August 13, 2005

BANKRUPTCY BOONDOGGLE Delta Airlines is setting up the financing it will need to declare bankruptcy.

Industries such as airlines and telecoms with high fixed costs (i.e., it doesn't cost them very much to carry an extra passenger or data byte; their costs are mostly concentrated in things that cost them money whether they have any customers or not, such as planes or switching equipment) tend to experience serial bankruptcies. The problem is that once one big player has declared bankruptcy, and emerged with its costs lowered, it can charge less than its competitors, who promptly start hemhorraging money until they are forced into bankruptcy. In the case of airlines, the problems are compounded by the legacy of high labour costs, left over from the days when airlines were highly regulated, and as a consequence, highly uncompetitive. They promised benefits and pensions that are not sustainable in a more competitive environment . . . and developed rather poisonous relations with their unions, which (along with cluelessness and greed on the union side) make it hard to profitably restructure unless a bankruptcy judge forces changes down the union's throat.

Add to that what a general pain in the ass flying has become (security delays are making trains and automobiles highly time-competitive in my neck of the woods), and you can expect to see more companies follow Delta.

SUNNIS ARE BEING PRESSURED TO RATIFY THE CONSTITUTION. So far, they can't quite admit that it is over: that they will never again enjoy unfettered control of their country.

For peace to come, I suspect that the Sunnis will need a Michael Collins--someone with the guts, and credibility, to tell his people that their dreams of glory are unrealistic, and it's time to put down the guns and settle for what they can get. The Palestinians never had such a leader, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons they don't now have a state. I don't know who such a man would be in the Sunni community, but let's hope one emerges before it's too late.

ANOTHER THING TO HATE ABOUT HIGH OIL PRICES Airlines are hiking their fares.

BEATING THE DEADLINE FOR THE IRAQI CONSTITUTION. President Talabani predicts they'll be done Sunday, a day early: "We have reached agreements on many points but I am not authorized to announce them because we want to make the declaration all together."

ON NOT LISTENING TO THE 9/11 RECORDINGS, from Ambivablog. A small excerpt:

"One reason I don't want to listen is that I'm familiar with an all-too-vivid account of what it's like to be buried alive: my husband's. As an 18-year-old slave laborer in a Soviet coal mine, in his third winter, weakened by cold and hunger, he was caught in a mine cave-in."

Read the whole thing.

THE WORLD MEMORY CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITION is going on now at Oxford University. The current champion is Ben Pridmore, 28, who can memorize a pack of cards in 32.13 seconds. I wonder if the people who actually have the best memories use their super power to do things like memorizing packs of cards. Shouldn't they want to fill their heads with things that will be beautiful or useful to think about – volumes of great literature or the complete tax code and regulations, perhaps? But no. Competition is intrinsically rewarding. My question is like asking the fastest runner why he competes in the Olympics instead of running around looking at the trees and flowers or traveling back and forth to work.

"WE HAD NO IDEA CONDITIONS WERE GOING TO BE THIS GREAT," First Lt. Taysha Deaton of the Louisiana National Guard said about life in Iraq.

She bought [a king-size] bed from a departing soldier to replace the twin-size metal frame that came with her air-conditioned trailer on this base in western Baghdad. She also acquired a refrigerator, television, cellphone, microwave oven, boom box and DVD player, and signed up for a high-speed Internet connection.

These quotes are from a front-page NYT article, interestingly enough. The golden-toned photograph on the front page of the paper NYT – the little click-to-enlarge square at the link – makes life in Iraq look like an idealized version of college dorm life. This contrasts with the many NYT articles on the difficulties of military recruitment. There is a mention of the dramatically different conditions when one leaves the base, but overall the article almost seems intended to encourage volunteers.

THE "POLITICALLY CORRECT CORPSE." The proprieter of an eco-friendly cemetary: "Death goes in cycles... My best guess is we're finished with the nihilistic 'Let's get it done quick and throw me into the sea thing.' Now, it's, 'Return me to nature and help save the planet.' "

August 12, 2005

AUSTIN BAY, filling in for Glenn over at, builds on what Christopher Hitchens told Washington Prism in a recent interview.

THE CARNIVAL THING: We’ve been remiss in posting links to the various carnivals this week. Sorry about that. Here’s a link to the first year anniversary of the Carnival of the Recipes. I’ve been looking for a good recipe for steak au poive. (The French really do have the best food.) Anybody have one?

EAVESDROPPING ON IRAQIS: Friends of Democracy publishes essays from the Iraqi Arabic language blogosphere translated into English. Iraqis who blog in English are aware that their audience is primarily Western. Iraqis who blog in Arabic are talking to each other in their own language. Reading Friends of Democracy is your chance to eavesdrop. (Disclosure: I’m the site editor.)

Here are some recent posts you may find interesting: Shirko declares Syria an enemy state and demands regime-change in Damascus. Ali Taha Al-Nobani thinks financial aid to Arab dictators must cease. Samir Hassan argues with Islamists by throwing his own Koranic verses back at them. Saad al Omari notes that Middle Eastern leaders and clerics condemned the bombing in London on 7/7 while cheerleading similar bombings in Baghdad.

FUNNY AS HELL, and funny enough to spend time in Purgatory for, says Stephen Bainbridge, so who am I not to link?

ACTOR CHRISTOPHER WALKEN is running for president in 2008.

UPDATE: Grassroots activists are already making posters for him.

HE KNOWS HIS SPINTOS AND HIS ARIOSOS: Timothy Noah in Slate reports that Tom DeLay is an opera buff. “I’m not making this up, I swear,” he says.

WHO NEEDS HOLLYWOOD DISTRIBUTORS? Kamal Aboukhater released his movie Blowing Smoke directly to the Internet on a blog. Check out the trailer at the link and, if it looks interesting, why not order a copy? Help him and other independent filmmakers stick it to Hollywood’s tired gatekeepers by proving we do not need them.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT US: My new Tech Central Station column is up:

Islamists have killed thousands of Westerners over the past couple of years -- thousands in New York City alone. But they have killed far more of their own fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, and too many other places to list. The Terror War, or whatever we ought to call it, is not about us. It's a war waged by totalitarian Islamists against the rest of the world. We aren't targets because of what we do or even because of who we are. We are targets because we are not them. They hate everybody and we're part of "everybody."
Read the rest...

KEVIN DRUM thinks that he can make the NARAL anti-Roberts ad better:

when you cut through the thousands of words of chaff written about it, there appear to be two main complaints. First, that the ad doesn't make clear that Roberts' brief was filed seven years before the Birmingham bombing, and second, that it's outrageous to say that Roberts was "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

Well, is that outrageous? Sure. Roberts was defending a legal principle, and the beneficiaries of legal principles are frequently pretty odious characters. Defending the principle doesn't mean you're defending a particular person or group, a distinction the ACLU makes all the time.

However, on the overall scale of outrageousness, I have to say that this ad ranks pretty low compared to conservative benchmarks like Willie Horton and the Swift Boat lunatics. In fact, here's what I think is weird: NARAL could have addressed both these complaints and made the ad better in the process.

Take the timeline issue first. Wouldn't it actually be more effective to put this front and center so that the 1998 bombing appears to be the inevitable result of Roberts' winning 1991 argument to the Supreme Court? Sure it would.

As for "supporting violent fringe groups," why say it that way in the first place? Why not take the high road and acknowledge that Roberts was defending an abstract principle, but then condemn the ivory tower ideology that they believe produced such appalling real world results?

But this makes no more sense than the original ad. The 1998 clinic bombing didn't happen because John Roberts argued against prosecuting Operation Rescue, a group which as far as I know isn't even rhetorically in favour of clinic bombings, and which definitely didn't set this particular bomb, under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. Clinic bombers are already liable for prosecution under a host of statutes much more fearsome than the KKK Act, notably those against murder. Implying such an implausible causal link is only marginally less mendacious than the original ad.

Similarly, Mark Kleiman's attempt to excuse NARAL's ad by calling Operation Rescue a terrorist group is an abuse of the word. Is Operation Rescue attempting to keep women from having abortions by making them feel shame and public humiliation at an extraordinarily vulnerable time? Undoubtedly. Have they attempted to physically block women from entering clinics? Indeed they have. But speaking as one who used to form a human chain in front of clinics to help women through the protesters, I've never seen anything from Operation Rescue that even remotely qualifies as terrorism, nor seen anyone physically threaten a woman (shoving a picture of a fetus in her face does not count). There may have been isolated incidents (as, to be honest, there were isolated cases of overzealous young men on our side itching to get busy with the opposition). But instilling fear for a woman's physical safety--the definition of terrorism--did not seem to me to be one of the organization's goals, and indeed, at clinics where OR is protesting there are so many police, barricades, and counterprotesters that it would not be a very effective organisation if that were the goal. I disagree with Operation Rescue about nearly everything, but comparing it to the Ku Klux Klan's campaign of lynching free blacks is grotesque.

Such ads are undoubtedly effective, but each one contributes to a political culture in which scoring one for the team is the only important consideration. Honest pro-choicers who feel that it's all right because this is important should have a good long think about what kind of country they want to live in.

RECORD INFLATION Steve Verdon points out that current "record" oil prices are only records because inflation has raised prices across the board. In real terms, oil's record price was reached shortly after Iran took hostages in the US embassy, way back in 1979, when a barrel of oil cost roughly $90 of today's dollars.

You see these sorts of "records" everywhere. The highest grossing movie of all time in real terms was, I'm told, Gone With the Wind; it's only the eroding value of our money that lets Hollywood set new records every few years. Something to keep in mind when you read those headlines.

Update Yup, Gone With the Wind.

Quote of the Day comes from James Joyner:

Airborne school is basically a couple hours of training interspersed with two weeks of harassment and then five hours of proving that gravity still operates over eastern Alabama interspersed with forty hours of sitting around in heavy equipment.

TIMOTHY BURKE REPORTS THAT at least one South African politician thinks that South Africa should look to Zimbabwe for lessons on how to give their land reform "oomph". Oomph is certainly one way of putting it:

The government's land redistribution policy, which led to the invasion of the country's white-owned farms in the past few years, has contributed to the economic catastrophe that now grips Zimbabwe. On top of a drought and the devastation of HIV/AIDS, the land grab has made food production plummet. The UN's World Food Programme reckons that 3m-4m people will need food aid this year. Cooking oil, sugar and Zimbabweans' staple maize porridge have become very hard to come by in Harare, harder still in the countryside. Unemployment is probably over 70%; inflation, at last count, was 129%. There is not enough foreign exchange to cover basic imports. Long lines of cars wait in front of petrol stations rumoured to be expecting a delivery.

According to Peter Kagwanja, Southern Africa director of the International Crisis Group, which focuses on conflict prevention, pushing people out of the cities has several advantages from the government's perspective. Reviving agriculture cannot be done without labour, and most of it left the countryside as commercial farming collapsed. So far, only a fraction of occupied land has been put to good use. Without more labour, even subsistence agriculture cannot pick up. The governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, has suggested that “progressive-minded” white farmers should come back and work in selected sectors, such as horticulture and dairy farming. But as many were driven off their farms in the first place, that offer may have limited allure. The ruling party has recently talked of amending the constitution to end private land ownership altogether.

"MAKES YOU WONDER WHAT ELSE THEY TOSSED OUT." Betsy Newmark on the 9/11 report, commenting on the news of omissions about Mohammed Atta. Here's the very harsh Investor's Business Daily editorial:

[Curt Weldon, R-Pa. said] "They put stickies on the face of Mohammed Atta on the chart that the military intelligence unit had completed, and they said you can't talk to Atta because he's here on a green card."

Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9-11 commission, said the commission "did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9-11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell . . . Had we learned of it, obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."

But they did learn of it. The New York Times reports that the 9-11 commission staff had the Able Danger data but decided not to share it with the panel members because the information sounded inconsistent with what they thought they knew about Atta.

Commission staffers plan a trip to the National Archives to retrieve their notes on Able Danger's findings. Yes, the same National Archives where Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught stuffing classified documents about terrorist threats down his pants, presumably to remove them from public scrutiny.

And this is the same commission that included one Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department. She's also architect of the policy that established a wall between intel and law enforcement, making "connecting the dots" before 9-11 a virtual impossibility.

THE MEANING OF AUTONOMY Great post from Catallarchy:

Consider two men: one a lone nomadic hunter on some primitive savanna thousands of years ago, and one an ordinary, downtrodden citizen of a modern totalitarian but non-genocidal dictatorship, say the Soviet Union of Brezhnev’s time. Who has more autonomy?

On Bill’s account, it’s gotta be the Soviet. He has a wider range of professions and life-paths available to him by far; he can travel much further and know much more; he can expect to live much longer. It is true that the Soviet is heavily constrained in the sense that there are numerous innocent things which, if he does them, will result in severe pain or violent death. But that’s true for the hunter too; the only difference is that for the hunter the pain/death will come at the hands of animals, diseases, and other natural forces, where for the Soviet it will come from the officials of the State.

But I think it quite obvious that this doesn’t accord well with most people’s intuitive notion of autonomy. The hunter’s life has a distinct romance to it, a sense of open-ended adventure; the Soviet’s does not. The hunter has a degree of dignity and self-possession which the Soviet is denied. The hunter, within the admittedly heavy but morally neutral and unchangeable constraints of physical reality, may do as he pleases without asking the leave of any man. The Soviet is a slave of other men who clearly are morally wrong to enslave him, and could have chosen not to. A notion of autonomy which does not capture these differences and declare the hunter the more autonomous one is a ridiculous notion.

On the other hand, consider what result you would get if you asked people whether they would rather live in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, or on the Savannah? Autonomy-loving libertarian that I am, I would find this a tough choice. Being eaten by a lion, dying of appendicitis, and slowly expiring from malnutrition after your teeth fall out are way no fun. So of the two competing notions of autonomy, which should we build a society on, if we had to choose?

That's the magic of the market, actually; we don't have to choose. For which I humbly thank God every day.

SYSTEMATIC SILLINESS Lynn Kiesling quotes one of my favourite passages from Adam Smith:

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

Click through for a very interesting discussion.

SLATE CHRONICLES the Israeli army's preparations for the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza.

"LOOKED LIKE IT WAS INTENTIONAL. Inform all units coming in from the back it could be a terror attack." The 9/11 recordings. Listen here.

THERE'S A GOOD ARTICLE in the Wall Street Journal (subscription, alas, required) on how refinery problems are contributing to the recent spike in oil prices. People in America don't like having refineries near them, or indeed, anyone else; the last time America built a new refinery was in 1976. Refiners have done amazing work increasing throughput with technology, but there are limits. Especially because they are hamstrung by the patchwork of local regulations, which mean that gasoline destined for Dubuque can't be sold in Chicago. Oil must be processed in smaller batches, limiting efficiency, and worse, making the system vulnerable to bottlenecks: if something happens to a Chicago refiner, gas stations can't buy "foriegn" gas to fill the gap, so consumers get sudden price spikes at the pump. Next time you wince at the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded, don't just curse OPEC; curse the environmental regulators (and special-interests lobbying local officials for their particular brand of fuel additives) for making the market less efficient.

MARRIAGEE MINDED Two men are planning to get married in Canada. I know, yawn. The twist: they're straight.

In response, a gay rights spokesman sounds downright old-fashioned:

Words of warning came from Toronto lawyer Bruce Walker, a gay and lesbian rights activist.

"Generally speaking, marriage should be for love," he said. "People who don't marry for love will find themselves in trouble."

Meanie! Trying to restrict marriage to his tired, outworn definition!

Seriously, I find it difficult to phrase an objection to this that does not basically hew to the anti-gay-marriage line: i.e. marriage in the west has traditionally been between two people who want to have sex with each other. The objection to this argument is the same one that pro-gay-marriage forces employed against those who claimed that marriage was for child-rearing: we allow all sorts of people who cannot have sex with each other (certain classes of parapalegics, for example) to wed, so how can you exclude these people on this grounds? I think it's funny, but if this sort of practice becomes more than a stunt, it seems very likely to me to weaken an already ailing institution.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem very likely to become widespread. Most people who get married will continue to do so for the good, old fashioned purpose of having frequent sexual intercourse. God bless 'em.


"Don't you get attacked all the time?"


"So what's changed?"

"Well... there's nothing left to watch. I've seen all the DVDs out there and there's nothing left to do."

I started naming off movies followed by all sorts of TV series on DVD that I could think of, and, sure enough, he had watched them all.

"Frank, there's nothing left to watch! I wanna go home now."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. There seemed to be only one appropriate response. "Chickenhawk!"

THE PERFECT FAMILY VACATION BY THE LAKE... but doesn't this campfire have WiFi?

A NEWLY DISCOVERED 400-FOOT WATERFALL in a Californian national park. "It wasn't on a map, no one on the trail crew knew about it. People who been here 27 years had never seen it." Amazing. We forget how big and wild this country is.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Regarding that "undiscovered" waterfall in California, it's important to take such news with a dose of salt. A few years ago there was a lot of hoopla over the supposed discovery of new waterfalls in a little-visited corner of Yellowstone. What really happened was that someone decided to publish their location, which had been a sort of insider's secret, in a guidebook. The authors defined the waterfalls as undiscovered purely because information on them hadn't appeared in print. (Basically, nothing's real until it's available on Local reaction ran from amusement to outrage.

I'm sure the California falls were less widely known than the Yellowstone ones, but they weren't really undiscovered. Here's a passage from that CNN story you linked to:

"A small band of loggers that harvested Douglas firs in the early 1950s left behind a choker cable and part of a bulldozer. A knife blade stuck in a nearby tree indicates that others have also made the trek.

But for park officials, the falls were merely a rumor for many years, said Russ Weatherbee, the wildlife biologist credited with the find.

A couple years ago, Weatherbee was cleaning out a cabinet of old maps when he stumbled across one from the 1960s marked with a note reading "Whiskeytown falls" near Crystal Creek."

Now, officials are planning to build a trail to the falls and put them on the map. A perfectly valid response, but probably bitter news to whatever backpackers, etc., really did know about the area.

HEY, THAT'S OUR W! A reader notes this post from yesterday and writes:

"UW" has and always will be short for University of Washington, home of the Huskies. Go Dawgs.

No, no. Go Badgers. We got the W in 1848. You kids are 1861 upstarts.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Ya, we get the same thing all the time There is one UT (THE University of Tennessee, Go Vols) founded in 1794, and we keep geeting confused with some johnny cum lately (1883) down in Texas (Hook em horns, what Kind of a mascot is that?). They even stole our School Colors. All this after we pulled thir Chestnuts out of the fire at the alamo.

IS THE NYT BOTCHING ITS COVERAGE of Air America's problems? Brian Maloney marshalls the evidence. Clearly, the Times waited too long to report on the allegations of improper financial dealings, but did they reword what Al Franken said on the air? Maloney thinks so. He does have two different quotes. But Franken has a long talk show, and he does ramble on and repeat himself. Maybe he said both things.

From the NYT article:

[W]ord of the investigations ignited a firestorm of criticism on the Internet, especially among conservative-leaning blogs that have essentially accused the network of robbing from the poor to pay its bills.

To my ear, that sounds as though the Times did not appreciate bloggers pressuring it to report a story.

Amusingly, the NYT knocks the conservative bloggers for the robbery metaphor, but Franken himself used that metaphor on the air. He said, "I think he was robbing Peter to pay Paul." The Times quotes Franken as saying "I think he was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul." Did they change the quote to jibe with their attitude toward the bloggers? Even if Franken said both things, the choice of the more mealy-mouthed of two available quotes would still seem to be based on a desire to make the bloggers look rabid.

"WHERE HAS THIS HOSTILITY COME FROM?" Clive Davis on anti-Americanism in England.

THE PERPETUALLY DOOMED DOLLAR David Altig poor mouths the dollar, pointing out that it fell on news that the Russian Central Bank decided to hold less of it, and that things are looking up in Japan and Europe.

Yes, well, when you're at the bottom of a pit, there's nowhere else to look but up. Japan is still struggling against deflation; EU GDP came in at an anaemic 0.3% in the second quarter (compared to 0.8% in America). There are a couple of bright spots in Europe, such as Ireland and Spain, but they are dwarfed by Germany, the EU's biggest economy, which had no growth at all in the second quarter, and France, which posted 0.2%. Italy rebounded from recession with an unexpectedly strong 0.7%, but as traders like to say, even a dead cat will bounce if it falles from a great enough height. These numbers are encouraging only because analysts had expected them to be worse still.

Until GDP growth improves elsewhere, America will continue to be the destination of choice for capital looking to invest in the rich world. That will boost the dollar (and our current account deficit). China's revaluation of the yuan was distinctly underwhelming (and as this article from The Economist explains, its currency peg is still heavily weighted towards the dollar), meaning that for the time being, it will continue to pour money into propping up the dollar.

Over the long run, of course, America's gaping current account deficit is not sustainable, and the natural path of adjustment is a decline in the value of the dollar. But given the countervailing pressures in the world economy, I wouldn't try to make any money betting against the dollar.

THE PERSEID METEOR SHOWER may be exceptional this year. It is supposed to peak at 4:18 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (1:18 a.m. Pacific Time) Friday morning. That's slightly more than three hours from the time I posted this entry.

August 11, 2005

OMAR BAKRI fled London for Lebanon after the authorities considered charging him with treason. Some people in Lebanon aren’t very happy about this and they are not going to put up with him.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. He was arrested in Beirut.

POTUS, Rick Shenkman's one-man blog, suddenly has 15 new bloggers – eminent presidential historians, including the UW's own Stanley Kutler.

WHOOPS: Today The Guardian published an opinion piece by a man linked to Al Qaeda.

WENT TO DINNER TONIGHT with my co-blogger on my regular blog in Jersey City. I walked down a couple of miles from Hoboken, enjoying the oddness of it. Half of Jersey City looks like a "City of the FUTURE!!!" exhibit, ca. 1960--shiny glass skyscrapers and wide, empty boulevards. Most of the rest looks like a rotogravure spread on "The Tragedy of the Tenements", ca. 1908. I find the juxtaposition aesthetically stimulating. But I had to laugh at the sign just south of the Holland Tunnel informing me that I was entering Historic Downtown. Judging from the area where it was located, the history of Jersey City was written in cinderblock.

NOT TURNING TAIL YET Bush says that the US will not prematurely withdraw our troops from Iraq.

THE MILITANT MIDDLE: Christopher Hitchens identifies the bipartisan militant middle in an interview with Washington Prism. He is asked “If there was a Democratic president on 9/11, would there have been a difference of opinion in the American left about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?”

Not from people like Michael Moore (the American film director and strong critic of President Bush), who makes a perfectly good brownshirt [fascist]. Or Noam Chomsky. No, it would not. To them it would have been further proof that the ruling class just has two faces and one party. But I think, in the mainstream of the democratic and Republican parties, you would have seen an exact switch. Richard Holbrooke’s position (Holbrooke was Clinton's UN Ambassador and is a leading Democratic foreign policy thinker) would be Dick Cheney’s position. The ones in the middle would have just done a switch, finding arguments to support or criticize the war. In fact, I remember that people in the Clinton administration spoke of an inevitable confrontation coming with Saddam. They dropped this idea only because it was a Republican president. That is simply disgraceful. It is likewise disgraceful how many Republicans ran as isolationists against [former Vice-President] Al Gore in the 2000 elections. The only people who come out of this whole affair well are an odd fusion of the old left – the small pro regime change left – and some of the people known as neoconservatives who have a commitment to liberal democracy. Many of the neocons have Marxist backgrounds and believe in ideas and principles and have worked with both parties in power.

AL CAPONE REDUX: The Pinochet family is busted for tax fraud in Chile.

CHRIS MUIR NEEDS YOUR HELP. And, no, he’s not asking for money. Just read and click the cartoon.

RUSTY SHACKLEFORD says everyone is wrong about the drug war.

THEY CAN HEAR YOU NOW: When I was in Beirut in April one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, Nabil Abou-Charaf, told me that Syrian intelligence agents used cell phones to “spy” on people.

“You mean they monitor your phone conversations,” I said.

“No," he said. "They can listen to us all the time even when we’re not using the phone.” He could tell I didn’t believe him. “We know as a fact they can do this.”

The Middle East is notoriously paranoid. When your country is infested with secret police that will happen. Nabil had good reasons himself to be paranoid. He told me he had already been arrested and beaten for standing up to the Syrian puppet regime. Just a week before I met him someone ran his car off the road and left a message on his answering machine and said that was just the beginning.

Still, I didn’t believe what he said about spies using his cell phone as a bug. If the cell phone is off or just sitting there it isn’t transmitting a signal.

Looks like I was wrong. Julian Sanchez at Hit and Run points out this chilling excerpt from a story in last week’s Guardian.

The main means of tracking terrorist suspects down has been the monitoring of mobile phone conversations. Not only can operators pinpoint users to within yards of their location by "triangulating" the signals from three base stations, but - according to a report in the Financial Times - the operators (under instructions from the authorities) can remotely install software onto a handset to activate the microphone even when the user is not making a call.
I’m sure the police love this feature. Police states apparently love it, as well.

LOVING SHORT WOMEN, DAMNING KEN RUSSELL, AND SITTING AT PETER JENNING'S TABLE – some miscellaneous and perfectly composed entries from Terry Teachout's diary.

OH, THE THEME SHOULD HAVE BEEN LAMB! Remember the best episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" where the woman kills her husband by clubbing him with a frozen leg of lamb, then thaws it out, roasts it, and feeds it to the cops, who are looking for but can't find the murder weapon? The woman was played by Barbara Bel Geddes. RIP. (Side note: that episode was written by Roald Dahl.) Bel Geddes also touched many hearts with her performance in "Vertigo," as the woman who was not mysteriously glamorous (like Kim Novak). She's quintessentially not sexy. We first see her, in Scene 1, discussing a bra with Jimmy Stewart:

What's this doohickey?

It's a brassiere! You know about those things, you're a big boy now.

I've never run across one like that.

It's brand new. Revolutionary up-lift: No shoulder straps, no back straps, but it does everything a brassiere should do. Works on the principle of the cantilevered bridge.

Later Jimmy will have a hot scene under a bridge, but with Kim, not Barbara.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I first saw Vertigo when I was in high school in the 70s. I found it simply incomprehensible then (and still do today) that anyone (any male, I guess I should say) would have preferred Kim Novak to Barbara Bel Geddes. Not that anyone would turn their nose up at Novak (as if!); it’s just that Midge was so, so, so ... hot. Those red glasses, her voice, the way she carried herself. It wasn’t a hot cha-cha-cha kind of thing; it was an understated attractiveness. You knew that if you had BBG as your girlfriend (as if!) she would be *yours* and not run off with the next guy along who was taller or better looking or richer or something (the way you knew Novak would). She was *solid*

Which is a long-winded way of saying (politely, I hope) that you are wrong, oh so wrong, when you say that BBG was “quintessentially not sexy”. I know, sexiness is in the eye of the beholder, but you’re wrong.

Aw! Half of this email reminds me of that cool old Jimmy Soul song "If You Wanna Be Happy" and half of it seems to express a genuine preference for a nice, hardcore nerdgirl.

THE VIEW FROM THE ICE BAR IN DUBLIN, from the always-wonderful Sheila Variations.

IN THE WAKE OF OUR BLOATED NEW TRANSPORTATION BILL, Robin Hanson suggests the government switch to diet pork. One-third less guilt than regular log-rolling!

WHY IS THE FUR OF UNBORN LAMB considered especially disturbing?

"That's just a little too much," said the designer Carmen Marc Valvo, explaining why he draws the line at using fetal lambs...

I love the use of the word "explaining" here. What's explanatory about "too much"? Is there some connection to the sensitivity about fetuses caused by the abortion debate? Because that really wouldn't make any sense at all.

SHARPLY INKED DOGS AND CAT-GIRLS – including these, purportedly drawn by foot. Found via the great illustration blog Drawn! The exclamation point is in the name of the blog, though I am actually pretty excited about the blog. And am I doing a foot theme today? Stick around and find out. The trick would be to get Megan and Michael to go with the theme. We shall see.

WHEN BLOGGERS MEET AT THE CAFE, they crowd the table with laptops. No, get that thing out of the way. And now the laptop's on the floor and she's blogging with her feet!

August 10, 2005

SITZKRIEG'S END: Marcus Cicero remembers the Cold War and wonders if, somewhat counter-intuitively, we’re in more danger now than we were then.

It turns out the Cold War amounted to an entire half century of having it all, creating nominal safety. The nothing part of M.A.D. — Armageddon — never came to pass. And so we did indeed create a playground of prosperity: Shopping malls, freeways, cheap global travel, and the Internet; the plethora of things, rock-n-roll, the rise of socialism and multiculturalism; baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. We got very used to that. Three generations grew up in the soil of transparent global war.

M.A.D. conditioned us to have our cake and eat it too. But today’s WMD perils are unlike the days of M.A.D. In the Cold War, we could depend on the rationality of our adversaries, the Soviets. We could mutually agree on something, heinous as it was. M.A.D. created a sense of certainty out of nucler parity. That certainty was: if it happens, everyone dies. That’s it. No debate necessary. If you were alive, it meant everything was normal. If you were dead, well…

Weapons of mass destruction in the 9/11 era no longer represent the end of everything. The threshold to this brave new terror-nuke world is far lower than the threshold to M.A.D. Parity is no longer apparent. That makes catastrophe with a small ‘c’ far more likely to happen.

Read the whole thing.

YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR YOU’RE AGAINST US: James Wolcott is beating up on liberal hawks (he singles out Roger L. Simon in particular) for making common cause with conservatives by supporting the Terror War:

The fact is that by subscribing to Bush's War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq with every corpuscle of your tired body you've made common cause with Republican conservatives, neoconservatives, and Christian fundamentalists who are dedicated to destroying those parcels of liberalism on which you stake your tiny claims of pride…Do you really think that conservative supremacy in the executive, congressional, and judicial branches of government means that gay rights and abortion rights will somehow be spared?
I can't speak for Roger, but I didn’t vote for “conservative supremacy in the executive, congressional and judicial branches of government.” I voted for a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress. That’s the sort of thing liberal hawks and other centrist types do. I made “common cause” with the Religious Right, which as a social-liberal/left-libertarian isn’t much fun. At the same time I made “common cause” with Dennis Kucinich, which as a foreign policy hawk isn’t much fun.

Politics isn’t binary, James. It’s not a war between the white hats and the black hats -- or the blue hats and the red hats for that matter. Tens of millions of Americans answer with “neither” when asked if they consider themselves liberal or conservative. Some of us vote for third parties. Some of us vote for both of the two major parties at the same time. It’s about tough choices and lesser evilism. If you’re a liberal I suppose the choice is an easy one. Some of us non-liberals see nuance and shades of gray. Maybe you've heard of those things.

UPDATE: On a related note, Harry Hatchett says many on today's anti-war left strikingly resemble right-wing nationalists and isolationists. It begs the question then. Who, really, are the new conservatives? I couldn't care less, personally, about being tainted with conservative cooties. But those who fear and loathe the idea might want to read Harry's essay.

DON'T "STIFLE THE GENIUS." Supreme Court nominee John Roberts shows some commitment to federalism values:

[Senator Ron] Wyden said that he asked Judge Roberts whether he believed states should take the lead in regulating medical practice, and that the nominee replied that "uniformity across the country would stifle the genius of the founding fathers."

Roberts seems to have disapproved of Congress's intervention in the Schiavo case. I have to say "seems to" because he's speaking at a high level of abstraction -- quite appropriately, as everyone is gathering material to turn against him.


BAD NEWS FROM IRAQ: A municipal coup d’etat.

Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'йtat. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

"This is the new Iraq," said Mr. Tamimi, a secular engineer with no party affiliation. "They use force to achieve their goal."

The militia that overthrew the mayor is an Iranian proxy.

I’d say this needs to be reversed, that he should be put back in office so this sort of thing isn’t rewarded and therefore encouraged. But he already tried to resign in June and it looks like he doesn’t even want to stay in Iraq.

If Tamini can’t be restored, the new mayor Hussein al-Tahaan must in turn be replaced. As quickly as possible.

JEANINEE PIRRO, currently the DA for Westchester, is running for the Senate against Hillary. This is a long shot, but yesterday I heard Dick Morris on the radio making a credible case that Pirro can make things uncomfortable for Hillary by demanding that she committ to serving out her term. He also argued that if Pirro gets enough money early on, and does moderately well in the polls, she will force Hillary out of the race, because Hillary will want to conserve money (and credibility) for her 2008 run at the presidency.

Pirro's biggest weakness, that her husband was convicted of tax evasion (Pirro herself was cleared as an "innocent spouse) is harder for Hillary to capitalise on, since Pirro can always say "Why don't we take the focus off my husband's arrest and your husband's lost law license, and talk about the issues". I still think Hillary is probably the clear winner, but it will be an interesting race to watch. Pirro is a pro-choice, socially liberal and fiscally conservative Republican. She may well be able to take some of the shine off Hillary's presidential campaign.

THE WASHINGTON POST DISCOVERS THAT high paying jobs are boring too. Having spent a summer as an investment banking intern during a mad moment in business school when I imagined that I could somehow shoehorn my personality to fit the pathologically detail-oriented, hyper-competitive, number-hugging world of Wall Street, this was not news to me.

While I would not go so far as to say that proofreading pitch books and tweaking capital asset models is as boring as the year I spent working a cash register at the Love Pharmacy Chain (no, it was a perfectly respectable chain of drugstores, and no, I have no idea what was going through the head of the fellow in marketing who decided that "Love Pharmacies" would look good on the letterhead), investment banking was nonetheless considerably more boring than most of my other jobs, including (prior to business school) building the computer systems that the investment bankers used to tweak their models.

Part of this is, of course, that while I obtain moderate enjoyment from reading balance sheets, I don't enjoy it enough to spend days on end speculating about whether retail growth in Disney's Latin American markets will average 2.4% or 2.6% over the next three years.

But even my friends who live and breathe finance find a large portion of their work intensely boring. They are doing it because they hope that if they spend long enough proofreading powerpoint presentations and scrutinising IPO prospectuses, they will one day be paid really gargantuan sums of money to fly all over the world and tell CEO's how to finance their companies. This job is so fun and exciting that most of the people who do it retire by 50. But until they reach that halcyon horizon (and, with banking's military-inspired "up or out" model, only a small fraction of freshly-minted MBA banker larvae will ever get to that level) most of them are bored for much of the time.

There is a tendency among liberal arts types to think that it is grossly unfair that investment bankers make so much money, when said artsy type's clearly more socially valuable work is so pitifully renumerated. Having spent a summer doing it, I personally think that anyone who is willing to spend his Saturday night going over the fine print in an SEC prospectus until 2 am is welcome to all the filthy lucre they will pay him. I chose to become a journalist because I've only got forty or fifty years left on this planet, and if I'm going to spend the majority of my waking hours doing something, I'd rather do something I feel is worthwhile than something that will buy me a cushy place to sleep. It seems downright piggy for those of us with what my mother calls "English Major Jobs" to demand both fulfilling work and lavish renumeration.

GRAND ROUNDS is up, and full of interesting medical posts.

WHITHER OIL? If you're driving one of this big, gas-guzzling American cars, these days you probably cringe every time you pull up at the gas station. Will price relief ever come?

Probably not soon. OPEC, scarred by the memory of $10 a barrel oil, is not bringing new capacity online as fast as it could, and consumers seem strangely reluctant to let higher gas prices affect their behavior (perhaps they too are under the spell of the halcyon days when gas was practically free and Saudi princes lined up at the gas station to beg you to accept a free toaster with your purchase of 1 gallon of regular unleaded). But eventually things will even out, and probably go the other way--the current shortage will eventually produce a glut.

Alas, probably not soon enough to ease your pain as you steer the family SUV onto the road for the annual trek to Yellowstone. This might be the year to think about renting a Mini.

WE'RE DOING IT FOR YOU, DARLING Laura at 11D, a premier politics-and-parenting blogger and one of my absolute favorite reads, has a great post on a new book arguing that divorce isn't really better for the children after all.

Update: Not so new--the book was published in 2001.

THE ONLINE ARMS RACE CONTINUES The Wall Street Journal, to which I subscribe online, has apparently decided to prevent concurrent logons. Since I generally leave my login on at home when I go to work, I had to call them to clear that session so I could login here.

The object, obviously, is to prevent people from sharing their subscriptions, which quite a few people I know have been doing (and I bet they're kicking desks and throwing things this morning). However, I'm not quite sure the folks at the Wall Street Journal have thought through what this means, at least if they have many subscribers like me. Absent-minded subscribers. Subscribers who never turn their computers off. Subscribers who use several computers each working day. Subscribers who will now be calling their technical support people two or three times a day to clear their other login so they can read the paper.

On the other hand, I suppose the typical WSJ subscriber is your type-A perfectionist who will have no trouble remembering to make sure that he logs off his WSJ account before moving to another computer. In which case, I demand to know why the folks at the WSJ haven't quite thought through what this means for me.

SHOULDN'T JOURNALISTS APPLAUD the passing of "Jovian authority"?

AN ANTI-SPAM VICTORY FOR MICROSOFT. "We have now proven that we can take one of the most profitable spammers in the world and separate him from his money."

UPDATE: The BBC seems to have a bit of an innumeracy problem.

TIRED OF ALL THAT MICKEY MOUSE ANALYSIS of the Disney opinion? (Oh, no, the judge let Disney pay Michael Ovitz $140 million for 14 months' work!) The Conglomerate has a whole symposium going -- 9 lawprofs strong.


IT'S A GOOD DAY to visit Day by Day.

COTTAGE INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE FICTION: Glenn Reynolds interviews science fiction author S.M. Stirling in his new Tech Central Station column.

August 09, 2005

"NOW I CAN MAKE THE BLOGS!!!" Oh, beautiful! Eggagog is back! Nothing is more certain to put a smile on my face than a new post from Eggagog!!!

YOU JUST CAN’T PLEASE SOME PEOPLE: Liberal hawks who are lumped in with conservatives by anti-war liberals may be amused to see that even anti-war lefties like Marc Cooper get the same treatment for being insufficiently anti-war.

IS IT FOR REAL, this suggestion -- published in the Boston Globe -- that Catholic judges be barred from participating in abortion rights cases?

AUSTIN BAY IS SUBBING for Glenn over on His first post is about executive greed and "golden parachutes," a good subject to think about as the Disney case comes out, approving of the deal that rewarded Michael Ovitz with $140 million for 14 months' work.

BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T WANT TO DETRACT from the rest of the art exhibit, the curators removed the fetus head grafted onto the body of a bird.

"OH, LIVERMORE, THE TOWN THAT MISSPELLS STUFF." For $6,000, an artist, already paid $40,000, returns to correct the 11 misspellings -- like "Eistein” for "Einstein" -- in the "educational" mural she made for the Livermore public library.

UPDATE: A reader emails that Livermore is also the town that lost its own time capsule. There's a film documentary about it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In Livermore's defense, though it may not have the brightest bulbs, it does have the world's longest burning light bulb.

SHE WORE A SHORT SKIRT, or BLAMING THE VICTIM: Martin Kramer slaps Juan Cole after Cole slaps journalist Steve Vincent for supposedly getting himself killed in Iraq. (Hat tip: Tony at Across the Bay.)

AGAINST RACIAL PROFILING: You're a news and politics junky. So you already know the usual arguments against racial (and perhaps gender) profiling. Here’s one I’ll bet you haven’t read yet at The New Criterion’s blog Armavirumque.

ZERO TOLERANCE FOR ZERO TOLERANCE: Radley Balko has a smart op-ed in the Washington Post about draconian zero tolerance measures against parents who wisely choose to supervise underage drinking.


"WEARY AND INCREASINGLY PLAGUED BY SELF-DOUBTS": How Der Spiegel sees us, as translated and analyzed by Davids Medienkritik.

THE GOOD NEWS FROM AFGHANISTAN. Arthur Chrenkoff presents Part 15 in a series.


How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration?

A HAPPY LANDING. The shuttle astronauts have returned safely.

JOHN TIERNEY ON METH: Drug opponents say "drugs destroy one's moral sense," but if you really believe in individual moral responsibility, you should let people make their own decisions about drugs.

HI TO DAN SAVAGE, parallel guest-blogger, over there on Andrew Sullivan. He posted up a storm yesterday, putting in quite an effort, even though it's just the depth of August, the quietest time of the year. (Saying that, however, makes me want to pause and wish the astronauts well. Irish Trojan is simulblogging the landing.) I've loved Savage's advice column for years and even went to a reading he did on one of his book tours. He drew a huge crowd here in Madison, Wisconsin. So, good luck to The Savage Sullivan. Over on my home blog, my commenters are trying to come up with a name for me to use during my Instapundit stint. One writes:

I have a better nickname than AnnPundit or ALTernaPundit (magic though those are).

How about...

Glenn or Glenda?

Sorry, I'm not going to link back to my own blog. It seems gauche. And I don't want to set these characters off.

GUEST-BLOGGER LINKS GUEST-BLOGGER: Gay sex advice columnist Dan Savage is guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan this week. He says he's "the only professional sex advice columnist in the United States, if not the world, to come out in favor of the invasion of Iraq." That has to be right.

GATEWAY PUNDIT reports more bad news from Beslan, Russia.

August 08, 2005


SEGREGATION IN LIBERAL DRAG: Johann Hari says British multiculturalism amounts to segregation. The solution, he says, isn’t a return to Britain’s monocultural past. The solution, instead, lies in the glorious mixing of races.


DON'T YOU LOVE TO HATE PAULIE G on the great HBO comedy "The Comeback"? I do! Here's a big article about Lance Barber, the actor whose smirking hostility enrages us into helpless laughter.

"FOR LESS THAN I PAY A BABYSITTER, I could have had someone write my article," writes lawprof Christine Hurt.

YOU CAN’T TAKE THE SKY FROM ME: Sara T. Hinson sees libertarianism at the heart of Joss Whedon’s fantastic and wrongly cancelled Firefly series. I wrote my own non-political review of Firefly – which will continue on the big screen as Serenity this September – here.

(Hat tip: fellow fan Julian Sanchez at Hit and Run.)

THE WARNING OF A CIVIL WAR: Britain’s MI5 intelligence chiefs are warning Tony Blair that Britain may face an Islamist insurgency – in Britain. Seems a bit overstated to me, but then I’m not an intelligence chief.

A CURIOUS OMISSION: A Lebanese blogger wonders why there is no jihad against China.

IT WAS FIFTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY, Trey Jackson reminds us.


RED FASCISTS AND BLACK FASCISTS: Neo-Neocon posted a unique analysis of the perverse symbiotic relationship between certain kinds of far-leftists and certain kinds of far-rightists.

"THE MOST DISHONEST, UNGODLY, UNSPIRITUAL NATION that has ever existed in the history of the planet." That's how Dick Gregory described the United States at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (a statute passed by said ungodly nation). La Shawn Barber provides the link to the news report and expresses her sadness at the decline of Harry Belafonte.

FELLOW CENTRIST MICHAEL LIND has some advice for the Democratic Party over at TPM Cafй. He thinks that if they want to be the majority party again they will need to become economically liberal and socially conservative:

Social liberals can be the minority in a majority party. Or social liberals can be the majority in a minority party. But social liberals can't be the majority in a majority party--not in the United States, not in the foreseeable future. There just aren't enough social liberals in the American electorate.
His argument is worth reading as an intellectual exercise, but his advice isn’t practical. Social liberals are temperamentally incapable of tactically morphing into social conservatives. As Rick Heller notes over at Centerfield, social liberalism is the core value of the Democratic Party right now.

Social liberals should be temperamentally capable of morphing into defense hawks, however. That’s exactly what they did in the mid-to-late 1990s. Then it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who agitated for war against Slobo’s regime in Belgrade for the crushing of Bosnia and Kosovo. Trent Lott and Tom DeLay were the ones who sounded like 1960s leftovers. Reflexive anti-war sentiment among Democrats isn’t as deeply ingrained as it appears.

As far as I’m concerned, social liberalism is the best thing the Democratic Party has going for it. They should keep that and drop the pacifism and isolationism instead. They’ll get a lot more votes next time around if they do. Plenty of socially liberal people voted for George W. Bush on national security grounds. Some of us would go home again if we could.

UPDATE: Jesse Walker at Hit and Run responds.

Just last year the warbloggers were warning that Kerry would submit America's foreign policy to a nefarious "global test." The man and his party were damned for their excessive faith in the United Nations, multilateralism, and the power of the well-crafted treaty. And now they're supposed to be isolationists?
Jesse is quite right that Kerry wasn’t an isolationist. Although I should add that Kerry did get an enthusiastic response when he complained that we are closing down firehouses in the United States while opening them up in Baghdad. That sounded to me like something Pat Buchanan would say and something Rush Limbaugh would have said had a Democrat been president. Still, I wasn’t thinking of Kerry when I wrote this, and I should have taken him into account. He did win the Democratic primary, after all.

I wrote “isolationism” instead of “excessive multilateralism” because I’ve been hearing more complaints of that variety lately -- especially since the London attacks on 7/7. Bush and Blair are supposedly making the problem of terrorism against Westerners worse because we have boots on the ground in Iraq in the first place, not because the U.N. didn’t come with us. The multilateralist argument seems to have receded into the background.

THE PROBLEM OF HATING SPEECH Kevin Drum sums up the problem of hate speech laws: "I'm not convinced that content-based speech restrictions can be defined in a broad enough way to make them workable but a narrow enough way to keep them from being dangerous."

In the case of Britain and its terrorism promoters, I'm somewhat ambivalent. I'm certainly against deporting citizens of the US for advocating terrorism (though I have no problem with stripping citizenship from dual-nationality American citizens who have clearly indicated their allegiance to a foriegn power; until the 1960's, you couldn't have dual citizenship in America, and I'm not so sure that was a bad thing). But what about immigrants? All but the very hardest-core open borders folks would allow that we, the current citizens of the United States, have a right to some say over who gets to come join us in our reindeer games. And advocating the killing of our civilians would seem to be a slam dunk disqualifier.

As I understand it, a major reason that Britain has heretofore not shipped its firebreathing troublemakers abroad long before is that they are signatories to the EU's declaration of human rights, which forbids them from deporting anyone to a country where they will be killed or abused. Sidestepping the thorny debate about whether a country should hold itself morally obligated to support refugees because of the bad behaviour of another state (many refugees end up in Europe's generous welfare systems), it seems hard to argue that you have a moral obligation to worry more about the impending mortality of people who are encouraging terrorist attacks than about the well-being of the citizenry they are attempting to decimate.

I suspect that if terrorist attacks continue, Muslim immigration to Europe and America will be slowed to a trickle, or even reversed in the European states where decades of guest-worker imports have combined with stringent citizenship requirements to produce a hereditary alien class. This may, of course, be what Al Qaeda wants; the fewer Muslims have intercourse with the West, the easier it will be to stir up hatred against us.

Update Eugene Volokh has more. His post points out that the above usage of "immigrants" is incorrect, since what I mean is "non-citizens". Naturalised citizens should, and do, have the same rights as born-and-bred ones, with a few limited exceptions.

DOES "ASSORTATIVE MATING" CAUSE AUTISM? Simon Baron-Cohen theorizes that the condition may result from the mating of two "Type S"-brained individuals.

THE PERILS OF PERSNICKETY PASSWORDS I just reserved a campsite for Labor Day at Reserve America, which has taken password requirements to new heights: eight characters, instead of the standard six, with a requirement that two of those characters be numbers. This for a website that allows you to reserve campsites in state parks.

Before I was a journalist, I used to design and build networks for financial firms, and I was a conscientious objector in the password arms race. Many companies require long passwords, number/letter combinations, frequent password changes, unique passwords (you can't ever re-use old passwords), and so forth because these are harder to crack. The problem is, they're also harder to remember. Users who can't reemember their passwords have to write them down. It is, to my mind, substantially less safe to have a user's password written on their computer, or taped in their desk (two favourite tricks I spent a great deal of time discouraging), than to have it be a five-letter word. Good security should worry at least as much about internal users gaining unauthorised access (to view confidential data or cover up illicit activity by confusing the audit trail with another user's account) as they should be about hackers who, frankly, generally aren't all that interested in breaking into the assistant payroll clerk's computer. What they want is administrator access, and if your tech employees can't be trusted to devise secure passwords without the computer forcing them on everyone else in the company, well, then, you should fire your network staff and hire someone competent.

The technology world is full of these sorts of things: ideas which, in theory, make everything wonderfully secure, but which make things much less secure when implemented with plain old human beings, instead of the flawless automata that so many security theorists seem to imagine. If you're interested in how to actually make security good, check out Bruce Schneier's site.

Update A professional takes the opposite view.

CHOCK FULL OF MONEY-GRUBBING GOODNESS The new Carnival of the Capitalists is up.

IF YOU SMOKE AND DIE OF CANCER, every obituary will take advantage of your death as an opportunity to remind the living to quit smoking.

GREETINGS, EARTHLINGS! As Ann points out below, August is a slow news time. In my day job, I'm a journalist (yes . . . a member of the dreaded MSM), and for us, August is undoubtedly the cruellest month. Everyone except baseball players goes on vacations, so we have no summits, reports, or even scandals to keep our editors happy. Story pitches take on an ever-more desperate hue as the month wears on . . . "No, really, Ted, the Australian Toe Weevil poses a clear economic threat to development in Southeast Asia!"

But at least one newsworthy event happened today: Peter Jennings died. The death of any human being is deeply tragic, of course. Peter Jennings' death will touch more lives than most, and not merely because many of us are worrying whether we quit smoking quite soon enough.

Many people spent more time with Peter Jennings than with their adult children. I don't watch television news except during big disasters; I find it too shallow and graphic to be useful. But for many people, Peter Jennings was their point of contact with the wider world.

And his death represents the end of an era. No one will ever occupy the place in the world that Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather did. Americans are no longer limited to three channels, nor forced to take their news in discreet bites between 5-7. The world is probably better for it, but something--if only a connection to our past--has been lost.

LEECHES, OBOES, EXTRAVAGANT CLOTHES CONTRARY TO ALBANIAN TASTES – Eric Muller checks out the world of postal regulations.

HELLO, INSTAPUNDIT READERS. Hello, Michael. Yes, things will be different here this week. Not only are we not Glenn, but there are three of us. The same three of us co-blogged last fall during the final run-up to Election Day, so, in one way, we're practiced in the art of Instapundit guest-blogging, but, in another way, it's going to be completely different, because there is no obvious topic to preoccupy us. It's a slow week in August, and, with luck, it will stay that way. That makes it more likely that the idiosyncratic interests of us three bloggers will be on full display. You might think that, getting the chance to write on Instapundit, a blogger would have a set of opinions ready to promote, but in fact, I'm coming to this task this morning without a single subject planned -- except this one: Thanks, Glenn, for letting me play Instapundit for a week.

THANKS TO GLENN REYNOLDS for giving me, Megan McArdle, and Ann Althouse the keys to Instapundit while he’s on vacation. We’ll try to keep things interesting around here. The three of us have somewhat different reading tastes than Glenn, so this week’s Instalanches will fall on new territory.

August 07, 2005

DAN GILLMOR: "Google is a young company. We shouldn't be surprised that it sometimes acts its age."

A WHILE BACK, I wrote about Hampton Sides' Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission, and suggested that the story would make a good movie.

I guess someone else thought so too.

TOMORROW will be InstaPundit's fourth bloggiversary. (Click here to see what I was writing about back when it started).

How has the blog changed? You may have a clearer sense of that than I do. I think it's become a bit less opinionated -- the older entries were mostly opinion; now I'm more likely to link to somone's actual reporting, or to an item of news without commenting on it much. I tend to express my longer opinion-oriented takes elsewhere, at TechCentralStation or, rather than here at the blog.

I think that the tone has gotten milder. This was never a rantblog, but I decided over a year ago, during the election runup, to try to be extra-conscious about word choice, and to avoid name-calling as much as possible. Over-the-top hysterics on other blogs turn me off even when they're from someone I agree with, and I suspect many people feel that way. You can have strong opinions without strong language, and they're usually more persuasive that way, or so it seems to me.

I've learned -- well, come to appreciate, anyway -- that there are huge numbers of very smart people out there, in all sorts of settings that aren't usually thought of as smart-people settings. Every academic should have that experience.

The blogosphere has certainly gotten bigger, which I see as pretty much an unalloyed good.

The other thing I've learned: To take a vacation from blogging now and then. I'll be away next week, and Ann Althouse, Megan McArdle, and Michael Totten will be filling in again. Austin Bay, as I mentioned earlier, will be filling in over on MSNBC at (My TCS column will run as usual on Wednesday).

See you guys next weekend. Enjoy the guestbloggers, who did a terrific job last time, and who I'm sure will do just as well this time.

DAVID BROOKS goes in search of explanations for the many improving social trends in America. However, he misses the important constructive role played by porn and videogames!

NOT VERY IMPRESSIVE: "Four DMV workers in Oakland took cash bribes from illegal immigrants and others in exchange for driver's licenses or state identification cards, federal prosecutors said Thursday." I doubt a National ID system would be free of this kind of fraud.

VIK RUBENFELD looks at the role of the blogosphere.

I think it may also have something to do with helping us choose which pictures we have in our minds.

IT'S NOT YOUR FATHER'S ARMY: "A pair of female Army captains temporarily traded in their camouflage uniforms and combat boots for evening gowns and high heels and entered and won each of their state beauty pageants." This can't hurt enlistment.

UPDATE: On a more serious note, Chester notes a different kind of change.

Meanwhile, Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule note that the judiciary seems less adaptable than the Army.


The Air France evacuation required an extraordinary degree of social coordination - which emerged among a group of strangers with virtually no time to prepare. Once out of the wreckage, they were aided by other strangers who, on the spur of the moment and with no expertise in emergency situations, had pulled off a nearby highway and calmly charged into the scene, despite the risks posed by an exploding plane.

While this sort of behavior is often described as remarkable, it is actually what researchers have come to expect. Studies of civilians' intense experiences in the London Blitz; the cities of Japan and Germany in World War II; the 1947 smallpox outbreak in New York; the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995; and even fires have found that people, however stressed, almost always keep their wits and elevate their humanity.

Indeed, the critical first responders in almost any crisis are ordinary citizens whom fate has brought together.

Indeed. David Gerstman has some thoughts. And I've written about this before, here and here.

CARNIVAL-O-RAMA! The Carnival of Cordite is up. So is the Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers. And the Big Apple Blog Festival. There's also Havel Havalim, and don't miss the Carnival of Chinese Bloggers.

BUSINESS WEEK has an article on podcasters vs. Big Radio: They call it a "David and Goliath" battle, but it's really an army of Davids against Goliath.

BLEAK NEWS on voting in Venezuela.

GLOCAL? Well, it doesn't sound any worse than "blog." . . .

BILL QUICK has his usual weekend cooking thread posted. In answer to his question, I've always wanted one of these, even though I have no use for it.

If you don't have one of these, though, you're missing out.


WHEN people ask my thoughts on the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I always feel uncomfortable. As a Japanese, I know how I'm supposed to respond: with sadness, regret and perhaps anger. But invariably I try to dodge the issue, or to reply as neutrally as possible.

That's because, at bottom, the bombings don't really matter to me or, for that matter, to most Japanese of my generation. My peers and I have little hatred or blame in our hearts for the Americans; the horrors of that war and its nuclear evils feel distant, even foreign. Instead, the bombs are simply the flashpoint marking the discontinuity that characterized the cultural world we grew up in.

Read the whole thing.

ARTHUR ALLEN: "As the writer who first told the thimerosal story in depth in the New York Times Magazine two and a half years ago, I have been astonished to see how badly it has been handled since. . . . Since then, four perfectly good studies comparing large populations of kids have showed that thimerosal did not cause the increased reporting of autism."

I wonder if anti-vaccine activists will be held to the same standard of responsibility as the pharmaceutical companies they -- often unjustly and sometimes dishonestly -- criticize.

DAVID BERNSTEIN looks at racism and sexism on the Left.

A more effective argumentative style can be found here.

UPDATE: Related comments, here and here.

AUSTIN BAY will be guestblogging for me at MSNBC this week, so the least I can do is plug his Iraq novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness.

I read it, and it's excellent.

AVIAN FLU NEWS: "Government scientists say they have successfully tested in people a vaccine that they believe can protect against the strain of avian influenza that is spreading in birds through Asia and Russia." Good.

SALMAN RUSHDIE writes on the need for an Islamic Reformation.


A small Russian submarine was freed today from its undersea entanglement off the Far East coast by an unmanned British rescue vehicle that cut away the nets that ensnared it. All seven inside were alive and rushed aboard a Russian surface vessel, where they were being examined by a medical team, Russian news agencies and the U.S. Navy said.

Nick Danger at RedState notes that the cooperative efforts to rescue former enemies offer a lesson:

I will confess that I did not expect to see this in my lifetime. It is a bit like my father's reaction to seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here... but I am certain it is something we need to keep in mind as we go about the War on Terror. The day will come when we will all rush off to aid Iranians trapped in a mine, and we will cheer when they are rescued.

May it come soon.

DAMIEN CAVE wonders why we're not hearing more about the heroes of the Iraq war.

The answer, of course, is that those of us who are getting our war reporting from the right places are hearing about them, while those of us who are still relying on the Times probably aren't.

More comments here, though I think they're a bit harsh on Cave, who's a good reporter in my experience.

UPDATE: Related thoughts, with video, here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Roger Simon comments. And here's a related observation. So, sort of, is this.

The Mudville Gazette offers more background, and observes: "But kudos to the Times for wondering if they have a problem - the next step in recovery would be to admit that they do."

Read the whole thing, especially if you're an editor at The New York Times. Or one of its competitors.

MORE: Some help for the NYT is offered, over at Bayosphere.

LETTER TO ZARQAWI: Arthur Chrenkoff points to political and organizational issues for the Al Qaeda-backed insurgency in Iraq:

Abu Zayd claims that the Mosul Emirs are incompetent; attacks lack diversity; suicide bombings are focused more on quantity and not quality; those who are in the network are disobedient; a legitimate organization in Mosul does not exist; collaboration between the Emirs is lacking; "Muslim money" is squandered on petty expenses; numerous security violations occur; "inaccurate and blurred" updates to the Sheikh are reported; and foreign fighters endure "deplorable" conditions to include lack of pay, housing problems and marginalization.

Read the whole thing for some interesting political analysis, too.