons (including citizens); and (ii) scolding Senators for refusing to reenact the PATRIOT Act.
What virtually no one is pointing out is the incongruity of these two arguments -- that if the President is correct about the legality of his wiretapping protocol, then there is little need to reenact the PATRIOT Act.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Ann Althouse observes: "Members of Congress were briefed about the program in the past and did not see fit to take a position about it one way or the other. They were content to let the President act and but feel pressured to do something now that the program is no longer secret. Let's see what they do."
UPDATE: Meryl Yourish says that something was missing from Bush's speech last night. And Laurence Simon notes that there's a transcript -- and video -- of Bush's press conference online already at the White House website. They seem to be getting quicker. Laurence observes: "Kinda makes you wonder when Presidents won't bother asking 'The Big Three' networks for airtime and instead ask the wireless providers for videostreaming to wireless phones time."
Sooner than the Big Three would like, I expect . . . .
posted at 02:48 PM by Glenn Reynolds
LEAKS ARE CAUSING TROUBLE IN IRAQ, according to Omar:
The IECI stressed repeatedly that no results should be considered official until the commission itself announces the final results but still, numbers and percentages keep leaking from different sources, including people in the commission.
The worries of voters are being fueled by the announcements that keep coming from this or that list declaring “smashing victories” here and there.
Some lists are taking partial results that leak from a single polling center and generalize them over an entire province to give the impression that they have won. Of course none of this can be confirmed or denied until all votes are counted and sorted out.
Maybe one day Iraqi government officials will be as disciplined and leak-resistant as people are here. Come to think of it, they already are!
posted at 02:44 PM by Glenn Reynolds
DOES THIS PHOTO mean that Valerie Plame is starting a blog? She's wearing pajamas!
So much for the popularly peddled view that anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is so pervasive and deep-rooted it might take generations to alter. A new poll from Pakistan, a critical front-line in the war on terror, paints a very different picture--by revealing a sea-change in public opinion in recent months.
Long a stronghold for Islamic extremists and the world's second-most populous Muslim nation, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the U.S. than at any time since 9/11, while support for al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed 87,000. The U.S. pledged $510 million for earthquake relief in Pakistan and American soldiers are playing a prominent role in rescuing victims from remote mountainous villages.
Read the whole thing.
posted at 01:55 PM by Glenn Reynolds
PROF. LIONEL TIGER WRITES: "At my university as at countless others, one of the very first official greeting to students is a rape seminar predicated on the intrinsic danger males carry with them." Read the whole thing, and read this, too.
posted at 01:50 PM by Glenn Reynolds
FOLLOWING UP on my earlier post, an interesting look at casualty rates in various conflicts and settings.
The country has had no elected national assembly since 1973, when coups and a Soviet invasion plunged it into decades of chaos that left more than one million people dead. Civil war raged in the early 1990s, followed by the disastrous rule of the Taliban. . . .
The inauguration of the assembly formally concludes the political transition process agreed on by Afghan factions under UN auspices in December 2001, although Afghanistan is still a long way from stability.
And Dave Kopel writes in The Rocky Mountain News: "After all the attention the mainstream media, including the Denver dailies, gave to the execution of the unrepentant quadruple- murderer Tookie Williams, it would be nice if the media focused on a man on death row who is actually innocent."
ANOTHER UPDATE: John Leo looks at the Tookie case. But why not a column on Cory Maye?
The cover is pretty cool, and there's a lot of interesting history on the topic of scientists' thoughts on extraterrestrial life. I found Basalla's technological relativism a bit unconvincing -- alien science, if it exists, may look different from ours in some ways, but he almost makes it sound as if physical laws are cultural artifacts, which no amount of postmodern argument can make true, or even persuasive. What's more, he doesn't really engage the point made by Ernst Fasan years ago in his Relations With Alien Intelligences: While it's possible to imagine aliens with whom we have nothing whatsoever in common, the aliens we'd be most likely to deal with -- as competitors or friends -- are those who are more like us.
posted at 10:34 AM by Glenn Reynolds
ANNALYN HAS A CELLPHONE with a built-in flashlight. Great for power failures. In Nigeria, actually, people favor phones with bright screens so that they can be used as emergency light sources during the frequent outages, so I guess this is the next logical step.
With Christmas approaching, I'm thinking of giving some books. Would you consider posting what you regard as some kind of Top 5 or Top 10 books (to think about as gifts)? They needn't be published in 2005, or limited to non-fiction. But it would be helpful and interesting. I fear that my nieces and nephews (at Cornell, Smith, Marlboro, and some outfit in Montreal) are not getting directed to important books or good history.
Who do I look like? Frank Wilson? But hey, send me some recommendations and I'll post 'em.
Why are Americans so well off? It's not just because of America's fruited plains and its alabaster cities. In fact, it turns out that such natural and man-made resources comprise a relatively small percentage of our wealth.
MORE: TM Lutas asks what's different since the Clinton years.
posted at 11:02 PM by Glenn Reynolds
BUSH DOUBLES DOWN: I just watched Bush's speech. Nothing new there for anyone who's been paying attention to the speeches he's been giving over the past couple of weeks. But one big thing struck me: In this national televised speech, Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war. He repeatedly talked about "my decision to invade Iraq," even though, of course, it was also Congress's decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his.
Why did he do that? Because he thinks we're winning, and he wants credit. By November 2006, and especially November 2008, he thinks that'll be obvious, and he wants to lay down his marker now on what he believed -- and what the other side did. That's my guess, anyway.
UPDATE: Ian Schwartz has video of the speech. Here's the transcript. (Part Two here). And here is a reaction, and advice for Bush, from Lorie Byrd of PoliPundit.
And, yes, the hounds don't seem to have made an impression.
Still more here. And proud Bush-hater Jonathan Chait writes: "I am not, to say the least, a fan of President Bush. But a portion of his speech tonight genuinely moved me and made me think more highly of him."
Gateway Pundit: "After Only 1,000 Days, Bush Takes Credit for Iraq." See the timeline.
UPDATE: Reader Michael Schrage sends more evidence in support of the study's conclusion, in the form of this unbylined AP "analysis" of Bush's speech. [LATER: The story runs here under Ron Fournier's byline.]
Series often run dry, but the Larry Niven Ringworld-derived Man-Kzin Wars series has gotten a new lease on life with installments X and XI which are pretty good. The Kzin have always been one of my favorite alien species.
John Birmingham's Designated Targets, sequel to the Hillary-Clinton-inspired Weapons of Choice, is very good. I'm not sure if I should score it as alt-history or science fiction, but I'm putting it here since there's interdimensional travel involved.
Well, that's a pretty fair assortment. Here's an earlier post with science fiction recommendations, and here's one with alt-history recommendations. And here's another along those lines. Meanwhile, here's a post from last year with lots of other book recommendations. That should be enough to get you going!
But don't forget, you can get a lot of excellent science fiction books, many quite recent, for free online at the Baen Free Library. And don't miss the introductory essay by Eric Flint.
posted at 07:21 PM by Glenn Reynolds
GOOD NEWS YOU MIGHT MISS: Afghanistan's first elected national assembly in 30 years is meeting. Murdoc Online has more, and observes: "If, at the end of September 2001 you had said that both Iraq and Afghanistan would have elected new democratic national governments by the end of 2005, I would have said you were a bit too optimistic. I'm glad to be proven wrong. Why are some people so disappointed that things are going so well?"
Jake: (More hyperventilating) What’s the least romantic thing a guy has ever done to you?
Allie: I got asked out on a date to a Copper concert. He met me at the door, he paid my way in, he bought me 3 or 4 shots of tequila, as soon as Copper walked out onto the stage, he disappeared.
You gotta focus on the band! Rough for her. Cool for Copper! Thanks to reader James daSilva, who spotted this.
posted at 07:10 PM by Glenn Reynolds
BOY, the Big Media coverage of Katrina -- which so many media folks were congratulating themselves on at the time -- isn't looking very good now that we know what actually happened. More here: "The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both put forth front-page stories this weekend that dramatically contradict much of their own coverage of the disaster."
Hmm. Bogus reporting that inflames racial tensions. This could be as damaging to society as violent videogames. We need Congressional hearings!
Yesterday a trio of Democratic senators with presidential ambitions introduced federal legislation that they believe can pass constitutional muster.
The legislation, unveiled at a press conference by Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, would essentially codify the industry's current voluntary rating system. It assigns games letters from "EC," meaning appropriate for early childhood, to "AO" for "adults only." Retailers who sell games rated "mature," "adults only" or "ratings pending" to children under 17 could face fines of $5,000 per violation.
My TCS Daily column will explore this at more length, but did I mention it's dumb?
UPDATE: More criticism from Seven Deadly Sins and Entropy Manor, where we get this observation: "While I don’t like the increasing level of mature content in today’s video games, I don’t think making it a federal crime to sell them to children is the answer. While I deplore the increasing levels of violence and sex in our culture, I deplore government intrusion into a role which is properly that of the parents."
posted at 02:05 PM by Glenn Reynolds
A NEGATIVE REACTION to Time's People of the Year choices, with some suggested alternatives. I think it was a pretty dull and uninspired choice on Time's part. Ed Morrissey agrees.
UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis observes: "this is one more indication how we are reentering an age of leadership by the very rich . . . should the millions who gave billions after the tsunami have been the cover subjects, perhaps?"
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader C.J. Burch emails:
I've had my disagreements with Jeff, but he's right about this. Funny, the MSM has become much more pro super-rich folks since the super-rich became movers and shakers in the Demorcatic party. Wonder why?
THE INSTA-DAUGHTER is celebrating Christmas vacation with a marathon viewing session revolving around the Simpsons seventh season DVDs, which came on Friday. I've watched a couple of them with her, and wish I had time to watch them all.
When I was a kid I would have loved being able to do that. Also the computer games, car-mounted DVD players, etc. Today's kids have it good in some ways.
This relentless progress of democracy is causing quite a commotion throughout the Arab world. While it is fashionable to denounce the American presence in Iraq, and what the Americans were doing, the Arab language buzz on the net is going in unexpected directions. Because of al Jazeera and the Internet, young Arabs everywhere are not only able to observe what it happening in Iraq, but to discuss it with young Iraqis. These discussions are not noted much in the West, because they generally take place in Arabic, and often via email and listservs. The non-Iraqi Arabs are impressed at the proliferation of media in Iraq, and the eagerness of Iraqis to vote, and make democracy work. The economic growth in Iraq is admired, and is already attracting entrepreneurs from other Arab countries. The more cynical non-Iraqis believe that it will all come to nothing, and that another Saddam will eventually emerge and shut down all this democratic nonsense, as is the case in most of the Arab world. But the pessimists appear to be in the minority. Arabs are tired of dictators, economic stagnation, the corruption and living in a police state. Moreover, there’s a nimble quality in Arab thinking that allows them to simultaneously blame the Americans for going into Iraq, and praising the result.
Read the whole thing.
posted at 10:47 AM by Glenn Reynolds
THIS SEEMS LIKE GOOD NEWS: "World Trade Organization negotiators approved an agreement Sunday requiring wealthy nations to end farm export subsidies by 2013, a support system that poor nations say puts them at a competitive disadvantage." They'd hoped to accomplish much more, though. Daniel Drezner has more, and reports that the EU officials are "grumpy."
That is, they seem to have been given a highly negative sense of the blogosphere, and were discouraging soldiers from posting anything that might affect anything. Which to me is sass-akwards. Milbloggers, in my non-humble opinion, have done more for the war effort and more to correct misleading reports than the entire Army Public Affairs Branch has (note: this is not a slam on them, but praise for the MilBlog community). The Army should be encouraging troops to give *more* information on their first-hand impressions and how things are going, not less. "Winning the War" begins at home - we're not going to be defeated here, but may have to pull out because of people's impressions at home, which in my opinion seem to be shaped by misleading reports of what the overall picture here is. (Note again - I'm writing less from my own direct experiences than from the impression I get second-hand, both talking to people who have direct experiences and reading what I consider to be reliable sources). This attitude towards soldier-bloggers, which might be limited to just the 4th Division, seems to be another example of the Army shooting itself in the foot - making its mission harder.
That seems right to me. I understand concerns about operational security, but this seems more like a (doomed) effort to regain lost control over information flow. Given the ready market for it in big media, damaging information will still flow freely -- this will just make it harder for the helpful stuff to get out.
THE US administration was never told of doubts about the secret intelligence used to justify war with Iraq, former secretary of state Colin Powell told the BBC in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday night.
Mr Powell, who argued the case for military action against Saddam Hussein in the UN in 2003, told BBC News 24 television he was "deeply disappointed in what the intelligence community had presented to me and to the rest of us."
"What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced to us," he said.