Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2005 April 1-31

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Stem Cell Censorship Broken

Various program directors at the National Institutes of Health got to tell Congress yesterday that they oppose President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, according to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Why are we just now finding out what they really think? Because they were finally unmuzzled by the demand from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) that "Your response should be submitted directly to the Subcommittee without editing, revision, or comment by the Department of Health & Human Services."

Interestingly, the Post notes:

Perhaps inadvertently, even NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni appeared to give away his personal feelings while testifying before the subcommittee.

"If they're going to be destroyed [anyway], where is the moral issue?" Specter asked Zerhouni, referring to the legislative proposal to allow funding of research on embryos destined to be discarded.

"I think you'll have to ask that from those who hold that view," Zerhouni replied.

Preemptive D.A.R.E.

Here's a way to teach high school kids about law enforcement: Surround them with spies who look like their friends. An Ohio school district planted a 23-year-old investigator at Milford High School, where she played Senior and hung out with the cool kids until she had dirt on 16 of them:

Only Superintendent John Frye, who came up with the idea, and school board president Carol Ball, who gave her approval, knew of the investigation in which the detective in her 20s posed as an 18-year-old student who went to classes, took exams, and went to after-school parties without anyone - including teachers - knowing her identity.

A later report says 17 kids have been arrested on drug charges.

Whole thing here.

Dog Gets Stem Cell Transplant

Ain't the 21st century great? A golden retriever named Comet has apparently been cured of lymphoma by means of bone marrow stem cells transplanted from a donor dog. The cost? $45,000, which compares favorably with the human version, which runs between $80,000 and $150,000.

Hey Kids! Comics!

Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this great Toronto Star Ideas section piece by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester about egghead reaction to comic strips and comic books over the past 100 years or so. The familiar yadda-yadda abour Fredric Wertham is present and accounted for (along with asinine denunciations that appeared in the serioso pages of '40s-era New Republic and elswhere).

But the real fun is with respectable folks who really dug comics. Here's acid-tongued Dorothy Parker copping to a comic jones:

"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips--all comic strips," Parker wrote. "This is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, 'I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past 25 years.'"

Other highbrow fans included Gilbert Seldes (who gave high-brow props to Krazy Kat in the influential 1924 tome The Seven Lively Arts), Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Leslie Fiedler.

Whole thing here.

Some Reason stuff on comics here, here, and here.

That Darn Media

At The Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn is in a tizzy over the way the "elite media" "ignores" the theory, recently revivified, that the KGB and the Bulgarian secret service were behind the attempted assassination of the pope. His chief target is The New York Times, which surprises me, since Claire Sterling advanced the KGB theory in a page-one story of nearly 6,000 words for the Times back in 1984.

Joscelyn doesn't mention that, though he does allow that after 1983 "the Times and the elite media [began] to honestly investigate" the shooting. Instead he praises Sterling for her earlier reporting in Reader's Digest, which in turn inspired an NBC documentary in 1982. (Apparently, NBC doesn't count as "elite media.")

Halfway through his article, you hit this sentence:

While the Times would give roughly equal weight to Sterling's research and the Soviet Union's formal disavowal, it would be much less neutral in its assessment of the NBC documentary that aired a month later.

It's tempting to dwell on the revelation that the Times gave "roughly equal weight" to both sides of a debate -- how biased! -- but let's skip ahead to the review the paper gave its rival. Its chief criticism, according to the Standard story, is that NBC offered "disappointingly scanty evidence" for its theory. Joscelyn has presumably seen the show, but he doesn't list any reasons to reject this critique. Now that we know the KGB connection was probably real, I guess we're supposed to accept on faith that every argument for it in the last two and a half decades was completely convincing.

Missing from all of this is any sense that the nature of the plot has been an open question for the last 24 years, or that reporters facing a matrix of disinformation could come to different conclusions. It's telling that Joscelyn says the Times began to "honestly investigate" the charges after 1983 -- that is, when it gave more space to his preferred theory. He never explains why its earlier investigations were not "honest," as opposed to not being fully accurate.

I'm not defending the Times so much as I'm attacking the sort of lazy, ideologically driven appraisals that frequently pass for media criticism these days. The KGB tale's stock has risen and fallen and risen again since 1981. Sometimes its standing changed in response to real events: When the shooter declared that he was Jesus Christ reborn, for example, his earlier confession that he was working for the Communists became somewhat less credible. Other times, political bias may have overwhelmed the facts. I'd love to read a serious history someday of how the Bulgarian theory fared in the American press. I don't think Joscelyn is the man to write it.

Everywhere There's Lots of Piggies

Citizens Against Government Waste has handed out its 2005 Pig Book, a rundown of the most heinous slabs of pork doled out from a porcine Washington, D.C. For at least the second year running, Republican Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska was the most piggish pol of all, sending home $646 million of bacon back to the 113 residents of the Last Frontier State.

Other goodies include $100,000 for the Tiger Woods Foundation, $6.7 million to the YMCA, and $1.4 million to various Halls of Fame, including the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame (which, in case you were wondering what federal service it provides, is "Home of the 24 Second Shot Clock"). Link via Sploid.

Could Hillary Clinton Be Right?

The FDA has failed to approve the emergency contraceptive Plan B for over-the-counter sales despite an overwhelming vote in favor of doing so by its scientific advisory panel. Frustrated by FDA inaction, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have placed a hold on voting to approve the appointment of Lester Crawford as FDA Commissioner. Clinton tells the Post: "the FDA has had the Plan B application for years and the American people simply need an answer, yes or no. Science should never take a back seat to politics and ideology."

Scientific Polls Finally Answers Freud's Plea: What Do Women Want?

According to a story in the Washington Times, it's time to dump those quiche futures. Citing a Harris Interactive poll, "manly men" are kicking ass like hardhats working over a bunch of hippie protesters on Wall Street (scroll down).

To wit:

A full 61 percent of women surveyed said they would rather see a man's hands rough and working hard than well-manicured, a slap in the face to the extreme-makeover, suave-guy crowd.

Ninety-two percent of women said dependability is a desirable characteristic in an ideal mate. Only 16 percent chose "fashionable," and 62 percent chose "strong" as a desirable characteristic.

This poll--or at least the Times' reading of it--stinks worse than a Hungry Man dinner covered in Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Note, for instance, the implied opposition between "dependability" and "fashionable," as if a metrosexual (some of my best friends are, btw) is too busy moussing his hair and watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to take out the trash.

Then there's the use of F. Carolyn Graglia as a definitive voice of wisdom:

"...a good husband is one who is strong, dependable, is going to accept the burdens which he is going to bear in the workplace," she says. "And he doesn't have to buy his own shampoo, because I do all the shopping. He doesn't have to do anything but go out to work and win the bread."

Wash Times story here.

And sorry boys, she's taken (by late '90s campus speech cause celebre Lino Graglia). Cathy Young reviewed Graglia's unintentionally hilarious book Domestic Tranquility, which makes June Cleaver look like Gloria Steinem, a few years back in Reason, noting:

This tome, which can be kindly described as eccentric, may not seem worth discussing--except for the glowing blurbs from William Kristol ("stunningly bold and deep") and Danielle Crittenden of The Women's Quarterly, who praises Graglia as "a courageous thinker." Well, I suppose it does take courage to argue that it's not good for women to think too much, or to suggest that female genital mutilation is just a slightly too "draconian" way to achieve the worthy goal of curbing female sexual assertiveness and affirming male mastery in sex.

That piece is here.

None of this is to suggest that some women don't want "manly men" who don't know where the shampoo aisle is in the supermarket. Or that some men don't want, what, girly girls? as spouses. But the strange emphasis on rough-hewn male paws on the part of many conservatives--who are not exactly known to exude studliness as a species--is strange, as is the conflation of "manly" with "dependable". And that's not to mention the implication that hygeine beyond the basics should call forth a Mr. Roper response.

About That Fake Schiavo Memo

It is not. A GOP staffer has resigned over it.

It is tempting to rollcall all the entities that dove on the fake angle positing some Democratic dirty trick as indicated by the shallow-thinking on display in the memo.

But let's make it a global lesson to those, amateur and pro alike, who reflexively defend Republicans: They are just as shallow and cynical as Democrats, just in different ways. Most GOP members of Congress and staffers view the pro-life movement as just another interest group to be stroked and ignored as the situation dictates. That some dope saw an immediate political upside to the Schiavo case is not shocking, at least not to anyone familiar with how Washington works. That he was dumb enough to write it down, there's a story.

Because Someone Has to Read Those E-mails!

The position of "ombudsman," as I explained in an August 2003 column, has historically been limited mostly to monopolies, government bureaucracies, and overstaffed media outlets. So it should probably come as no surprise that the latest organization to embrace this walking advertisement for staff bloat is none other than the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees PBS and NPR. In a novel twist, CPB is hiring two ombudsmen, even though NPR already has one, and "PBS was in the process of hiring one before yesterday's announcement." From the Washington Post story:

CBP president and chief executive Kathleen Cox said in an interview yesterday that the ombudsman appointments were part of an effort "to raise public broadcasting's ability to address [public] concerns about issues of journalism."

How about first raising public broadcasting's ability to not waste our money on wholly unnecessary jobs?

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer has jumped on the bandwagon.

"congestion coalition, glowing vomit, level playing field theory, sex with dogs, culture boom" (Veiled Sub and Book Pitch)

Those are among the "statistically improbable phrases" (SIPs) that Amazon has located in Choice: The Best of Reason, the anthology that is available in both paperback and hardcover editions at super-low prices--and that's not even mentioning a great combo book-and-subscription deal that will blow your mind while leaving your wallet as fat as the modal American.

For more info on the book and magazine that The Onion's Joe Garden has called "an oasis of sharp writing and sensible political discourse in a time dominated by I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I-manship," click here.

The Latest Layer of Fat

The Washington Times notes the high cost of intelligence reform -- or, more exactly, of building a place to put it:

The emergency supplemental-appropriations bill the Senate is expected to take up today includes a quarter-billion dollars to build a headquarters for the nation's new intelligence chief....The $82 billion supplemental request, sent to Congress last month, says the $250.3 million requested for the Intelligence Community Management Account will be used for a new facility to house the office of the director of national intelligence, the "expanded National Counterterrorism Center, and other intelligence community elements."

Sam Smith comments, "This is already beginning to look less like a coordinator of intelligence and more like yet another intelligence agency."

Ecdysiasts Got Class

Hats off (along with everything else) to Erotic City, a strip club in Boise, Idaho. Its management tried to sidestep the town's nudity ordinance not only by claiming that its dancers were engaged in "serious artistic" performances, but by staging "art nights" to prove it.

Twice a week, when the club's dancers took everything off, the club's patrons would be given sketch pads and pencils. According to the management, that transformed the strip club into an art studio. Drinks were on the house, no doubt; any money that changed hands was probably "tuition."

Boise's cops didn't buy it. Philistines all, the cops cited a technicality: that the dancers "weren't posing, they were dancing." What? There's no post-historical wiggle room in the verb, "to pose"? Hint to management: Next time claim it's theater.

Thanks to: ArtsJournal

And he who understands it would be able To add a story to the Tower of Babel

Next time you're working that open-mic poetry slam or doing the Antiamericansk Dans, you may be doing more than just testifying about the rage and oppression here in Amerikkka. You may be making yourself smarter through poetry.

According to The Scotsman (which would be my favorite newspaper title if there weren't a paper called The Hindu), researchers at Dundee and St Andrews Universities have used advanced scientific techniques to establish that poetry makes you think more deeply than prose: "[T]he work of poets such as Lord Byron exercise the mind more than a novel by Jane Austen."

That's welcome news for the few remaining fans of George Gordon, Lord Byron (tellingly self-described in The Bride of Frankenstein as "England's grrreatest sinner!"), who have seen our womanizin', club-footin', Turk-fightin', boy-enjoyin' hero sink to almost zero cultural relevance in recent decades. The details of the experiment inspire somewhat less confidence:

To study readers' reactions, the research group focused an infrared beam on the pupils of their eyes to detect minute movements as they read.

They found poetry produced all the standard psychological indications associated with intellectual difficulty, such as slow deliberate movement, re-reading sections and long pauses.

Even when they used identical content but displayed it in both a poem format and a prose format, they discovered readers found the poem form the more difficult to understand.

Literature prof "Dr" Jane Stabler notes that subjects "read poems slowly, concentrating and re-reading individual lines more than they did with prose," and that this reading manner "is the same sort of reading produced by a dyslexic reader who finds reading difficult."

No offense to dyslexics, but that doesn't sound to me like it's making anybody smarter. Stabler, however, says this is a way of reading associated with deeper thought. So send that pill Mr. Darcy back to Pemberly, think deeply as you chortle at the cross-dressing antics in the fifth and sixth cantos of Don Juan, and remember: it ain't worth a dime if it ain't got a rhyme. Here's hoping Dundee and St Andrews researchers will devote next semester to finding out whatever became of "Screaming Lord Byron," the going-nowhere persona David Bowie adopted for about five minutes in the Eighties.

Trust, But Please Don't Verify

The government's Information Security Oversight Office has come out with its annual report, which means that we can now compare the classification and declassification numbers of Bush's first four years in office. If I was handier with computers, I'd present this in graphical form, but I'm guessing you can still detect the trend lines:

Number of documents classified by the Executive Branch, annually:
2001: 8.7 million
2002: 11.3 million
2003: 14.2 million
2004: 15.7 million

Number of documents declassified by the Executive Branch, annually:
2001: 100 million
2002: 44 million
2003: 43 million
2004: 28 million

At those rates the classification/declassification numbers should converge by, what, 2006? I guess we'll just have to trust 'em!

My take on Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld secrecy, and its historical roots in the Gerald Ford presidency, here.

UPDATE: One graph, coming up! (Thanks to commenter rich.)

UPDATE 2: See comments for Clinton's poorly-trended second-term numbers as well.

Drudge Under On Fire

This New York Observer story, ostensibly about the creation of Drudge Report-challenging websites by Arianna Huffington and blog impresario Nick Denton (who today launched a tabloid news blog called Sploid) is actually a very entertaining collection of bitchy quotes from the fedora-wearin', blog-hatin' sensation himself. Here's Drudge, on Huffington's new project (which is reportedly being managed by longtime Drudge assistant Andrew Breitbart):

"This isn't a dinner party, darling," he said. "This is the beast! This is the Internet beast, which is all-consuming, as anyone knows who works in this business."

On Denton's Wonkette and Gawker:

"The road is littered with Wonkettes who have come and gone," he laughed. "They lose interest and/or they can't make it work. Or burn out." [...]

"I mean, they have sightings of me in New York City when I'm halfway around the world," he spat. "I feel if they can't get that right about me, I don't know what to do."

And on the Drudge-hatin' Jim Romenesko:

"I don't read Romenesko," he said [...]. "It's redundant to me."

Meow! Note of disclosure: I'm friends with many people mentioned in the article, including Breitbart, Denton, and Sploid editor Ken Layne.

My defense of Drudge-style gossip here.

Now You Really Need a Passport

As Matt noted yesterday, the State Department has proposed requiring Americans returning from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Panama to present their passports. According to the A.P. report, it also wants to make citizens of those places bring their passports when they visit the U.S., "prompting Canadian officials to announce they might reciprocate."

This news puzzled me, since the last time I flew to Canada, in October 2003, I was turned away at Reagan National for want of a passport and had to go home, retrieve the little blue booklet, and take a later flight. After that incident, I remembered (a little too late) that the previous time I had visited Canada, in June 1999, they let me in with just a driver's license but warned that I'd need my passport to get out. (I had my wife FedEx it to me.) So what exactly is new about the new policy?

Evidently, the difference is that the current policy requires proof of citizenship, which need not be a passport. Contrary to the A.P. account, the State Department says a driver's license is not enough (although you do need some sort of photo ID in addition to proof of citizenship). But "a certified copy of your birth certificate" will do. To me that seems harder, but presumably many U.S. citizens who travel to Canada or Mexico don't have passports--only 20 percent or so of Americans do--and find it easier (and cheaper) to obtain certified copies of their birth certificates. (Is there some other reason to prefer birth certificates?) Or maybe A.P. is right, and some (many? most?) customs officials have been letting people through with nothing but driver's licenses, despite the official policy.

The Bob Roberts of Beauty?

In other quien es mas discriminated against news,

Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin has been stripped of her title because pageant officials say she can stand -- and point to a newspaper picture as proof.

Janeal Lee, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a scooter, was snapped by The Post-Crescent newspaper standing among her high school math students.

"I've been made to feel as if I can't represent the disabled citizens of Wisconsin because I'm not disabled enough," Lee said Thursday.

Sounds like yet another sign that the differently abled are going mainstream. For instance, this line, in a New York Times follow-up:

The pageant organization says the competition is not a beauty contest. The women are selected based on their accomplishments and how well they perform in interviews.

Prince Albert in the Can (Literally), or Twilight of the European Aristocracy

The Shemp in the triumvirate of recent high-profile deaths has been revealed as Prince Ranier of Monaco, inevitably described as "Europe's oldest-living monarch" and less regularly described as the widely admired ruler of a gambling-and-tax-haven whose children, especially Stephanie, helped define the concept of eurotrash over the past 25 years or so.

The new Grimaldi in charge will be Prince Albert, about as perfect an embodiment of unearned wealth and charmless aristocracy as imaginable (even having Grace Kelly as a mother couldn't quite put the bobsledding incompetent quite over the top in the brains, looks, or ambition departments). As is the case with Prince Charles of Ye Olde Englande, Albert exists almost solely to remind us of the superiority of modern liberal democracy, where an individual's position in life is more likely to rise and fall in accordance with one's talents and efforts rather than being fixed by heritage and geneaology.

The most recent revelation regarding Prince Albert's general fecklessness? In her wholly entertaining, smacked-out, I-was-a-junky memoir, A Paper Life, Tatum O'Neal reveals how Al's extended pre-coital toilette killed the mood:

As I lay on his bed, I could hear him brushing his teeth, coughing, and spitting in the sink. That did it for me. I jumped up, yanking my clothes back on, and called out some lame excuse about having forgotten my contact lenses. Then I fled into the night, running all the way back to my hotel, as if the palace guards were hot on my heels.

Discriminating Among Discriminations

At Northeastern Illinois University, you can't charge different prices to different races at a Republican-sponsored "affirmative action bake sale," but you can charge different prices to different sexes at a feminist-sponsored "pay equity bake sale."

It's Alive! Alive!

Terri Schiavo has been cremated, but the controversy lives on. You'll recall the big popular percentages in favor of removing the tube from a few weeks back. (How young we were back then!) An answer in a new Zogby poll seems to knock those numbers into a cocked hat.

When asked "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?" a whopping 80 percent of respondents replied, "Should not." Only seven percent were still for pulling the plug.

The complete poll results contain other stats less supportive of the pro-Schindler side, and this one may have been funked by the negative phrasing (ie, saying "should or should not be denied" when "should or should not be provided with" would probably have been clearer). Still, I look at all the lazy Karen Ann Quinlan comparisons made in recent weeks and I suspect many people didn't really understand what was meant by "life support" in this case. I'll be wondering until they pull my own feeding tube why the pro-tubesters didn't work harder to clarify the food-and-water terminology for the public. (Probably because they were too busy telling lies about the husband.)

Is the new FCC Chairman bucking for a Cable ACE Award?

"It is the Congress that tries to determine whether or not the rules should be applied to cable."

That's new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin signaling that cable producers may have to clean up the sailor talk if they want things to happen in a "deregulatory and not in a regulatory fashion."

Speaking to the Bohemian Grove-style bacchanal known as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's annual convention, Martin suggested the cable industry provide new tools to help parents with the extraordinarily difficult task of finding decent family entertainment on their televisions. If not, well, Martin's the reasonable one here; it's the Congress that's breathing down his neck.

"I think this is an opportunity for the cable industry to try to address it, not just speak to me but to speak to the consumers and parents," Martin said. Sound advice! Since not paying attention to their customers has only gotten cable providers 86 percent of the TV market, imagine what might happen if they actually gave people what they wanted. They might even find the average American willing to spend, say $255.18 per year on cable.

One question: If this FC&CC idea gets any more steam (I'm guessing it won't, but if), what will be the clause in the Commission's regulating-the-airwaves mandate that allows it to cover cable? Or will that not matter, since by then all the cable providers will be in jail anyway?

Americanized Wine Wars

Dissident winemakers in France have taken to using dynamite to voice their grievances. Dissident winemaker Juanita Swedenburg, who owns a winery in Virginia, is using the Institute for Justice. For no good reason, 24 states have restrictions on allowing out-of-state winemakers to sell directly to consumers. Today's Washington Post has a piece on Swedenburg's five years of legal wrangling, which will end in July when the Supreme Court decides whether to favor New York's consumers or its wholesalers.

Mike Lynch weighed in on Juanita's plight way back in 2000.

What's Cooking on the VAT front?

Bruce Bartlett is about as pure an anti-tax cat as you'll find, so when he writes in The New York Times that he thinks a value-added tax now makes sense for America, you should know something is up.

Bartlett confesses disappointment at the GOP's track-record running Congress since 1994 -- join the club there -- and notes that the Bush administration's indifference to any kind of spending restraint, especially on entitlements, adding new ones even, makes galloping budget deficits almost certain.

After an initial effort at restraining Medicare spending - squelched by President Bill Clinton's veto pen - Republicans in Congress have become almost indistinguishable from Democrats on spending. They have been aided and abetted by President Bush, who not only refuses to veto anything, but also aggressively worked to ram a $23.5 trillion (of which $18.2 trillion must be covered by the general revenue) expansion of Medicare down the throats of the few small government conservatives left in the House.

This behavior has led me and other conservatives to conclude that starving the beast simply doesn't work anymore. Deficits are no longer a barrier to greater government spending. And with the baby-boom generation aging, spending is set to explode in coming years even if no new government programs are enacted.

Bartlett also notes that the lack of inflationary pressures tames a VAT somewhat and that countries which have recently enacted VATs have rarely increased rates, a big worry of anti-VATers over the years.

Personally, I've always been in the anti-VAT camp, but like Bartlett find myself coming around to the idea. For one thing, I think the compliance cost of our wacky tax code is way too high. For another I think the VAT might offer an escape hatch for our current Social Security mess.

Bush erred by running with Social Security reform instead of tax reform for his second term. He should've tried to do both. Lose the payroll tax and the fictional, but distortionary, corporate income tax, replaced by some mandatory savings mechanism into personal accounts and a VAT. Make clear that Social Security will continue to be funded for older workers with VAT proceeds, but that the program is definitely sunsetting.

Far, far from perfect but far, far better than the huge marginal income tax rates we'll face in a few years if the status quo persists.

George Scott, RIP

I'm nearly a month late to note it, but George Scott of the Blind Boys of Alabama died March 9. If it's possible to be a hip gospel group, then the Blind Boys are the hippest holy men around -- and deservedly so. I've seen them play twice, in 1997 and in 2001, and they're pretty much the best live act in the universe.

The core group, only two of whom remain today, started singing together in 1939; they were stars on the gospel circuit in the '50s, and they've enjoyed three waves of crossover success in the last 25 years. The first came with Lee Breuer's 1983 play The Gospel at Colonus, which reimagined Oedipus Rex as a black church service with the Blind Boys as the Greek chorus. The second followed their profile-raising record Deep River, produced by Stax organist Booker T. Jones in 1992. The third began when they signed with Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label in 2001, unleashing an amazing series of CDs that continues with the just-released Atom Bomb.

If you own their 2001 album Spirit of the Century, cue up track three, the old spiritual "Run On For a Long Time." That's George Scott on the lead vocals, sounding like a wizzened old rapper who's just found God. It's one of the best recordings of the new century, sung by one of the best singers of the last one. May he rest in peace.

Time to Invest in San Diego Passport Shops

Yet more evidence that we'll look at the 1990s as a high-water mark for free & relatively anonymous global travel:

Americans will need passports to re-enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, Panama and Bermuda by 2008, part of a tightening of U.S. border controls in an era of terrorist threat, three administration officials said Tuesday.

Similarly, Canadians will also have to present a passport to enter the United States, the officials said.

Terroirism

Thanks to Kerry's piece from last week, I was aware that French vintners are resentful of competiton from wine upstarts in places like California, Australia, and Chile, which is taking a bite out of profits in Bordeaux. I didn't realize just how resentful. From an article linked by Prof. Bainbridge:

Terrorist attacks by radical wine producers on government offices in the south of France yesterday served notice that the country's wine crisis may be spinning out of control...."The government had better respond clearly to our needs before the demonstration on 20 April," Denis Verdier, the president of the confederation of French wine cooperatives, said recently.

One Bill of Rights, Hold the Second

Yesterday's New York Times editorial on terrorist suspects' access to guns is pretty dramatically inconsistent. (I've seen someone else make a similar point regarding a previous op-ed on this topic, but I'm afraid I can't recall who to credit for it.) The editors are appalled that people on government terrorist watchlists aren't prevented from buying firearms.

That's rather obviously in tension with the general editorial position that people who're merely "suspected" of doing something wrong shouldn't have their rights abrogated. The Times hasr rightly denoucned the practice of locking people up on the basis of an executive designation, but gun rights, apparently, don't merit equally vigorous protection. Recall, incidentally, that analogous no-fly-lists have also kept dangerous characters (with common names) like Ozzie and Harriet actor David Nelson grounded.

Addendum: A commenter suggests it was Matt Yglesias at TAPped who I was thinking of above, which sounds plausible, though I thought it was an older post...

When Cleavage Is a Crime...

...only outlaws will show cleavage. Or something like that.

In recent comments at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. conference in San Francisco, Rep. F. James Sensebrenner III (Prig, Wis.), underscores that the numerals trailing his name are an indication of I.Q. as much as breeding. Fulminating against indecency on the boob tube, the Badger State* blowhard suggests that small-screen swearing, cleavage, and god knows what else should be a crime:

"People who are in flagrant disregard should face a criminal process rather than a regulator process," Sensenbrenner said. "That is the way to go. Aim the cannon specifically at the people committing the offenses, rather than the blunderbuss approach that gets the good actors.

"The people who are trying to do the right thing end up being penalized the same way as the people who are doing the wrong thing."

Whole thing here.

More on the same stupid issue here.

[Thanks to reader mbonacquisti for the tip.]

* Originally read "Beaver State"; apologies to all Oregonians, Wisconsinians, and double entendre hounds.

Because Your Money is a Wonderful Thing to Waste

Heritage's Brian Riedly compiles a list of the federal government's top 10 greatest hits in waste, including Department of Education loans for non-existent students to attend fictitious colleges and a whopping $25 billion that just got lost somehow.

How the EU Promotes Democracy

The EU's development commissioner, Louis Michel, visited Cuba recently, where he was allowed to meet with anti-regime dissidents and the wives of political prisoners. According to Britain's Telegraph, Michel used the occasion to caution these "pro-democracy activists to avoid 'provoking' Fidel Castro."

Dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque wasn't too happy with Michel's advice, and objected to a recent EU decision to suspend diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and to develop closer ties. "The government is not going to change," she told the Telegraph. "Sanctions have a political value because they demonstrate to the whole world that Castro is a human rights abuser. The EU should not be seeking deeper relations with a totalitarian regime."

The Telegraph reported that Michel also "declined to offer support for a planned dissident 'congress', uniting 300 Cuban rights groups." The EU's decision to drop its diplomatic sanctions against the Castro regime was reportedly the result of "heavy pressure from the socialist government in Spain."

Thanks to: Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata.

Drowning Demurely

An Oxfam report, noting that the December 26 tsunami killed three times as many women as men, has prompted a discussion about reasons for the disparity. Women stayed behind to look for children and were less likely to be able to swim (although men were also unlikely to be able to swim). Part of the explanation may be the cultural modesty described in this child's account of losing her mother:

"My mother helped my younger brother to tear of his shorts to swim away, but she didn't follow. She was just too modest to remove her clothes to escape," says Supini.

This kind of modesty can be hard to fathom, but it's deeply ingrained and leads to all sorts of strange situations. Women brazen enough to go for a swim in Myanmar won't wear their traditional ankle-length skirts, which run the risk of billowing up and exposing them. But a swimsuit is out of the question. The solution is Western dress, which is frowned upon in polite company but A-OK for the beach. Girls will throw on a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and jump in.

Ali Al-Timimi's Fighting Words

This week Ali Al-Timimi, a lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education in Falls Church, Virginia, went on trial in federal court for his anti-American rabble-rousing. The charges against him, including treason, attempting to aid the Taliban, and inducing others to commit various crimes, are all based on things he said (or is accused of saying), and his fate will depend on whether his words qualify for First Amendment protection. Under the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, even speech advocating violence is protected unless it is intended and likely to result in "imminent lawless action." Celebrating the crash of the Columbia as a signal of the West's inevitable defeat, although cited in the indictment as part of Timimi's crimes, surely qualifies for protection under this standard. Urging young men to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan (which Timimi denies doing) might not.

Is It the Fur?

A few years ago, in Kyllo v. United States, the Supreme Court said police looking for the heat signature of marijuana grow lights need a warrant to examine the exterior of a home with a thermal imager. A few months ago, in Illinois v. Caballes, the Court said police don't need a warrant, probable cause, or even a vague suspicion to walk a drug-sniffing dog around a car. But what about a drug-sniffing dog outside a house? As Nick notes, the justices aren't saying. Yesterday they declined to hear a case in which a dog sniffed out methamphetamine in a man's garage while standing in his driveway.

We are left to wonder exactly what criteria transform surveillance into a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Homes generally get more protection than cars, so maybe the crucial issue is the property being searched--er, examined. (What about a guy who lives in his car?) Or maybe, as Harris County, Texas, District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal argued in this case, what matters is the use of "technology" that enables police to detect what they otherwise could not see/smell/hear. According to Rosenthal, trained dogs don't count as technology.

The Supreme Court has suggested that it's the specificity of the surveillance technique that matters. In the 1983 case United States v. Place, it said a dog's sniff of luggage "discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item," while in Kyllo it noted that thermal imaging potentially reveals much more information than the presence of an indoor marijuana garden. In his Caballes dissent, Justice David Souter argued that the Court puts too much faith in the accuracy of dog alerts, which may (for example) indicate the presence of food, plastic bags, and other items used in training as well as contraband. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orrin Kerr has noted another problem with a distinction based on the breadth of information revealed:

The Fourth Amendment traditionally has focused on how the surveillance occurred, rather than the nature of the information obtained. Under the traditional approach, the government could not invade your property without a warrant no matter what information it wished to obtain. Under the rationale followed by the Court [in Kyllo], the government may be free to invade your property so long as they only obtain "non private" information. This is particularly troubling in the context of computer searches and seizures. Can the police send a computer virus to your computer that searches your computer for obscene images, or images of child pornography, and then reports back to the police whether such images are on your computer--all without probable cause, or even any suspicion at all? The traditional answer would have been no: the police cannot enter your private property to search even for non-private stuff. But thanks to the increasing focus on the nature of the information rather than how the information is obtained, it's no longer so clear.

Our Myth Brooks

In his NY Times col today, David Brooks tags Reason as one of "the major conservative magazines" in the country.

Significant ideological confusion aside, Brooks' larger point is that rancorous debate among and within a broadly construed right has a generally positive effect:

In the early days of National Review, many of the senior editors didn't even speak to one another. Whittaker Chambers declared that the writings of Ayn Rand, a hero of the more libertarian right, reeked of fascism and the gas chambers. Rand called National Review "the worst and most dangerous magazine in America."

It's been like that ever since--neocons arguing with theocons, the old right with the new right, internationalists versus isolationists, supply siders versus fiscal conservatives. The major conservative magazines--The Weekly Standard, National Review, Reason, The American Conservative, The National Interest, Commentary - agree on almost nothing.

Brooks laments an analogous debate among liberals and concludes that

If I were a liberal, which I used to be, I wouldn't want message discipline. I'd take this opportunity to have a big debate about the things Thomas Paine, Herbert Croly, Isaiah Berlin, R. H. Tawney and John Dewey were writing about. I'd argue about human nature and the American character.

In disunity there is strength.

Whole thing here.

The column is worth reading, even if it does smack of the inverse of the old liberal canard that liberals are too smart for this world.

Hit & Run yapping about libertarian-conservative divorce here.

Example (and critiques) of smug liberal self-love here.

Memorable Philadelphia Magazine takedown of David Brooks here.

McGruff Can Keep Sniffing

The Supreme Court has, says the AP, "whether police can have drug dogs sniff outside people's homes without any specific suspicion of illegal activity."

Thanks for nothing, ye robed fools! Here's hoping McGruff and the rest of the nation's crimefighting dogs start sniffing around your houses. Whole thing here.

Earlier this year, Jacob Sullum asked "Who let the dogs in?". He's got more thoughts below, too.

Celebrate the News

The Pulitzer winners were announced today. Despite my longstanding cynicism toward the prizes -- and toward alternative weeklies, for that matter, most of which are about as "alternative" as the Washington Post Style section -- I'll admit I felt a touch of pleasure on learning that an alt-weekly managed to take the investigative reporting award.

Onward to more important trophies. The NCAA finals start in less than half an hour. Go Heels.

The Torture Beat

Iraq's semi-sovereign government has produced its own semi-sovereign torture scandal. The Boston Globe reports:

The Iraqi government's unprecedented admission that its police tortured and killed three Shi'ite Muslim militiamen while they were in custody has set off angry complaints from newly elected Shi'ite legislators who are engaged in a political battle for control of the police....

In a series of steps rarely seen in Iraq, US-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government has acknowledged the men "died under torture by police," arrested six police officers in the case, launched a high-level investigation, and paid the men's families about $2,000 each plus a $500 monthly stipend.

Yet the debate over the deaths last month is only beginning. Government officials insist the killings are an isolated case. But the leaders of the powerful Shi'ite Islamist bloc that won more than half the seats in the new National Assembly say the case reveals mistakes in the way Allawi and his US advisers recruited and trained Iraq's police. Those Shi'ite leaders say the force is a haven for Ba'athists who mistreated Iraqis, especially Shi'ites, under Saddam Hussein.

It's pretty clear that the "isolated case" story isn't going to fly. The Globe notes that "Two recent reports, one issued in January by Human Rights Watch and the other by the US State Department last month, cite scores of reports of torture and arbitrary detention by Iraqi police and soldiers. Last year, the US report says, police executed 12 alleged kidnappers in Baghdad and took part in revenge killings of 10 Ba'athists in Basra."

But What Happens If the Amerikansks Want to Dans Too?

Norwegian MCs Gatas Parlament, rhyming in the mellifluous tongue of their quaint land, promise to burn down the American embassy and blow up an American tank, provide previously unseen footage of President Bush and wife Laura being targeted by a guy with a grenade launcher, implicitly threaten Casey Kasem with unspeficied injuries, and much more, all here.

My only questions: Who is St. Hans? Is that Norwegian for St. John? If so, is this another Da Vinci Code thing?

New at Reason

I want to invest my payroll.
You'll just put the NASDAQ on the dole!

But stock owners vote for the Red team!
That's not as great as it might seem.

We'll be more free if we privatize! Stop the Ponzi if we privatize! Helps GOP if we privatize!
For a small fee if you privatize.

From our April issue, Tyler Cowen and James K. Glassman face off for an antagonistic duet about Social Security reform.

Watching the Directives

The White House is trying to revive an Oregon bill that would establish a prescription-tracking database as a way of preventing illegal drug use. The chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services Committee shelved the legislation after pain experts warned that such monitoring would have a chilling effect on pain treatment. Critics of the bill are also concerned that the Drug Enforcement Administration could use the database to identify doctors who prescribe fatal doses of barbiturates or other drugs to patients who want to commit suicide under the state's Death With Dignity Act. The Justice Department has threatened such doctors with prosecution and loss of prescribing privileges; its authority to do so is at the center of a case the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have reintroduced legislation that would encourage states to establish systems that keep track of all prescriptions.

[Thanks to Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network for the tip.]

All Politics Is Local

A new variation on the Good News From Iraq story comes from Nicolas Rothwell of The Weekend Australian, who reports that, even as the nation's political factions struggle to form a central government, much of the country is getting by without one:

Although the "good news" blogs that compile instances of Iraq's progress tend to present an over-rosy picture, the consistent progress being achieved on the ground, away from the headlines, highlights one of the stranger truths about post-Saddam Iraq: the country has devolved into a set of local fiefs, each effectively administering itself.

The lack of a central government with democratic legitimacy since the election result was announced has been an inconvenience rather than a disaster....It is common, in the Shia southern part of the country and even in the poorer districts of Baghdad, to find the preacher at a small mosque regarded as a political and moral authority, decider of disputes and dispenser of advice.

A similar role is played in Sunni regions by the heads of large, interconnected tribal groups that run businesses, dispense charity and provide a political lead for the entire community.

In the Kurdish north, a different system has developed over the past 12 years since full autonomy from Iraqi central control was achieved by a successful rebellion.

Local governmental structures, based on tribal lines of authority, have become the key to the success of the Kurdish region.

These local structures illustrate "two critical points about the new Iraq," Rothwell writes:

First, the interim administration presided over by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, for all its determination to restore Iraqi unity, lacked the sole persuasive argument Saddam Hussein relied upon: fear.

Second, the US occupying forces, despite their obtrusive presence, have had relatively little impact on the structures of Iraqi society, and the local politicians linked with them have not benefited from the association.

Driving Tobacconists Offline

The New York Times reports that the government has put most online tobacco sellers out of business by leaning on credit card companies, which recently announced they would no longer process cigarette purchases from Internet retailers. Annoyed at cost-conscious smokers who avoid hefty taxes by ordering cigarettes from online tobacconists, state officials complain that such retailers are violating the Jenkins Act, which requires anyone who ships cigarettes across a state line to report the sale to tax authorities in the buyer's state. Cigarette discounters on Indian reservations say the law does not apply to them, but the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is siding with the states. Given the relatively modest size of the online cigarette market (about $1 billion, or 3 percent of total cigarette sales), MasterCard, Visa, et al. presumably decided their cut was not worth a fight. But what will they say when states demand that they stop doing business with online retailers that do not charge sales tax?

Lawn Chair Minutemen

In case you don't have the joy of being involuntarily signed up to a half-dozen immigration-obsessed e-mail lists, you may have missed last week's "Minuteman Project," in which a would-be militia of volunteer border-enforcers and Lou Dobbs enthusiasts headed down to the Arizona-Mexico border to Protect Our Sovereignty against illegal Mexicans. Lefty journalist Marc Cooper joined them, and filed a withering report. Excerpt:

At two Minuteman rallies staged today in front of the Naco and Douglas stations of the Border Patrol, there were only about 150 participants. While much hot air has been blown on both sides about these Minutemen exercising the Second Amendment i.e. carrying guns, the overwhelming majority of them are armed only with lawn chairs. Indeed, those drawn to this event (apart from being about 99.9% white) are disproportionaly aged and retired and are no more fit to conduct "civilian patrols" than they are set to run a marathon.

After today's rallies, I expect that a hundred or so might actually spend a few hours (sitting in lawn chairs) on the border in the next few days. In the end, I would be surprised if more than a few dozen actually go out on "patrol" with the hard-core organizers. [...]

During today's gatherings, the Minutemen chanted "Viva La Migra" and chanted "Thank You, Border Patrol!" But the Border Patrol took extra steps to deploy an added number of official spokespersons outside the two stations where the rallies took place. The Border Patrol was emphatic in rejecting the "support" offered by the Minuteman Project. "They are a natural hindrance to us," said Supervisory Agent Jose Maheda. "We don't support them and they are making our jobs more difficult."

The Assassination Bureau

Just in time for the natural death of John Paul II, newly released Stasi files are refueling the theory that the KGB was behind the attempted assassination of the pope in 1981.

Meanwhile, the would-be assassin is now claiming that figures within the Vatican played a role in the conspiracy. He isn't the most reliable witness, though: He has declared several times that the Lord Himself told him to kill the pontiff, and his latest testimony is not free of discrepancies. The AP reports:

"Without the help of priests and cardinals, I would have not been able to carry out that action," Agca was quoted as saying in an interview Thursday with the Italian daily La Repubblica. "The devil is within the Vatican."

But in an apparently contradictory remark, Agca also said in the interview that on that morning "nobody in the world knew of my attempt."

Italy plans to reopen its inquiry into the shooting.

Mob-Linked Bird Baron Knocks Up Chickens South of the Border

Frank Perdue, the pope of poultry, has died. Some will remember him for his folksy commercials and avian face; others for his dealings with mobster Paul Castellano, who helped distribute the company's product in New York but said no when Perdue asked him to suppress a union drive down south. I will remember him for the chicken, which isn't all that good, and for this story, which may or may not be true:

Chicken-man Frank Perdue's slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused." Elsewhere, the slogan was translated into, "It takes a virile man to make a chicken pregnant."

Rest in peace, Frank. Seventy-two laying hens await you.

I Used to Be a Heroin Addict; Now I'm a Methadone Addict

There's a solid piece at Wired News about Buprenorphine, a treatment for heroin that kills withdrawal symptoms quickly, but without the abuse potential of methadone. Unfortunately, it hasn't taken off as expected, in part because of some ill-conceived regulation:

After bupe had been on the market a year, the law was amended to permit methadone clinics to prescribe it, but only under the same rules used for methadone (one dose per visit), which erases one of bupe's major advantages - that you don't have to schlep to a clinic every day. Meanwhile, many methadone providers have remained openly skeptical of the new med, fearing that it will further stigmatize methadone, or siphon off their most stable patients. The government reimburses methadone programs for the number of patients they oversee, not for the specific services they provide, so the payment for a stable patient who takes a dose and goes to work subsidizes treatment for more fragile clients with multiple addictions, mental illness, housing and unemployment issues, and more.

The regulatory problems didn't stop there. Influenced by tales of unscrupulous methadone clinics taking on huge case-loads for the reimbursement cash, Congress barred doctors from maintaining more than 30 bupe patients at a time. And in a monumental blunder, the law classified giant HMOs like Kaiser Permanente, as well as hospitals, as single providers, with the same 30-patient cap that Kolodny has in the solo practice he maintains on evenings and weekends. Four years later, the law remains unchanged. One clear sign of the law's unintended consequences: The world-renowned Addiction Institute of New York (better recognized by its old name, Smithers) doesn't mention bupe in its advertising because with a 30-patient limit, it fears it would have to turn people away.

Fred Korematsu, RIP

Michelle Malkin can breathe a little easier today. Fred Korematsu, the twentieth century's greatest threat to the U.S. government's constitutional authority to keep American citizens in concentration camps, has died at the age of 86. Although the case Korematsu v. United States was decided in favor of the government and Korematsu himself kept a low profile in the postwar years, his challenge to the policy of interning Japanese-Americans received new attention as historians and activists began to take a closer look at this shameful piece of American history. President Reagan issued an official apology and reparations in 1988, and Korematsu received a Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1998.

Like all bad ideas, internment seems destined for periodic revivals. Malkin, the meretricious bigmouth and self-described "first-generation American," has led the effort to burnish the sordid legacy of internment in recent years—all the more reason to remember the lives, the fortunes, and the sacred honor that get destroyed when the government responds to (and helps to lead) a public panic.

The Best Offense Is a Good Prevent Defense

You knew that the Pentagon prevents photographers from taking pictures of those flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base. But did you know that surviving family members of the dead soldiers are also banned from coffin-photography? (Link via the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' Behind the Homefront weblog.)

Urine For it Now!

Members of the House Committee on Government Reform -- which will from here on out be described as the House Committee on "Government Reform" -- had so much fun sniffing Mark McGwire's jock that they're coming back for seconds and thirds, demanding to see all drug-test data from the National Football League, "the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and USA Track & Field." According to the San Francisco Chronicle,

The panel is exploring the prospect of forcing all sports, amateur and professional, to adhere to one strict policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

Is Google Gauche?

French President Jacques Chirac thinks Google is a plague on French culture, so he's asked his culture minister and the head of Bibliotheque Nationale to dream up an organically French search engine. What would that look like? Certainly not like the existing French version of Google, corrupted as it is by the dirty googling masses. The Economist reports:

Why not let Google do the job? Its French version is used for 74 percent of internet searches in France. The answer is the vulgar criteria it uses to rank results.

"I do not believe", wrote Mr Donnedieu de Vabres in Le Monde, "that the only key to access our culture should be the automatic ranking by popularity, which has been behind Google's success."

The answer, of course, is to let right-thinking men decide what ought to be popular:

If popularity cannot arbitrate, what will? Mr Jeanneney wants a "committee of experts". He appears to be serious...

Whole thing here.

You Know You're Neolibertarian If ...

The inaugural issue of The New Libertarian is now available for download. This is intended to be an online journal of "neolibertarianism," described by Jon Henke in terms of the following: 1) Pragmatic domestic libertarian; Hawk on defense; 2) Hobbesian libertarian; 3) Big-Tent libertarian.

There's more discussion here (link via Instapundit), along with links to a bloc of sites that regard themselves as part of a neolibertarian network. By the way, the motto of the new journal is "Free Markets, Free People."

Regulated Signage

The Rhode Island state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would hit pro athletes and other celebs with a $100 fine if they charged anyone under 16 for an autograph. Sen. Roger Badeau came up with this master stroke after some Boston Red Sox came to Providence and charged almost $200 per autograph.

But, hey, ballplayers, pro and otherwise, as well as celebs with dubious staying powers all know that at least some of those mewing brats with Sharpies at the ready will hand the 'graph off to mom or dad so they can try to recoup their investment, and maybe more, on eBay.

Then there is the fact that the no one ever said mindless idol worship would be cheap or easy. Better to learn that lesson early. Everything has a price when grown-ups play sports, especially loyalty.

How 'bout a $1000 fine for being a pathetic, groveling Sawx fan?

Gee, Thanks Mister.

When 'Merchants of Death' Seems Too Mild

During a visit to Israel this week, The Jerusalem Post reports, American Cancer Society President John Seffrin declared that "all those involved in the production and marketing of tobacco products are 'terrorists.' " Even the guy behind the counter at the convenience store? I suppose cigarette makers and sellers would be just like terrorists, if terrorists asked their victims for permission before they placed their bombs, if the bombs took 40 years or so to go off, if only one out of three of them exploded at all, and if in the meantime the victims enjoyed having the bombs around so much that they were willing to pay for the privilege.

[Thanks to Brad Rodu for the link.]