Turns out that mullahcratic Iran has an "official" rap singer, or at least a tolerated one. He's Shahkar Binesh-Pajouh, aka the "Dapper Rapper." The BBC reports that he "uses rap music mixed with Persian classical poetry in order to criticise poverty, unemployment, and the chi-chi women of Tehran wearing too much make-up under their chiffon headscarves."
If Binesh-Pajouh is rapping against women who are too chi-chi under their chadoors, then it's not very surprising that he's been permitted to release an album (albeit after four years of delays). Rapper Shahkar's most anti-revolutionary message, suggests the Beeb, is that there is too much social mobility. "The problem is in Iranian society," he says. "Social classes are all mixed up and not as clear cut as before the revolution."
Reporter Frances Harrison couldn't find many (well, any) fans to quote, but says the album has sold well. Perhaps it's the novelty. There's even some disagreement about whether Binesh-Pajouh's stuff is really rap. Maybe it is, or maybe it's rap the same way Krokodil was humor, and for the same reason.
Krokodil was the "humor" magazine of the Soviet regime. Its purpose wasn't to be funny; it existed to serve the regime's purposes. Sometimes it offered a safety valve by making jokes about internal problems, like the shortage of goods. But its real value lay in deriding whatever the regime didn't like at any given time, including the USSR's own cultural dissidents.
Here's a Dapper Rapper lyric: "She spends all day in the hairdresser, out partying till midnight, puts on loads of make-up, eats pizza and more than anything else she cares about her lipstick and lip liner."
Pizza? Anyway, Binesh-Pajouh apparently lives pretty well himself. He doesn't have to live like a rapper, he says, to sing like one.
At the COP-10 conference in Buenos Aires, Ron Bailey gets ready for warmer weather.
In Asia Times, Andrei Lankov has a fascinating account of economic reform in the land of Kim Jong Il. By his telling, "What we have seen in North Korea over the past 10 years can be best described as collapse of what used to be rigid Stalinism from below. In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact."
Needless to say, the process still has a long, long way to go.
[Via Lew Rockwell.]
Jeff Taylor reflects on his baby-boomer glory days.
If you've been following Roger Ebert's search for "Daryl," the reader who ruined his law school career by going on a mass-transit romance in imitation of the (Bloomsday tribute) movie Before Sunrise, you'll be happy to know Jolly Roger has got his man. Details here, but the upshot is that Daryl is now on his way to becoming a barrister in the UK. So somebody who might have increased the population of American lawyers by one has been successfully removed to another country—a happy ending by any standard.
Kerik on the skids, women in the fight, and 4,000 votes in the trash, in Reason Express.
Lordy, lordy turns out people will switch away from Internet Explorer provided something better comes along. The market share for Firefox is picking up steam and now stands at a robust four percent only a month after going gold. That has Firefox's stated goal of ten percent of the browser market next year look sane.
Maybe Bill Gates does not rule the world, afterall.
Post-invasion Iraq not too comfortable for Christians, says this Knight-Ridder report.
Leaders of the ever-dwindling Christian population in Iraq say bombings of their churches and attacks against their communities may force them to take up guns.
Two more churches were bombed in Mosul last week, the latest attacks, and some Christians say extremist Muslims are terrorizing them with the intent of ousting them and seizing their houses and belongings.
Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, made up largely of ethnic Assyrians....But as the turmoil increases, hundreds of Christian families are leaving each week for exile in Syria and Turkey.
Some Christians have called for the establishment of a "safe haven" in Iraq's north, where they would be protected by special Iraqi army units. Others are threatening to add a Christian militia to Iraq's already militarized society.
.....Estimates of how many Christians have left Iraq in recent months range from 10,000 to 40,000 people.
[Link via Rational Review.]
[UPDATE: Our own Tim Cavanaugh began explaining exactly why some Iraqis are irate about Christians way back in 2003.]
Tim "I'm not a prudent member but I play one on the web" Cavanaugh, in November:
If it eventually turns out the invasion of Iraq leads to an outbreak of peace and freedom...the liberal hawks will undoubtedly swoop back in to show they were on the right side of history.
Michael "if intervening requires this quantity of illusion for an administration to be willing to risk it, we should be doing less intervening in the future" Ignatieff, in December:
But while you may not like the providential aspect of democratic providentialism, it remains true that the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependably good idea. America may be more unpopular than ever before, but its hegemony really has coincided with a democratic revolution around the world. For the first time in history, a majority of the world's peoples live in democracies. In a dangerous time, this is about the best news around, since democracies, by and large, do not fight one another, and they do not break up into civil war.
From the New York Times:
Google...plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web.
It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.
Google - newly wealthy from its stock offering last summer - has agreed to underwrite the projects being announced today while also adding its own technical abilities to the task of scanning and digitizing tens of thousands of pages a day at each library.
Read the whole thing.
Bernie Kerik: The Gift That Keeps On Giving. Via Drudge comes this Daily News story strongly indicating the DHS washout had post-9/11 affairs with both a Corrections officer and publishing powerhouse Judith Regan. While I hesitate to spread dirt about a public servant's private life, this story offers a wrinkle so strange it must be made public: When I did a Google image search on "Judith Regan," two of the first three images were of P.J. Soles (another no-shit-taking beauty from days of olde) being murdered in Halloween.
There is a lot of virtual mud flying this way and that following this post by Juan Cole, who based his opinions on this post at Martini Republic, prompting this observation from Jeff Jarvis, who calls Cole "pond scum."
The topic? Whether the Iraq the Model blog is the real thing or part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Cole doesn't actually come out and say that he thinks the blog is a sham; he merely hides behind what Martini Republic says. But he does add, revealingly, in a clear endorsement of the accusation:
The phenomenon of blog trolling, and frankly of blog agents provocateurs secretly working for a particular group or goal and deliberately attempting to spread disinformation, is likely to grow in importance. It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives, for instance, and I have my suspicions about one or two sites out there already.
Cole has been repeatedly accused, to my mind quite justly, of assuming conspiracies based on scant evidence. In a recent post, for example, he reported access problems to his site, then wrote: "For mysterious reasons, some readers in the past week have been experiencing difficulty in accessing Informed Comment. For others, the problem has cleared up. I checked with my server provider and with Blogger, but haven't had any report of a denial of service attack or any other obvious explanation."
I have no desire to open a new front in the war against Juan Cole (Martin Kramer and Tony Badran are miles ahead in that regard). He is someone I've published quite often, and hope to again. However, there is a cautionary tale here: Cole did well to turn his Informed Comment blog into a "must read" platform during the Iraq war, but somehow one gets a sense that somewhere in there it all went to his head, and that he feels, like many of us hacks, that a sharp and shallow opinion can substitute for a deep and considered one. That's not always the case, but Cole's blog appears to have manufactured a public edition of Cole, that of the harassed but defiant activist, that Cole the academic often feels he has to live up to.
It would be shame to see Cole shrivel up entirely into self-parody. But worse, here was someone who made the Iraqi situation more understandable to many Americans at one time. He preferred to become shrill, though, losing an opportunity to bridge the knowledge gap. Such is the power, and curse, of being transposed from the classroom to the studio.
Lebanon may rank very low in the preoccupations of most Reason readers (perhaps as Ukraine once did), but things are going on there, or here, that are well worth a stare. Yesterday, a broad multi-religious opposition front was formally established in Beirut, its main purposes being to demand a return of Lebanese sovereignty in the face of Syrian hegemony over the country; but also to challenge the leadership of the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, whose mandate was extended under Syrian pressure three months ago. Lahoud is heavily reliant on intelligence goons for his authority.
A leading light of the opposition front is the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who was once a close Syrian ally, but who has since become highly critical of Syria's ways in Lebanon (partly, no doubt, because a close friend and politician was almost killed in a car-bomb attack in which Syrian officials are widely believed to have played a role--an attack that was really a warning to Jumblatt). In recent days, before the front was established, Jumblatt was contacted by Syria's powerful intelligence chief in Lebanon to persuade him to pull out of the effort. He persisted, however, and yesterday said: "I won't have a dialogue with Syria through a security officer."
Last weekend, the authorities, as a warning, removed Jumblatt's state-provided security detail from his Beirut home (he's entitled to one as a former minister), and yesterday someone threw a stick of dynamite at one of the offices of his political party. Amusingly, a Jumblatt rival tried to pretend the dynamite was aimed at him. Subtle.
I thought we owned two TiVos, but I was wrong. Apparently we own two TiVo® Brand Digital Video Recorders. And I thought I TiVoed a Reason-sponsored panel discussion that was on C-SPAN the other day, but I guess I recorded it with my TiVo® Brand Digital Video Recorder.
The New York Times reports that TiVo is trying to "keep its name from going the way of Xerox and Kleenex" by sending out corrective letters about the trademark's proper use. (Among other things, it's not a verb, and it should never be pluralized.) When I worked on The Cornell Daily Sun, we used to get such warnings regarding Frisbee® Brand Flying Discs from WHAM-O, which likewise was worried about becoming a victim of its own success, so dominating the market that its trademark became synonymous with the product. If we dared to run a caption that said "Joe Sophomore '88 plays Frisbee with his dog, Scooter," we'd get a letter.
Which makes me wonder: If WHAM-O was monitoring Frisbee references in college papers, what do companies do about the rampant abuse of their trademarks on the Web? Is print considered more important from a trademark perspective, or is it a matter of audience size?
...with Arnold Kling.
I'm reading Learning Economics, an excellent collection of writings by Arnold Kling (Ph.D.!), the well-known Tech Central Station contributor, master of EconLog, and founder of the old Homefair.com site.
It's both an excellent primer on how markets work (and how sometimes they don't) and an in-depth analysis of things ranging from "nonlinear analysis" to "the great displacement" to "bleeding-heart libertarianism."
Learning Economics is available here.
The Cairo-based Mideast Times reports that Egypt is being inundated with a flood of trivial fatwas, or religious edicts. Once characterized by their scholarship, the paper reports, many fatwas are now absurd, and "are issued just about daily to forbid anything from the internet and satellite dishes to mobile phones and yoga."
In common with many other religions, Islam has no hierarchical authority. Any pious and presumably learned adult male may lead prayer and pronounce on appropriate religious practice. However, that means that it can be very difficult for religious authorities, such as those associated with Egypt's famous Al Azhar University, to assert any control over these proliferating edicts. Ironically, as more people become concerned with issues of religious propriety on matters not mentioned in the Koran, ever-larger numbers of self-proclaimed muftis arise issuing bizarre and even contradictory fatwas, diluting the community's consensus about practice.
Such fatwas are apparently issued all time in mosques, newspapers, and on radio and TV. Notes the story, "One recent fatwa forbade the practice of yoga on the grounds that it is an ascetic Hindu practice. Another declared that Muslims should not use the internet because it makes them waste their time. Most recently, a fatwa announced that ironing women's pants was forbidden as women are not allowed to wear pants in Islam."
The paper quotes one Islamic researcher and writer who complains that many new fatwas are "against any kind of modernity," and are issued by ignorant persons "who want to keep people away from other important issues like democracy and technology."
Gary Webb, the Pulitzer-winning reporter whose 1996 series for the San Jose Mercury News "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion" put him into a career-ruining controversy, is dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound (or wounds). I never got hot and bothered over either the original series of stories (which suffered from overstatement, the chronic ailment of hot-scoop journalism) or their subsequent debunking by the mainstream media. But "Dark Alliance" was a country mile more interesting than what you usually find in the Merc (which ungraciously didn't even bother to write its own obit), and the series' long-lost web page was an early masterpiece of melodramatic web design and promotion. Continuing in De Mortuis mode, here is a defense of Webb's journalism overall, and a defense of his "Dark Alliance" findings. Since, at a time like this, conspiracy-mongering feels less like an idle pursuit than a civic duty, you can also try here, here, here, and here.
Scott Peterson gets the death penalty for the brutal murder of his pregnant wife Laci two years ago on Christmas Eve. If anyone deserves to be executed, surely it is Scott Peterson, who acted in a completely premeditated fashion, showed no remorse, and on and on.
And I guess that's the question: If anyone deserves to be executed...
What say ye, Hit & Run regulars, are you in favor of the death penalty or not, in a case that offers almost absolute clarity on all the important issues (that is, no serious question of guilt and/or extenuating circumstances)?
I'm an anti-death-penalty pansy myself, believing that the state should use as little force as needed to protect its citizens (and punish its malefactors). But cases such as this one certainly give occasion for reconsideration of that POV.
Hello, Buenos Aires! Ron Bailey will be here all week, covering (and, we hope, heckling) the COP 10 conference.
Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, after examining his performance on a recent TV show in Miami, decided that former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet is competent to stand trial, indicted him today for nine kidnappings and one murder that occurred during his reign, and placed him under house arrest. Pinochet is expected to appeal to Chile's Supreme Court, which had, in a different murder prosecution of the general in 2001, declared Pinochet mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.
Last week, I reviewed RU Sirius' Counterculture Through the Ages for the Wash Post (online here).
Tomorrow in San Francisco, Sirius, along with Wired cofounder (and Reason devotee) Louis Rossetto, Burning Man creater Larry Harvey, and former punk star and expropriator of surplus value Jello Biafra, mix it up at the Commonwealth Club. Here's the 411 right from Sirius:
December 14, 2004
Rebels and Visionaries, the Impact of Counterculture - Panel Discussion
Moderator: Laura Fraser
Panelists: RU Sirius, Larry Harvey (Burning Man), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys, Alternative Tentacles), Louis Rossetto (Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief & CEO, Wired Magazine and Wired Digital)
595 Market St
San Francisco, CA
$12 for Members, $20 for non-Members, $7 for Students (w/ID, call 415/597-6705 to reserve student tickets)
From the Los Angeles Times, via KTLA-TV's unregistered Web site, the death of a California bureaucracy:
[T]he power authority was set up [in the summer of 2001] to build electricity generating plants to protect consumers from price-gouging. But it disbanded without constructing a single unit, buying any transmission lines or exercising its ability to borrow up to $5 billion.
The Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority leaves behind $8 million in debt to utility customers and a couple of clean-energy programs handed off to California's remaining electricity bureaucracy.
Will Wilkinson selects a better solution to Cobb County's evolution brouhaha.
Joseph Heller is alive and well in Iraq.
Last week the DEA officially rejected a three-and-a-half-year-old application by University of Massachusetts plant scientist Lyle Craker for a license to manufacture marijuana. Craker's application was part of an attempt by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to establish a private, alternative source of marijuana for medical research. Currently the only legal source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is stingy with its stash, does not supply the potency preferred for medical studies, and probably could not provide the raw material for commercial development of a cannabis-based medicine.
"In the Supreme Court two weeks ago," notes the Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia, "Justice Breyer told two California patients that they should go to the FDA to get marijuana approved as a medicine, but now the DEA has slammed the door on that process. The DEA has proven that the system is rigged to make sure that marijuana will never be approved by the FDA, because the DEA can always block the research that the FDA needs."
The holiday is fast approaching, and if you're like me, you've
put off shopping and are still trying to decide what to get friends
and family for tenno no
tanjobi. Fortunately, Brainwash's Kelly Jane Torrance has put
together a handy-dandy gift guide
suggesting some promising new books that libertarians and
conservatives (or those who tolerate them) might
God--and his self-anointed messiah on Earth--love the Washington Times, the cheapest ($10/year!) and bestest read in DC-area daily newspapering.
Here's a piece about New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's, er, evolving stance against immigrants ("Hillary goes conservative on immigration"), in which she implicitly spanks the Bush administration and even draws kind words from the office of Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the leading congressional spokesman against people with last names that end in vowels (if you know what I mean). Sez Hillary:
"I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants."
"Clearly, we have to make some tough decisions as a country, and one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry-and-exit system so that if we're going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let's have a system that keeps track of them," she said...."People have to stop employing illegal immigrants," she said. "I mean, come up to Westchester, go to Suffolk and Nassau counties, stand on the street corners in Brooklyn or the Bronx. You're going to see loads of people waiting to get picked up to go do yard work and construction work and domestic work."
Yeah, that's really fucking heartbreaking to see people lined up to work in the morning. God, this used to be a beautiful country, before all these people--many of whom look different than Hillary--started getting up early in the morning and working really hard at shit jobs for a living.
Check out Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin's magisterial explanation of precisely why immigrant labor--whether legal, illegal, or undocumented--is so goddamn important to our economy and standard of living here.
More from the former First Lady and possible First Lady Prez:
Moving to the right of even some Republicans, the former first lady told WABC she favors "at least a visa ID, some kind of entry-and-exit ID. And ... perhaps, although I'm not a big fan of it, we might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens."
She's not a big fan of it, but like the sensitive camp commandant who tears up a bit in the evenings while sipping his brandy and listening to Beethoven, difficult times call for difficult solutions...
While I'm calling up old Garvin pieces, check out his senses-shattering brief against national I.D. cards (which are both useless and dangerous for a thousand reasons) here.
And check out this story about the great job the old Immigration and Naturalization Service did in screwing over the people who pluck our chickens in Hillary's old adopted home state of Arkansas--ironically dubbed "Land of Opportunity" on its license plates.
When we last checked in on the women-in-combat issue (complete with partial audio re: the sitcom Maude, naturally), things were shuffling toward a Nixon-in-China moment in which a self-described conservative administration turned out to be the one from which Janey Gets Her Gun.
Today's Washington Times has more on the matter:
[A] Nov. 29 briefing to senior Army officers at the Pentagon, presented as part of the service's sweeping transformation of its 10 war-fighting divisions, advocates scrapping the military's ban on collocation -- the deployment of mixed-sex noncombat units alongside all-male combat brigades.
The briefing contained the phrase: "The way ahead: rewrite/eliminate the Army collocation policy."
Needless to say, as in many cases, necessity, not a change of heart (or mind) is the mutha of this invention: "All-male [Forward Support Companies], the paper states, "creates potential long-term challenge to Army; pool of male recruits too small to sustain force."
Whole thing here.
It's about time that women who make the cut get to, as the old bumper sticker put it, "Join the army: Travel to exotic distant lands; meet exciting, unusual people and kill them."
And we can all look forward to gender-bending productions of Lysistrata.
In the course of covering his now-standard set of "Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski; the bums lost" talking points, the great Bill Donohue fingers the shadowy group that is really responsible for the Kulturkampf:
BUCHANAN: ... Bill Donohue, what do you think about "The Passion of the Christ"? And as a practical matter, even if Hollywood hated the film, it seems to me as an artistic work of art, a smashing triumph, a film of great controversy and interest, it ought to at least be nominated for best picture. It pulled in more money than any other picture all year.
WILLIAM DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: I spoke to Mel a couple of weeks ago about this. And I don't think it really matters a whole lot to him. It certainly doesn't matter to me. We've already won.
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah.
Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.
You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins.
Whole transcript of the five-way discussion, which is as entertaining as something Ionesco would have written if Ionesco had been retarded. (But unfortunately, there's no followup discussion on the anal sex claim.)
...may well have been because he knew that squaw was actually a slang term for cunt, or as The New York Times euphemizes, "a part of [Indian women's] anatomy in particular."
"Squaw" originated in a branch of the Algonquin language, where it meant simply "woman," but it turned into a slur on the tongues of white settlers, who used it to refer derisively to Indian women in general or a part of their anatomy in particular. The settlers liked the word so much that there are now more than 170 springs, gulches, bluffs, valleys, and gaps in [Oregon] called "squaw." All must be renamed under a 2001 law that was enacted after two members of the confederated tribes persuaded the Legislature that the word was offensive to many American Indians and should be erased from maps. But only 13 places have been renamed so far. It is a problem familiar to Indians and government officials in several states where attempts to outlaw "squaw" have been caught in a thicket of bureaucratic, historical and linguistic snares.
Whole tale--and cheap nudge-nudge headline ("Renaming 'Squaw' Sites Proves Touchy in Oregon") here.
Speaking of euphemisms in newspapers, here's a New York Observer piece that asks whatever happened "%#$*!!"? and looks at recent bowdlerizing of Berke Breathed comic strips, in which "50 blows" was replaced as a punchline with "50 spews." Whole "%#$*!!"? thing here (scroll down).
Update: In the comments below, Reason Contributing Editor Charles Oliver (who blogs at the most excellent Shouting Across the Pacific) points out that there's no proof that squaw means what The New York Times says it means. Here's a 2000 Straight Dope col on the topic, which notes, "I'm not saying it's not an insult. It's just not an obscene insult."
The New York Observer, one of the most consistently good reads in weekly journalism, has a great piece detailing how federal funds for homeland security have been spent in the Empire State. Some readers will remember that it was New York City that was attacked on 9/11. Those with some historical consciousness will even remember that the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was destroyed.
So why are the pols in Albany spending more than twice as much per capita on the capital of New York rather than the city that remains the prime target of terrorists?
New York City didn't even top the state's own per capita homeland-security funding distribution in 2004. That distinction went to Albany County, each of whose residents benefited from $23.90 in federal homeland-security protection in 2004. New York City received less than half that amount on a per capita basis, $11.34. (That calculation is based on state data on the distribution of the three largest categories of homeland-security grants: the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program.)
Among the jobs done in Albany: Hardening the Pepsi Arena, home to a minor-league hockey team. Nor is all--or even much--of the spending related to terrorism and "homeland security" anyway. Which helps explain why "Officials in Yates and Madison counties said they had strengthened defenses against illicit drug labs."
And don't think New York is atypical. Veronique de Rugy of the American Enterprise Institute has catalogued the b.s. in the homeland security spending 'round the country:
Ms. de Rugy authored a report that considered the wisdom of passing federal first-responder funding to the states to spend as they see fit. It found "questionable uses of terrorism preparedness grants" across the country. Lake County in Tennessee bought a defibrillator to keep on hand at college basketball games. North Pole, Alaska (pop. 1,570), spent $557,400 on "homeland security" rescue and communications equipment. Grand Forks, N.D. (pop. 70,000), bought more biochemical suits than it has police officers.
The Observer story is here.
The AEI study is here
One way to land on California's registry of sex offenders: be a gay man old enough to have gotten in trouble in the days when homosexual behavior was illegal.
Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Ron Wyden raised eyebrows Wednesday when they denounced during an open session of Congress what Rockefeller described as a "major funding acquisition program that I believe is totally unjustified and very wasteful and dangerous to national security." More J-Rock, from the Congressional Record:
Because of the highly classified nature of the programs contained in the national intelligence budget, I cannot talk about them on the floor. But the Senate has voted for the past 2 years to terminate the program of which I speak, only to be overruled in the appropriations conference. The intelligence authorization conference report that I expect to be before the Senate later today fully authorizes funding for this unjustified and stunningly expensive acquisition.
My decision is shared by a number of my colleagues. Speaking for myself, if we are asked to fund this particular program next year, I will seriously consider and probably will ask the Senate to go into closed session so the Senators can understand, fully debate, become informed upon, and then vote on termination of this very wasteful acquisition program. [...]
WYDEN: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has raised concerns about the need and costs of this program for the past 4 years and sought to cancel this program in each of the past 2 years. This has not been a political issue, a Democratic or Republican issue, nor should it be. The members of the Senate committee have supported these efforts in a nonpartisan way with unanimous votes each time.
Numerous independent reviews have concluded that the program does not fulfill a major intelligence gap or shortfall, and the original justification for developing this technology has eroded in importance due to the changed practices and capabilities of our adversaries. There are a number of other programs in existence and in development whose capabilities can match those envisioned for this program at far less cost and technological risk. Like almost all other acquisition programs of its size, initial budget estimates have drastically underestimated the true costs of this acquisition and independent cost estimates have shown that this program will exceed its proposed budgets by enormous amounts of money. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also in the past expressed its concern about how this program was to be awarded to the prime contractor.
I wish more of my colleagues knew of the details of this program and understood why we are so convinced that it should be canceled.
So what is this alleged boondoggle? The Chicago Sun-Times paraphrases "intelligence experts" as saying the program "was almost certainly a spy satellite system." Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, identifies the real villain as "a cabal of left-wing senators taking it upon themselves to draw attention to some secret program."
About a year back, I wrote about the Millennial generation, worrying that the growing parental micromanagement of childrens' lives might produce a cohort with an attenuated appreciation of autonomy. An editor at Psychology Today weighs in in a similar vein. Interestingly, she taps the cell phone as one culprit. In part, of course, the cell phone expands tween and teen autonomy because parents are likely to be more willing to let their kids go out and do things when they know they're still reachable. But it also means the watchful parental eye is always there.
At The Wall Street Journal, Ronald Bailey reviews Michael Crichton's State of Fear.
In the course of raising some valid enough questions about the funding of a Social Security transition to private accounts via debt, Paul Krugman engages in some breathtakingly tortured logical contortions:
[I]n essence, such schemes involve having the government borrow heavily and put the money in the stock market. That's because the government would, in effect, confiscate workers' gains in their personal accounts by cutting those workers' benefits.
Once you realize that privatization really means government borrowing to speculate on stocks, it doesn't sound too responsible, does it?
So, let's follow this. If the government switches from a system of taxing you in order to pay back benefits to a system in which they require you to invest the money yourself, that counts as government "speculating" in the stock market, since they "confiscate" "your" benefits in the process. So, I'm curious: if a government that had previously nationalized food, serving "free" tax-funded meals on the Smurf model, chose to cut taxes and let citizens buy their own groceries, would that count as "government speculating in agricultural markets"?
Tomorrow morning at the ungodly and yet strangely holy hour of 8 a.m. ET, C-SPAN 2's BookTV will be running the November 12 "Evening with Reason Magazine" that took place at the Greenwich Village Barnes & Noble.
Featuring your humble narrator (editor of Choice: The Best of Reason), Senior Editor Brian Doherty (author of This Is Burning Man), and trailer-trash culture maven Joe Bob Briggs (author of Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History!), and moderated by The Onion's Joe Garden (author of Citizen You: Helping Your Government Help Itself), it's a rollicking good time of readings, current events discussion, and good ol' fashioned audience abuse that makes an NBA game look like an absolute love fest.
More info here.
At The Blogging of the President, liberal activists discuss how "to get rid of all the dorks in Young Democrats."
In the Washington Post, Nick Gillespie groks R.U. Sirius' new book Counterculture Through the Ages.
Jacob Sullum bids a fond farewell to Gregory Mankiw, the President's chief economic advisor.
This past Monday, Reason Senior Editor Charles Paul Freund gave a great lecture at the American Enterprise Institute titled "Popular Culture in the Middle East: A Conduit for Liberal Values?" (The short answer is yes, hopefully.)
The text and a video of the talk--which features fascinating excerpts from Middle Eastern pop videos and Chuck's great running commentary--is now online here.
The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting piece on "Podcasting," folks who create hyperspecialized radio programs for IPod users. The last word on this bleeding-edge phenom goes to one Jesse Walker:
On terrestrial or satellite radio, one can tune into a dozen formats or maybe even five dozen formats. But with podcasting, everybody is a format of one, says Jesse Walker, a managing editor at Reason magazine and author of "Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America."
"Podcasting is just making it easier for this new set of niche listeners and this new set of producers to find each other," he says.
Whole story here.
David Brudnoy, "the most recognized voice of Boston talk radio for more than a quarter of a century" and one of the great hosts in the history of the medium, is dead at 64 from cancer. Reason extends condolences to his loved ones and listeners.
A frequent contributor to our pages in the '70s and '80s, David's work and life was marked by fiery tolerance, independent thought, and a refusal to apologize for an alternative lifestyle and contrarian views that ultimately earned him respect from both right-wing conservatives appalled by his homosexuality and left-wing identity politics mavens dismayed by his embrace of minimal government.
As this confusing story conveys, the use of cell phones on airplanes is not the safety no-no we've all been led to believe it is. We're talking aircraft that fly through lightning storms, so a few more waves of energy need not send the craft corkscrewing into the ground.
The ban on airplane cell use has always been more about keeping the cell system working properly than safety. The genius of the cell system is that each cell "hands off" calls to other cells as the caller moves around. When you make a cell call from the ground you basically hit one cell tower, then another, then another in serial fashion. But get up in the air and make a call and you might light up all the cells in, say, Denver. Hundreds or thousands of people doing that in flight could choke the system down, no one really knows.
But with the airlines struggling for any revenue source there is great promise in charging passengers a fee for some sort of access code to the plane's "cell router." These are the guys that charged $5 to rent crappy headphones so anything is possible.
An editorial in Tuesday's USA Today warns that the Drug Enforcement Administration's "heavy-handed approach of targeting doctors who prescribe 'too many' narcotic painkillers...spells more misery for physicians and patients." In response, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy insists that "doctors acting in good faith and in accordance with established medical norms should remain confident in their ability to prescribe appropriate pain medications." Notice that "good faith" is not enough to keep the DEA at bay (as pain doctor William Hurwitz's prosecution for drug trafficking shows). You also have to prescribe "in accordance with established medical norms" (as determined by the DEA) and prescribe only those medications and dosages that are "appropriate" (according to the DEA). Aren't doctors silly to worry?
Drudge has the email in which Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Edward Lee Pitts brags about having helped set up the scrap-metal question Specialist Wilson put to Secretary Rumsfeld on Tuesday, after reporters were barred from asking Rumsfeld their own questions. I suspect acolytes of the Dear Leader and his Wise Men will seize on this story as another Ratheresque display of media bias; I've even got a hunch that somebody will characterize this incident as "The Pitts!"
Pitts has been working energetically on the scrap metal story, and I think his convening with Wilson showed resourcefulness. Wilson decided without any coercion to ask the Secretary of Defense the stumper question. And the many soldiers who applauded the question make it harder for the increasingly shameless Bush apologists to dismiss this as another put-up job by the liberal media (though of course, they will dismiss it as just that).
LP presidential candidate Michael Badnarik has teamed with the Green Party's David Cobb--and now the Kerry campaign--to demand a recount in Ohio's election. It appears as if that recount will indeed happen--to the consternation of some local election officials:
"I'm just really thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing," [Ross County Board of Elections Director Nancy] Bell said...."I resent our honesty and integrity being questioned."
Bell said if there were a great difference between the "unofficial vote totals and official vote totals," that is the total votes on election night, and the later count which includes provisional ballots, the board would want a recount. However, she said, there is not a great difference between these totals.
She's not the only one disturbed by the recount request. This move from Badnarik's team has sparked a fair amount of controversy among some LP supporters as well. Some think it merely benefits the Greens and the Democrats and others who wish to cast a shadow of illegitimacy over Bush's second term, wastes taxpayer resources (although the challengers had to pay Ohio's counties $10 per precinct for the recount, the effort will cost far more than that--Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell claims as much as $1.5 million), and provides no benefit for the LP and the possible P.R. harm of making the party seem a tool of disgruntled leftists. (No recount requests have been made in states where Kerry was the official victor, and in Ohio apparently the Greens needed Badnarik as a frontman for suit since, as he was a candidate on the ballot and Cobb was not, he had standing for the challenge.)
The money for the campaign is being raised by the Green side, with, according to reports from workers with the Badnarik campaign, only $10,000 or so raised through Badnarik supporters, and the Badnarik web site no longer has a contribution option for this cause. Badnarik wonders about the wide gap between early exit polls and the final results, saying
"Our goal is to uncover voting irregularities and bring them to light...Voters all across America have a legitimate expectation that their votes are going to be counted, and that they're going to be counted legitimately."
The national LP has disavowed Badnarik's effort, in a statement from National Chair Mike Dixon, supplied to me today by LP press secretary George Getz:
"The national Libertarian Party was unaware of this lawsuit until after it was filed, and no party funds have been spent in the effort. Mr. Badnarik is making a well-intentioned effort to protect the integrity of the voting process. However, because no one anticipates that a recount will change the outcome in Ohio, the Libertarian Party prefers not to see taxpayer resources expended in this effort."
The executive director of the Ohio state LP, Robert Butler, has also been complaining in some e-mails I've seen circulating about angry donors and the fear of negative press because of the recount campaign, a campaign in which he sees no real upside for the LP. People supporting the recount argue that it presents the LP positively as disinterested defenders of the integrity of the electoral system, and helps cement possibly beneficial future ties with Greens down the road.
Admittedly, evidence has been thin in recent years that the Russians secretly won the Cold War—limited mainly to the Pope's failure to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Fatima and the large number of American ignoramuses who think vodka is the coolest booze you can possibly drink.
But here's a surprise: evidence that old-fashioned Soviet-style "wave" tactical doctrine—complete with heavy equipment, ground-hungry exploitation, slow-but-total advance, and political cooperation from locals—is coming back into fashion. From a Wall Street Journal article by Greg Jaffe:
Now, the escalating insurgency in Iraq is showing that lightning assaults can quickly topple a regime -- but also unleash problems for which small, fast, high-tech U.S. forces are ill-equipped.
"We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," says one senior defense official in Mr. Rumsfeld's office. Victory also requires winning the support of locals and tracking down insurgents, who can easily elude advanced surveillance technology and precision strikes. In some cases, a slower, more methodical attack, one that allows U.S. troops to stabilize one area and hold it up as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country, could produce better results, according to emerging Army thinking.
Whole article, which will be posted for a few more days at Formerly Deja News, here. Don't be put off by my own strained Soviet analogy; though this whole article may just be some sort of proxy assault by opponents of Secretary Rumsfeld's lean and mean doctrine, it's got some pretty interesting details. I wonder how universally applicable the Iraq experience really is: Lean and mean seemed to work pretty well in Afghanistan (and heavy and slow, as the Russkies learned, didn't).
One of the more bizarre (perhaps intentionally so) "I can't believe this is happening" pieces from a Kerry partisan (and self-proclaimed Electoral College bore) Timothy Noah over at Slate. (You might have hoped such pieces were a forgotten relic of November 2004, but alas, no.)
Even though there has never been more than one faithless elector (who votes against his state's popular vote) in any election, Noah notes that Kerry would only need, um, 18 of them to still pull it out!
But 18 is a very petty number for a man of Noah's infinite sense of opportunites barely missed:
If John Kerry had gotten 118,776 more votes in Ohio, he would have claimed Ohio's 20 electors, giving him 272 electors to Bush's 266. For want of 118,776 votes, John Kerry lost the presidency. I'm not going to pretend I don't still brood about this.
Not entirely sure if I'm laughing with you or at you, Mr. Noah, but I'm laughing.
Like Corporal Klinger, Michael Young has an old Lebanese folk remedy for Iraq's election woes.
Bob Levin tells the tragic tale of Dan O'Neill and Air Pirates Funnies.
Today's check-in to the aftermath of our latest successful war: At a hearing in Canada to decide whether or not to accept a U.S. Army deserter, Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman, for asylum, another soldier explained what it was like over there:
A former U.S. Marine staff sergeant testified at a hearing Tuesday that his unit killed at least 30 unarmed civilians in Iraq during the war in 2003 and that Marines routinely shot wounded Iraqis and killed them.
Jimmy Massey, a 12-year veteran, said he left Iraq in May 2003 after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he and his men shot and killed four Iraqis staging a demonstration and a man with his hands up trying to surrender, as well as women and children at roadblocks. Massey said he had complained to his superiors about the "killing of innocent civilians," but that nothing was done.
A Marine Corps spokesman says it ain't so.
Also, reports the U.K. Guardian:
US military officials witnessed the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at a second Baghdad prison at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal and were threatened and harassed when they attempted to report the abuse, official memos released by the Pentagon have shown.
The documents, which were obtained by human rights organisations, contradict the Pentagon's claims that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was isolated to the jail and involved a handful of lowly reservists.
[Both links courtesy Rational Review.]
[UPDATE: Reason Contributing Editor Charles Oliver calls my attention to this thread in which, apparently, (in cyberspace no one knows you are a grunt) some of his former Marine colleagues call Massey a lying sack of whatever.]
[ANOTHER UPDATE: Reason Web Editor Fightin' Tim Cavanaugh informs me that Marines are properly merely known as Marines, not as soldiers, thus making my reference to Massey as "another soldier" inaccurate. This civilian regrets the error.]
Judicial Watch has obtained and posted the 2003 financial disclosure statements of every sitting federal judge. Supe Scalia, for example, pulled down a cool $23,000 for four lectures last year; Clarence Thomas got a $500,000 book advance, and Richard Posner is indeed a busy man. Search away, and report the good stuff in the comments!
What does the newly passed intelligence reform bill portend for the expansion of secrecy in the name of National Security? Secrecy News says it's a mixed bag:
The Act's rejection of intelligence budget disclosure -- despite the unanimous recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and the endorsement of the full Senate -- is a setback that tends to reinforce the arbitrary and excessive secrecy that the 9/11 Commission found in the intelligence bureaucracy.
On the more positive side, the Act revivifies the dormant Public Interest Declassification Board, formally established four years ago but never convened, and assigns it the additional task of "reviewing" congressional requests for declassification of particular records. Though the Board will have no independent authority to speak of, it may turn out to serve as a useful forum for adjudicating classification disputes.
Perhaps the most important secrecy-related feature of the Intelligence Reform Act is what is not in it: the authority to create an entirely autonomous new classification system for intelligence.
Many big companies doing business in Massachusetts, including Raytheon, the New York Times Corp. and IBM, have decided to phase-out health care benefits for the unmarried same-sex partner of their employees, the Boston Globe reports:
Massachusetts companies, some of which pioneered so-called domestic-partner benefits for unmarried, same-sex partners, said they are now withdrawing them for reasons of fairness: If gays and lesbians can now marry, they should no longer receive special treatment in the form of health benefits that were not made available to unmarried, opposite-sex couples.
Hooded gunman kills former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Abbott and three others onstage, before being picked off by alert police officer.
[T]he President believes it's important for Major League Baseball -- management and the players' union -- to act by taking strong steps to address the problem. Professional baseball players are people our children look up to. Players use drugs -- players who use drugs undermine the efforts of parents and coaches to send the right message to our children. Drug use also poses some real risks, health risks to athletes, and it also diminishes the integrity of sports. And the President has made it very clear that he believes Major League Baseball needs to act to address the problem.
And the bow-tie:
Athletes chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement because they have paid a price in disciplined exertion -- a manifestation of good character. They should try to perform unusually well. But not unnaturally well. Drugs that make sport exotic drain it of its exemplary power by making it a display of chemistry rather than character -- actually, a display of chemistry and bad character.
Will, to his credit, decries "the idea that everything is the federal government's business." He's on far shakier ground when he asserts that "only one radical demarcation has disrupted the game's continuity -- the divide, around 1920, between the dead ball and lively ball eras," but that's a whole 'nother debate.
Evidence, in case you needed any, that the Kofi-must-go campaign is not all about the odious Oil-for-food scandal:
"It's payback time for the U.N.," said a Bush administration official who did not want his name used because he was not authorized to speak on the record. "The bills are coming due for the U.N.'s noncooperation on Iraq."
Yesterday I attended the closing arguments in the federal drug trafficking trial of McLean, Virginia, pain doctor William Hurwitz. Leaving aside my views on drug policy-- in particular, regarding the conflict between drug control and pain control--it seems clear to me that the government has not met its burden of proving that Hurwitz deliberately facilitated the illegal distribution of narcotics.
The prosecution argues that Hurwitz, who faces a possible life sentence, had a tacit agreement with patients who were misusing and/or selling the drugs he prescribed not to ask too many questions and to look the other way when there were signs of abuse or diversion. "The defendant repeatedly and intentionally covered his eyes and ears," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi. He ignored the "red flags and loud gongs" that should have led him to stop treating certain patients. It was "conspiracy of silence," carried out by "a wink and a nod."
The problem with this theory is that the evidence supporting it is necessarily ambiguous, leaving plenty of room for reasonable doubt. None of the surreptitiously recorded conversations with patients-turned-informants that the prosecution has presented include a clear acknowledgment or reference to the conspiracy that Hurwitz supposedly led. In fact, these conversations, Hurwitz's records, and his former patients' testimony tend to confirm his defense: that he was tricked by "predators" who always knew the right thing to say to get more drugs and who bragged about how they had won his trust. Conceding that Hurwitz may have displayed "a degree of naivete" and "even foolishness" in accepting their stories, defense attorney Patrick Hallinan called him "the perfect mark for these people," because he was dedicated to helping people in pain and reluctant to cut them off even if, say, they tested positive for illegal drugs or failed to follow his dosage instructions.
If there was indeed a conspiracy, Hallinan asked, "Why would you have to lie?" If Hurwitz and his patient-dealers were in cahoots, why would he carefully record all the potential signs of trouble the prosecution would later cite as evidence of his "head-in-the-sand attitude"? And if he was engaged in drug trafficking, asked Hallinan, "Where's the split?" Although some patients made a lot of money by selling the opioids he prescribed, Hurwitz never saw a dime of it. Unlike the typical "pill mill" doctor, he did not even charge by the prescription, or charge more for larger amounts. According to the prosecution, his profits consisted entirely of fees from his patients--in other words, his income as a doctor.
Again and again, Rossi tried to sway the jury by suggesting that Hurwitz was a bad doctor: arrogant, negligent, indifferent to his patients. This portrait is belied by the testimony of patients who are eternally grateful to Hurwitz for risking legal trouble by treating their chronic pain when no one else would and for treating them with compassion instead of suspicion. The government concedes that many of Hurwitz's patients were legitimate, and Hallinan estimates that only 5 to 10 percent were abusing or selling drugs.
More to the point, as Hallinan emphasized, the jury is not supposed to determine whether Hurwitz is a good doctor; that's an issue for the state medical board (and the civil courts, in the case of a malpractice suit). The jury is supposed to determine whether he intentionally fed the black market in opioids. If he was prescribing in good faith--that is, with the intent of treating pain--he cannot be convicted of drug trafficking, regardless of how the jurors view his competence and care as a doctor.
The jurors are supposed to receive their charge today. If they remember what their job is, they will acquit him.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to a press release from Americans for Safe Access (ASA), has responded to an ASA challenge under the Federal Data Quality Act to remove marijuana from Schedule I, which is supposed to be only for dangerous drugs with no medical usefulness, with...a request for a 60-day extension. During which, apparently, HHS will consult with the Drug Enforcement Administration--who are supposed to be getting the scientific and medical facts from them--about whether or not pot has possible medicinal value.
Mother Jones has just published an interesting interview with Torture and Truth author Mark Danner. The whole thing's worth reading, but here's one especially notable passage:
One of the virtues, if you can call it that, of the Abu Ghraib scandal is that we've been offered a window into the realm of government decision-making having to do with interrogation and torture. And so we enter this -- one has to call it Orwellian, to use a much overused word -- realm of euphemism in which keeping somebody awake for 72 hours, or making them stand on a box and telling them they'll be electrocuted if they move, or handcuffing them high up on a cell door so that they lose all feeling in their arms, are somehow "sleep adjustment." You have this panoply of euphemism in which procedures that are painful, psychologically damaging, and physically debilitating are described in ways that suggest they are not harmful and they're simply "enhanced interrogation techniques." Some of the news media have adopted these euphemisms and refuse to call things what they are. It's a general harshening of the public perception and the public sensitivity to what should be an appreciation for human rights.
In a chilling chronology of the anti-steroid crusade, Matt Welch sets an example for startup companies, impolite athletes, and others who are eligible to have their reputations destroyed by grand jury leaks, vaporware criminal investigations, and malicious federal agencies.
First, in a contest of who'd be more fun to have a beer with, Spc. Thomas Wilson and his balls of steel trump Rummy's squinty CEO bluster by a parsec. But the secretary did have something of point that is being lost in the rush to declare up-armored Humvees the solution to all the world's problems.
Truth is most U.S. military vehicles have required some kind of armor upgrade to withstand the volleys of RPGs and large-munition roadside bombs the Iraq conflict has produced. The Stryker units have what looks like steel grating around them to throw up an anti-RPG "fence," photos of Bradleys show what looks like reactive armor kits in place, and even the mighty Abrams appear to have been modified with extra plating.
So it is just not a case of the bloodless Pentagon stiffing the Guard and Reserves with thin-skinned Humvees, as some of the comments today seem to suggest. Rummy was right, if typically tone-deaf, by telling Wilson he could get blown up in a tank too.
Further, more armor is not a magical solution, never has been. It is represents a trade-off between protection and mobility, just as in the age of knights when if the peasants managed to violently unhorse an up-armored foe, they could go off and have lunch and leave the knight flailing face down in the mud. If he didn't drown, you could always stab him in the eye-slits later.
The preference for less armor can be seen today with at least some Marines in Fallujah. They point out that up-armoring their Humvees reduces the ability to see threats coming. Oh, but they bitch that the regular Army gets all the good stuff anyway, so at least that's square.
Finally, was it a disgrace or outrage that American tankers in Normandy had to cut up German steel obstacles to make hedge-cutting teeth for their tanks? No, it was an inspired response to the insanity of war. Rummy being nuts has very little to do with this sad and eternal fact.
Ronald Bailey finds a lot of chaff in Greenpeace's great wheat triumph.
I've always admired the dour, big-sweeping, heavily book-literate international correspondetry from The Atlantic's Robert "don't forget my middle initial" Kaplan, author of such influential bummers as Balkan Ghosts. Lately, he's been turning his unhappy attentions to the media, writing at least one interesting column that pointed out the great class divide separating American journalists and soldiers.
But this Policy Review media-bash, linked favorably by Andrew Sullivan and others, is a festival of absolutist hyperbole, historical overstretch, and flat-wrong analysis. For example, he confuses the Culture Boom's explosion in niche and regional media with the power-hoarding centralization of mass media, and imagines, absurdly, that this new Phantom Menace has power equivalent to Washington D.C.'s:
As this is an age in which we are bombarded by messages that tell us what to buy and what to think, when one dissects the real elements of power -- who has it and, more important during a time of rapid change, who increasingly has it -- one is left to conclude bleakly: Ours is not an age of democracy, or an age of terrorism, but an age of mass media, without which the current strain of terrorism would be toothless in any case. [...]
[T]he ongoing centralization of major media outlets, the magnification of the media's influence through various electronic means and satellite printing, and the increasing intensity of the viewing experience in an age of big, flat television screens has created a new realm of authority akin to the emergence of a superpower with similarly profound geopolitical consequences. [...]
Go to any airport, where you are rarely out of sound range of a 24-hour news channel, and when you are, you are assaulted by the subtitles. You realize that oppression constitutes being forced to pay attention; or, for that matter, being forced to get attention. If civilization is built on a plea for privacy and some silence, then the media are an unabated noise. Between that noise and you is nothing but desolation mixed with claustrophobia as the world around you is reduced to one bleating disembodied voice, which assumes the dimensions of a prison.
Those last italics were mine, to show the strain of Chicken Littling-by-metaphor. I imagine that it would suck spending half your life in noisy airports (Not the flat-screen! Noooooo!!!!), but if that be "oppression," then God help us when we need a word to describe the real deal. To see how widely Kaplan's assessment of media-government-citizen power relations misses the mark, consider this:
When the staff of a show like 60 Minutes decides which stories to pursue and which to leave half-finished on the cutting room floor, the destiny of any number of people is quietly being determined.
What's funny is that he means "the destiny" of our poor beleagured politicians. Wasn't there some scrum involving 60 Minutes, a presidential candidate, and the oppressed citizenry this year? How'd that one turn out again?
Other absolutist Kaplan assertions worth mocking (italics mine):
* Because of media coverage in Fallujah, "American officials had
no choice but to undermine their own increasingly
favorable battlefield position by consenting to a cease-fire." (The
Bush administration actually has been known to act militarily in
ways the domestic media generally doesn't support.)
* "It may take longer for the realization to seep in that [Gerald] Ford has been our greatest contemporary ex-president." (Must be all that golfing.)
* "If what used to be known as the Communist International has any rough contemporary equivalent, it is the global media." (I don't know what he's talking about, either.)
* "It is the investigative journalist who has inherited the mantle of the old left." (Tell it to Bill Gertz.)
* Among cosmopolitan journalists, "Kofi Annan can never be wrong."
It's this last bit that somehow sticks most in my craw. To wit, Robert Kaplan is the living embodiment of the cosmopolitan journalist, plopping from one second-world hellhole to the next. And he certainly thinks Kofi Annan can be wrong. So does just about every globe-trotting war correspondent I have ever met in my life, many of whom have worked right alongside Robert D. Kaplan. It's a weird tic to blanketly desribe an entire category of humans with a condemnatory sweep contradicted by your very own personal experience. But as always, Kaplan is worth reading, and brings up valuable points while reminding you his library his bigger than yours.
It was biological warfare!
Doctors at Vienna's exclusive Rudolfinerhaus clinic are within days of identifying the substance that left Mr Yushchenko's face disfigured with cysts and lesions, Nikolai Korpan told The Times in a telephone interview.
Specialists in Britain, the United States and France had helped to establish that it was a biological agent, a chemical agent or, most likely, a rare poison that struck him down in the run-up to the presidential election, he said. Doctors needed to examine Mr Yushchenko again at the clinic in Vienna to confirm their diagnosis but were in no doubt that the substance was administered deliberately, he said.
"This is no longer a question for discussion," Dr Korpan said. "We are now sure that we can confirm which substance caused this illness. He received this substance from other people who had a specific aim."
No, it was sushi!
[Rudolfinerhaus director Dr. Michael] Zimpfer rejected as "entirely untrue" a story in Wednesday's edition of the London daily The Times, which quoted Dr. Nikolai Korpan—the Rudolfinerhaus physician who oversaw Yushchenko's treatment—as saying the Ukrainian candidate had been poisoned and the intention was to kill him.
Hours after the newspaper report was published, Korpan denied making the remarks.
"The suspicion of poisoning has until now neither been confirmed or excluded," Korpan was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency.
Were they the Beautiful People, or just Squares with long hair? Nick Gillespie lets his freak flags fly for Barry Miles' Hippie.
Yesterday the New York legislature finally got around to approving changes in the Rockefeller drug laws, which have set the standard for harsh mandatory sentences since 1973. The reforms are predictably modest. The penalty for first-time offenders convicted of selling two ounces or possessing four ounces of heroin or cocaine, for instance, will now be eight to 20 years rather than 15 years to life. And the law still requires prison time for lower-level, nonviolent first-time offenders. The New York Times reports:
A study by the Democrats in the State Senate found that New York imposed the harshest penalties in the nation for low-level drug offenders. It found that 32 states, including Texas and Florida, offer probation to nonviolent offenders who sell small amounts of drugs, and that New York was the only state that required more than three years in prison for such offenses.
Still, the changes, which may allow hundreds of prisoners to gain their freedom, are better than nothing--except to the extent that they relieve pressure for more-serious reforms.
Judging from yesterday's oral arguments, things are not looking good for bans on direct interstate wine shipments. Several justices were openly skeptical of the position that the 21st Amendment allows protectonism and the claim that the bans in Michigan and New York could be justified on other grounds. In what looks like a sign of desperation, Michigan's solicitor general urged the Supreme Court to overrule its 1984 decision rejecting a Hawaii excise tax that discriminated against alcoholic beverages from other states. "If you can't grant a tax exemption," said Justice John Paul Stevens, "it seems to me a fortiori that you can't prohibit importation."
Those who are still unpersuaded by the constitutional (as opposed to the libertarian) case against the shipment bans may want to have a look at George Mason law professor Todd Zywicki's paper on the intent of the 21st Amendment, which a reader cited the other day in a Hit & Run comment. "The 21st Amendment removed the federal government from meddling in local affairs, but did not cede a novel and unnecessary power to the States to meddle in the federal government's traditional control over interstate commerce," Zywicki writes. "In other words, the 21st Amendment enabled dry States to remain dry if they so chose, but it did not empower wet states to engage in economic warfare against the products of other wet States."