Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2005 May 22-31

View More

New at Reason

As French voters head out to decide the fate of the EU, John Vaught LaBeaume wonders whether the nationalist, protectionist, illiberal devil that you know is better than the supernationalist, regulationist, illiberal devil that, well, you also know.

Going to the Movies this Weekend?

How quaint. Sez here that ever fewer people are doing that sort of thing. "For 13 weekends in a row, box-office receipts have been down compared with a year ago, despite the blockbuster opening of the final 'Star Wars' movie. And movie executives are unsure whether the trend will end over the important Memorial Day weekend that officially begins the summer season."

But you knew that. Maybe you also knew that, "Last year Americans spent an average of 78 hours watching videos and DVD's, a 53 percent increase since 2000," and that "DVD sales and rentals soared 676.5 percent during the same period . . ." Internet time and video-game time are also way up.

Exhibitors insist that the movie biz is cyclical, and that there's no need to panic. That's true, but it's also true that movie attendance has been sliding for years, if you factor out the increasingly rare runaway blockbuster.

Given the alternative, exhibitors are actually hoping that their movies have been bad. "It is much more chilling if there is a cultural shift in people staying away from movies," says a guy in the exhibition biz. "Quality is a fixable problem."

A Nuke in Every Garage, a Chicken in Every Pot

As campaign slogans go it needs work, but the notion that a vote for Hashemi Rafsanjani is a vote for a nuclear Iran is unmistakable in the advice offered by one imam.

Hojatolislam Gholam Reza Hasani is quoted in one dispatch as telling Iranian voters: "You need to vote for Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. This way we will finally be able to have for ourselves the atomic bomb to fairly stand up to Israeli weapons."

Hasani continued:

"Freedom, democracy and stupidities of this type cannot be carried over to any part, and these concepts are out of sync with the principles of Islam," said Hasani, the imam who led Friday prayers in the main city of western Iranian Azerbaijian.

"Islam always spoke with the sword in the hand and I don't see why now we have changed attitudes and talk with the other civilizations."

Ah, yes the soft on other civilizations card. A sleeper issue.

Remember Choice This Memorial Day (Unveiled Book and Sub Pitch)

As Memorial Day gets underway, take a moment to remember that Choice: The Best of Reason, our recent collection of greatest hits, is available for a mere $10.47 at Amazon and for only $9.95 at Laissez Faire Books. Choice, sez Court TV's Catherine Crier, "is a must read for all rational thinkers who seek an honest take on the issues of our time."

If you prefer a package deal, you can get Choice for 50 percent off with a new or renewed subscription to Reason, this year's winner of the Western Publications Association "Maggie" Award for best politics and social issues mag. New subscribers should go here; current subscribers should go here.

If you just want a stand-alone sub to Reason--"a brilliant magazine, written and edited by brilliant people" according to Dave Barry--go here for a trad paper sub (just $19.97) and here for a whiz-bang electronic edition (also just $19.97).

New at Reason

As the UK Tories nurse their wounds, Patrick Basham has some ideas on how the party can recapture the magic.

New at Reason

Why is the government trying to give the First Amendment a hot beef injection? Jacob Sullum investigates.

How to Make $2k This Weekend Without a Webcam

This Tuesday's the deadline for A World Connected's student essay contest—prizes of $2000, $1000, and $750 for folks with deep thoughts about developing world corruption and debt cancellation.

Islam in Italy

Oriana Fallaci is facing charges in Italy for defaming Islam in her 2004 book, La forza della Ragione (Italian-language link). A prosecutor recommended shelving the lawsuit brought against Fallaci by Adel Smith of the Italian Muslim Union, citing freedom of expression, but a qadi in Bergamo (where the book was published) has ordered Fallaci to return for trial. Fallaci, who lives in New York, says she won't cooperate.

Islam is apparently now the second-largest religion in Italy. Given the exceedingly small populations of Protestants, Jews, and Orthodox Christians in the country, that's not saying very much in terms of numbers, though it obviously reflects recent immigration trends. As it happens, Italy's Muslim community is home to a singularly moderate imam: Abdul Hadi Palazzi of the Italian Muslim Assembly in Rome.

Sheikh Palazzi has long been a tireless critic of Wahhabism, which he regards as a "poison," and has been a defender of the United States. Muslims have thrived in the free U.S., he has argued, compared to their condition in most of the illiberal Muslim world. More controversially, Palazzi is a supporter of Israel; he bases that support on his interpretation of Quranic verses.

I believe that Palazzi is from Syria, and that his Italian father converted to Islam. The Italian Muslim Assembly maintains an English-language version of its Website with numerous links to Palazzi's writings and speeches, and to articles about the controversies in which he has been involved.

Friday Undead Link

If they gave out a Nebula Award for Best Power-Point Presentation, then this dry leftist satire would deserve the prize.

Moronic Border Vigilantes Scare Off Needed Labor (Malaysia Edition)

Malaysia spent October through February forcing out 380,000 illegal immigrants. Those who wouldn't leave voluntarily were hunted down by vigilantes. The result:

Plantations, construction sites and factories have ground to a halt. The restaurant business has been hit badly too. Illegal migrant workers made up more than 10 percent of Malaysia's workforce. It turns out the Malaysian economy was relying on the immigrants to do menial jobs most Malaysians will not.

The Independent reports that the country is now begging for their return. So far, no such luck:

Of the 380,000 who left, fewer than 40,000 have come back. Stories of mothers clutching their babies in their arms being forced out of their homes by the vigilantes when the amnesty expired may have contributed to their reluctance.

"This bear is perverse, dominatrix, and hardcore."

A Friday Fun Link from scenic Zurich.

Maybe We'll See More Abu Ghraib Photos After All

From the New York Times:

A federal judge in New York told the Defense Department yesterday that it would have to release perhaps dozens of photographs taken by an American soldier of Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [...]

The judge focused on 144 photographs that were turned over to Army investigators last year by Specialist Joseph M. Darby, a reservist who was posted at Abu Ghraib. A small number of the pictures have already been published, including those showing naked detainees piled in a pyramid and simulating sex while their American military captors looked on. [...]

[Judge Alvin Hellerstein] rejected [the government]'s argument that releasing the pictures would violate the Geneva Conventions because some prisoners might be identified and "further humiliated."

As I predicted in my April column, privacy concerns are being easily allayed by blacking out the eyes of the victims. Of course, I also predicted that "we'll never see" the second round of Abu Ghraib images, though the Defense Dept. might still appeal. (Link via Andrew Sullivan.)

Too Many Tourists

Attracted by the relatively tolerant Dutch approach to drugs, foreigners are eager to visit the Netherlands and spend their money there, especially at the "coffee shops" that sell cannabis. But as the Drug War Chronicle reports, some Dutch officials seem determined to view the influx of "drug tourists" as a problem rather than an opportunity.

Use the Farm, Cuke

Speaking of ideologically questionable yet amusing appropriations of Star Wars for "educational" purposes, I sure got a kick out of Grocery Store Wars by the Organic Trade Association. Though my nostalgic Gold Standard for Lucas parody remains Hardware Wars, which, Kroger Babb-like, was shown at my elementary school, for educational reasons that remain elusive yet undeniable.

"Golden Straightjacket"

The international community has finally agreed to fit Iran for, as Thomas Friedman puts it in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the "golden straightjacket" of international trade. The WTO will allow Iran to begin accession talks after the US blocked its entry into the organization 22 times since 1996. Entry into the WTO was the carrot used to entice Iran into renewing its pledge not seek nuclear weapons.

Against a "Sea of Laptops"

And so begins the great climb-down from wi-fi mania. One Seattle coffee shop (no, really) opts to shut down its wi-fi access on weekends and sees revenue jump.

The owner says she thought the place was turning into a haven for laptop leeches who never talked to each other. Notice the insight that coffee seems to go better with conversation than with communication along with the fact that various demand and timing issues are always part of good marketing.

There will be more fine tuning of the 24-7, all-you-can-eat wi-fi model in the future, perhaps with the first hour free and nominal charges after, that kind of thing.

British Medical Experts Campaign for Long, Pointy Knife Control

Sadly, that is the actual headline from an actual New York Times story, although you could be forgiven for thinking it was produced by the staff of The Onion on an off day. Among other things, the medical experts argue that no one but a murderer really needs a pointy knife.

A Short Lesson in Media Bias (Or Something Like It)

Pentagon Confirms Koran Incidents: 'Mishandling' Cases Preceded Guidelines Established in 2003

That's the Wash Post's headline on the latest from the Koran/toilet story. That headline appeared on page 1 of today's paper, above the fold in the top righthand col.

'No Credible Evidence'on Koran Story: Gitmo inmate conceded he was merely repeating a prison rumor"

That's the Wash Times headline covering the same story. It appeared on page A9.

I wouldn't necessarily call this bias on either news org's part, but it's illustrative of very different filters.

Doctor Coburn's Genuine Boogie Woogie Travelin' STD Show (and Star Wars Copyright Infringement Suit Waitin' To Happen)

Channeling the great huckster/sex films impresario Kroger Babb, Oklahoma senator and real-life medicine man Tom Coburn has, writes the Wash Times, "continued a tradition he started when he was a member of the House of Representatives -- treating Capitol Hill staffers to lunch and a slide show about the ravages of sexual disease."

'This is going to be pretty graphic, and I don't want anybody to be surprised,' the Oklahoma Republican said as he began the noon presentation at the Capitol.

Perhaps policy wonks have gotten used to pleasant burning sensations in the post-Clinton years, or maybe they are reserving their revulsion for the novel by The Washingtonienne, but Coburn's presentation apparently non-plussed nobody. As the Times reports, "no one gasped or ran for the exits, unlike previous years."

Then again, perhaps the audience was merely stunned into the sort of stupor Bill Cosby allegedly induces in his lady friends by the Star Wars motif of Coburn's PowerPoint porn:

The event yesterday was billed as a Star Wars-style 'Revenge of the STDs.' Fliers pictured a Yoda figure crying, 'Stop the STDs, we must,' and Darth Vader warning, 'Never underestimate the power of the STDs.' Star Wars music greeted the guests.

Whole account of your tax dollars at work here.

Reason interviewed Coburn back when he term-limited himself out of Congress. The high points include his characterizing Congress as a room full of nutjobs ("There are not many normal people up here") and his praise for Cuba's registry system for HIV-positive patients ("such programs have been successful in Cuba...because of accountability").

Fool For A Client Beats the Rap...Almost!

Franklin County, Ohio, a place best known for election hanky panky of late, has a new claim to fame. Reader Mark Noble notes that accused murderer Timothy Daniel has successfully defended himself in a Columbus court. A jury of his peers took just four hours to acquit Daniel, who fired his lawyer on Tuesday.

Aficionados of the widely maligned art of autolitigation (including Reason's Nick Gillespie in this long-ago Suck column) may be able to say whether this is a unique development in American law; Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Dale Crawford says it's the first time he's seen it done in a murder trial. And he doesn't seem too pleased about it:

Crawford said that he believed Daniel killed Morbitzer and that's why he sentenced him to the maximum five years under [a "firearm with disability" count on which Daniel was found guilty].

Counterfactual corner: Would he have been acquitted if he hadn't fired his lawyer (ie, was the case against him just so weak that he was destined to skate anyway)? And if so, would the judge have come down so hard on the weapons charge (ie, was he upset because he thinks Daniel's guilty or because Daniel made a monkey out of him)?

And what's a "firearm with disability" crime?

Clear Channel Goes Pirate

Stay Free!'s Carrie McLaren reports:

It's official: even Clear Channel is sick of Clear Channel. The company has set up a fake pirate radio station in Akron, Ohio, which it's using to hurl insults at other Clear Channel stations. For about a week, Radio Free Ohio has feigned overthrowing Ohio's media monopoly by bleeding its broadcasts into other Clear Channel stations....

The station was outed by someone at WOXY, who looked up the Radio Free domain name and saw that it was owned by Clear Channel in San Antonio.

This isn't the first time a perfectly legal station has posed as a pirate outfit, but these faux "interruptions" of the company's other broadcasts take the con to a new level. I don't know whether I'm impressed or appalled.

Resolved: Sensenbrenner Is a Bonehead

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann is scheduled to debate House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner's ludicrously draconian drug sentencing bill on The O'Reilly Factor tonight. Check out DPA's take on the legislation, which zeroes in on its mandatory snitching provisions, here.

You're a Potential Terrorist, Mr. Grinch!

A 42-year-old man was arrested Wednesday in Wheeling, West Virginia for the crime of wearing a Grinch mask. According to the Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register, officers were just enforcing a state statute:

The law was "developed more fully" since the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, [Wheeling City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth] said. [...]

The statute, [Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith] says, indicates anyone using masks, hoods or other devices to conceal even a portion of the face "could be potentially committing a crime."

Areas in which they are not permitted include streets, alleys, areas of public trading or sites which are frequented by the general public.

Exceptions to the law include masks worn by those under 16 years of age, traditional Halloween masks, safety gear used in occupations, theatrical productions, civil defense or protection from the elements. [...]

"Even free speech has its limits," Smith commented.

Links via Sploid.

Four Tenths of a Hectare and a Mess

How do you parcel out land in a nation of nomads? Mongolia is trying to overcome nearly a century of communal land ownership, and the country is using Peruvian Economist Hernando de Soto's prescriptions as a model. But in a nation where half the people are herders, land privatization is going to take some getting used to:

When the government first offered them a plot of four-tenths of a hectare in Bayanzurh Toucho in a new community built for nomads agreeing to be settled down, they grabbed it without questions. But now Davasuren says that while he appreciates owning some land, he is not sure what to do with it...

Although Davasuren and his wife have been "settled" for more than a year, they say they still cannot get used to the idea of living in a concrete or brick home. So they have simply pitched their old gher or yurt - the round canvas and felt tent used by nomads - in the middle of their plot.

Whole thing here.

New at Reason

Surveying the attempts to bring "balance" to public broacasting, Jesse Walker concludes that C is for Cronyism—and it's good enough for me.

On a related note, check out NPR's unintentionally hilarious coverage of the kerfuffle, which a more honest copywriter would've headlined: "Troglodyte claims of NPR bias utterly false, NPR finds."

And the Interrogator Wasn't Even Johnny Depp

To follow up on Nick Gillespie's point about cual es mas gulag, one of the people I interviewed in Cuba in 1998 was a guy named Gustavo Dominguez Gutierrez, who had just days before been released after serving five years, five months and 20 days for "enemy propaganda" and disrespecting the president (Bill Maher would have a helluva time maintaining his lifestyle in Cuba). Before that term, Gutierrez had previously been sentenced to three years for refusing to report to compulsory military service. Here's part of our interview, conducted through an interpreter, about the conditions inside Castro's jails:

In Camaguey we formed a political prisoners group, and our main task was to denounce constantly the repression inside the prisons -- The lack of medical and food attention, which provoked great illness. There were many sick prisoners, and they weren't given the food they were supposed to. We also denounced that there were prisoners who had contagious diseases. Also the violation of the Constitution in respect to religious rights. Also the beatings. And this is why they moved me from one prison to another.

And sometimes I was even tortured. For example they hit me. Another way to torture me is they would make me naked in the cell, with handcuffs and ankle cuffs, for 21 consecutive days. For example, I was in punishment cells naked, then officers would ask me to stand up to respect them, and I wouldn't, and that's why sometimes they punished me. Sometimes they would hang me by my wrists, so that I was on my toes.

As infuriating as that is, the truly heartbreaking bit, a variation of which you hear often in Cuba, was this:

It's very difficult for me because I love my country very much. I'm confident that changes have to come. I can't believe that Castro's heart can all be black. I hope that even though it's going to be a slow process that we could obtain the rights to which we are entitled. I will try to survive.

A Woman's Place Is at the Battlefront

Republicans, doubtless persuaded by Kerry's column this week, have backed off attempts to keep female soldiers out of combat positions.

First, They Came for the Stem-Cell Researchers...

...and they eventually worked their way up to IVF practitioners.

Glad-handing frequent flier House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), notes the Wash Post, has called embryonic stem cell research "the dismemberment of living, distinct humans beings."

Writes the Post:

It's hard...to be dismembered if one has no limbs--being merely a cluster of a couple of hundred non-differentiated cells. These 5-day-old embryos get created all the time in fertility clinics to help people who otherwise could not have children. In a typical in vitro treatment, several more embryos are created than used, and the extras get frozen....A survey of fertility clinics in 2002 indicated that there were about 400,000 frozen embryos across the country. Many of these will never be implanted in a woman and will never become babies. All of this is commonplace and accepted because few people regard a group of cells that small as the moral equivalent of a human being. Yet, by Mr. DeLay's standards, each and every one of these embryos is a potential murder victim.

If Mr. DeLay really believes this, in vitro fertilization as practiced is legalized torture and murder on a mass scale. If a 5-day-old embryo is "a person," then putting it in a freezer--let alone allowing it to expire in a petri dish or throwing it out--should be no more acceptable for the goal of producing babies for the infertile than it is for discovering therapies that could help dying people. Nor should the issue be just federal funding but the legality of the practice itself. Mr. DeLay said yesterday in a news conference that he wanted to "look at" the issue of discarded embryos...But he stopped short of supporting any federal regulation, let alone the sort of draconian restrictions it would take to stop what he evidently sees as a slaughter of innocents. This makes no sense. A society that accepts the routine destruction of embryos cannot treat as "dismemberment" the one means of destroying those embryos that might produce great breakthroughs in science and health.

Whole thing here.

For the most part, I think the debate over embryonic stem cell research--especially in the political arena--is less about first principles and more about lining up in the culture wars. Both the Dems and Reps, liberals and conservatives, could plausibly be on either side, depending on how the issues are framed (calling Nancy Reagan). What we're seeing mostly is a quick choosing of sides based more of defining yourself against your opponent than anything else (hence, DeLay's philosophical confusion).

Let me add one more weakly developed notion: When it comes to these sorts of breakthroughs (IVF, stem cells), we're first and foremost pragmatists. If these technologies pan out and offer great advances to the living, even hard-core pro-lifers will cook up after-the-fact rationalizations for why they are just no matter what. That's one reason why Bush's biomedical czar, Leon Kass, doesn't talk about IVF anymore, even though he opposed it when it first became viable.

Indeed, you even get a whiff of this pragmatism in the abortion debate, where the issue is (at least for the sake of argument) much clearer: Very few pro-lifers, and certainly no major political figures, argue for putting doctors who peform abortions or women who have them on trial for murder. Even among strident pro-lifers, that's considered a nut job position, even if it is perfectly consistent with the view that abortion is a form of homicide. On the flip side, pro-choicers imply there's something skeevy about abortion when they insist it should be legal, safe, and rare--why "rare" if it is simply a routine medical procedure?

My point is that we quickly learn to live with biomedical technologies that give us what we want, even if we as a society (and yes, kemo sabe, I realize that "who's we?" is an important question) are not fully certain that they are "moral."

A while back, Reason's resident mad science correspondent, the award-winning Ronald Bailey, asked "Are Stem Cells Babies?" His answer: Only if every other human cell is, too.

Ohio Knows Best?

If Governor Bob Taft (Republican) gets his way, Ohio will double the excise tax on alcohol from 18 cents to 36 cents. Beer drinker Fred Lisy promises the new tax will not keep him from drinking, "It's just the principle of being taxed like that. It's distateful."

He's referring not just to the new alcohol tax, but to sin taxes in general. Such levies are easy to impose because they punish unpopular goods or services (smoking, drinking, etc.) that most people have no problem condemning. That makes them an ugly combination of paternalism, social scapegoating, and -- given that they are mostly used in times of budget shortfall -- fiscal irresponsibility. They're great if you want to pick on drinkers or punish small businesses, but not if you want to respect your citizens' freedom.

Now We Know They're Westernizing

In Iran, Islamic conservatives are learning to use focus groups.

Speaking of Cuba...

Matt Welch's col yesterday about Cuba listed a number of books which underscored the disturbing point that "there can be no final and precise accounting for exactly who collaborated with [totalitarian regimes], and to what extent. To his suggestions, let me add Anna Funder's stunning Stasiland, a grimly hilarious telling of "true stories from behind the Berlin Wall." For more information on this extraordinary book, go here.

Back to Cuba for a moment (and in a roundabout way): The Wash Post today condemns Amnesty International for its recent annual report, in which the venerable group calls the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times."

After noting the paper's own extensive criticisms of Gitmo, the Post notes:

We draw the line at the use of the word "gulag" or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there -- including new evidence of desecrating the Koran -- have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death. Its modern equivalent is not Guantanamo Bay, but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside....

Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prison systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as "hysterical."

Whole thing here.

I sense the hand of Post columnist and editorial board member Anne Applebaum guiding the above editorial (with which I agree). She's the author of the excellent Gulag which, like Stasiland, is a monumental achievement in recording totalitarianism as it (hopefully) fades from the planet.

Reason looked at Camp X-Ray and civil liberties here. And Cuba's Castro-driven insanity here. And here.

Looking for Hay in a Haystack

Via The Christian Science Monitor, some choice "Modesty Can Be Chic!" boilerplate, the recurrent Style section version of the "It's Hip to Be Republican!" story:

Still, some teens find that it's difficult to be fashionably modest with what's on the racks.

"Clothes today are too tight, too sheer, and too revealing," says Sarah Kator, a Meridian, Idaho, teen, in an e-mail. "I always have to buy shirts a size or two larger than they are designed to be worn, and I'm not a very large girl."

Is there some small Idaho town that only has a Frederick's of Hollywood? I can't imagine that it was ever hard to find cleavage-covering fashion, but surely it's easier today than it was 15 years ago, when "skimpy" actually meant something. Pre-teens pining for lack of demure couture should check out the June issue of Vogue, which has a fabulous spread on "packing for paradise" in Bhutan. ("In an unpredictable climate, layering is key!") The Denimaxx shearling duster with raccoon trim looks Taliban-friendly.

Thurl Ravenscroft, RIP

Thurl Ravenscroft died Sunday at 91. You might not know the name, but you know the voice: The New York Times obit identifies him as the man behind Tony the Tiger's "They're Grrrrreeeat!", and that's no small accomplishment, though I prefer to think of him as the man who sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and the Snoopy, Come Home number "No Dogs Allowed."

That only scratches the surface of his career. For a detailed fan site, go here.

Hysterical Treason Accusations: Not Just for Ann Coulter Anymore!

Via Morons.org, I learn that Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alab.) had this to say about some Bill Maher joke poking fun at the military:

I think it borders on treason. In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or national security of our country....I don't want [Maher] prosecuted, I want him off the air.

And in congressmanship (as Rep. Yoda here might put it) one definition is having three brain cells to rub together and sufficient regard for free speech not to go slinging around the word "treason" like rhesus feces. A press release on Bachus' site adds

Congressman Bachus has sent a letter to the entire Board of Directors of TimeWarner, HBO's parent company, asking that they stop distributing this tasteless and hurtful programming.

That crass attempt at intimidation notwithstanding, Bachus notes that "Because of the sacrifice of Americans in the past, Maher has the right to say what he wants no matter how contemptible. " So in the comments threads, be sure to thank the troops before exploring what colorful terms and phrases best characterize Spencer Bachus.

V-T Day?

Lots of folks are more than a little fond of drawing comparisons between World War II and whatever you care to call the conflict that began on September 11, 2001. Last week a Salon letter-writer dropped a factoid that set me back on that analogy: Using the World War II schedule, if 9/11 was Pearl Harbor, then the war should have ended last Friday. *

Whether you're hawk, dove, neo-, paleo- or just looking to compare how little you've achieved in the last three+ years with how much your forefathers managed to pull off in the same amount of time, it's something to think about. And I think When does the national emergency end? is now officially a fair question to ask.

* Please, no comments about how WWII didn't start with Pearl Harbor. The actual beginning of the War On Terrorism I've seen defined as everything from the USS Cole to the battle of Mogadishu to the first WTC bombing to the Beirut barracks bombing to the Rushdie affair to the Iran hostage crisis to Sal Mineo's induction into the Irgun in Exodus.

He Links Me, He Links Me Not

Do political blogs stay in their own ideological cocoons, or seek to engage the opposition? Do they limit their cross-spectrum linking to straw-man gotchas, or gen-u-ine debates? If you detest the word "blogs," is this still interesting if you substitute the word "people"? Some of these questions are addressed in this interesting, if small-looking, new study. My initial beef would be classifying people across a single political axis....

New at Reason

Everything that has transpired has done so according to Castro's design. From here, will Matt Welch witness the final destruction of the Cuban opposition and the end of their insignificant rebellion? Maybe not.

Sen. McCain, What About the Streetlight on Main and Broad?

H&R regular Ari Spanier directs us to future Prez McCain's latest initiative:

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, unveiled the much-anticipated proposal for a Clean Sports Act on Tuesday, the culmination of a series of hearings full of discontent with steroid testing in professional sports. The legislation aims to require standardized testing procedures and stiffer punishments for athletes who test positive for banned substances.

Much anticipated? By who, Mrs. McCain? Whole thing here.

I look forward to McCain proposals on the allowable curvature of hockey sticks in the NHL, the length of NBA shorts, and the type of shoelaces in the NFL. Finally, a man who knows what's important and gets things done!

Reading about McCain's and his inability to restrain himself from butting into matters far beneath and/or beyond the scope of his job as a tool of Arizona's special interests (whatever they might be) reminded me of this tale of a very different senator. The following is from a Reason story by Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin (now TV critic at the Miami Herald):

Some years ago, a newspaper sent me to interview S.I. Hayakawa, by then a retired senator from California. Hayakawa was legendarily combative: Asked once during a campaign stop what he thought about a local referendum on legalizing greyhound tracks, he snapped: "I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I don't give a good goddamn about dog racing."

Whole thing here.

Reason profiled McCain here.

The much-missed (well, at least by its writers) Suck mocked him here. And here.

"A Gentle Ribbing Via Gawker"

That's reader m.oconnor's summation of this headline at Gawker:

Only Libertarian Not Currently Blogging for Reason Magazine Wins Popularity Contest

Money Laundering, a.k.a. Representing Your Client Too Well

This week a federal judge reversed the money laundering conviction of Gary, Indiana, attorney Jerry Jarrett, concluding that the government had vindictively prosecuted him on trumped-up charges after he represented a client too well. The client in question, Gary physician Jong Hi Bek, is on trial in federal court for drug distribution and health care fraud, based on allegations that he knowingly wrote inappropriate painkiller prescriptions. In 2003 Jarrett embarrassed local prosecutors by forcing them to withdraw murder charges against Bek that were tied to the deaths of two patients. (It turned out that one patient probably died of a heroin overdose, while the other had a heart attack.) Now one of those local prosecutors, Susan Collins, is an assistant U.S. attorney handling the federal case against Bek.

After unsuccessfully seeking to have Jarrett removed as Bek's defense attorney, federal prosecutors forced him off the case by charging him with money laundering, based on what U.S. District Judge William Lee viewed as transparently false testimony. Lee said the main prosecution witness, a convicted money launderer named Gregory Goode, "ranks as one of the worst witnesses to ever take the stand on the governmen's behalf. Jarrett, during his cross-examination of Goode, fully displayed that Goode is an absolute liar and will say whatever benefits him at the moment."

As Jarett Decker showed in the June 2004 issue of Reason, this sort of retaliatory prosecution is part of a pattern at the Justice Department.

[Thanks to Siobhan Reynolds for the link.]

Even Evil Folks Need Arms

The World Policy Institute has come out with a new study of United States weapons sales, in which we learn:

In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report: in the sense that "citizens do not have the right to change their own government." These 13 nations received over $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers in 2003, with the top recipients including Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), the United Arab Emirates ($110 million) and Uzbekistan ($33 million).

When countries designated by the State Department's Human Rights Report to have poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are factored in, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003 -- a full 80% -- were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.

Link via Sploid.

Custody Battle

The California Supreme Court is hearing cases regarding whether or not a lesbian mother who has no biological connection to her child can receive joint or partial custody. Opponents of granting such rights argue that since one parent has no biological connection to the child, anyone who had a hand in raising the child or even planning the pregnancy could claim parental rights.

In this era of advanced reproductive technologies, the only person harmed by such ambiguity in the law is the newborn child that everyone says they want to protect. We know that "being a parent" isn't about the biological relationship, but the emotional relationship. Why remove that distinction when it comes to homosexual couples?

All Hail the Great Compromise!

I know DC is a company town, but the boosterism on the Wash Post's editorial page today is quease-inducing.

First up is the David Broder's extended brain fart regarding John McCain (aka "the Senate's real leader"). Broder starts off by averring that "the Monday night agreement to avert a showdown vote over judicial filibusters...spared the Senate from a potentially ruinous clash."

Ruinous? How exactly? By making the Dems and Reps actually declare and define something approaching core principles and ideological allegiances? Come on--a Senate showdown on this would not have only been a fascinating spectacle, it would have been a pretty damned good civics lesson. Broder may be right that McCain is a big winner here but who cares (and who takes seriously that McCain is really going to make it all the way to the White House come '08; the guy is mush-brained buttinsky who has tried and failed multiple times already)?

Then the usually insightful and super-sharp David Ignatius slobbers all over "two venerable, white-haired politicians clinging to the vanishing center: Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, 87, and Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, 78," who were at the center of "The Great Compromise."

Come on, Byrd is a total hypocrite on this matter, having threatened in 1979 to make the very rule change that the GOP leadership is pushing now. "This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past," said Byrd at the time. As for Warner as statesman, does anyone really think that his legacy will be anything other than having been married to Elizabeth Taylor?

I suspect the new agreement will dissolve faster than a cake in the rain. As it should. And then maybe we'll see something really worth paying attention to: political discourse rooted in ideas. (But probably not.)

Shout at the Network

Mötley Crüe is suing NBC for banning the band from its shows after lead singer Vince Neil "used an expletive" on The Tonight Show last New Year's Eve. The group argues that NBC acted under pressure from the FCC's stepped-up campaign against broadcast "indecency," transforming what would otherwise be a private programming decision into a violation of Motley Crue's First Amendment rights. Although the argument is a bit of a stretch, it's more creative than you might expect for what appears to be little more than a publicity stunt. Still, it's not clear NBC actually was worried about the FCC in this instance. The show featuring Neil's naughty word aired late at night, during the "safe harbor" hours when the indecency rules do not apply. You could argue that NBC was nevertheless trying to court favor with the FCC by going beyond its legal duty. But it's just as plausible that the network was worried about offended viewers and advertisers. The absence of government-imposed programming restrictions does not mean that anything goes, and broadcasters have a First Amendment right to decide what does.

Reading and Rubbish

"[A]s a general rule," writes British novelist DJ Taylor in The Guardian, "whenever a participant is offered more 'choices', whether in the number of book outlets, TV channels or radio stations, the end result will be to depress the overall quality of the available material."

How's that for "a general rule"? Taylor is led to this black conclusion by the spectacle of big UK retailers offering popular books -- by the likes of Dan Brown and Patricia Cornwell -- at discounted prices. Every deal struck between publishers and retailers to sell such titles is "terrifically bad for serious novelists" who will never see their books offered "next to the barbecue displays and newspaper racks of the checkout." Publishers may prattle on about cultural democratization, writes Taylor, but such "'democracy', alas, is not much more than a synonym for cheap rubbish."

There's nothing like a stale apocalypse, and this one -- the end of literature -- has been rushing toward us since Gutenberg. Taylor thinks the wrong kind of people are now selling books. There were similar complaints in the 18th century. The British reaction to Grub Street hacking, for example, was that authors really shouldn't be writing for money at all. Money would turn literature into a commodity, and ruin it. A French version was that every duodecimo edition of hackwork sold to provincials reduced the potential readership for the serious octavo works that appealed to discerning Parisians.

The most honest version of this complaint emerged in the 19th century. Then, the roots of cultural catastrophe lay not in who sold books, but in who read them. The spread of literacy, made possible in Britain by educational reforms, created an unprecedented market for "cheap rubbish." Critics argued then that the common sort of people should be dissuaded from reading novels at all. Popular fiction was bad for its readers, they held, and it was certainly bad for "serious novelists." This particular version of apocalypse didn't die out until the 1930s, though revised versions have since focused on paperbacks and on Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., "A study announced Tuesday estimates that a record 195,000 new works came out in 2004, a 14 percent jump over the previous year and 72 percent higher than in 1995." There was a big increase in the number of adult-fiction titles published, though "education, history and science releases declined," evidence for some, no doubt, that publishers are putting out the wrong kind of books.

Thanks to ArtsJournal.

A War Tax?

Author James Bamford thinks a tax surcharge to fund wars and a threshold draft, one that would start snagging young Americans once a certain number of U.S. troops are engaged in fighting, are about the only things that can force an apathetic public to pay attention to what government does in the name of security policy.

In other words, Bamford thinks the current national security system is broken beyond repair; that Congress, the press, and the nation's professional security class have all failed to restrain a sharply focused political agenda which had getting U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East as its over-arching goal. Plus Bamford wouldn't mind seeing the president answer directly for his policy path:

It would seem logical that if Bill Clinton could be subject to impeachment for an alleged deception over a minor consensual sexual affair, George W. Bush should be subject to the same treatment for launching a deadly and seemingly endless war based on lies, distortions and deceptions. If that doesn't qualify as a "high crime," I don't think anything does.

Right or wrong, that a relative mainstream insider like Bamford has come to these conclusions is significant.

New at Reason

Ron Bailey sheds his fur, walks erect, and strides into the Kansas Intelligent Design hearings.

"You've watched 40 straight hours of SpongeBob — get off the weed!"

Conan O'Brien reveals the future of television:

...all of these changes will pale in comparison to the revolutionary explosion of late-night talk shows. As recently as 20 years ago, Johnny Carson was the only game in town, but as cable channels continue to pursue niche viewers, new hosts will continue to spring up at alarming rates. At first, the economy will surge as families build desks, fake windows and bandstands in their basements, but before long violence will erupt as the nation's supply of available talk-show guests begins to dwindle. Dr. Joyce Brothers, Fabio and Randy from "American Idol" will be airlifted to guest-starved areas to quell violence, but anecdote theft and consecutive Al Roker appearances will turn the Midwest into a battlefield. Order will be restored when the Supreme Court (led remarkably well by Chief Justice Judy) upholds the One Host, One Guest law in Philbin v. Ripa.

Quien Es Mas Libertario?

Jim Henley explores the Anakin-style corruption of the neolibertarian.

House Approves Stem Cell Research Expansion

The House of Representatives just voted to approve the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Act of 2005. This act would lift President Bush's 2001 restrictions on the federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells. In moral grandstanding earlier today, President Bush threatened to exercise his first veto over this legislation. President Bush is so solicitous of embryos that he is more careful of them than is Nature and (for believers) Nature's God. Meanwhile actually existing human beings who perhaps might be spared disease, disability and early death by means of embryonic stem treatments can just go hang.

New at Reason

How is an academic studying women in love like a bunch of politicians fretting about women in war? Kerry Howley asks the eternal question.

Make the Magic Stop

Like Jesse Walker, I was surprised to hear that psilocybin mushrooms will soon be banned in the U.K.--mainly because I hadn't realized they were still legal there. In a recent Guardian column, Mark Honigsbaum explains that until now only dried or otherwise processed 'shrooms were forbidden. But this summer even the fresh variety will be placed in the same legal category as crack and heroin. Honigsbaum says the legislation, a token of the Labour Party's toughness on drugs, "is so flawed it could even see Her Majesty banged up at her own pleasure for permitting psycilocybe mushrooms to flourish at Windsor and Balmoral."

[Thanks to Thomas Roberts for the link.]

Assad Cracks Down

Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid stated in a post this morning that any hope that the Syrian regime is capable of meaningful reform (there's a Baathist Party congress set for June) is wishful thinking, and dangerous as well. "We are waiting for our criminals to become saints and our idiots to become geniuses, and we are expecting this to happen overnight too," wrote Abdulhamid. (Tony Badran sent the link; here's his excellent site.)

As if on cue, the Assad regime this morning began a crackdown on Syrian dissidents. "At dawn this morning," writes Joshua Landis from Damascus, "Syrian authorities . . . arrested the Board of Directors of the Jamal Atassi Muntada (Forum)," a civil-society group.

"So long as individuals complain," wites Landis, "there is no threat. If they begin to organize, as they have been tentatively doing, there is a threat." Landis expects little from next month's party congress.

Syria has also cut whatever ties remain with the U.S. military and with U.S. intelligence.

New at Reason

A Kabal against Karzai? The Seoul of an embryo? Sour Krauts? Where else can you find all these, but in Reason Express.

Breaking News

AdAge reports (reg. required) that energy company BP has joined Morgan Stanley in adopting an explicit policy of pulling ads from issues of magazines in which there's unfavorable coverage of the company.

On the one hand, there's certainly a non-nefarious (potential) rationale for this: If the value of an ad is going to be nullified by a piece slagging the company on the opposite page, that's just a bad use of one's advertising budget. Halliburton doesn't take out a lot of ads in The Nation, for good reason. On the other hand, there's obvious and very worrying potential for that sort of thing to influence coverage in an untoward way.

The two solutions, I think, are more information and less. Less, in that the wall of separation between ad and editorial departments needs to be more scrupulously maintained than ever. You can go over to MediaTransparency and find a (partial?) list of Reason Foundation donors. I purposely never look at that list, because I never want to find myself wondering, even for an instant, whether something I write might annoy a funder. More, in that publications should prominently and regularly disclose whether they're party ton such contingent advertising contracts so that readers can take what they read with the appropriate numbers of grains of salt. There needs to be a feedback-loop between professional ethics and an alert readership that will punish uncritically fawning coverage as much as advertisers will reward it, so that doing right and doing well are, if not in perfect harmony, at least not at loggerheads.

Dot-com Bubble 3.0

Another sign that what Alan Greenspan might describe as "froth" is returning at long last to the Internet economy -- Philip Kaplan, founder of schaedenfreude-slinger Fucked Company, has launched a VC-backed online advertising company. L.A. Times story here.

Doran Doran

Hatchet jobs are a tool of all newspapers, but a favorite particularly of the London-based Saudi press. The latest victim is Michael Scott Doran, who may soon be joining the National Security Council as senior Middle East policy-maker to replace Elliott Abrams, who will become deputy national security adviser. (Disclosure: Doran is a friend and someone I will be among the first to congratulate if he is indeed appointed.)

In this case, Jihad al-Khazen of Al-Hayat has taken a knife to Doran, accusing him (in an abysmally translated English version of an Arabic article) of being "not only a supporter of the Israeli Likud party and known for his anti-Arab and anti-Islamic opinion, but also a dedicated member of the opposed side. All his writings reflect a hostile feeling, especially against Saudi Arabia."

We even learn, rather titillatingly, that "his articles, conferences and interviews blend venom and lubricant."

Two things bother the Saudis in Doran: first that he wrote an influential article in the January-February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs where he argued that the Saudi royal family was divided between Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Nayef. As Doran put it:

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

This hit the Saudis in a particularly sensitive spot, because it demolished the pretense of unity in the royal family (something essential if the regime is to survive against its many foes) and suggested that senior princes were bickering over the succession to King Fahd, who was effectively reduced to the state of a cucumber after suffering a stroke a decade ago. That a family which could once depose a king for incompetence (King Saud) cannot do so another who is utterly incapable of leading his kingdom, suggests there is some truth to Doran's thesis. After all, if Crown Prince Abdullah has been unable to succeed his half-brother, that's because his other half-brothers, including Nayef, have not endorsed it.

Khazen's rebuttal of this argument is so constrained by the official Saudi line that Fahd is in fine form as to be downright hilarious: "Based on my personal knowledge, I can say that the Crown Prince only follows the orders of the King. In turn, the Minister of Defense executes orders received from the Crown Prince. The traditional and well-known hierarchy prevents the establishment of any power centers, as those mentioned by Doran."

A second thing that bothers the Saudis is that Doran, despite his purported hatred of Arabs, has shown particular interest in and sympathy for the fate of the kingdom's Shiites. Saudi Shiites are second-class citizens at home, and Doran has written about this in the past. Indeed, Khazen alludes to this irritating hobby of Doran's in his piece, but apparently doesn't quite know what to do with it.

Doran was set upon last year by another commentator plying the waters of the London-based Saudi press: In a pair of articles in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian, attacked Doran personally for his Saudi article, albeit less ham-fistedly than Khazen. Nonetheless, like Khazen's screed, it had all the trappings of a contract hit, where the arguments were thin and the insinuations thick.

Doran has become a favorite target of many groups. He was at the center of a furor at Princeton University, where he teaches, because some professors thought he leaned too much to the right. The Saudis can't stand him because he won't toe the official line they have tried so hard to peddle of a kingdom united in its animosity toward Islamist terrorism. Post-colonial academics and those who still weep at the altar of the late Edward Said (particularly his nephew, Usama, whom Doran beat out of a job) dislike Doran because he is close to the conservative Princeton Middle East historian Bernard Lewis and represents what they hate most about the Bush administration.

You know the value of a person by the quality of his enemies, so Doran should be a happy man today.

"If We Were Caught, Everybody Would Be Dead"

The Los Angeles Times reports on a moving image of dissidence in North Korea:

With shaking hands, the North Korean climbed onto the shoulders of a buddy to reach the underside of the bridge. As another accomplice stood guard, he hung up a banner denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in bright red paint.

Then he took out a video camera, disguised to look like a carton of cigarettes, and filmed his handiwork for posterity....

"If we were caught, everybody would be dead," said the man, who goes by the name Park Dae Heung.

The 33-minute tape has created a sensation in Japan and South Korea, where it has aired repeatedly. South Korean human rights advocates say it is the first evidence of a nascent dissident movement inside North Korea.

There is controversy over what motivated the filmmakers--pure hatred for the regime or the knowledge that Japanese television stations would pay thousands for such footage. But why should it matter? It's solid proof of dissent in a nation of people supposedly brainwashed into slavish reverence for a dumpy, bespectacled tyrant whose entire wardrobe consists of khaki windbreakers:

"The camera is our weapon," Park said. "We wanted to break the myth that North Korea is an impenetrable fortress..."

Film here.
LA Times piece here.

Dramatic License

In a Glenelg, Maryland, high school, Jim Frisby, a black student, and Nick Lehan, a white student, performed the song "Muddy Water" from the theatrical version of Mark Twain's Huck Finn. The only difference was, Frisby played Huck and Lehan played the slave, Jim.

This was all well and good until C-Span tried to air the performance on Close Up. R & H Theatricals, the Rogers and Hammerstein organization that owns the license to the play, denied Close Up permission to air the song, arguing that "when you're dealing with a theatrical work and race or ethnicity is a key factor, many authors or playwrights feel strongly that ethnicity has to be reflected in the actors who portray the characters." Frisby's father says that's racism. Mark Twain could not be reached for comment.

New at Reason

When not taking his cues directly from the Almighty, President Bush sometimes has recourse to mortal political theorists for guidance; Cathy Young took a look at one of his favorites in our May issue.

Casualties of Not-War

A DEA administrator got awfully huffy when Cato's Radley Balko suggested that the government's attempts to stem "overprescription" of pain medications amounted to a war on doctors. So he's compiled a depressingly non-comprehensive list of collateral damage.

You Can't Turn Zimbabwe Into Black Korea

Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has arrested 9,653 people in what the AP calls a "five-day blitz on street vendors, flea market stalls and other informal businesses." Needless to say, this has provoked protests, which in turn have been met with police violence.

Why the crackdown? Here's the opposition's theory:

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change...accused Mugabe of ordering the crackdown in response to pressure from newly arrived Chinese businessmen to stop secondhand dealers undercutting their cheap imports.

"The country has been mortgaged to the Chinese," Tsvangirai said in a statement. "How can we violently remove Zimbabweans from our flea markets to make way for the Chinese? The majority of Zimbabweans depend on informal trade to feed, clothe and educate their families."

Under Mugabe's "Look East" policy, the country has recently acquired airliners and jet fighters from Beijing, rejecting calls to make up with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Possibility number one: Tsvangirai's accusation is true, and this is not merely a case of a putatively populist regime crushing the people, but of a government given to black-power rhetoric eliminating black people's livelihoods on behalf of competitors of another race.

Possibility number two: The accusation is not true, and Zimbabwe's racial resentments have taken a strange new turn.

By the way, remember those white-owned farms that Mugabe seized a few years ago? An unconfirmed rumor -- always the most interesting kind -- says that some of them will be handed over to China's state-owned agribusiness combine.

Uncle Sam Wants You to Eat More Beef

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal program under which cattle ranchers are required to pay for generic beef-boosting ads. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" ads amount to "government speech" and therefore do not raise First Amendment concerns. That conclusion was contrary to the logic of a 2001 decision in which a majority of the Court (including Scalia) ruled that generic mushroom ads funded by a similar levy on producers amounted to "compelled speech" and therefore violated their First Amendment rights.

The three justices who dissented from yesterday's decision noted that the government is trying to have it both ways, since the beef ads do not indicate that they are sponsored by the government, saying only that they are "funded by America's Beef Producers." "If government relies on the government-speech doctrine to compel specific groups to fund speech with targeted taxes," wrote Justice David Souter, "it must make itself politically accountable by indicating that the content actually is a government message, not just the statement of one self-interested group the government is currently willing to invest with power."

As much as I'd like to withdraw my financial support for, say, the government's anti-drug ads, I can see the problems with a general rule that says taxpayers cannot be forced to subsidize speech with which they disagree. Are my First Amendment rights violated every time John McCain opens his mouth, since I help to pay his salary? But the mandatory commodity ads do seem different, partly because they are presented as messages from the producers themselves rather than the government. Hence the dissidents (who object to the ads because--get this--they seek to differentiate their products from their competitors') are being forced not only to pay for the speech but to endorse it.

14 Senators Who Averted Nuclear Filibustering

Well, just like the Cold War (without the freedom ringing part), the big hoo-hah over the filibustering of judicial nominees ended with a whimper not a bang, thanks to 14 senators (seven from each party).

Under the deal, Democrats -- who hold 44 of the chamber's 100 seats, plus the support of an independent -- agreed to allow final votes on Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, all nominated to U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.

Democrats still refused to agree to allow votes on William G. Myers III, a former lawyer for the Interior Department, and Henry Saad, a Michigan state judge.

The negotiators trumpeted the deal as a victory for the historical role of the Senate as a chamber that operates on consensus and collegiality.

"In a Senate that is increasingly polarized, the bipartisan center held," said [Democratic Sen. Joe] Lieberman. "The Senate is back in business," added [Republican Sen. Lindsey] Graham.

Whole thing here.

Profiles in Unintended Consequences

The Baltimore Sun's Tim Wheeler takes a look at an ordinance in Prince George's County, Maryland, that's "barring any new home construction where police, fire and ambulance calls are not answered promptly -- within six to 10 minutes for emergencies, and 25 minutes for all other calls."

[T]he pioneering law has -- to almost everyone's surprise -- effectively halted new development from being approved for the past five months, even inside the Capital Beltway, where there is broad support for revitalizing the county's older communities....

County Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters...said he spearheaded the emergency-response legislation because he was concerned that the county's growth was outpacing its ability to protect its residents -- particularly in the rural tier, which stretches along the Patuxent River down to southern Prince George's. That's where pricey new homes have been springing up like dandelions, with fewer police and fire stations to cover them.

"You can't compromise public safety," Peters said.

But the law revealed that slow responses are not limited to the countryside. Three of six police districts covering half the county have been unable to meet the required response times.

The Gopher State And the (Alleged) 20th Hijacker

The Rake finds the Minnesota angle in the 9/11 saga, with a profile of Clancy Prevost, the Pan Am flight instructor who tipped off the FBI about suspicious student Zacarias Moussaoui. Writer Dean Staley keeps throwing in boilerplate about how we have to put ourselves back in that pre-9/11 mindset to understand why people overlooked so many clues, but the impression I got was how quickly, and on what scant evidence, Prevost started to form his suspicions. A guy with no law enforcement connection, working for a private company that was under some financial pressure just to take Massaoui's money and not ask questions, still ended up being instrumental in the only domestic 9/11-related indictment to date. There's some kind of lesson there, but I'm not sure what it is.

Reason Writers Around Town

At Salon (ad view req.) Matt Welch urges those tenderfoots in the Democratic Party to go west.

New at Reason

Is there a method to Washington's new steroid madness? Jeff Taylor considers the advantages.

Syria: "Change is Coming"

Joshua Landis, the American scholar who is blogging from Damascus, put up a pair of notable posts this weekend, both dealing with the prospects for political change in Syria. On Saturday he wrote that, "Change is coming to Syria -- there is no way to deny it. How it will happen and how controlled it will be, no one can say. . . . The signs are everywhere. One top Alawite official joked to a Sunni friend, 'Will you treat us well in the future?' This kind of remark revealing the anxiety of regime figures about the future, but still couched in a joke to indicate insouciance, would not have been heard a year ago."

Landis, frequently a sharp critic of U.S. policy in the region, reports that Syria's "elite is anxious and beginning to take evasive action to prepare for change -- what kind of change? Who knows?"

Landis is concerned that Syria isn't ready for major change, and on Sunday he made the case for sticking with the Assad regime, at least for now. Describing a discussion with a Syrian journalist friend, he wrote that, "I argued that regime-change now would be a mistake and would hold many unforeseen and unpredictable dangers. My friend argued the opposite. He said the sooner there is regime-change the better. 'You are out of touch with real Syria,' he said." The friend went on to make an economic case for change, one that Landis believes is mistaken.

Landis is concerned that "Syria has no organized opposition that has any experience. The ethnic and sectarian divisions among Syrians are real and wide. There is very little 'liberal' consciousness among the broad masses. 'If there is revolution or regime-change now,' I argued, the chance of Syria heading toward chaos or even civil war is high -- too high to risk.'"

Obviously, Landis knows that the approaching collapse of the Assad regime can't be scheduled. Whether one agrees with his views of the region or not, these posts on Syria's intensifying dilemma are well worth reading in their entirety.

Surveillance Matrix Reloaded

Max Borders backpedals slightly from the pro–surveillance camera column that I ripped on last week. (Slightly disappointing, really, since I ran into Max this weekend and was all primed for a drag-out, knock-down argument on the subject.)

Anyway, kudos to him for keeping an open mind and offering some sound points. I'll just throw out two clarifications: First, I mentioned "stalking," but my point wasn't really that the Watchers are literally guilty of the crime of stalking—though some genuinely have been observed behaving creepily in other cities—but rather to stress that the level of potential tracking of someone camera networks enable is very different from the sort of casual observation we're all subject to by other people in public places. Second, I think it's worth bearing in mind that the sort of scare scenario I offered—using a recorded database of camera images with face recognition software to extract a fairly comprehensive record of someone's movements and behaviors over an extended period—isn't a total sci-fi pipe dream that might come about in the distant future, as in the movie Minority Report. The technology isn't quite ready for prime time, but this sort of thing is already in use, and plenty of smart people are working on improving it. The sort of thing I described is, I think, a pretty clear next step once such camera networks are in place.

But What's Australian for Blog, Mate?

Crikey, who knows?

But thanks to Sploid for pointing us, via Boing Boing via Loic Le Meur, to the latest annoyance from America's oldest enemy (not counting the English, the Spanish, the Indians, other Americans, and the weather).

Which is: The French Academy has declared that the official French term for weblog shall be..."Bloc Notes."

Good luck enforcing that one, garcons.

The IDsurgency

Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but that crappy photo taken after waiting three hours in line at the DMV. A trio of libertarians have started the Real ID Rebellion blog to oppose the new legislation.

What's the Difference Between a Libertarian and a Wookiee?

Hammer of Truth's Stephen Van Dyke hips us to a controversy almost as heated as the one about Jar Jar's sexual orientation.

This one is about Bill O'Reilly's recent bon mot that he couldn't tell the difference between a wookiee and a libertarian.

Hmm, how would one tell? Insert joke in comments below.

Update: Wookiee has now been spelled properly. But what is the French term for Wookiee?

New at Reason

You might think these are hard times for sports: Athletes are getting grilled on Capitol Hill; the NBA playoffs have so far been a snooze; and somewhere, some movie executive is almost certainly planning a Tom Brady remake of C.C. And Company. But in a look at three new sports bios, Matt Welch shows how a generation of sports mavericks sacked the era of squarejawed Gil Thorps and brought about a golden age of free minds, free markets, and free agency.

Lucky Me

Will Wilkinson notes that Matt Miller seems to be building a career on milking the same goddamn elementary point about luck and justice from the first chapter of A Theory of Justice, most recently in The New York Times this weekend.

Luckily for me, that means I can just deploy the debater's favorite time saving refrain: Cross-apply my argument from the last time he did this schtick.

Exactly When Did B.O. Stop Meaning "Body Odor"?

Riddle me that, Frank Gorshin! Oops, everyone's favorite Batman villain is dead.

But riddle me this, Hit & Run readers: Why do we care about movie box office performance? Witness this article in today's Wash Post Style section Revenge of the Sith's box office coup (or semi-coup) over the weekend. Or this tally over at Movies.com.

Maybe we don't really care, but it does seem to me that there's a helluva more general attention paid to movie b.o. than, say, 20 years ago, when this sort of thing was largely confined to Variety and industry trades.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just an interesting thing. And I'm curious to know why we care more now.

Good Luck With That

The Times of India is reporting that, according to a China-based weekly, China has formed "a special force of undercover online commentators" to pepper the internet with pro-government posts:

"They will guide public opinion as ordinary netizens. This is both important and effective," Ma Zhichun, one of the recruited commentators, was quoted as saying....

The Communist Party's top disciplinary and supervision body trained 127 officials for such jobs last year to "strengthen Internet propaganda on its anti-corruption undertaking," the weekly said.

China has 100 million internet users and, by some estimates, half a million bloggers.

Whole thing here.
Wired profile of Chinese blog empire-builder here.
Julian Sanchez unmasks an "undercover online commentator" here.

Ego Boost

According to an Associated Press report, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (Republican) has scheduled a special election on three issues: an initiative to "delay tenure for teachers to help districts weed out the poor ones," the redrawing of congressional districts and an "automatic cap on state spending."

Critics see this election as an $80 million confidence booster, especially since regularly scheduled elections are just over a year away. Giving the people more say in state policy, through referendums, is noble. But these issues lack the urgency that warrant a special election. Gov. Schwarzenegger should save the $80 million and attach these referendums to the regularly scheduled vote.

Putting the "Me" in Meathead

Like a pre-pubescent smoker waiting for Big Tobacco to give me a carton of Marlboro Reds, I have been glancing expectantly at the Huffington Post, waiting for Rob Reiner to breathe some of his second-hand wisdom into my personal space. Today, at last, Meathead delivers. His first precious words:

As some of you may know, in 1997, my wife Michele and I helped start the I Am Your Child Foundation to improve the state of early childhood development in America. We are proud of our many accomplishments.

Someone has to be, I suppose.

But for first-graf displays of self-regard, today's award goes not to Mr. I-can't-believe-this-is-the-same-dude-who-made-Spinal-Tap, but to UPI dandy Arnaud de Borchgrave:

How does one wind up on a terrorist watch list when all you've done in a journalistic career that spanned almost six decades is report on and expose terrorist and other evildoers?

I could answer that, but I'm too busy breaking Al Qaeda necks with my bare hands. This February 2004 cover story might point Da Borch in the right direction, though.

As for Reiner, Tim Cavanaugh's August 2002 column on Meathead's "clear and present danger" is here.

Plan Afghanistan

Efforts to eradicate opium poppies in Afghanistan make efforts to eradicate coca in Colombia look like a smashing success. The New York Times reports:

Since beginning work last month, the country's Central Poppy Eradication Force, an American-trained group, has destroyed less than 250 acres, according to the two American officials. Its original goal was to eradicate 37,000 acres, but that target has recently been reduced to 17,000 acres. With the poppy harvest already under way, the actual eradication levels will probably be far lower, the American officials said.

The [State Department's] annual drug-trafficking report, released in March, warned that Afghanistan was "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state."

With opium accounting for as much as 60 percent of GDP, Afghanistan seems to be past that verge. A serious attempt to reverse the situation would cause severe economic dislocation, alienate farmers, ignite widespread protests, and compromise the war on terrorism. And to what end? As the experience with coca in South America (not to mention the experience with opium in Turkey, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Laos, and Burma) has shown, drug production can be pushed around, but it cannot be eliminated.

Your Beard, Sir, it Smells

Remarkable news from Cuba:

A resolution adopted by Cuban dissidents who participated in an unprecedented and undisturbed two-day gathering in Havana labeled Fidel Castro's government "Stalinist" and called for the return of "democratic traditions" in the communist-ruled island.

The 10-point resolution, according to a transcript released Sunday, covered a wide spectrum of issues -- from calls for the release of political prisoners to unity within the island's dissident movement, which has been divided over how best to pursue the goal of a future democratic society. [...]

The assembly attended by about 200 people was carried out -- for the first time under Castro's 46-year grip -- without incident or obvious police presence. However, about a dozen foreign observers, primarily European legislators and journalists, who had planned to attend the event were either refused entry or expelled from the country. President Bush sent a taped message to the group stating that the United States would stand by their "struggle for the freedom" of their country.

Some caveats: One of the biggest dissident groups refused to attend, calling the gathering "a big fraud against the opposition." Also, as I can testify from heart-sinking personal experience, today's dissident can become tomorrow's Castroite spy (or at least be forced to confess a betrayal). And as always, betting against the old barbudo seems about as actuarily sound as picking the Atlanta Braves to finish last.... But still this is wonderful news. Dissident website here.

Better Than the Original

Here's why you can still find a few legit DVDs in East Asia:

Fans of the Star Wars series can buy a copy of the latest movie from counterfeiters in Beijing.

Reports claim that the DVDs are not only poor quality, but they're confusing--the English subtitles match the 2003 Dolph Lundgren movie Detention.

In one scene, Anakin Skywalker is dueling with light sabers, but the subtitle reads, "I have enough trouble with students having sex like rabbits."

Sometimes, There's a Fish in a Barrel Who Really Needs to Get Plugged

In the wake of The New York Times' report on torture and murder in Afghanistan, John Cole slams Hugh Hewitt's attempt to dismiss the story -- and, by extension, slams all the apologists who use arguments like Hewitt's. Then he attacks the same mob's slimy, silly attempt to conflate the Times piece with Newsweek's Quran article.

Full of It on Filibusters

As the World's Greatest Deliberative Body®, a.k.a the U.S. Senate and the least inspiring bunch of federal employees this side of USDA meat inspectors, gets set to trigger the "nuclear option" on judicial filibusters, the Wash Times' chief political correspondent, Donald Lambro, files this partisan but fascinatin' report on what a tub of ideological lard Teddy Kennedy is on the matter of judicial filibusters:

Mr. Kennedy last week defended the use of the filibuster to block Mr. Bush's nominees, telling CBS' Face the Nation that "you're talking about an institution, established by the Founding Fathers, whose rules have guided us for more than 200 years."

But Mr. Kennedy had a different view in the late 1990s when he and 18 other Democrats sought to abolish the filibuster.

The rules-change proposal at that time, offered by Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, would have amended the Senate rules to allow a simple majority to end any filibuster against a bill or a presidential nomination.

Taking the same position now being expressed by Mr. Frist, Mr. Kennedy said on the Senate floor on Feb. 3, 1998: "We owe it to Americans across the country to give these nominees a vote. If our Republican colleagues don't like them, vote against them. But give them a vote."

That's good reporting, though one wonders: Where were the Senate Republicans on the matter? I suspect there's more than a few GOP pie-in-the-face quotes floating out there on Nexis. Whole thing here.

Elsewhere in the today's Times, Lambro filed this equally interesting (and partisan) op-ed column:

Mr. Bush nominated 52 well-qualified people to the appellate courts in his first term. Thirty-five were confirmed, but 17 were not. [Writing in Human Events, Washington powerbroker and former chief counsel to the first President Bush] C. Boyden Gray cites American Enterprise Institute scholar John Lott Jr. that the confirmation rate [of Bush appellate nominees]--67 percent-- is the lowest in modern times.

But how did President Clinton's nominees fare under the Republican Senate? Democratic leaders say they are just doing what Republicans did to them in 1990s. In fact, "Clinton's eight-year appellate confirmation rate was 74 percent, in addition to getting two liberals confirmed to the Supreme Court," says Mr. Gray. Mr. Clinton got 377 judicial nominees confirmed. A pretty good record in a Republican-run Senate.

Lambro's op-ed here.

Hmm. The percentages are pretty close, especially given the small sample of the Bush confirmations (if three more Bush picks had been confirmed, he'd be even with Clinton). Then there's the question of Clinton's eight-year span vs. Bush's first four. What was Clinton's first term rate? (Disclosure: Gray is a trustee of the Reason Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that publishes Reason and Reason Online; I haven't read his Human Events piece.)

Lambro is on firmer ground when he notes that it's relatively rare not to have up-or-down votes over judicial nominees. He notes, for instance, that Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination went to a full vote of the Senate and he quotes "liberal constitutional scholar Mark Tushnet" saying, "The Democrats' filibuster is...a repudiation of a settled pre-constitutional understanding."

That sounds about right. The filibuster rules are not a matter of constitutional import, which might explain why they've been changed over time.

I'd prefer they stay in place, for nominees and other issues, if only for the reason that my colleague Jacob Sullum has suggested: They slow down the pace of legislatin' and, hence, spending and buttinskyism of the non-financial kind.

This Space Left Intentionally Fat-Pun Free

Amptoons has a lenghty response to Cathy Young's column from last week on the dueling studies showing a little extra pudge is (or isn't) hazardous to your health. I just keep waiting for a study that finally proves chain smoking, Sapphire & tonics, and a sedentary lifestyle are the keys to fitness and longevity. Is that so much to ask?

Doing Hard Time

I doubt I can improve on Eschaton guestblogger Echidne's reaction to this story: WTF?

Scores of convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in New York have been getting Viagra paid by Medicaid for the last five years, the state's comptroller said Sunday.

Audits by Comptroller Alan Hevesi's office showed that between January 2000 and March 2005, 198 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Those included crimes against children as young as 2 years old, he said.

Hevesi asked Michael Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a letter Sunday to "take immediate action to ensure that sex offenders do not receive erectile dysfunction medication paid for by taxpayers."

Late to the Sith Contrarian Ball

With Tyler Cowen already having made the case against those unaccountable Jedi and (no big surprise here) Jonathan Last offering a defense of Empire on behalf of the Weekly Standard, you'd think the territory here had been sufficiently mined. But I want to toss out something that's been puzzling me since I saw the wretched Attack of the Clones: Are the Republic and the Jedi on the right side of the war? Or, put another way: Why are the Separatists wrong?

Now, we all know the nasty Sith are behind the Separatist movement that launches the war. On the other hand, we also know that their purpose in doing this is to provoke a response from the Republic. And presumably most of the worlds attempting to split off have reasons of their own for wanting to do so, Sith machinations notwithstanding. So what I find myself wondering is, why shouldn't they just let this original "rebel alliance"—the Confederacy of Independent Systems—go their merry way? Far from the Confederacy in this case condoning slavery, it seems to be the worlds of the Republic that are satisfied to at least countenance it. And here's what the official site says about their motives:

Despite rosy recollections of a greater past, the Republic succumbed into undeniable decay. Its cumbersome bureaucracy slowed down any attempts at reform, and too many of its constituents had grown corrupt and complacent to enact any change. A feeling of disenfranchisement grew in the galaxy, particularly in outlying systems where heavy taxation was not balanced by improved services.[...]Count Dooku courted the massive engines of commerce in the galaxy[...]with promises of reform and unyielding devotion to capitalism.

And here's something from the shooting script for Episode II, cut from the final version unless (as is wholly possible) I just nodded out:

COUNT DOOKU: As I explained to you earlier, I'm quite convinced that ten thousand more systems will rally to our cause with your support, gentlemen. And let me remind you of our absolute commitment to capitalism... of the lower taxes, the reduced tariffs, and the eventual abolition of all trade barriers. Signing this treaty will bring you profits beyond your wildest imagination. What we are proposing is completely free trade.

Now, that sounds fine and dandy to me. But even if other worlds aren't down with the program, what justifies forcibly preventing secession? Are we supposed to believe there are some sort of pan-galactic public goods that the republic provides, such that whole star systems are effectively non-excludable? It's pretty much stipulated that many of the outer planets are effectively exploited by the central government. What if they'd just let them go?

Shaima Rezayee is Dead

An Afghan female veejay famous for presenting racy music videos from Turkey to her young Kabul audience has been found shot to death, according to a story in the Times of London that was headlined, "The woman killed for pop music."

Shaima Rezayee had been the only woman veejay on the hugely popular music service, Tolo TV, though her show had been cancelled recently under pressure from religious conservatives. Police believe her murder was linked to her TV notoriety, the Times reported.

"Like other young women," wrote reporter Catherine Philp, "Ms Rezayee was denied five years of schooling while the Taleban were in control and like them was forced to wear the burkha whenever she ventured out of the house. When the Taleban were driven from power, she was one of the first to drop the veil. Then in October she burst on to Kabul television screens presenting an hour-long music and chat show airing videos of Western singers such as Madonna, as well as Turkish and Iranian pop stars."

Tolo TV was established by an Afghan expat who had returned from Australia. "Tolo quickly became the most watched station in the city with a reported 81 per cent audience share," notes the story. The service has since gone national.

In the Arab world, women veejays have become ubiquitous. And if music video channels can draw 80 percent of Kabul's audience, then the campaign by Afghan religious conservatives against "unIslamic" TV fare is plainly a lost cause. A look at post-Taliban "vulgarity" in Afghanistan opens this story.

Virginia Postrel passed along this link; her excellent blog is here.