FIXING THE FBI: Good column by James Risen in Sunday's New York Times about fixing the FBI. Risen suggests that the FBI could learn from the CIA's experience. Some truth there, but the FBI, even more than the CIA, is in fact an agency that has never worked very well. The real question is, should we keep it, or should it be broken up and have its responsibilities redistributed among other federal agencies? The problem with the latter is that other federal law enforcement agencies -- DEA, INS, BATF -- are even worse than the FBI.
UNDER the Constitution, of course, federal law enforcement responsibilities -- and authority -- were sharply limited. Maybe the framers were trying to tell us something.
FROM THE UNASKED-QUESTIONS DEPARTMENT: This story in tomorrow's The Times reports that the French will allow the British to station police in large numbers in Calais to control access to the channel tunnel, through which large numbers of illegal immigrants sneak into Britain. The story says there are between 150-200,000 illegal immigrants, though it's not clear whether that's total or just the number that sneak through the chunnel. (Surely the former?).
THE UNASKED and unanswered question: why are so many who are already in France so anxious to leave it for Britain? Whatever the answer, I suspect it will reflect better on the Brits than on the French.
TROUBLE FOR BUSH? The assault weapon ban sunsets in 2004. At least some pro-gun groups are circulating email stating that unnamed White House officials have said that Bush won't fight reenactment. (I can't find this on the Web anywhere yet, so no link.) I doubt this is true (it's unlikely anyone at the White House is giving this issue much priority 3 years in advance), but if it catches fire it could cause trouble for Bush. Not so much in '04 (he may or may not dodge that, er, bullet for a variety of reasons) but in '02. If this issue heats up in the next year, it could cause the White House to spend a lot of time mending fences with grassroots activists who could make a big difference in some close House and Senate elections. If it can't make them happy -- and realistically, what can it say besides "trust us"? -- they may just stay home. If it moves too aggressively to make them happy, it may give the Democrats an issue, though the Democrats seem less willing to raise the gun issue given how much harm their strong gun-control position did them last time around. (Just ask Bill Clinton and Joe Lockhart, both of whom have publicly commented that the issue was a killer for them).
GUN CONTROL IS NOW LIKE ABORTION: The two parties are polarized on the issue, but neither really wants to make too big a deal out of it. Each can block major initiatives of the other, so the struggle takes place mostly in little brushfire conflicts around peripheral issues. Overall, this is probably a victory for pro-gun forces (who would like to roll back the assault weapons ban and some other laws, but who are more concerned with preventing new legislation), just as the abortion stalemate is overall a victory for prochoice forces.
PHIL GRAMM WAS RIGHT When he said that the only reliable friend in politics was "ready money." As Josh Marshall points out with glee (and links galore on his page -- go there if you want more background), Gramm is now facing a concerted effort by Texas Republicans to shove him out the door a bit early, so they can appoint GOP hispanic Representative Henry Bonilla to fill the seat, giving Bonilla an incumbent's advantage, avoiding a potentially damaging primary, and helping the Texas party in its effort to capture more hispanic votes. Gramm should probably go quietly (what's the point of being a lame duck Senator anyway?) but he's resisting the push, probably disappointed -- and maybe, despite everything, even a bit hurt -- by the speed with which he has gone from bigshot to hasbeen since his anouncement.
BUT that's how politics is. Gramm has known it all along, but like most of them has probably felt that he was different: that the people who professed love and admiration for him meant it, at least a little bit, unlike the sycophants who were professing love and admiration for everyone else.
THAT's typical. Years ago a powerful Washington insider who had, and has, survived many changes of administration remarked to me that people in these jobs are always hurt when they leave, and realize that the affection and admiration was aimed not at them, but at the job. And no matter how much they know better intellectually, he said, they're always a bit surprised on some other level. Well, that's only human.
ADVICE TO GRAMM: It's only going to get worse. Once you announce that you're not running again, your position erodes very rapidly. Either adjust to that, or leave early.
PISTOL PACKING isn't just for coeds, you know. The Pink Pistols are a nationwide organization of "sexual minorities" licensed to carry concealed weapons. An article by Jonathan Rauch was apparently the inspiration.
REPRESENTATIVE QUOTE: "We no longer believe it is the right of those who hate and fear gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or polyamorous persons to use us as targets for their rage. . . . The more people know that members of our community may be armed, the less likely they will be to single us out for attack."
TAKING BACK THE NIGHT: Confronted with a serial rapist, some coeds at Colorado State are packing heat. That's probably going to prove more effective than candlelight marches.
WHY IS THIS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY STUFF SO IMPORTANT, ANYWAY? If it were just traditional IP, it wouldn't be. But it's important to understand that things like the DMCA or the proposed bill below aren't about protecting ideas -- they're about protecting existing industry structures from technological change. Though draped in intellectual-property clothing, these laws are really protectionism, designed to ensure that the motion picture and recording industries retain their traditional stranglehold on production and distribution. Back when it took huge sums of money to outfit a movie studio or a recording studio, technology gave these companies the structures they have today. But now technology has made it possible for anyone with a few grand to have a better recording studio than the Beatles ever had, and to distribute worldwide via the Internet. Something like that is about to happen with movies.
WHEN THAT HAPPENS, the existing companies don't have anything to offer except the quality of their ideas. And all you have to do is look at this summer's lousy movies, or the top half-dozen items on the Billboard charts, to understand why they aren't comfortable relying on that! So they're trying to protect themselves against competition by building in items that make life hard for competitors. (They pretend otherwise, but nobody who pays attention to these issues is fooled).
THIS IS FAR MORE OF AN ANTICOMPETITIVE move than Microsoft's browser-bundling. The Department of Justice should be investigating these industries for price-fixing, conspiracies to lock out competitive distribution, payola/extortion, and RICO. Why isn't it?
FROM THE 1984 WAS FOR OPTIMISTS DEPARTMENT: Slashdot is reporting on a proposal for legislation that would require all computers to have digital rights management built in. Click here to see a copy, which Declan McCullagh has helpfully put online. This is a horrible idea. It would virtually destroy any hope of computer privacy, and it contains lots of new criminal penalties. Personally, I don't like to see criminal law used primarily to protect the economic interests of big corporations, and I think that the increasing use of law enforcement as goons in this way is drastically undermining respect for the law. This bill hasn't been introduced yet. Write your congressperson and make sure it isn't.
STILL MORE ON PRIVACY: On Monday, a coalition of groups will protest the privacy invasions of the Drug War. What's interesting is that the groups range from the ACLU to the Eagle Forum. When you can bring the ACLU together with Paul Weyrich, Grover Norquist, and Phyllis Schlafly, you've got a broad-based consensus that there's something seriously wrong. Actually, if you look at the list of participants it tilts to the right. As I said on Thursday, it surely means something that the most prominent defenders of civil liberties these days are on the right. Traditional lefties beyond the ACLU and a few other bastions don't really seem to care that much anymore.
Part of this may be a generational thing, which I've noticed in my father and his antiwar-protest generational cohorts. They're a lot more comfortable with authority nowadays, since they're all driving Mercedes sedans and exercising authority themselves. "Stick it to the man" is less appealing as a philosophy when you are the man. (This, I think, explains what has happened to Garry Wills, too).
MORE ON PRIVACY: Rosie O'Donnell is being sued for spying on employees. When the employees complained, they got this reaction: "And she was just yelling and screaming and cursing at me and you know it was - I was shocked to the point I couldn't even respond to her except to say I think it's probably best to speak, you know, to our attorney."
I've always found O'Donnell's celebrated niceness to be smarmy and phony. I guess I was right. It's kind of sad that millions of gullible viewers actually pay attention to her views.
I hope that the judge who hears this case will be properly sensitive to workplace privacy issues.
A SMALL BUT SIGNIFICANT VICTORY FOR PRIVACY: Censorware.net is reporting that the Administrative Office of the Courts has backed down on its policy of monitoring federal judges' email and web-browsing. According to this letter from Leonidas Ralph Mecham, head of the AO (he's more of a Lysander than a Leonidas, as best I can tell), it was all just a big misunderstanding. Right. Well, I'm glad it's been, ahem, cleared up. (Mecham also talks about his commitment to decentralization of authority in this letter. Ah, bureaucrats.)
WHY IS THIS A "SMALL" VICTORY? Because it's nice to see that federal judges have the backbone to defend their own privacy. Had they lacked that much backbone, it would have been a big defeat. But the real question now is, will they be as sensitive to privacy issues that affect the rest of us? Their record to date hasn't been especially great. But maybe now their consciousness has been raised. I certainly hope so.
DC ABORTION FOLLOWUP: Today's Washington Post has two letters condemning the D.C. Emergency Medical Services policy of forcing pregnant women employees to have abortions or lose their jobs. Interestingly, one is from Kate Michelman of NARRAL. That's an excellent move on her part, seizing an opportunity for reminding people that her organization is "pro choice" rather than "pro abortion."
SETTING THE HOOK: Democrats have taken the bait, making big noises about preserving the surplus, not tapping the fictitious Social Security lockbox, etc., etc. Now it's time for the next phase: Bush has announced that we may need a "trigger" (remember that word?) if federal revenues fall. Only it's not the Democrats' trigger, that would get rid of the tax cut. It's a trigger for ... more budget cuts! And, having just secured an agreement from Bush to be thrown in the briar patch, er I mean to respect the Social Security "lockbox," the Democrats are in a bind. They either have to accept the budget cuts, thus playing into Bush's hands, or push for a tax increase -- thus playing into Bush's hands. The last tax increase was in '93, just before the disastrous (for Democrats) '94 elections. All the while that prominent Democrats -- and Gary Trudeau -- have been talking about how dumb Bush is, he's been maneuvering them into a trap from which there is no easy escape. (If they had been reading InstaPundit they would have seen this coming, of course: see this post from August 19, or this one from August 25, among several others.)
BUSH IS TAKING A RISK: If this recession gets deep, he's also put himself into a position that will make life difficult. With preserving the Social Security "lockbox" a political given, he can't spend his way out of a recession, and he has more to lose from an intractable recession than the Congressional Democrats do. He's already got his backup strategy going on this one -- a massive capital-gains tax cut -- but that one doesn't have the political saleability of across-the-board rate cuts. The good thing about the capital gains cut is that it actually generates revenue in the short term (whether it helps or hurts long term depends on who you believe) so that he can do it without producing deficits. But it doesn't put money in the pockets of voters in significant numbers, and it's too easily taggable as a giveaway to the rich. Bush will probably "compromise" with the Democrats by arguing for the capital-gains cut and more tax rebates. This will be a tough one for the Democrats, too. (Maybe next time the checks will have Bush's signature on them, say in the summer of '04?) Of course, if the recession is short and shallow (me, I'm betting on shallow, but not that short) this won't matter anyway. Bush's plan may or may not work, but it's not dumb. What's dumb is that the Democrats don't even seem to realize what Bush has been doing to them.
This excerpt from the Washington Post story I cited above should wake them up:
Bush countered that such critics of the tax cut he signed earlier this year must want now to raise taxes, something he ruled out. Flanked by Cheney, Lott and Hastert, Bush said: "I can assure you the four of us on this stage are not going to let anybody pick the pockets of the American taxpayers."
Democrats said they had said nothing about raising taxes, that Bush was the only one bringing up the subject.
Smell the coffee, folks. You've been had.
SPEAKING OF APOLOGIES.... Well, actually it's a non-apology apology. But just before an anti-NOW demonstration by the "Independent Women's Action Project" (sample quote: "It's wrong to kill your children and use your hormones as an excuse."), NOW issued a "clarification" of its position on Andrea Yates. According to NOW, the media have misrepresented its position; it's really just against the death penalty for crazy people. It never meant to defend Yates' actions. Glad to hear it, though I don't actually believe it. At least the EU doesn't pretend that it never endorsed slavery.
BEST RESPONSE: From Bishop Imagene Stewart of the African American Women's Clergy Association: ""I don't think we should make excuses for murder. . . . If we let her get away with this, other women — who are mad at their husbands — will do it too, and just plead insanity."
ON 9/5 I POSTED an item quoting Jim Bennett's UPI column on slavery. (Representative quote: "To the extent we participated in slavery, it was in the mistaken adoption of Continental European systems in the vain expectation that Continental economic and legal practices were the key to wealth and power, a mistake some are making again today.") Today, the European Union decided to apologize for slavery. Coincidence? You decide.
FLORIDA IS BANNING SHARK FEEDING: Even though the attacks occur on beaches, not on scuba dives, and even though there's no connection between divers feeding sharks and shark attacks many miles away, Florida is banning the shark dives in response to this past summer's attacks. This seems mostly about politicians and bureaucrats wanting to look like they're doing something. Yep, they are: they're reminding us that sharks aren't the only creatures with big mouths and tiny brains.
ROD DREHER/AL SHARPTON UPDATE: Earlier I mentioned Andrew Sullivan's item noting that the racist death threats against New York Post columnist Rod Dreher have gone largely uncommented on. Since then, Kathryn Jean Lopez's smart and (sad to say) brave piece on just that has appeared. It's an odd thing when a presidential candidate (okay, it's only Al Sharpton, but he does say he's running) whips up a racist lynch mob and nobody cares. Perhaps, as Janelle Brown notes in Salon, it's because the hysteria is really being whipped up by the entertainment industry, anxious to wring a quick buck from Aaliyah's demise.
TROUBLE AT GWU: Allison Alvarez reports that George Washington University is ordering everyone off campus for the World Bank/IMF meetings. Apparently, though, it's mostly making students fend for themselves. Professors are taking some in, but it looks like most are just out on their own. Gee, that'll start the year off on a good note. I understand that GWU had more applicants decide to enroll than it expected this year. This should fix that problem.
MORE BAD NEWS FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY: The record companies have been installing copy-protection schemes on CDs that keep them from playing at all on computer CD drives, don't let them be ripped into MP3 format, etc. Now a consumer has filed a lawsuit (click here to see the complaint) against them. This isn't some fancy-pants claim based on the DMCA, where the entertainment industry has managed to rig the ground rules in its favor, but a straightforward suit for fraud & deceptive advertising, as well as invasion of privacy (the proprietary format that you can copy these to returns identifiable consumer information to the company). Apparently the record companies -- correctly assuming that no one in his/her right mind would buy this stuff if it were clear what was going on -- didn't include any warning on the packaging.
THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING of what is likely to be a long and ugly period of litigation for the entertainment industries. Expect more lawsuits over price-fixing, payola-based racketeering suits, consumer fraud suits, etc. There are also likely to be federal investigations of the sort music industry insiders have been demanding for a while, now that the Clinton administration isn't protecting the industry anymore. (Expect the Bush Justice Department to show far less consideration to these big Democratic donors than Clinton's did).
THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IS MASSIVELY UNPOPULAR with nearly everyone now. Older people and conservatives think it produces immoral crap. Younger people -- because of its thuggish litigation behavior in the DeCSS cases, the Napster case, etc. -- think it is immoral crap. And everyone thinks that its product is, increasingly, just plain crap. The amount of public capital that the entertainment industry has managed to squander over the past few years is astonishing. Entertainment will be the new tobacco industry, in my opinion.
MORE MAIL: Walter Shapiro writes to remind me that his USA Today column stressed the unimportance of the 1982 elections. He does note, though, that in those elections the Democrats picked up seven governorships, which cannot be explained in terms of redistricting. Good point.
FROM THE MAILBAG: Reader Tom Roberts, himself a federal procurement officer, takes issue with my endorsement of Eben Moglen's suggestion that the federal government use its procurement programs to support free software like Linux or FreeBSD. Well, it's not the suggestion or the endorsement that he complains about, as you'll see:
Your embrace of the concept of the feds encouraging Linux et al runs afoul of the the current philosophy of federal procurement in computers. The feds have made buying anything other than IBM/Intel clone + Windows + Office extremely difficult to any user. If you wish to buy that generic package plus some minor apps software like Adobe products you can float the requisitions easily using government credit cards (also in the news lately). If you wish to specify a Mac/OS or UNIX variant you have to go through a month of paperwork justifying the variant from approved standards and then you can start the Form 9 requisition, which cannot go forward on a credit card and has to be ticket punched on 3 or more levels of approval authority before the vendor actually gets the requisition. One Mac my lab ordered took 9 months to get here and came without memory. That omission took 3 months to fix through the procurement system.
As usual, external ideas for how the federal government could help matters run aground upon the reef of utter incompetence in the procurement system. $300 toilet seats are just a minor example of this phenomena.
In at least one sense, Roberts is understating the problem: I believe that those were $600 toilet seats. (Or was it the coffee pots that cost $600?)
"THE MORE YOU TIGHTEN YOUR GRIP," said Princess Leia in the original Star Wars, "the more star systems will trickle through your fingers." The record industry might profitably have followed this advice. By suing Napster, it shut down a file-sharing system that used central servers, and was easily controllable. Now, as Wired News reports, new file-sharing systems like FastTrack, Imesh, AudioGalaxy, and Gnutella are trading more files than Napster ever did -- over 3 billion last month. And they're going to be much more difficult to co-opt to the industry's benefit. I haven't tried any of these (I favor MP3.com because artists actually get some money that way -- and the independent artists there are as good as any majors -- listen to Cecilia Noel or the HQBand for example). But some friends and students say that they're as easy to use as Napster, and that the selection is every bit as good.
THEY WERE WARNED ABOUT THIS, of course. But music industry apparatchiks have been more concerned about protecting their own perks and positions than about shareholder value. Embracing, or co-opting things like Napster would inevitably mean an end to the gatekeeper roles of A&R guys and other industry executives, roles that earn them a lot of intangibles in the form of sycophancy and perks. The industry campaign against file-sharing is best understood in that light, rather than in terms of corporate interests. That they may be dooming their companies long-term doesn't matter to them. I think that those with major investments in the industry ought to be asking some sharp questions.
UPDATE: Ebay just won a major decision on copyright infringement under the DMCA. The court held that it was not responsible for infringement using its system, and had no affirmative duty to monitor content. This is likely to help these file-trading services in future litigation. More bad news for the RIAA, and another reason why it should have come to terms with Napster instead of trying to kill it.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET ASHCROFT? That's the title of John Derbyshire's column in the National Review Online today. Derbyshire points to the Michigan FBI shootings at Rainbow Farm that I mentioned yesterday.
There are so many interesting angles to this story that I barely know where to begin. The National Review defending armed marijuana-legalization activists? Well, that's a good one, but I'll skip it.
What's most interesting to me is the growing unhappiness of Republicans with the Justice Department regardless of who is in charge. Senate Republicans like Dan Burton and Charles Grassley are complaining about coverups and harassment of the press. NRO is complaining about jackbooted thugs (a phrase that actually originated with Democrat John Dingell, coincidentally from Michigan).
During the Clinton/Reno Administration this was dismissed as partisan posturing, but it's continuing under Bush & Ashcroft. Could it be that there's a real issue here, and that the media and commentariat were wrong to dismiss these complaints before? We are reaching the point at which the most prominent defenders of civil liberties in this country are Republicans. To me, that seems to be news.
ADVICE TO ASHCROFT: The career bureaucrats at Justice need to be brought under control. Thanks to Janet Reno's not-so-genial incompetence, DoJ's police-statists had free rein for the last 8 years, and they're not going to pull in their horns just because she's gone. It will require affirmative efforts to bring Justice under control. You'll have to work at it, even if it means sacking or transferring some senior bureaucrats.
ADVICE TO CONGRESS: Don't let up on this issue. There's a real problem at Justice. Every one of these shooting incidents creates bad blood. The big media forget the story in a few days (usually) if they cover it at all. But because of the Internet, lots more people know about it, and they don't forget. There's a tremendous anger under the surface, and it's shared by millions of people who aren't right-wing nuts. (Derbyshire quotes country music star Merle Haggard as saying that he had more freedom as an ex-convict on parole in 1960 than the average American has today). This sentiment is poison to the Republic, and unless you seriously address these issues, there will be hell to pay down the line. The Drug War and the militarization of law enforcement, coupled with hundreds of intrusive federal laws about everything from wetlands to "deadbeat dads" have created a gigantic reservoir of fear, anger and resentment. It's ready for exploitation by demagogues, or for spontaneous combustion in the face of some future government idiocy. And, given the climate at Justice, that triggering idiocy is sure to happen sooner or later..
POLYGAMY: THE NEXT TREND! How do I know? Because the WSJ is condemning it! Don't get me wrong, I love reading them. But it's the same story as with gay marriage: Polygamy has gone from something uncontroversially bad to something that is controversial. The item by Naomi Schaeffer doesn't strike me as particularly persuasive (the notion that polygamy necessarily puts women into a position of inferiority makes no sense -- usually the one who is outnumbered is regarded as the one in a position of inferiority, except, apparently, when it's a man). (And, by the way, I'm no relation to the polygamous Reynolds in the case of Reynolds v. United States). Polygamy is now officially a controversial lifestyle. That's the next step on its journey to becoming an "alternative" lifestyle.
ANDREW SULLIVAN stands up for free speech and wonders why no one is defending Rod Dreher. If a black journalist had written something negative about a white entertainer and gotten racist death threats, it would be a national scandal. Why, he asks, isn't it when the races are reversed? Good question.
REACTIONS TO THE NONBREAKUP OF MICROSOFT: A nice feature in Salon has multiple reactions to the MS decision. My favorite: Eben Moglen's suggestion that the government use its purchasing power to boost free software like Linux. No messy litigation required, and a guaranteed alternative to Microsoft in the marketplace.
TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL SURVEILLANCE CAMERA AWARENESS DAY: That's something I learned from Sara Rimensnyder writing in Reason. Rimensnyder's article lists and links to all sorts of interesting protest activities scheduled around the world. Check it out, and join in a protest if there's one near you and you're so inclined. Or make your own. One suggestion: a website showing the locations of the surveillance cameras in your community. Another: plant a surveillance camera outside police headquarters. Put it on the Web. If they complain, tell them that if they're innocent, then they have nothing to fear.
MICHAEL FUMENTO SPEARS GREENPEACE for its unending campaign of lies concerning biotechnology. Does biotech corn kill Monarch butterflies? No, but Greenpeace still says it does. Does Starlink corn cause devastating allergic reactions in people? No, but Greenpeace is still flogging that one, too. Deadly "Mystery DNA" in soybeans? Another big lie.
WHY ISN'T GREENPEACE LIABLE for its deceptive statements the same way it wants to hold (other) corporations liable for theirs? Isn't it telling lies and shading the truth in order to market its product: environmental feelgoodism and hysteria? Why is that different from telling lies to sell pork bellies?
THIS CULINARY ASSESSMENT of the Bush Administration from The Times is amusing. Conclusion: "Bush’s presidency is more Hispanic than Hollywood. It is more guacamole than glitz." I'm glad to see that The Times has something positive to say about the Bush Administration.
SPEAKING OF SLATE, Will Saletan has an amusing dissection of the "shark lobby's" excuses for this summer's rash of shark attacks. Personally, I agree with Saletan: zero tolerance for large, toothy animals that want to eat me. I'm at the top of the food chain, dammit, and anything that disagrees is doing so at its own risk.
MMMmmm. Mako steak. At least if one gets me later, I'll still be ahead.
ROBBING PETER -- OR ANYWAY, SOMETHING LIKE THAT: Inigo Thomas writes in Slate about a campaign to cut down on gossip that was created by two New York Rabbis. He notes that the program's website features excuses to use to avoid situations where people gossip. What Thomas doesn't mention is that those excuses appear to be, well, lies. So let's get this straight: in order to avoid gossip, we're supposed to lie? And we're hearing this from two rabbis?
No wonder the country is going to hell.
FROM THE MAILBAG: Reader Ed Bush says The Times has it all wrong: Peter Bray is at best the third person to cross the Atlantic in a kayak. In 1956 Dr. Hannes Lindemann, a German MD, crossed the Atlantic in a standard 17-foot Klepper folding Kayak. But Franz Roemer had crossed in a Klepper in 1928. This just underscores my point about how easy it is to get across the Pond, though.
NOW THEY TELL US: Auditors have decided that a program by the Department of Housing and Urban Development was a waste of money. The program advised tenants in low-income housing how to select gemstones, clothing, and incense -- part of a program to improve self-esteem. Not surprisingly (this is HUD, after all) it turns out that the program was part of a sweetheart contract awarded to a crony of the program officer.
THIS PROGRAM, which cost $1.1 million, was funded as part of HUD's drug-elimination program (total budget: $310 million), which the Bush Administration wants to eliminate. Remember this when people say -- and they will -- that this cut endangers the "safety net." Best quote (from the auditors): "This represents an excessive and ineffective use of public housing drug elimination funds with no measurable benefits."
THE PRICE OF MOUTHING OFF: Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson talked to reporters when he shouldn't have, and made clear that he didn't like Microsoft. This unjudicious judicial behavior caused him to be reversed, and the breakup of Microsoft to be first postponed, and now canceled. Had Jackson acted properly, the case might well have been so far along that DoJ wouldn't have been able to reverse its position. People who are unhappy with this outcome should remember that in no small way it's Jackson's fault. He gave in to his anger, and let the Dark Side take over. The result, predictably, was failure.
FARMING THE GOVERNMENT: Michael Lynch writes about the dismal failure of efforts to wean the agricultural sector from federal subsidies. Subsidy spending has gone up, not down, since the passage of the Freedom to Farm Act. Members of Congress are among those receiving big benefits. It's welfare for white folks -- except, as Lynch points out, that people on welfare who work on the side are called frauds. Those who pocket subsidies for not planting, and then work at regular jobs too, are called "gentlemen farmers." That's modern farming: reap what you don't sow.
UPDATE: Just ran across this story: Shrinking Surplus Puts Farm Subsidies in Peril. Once again, this is the kind of thing that a recession is supposed to imperil. So far, the "fiscal straitjacket" is looking pretty good.
COOL SITE: The Space Weather Forecast from Space.Com. Excerpt: "Solar activity is expected to continue at moderate to high levels. Regions 9601 and 9608 will likely produce C and M class flares. An isolated major flare is possible from either region." What's interesting is that this isn't just trivia, but important information to satellite operators, airlines, and broadcasters. So often, what used to be science fiction is now just a workaday part of life. Er, like InstaPundit! (Compare with John Brunner's "Scanalyzer" from Stand on Zanzibar).
BIG BROTHER IS BEING WATCHED: Ever since I posted the item praising Judge Alex Kozinski's opposition to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' program of monitoring judges' email and web-surfing (you can also read a good article by Jeff Rosen here) I've noticed that InstaPundit has been getting a steady stream of pageviews from (drumroll please) the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Ralph, is that you? And is your surfing of InstaPundit work-related? (Answer: of course it is. Surfing InstaPundit is sure to improve anyone's productivity!)
ONCE AGAIN, ANDREA SEE SAYS IT SO WELL: "Race and/or religion make normal people complete imbeciles." She's talking about the latest goings-on in Ireland, but it could apply to Durban, the Middle East (if God were on the job, the Temple Mount would be hit by an asteroid), and, well, anywhere that Al Sharpton or David Duke happens to be hanging his hat. Er, or hood. Andrea's statement is so self-evidently true that I wonder why anyone pays attention to all the obvious demagogues who are trying to milk race and religion issues.
GERM WARFARE -- FOR, OR AGAINST? If only it were that simple. Dave Kopel and I have a piece in today's National Review Online that analyzes the impact of the treaty to date and the problems with the proposed protocol to enforce it. It's easy to be against germ warfare (and I'll boldly stake out a position in opposition to biological weaponry) but it's not so easy to defend either the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention or the proposed enforcement protocol. As Ed Regis has pointed out in his book, The Biology of Doom, germ warfare research was largely stagnant before 1972. After the Convention entered into force, germ warfare research -- mostly among parties to the Convention -- exploded. We now have thousands of metric tons of enhanced-lethality smallpox sitting in storage in the former Soviet Union, as a direct result of the treaty.
THERE ARE also constitutional problems with the enforcement protocol, which would allow warrantless searches of, well, pretty much any place by people who are not responsible to the U.S. government. One might approve of such a situation in the abstract, but such an approach hasn't worked with Saddam Hussein. It's likely to result in a lot of industrial espionage, but not much actual enforcement. And as the international community has illustrated with the North Korean nuclear violations, there isn't much stomach for actual enforcement even when countries are caught. So why take this approach seriously?
THAT SAID, I'm a little less enthusiastic about withdrawing from the 1972 Convention than Kopel is. But I certainly think that we shouldn't go any farther in this process unless there's some reason to think that it will make things better, rather than worse. And right now, there's no such assurance.
THE BEST protection against biological warfare is probably a robust civilian biotechnology sector that can quickly respond to threats. We're close to having such a capability now, and that -- coupled with assured retaliation for biowar efforts -- is more likely to protect us than intrusive-yet-ineffective treaties.
A RIGHT TO PROCREATE FOR INMATES: The Ninth Circuit has held that male prisoners have a right to procreate via artificial insemination despite being incarcerated. (Female inmates don't, it says, because caring for pregant inmates places a greater burden on the state). There's something here to outrage most folks -- I expect a rapid reversal. On the other hand, the "danger to the gene pool" comments made by critics of the decision aren't going to go down very well here either. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Here, courtesy of Prof. Eugene Volokh, is a link to the actual opinion.
CHANGING ATTITUDES ON LAW ENFORCEMENT: Two marijuana activists were shot and killed by federal agents in Michigan. Not much news there: people are always being shot by drug warriors. What's interesting is the online poll accompanying the Detroit News story, which shows that 74% of readers think the shooting was the fault of wrongful actions by the FBI and federal agents, not the activists. You wouldn't have seen numbers like this a few years ago. But with one scandal and abuse case after another, law enforcement has forfeited its presumption of rectitude. Not just in a few inner city communities, but everywhere. That's a very significant change, and it's one that won't be reversed easily.
NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS: Andrew Sullivan may be hauling down his TRB flag, but Norah Vincent is taking up a steady gig at Salon. I confess a bias: she was assistant editor on my last book, back when she was at The Free Press, and I've always liked her. I've enjoyed reading her pieces in the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, etc. And, heck, I'm glad to see Salon chugging along and hiring new writers despite constant reports of its imminent demise. Check out Norah's page at Norahvincent.Com.
PETER BRAY is the first person to canoe across the Atlantic. (Well, it was actually a Kayak). As more and more people manage to cross the Atlantic in less and less likely-seeming craft, you have to wonder: was North America as isolated from Europe before Columbus as the conventional wisdom claims? It seems unlikely. Admittedly, Bray had the advantage of space-age materials and construction, and of knowing where he was going. But that's probably made up for by the very low risk threshhold of modern times, even for adventurers.
BUMMER OF THE WEEK: Andrew Sullivan is reporting that he will no longer be writing the "TRB" column for The New Republic. It will be taken over by Peter Beinart. Now, there's nothing wrong with Beinart -- I praised his column on the Durban conference yesterday -- but this is still a drag. The New Republic was a lot more interesting with Sullivan in it, and it'll an uphill battle for Beinart to keep it as interesting with Sullivan gone. True, Sullivan wasn't an especially great fit ideologically with the rest of the magazine -- but that was why having him made such a difference.
HOME SCHOOLING: Virginia Postrel has coverage of homeschooling that's a must-read. I've never been able to muster the fashionable snobbery toward homeschooling because I was homeschooled for a year (okay, it wasn't typical -- my dad was teaching at Heidelberg and my parents didn't think I could handle a German-language third grade). But it was far and away the biggest year of intellectual growth I had -- I went from the Hardy Boys to Catch-22 and Banesh Hoffman's Strange Story of the Quantum that year.
One of the best points made on Virginia's page is that the conventional wisdom makes no sense: the current educational attitude is that lots of homework is good, but homeschooling isn't. Excuse me? Another valuable point is that homeschooling is so much more efficient. Remember how much time was wasted in school? It still is. Then there's the "socialization" issue. Well, maybe. A lot of the socialization is in the form of torture and bullying such that many elderly men still recall seventh grade with horror.
Having said that, I don't think that homeschooling is for everyone. Plenty of public schools are fine. And there's a sense in which libertarians, at least, should endorse public schools, especially the bad ones, since no other institution is likely to do so much to convince kids that authority figures and government institutions aren't necessarily so sharp. After seeing someone thrown out for Midol or nail clippers, no child is likely to believe that the folks running things know what they're doing all the time. Or even most of the time.
But at the very least, the snootiness toward homeschooling should stop. And there's some evidence -- including a Buffy episode that Virginia quotes -- that it is stopping. (And thanks to Best of the Web at OpinionJournal for the nail clipper example).
A POSITIVE NOTE? OR A SIGN OF RECESSION? I worked at home today, finishing a law review article manuscript, writing a magazine item, setting up the web discussion board for my Internet Law class, and -- well, you don't really care, this isn't that kind of a website. But I was home in part because I had a plumber and a refrigerator repairman coming. Normally, this would be leading up to a tale of horror, or at least incurable sloth and greed, right? But both showed up on time, did an honest job in short order, and presented me with (fairly) reasonable bills.
PART OF THAT, of course, is that in Tennessee people are just, well, nicer than in a lot of other places I've lived. But I still hear the usual horror stories of multiple no-shows, crappy work, lousy attitudes, etc. Now, maybe I just lucked out. But I've noticed that many (not all) people I deal with seem a little more anxious for my business than, say, at this time last year or the year before. Is that a sign that the economy is cooling down, and people are starting to feel the pinch? Or at least to worry about feeling the pinch? Could be. And that's one upside of recessions -- they make people more anxious to do a good job, and not so contemptuous of their customers. Not so bad a thing.
LESS IS MORE: According to this very interesting piece by Ron Bailey, we're doing more with less. Specifically, despite economic growth and an extra 55 million in population, the amount of stuff we use in our economy has dropped from 1.18 trillion pounds in 1977 to 1.08 trillion pounds (that's 100 billion pounds -- a lot!). Why? Improved technology has made things lighter and more efficient.
Best quote: 'Near its conclusion, the authors of The Limits to Growth noted, "Any human activity that does not require a large flow of irreplaceable resources or produce severe environmental degradation might continue to grow indefinitely." Thirty years later, it turns out that economic growth is the best example of that idea.'
Bailey's book Earth Report 2000 is worth reading, too.
NOT A FIGMENT: According to the European Union the Echelon spy program is real. I think as punishment the folks at the NSA should be forced to read all of my emails, one at a time, in realtime. Buwhahaha!
SERIOUSLY, this is poison. First of all, it's likely that the main reason for this cooperative program (involving the U.S., Canada, Britain, and New Zealand) is to allow the countries involved -- especially the U.S. -- to get around restrictions on domestic spying. (If the Brits spy on Americans, and then hand over the information to the U.S. government, then we aren't spying on American citizens. This theory probably won't hold up in a criminal prosecution, or a civil lawsuit, but it's enough to make bureaucrats feel that their butts are covered). Second, it makes us look like Big Brother. Third, it makes U.S. restrictions on commercial encryption look exceptionally self-serving.
BUT WHAT ABOUT terrorists? And child pornographers? That's the question we're always asked. If terrorists and child pornographers didn't exist, they'd have to be invented to create a handy excuse for such spy capabilities. Hey, you don't think...?
I'M SORRY, PAULA: Apparently, there are other people who deserve more scorn for this whole psychic thing than you. Maybe we can start a university dedicated to this stuff. No, wait, that's already been done. There are times when I wonder whether rational thought is on the way out.
ZAHN IS GONE: FoxNews.Com is reporting that Paula Zahn has been let go from FoxNews, and will be sued for breach of contract. Apparently, the decision has nothing to do with her use of psychics on the air, which is too bad.
NICHOLAS LEMANN has an interesting piece on Bush, the budget, and the red/blue divide in The New Yorker. Lemann agrees that the fight over the fictitious Social Security "lockbox" is, in his words, "deeply fake." He also bores in on the real question: "whether the federal government should be nourished, so that it can stand ready to solve national problems, or starved, so it cannot grow." The phraseology gives away Lemann's preferred position, but he's right. And, at the risk of repeating myself (no, wait, that's called "staying on message," and it's supposed to be good, right?) one major factor determining which view wins is whether people believe that a "nourished" federal government will actually solve national problems, or rather that nourishment is really just pork -- or even nourishment to parasites, rather than the body politic. Bush is rather obviously betting on the parasite view carrying a majority of voters. Democrats don't even seem to be aware that they're fighting over this.
"CONGRESS GIRDS FOR BATTLE OF PRIORITIES" -- This is the headline that Mickey Kaus makes fun of in Kausfiles. Okay, it's not a barn-burner, though it's more exciting than "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." But it made me think: when Congress is doing things journalists consider sexy -- say, trying to ban cloning, or flag-burning, or, worst of all, pass another "crime" bill -- most of the time what's going on is something Congress shouldn't be doing in the first place. Congress is supposed to be the main place for battles of priorities. The other stuff is mostly there to keep us from noticing that they're not doing their jobs. And that's an upside to the vanishing surplus. The states, faced with lots of surpluses in the '90s, mostly wasted the money on pork. A federal surplus would probably go the same way. Now that Congress is in a "fiscal straitjacket" (to coin a phrase) it will actually have to focus on priorities. And so will the White House. You'd almost think that someone had planned it that way.
DURBAN-O-RAMA: Okay, I promise this will be my last post on this subject for a while. But Simon Jenkins' column in The Times is too good to leave out. Best quote: "The fixation with self-regarding conferences is symbolic of global institutions that have lost all accountability and sense of proportion. Durban on racism is the nadir of the genre."
This is actually a good thing, as the idiocy of these events -- usually below the radar -- becomes obvious enough that politicians can make hay out of cleaning them up. It's time, and past time.
TAKING REPARATIONS SERIOUSLY: If the West owes Africa for anything, it is its support and maintenance of brutal and corrupt rulers over the past decades. If we want to make it up to Africa, we should exert the necessary effort to remove the current crop of corrupt kleptocrats and genocidal thugs from power, and make it clear that we will keep doing so until just societies are established.
Think the delegates at Durban will accept that?
THE DURBAN CONFERENCE: Bringing back the "Blood Libel?" UPI columnist Jim Bennett says yes. The "Blood Libel" was the claim that Jews celebrated Passover with matzoh that was baked with the blood of Christian babies. The new blood libel, he says, is the claim that the West's wealth is built on some sort of unprecedented exploitation of others. Bennett's response:
Western civilization in general was neither better nor worse than others. The Spaniards and Portuguese certainly stole the wealth of the New World and the manhood of Africa. (The great majority of all slaves in the Atlantic trade went to Brazil and the Spanish Caribbean.) They spent the wealth they gained on luxuries and military adventures in Europe. If the Industrial Revolution and the wealth of the West had actually been based on slavery, Spain and Portugal would have been the leaders of the Industrial Revolution.
Instead, it was the free minds and hands of the Anglosphere that invented the Industrial Revolution and used that wealth and power to abolish slavery worldwide. To the extent we participated in slavery, it was in the mistaken adoption of Continental European systems in the vain expectation that Continental economic and legal practices were the key to wealth and power, a mistake some are making again today.
The Anglosphere is unique not in practicing slavery, but in leading the way to abolishing it.
1982 MEANS LESS THAN I THINK: That's what Michael Barone writes. With his permission, I'm quoting his letter:
In your first item in your always interesting Instapundit this morning, you cite Josh Marshall's reminder that Republicans lost seats in the 1982 House elections. True, they did lose seats--26 of them. But by my admittedly subjective but at least well-informed count, 15 of those losses were due to redistricting, which was mostly controlled by Democrats. They picked up 8 seats by redistricting in California alone. The Republicans only lost 11 seats when you put aside redistricting.
This year Republicans have the advantage in redistricting, likely to be worth between 5 and 10 seats. Note that in California, where Democrats are technically in control, they will only pick up 1 seat by redistricting. So if Republicans lose 11 seats aside from redistricting, they will likely end up with losses of only 1 to 6 seats. True, a 6-seat loss costs them their majority in the House, but a 5-seat loss does not.
This suggests that the White House knows what it's doing here, and that the Social Security weapon that Walter Shapiro mentions and that Josh Marshall invokes isn't likely to do the Republicans serious harm. It must be cool to be Michael Barone, and actually know this stuff. I have to rely on his book, and I'm usually not smart enough to remember to look these things up.
JOSH MARSHALL disagrees with what I said on the Bush budget strategy. He thinks that if the economy tanks, voters will blame Bush, not Congress and cites the 1982 elections as proof. He may be right; I just don't think it matters. After all, the Republicans lost seats in 1982, but Reagan won in a landslide in 1984. Which part of that equation do you think matters more to the White House?
He also thinks that Bush has lost more credibility than Congress. I think that he's wrong there. But I agree that ultimately, the issue will be decided based on who voters distrust less, Bush or the Democrats in Congress. Not trust more; voters don't really trust either. Distrust less.
RECYCLING ALERT: This Washington Post story on teen websites bears a strong resemblance to this Salon story on teen websites. Plagiarism? Definitely not. Recycling? You decide. The Salon story plays up the voyeuristic/sexual angle more (Salon? Say it ain't so....) but they're pretty similar. The Salon story ran on August 13th; just about the right lead time for recycling, though of course that's purely circumstantial. Mickey Kaus, call your office! Or, anyway, Richard Byrne, call your office! Er, or just read InstaPundit.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SAVAGED BY CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS: Who? Janet Reno? No. It's John Ashcroft being attacked for subpoenaing a reporter's home telephone records by Sen. Charles Grassley, who says he's concerned about the Justice Department's position on freedom of the press. Hmm. I remember Congressional Democrats being awfully quiet about Janet Reno's misbehaviors. When did Republicans become the main principled defenders of press freedom? And why hasn't the press noticed this yet?
GOOD NEWS in the same story: U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White's office has dropped its subpoenas for book-purchase records in the same investigation. And I hope somebody smacked the back of their hands with a ruler, and assigned them to write a 25-page book report on George Orwell's 1984.
MORE LIES IN COURT: Last week it was Joyce Gilchrist, the Oklahoma City crime lab scientist who has been found to have faked evidence. Now it's former West Virginia and Texas crime lab scientist Fred S. Zain who's the story. (He works for the state of Florida now). The good news: Zain is actually on trial for faking evidence. This is the kind of accountability we need, in a system where one dishonest crime lab worker can send hundreds or even thousands of people to jail on bogus evidence. Although it took its sweet time (the West Virginia Supreme Court called Zain's testimony completely unreliable way back in 1993), this prosecution deserves praise. This kind of misconduct shouldn't be excused; it strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system.
IT'S 1982 ALL OVER AGAIN: That's Walter Shapiro's take on the coming budget battle, and I think he's right. Representative quote: You almost get the feeling that every Democratic congressional candidate is handed a fire alarm with the instructions: "In political emergency, break glass and scream, 'Social Security.' " Make no mistake, Republican thinking is mired in the past as well. At a Teamsters barbecue in Detroit on Monday, Bush declared, "The biggest threat to economic vitality and economic growth is if Congress overspends."
Shapiro is right -- but with this important caveat: The relative success of these two arguments depends ultimately on how much people trust government. In 1982, trust levels were a lot higher than they are now, post-Clinton, post-Iran/Contra, post-Waco, post-Wen Ho Lee, and in media C*ndit. And -- as the reaction to Bush's privatization proposals last spring demonstrated -- Social Security isn't the Third Rail anymore. My law students speak of Social Security with open contempt: they're convinced that they'll be bled dry to finance Boomer retirements, but never see a penny themselves. Those attitudes seem common in people under 40, and there are a lot of those (the median age is about 35, so it's actually most people, though not most voters). The geezers who rallied to Tip O'Neill's standard 20 years ago are mostly dead, or marking ballots for Buchanan in Palm Beach County. That suggests that Bush's approach will have more traction than the Democrats' this time around. (It's also worth noting, as Shapiro does, that although the Social Security issue helped the Democrats in the House in '82, Reagan still won with a landslide in '84. Bush would be happy to follow that script again). Judging by what's coming out of the White House, their polling indicates that what I'm saying above is true. We'll see who's right.
WHAT THE DEMOCRATS NEED TO DO is to convince the public that they can be trusted to spend money wisely, and not just dole it out to their constituency groups. The Daschle-Bush agreement not to break into the nonexistent Social Security lockbox is a start, though of course it's also a victory for Bush, reinforcing the "fiscal straitjacket" on Congress. What the Democrats really need is an economic Sistah Souljah moment in which they do something fiscally responsible that will offend labor unions or government employees. Here's a suggestion: support privatizing the Postal Service and ending its monopoly on first-class mail. Polls show support for the idea. Economists and analysts support the idea. It would be dramatic, and it's past time. Take it away, Tom!
ANOTHER TRAFFIC RECORD YESTERDAY: Thanks for dropping by in such great numbers. InstaPundit has been running at around 1200-1300 visitors; yesterday it came within a few of breaking 1600. If memory serves, that compares favorably with the circulation of Izzy Stone's legendary newsletter. And, as a special bonus, I'm not secretly funded by the Soviet Union or any other part of the International Communist Conspiracy. Advantage: Instapundit!
Actually, I'm not currently receiving secret funds from anyone. However, I am currently accepting applications for the position of InstaPundit Secret Funder. Send large sums of anonymous cash now, and avoid the rush! All major international currencies accepted; ask about our special Euro discount!
POOR TOM DASCHLE: This story from NPR's All Things Considered yesterday involves a reporter following Tom Daschle around South Dakota. Basically, Daschle gets grief everywhere he goes -- over guns, over the Democratic health-care plan, over taxes -- until he gets to the one place in South Dakota that's reliably Democratic: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, whose residents are all wards of the federal government. This underscores a major problem for the Democratic party: it's become primarily the party of people who are clients or employees of the federal government. The good news: there are lots of those. The bad news: they're not a majority, and with the budget shrinking as a percentage of GDP, they're not likely to be.
The most comical illustration of this phenomenon: Daschle pretending to take seriously the demands of the residents of Cottonwood, South Dakota for federal money to support a fire department. Population of Cottonwood: 7. "Everybody" there is for it, we're told, "except for one guy." It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Daschle, and for other politicians, who have to listen to this kind of stuff all the time and somehow refrain from laughing out loud, or asking their constituents if they've missed some medication. Almost.
LESS-THAN-FULL DISCLOSURE: This story in Time by Jessica Reaves on a new gun study out of Johns Hopkins is a good example of what's wrong with media coverage of the gun issue. The study comes from a center of anti-gun activism every bit as ideological in its own way as the NRA. Yet the story says nothing about that, and includes a derogatory quote about the "gun lobby." Nor does it contain criticism from academics who doubt the study's conclusions -- though I'm sure there are plenty to be found who do. If the NRA had produced a study like this, on the other hand, the story would have mentioned its biases up high -- and then quoted a bunch of academics (probably from anti-gun operations like the one at Johns Hopkins) without mentioning their biases.
FROM THE NOT-REALLY-NEWS DEPARTMENT: This story reports that Bush's cabinet is often left out of the loop, with real decisions being made by White House aides. I have no doubt that it's true; it's just not news. This has been the case in every administration since (at least) FDR's. And stories about it are hardy perennials. Coming soon: Congressional staffers often wield more power than members of Congress!
PRETTY GOOD ARTICLE ON PRIVACY by John Schwartz in today's New York Times. What's appalling is that a huge number of computer users don't know what a "cookie" is. The good news is that companies are beginning to realize that privacy is a good selling tool -- and, as DoubleClick and others have learned, that invading privacy is PR poison.
TERRIFIC COLUMN ON THE U.N. RACISM CONFERENCE by Peter Beinart in The New Republic. Representative quote:
Mugabe's Zimbabwe, it's true, is far worse than most of the Third World governments denouncing white racism in Durban this week. But it is a cautionary tale. Because the longer a Third World government refuses to take responsibility for the real problems afflicting its people--poor education, substandard health care, unemployment--the louder it must denounce racists, and other alien oppressors, to maintain itself in power. (Which may help explain why the Arab countries are more insistent than ever that Zionism equals racism.) After a while, vague, far-off racists will no longer do, and scapegoats must be found at home: whites in Zimbabwe, Indians in Uganda, Chinese in Indonesia.
Very well said. The rest of the piece is as good.
VANESSA LEGGETT UPDATE: Good story by Bruce Hight in the Austin American-Statesman on the whole Vanessa Leggett matter. The big question to me is: why are the feds, beyond just trying to get Leggett to testify, also trying to get every copy of her notes, leaving her with nothing, and hence unable to publish. Is there something they're afraid she'll write? No answer from the U.S. Attorney on the case, Greg Serres, on this issue, or any other. He's not talking.
Maybe someone should subpoena him.
A PRIVATE SPACE STATION? Jeffrey Manber is a real guy, with real space experience. He says that his company, MirCorp, is talking to the Russians about putting up a private, tourism-oriented space station.
THANKS TO DENNIS TITO, space tourism is ready to become real. I'm inclined to think that something a little, er, easier might be the way to go first -- like, say, an Alan Shepherd style suborbital flight, which a lot of people think you could do for well under a million dollars a pop. But then, I'm a professor, not an entrepreneur who dreams big.
SO FAR, all the "space hotel" discussions have been vapor. But we're approaching the time when they might start to become real. That will do a lot to bolster commercial space, and to help lower the cost of getting into space. Governments are good at developing capabilities when cost is no object, but not very good at lowering costs.
ASYLUM AND HYPOCRISY: That's the title of Anne Applebaum's essay in Slate on the Australian episode that is the current attention-getter in the world of refugees and immigration. That world is always there, whether or not there is a famous attention-getter case at a given time. The world is full of miserable people, being mistreated by miserable governments, who are doing their damnedest to go somewhere better.
I THINK that we should assume that governments that generate a lot of refugees are presumptively illegitimate. Then we should issue letters of marque (or would it be reprisal?) allowing contractors to kill the people in charge for a fee. Okay, it's a radical solution. But let's be honest: there are a lot of governments in the world that are unworthy of the name, that are horrible, criminal enterprises. They parade about on the world stage as if they were something worthy and important, but they're not. They're just evil. The number of their own citizens who want to escape their rule isn't a perfect measure of this evil, but it's probably a pretty good proxy. Let's do something with it that has teeth. Or let's admit that there's no such thing as the "international community" that people are always talking about. Any community worthy of the name would run a lot of these people out of town on a rail.
GREAT LEAP BACKWARD? Earlier I praised India as a country that was
going somewhere in the information age. This plan reported by the Times of India, to introduce Vedic astrology as a University level subject, isn't helping, though. The good news: it's being challenged by a number of leading scientists, who call it "highly irrational and illogical" As a newspaper supplement, astrology
can be amusing (though not reliable: a friend of mine who used to work at a newspaper syndicate said that the horoscopes often showed up late, and so they often just reran one from a previous year). As an academic subject, it's not much.
IS A RECESSION GOOD FOR BUSH? Ryan Lizza argues that it is, because it provides an argument for more tax cuts and an escape hatch from the (always absurd) Social Security "Lockbox" fiction. Lizza's argument has a certain too-clever feel to it, but I'm not sure it's wrong. The real argument, though, will be tax cuts versus spending increases. By letting the Democrats hammer him on the surplus issue, Bush has drawn their teeth on spending increases. He can stick to his message -- "it's your money" -- while they have to switch theirs from fiscal probity to pump-priming. Bush has also been setting up the argument that you can't trust Congress to spend the money wisely, or within limits, by constantly using the words "trust" and "temptation" where Congress and the budget are concerned. After a whole summer where the main political topic has been Congressional sex scandals, Bush is in a good position to make this work.
What the Democrats need to do is make the case that the new spending they want will actually do good, and not just serve as more payola to Democratic constituencies. A conspicuous example of standing up to special interests (which means, in this context, African-Americans, government employees, or unions) would strengthen the Democrats' hand here, just as Bush's standing up to the pro-lifers on stem cells strengthened his. Any good candidates for an economic Sistah Souljah moment?
BRITISH TELECOM'S NEW O2 SERVICE has run into trademark trouble, being sued by a chain of shopping centers with the same name. What's next, a lawsuit on the "BT" trademark by Brian Transeau?
INSTAPUNDIT IS A COOL SITE! I know this because the NRO says so today. Thanks, guys!
IS AMERICA ONE VAST PRISON? In a terrific Oped in today's OpinionJournal (annoying free registration required), Federal appeals judge Alex Kozinski compares the intrusive email and web-monitoring regime set up by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (a "support" bureaucracy that has grown increasingly power-hungry over the years) with the rules set up by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Kozinski also takes on the head of the Administrative Office, Ralph Mecham, and notes that the monitoring of employee email and web access may violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
I THINK KOZINSKI IS RIGHT HERE. The AO has been annoyingly bureaucratic and intrusive for years; when I was a law clerk, my late arrivals into the judicial chambers were monitored (no matter how late I had been working the night before) and without my knowledge were charged to vacation time. After I left I got a bill. That particular monitoring program turned out to be illegal, too. What's amazing to me is how much power a support office manages to wield over the people it actually works for.
BEYOND THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE'S BUREAUCRATIC TURF-BUILDING, THOUGH, I couldn't help noting that many other Americans in and out of government have to live under the kind of regime that Kozinski decries. And federal judges have, mostly, upheld this sort of behavior. But why? Sure, the company owns the computer. But they own the toilets in the men's room, too, and nobody thinks they have a right to monitor me there. I wish Kozinski well in his crusade, because he's completely right about everything on this issue. But I hope that his, and the federal judiciary's, solicitude for privacy won't stop with the judicial branch.
BUT IF KOZINSKI FAILS, I for one will be in favor of abolishing life tenure for judges and supporting an elected federal judiciary. If we can't rely on people who can't be fired to protect their own rights, they obviously can't be trusted to protect ours. And if that's the case, we might as well at least have the check of voting the worst ones off the bench. Life tenure is supposed to embolden federal judges to do the right thing. It's worked with Kozinski -- but now the test is how his colleagues react. And it's a test with ramifications that go far beyond the specific issue in question.
UPDATE: You might also want to read Jeffrey Rosen's commentary on this issue in The New Republic. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation offers this page with suggestions and click-throughs for sending a polite letter on the subject. (I found both of these through this thread on Slashdot).
THIS MONITORING also leaves open the possibility of blackmailing federal judges, which our current system of FBI investigation also raises, according to Stephen Yagman. It's just a bad idea all around.
SPEAKING OF LETTERS, this letter in the Washington Post points out that while the U.N. racism conference is obsessed with zionism-as-racism and the 150-years-dead transatlantic slave trade, it is pointedly not addressing two items that plague Africa today: ongoing slavery in many nations, and the scourge of tribalism that has produced the deaths of millions. Pointing out motes while ignoring beams is a standard of U.N. moral discourse, of course, but this letter makes an excellent point.
JIM CLARK has suspended a substantial portion of his scientific donation to Stanford as a protest against federal restrictions on stem cell research. But as this letter in the New York Times points out, he seems to have his economics backward: now is the time that private donors ought to be stepping up to the plate.
A CYNIC, of course, might note that Clark is backing away from his donation as the market continues to slide, perhaps making his moral stand economically convenient. But there are none of those around here, fortunately.
"SHAKE THE NATION:" That's the name of the $2 Million campaign that pro-life groups are about to wage in order to repair rifts, er, stemming from Bush's stem-cell decision. The first TV commercial will feature a lot of dancing babies (shades of Ally McBeal) dancing on the Mall, and will feature a child's voice saying "Tell your senator to shake the nation back to life." Now, maybe I'm just being silly here, but do we really want a campaign that combines shaking and babies on national television? I predict that opponents will call it the "Shaken Baby Campaign," which may sell a few CDs for the band The Shaken Babies but won't really send the message that the pro-life forces want sent.
IT'S NOT TERRIBLY IMPRESSIVE to learn that this campaign was inspired by the "Truth in Love" homosexual-reorientation campaign, which doesn't seem to have switched many people's polarity. I expect that many Americans will respond with the Shaken Babies' theme song: "Don't Try to Be My Preacher."
OF COURSE, I haven't seen the ads yet. But all of this seems rather reminiscent of certain dot-com Super Bowl ads of a couple of years ago. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that some of those geniuses have put this campaign together. Those dot-com ads didn't do much for the dot-commers who ran them -- but they sure put a lot of money in the pockets of some advertising and PR agencies. This campaign looks to do the same.
RACHEL CARSON -- MASS MURDERER? That's the thesis of this oped by Sheldon Richman. Richman argues that the near-elimination of DDT, largely as the result of Carson's book, has killed millions. Representative quote: "Deaths from malaria in the developing world had been falling precipitously - until the anti-DDT campaign got under way. Then infections and deaths skyrocketed. The number of cases in Sri Lanka has tracked the use and nonuse of DDT in that country: 2.8 million in 1948; 17 - yes, 17 - in 1963; 500,000 in 1969. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst hit: A child dies from the disease there every 40 seconds. The United Nations Environment Program says that each year 400 million people are at risk and that "about 1.5 to 2.7 million people, mainly children, die each year from malaria."
ON THE ONE HAND, in my area it's now routine to see bald eagles, blue herons, and other birds that only a few years ago were thought nearly extinct. Their comeback is because of the elimination of DDT spraying. On the other hand, millions of people a year are dying from a disease that we know how to control, if not entirely eradicate. And there's reason to believe that malaria is coming back -- not just in the Third World, but in the United States. Furthermore, if DDT is used properly for malaria control, which involves spraying walls where mosquitoes congregate, the environmental risks are very low and the malaria-control benefits high. Some call efforts for a complete global ban eco-colonialism and it's certainly true that, as much as I love to see the blue herons on the lake, it seems unfair that my pleasure in this is bought at the cost of millions of third-world deaths.
THE WEST NILE VIRUS is just the beginning of what the United States faces. If malaria starts up here again -- and in my area it wasn't eradicated until TVA sprayed DDT in the late 1940s and early 1950s -- you'll see a massive overreaction that will make California's periodic Medfly panics look mild. Controls on DDT and other pesticides should be based on science, not hysteria. Otherwise they're all too likely to collapse entirely in the face of another kind of hysteria.
WEBLOGS IN THE NEWS: A weblog by Li Jiaming, a Chinese man with AIDS, is creating a stir in China. There's a lot of denial there about AIDS, and about sex (more even than here), even though prostitution is once again widespread. NOTE: the first link takes you to the page, but unless you and your computer speak Chinese it won't do you much good. My computer and I are not fluent, so I've passed the link along but can't endorse it from personal experience.
INSTAPUNDITING: Thanks to the wonder of Google, I just ran across this thread on weblogging and punditry. Pretty amusing.
DUMBEST HEADLINE OF THE WEEKEND: Boy Killed by Shark Called "Upbeat". Watch out, though; there's a Java error on the page that crashed my browser several times. I've been getting this a lot lately, along with the stalled Active-X popup ad that makes me reboot my computer to get rid of it, a specialty of the Los Angeles Times. What's wrong with these people?
RED-LIGHT CAMERAS UNDER FIRE: According to this report, a California state senator has introduced legislation that would limit the use of red-light cameras. A San Diego judge has already ruled that the cameras aren't sufficiently trustworthy -- since the contractors who operate them get a percentage of the ticket revenue. I suspect that quite a few politicians will manage to ride this issue successfully: taking on big corporations and the institutionalized corruption of traffic enforcement (which even at its best is mostly about revenue, not safety) has got to be popular.
PAUL WELLSTONE IS RUNNING FOR REELECTION, something he'd promised not to do. This is also a problem for Democrats, and for Congress, as it aggravates the trust issue that is likely to be Bush's main theme during the fall budget battle. Best quote from the New York Times story: '"Wellstone has always portrayed himself as the commitment candidate — even though you don't agree with me, you can trust me," said Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. "I think his decision to go back on the two-term pledge really eats away at that."'
JANET RENO IS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR: I think this is good for Republicans and bad for Democrats. See below.
STEPHEN HAWKING, TAKE TWO: Saturday I posted an item about Stephen Hawking's interest in mind-machine interfaces as an alternative to AI. Today, Slashdot has this item about nerve chips -- allowing you to take a signal, run it through neural cells that live on the chip, and then back out. Here's the abstract in Nature, which features a cool photo, too. If you could, would you Upload Your Mind?
MORE ON MUSIC AND TECHNOLOGY: In response to yesterday's item on music and technology, a reader who's also a professor of African & African-American history writes: "[D]espite the 'Digital Divide', it has been African Americans who have often pushed the limits of Technology in Music. Muddy Waters helped create the electric band that became the staple of Rock-n-Roll. Jemi Hendrix helped break the mold on what music should sound like, and hip-hop embraced drum machines and loops as instruments (rather than mixing tools) long before mainstream musicians."
MORE ON BILL JOY AND TECHNO-PESSIMISM: This item on Nanodot has useful links to discussions of Bill Joy's techno-worries and the criticisms thereof.
OOPS! I mentioned the Washington Post's story about the FBI's stalking of Al Gore back on August 24. But according to this article in the Washington City Paper pretty much the whole story had been on The Smoking Gun website two weeks earlier. The City Paper suggests that the Post should have credited The Smoking Gun. Probably so. But, as Mickey Kaus points out in a story in Slate (that I found, just to be sure my attribution is fair, on his Kausfiles website), the New York Times is also notorious for doing this. (The City Paper article mentions this, but doesn't credit Kaus, crediting Smartertimes.com instead). Boy, one thing about all this crediting -- it sure puts a lot of links in your story!
Finally, Frank Cagle, despite agreeing that Hoover was slime, thinks that the FBI had legitimate reasons for keeping an eye on Gore, Sr. in light of his connections (financial and social) with various Soviet agents of influence like Armand Hammer and Harry Dexter White. Cagle is probably right here, but the documents don't seem to support the notion that the FBI actually cared about those kinds of issues. (Harry Dexter White is mentioned, but there is no indication that Gore's relationship with him is the reason why the FBI took the kind of interest in Gore it did). But that's Hoover's FBI for you: tireless in pursuing J. Edgar's vendettas, but clueless about large areas of actual responsibility. (Note, for example, its tireless denials that the Mafia existed).
ECONOMICS AND GOOD SENSE: The always-insightful Andrea See talks about Singapore's economic problems and then weighs in with these words of wisdom: "This story reads like the government's trying to be comforting about the economic trough we're in. Anyone with half a brain (and did a basic class in economics) would know economies move in cycles. We've had the high point, now it's time for the low. Sucks as it does, it really needs to happen."
Thank you, Andrea, for saying something more sensible than about 90% of the economic reporting worldwide. What I would pay to see some talking head on "This Week" -- or, in the biggest fantasy of all, Paul Krugman -- say "We've had the hight point, now it's time for the low. Sucks as it does, it really needs to happen." Of course, such common sense breaks the major rule of economic coverage -- which is much like the major rule of weather reporting -- which is that every change is HUGE!!!! and has GIGANTIC IMPACT!!! and probably requires some sort of GOVERNMENT ACTION!!!!
I guess if they admitted that this stuff comes and goes and that there are real limits to what people can do about it, economic reporters and TV meteorologists would get a lot less airtime.
THERE'S A BIG SEATBELT CAMPAIGN GOING ON TODAY: And it poses a contradiction. Most people were outraged when the Supreme Court held that police could arrest people for not wearing seatbelts. But when you have, as this article estimates, something in the neighborhood of 15,000 checkpoints nationwide, things like that are bound to happen. (And isn't there something UnAmerican about "checkpoints" anyway?) Whenever you pass a new law, you guarantee that people will be sent to jail, even if that is unfair. People usually say that programs like this are simply there to "send a message about safety." But law is a blunt, and sometimes brutal, object. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.
ROBERT SAMUELSON echoes an InstaPundit theme (not that it was original here, either) with this excellent column on the blurring lines between work and non-work. People now expect work to be fun and fulfilling; they also tend to treat leisure more like work. This has always been true for academics, of course -- and other work is, in the sense that it's more likely to be idea-oriented and done on a flexible schedule, becoming more like academic work. Samuelson's column also points out the tremendous improvement in working conditions that has taken place over the past century, though he doesn't come out and credit capitalism as explicitly as Steve Chapman did yesterday.
MAUREEN DOWD'S COLUMN on feminist freeloaders continues to generate letters to the editor. As I said earlier, I think she hit a nerve.
REPUBLICANS MUST BE CHORTLING at the prospect of Janet Reno running for office. Reno has fans, but she has colossally high negatives (seen on the Internet: a bumper sticker reading "Kerrey/Reno 2004: Leave No Child Behind"). She also has a personality that makes Al Gore look jovial and lively. But what she brings to the table for Republicans isn't so much a weak Democratic candidate (though if she can beat Jeb Bush, I could beat Jeb Bush) as a wonderful opportunity to subliminally remind voters of the Clinton scandals. I'm no Dick Morris, but it seems to me that the best thing for the party would be for Reno to just disappear until after '04. If they don't have a better candidate in Florida than Janet Reno, the dems deserve to lose. And Democratic candidates elsewhere in the country, still trying to overcome the Clinton baggage, don't need Reno playing Banquo's ghost.
SEX IN SPACE: Everyone is fascinated with zero gravity sex (though as scuba divers know, you don't actually have to be in orbit to experience it). This article from The Times says that NASA is now including pregnancy tests in the space station medical kit, meaning that they've resigned themselves to the notion that something is likely to happen on 165-day missions. (Er, I hope they're also including contraceptives). The article also quotes the late G. Harry Stine as saying that NASA has done earthbound expirements using its zero-G simulator tank -- best results are achieved, apparently, when a third person is there to help. Reminds me of some of the more involved positions in the Indian temple carvings. Bungee cords and velcro are also recommended.
This just supports my theory (alas, just a theory so far with no prospect of experiments to confirm or disprove it any time soon) that low gravity sex is better than zero gravity sex. On the Moon or Mars you get far more comfort and versatility of position, but things tend to stay in one place. If that's not a reason for space colonization, I don't know what is.
MUSIC & TECHNOLOGY: Driving into work just now (yes, I'm at the office on Labor Day Sunday -- I told you that this stuff means little to academics) I was listening to BT's Movement in Still Life, a CD that just gets better the more I listen to it. (The link just above will let you listen to clips, if you're interested.) What's also interesting is BT's general pro-technology attitude. Conventionally, artists show their unconventionality by being antitechnology, something that has held as a pattern since Mary Shelley. But in music -- especially techno or techno-influenced music -- that's less true. BT's (his real name is Brian Transeau) songs "Fibonacci Sequence" and "Satellite" are pretty damn explicitly pro-technology. So is music by bands like Tacit Blue and Mobius Dick (I have a hand in this last one) and a lot of others. There's a section in the terrific techno documentary "Better Living Through Circuitry" where one of the ravers explains that technology has made their whole scene possible, and it's great. Perhaps this new current of thought is a reason why techno-fears like Bill Joy's dystopian scenarios have gotten such a limp response, not just from the technical community, but elsewhere.
UPDATE: No sooner did I post this than I ran across this article by Edward B. Driscoll, Jr. on the Computer Museum History Center in silicon valley. The article quotes Chris Garcia, a tour director and collection coordinator, as saying that they get a lot of visitors in their 20s who come out to look at old 1950s & 1960s mainframes. They're coming to see "these massively gorgeous machines, and just falling in love with them. I fell into that category when I first visited." The beauty of machines isn't a new idea, of course (and David Gelernter wrote a great book about it, called, of course, Machine Beauty) but a general appreciation for techno-aesthetics and the art of machine design seems to be spreading. That's why I think Luddism -- though it may still do a great deal of harm, especially to poor people in less-developed countries -- is likely to fail as an ideology.
THE NEW WHITE HOUSE WEBSITE IS UP and Patrick Ruffini likes it. Ruffini, who has an interesting mezine of his own, is more of a geek than me (yes, that's possible) and he likes the depth of the new site. I've looked at it, and it looks better than the old one, but I haven't spent enough time on it to have much of an opinion. At least it didn't throw cookies at me like so many government sites.
SHOULD WE HAVE "CAPITAL DAY?" Steve Chapman thinks so and makes some good points in today's Chicago Tribune. Labor, he points out, is about redistributing wealth -- sometimes a good thing, but nothing that will make us richer as a society. It's capitalism, on the other hand, that has made everyone drastically better off over the last couple of centuries.
He's certainly right about this. And capitalism has -- by making society richer -- eliminated the necessity for a lot of rotten, dangerous, unpleasant jobs. Labor unions take credit for this, but much of this change has taken place while labor union membership has been in decline, and in industries that aren't unionized. Capitalism has given people more choices, and that has done more to force employers to improve conditions than the labor movement has. (The increased wealth produced by capitalism has also made it possible for employers to do so). Even Karl Marx recognized this, as Chapman points out, to a greater degree than many modern critics of capitalism.
Labor unions, and workplace regulations, have a place. But the role that unions have played in improving workers' positions has been marginal compared to the role played by capitalism itself.
REVERSE TELECOMMUTING: According to Richard Morin's Unconventional Wisdom column in the Washington Post, 30% of working Americans say they use the Internet or email at work to take care of personal matters. This is the fruit of a survey, but all I have to do is look at the hour-by-hour report on my site counter. After lunch seems to be people's favorite time to check out InstaPundit. So you won't hear me say a bad word about personal Internet use.
But, really, should employers be beefing about this? I'm an academic, meaning that for me the line between work and personal life is enormously blurred. (If I want a vacation, I have to decide not to work, since I can research and write anytime, and usually do). But other people's lives are getting more like mine all the time. And, in fact, the study found that more workers -- 42% -- spend their "off time" dealing with work issues. If employers want to stop their employees from doing personal chores on "company time" then they need to start paying employees for all the "company chores" they do on personal time. Back when jobs were 9-to-5, this was less of an issue. But in the name of being competitive, we've let work hours expand. In light of this, employers have to recognize that birthday presents have to be ordered, plumber visits have to be scheduled, and all sorts of other things still have to be done.
Most of them do realize this, of course. Those who don't should face an unending round of complaints by workers, and petitions to the Wage and Hour board, until they eventually give in.
VIRGINIA POSTREL informs me by email that she's not taking the week off -- she's just busy with other work instead of blogging. I should feel guilty about implying that she's a slacker (well, I didn't really think I was doing that -- no one who knows her would) but frankly, I'm just happy that she looks at my site!
THE DRUG WAR -- A VIEW FROM THE TRENCHES: This story from my local paper by Laura Ayo isn't really news, exactly. At least, it's not telling us anything we didn't know. But it's remarkable simply because it represents a frustrated federal judge telling the truth in open court: the drug war is an "exercise in futility." He went on to say, to the prosecuting attorney: ""It's not doing any good. You're working night and day. It's not our fault. We've put them all in jail, and it's not stopping it." Jarvis is a very typical competent federal district judge, known for common sense, not showboating. This exclamation of frustration came, I think, from the heart, and is representative of things I've heard, off the record, from a lot of other judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement types. Maybe Jarvis's willingness to say it in open court is some sign that the system is ready to come to grips, officially, with what everyone has known and felt, unofficially, for a long time.
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