Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, June 30, 2002
Chicken vs Egg

Damian Penny and several other bloggers have linked to this report on a new poll measuring anti-Semitic opinions in Europe.

However Damian misses this little hint of propaganda slipped into the opening paragraph:"A new form of anti-Semitism has taken hold in Europe, fuelled by anti-Israeli sentiment, according to a survey which shows almost one in three Europeans now harbours some anti-Jewish feelings."

There's an implication there that rising anti-Semitism is caused by the situation in Israel. (And as everyone in Europe knows, that problem is entirely caused by the occupation, so anti-Semitism can safely be blamed on Zionism.) It's a suggestion supported by neither evidence nor argument. Since the poll in question shows substantial numbers of people have anti-Semitic beliefs such as "Jews have too much power in the business world" which predate Israel and have no association with it, it is at least equally plausible to argue from the data that anti-Semitism is the cause of European hostility to Israel.

Once More With Stupidity

This doesn't even surprise me any longer: The Emmy nominations were sent out recently, and 'Once More With Feeling' - probably the best episode of series television ever made - didn't even make the nominating ballot.

Thanks to the Spoons Experience for the story. He overrates it as a scandal, though, because none of the major show business awards has or deserves enough real prestige to worry about.
Reason has an interesting article suggesting that the decline of Doonesbury from its height in the 70s reflects the decline of baby boomer liberalism.

That's a lot of freight to put on one strip created by one man. But the biggest problem is that there is a basic Iron Law of comics that author Jesse Walker only briefly suggests: No comic strip stays in top form for over 10 years.

Cathy and Garfield both came along well after Doonesbury; both were once fresh, and have years ago sunk to tedious repitition of a few formulaic gags. Peanuts retained some charm and whimsy to the end of Charles Schulz's long life, but it was sweet, whimsical, and bland. If you look at the early strips, they were sweet, whimsical, and funny. Even Blondie, which has been comatose since before I was born, was a good strip when it gained its popularity in the Depression era.

The rule is so strong that many of the best and most popular cartoonists of recent years, Larson, Breathed, and Waterston, didn't even try to fight it. They ended strips when they were still on top and high quality. The choice must have been hard, since all walked away from enormous piles of money that they could have made drawing their strips on cruise control for decades to come.

Scott Adams doesn't seem to have any plans to quit and so far is far from slumping. Adams is smart and wildly funny, even if he has no real talent for drawing. It will be interesting to see if he can beat the odds.

Doonesbury isn't as good as it was 25 years ago, and certainly it's cultural cachet and political impact are drastically reduced. But by the standards of the comics page it has aged very well indeed, and is probably the best 30 year old strip in history.


Blame it on Bill

Nathan Newman has a good piece on the hypocrisy of Republicans blaming Clinton for the current crop of business scandals. Republicans spent the 90s loosening the rules for accounting and stock manipulation while Clinton tried, although pretty half-heartedly, to maintain some more protection for stock owners than the GOP wanted.

The current tendency to blame Cliton for not stopping terrorism runs along the same lines. Republicans weren't attacking Clinton when he was in office for being too cautious in using force. They were doing the opposite, attacking his use of force. I was listening to right wing talk radio during the Kosovo campaign, and they ranted at great length about Clinton's 'aggression' against Yugoslavia, stopping just short of holding pledge drives to buy the Serbs anti-aircraft missiles. The charges that were made that Clinton 'wagged the dog' and used the military for his own political purposes had a strong effect in restricting his military options. It was very clear to Clinton that if he attempted a more extensive campaign which led to US casualties, he would be accused of killing American soldiers to keep his poll numbers high, and much of the media, which went along with so many other unsubstantiated and now discredited Clinton pseudo-scandals, was likely to go along with it. Today the same people who did all they could to tie Clinton's hands are attacking him for not being aggressive enough.

Pakistan may be an ally of convenience against al Qaeda, but before that it was the principal supporter of the Taliban. That ideology is reflected in its domestic policies. Unsurprisingly, women are little better than slaves there:

Under Pakistan's draconian hudood laws -- which criminalize extramarital relations between men and women while dictating that a women's testimony carries no legal weight -- human rights groups estimate that half of the women who report rapes are charged with adultery and sentenced to prison terms...

In particular, human rights experts here and abroad charge, Musharraf's crucial support in the U.S. war on terrorism has caused Washington to turn a blind eye to the fact that life for women is little better here than in Afghanistan.

"Priorities have changed, and as long as America considers Pakistan a reliable ally in the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, violations of human rights can be virtually ignored," said Professor Khalid Mehmood of Islamabad's Institute for Regional Studies.

In fact, there are places in Pakistan where women are sold as slaves. And the treatment of religious minorities isn't much better.

Saturday, June 29, 2002
Fun With HTML

I went into blogger today and fiddled with my color scheme, to produce something a little less generic.

You can use the new comments feature to tell me how successful or otherwise I was. Most bloggers seem to use YACCS; I decided to try the enetation system that is being plugged on the front page of blogger. It seems to be fine. It has one odd tendency in that it puts in a couple of line breaks before the comment prompt, and I couldn't find a way to turn that off. I wanted to have the comment prompt and the permalink on the same line, so I had to put the prompt at the beginning of the line.

Friday, June 28, 2002
Glenn Reynolds points to this Krauthammer column on Israel and the Bush speech.

Remarkably, Glenn doesn't point out that Krauthammer sounds a bit as if he's been reading Glennn Reynolds:

After a decade of ignoring the Palestinian Authority's corruption, its incitement to hatred, its militarization of Palestinian society, its glorification of violence, indeed, its creation in Palestine, as nowhere else on earth, of a deeply disturbed cult of death, the United States has declared that with this leadership there can be no peace.

Didn't Da Professor use a phrase that sounded a lot like that?

Hits for this site on Thursday reached an all-time high. Based on this fact, I can offer some advice to the blogger just starting out and hoping to be noticed.

Forget the Middle East strategies and Supreme Court decisions - just talk about gastropod genitalia.

Hey, it worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

The Public Nuisance: your one-stop internet home for political analysis, cultural commentary, and invertebrate porn.


Slug-bashing blogger Meryl Yourish has attempted to slime the Nuisance with another vicious attack on the banana slug.

To answer Meryl's obvious rhetorical question, yes UCSC students do have better things to do than watch slugs having sex. After all, it's not as if we're living in New Jersey.

Biologists apparently don't, or maybe they make grad students do it. But that's their problem, and irrelevant to the current discussion.

Meryl reports that she routinely salts the slugs that she finds in her own yard. Since Meryl doesn't live within the range of Ariolimax dolichophallus, the Nuisance takes no position on her conduct towards other and vastly less charismatic varieties of slugs. Meryl's behavior in this regard I leave to her conscience and the local chapter of PETA.

I am prepared to entirely retract my question concerning what planet Meryl comes from. Since we are both Buffy fans, I should certainly have realized that the appropriate question is what dimension she comes from.

In dealing with slugs, however, one should always be cautious of those from another planet.

Meryl seems to believe that I devote excessive attention to the slug's sexual prowess. Hey, I know what my audience wants. Slugs devote most of their lives to eating, reproducing, and excreting. This is yet another fact that makes them highly appropriate mascots for many college students, although perhaps not UCSC students, since slugs don't seem to smoke marijuana or publish zines. Although banana slug dining habits are a fascinating topic, I thought the sex gave a clearer demonstration of why the banana slug is the finest of all possible mascots. And as for the excretion, even this blog, believe it or not, has some standards.

The Armed Liberal has another theory on the adoption of the slug. He is correct; even in the midst of an exciting game it's almost impossible to shout "Go Slugs!" without feeling silly. And UCSC to this day doesn't have a football team, although on a few occasions there have been attempts to start one.

Thursday, June 27, 2002
The Washington Post describes an attempt by the RNC to get double mileage out of its suit against McCain/Feingold. While trying to get the law overturned, it is also using the suit to force pro-Democratic political groups to reveal their internal planning.

The Republican National Committee has issued subpoenas to a wide range of liberal and Democratic-leaning interest groups, demanding detailed financial records, internal communications and strategic political documents as part of its battle against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Groups that received the subpoenas, which were issued last week, include the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and EMILY's List....
The RNC demands represent the most aggressive step to date in an escalating battle between opponents and proponents of the McCain-Feingold bill, with both sides seeking voluminous records, dating back years, from party committees and interest groups.

James Dyke, RNC press secretary, defended the subpoenas, contending that "we are not asking them for anything broader than we have been asked. Organizations that believe in their causes and have nothing to hide should be proud to disclose their political donors because the core of any legitimate campaign reform should be the full disclosure of the financial activity of those involved in the political process."

Responding to Michelman's claim that the RNC was engaging in a political strip search, he said, "We have been al fresco for over a decade with monthly reports of our federal and non-federal receipts."

Dyke said the purpose of the RNC subpoenas was to prove that the new campaign finance law violates the equal protection laws of the Constitution by allowing special-interest groups to continue to raise and spend "soft money" -- large, federally unregulated contributions -- and conduct other activities that the national parties are prohibited from doing.

Shocking as it may be, the Republican spokesliar doesn't seem to be telling the entire truth. The RNC is required to file publicly extensive records on the sources of its bribes financial contributions, but certainly not "internal communications and strategic political documents".

The last paragraph, less than convincing, is the only claim attempted to find some vague relevance of the fishing expedition to the litigation issues. And if indeed the subpoenas were intended only to develop evidence that special interest groups carry out activities the law forbids parties, there's no reason for the subpoenas to be issued only to groups that support Democrats.

As for Mr Dyke's proud assertion of the GOP's long tradition of being "al fresco" in financial disclosure, the Nuisance's soi dissant usage experts, when asked for an ad hoc translation to au naturel English, responded en masse, "Que?"

Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Slug Fest

(Warning: although the Nuisance is normally a PG blog, the following is rated R for definite adult content. I say this so that any adolescents reading this will know to go straight to this post and skip all the other stuff.)

Meryl Yourish has crossed the line. I don't mind that she disses my neologism, and I'm pleased to be listed among the Buffy bloggers. She can say what she likes about the contents of my blog.

But nobody puts down the banana slug and gets away with it.

The banana slug was adopted as an informal mascot within a few years of the opening of the UC Santa Cruz campus. The reason was obvious to anyone who knows the campus: they're a very frequent part of the local fauna. It could have been the more majestic redwoods which dominate the forests that much of the campus is set in, and which actually have a symbiotic ecological relationship with the humble slug. But after a group of students formed the Banana Slug Theater in the school's second year, the slug took off and soon became the school symbol.

In the '80s, a formal mascot was needed when the school joined the NCAA. Chancellor Sinsheimer passed over the banana slug for the sea lion, sparking a student revolt. In a campus referendum, the banana slug, for reasons I will show, took about 94% of the vote against the sea lion.

The scientific name for the banana slug species found on the UCSC campus is Ariolimax dolichophallus, which translates roughly as "slug which makes Milton Berle feel inadequate".

The hard facts are exposed here:

If you measure [penis length] as a percentage of body length things are a little different. Goose barnacles, with inch-and-a-half-long appendages, rate about 150%. Unbeatable, you think, until you learn that a rare species of Alpine banana slugs (Ariolimax dolichophallus) measure 6-inches long and possess 32.5-inch tumescences, or 542% times their body length. Incredible.

Actually, that could be an exaggeration. I have seen no other source which puts the slug's endowment at more then twice body length, which is still pretty impressive.

And Meryl asks why a male student would embrace this mascot? You have to wonder what planet she's from.

However, if it had relied only on the male vote, the banana slug would have at best eked out a close victory. By looking further into the realm of slug sexuality, we can see how the banana slug's appeal cuts across all groups, leading to the sweeping victory of the referendum.

Banana slugs are hermaphroditic, having both male and female organs, and a mating pair will generally use both sets at once. (The gay/lesbian/transgender vote.) Slugs don't form long term relationships, but they do take the phrase 'one night stand' literally, since their mating, often nocturnal, routinely lasts for 12 hours or more. (The women's vote.) As the mating progresses, especially with those slugs who have particularly earned the dolichophallus title, a problem often arises. As described by amateur slug biologist Alice Harper, "It appears the slug's retractor muscle isn't strong enough to pull out."

Nature is creative, and the slug has a solution for this difficulty. The slug whose partner fails to withdraw after a reasonable interval chews its penis off. (The feminist vote.) This process is referred to as apophallation. Just in case you want to start a conversation at your next dinner party.

The banana slugs hermaphroditism and sizable equipment leads to another possibility, gently noted here: "Although slugs are hermaphroditic, each animal equipped with both male and female reproductive organs, they mate with themselves only if no other slugs are around. " And what college student hasn't been there?

It isn't hard to see why there's such a market for banana slug fetishes.

With its cross-gender appeal to all student bodies, the banana slug naturally ran away with the election. Chancellor Sinsheimer surrendered, and we have been the few, the proud, the banana slugs ever since.

Seldom, But At Least Once

Legal blogger the Blithering Idiot notes this sentence from Scalia's recent dissent in Atkins v. Virginia (execution of retarded defendants): "Seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members."

Now in opposing this particular decision, there is a plausible argument to be made for that position. But is Scalia really the man who should be making it? I seem to recall that around December 2000, Scalia was himself part of the majority in a ruling that made such a mockery of the law, the Court openly stated that its own decision was too strange to be used as a precedent for any other case. I guess Scalia can live with Court decisions based "obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members" as long as they're his decisions and his views.

Reading the Speech

Daniel Pipes has a harsh assessment of Bush's speech. (Text here.) Steven Den Beste draws radically different conclusions.

I believe that Den Beste has the better side of this debate. Pipes alleges that Bush is rewarding terrorism:

He should have told the Palestinians clearly and unequivocally that their 21-month campaign of violence against Israel is unacceptable and must conclude before any discussion of rewards can be started. Instead, the President outlined his vision for a "provisional" Palestinian state and demanded an end to what he called "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories." Both of these constitute very major benefits to the Palestinians; as such, they represent rewards for suicide bombings, sniper attacks, and the other forms of terrorism.

But what is the reward Pipes refers to? A Palestinian state isn't a new American position; it has been Bush's explicit position since last year. It was the logical outcome of the Oslo process until Arafat walked away from the table. It was part of the Clinton proposal for a final resolution.

The call for an end to new settlements is even more established. American governments going back to at least Bush I have been opposed to settlements.

So there is no reward for terrorism here because there are no new positions, Bush has merely restated established American positions. Indeed the call for a "provisional" state is arguably a major step back from previous American positions that called for a more conventionally sovereign nation.

Pipes charges Bush with moral falsehood:

- Moral equivalence: Bush implies a basic commonality between the plight of Israelis who suffer terrorism and the Palestinians who inflict it. "It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation." To see the error of this statement, change it to "It is untenable for American citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Afghans to live in squalor and occupation."

Again, what is objectionable in this statement? Both statements are correct. Bush has simply stated the truism that the conflict harms both peoples and a settlement would be in the interests of each. The moral equivalence Pipes objects to can be interpreted into this statement if you wish - but it is never actually stated by Bush.

In this paragraph and elsewhere, I think Bush - actually the writers since Bush isn't that smart - is playing a cunning game, making rhetorical gestures in the direction of audiences in both Europe and the Arab world. He echoes their concerns; he steals a Clinton trick and feels their pain. But he doesn't make any actual concessions and he never gets pulled away form the main point: There can be no progress until the terror ends.

Pipes even criticizes Bush for criticizing the treatment of Palestinians:

- Victimology: Palestinians have "been treated as pawns" says the U.S. President. Not so: Since 1967, the Palestinians have had an increasingly autonomous and powerful voice in running their own affairs. Especially since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, they have been in control of their own destiny. To portray them as victims suggests they would behave differently once they have a formal state. In fact, every sign points to a continuation of the present policies.

This objection can only be explained with the assumption that Pipes is grasping at straws. The Palestinians have been treated as pawns for decades by Arab states that nurture and proclaim their grievances while treating actual Palestinians like garbage. Anybody familiar with the history of the conflict is aware of this.

Bush has made very clear the steps that must be taken for a Palestinian state to be formed:

Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.

If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts.

If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.

And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

There has to be a new Palestinian leadership, not composed of terrorists, new political and legal institutions, an end to terrorism, and new security arrangements. Only when all this is in place will there be a Palestinian state.

The irony in this is that Bush in one sense is asking for no concessions at all. A new leadership, new political structures, a market economy, and the rule of law are all reforms that would benefit the Palestinian people. A substantial portion of the Palestinians themselves seem to be coming to this understanding. And it is certainly also true that without these things a Palestinian state would be an empty accomplishment bringing no real relief to its citizens, just as Palestinian government under the Oslo accords was.

And yet the current leadership, corruption, and violence are so entrenched in Palestinian society and politics at this point that it is hard to imagine these conditions being met. In fact, the unlikelihood that these conditions will be met in the near future is largely why a Palestinian state is undesirable at this time.

So I come back to Den Beste's position. Bush has offered the carrot. He would be delighted if the Palestinians actually accept it and move toward reform of their own society and a peaceful settlement with Israel. But his national security team knows that while this may be the rational path, Palestinians have been shying away from the rational path for 70 years and aren't likely to change now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Davis Looks Like Winner

With most of the vote counted, it looks as if blogosphere favorite Arthur Davis has defeated incumbent Earl Hilliard in the Alabama 7th district runoff.
Miscellaneous Amusements

Silflay Hraka has announced a new linking policy. The Nuisance notes that we were one of the earlier internet sites to comply with this policy. On the question of whether we are equally compliant with Silflay's alter ego the mighty Zod, the Nuisance has no comment at this time.

In the interests of public safety, we are pleased to link to this safe driving animation, courtesy of the Red Rock Eater mailing list. (Uses Shockwave.)

Moral Clarity
Max Sawicky has declared this to be Moral Clarity Week (not to be confused with National Bloggerhood Week) in the blogosphere. Citing several recent examples of civilian casualties in IDF and settler actions in the West Bank, Max is asking if "jingoistic warbloggers" or JWs will respond to these tragedies as strongly as we respond to atrocities against Jews.

I couldn't respond because, like any good JW, I've been busy handing out Bible tracts door to door. But the not-so-jingoistic Jeff Cooper, really more of a wineblogger than a warblogger, has done it for me.

Monday, June 24, 2002
An Islamic Reformation?
Tapped has an item on this Times feature on Paul Kurtz, former TAP editor and perpetual Mickey Kaus obsession.

The story has some interesting material, but our own concern with it is this paragraph, quoted in Tapped, that reflects a standard current meme:

"Islam desperately needs a Protestant-like Reformation," he continued. The Islamic system is the product of "a nomadic, agrarian society, pre-modern and pre-urban, which they are trying to apply to the contemporary world."

The popularity of this belief among the punditocracy suggests to me that they should take a break from bemoaning the historical ignorance of the younger generation and take a look at their own. The Reformation did not, directly and in itself, lead to a Christianity or a European culture that was more rational, tolerant, or pluralist, than the medieval version. In the short term, it led mostly to wars, culminating in the Thirty Years War that depopulated large chunks of Germany. Some other highlights include the murder of Thomas More, the Huguenot Massacre of Paris, an increase in public burnings for heresy and witchcraft(Protestants were labelled as witches in Catholic countries and vice versa), and wars in England, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.

The ultimate outcome of the melodrama was religious freedom under Protestantism in England and the Netherlands, and the principal ultimately spread elsewhere. But for that to happen took over a hundred years, as well as the Enlightenment.

The more interesting point these critics are missing is that a Reformation really is going on in Islam. The most fundamental aspect of the Reform in Europe was that Christians were free to read the Bible and create their own interpretations rather than relying on their priests. Previously the scriptures had been unavailable to laymen due to illiteracy, the lack of printing, and the lack of translations.

Once laymen could actually read the Bible, everyone became a theologian. Although Martin Luther, a priest, kicked the movement off, once the gates were open land owners like Oliver Cromwell could become religious leaders.

Something very similar is going on in the Islamic world. Innovation, referred to by Moslems as bida, is considered a grave sin in Islam - a major reason the Islamic world tends to remain stuck in the Middle Ages. One act which until quite recently was forbidden was printing the Quran. As recently as 1967, the Arabist Philip Hitti could say:

Moslem conservatism as it relates to the treatment of the word of God may have retarded the admission of the printing industry; even today the Koran may be handwritten or lithographed but not printed.
-History of the Arabs, 9th ed, p. 747

Availability of inexpensive Qurans, widespread literacy, and increased use of the Quranic classical Arabic as a medium of communication are all relatively recent phenomena that add up to an echo of the European Reformation. Moslems who previously accepted religious rulings from the ulema are now able to make their own interpretations. With the exception of Ayatollah Khomeini, major leaders and propagandists of Islamofascism have not been trained Islamic scholars. Many have had Western educations.

That this is leading in the short term to violent attempts to enforce particular doctrines is not, as I mentioned above, at all unlike the history of the Reformation. Will it lead ultimately to a post-Enlightenment Islam which can live with or even espouse Western values? My guess is that in the long term it will. Barring the real possibility that the current conflict will lead to a sweeping cataclysm that will destroy most of the Islamic world, the emergence of a more humane Islam seems hard to prevent.

Amtrak is now within a few days of shutting down unless Congress and the Bushies can agree on a bailout.

Why is it that we can put together $15 billion on the double for an airline bailout but find it so hard to come up with 1% of that to keep Amtrak running or maybe 5 - 6% to allow real improvements to the outdated equipment and better service?

If I didn't know that our devoted public servants are solely concerned with our best interests I'd tend to suspect that maybe the big campaign donations from airline companies had a lot to do with the airline bailout.

I might even be crazy enough to think that maybe those air carriers don't want to compete against a really good inter-city rail service and use their influence in Congress and the Administration to keep Amtrak on the edge of bankruptcy, and Amtrak is unable to fight back since, being government funded, it can't make the big PAC and soft money donations that the airlines do.

Of course the airlines needed that bailout because they were hit by a disaster that they weren't at fault for. And I'm sure that airline lobbyists sinking the Gore Comission's proposals to improve security, as well as any other attempts at better security for years, had nothing to do with 9/11.

There are new stories here and here giving teasers for the upcoming season 7 of Buffy. (Thanks to War Liberal for alerting me to the links.

(Warning: Numerous Season 6 spoilers follow)

The new season is reported to be less dark than season 6. The main character dealt with depression for most of the year, while other characters worked through addiction and kleptomania. One got dumped at the altar; two others had a mutually destructive relationship. The only healthy couple going was broken up for most of the season, and just after they got back together, one was murdered and her lover got kind of pissed off about it and almost destroyed the world.

Even for Joss Whedon, getting more dark than that and still being watchable would be a neat trick, so less dark seems to be the obvious route and not too surprising.

The new season will begin with the re-opening of Sunnydale High. This seems to suggest that Dawn will be a central character in the upcoming year, and probably doing more fighting as was suggested by the year 6 finale. This is chancy: Buffy's already done coming of age pretty thoroughly, and Dawn would have to be a lot less bratty.

Amber Benson comes back for another season as Tara. This is also risky. It's the fifth time that a character has returned after dying, and the dramatic tension has to suffer if death starts looking like not much more than an inconvenience.

It has also been revealed that Willow will be in London for the season opener, presumably for a reconciliation or confrontation with Giles. Or maybe she's scheduled a secret meeting with the Watchers' Council.

Spike will remain a vampire, not a human. So the scene in Tabula Rasa where he decided he was a vampire with a soul wasn't only self-parody but also another of Whedon's foreshadowing tricks. How he will rebuild his relationship with Buffy and Dawn is unclear, but I'm predicting it will happen, even though it will probably take most of the season before either of them trust him again.

Sunday, June 23, 2002
Bloggers Armed Liberal, Andrew Northrup, and Brian O'Connell have all written positively on my post concerning suicide bombings.

This had the pleasant effect of driving my traffic way beyond normal weekend levels. I'll admit it: I'm a shameless whore for hits and I watch my counter about twice as closely as Othello ever watched Desdemona.

Armed Liberal's earlier response to Max Sawicky is part of pretty much the same conversation and especially interesting. In it, he points out that in reading the Times article that started this discussion, Instapundit's comparison of suicide bombing and the culture that spawns it to a cult can be taken quite literally. This is so true that I'm amazed I didn't notice it until it was pointed out to me.

Like Armed Liberal, I came of age in California in an era when cults were everywhere. In my case, I actually joined one. I was personally involved in training recruits to think and respond like proper cult members. So my expertise in this area is more than casual.

The girl who was the primary focus of the article is an absolutely textbook cult recruitment target: young, intelligent, idealistic, seemingly troubled relationships with her family, and vulnerable due to recent catastrophe in her life.

In this case, there doesn't seem to have been any elaborate indoctrination, and the would-be terrorist herself seems to have been fairly nominally religious. Her handler assumed that, unlike earlier and more dedicated terrorists, just her ethnic identity was enough for her to be willing to carry out the attack. The terror organizers, who originally felt it required months of ritual and preparation to persuade intensely religious youths to give up their lives for the glory of killing and maiming random Jews, now feel no need for preparing a random adolescent like Arien Ahmed. Like other Palestinians, she has been surrounded for the past year with images glorifying 'martyrs' on television, street posters, in mosques. So the Palestinian culture in itself was enough of an indoctrination for her to turn to terrorism at a crisis point in her life. It was very much the same way some one in similar circumstances in another social environment might turn to prayer or intoxicants.

It used to take months of training to prepare a Palestinian terrorist from the West Bank or Gaza Strip to commit suicide in the course of killing Israelis. The attackers were strictly from the fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad, envisioning a covey of virgins and automatic passes to paradise for loved ones left behind.

But the who, why and how of Palestinian suicide bombing have changed, and the changes alarm not only Israelis but also Palestinians concerned for the impact on their own society. Palestinian militants and Israeli experts warn that the changes could reverberate overseas, should the target list in this metastasizing conflict continue to grow....

The range of recruits to suicide missions continues to broaden in often bewildering ways. This week, Israel's forces arrested a 12-year-old Palestinian boy its intelligence had identified as planning an attack.

Dr. Iyad Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist in Gaza City, has watched the trend toward suicide bombing with growing alarm. He said that having grown up with the idea of suicide attacks, Palestinian children were equating death with power.

There are still limits. In this case, two young Palestinians were sent out for terror attacks. According to the survivor, neither wanted to carry them out. One did, killing two Israelis and himself. The other was caught and is now in prison. Had she been more carefully trained for her 'mission', she and several others would certainly be dead today. When she ultimately is released, she say she will have to live outside the Palestinian territories where she is now a pariah, apparently for valuing her own life and, even worse, the lives of Israelis.

The 'death cult' description here is very fitting and not at all a figure of speech or, as Max would have it, some sort of racial stereotype.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Blogscratching is a neologism I have just coined to describe the exchange of links and/or favorable mentions between blogs. I.e. you scratch my blog and I'll scratch yours.

I'm blogscratching Ann Salisbury because she has a fine blog, because she said nice things about this blog, and because she's a member of the California bar, which will come in handy if Indepundit follows through on his threat to sue me. But along with all these valid reasons, especially because she is a fellow banana slug.

Addendum: I looked up 'neologism' in my dictionary to be certain I was using it correctly. It turns out to have two meanings:

  • A new word, usage, or expression.

  • A meaningless word coined by a psychotic.

So it seems my usage of the word neologism was at least as appropriate as I intended, and perhaps moreso.

Same Topic, Different Blogger

Max Sawicky has also criticized the same Instapundit reference. I've already done my epic-length post for the day, and I hope that I have answered the claim that suicide terrorism has anything to do with "willingness to die for one's country", as Max says.

But I do want to address a few of Max's points. He agrees with me that Palestinians could have won independence by now through non-violence. But he also asks, `But have you ever wondered why nobody ever says, "I wish Israel would embark upon the path of non-violent resistance?" ` Well Max, that would be because non-violent resistance is a method for a people who are powerless in the current political scene to seek change. It isn't a traditional tool of states or the dominant ethnic group in a state. When a non-violent movement gains control of a nation, it goes ahead and builds an army, just like all the other nations have. If you don't believe me, ask Nehru.

Max also says that pejoratives like "psychotic cult" seem `to only attach to those placed in other racial categories. Hence the Japanese kamikazis were described as wacky Orientals with some kind of blind devotion to their Emporer[sic], and the Palestinians are mindless mystical nut-cases.` But we have plenty of cults right here, many of them violent and some suicidal - People's Temple, David Koresh, Charlie Manson, and hundreds equally bizarre but less extreme. These groups are described just as harshly. Really, there isn't much difference between the way phrases like 'violent cult' or 'dangerous cult' were applied to the primarily African-American People's Temple, the mostly white Branch Davidians, and the foreign Aum Shinri Kyo. So I think Max's claim of racial stereotypes here is a red herring.

Friday, June 21, 2002
Demosthenes has put up a post criticizing Instaman for asserting that Palestinian culture is "becoming a psyvchotic death cult".

Aside from a justified complaint that some commentary in the blogosphere is bordering on racism, Demosthenes mainly discusses various hardships that Palestinians are suffering. We all know that it's bad. We all know that there are legitimate grievances. But the reality is, living in a war zone is nasty. If the Palestinians don't like it - which is easy to understand - they should reconsider their war.

But, we hear the constant response, "The Palestinians are oppressed. They're under occupation. What else can they do?"

Well, a people under occupation has four broad strategic options:

1) Acquiescence - make no attempt to resist. This wouldn't be likely to lead to independence or statehood. But it also doesn't lead to the roadblocks, isolation, and hardships the Palestinians are now living with. Believe it or not, those restrictions on Palestinian movement don't happen because Israeli officers hold contests and award prizes for the most creative idea to make life for Palestinians even worse than it already is. They happen because Israel is trying to save lives.

So this strategy gives up what the Palestinians don't have anyway (statehood) and gets tangible benefits in return. It's better for the Palestinians than what they're doing now.

2) Non-violent resistance - To work, this requires access to sympathetic media to publicize your plight, an opponent who has some compunctions about the use of violence, and demands that your opponent can survive accepting. The Palestinians have plenty of sympathetic media. The two most successful recent instances of massive non-violent (or generally non-violent) movements for the enfranchisement of oppressed peoples, in South Africa and the American South, both succeeded in part because of overwhelming support from the Jewish population of the countries in question, and of Jews in foreign countries. Most Israelis are not just willing to give up the West Bank and Gaza, they're almost desperate to, if they can do so and survive.

Non-violent resistance is the best policy for the Palestinians if a two-state solution is an acceptable objective for them. That it would work is a near certainty. All the elements for successful non-violence are in place except for non-violence. And of course it doesn't involve large numbers of Palestinians dying. It's better for them than what they're doing now.

3) Guerilla warfare - violent resistance against military targets. For Palestinians, this would involve mostly attacks against soldiers and military targets in the occupied territories. This would be costly - it would mean the Palestinians would suffer most of the casualties and personal hardships they are now suffering. They would suffer heavier casualties than Israel, as they do now.

However, it would also likely convince Israelis that there is a direct link between the occupation and the terrorism. Presently, Israelis regard outsiders - or Israelis - who say the terrorism will end when the occupation ends as naive or worse. Since in both rhetoric and action, Palestinians make it clear that they don't accept Israeli sovereignty in Tel Aviv any more than they do in Jenin, the Israelis are right to think so.

A disciplined campaign striking at only military targets, and largely or only in the occupied territories, would also imply that its leadership was both strong enough and reliable enough to engage in serious peace negotiations. So this option would have about the same costs as current Palestinian strategy, but a better chance of paying off in statehood. Again, the Palestinians would be better off switching to this.

4) Total war - This is the strategy the Palesinian leadership has actually adopted. Kill any Iraeli at any place or time possible. Obliterate the distinction between military and civilian to a degree that is unprecedented in modern history. This is a dubious strategy if you are miltarily strong, since you can do better in other ways. It's even worse if you are weak. Israel has the capacity to slaughter the Palestinians by the hundreds of thousands any time it chooses to. What stops Israel from doing so is that their civilized restraint is stronger than their desparation. With every 'successful' terror attack, the civilized restraint grows a little thinner and the desperation a little stronger.

Really, the essence of this strategy is to say that the two peoples can never co-exist. It almost demands genocide, or at least ethnic cleansing, as a final result. As an interim result, it leads to massive casualties, martial law, heavy oppression. Large numbers of people like me who formerly supported a Palestinian state have been forced to question our positions. The pro-peace camp in Israel itself has become almost completely impotent.

The Palestinians are now farther away from statehood than when the terror bombing began. At a cost of thousands of deaths and ruined lives, nothing has been accomplished. But that isn't nearly all the damage.

Much of the unemployment and poverty Demosthenes points to is a direct result of the terrorism. Thousands of workers who formerly held jobs in Israel have lost their jobs because new restrictions due to terrorism have made it impossible to get to their place of employment. Thousands more who formerly worked in tourism, the West Bank's largest income source, are now unemployed because tourists, for some reason, don't want to be blown up. In fact, the possibility of a truly viable Palestinian state has probably been extinguished entirely. Since such a state would be small and almost without economic resources, the only real chance for it to thrive would have been by exporting labor to Israel - a nation with a strong economy and a socialist labor legacy that assures even its unskilled workers do relatively well. In the current situation, even if a Palestinian state is established, Israel will look to foreign sources for any labor shortages and use Palestinians only as a last resort. Even if a Palestinian state should arise, the prospects for any kind of success or major improvements in Palestinian lives are remote.

So this is the outcome of the strategy the Palestinians have adopted. Maximum short-term costs. Maximum long-term costs. No benefits. Not only could a better strategy have been chosen, any other plan would have been an improvement. The Palestinians have made the worst possible choice.

Now, Demosthenes can say that the bombers are only a few people and don't act for the Palestinians as a whole. But that isn't for him to say, it's for the Palestinians themselves. And overwhelmingly, they are saying the exact opposite. Every poll shows that Palestinians support terrorism and oppose any kind of negotiated compromise.

Since the Palestinians still massively support terror bombings, I can only conclude that the payoff the bombings produce is, in their minds, worth the cost. And that payoff isn't improved chances of statehood, or reduced oppression. In both areas, the payoff of terrorism has been negative.

The only payoff the bombings get is dead Jews. And for the Palestinians, dayenu. That is enough.

Demosthenes' own example shows it:`Ahmed is twelve: "calm, together and determined to kill Israelis."` Not 'determined to gain independence.' Not 'determined to get an education and help build his country.' Just determined to kill.

In game theory terms, the Palestinians aim only at the strategy which has the worst payoff for their opponents. That the payoff is even worse for themselves they have deemed irrelevant.

And that is why I and many others are reconsidering our past support for Palestinian statehood. It's why Glenn feels they are becoming a psychotic death cult and I pretty much agree. It's why bloggers are saying that the terrorism has to stop and aren't interested in talking grievances until it does. Not because they made a bad choice - anybody can do that. Not even because their bad choice was also immoral. It's because their bad choice has led them into catastrophe and they don't appear to regret it. They have made the decision that the ruin of their current and future prospects as a people is a small price to pay for the joy of murdering Jews. It isn't violence for the sake of their homeland but violence for the sake of violence.

Thursday, June 20, 2002
19 Ways of Looking at a Stop Sign

Bruce Hill over at War Now has listed various possible Jewish responses to a stop sign.

Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you apply exegesis to the sign.

1. An average Jew doesn't bother to read the sign but will stop if the car in front of him does.

2. A fundamentalist stops at the sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

3. An Orthodox Jew does one of two things:

(a) Stops at the stop sign, says "Blessed art thou, O L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who hast given us Thy commandment to stop," waits 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceeds.

(b) Takes another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the halachah.

4. A Haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") does the same thing as the Orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000-watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal....

Bruce notes that the piece is not original and has been circulating for some time. This seems to be true since the following modern additions have been omitted:

18: The Jewish blogger never actually sees the stop sign since that would involve getting out of the house and being away from his computer. However, he still links to the earlier interpretations and adds some of his own.

19: The libertarian blogger considers the sign an example of state infringement on his personal freedom and is certain that if the state can demand his car stop at some arbitrary point, that is the first step on the slippery slope to outlawing cars that move at all, after which all cars will be confiscated. He therefore uses one of the 6 guns he keeps under the seat to shoot the sign up.

After looking at the latest self portrait posted on his semi-blog, I can only guess that Josh Marshall must have a very healthy ability to make fun of himself. His last photo, which looked like a man who needed a shave badly but probably needed Prozac even more, has been replaced by one which begs for the caption, "I'm gonna drink several cups of black coffee as soon as I wake up enough to find the pot."

The background color is still remarkably ugly, and the content is still mostly good. However, Marshall is threatening recently to replace "Who killed Chandra Levy?" with "Who was Deep Throat?" as his official Site Fixation.

Jeff Goldstein has picked up and praised a column asserting essentially that Greenpeace is aiding terrorists by posting on the web descriptions of the results of a hypothetical terrorist attack on a chlorine plant in New York.

Just one question: if it is "either deliberately myopic or painfully stupid" to publish the information in the first place to score political points against chemical companies, what would you call further publicizing it to score political points against environmentalists?

Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Mad Kane has a marvelous song parody on blogging:

You praise my weblog
And I'll mention your blog.
You link my weblog
And I'll link to your blog
Your blog,
Your blog,
Let's call the whole thing off.

Monday, June 17, 2002
More on Enemy Combatants
Demosthenes and Jeff Cooper have both spoken kindly about my earlier post discussing ways of dealing with terrorist suspects.

Mr Cooper, incidentally, is a law professor. I'm certainly flattered and pleased to find my thoughts on a legal topic being complimented by a real expert. Regrettably, however, Mr Cooper doesn't drive quite as many hits as certain other law professors/bloggers who still have not deigned to notice the Nuisance.

One of Demosthenes' commenters, Brian, (who has his own blog, but who doesn't) was less positive:

I think what's missing from this idea is the status of the defendant as an enemy combatant. Civilian rights should not accrue to enemy combatants, whether or not they happen to be US citizens.

The dual track suggested here, either a civilian court or a military tribunal depending on the sensitivity of the evidence, ignores the fact that we wouldn't want a wartime enemy tried in a civilian court even if all evidence against him were already public.

I do agree that oversight of the executive branch will be necessary in the long term.

Brian and I might not be that far apart. I agree that when a person is clearly an enemy combatant, that person can be held outside the regular justice system. To allow this for US citizens is a step on the slippery slope, scary, but probably acceptable under the circumstances. They can be treated as Prisoners of War and have the rights accorded under the Geneva Conventions - in this case, relatively few rights because they are illegal combatants and not true POWs.

I would tend to agree that if you can demonstrate the intent to act as a combatant for al Qaeda or similar groups, it is less important to demonstrate specific overt acts. Maybe it isn't even necessary at all, but it does seem if you're saying somebody is a part of al Qaeda, you ought to be able to show some sort of specific act in furtherance of some kind of terrorist intent.

The key question is how you determine who fits into this category. The Bush administration answer seems to be: anyone we say. That's clearly unacceptable, and Brian, by agreeing to the importance of oversight, appears to agree.

I think at least US citizens accused of being such combatants are entitled to some sort of legal proceeding to determine if the label is justified. Which gets us back to some kind of adversarial process that might resemble the one I described.

Atrios cites a recent column by Lawrence Tribe, who also is possibly better informed on the technical legal issues than myself, and there is some related discussion by that other professor.

It does seem to me that all of us are agreed here on the broad points, as odd as that may be for a bunch of bloggers. That is, we all agree that enemy combatants are not necessarily entitled to the full Constitutional rights of a normal US criminal proceeding. And we all agree it is unacceptable for agencies under the executive branch to have unchallenged or absolute authority on who is considered an enemy combatant.

Journey to the East

Blogs of War mentions a UPI story on Americans training at radical madrassas in Pakistan.

Westerners were attracted to Afghanistan soon after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and many joined the Afghan Mujahedin fighting the Russian army. Their numbers dwindled after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, "but both Americans and other Western volunteers continued to come after the Soviet withdrawal as well," says Mufti Muhammad Iltimas, a radical Islamic cleric who runs a Muslim seminary -- Madrasah Arabia Hassani -- near the Afghan border.

"These new converts are more eager to participate in the jihad than their Pakistani and Arab comrades and are not reluctant to join dangerous operations," said the cleric in a recent interview to a group of Pakistani journalists.

John Walker Lindh, the American charged with fighting alongside the Taliban, studied at Iltimas's seminary. He joined the school on Nov. 27, 2000 as a student of Koran and Islamic studies and stayed there till May 15, 2001 "but the harsh Pakistani summer forced him to leave the school for Afghanistan's cooler climate," Iltimas said.

The cleric said converts were "the best students" who had "an unquenchable desire for knowledge" and often studied "late into the night."

So there you have it, straight from Mufti Muhannad Iltimas, lunatic and professional brainwasher: the Westerners at his 'school' are his star pupils.

We have seen the Westerners who go to Pakistan to study what passes for Islam there: Lindh, Reid, Padilla. Small time incompetent thugs mixed with pathetic drifters. The sweepings off our streets.

And Iltimas admits they're smarter, braver, more dedicated than his regular students.

I've got just one thing to say to Mr Iltimas: if you think our worst are major league ass kickers, just wait until you see our best.

Saturday, June 15, 2002
A Moment of Gloating

The very first post on this blog critiqued a post by Max Power asserting that Earth First activists Judi Barr and Darrell Cherney planted the bomb that injured them in 1990 and mocking one of their witnesses in the trial in which they accused the FBI and Oakland police of violating their rights in trying to convict them of the bombing instead of searching for the real criminals.

I pointed out that the evidence against Barr and Cherney was very weak and there were many reasons to suspect the FBI's handling of the case.

That trial is now over, and the jury verdict is a complete vindication of Barr and Cherney, who have been awarded $4.4 million in actual and punitive damages. The FBI, the Oakland PD, and 6 current or former agents/police officers have been convicted of violating Barr and Cherney's rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

This case is of considerable importance in the current climate. As a matter of self-defense, there is probably no alternative to giving expanded powers in some areas for counter-terrorist security to law enforcement in general and the FBI in particular. This instance of the FBI responding to a terrorist act not by vigorously searching for the criminal but instead harassing the victims illustrates the importance of balancing that power by accountability. In particular, the FBI and other executive branch agencies working on counter-terrorism must remain accountable to judicial review.

Fact Checking Moran's Ass
Kesher blog has noted a recent attack by MSNBC blogger Michael Moran against the web site, for organizing a petition urging lournalists to label terrorists as terrorists.

Moran insists: does use the word “terrorist” to describe someone who has been convicted of a terrorist act, or someone who has admitted the act or been caught in the act.

Before that, the person is an “alleged terrorist.” ...

Further, we use the word “terrorism” rather liberally to describe suicide bombings and other acts of random violence against civilians. What we don’t do (and this is what irks “Honestreporting”) is throw the word around at every Palestinian who opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Does MSNBC's own reporting back up Moran's claim? Here is the lead from their description of the notorious Netanya massacre: "Just hours after a peace plan was brought before the Arab League summit, and on the night of one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, a Palestinian Hamas militant exploded a bomb at a hotel hosting a religious meal, killing 20 people and injuring more than 100." The word 'terrorism' appears only once in the story, in a context which suggests it was used by the State Department, not MSNBC.

By Moran's standards of course, the bomber wasn't a terrorist. Being dead, he had never been convicted. And it certainly seems reasonable to insist on a full trial in these cases. Otherwise, how can you be certain it wasn't a Hamas member who just happened to spontaneously combust while strolling innocently into a Jewish gathering with a bag of nails strapped to his chest? A good reporter can't jump to conclusions.

MSNBC doesn't use this caution only in Israel. In the site's story on the latest terror incident in Pakistan, a Pakistani official but never the reporter stated what the attack was:

U.S. and Pakistani investigators on Saturday searched the site of a deadly car bombing outside the American Consulate in Karachi, trying to piece together clues about the attackers. A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the massive blast Friday that killed 10 people and injured 45 others....

Initial reports indicated a suicide attacker was responsible, but police said they also were looking at the possibility that the bomb was hidden in a car carrying the head of a driving school and three female students, then set off by remote control as it passed the consulate.

Karachi Mayor Naimat Ullah offered sympathy for U.S. officials and vowed to arrest those behind the attack.
“The terrorists have no religion. They are not Muslim. They are not human. They are just terrorists,” Ullah said.

The foot of the article is a recap of recent terrorist crimes in Pakistan that goes to almost comical lengths to avoid ever using the T word:

Violence against foreigners has increased since Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, threw his support behind the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

Militant groups were further angered when Musharraf launched a crackdown on them in January. That followed a bloody attack on the Indian parliament, blamed by New Delhi on Pakistan-based militants, which took the two countries to the brink of war.

“Of course it’s a backlash,” Hamid Haroon, publisher of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, told India’s Star News Television.

Friday’s blast occurred less than a mile from the site where 11 French engineers and three others were killed in a suicide bombing May 8. Police suspect Islamic extremists, possibly al-Qaida members, were responsible.
A police official told Reuters that Karachi police received a tip a week ago that another suicide blast was imminent but did not have details of when or where.

Karachi was also where Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted and slain in January while working on a story about Islamic militants. Four Islamic militants are on trial in that case.

On March 17, a man ran down the aisle of a church in Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave, throwing grenades. He was killed along with four others, including two Americans — a U.S. Embassy employee and her teenage daughter. The man has not been identified.

"We use the word 'terrorism' rather liberally to describe suicide bombings and other acts of random violence against civilians." Sure you do.

Incidentally, Moran's most recent entry proposes having the FBI consult with suspense novelists about possible terror attacks. That's not a bad idea. It's a pity no blogger ever thought of it.

Friday, June 14, 2002
The Ideology That Dare not Speak Its Name
A number of liberal bloggers have been pretty hard on Ralph Nader, now that he has openly accepted what has been obvious for quite a while: in reality, he is now a Republican activist. MWO has been even rougher - no permalinks as usual, but they do quote pro-Nader statements from Phyllis Schafly.

Those of us who have never been forced to hide our true feelings shouldn't be too hard on Ralphie, now that he has courageously come out of the closet. We can never understand how hard it must have been for him to keep his shameful secret all these years, all the little and big lies he has had to tell: sitting in late night dorm chat sessions praising Che and Sartre when all the time he was secretly dreaming about Von Hayek. Buying Bob Dylan tapes just so he could carefully paste the labels over his Donny and Marie collection. Laughing at Archie Bunker with all of his friends, even though he secretly knew Archie was right and Rob Reiner really was a meathead. Insisting that he only read Commentary 'to understand the other side'. Claiming that he only watched Ronald Reagan movies for the camp. Wearing neckties in public every day when his beloved bow ties could only be worn at home behind locked doors. Closing his eyes every time he shook hands with Jesse Jackson and fantasizing he was with Clarence Thomas. Trying to figure out whether he loved Andrew Sullivan in public but hated him in private, or vice versa. Inventing countless excuses about why he missed the last episode of The West Wing so he wouldn't have to admit that he was really watching O'Reilly. Pretending that there was no difference between Bush and Gore.

So Ralph, now that you have finally found the courage to declare your true identity, the Nuisance salutes you. Be strong, be bold. Say it out loud: "I'm a dittohead and I'm proud!" Serve on a corporate Board of Directors, or serve on a bunch - the pay's good, the work's light, and they owe you big time. Grover can set it up. Don't let up now - you still have a Senate Majority to deliver for Bush to go along with the White House you already gave him.

According to new historical evidence, it appears that Julius Caesar has been widely misquoted. What he really said was:

Veni. Vidi. Blogi.
On the Serious Side

To describe this as disturbing would be an understatement:

The United States will not bring American terrorist suspect Jose Padilla before a military tribunal, the Justice Department told lawmakers Thursday, according to congressional and Bush administration officials.

The Justice Department, making its case in a closed meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the United States can hold Padilla until President Bush decides the war against terrorism is over.

"They say it's not punitive, it's just purely prevention to stop him from attacking us," said one congressional official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's going to stay in the can until we're through with al-Qaida."

Government officials had said there were no plans to put Padilla before a tribunal, but officials told the Judiciary Committee that the decision is now final.

It appears to now be the position of the US government that an American citizen can be held indefinitely, presumably for life, without being formally charged with a crime.

The claim that it is not punitive is especially strange, bordering on Orwellian. If being locked up potentially for life isn't punishment, exactly what is?

We will win the current war. There is really not the slightest doubt of that. The home team has a record of 3 - 0 in these World War situations, and our previous opponents were all, in most ways, tougher than the batch of medieval fanatics we're up against today.

The only thing that even makes this war complicated is that some small percentage of the Muslims in the US, both among immigrants and among US citizens, are fifth columnists working for the enemy to kill us.

How we handle that situation will determine whether we end this war as we began it, a free people.

There is a real need to conduct intelligence, both human and technological, among Muslim extremists, and we should do so in the US and overseas. When this intelligence does identify terrorists or would-be terrorists, it will at times be necessary to incarcerate them without allowing them to see evidence which could endanger human sources or electronic methods.

It seems that to deal with this problem something along the following lines is needed(IANAL):

  • When there is evidence that must be concealed from a suspected terrorist, they can be assigned to a tribunal rather than a civilian court. This assignment would be approved by a judge, not made unilaterally by the executive branch.
  • Persons brought before a tribunal will be entitled to an attorney, but not one of their own choosing. The attorney will be chosen from a list of attorneys cleared to access confidential evidence in terrorism cases.
  • These attorneys would probably be mostly or entirely government employees. They should have guarantees of independence, so they would not face penalties for aggressive representation of their clients. They would of course face criminal charges should they leak any confidential information.
  • Defendants would also be permitted to hire attorneys of their own choice, for general counsel and to call or cross-examine any non-secret witnesses.
  • Defendants wouldn't be allowed to examine the confidential evidence, although their approved attorneys would. In some cases, the defendant wouldn't even know the specifics of the charge. This is really straining the Sixth Amendment to the breaking point, but it seems almost impossible to get around this and still keep the evidence secret. The only alternative I can see is the Ashcroft plan to just lock people up without any judicial proceeding, which is worse.

I'll be interested to see in the next few weeks how this plays out among the pro-Bush folks in the blogosphere, many of them self-labelled libertarians. My guess is that most of them will see the problems in the government's handling of the Padilla case. Eugene Volokh - who, unlike me, actually is a lawyer and law professor and knows what he is talking about - has addressed some of the issues here and in other posts.

It occurred to me not long after 9/11 that this was an ideal opportunity for somebody who had been in the Towers to just walk away and play dead. Now one case of that has actually been confirmed. It isn't clear from the story that this person ever really was in the WTC - it seems he probably wasn't. But he pretended to be so that an ongoing criminal investigation of him would be dropped.

That at least I can understand. The disturbing part is that I found it looking to see if I could confirm this genuinely warped story I found at (Jekyl has no permalinks.) I just have no comment on this one.

The Lighter Side of Terrorist Atrocities

The Onion, desperately trying to regain its status as the most trusted news source in China, has scooped the world media on the recent discovery near the city of Potzrebie of the body of Mad Magazine reporter Phil Fonebone, believed to have been murdered by Blecchistani terrorists.

Though many of the specifics regarding Fonebone's murder remain unclear, some details are known. The body was badly decomposed, but coroners identified it by its oversized, folded-over feet. As for the identity of the perpetrators, reports suggest the involvement of one or more mysterious, trench-coated espionage agents dressed in either all-white or all-black clothing, and described as "angular, birdlike males with wide-brimmed, pointy hats."

A recently leaked memo from the State Department also confirms the interception of a Morse-coded message suggesting that the plot may have been masterminded by a shadowy figure known only as "Prohias." This same figure may have been responsible for an elaborate swivel-turret backwards-firing cannon found at the scene of the dirigible attack.

At the time of his capture, Fonebone was tracking down members of the al-Jaffi terrorist network, a group widely believed responsible for the devastating Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions Atrocities, a string of May suicide bombings intended to undermine efforts to establish democracy in Blecchistan. Asked if they knew anything about rumored al-Jaffi involvement in the Fonebone murder, suspects detained in connection with the bombings replied only with a series of three sarcastic variations on "No," leaving a fourth response blank for State Department officials to fill in themselves.

It is suspected that the murder may have been caused by Mad's refusal to print several recent pamphlets from the Blecchistan League of Evil America Haters (BLEAH), including the titles 'Israelity Bites', 'Jew Lies', and 'I Know What You Yid Last Summer'. The controversial pamphlets can be found here.

When asked for the White House response to the murder, spokesman Alfred E. Fleischer said, "What - me worry?"

New Linkage

I've added numerous new links in the blog roll in the last few days. Silt and Sideshow are both part of the growing liberal echo chamber of the blogosphere, and I've been meaning to put them in for a while. Silt has been a bit inactive lately, but Sideshow has some particularly good posts in the last few days that I'll be commenting on further, time permitting.

Armed Liberal is a somewhat offputting name for me. I tend to agree with Rabi: "When I hear the word 'gun', I reach for my culture." Guns and motorcycles really aren't my thing, but smart commentary is. This blog is just too good to ignore.

Max Sawicky has a new page design that I like much better than his old one, including a more accessible blog roll that very tastefully includes the Nuisance. And he writes in a language that is, for an economist, almost indistinguishable from English.

I don't really want to link to the same name blogs that everyone else does. That's why I don't link LGF , Pejman, Clueless, or several other big name, mostly conservative, blogs, even though I like them and read them with great frequency. If you're reading this blog, you almost certainly already know about them. I do link Instapundit, but it's the law, what can I do?

I would rather link to newer and smaller blogs. There actually are some blogs out there that are even newer and arguably more obscure than the Nuisance. I've added several to my roll: Terminus, Indepundit, Silflay Hraka, and Chilicheeze.

You don't have to be liberal to get on the Nuisance blog roll, although it does help. Happy Fun Pundit is way to the right, but makes the cut anyway by being very funny.

Muslimpundit has been commented out because to make the roll, you actually have to do some blogging. Nothing would make me happier than to have Adil end his silence, inshallah, so I could slay the fatted calf and welcome him back to my list. Kausfiles is also gone until he gets a linking address at Slate that actually works.

Thursday, June 13, 2002
According to Silflay Hraka, we have a ways to go before the war on terrorism can be considered officially won. (Link borrowed from Edward Boyd.)
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Lies, Damn Lies, and Conservative Statistics

Instapundit today posts an item quoting from an article in Reason attacking Rachel Carson for misuse of statistics in her Famous book, "Silent Spring".

Carson was also an effective popularizer of the idea that children were especially vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of synthetic chemicals. "The situation with respect to children is even more deeply disturbing," she wrote. "A quarter century ago, cancer in children was considered a medical rarity. Today, more American school children die of cancer than from any other disease [her emphasis]." In support of this claim, Carson reported that "twelve per cent of all deaths in children between the ages of one and fourteen are caused by cancer."

Although it sounds alarming, Carson’s statistic is essentially meaningless unless it’s given some context, which she failed to supply. It turns out that the percentage of children dying of cancer was rising because other causes of death, such as infectious diseases, were drastically declining.

In fact, cancer rates in children have not increased, as they would have if Carson had been right that children were especially susceptible to the alleged health effects of modern chemicals. Just one rough comparison illustrates this point: In 1938 cancer killed 939 children under 14 years old out of a U.S. population of 130 million. In 1998, according to the National Cancer Institute, about 1,700 children died of cancer, out of a population of more than 280 million. In 1999 the NCI noted that "over the past 20 years, there has been relatively little change in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of cancer; from 13 cases per 100,000 children in 1974 to 13.2 per 100,000 children in 1995."

Of course, these aren't those squishy, soft-headed, statistics that relativistic, Luddite, anti-Enlightenment liberal environmentalists love to terrify the innocent with. A good conservative/libertarian writer would never resort to such tricks, especially after just attacking an environmentalist for them. These are firm, trustworthy, conservative statistics with rock-hard pecs and abs, ready to stand up to the toughest challenge.

Aren't they?

The 81% increase in child fatalities looks unimpressive compared to the 115% increase in population. But the first problem is exactly that the comparison is to total population. We know that the percentage of the population in older brackets has increased dramatically in this period. Logic dictates that the percentage of younger groups in the population, including children, would have gone down. In the 1940 census, 36.3% of the population was under 21; in 2000 28.6% was under 20. So by comparing rates in children against total population instead of comparing against population of children, Baily is distorting the numbers by about 20%.

But this isn't the real trick. The real problem is that Bailey is comparing cancer fatalities and ignoring the dramatic improvements in treatments over the comparison period. From 1960 to the late 1980s, chances for 5 year survival of a child diagnosed with cancer went up dramatically , from 28% to 70%. For the period from 1938 to 1998, the difference would be even higher. So if cancer fatalities have stayed fairly constant for that period, it follows that cancer incidence must have risen dramatically.

According to this NCI report, from 1975 to 1995 mortality rates for children dropped 40% while incidence rates were rising at 0.8% per year. Incidentally, this report defines 'children' as birth - 19. If Bailey's report does the same, that's one more problem in comparing it to a report on children aged birth - 13. Bailey has just thrown out some numbers to make it look impressive - as long as you don't look too closely.

The bottom line is that you just can't make any meaningful statements about environmental risks for cancer by comparing mortality rates over generations. Any environmental factor more subtle than smoking 4 packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day while working in an asbestos mine will be drowned out by the treatment improvements.

Sunday, June 09, 2002
Thanks to blogger N. Z. Bear, who mentioned this site with some kind words on Thursday. And now that I've installed a new counter, I can confirm my belief that it was the Bear who put visits to this site at an all time high on Thursday and Friday.

The Bear incidentally mentioned a post which I put up concern Media Whores Online and the watch blog that criticises it. You can find below a post which responds to a critique responding to my post which attacks Instapundit's mention of the watchblog which attacks the blog which attacks the mainstream media which attacks everyone except itself.

Dude, my meta can whup your meta's ass.

Saturday, June 08, 2002
They All Look the Same in a Space Suit

Apparently, it isn't just Mars that needs women.
Tapped is being uncharacteristically silly in this item on Salon's MWO article:

Salon deserves praise for running a piece critical of MWO, even if the article itself left something to be desired. Wingnuts: Remember this the next time you accuse Salon of being a Democratic mouthpiece.

What exactly is so praiseworthy about running an article that you concede isn't especially good? After all, back when it was worth checking out every day, Salon ran some brutal articles criticising Clinton with real reporting. The New York Times savaged Clinton and Gore time after time for 8 years while being a lapdog for Bush. I didn't notice the wingnuts noticing.

Why is it, incidentally, that the few liberal outlets have to please (and print) conservatives to be respectable? Salon for years was a regular outlet for Vincent, Horowitz and Paglia. With the exception of Paglia, who is utterly trite and worthless on politics but often insightful on culture, it certainly wasn't because they either wrote well or had anything original to say.

And it isn't only Salon. Sullivan, before he made his living complaining about conservatives being frozen out of the media, made his reputation in the US as editor of the New Republic. Slate has many conservatives in its Breakfast Club feature, not to mention Kaus, who really isn't fooling anybody when he claims he's still a Democrat. Even the Nation has Hitchens, who really isn't a conservative pundit, but is so addicted to nasty personal attacks against Democrats that he might as well be. TAP is about the only major liberal publication that doesn't have an obvious house conservative, and good for them. It's not as if conservatives lack TV, radio, and print outlets where they can whine about the liberal media.

The total number of house liberals I know of in National Review, Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page combined is 0. (I have looked, but if any reader can point out one I missed I'll correct this.)

The Endangered Texas RINO

A group of Texas GOPers is pushing to prevent anyone from running as a Republican whom they consider to be insufficiently sincere in backing the state party's platform. The Texas platform calls for, among other things, teaching creation science and re-occupying the Panama Canal, but it seems that those positions may not be 'core principles' and are therefore optional for Party candidates. At first I was amused by this, since a party really doesn't determine its own candidates. But they do have a plan for kicking out candidates who don't match their standards, and some ambiguous precedents that suggest it might possibly be legal.

So if a candidate fails to match some Central Committee's standards of ideological purity, other factors - for instance winning a primary election - just might become irrelevant. As a descendant of one-time members of the Communist Party, I can certainly respect their goals. If it hadn't maintained its firm opposition to all forms of revisionism through repeated expulsions, the CPUSA wouldn't be the major political and intellectual force it is today.

And as a Democrat, I wish Robert Johnson and his allies the best of luck.

Friday, June 07, 2002
Rant and Counter Rant

Jay Caruso, one of the bloggers at Media Whores Online Watch, which I blasted on Wednesday, has put up a response to my criticisms at Daily Rant, his other blog.

Who's got time to write 2 blogs, by the way? Especially since Jay also says he has a young child. I would barely have time for one, except for my convenient lack of a life. Anyway, to get to Jay's criticisms:

I wrote: MWO Watch copies the loud, in your face attitude of MWO, but it doesn't copy their interest in actual facts. It prefers insults and sneers to troubling exercises like research.

Jay answered:First of all, I'd like to know what 'actual facts' Alex is referring to on MWO. Here is a quote from a commentary they had regarding a new story coming out in Esquire about President Bush:

What they failed to report was Andy Card's concern -- and Karl Rove's glee -- at how Karen's departure had made Rove the winger into the capo di tutti capi of the Dubya regime.

I would definitely agree that MWO is an opinion-rich environment, with more than an occasional cheap shot. But if you look around, there are plenty of facts there.

For instance, one current article, "BUSH, CHENEY, AND THE HALLIBURTON SCANDAL", has numerous facts, apparently mostly cribbed from an article in the Boston Globe, that I have seen reported sparsely or not at all elsewhere:

  • Bush 41 got his first job working for Dresser, due to his father's close ties to Dresser's then-President, Neil Mallon. Dubya's brother Neil, the noted S & L executive, is named after Neil Mallon.
  • Mallon and G. H. W. Bush met at Yale in Skull and Bones. Bush subsequently served on the Dresser board.
  • Halliburton bought out Dresser after negotiations launched on a hunting trip Dick Cheney took with Dresser's CEO in 1998. Ten thousand employees were fired as redundant by the combined company. This merger has been an unmitigated disaster for Halliburton, which is now faced with billions of dollars in asbestos claims from a former Dresser subsidiary.
  • Halliburton is now in such bad shape from the asbestos claims that it is seeking relief from the US government.
  • The threat of asbestos liability was known to negotiators at the time of the merger, but wasn't disclosed to stockholders. Whether the Halliburton board was warned is an interesting question which goes unanswered.
  • Cheney made millions of dollars selling his stocks and exercising options when the price was over $50 a share and the market had not been informed of Dresser's asbestos problems. That information, along with other problems, has driven the current share price for Halliburton bellow $20.

Another story describes Tucker Carlson on 'Crossfire' repeating the bogus claims that FBI agents set the Waco fire and Dee Dee Myers meekly going along with him, with extensive quotes from transcripts.

So there is some significant meat on the site, along with the invective.

MWO Watch:
This is par for the course at MWO. Yes, sometimes MWO raise some serious questions, and for that they should be commended. They were the ones who revealed (at least to me anyway) that the reporting of the Washington Post regarding Congress's knowledge of the 'shadow government' Bush put into place following the September 11 attacks. The Post story, which came out in March or April reported members of Congress had not been informed. However, a Cleveland Plain Dealer story at the end of October completely contradicted that is it reported that the leaders of Congress were indeed informed of what was going on.

I don't know what MWO said about this. They either keep no archives at all or hide them someplace very hard to find, which is atrocious.

About this story in general, what amazed me, and also demonstrated how badly the media elite is in need of an aggressive watchdog, is that the Post was universally credited with 'breaking' a story that had appeared in a major newspaper the previous year.

I noted that in two consecutive posts, MWO Watch had mocked MWO for an ad hominem shot at Rush Limbaugh, then engaged in some pretty crude insults of its own to readers sending critical e-mails. Jay replied:

There has been a common misconception that MWO Watch is a site that is written with one voice, and the critics refer to posts by two separate people as though Henry and I have some kind of rules to abide by. This is not the case. I post when I feel like it and Henry posts when he feels like it. We'll email each other tipping each other off to certain things, but what we post is done on our own. Henry decided to make a comment about MWO and their use of the term 'fathead' with respect to Rush Limbaugh. My comments responding to other comments are irrelevant in that regard.

As for me, anybody who has read this site, knows that I am respectful to dissenting views, and do not engage in ad hominem here, and I appreciate that my liberal readers have not done so either. I like the dissent, and there are times when faithful readers like Midderpidge offer some rebuttal to what I write, which makes me think more about the issue. However, I am not about to offer a shred of respect for some left wing nut who is going to call me a fucking Nazi!

Jay, there's an old Jewish saying: When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas. The Rant (which is ultimately just as partisan as MWO Watch) posts intelligent, respectful commentary and gets respectful critiques of your positions. MWO Watch posts red meat invective and gets responses comparing you to notorious murderers or calling you a Nazi. Maybe there's a lesson in that.

Now we enter, with grave trepidation, the swamps of Florida. MWO routinely refers to the 2000 election as stolen, a position with which, for the record, I agree. MWO Watch posted an article under the headline "MWO's BIGGEST WHOPPER - SO FAR" on the recount.

MWO:"As everyone knows from subsequent reports making clear that overvotes would have been included in the recount - and making clear that Al Gore won under all six scenarios counting overvotes and undervotes - the US Supreme Court did cast the deciding vote installing Usurper."

MWO Watch:That is a total lie. Overvotes would not have been included in the recounts. Florida law at the time said as much.[Emphasis in original.]

The overvotes in question were ballots where a vote was entered for one candidate and the same candidate's name was entered on the write-in line. There were overvotes that included votes for multiple candidates, but these ballots could not have been counted. The countable overvotes are known to have tilted significantly to Gore.

The order by the Florida Supreme Court called for only the counting of undervotes. However, Slate showed that the Judge who was supervising the recount, Terry Lewis, was considering adding overvotes to the count. If he had, and the recount had been completed, Gore would have very probably won.

Contrary to the flat statement of MWO Watch, we simply don't know whether the overvotes would have been included. But it seems likely they would have:

  • Lewis himself has stated he would have been "open to" counting them.
  • The documents in Slate suggest that Lewis was leaning in that direction.
  • Counting the overvotes was consistent with the general purpose of both Florida law and the Court's order, which was simply to count every available vote. Since these overvotes met the standard of showing 'clear intent of the voter', there was no good reason not to count them.
  • The quote that MWO Watch includes to prove that overvotes wouldn't have been counted says: "How about the 'overvotes'? Section 101.5614(6) provides that a ballot should not be counted '[i]f an elector marks more names than there are persons to be elected to an office,' meaning the voter voted for more than one person for president. "[Emphasis added] So this reference is clearly to the uncountable, and not the countable overvotes. In fact, what this judge (in a dissent) seems to be disagreeing with, is precisely the fact that the decision didn't explicitly require including countable overvotes.

By the way, this is all focusing on minutia while ignoring the basic question. MWO Watch doesn't seem to dispute that Gore would have won if all the legal votes had been counted. They're pretty much just saying that, even if the recount had gone forward, due to mistakes by the Gore attorneys and the Florida Supremes, enough valid Gore votes would have been missed for Bush still to win. Once you concede that Gore, along with the national popular vote, seems to have won the plurality of legal Florida votes - and also there's little dispute that Gore had a sizable majority in votes that had to be thrown out because of confusing ballot design - you're pretty much admitting that Bush's legitimacy rests, at best, on a legal technicality.

Jay also disagrees with my characterizing Instapundit's item as 'endorsing' MWO Watch. It doesn't explicitly say that the blog is good, and MWO Watch isn't on Glenn's lengthy blog roll. (Neither are Daily Rant or Public Nuisance.) I still think that's a reasonable interpretation of Glenn's line, "Advantage: Blogosphere!". Feel free to decide for yourself.