Saturday, June 01, 2002

Obsessive Rankings Update Redux:

Up to #14 on DayPop ! Whoop!
A few days back, I wheeled out the Bear Assignment Desk and gave some homework to Prof. Reynolds, Ms. Lithwick, and Prof. Volokh . Notably: To explain in language a simple bear could understand just what the devil the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Federal government's ability to bring action against states on behalf of individuals actually means in the real world.

Well, Ms. Lithwick's off in Israel, Prof. Volokh begged off, and Prof. Reynolds is way too busy discussing teen nookie and the arcana of web site tracking metrics (although not, I should point out, simultaneously). So they all get incompletes.

Fear not, however, for we have a TTLB reader and a fellow blogger have both provided their analysis of the decision.

Mark Shawhan dropped me an email with an excellent summary of the decision, the key points of which I'll share with you here. Mark caveats his analysis with the statement that he is "neither a law student nor a law professor": so noted, but his analysis looks good to me.

Mark begins with the necessary background and summary of the case:

The 11th Amendment states that the federal "judicial power" does not extend to suits by private citizens against states not their own (in other words, states have immunity against such suits). At some point in the recent past, a company called South Carolina Maritime Services was denied berthing space and certain other services for their liners by the state of SC, because those liners were being used as floating casinos. They filed a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission, asking the commission to enjoin SC from their denial of services to SCMS.

The FMC referred the complaint, as per usual practice, to an administrative law judge, who found that SC enjoyed sovereign immunity from such complaints under the 11th Amendment. the FMC disagreed, reversed the administrative law judge, and found for SCMS. Their reasoning was that the 11th Amendment dealt with judicial tribunals (hence "judicial power"), rather than proceedings of executive branch agencies like the FMC, so SC did not have immunity from the FMC. SC, obviously appealed, etc.

The Supreme Court, found that SC did indeed have immunity from the FMC. The majority opinion, written by Clarence Thomas, stated that while the 11th Amendment did not explicitly give states immunity from administrative proceedings (a literal textual reading says quite the opposite, in fact), the principle of sovereign immunity for the states, of which the 11th Amendment is an important pillar, requires immunity for SC from the FMC. Essentially, the argument is that the principle behind the 11th Amendment was that states should be immune from suit by private citizens. While administrative adjudication of complaints (ie, the FMC deciding the validity of the complaint of SCMS) did not exist at the time the 11th Amendment was ratified, the proceedings of administrative adjudication are closely similar to those of a court, and thus, while they are a function of the executive branch, should be treated as if they are also judicial proceedings. Thus, SC has immunity from the FMC.

OK, got it. So we're dealing with the 11th Amendment, here, and since it's only one sentence long, might as well reprint it so we're all on the same page:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

The majority decision is taking that sentence to mean, in a broad sense, that even though the action in question Federal Maritime Commission was technically executing "administrative proceeding" and not a lawsuit, the FMC isn't fooling anybody. It had the same effect as a lawsuit, and therefore should be treated as such.

Mark continues, and lays out the future effects of the decision:

There are a couple of implications to the decision. First, this greatly expands the power of the states at the expense of the federal government. Heretofore, as I understand it, there have been substantial numbers of actions against state governments taken by executive agencies of the federal government pursuant to private complaints; these are no longer possible. These agencies may still pursue proceedings against state governments on their own, but I would think this becomes more difficult without a private complaint to spur on action. In other words, the court just closed off a substantial avenue for private citizens seeking remedies against state governments.

The other significant element to this decision was the way in which it was reached. The 5-member majority found that the 11th Amendment's sovereign immunity extended to administrative proceedings, even though such an interpretation was not in the literal text. Basically, the court said that the 11th Amendment should be construed as to include proceedings substantially similar to the already-enumerated ones, because those proceedings did not exist at the time of the writing of the amendment.

Supporters of this decision would argue that they are looking to the intent of the writers of the amendment (to give states immunity from suit); opponents would say that this is precisely the broad construction of the Constitution going beyond the original text (or even opposite the original text) which members of the majority have in the past criticized as judicial activism. To summarize: in the past, this particular 5-justice majority has struck down federal legislation because justification for that legislation could not be found in the strict text of the Constitution; this decision limits federal powers because those powers were not constitutional, under a broad reading of the constitution. That's an important change (and shows an increased willingness to limit federal power vis a vis. the states).

So in the future, it's going to be a lot harder for the federal government to bring any kind of action against state governments. In particular, it seems, regulatory agencies (such as the FMC, EPA, FCC, FAA, and others) are the ones that have lost some power here. Whereas before they could hide behind a fig leaf that their actions were administrative, and not lawsuits, now the Supreme Court has taken away that defense.

Mark is also politely pointing out, I believe, that the majority seems to be switching sides of the strict/loose constructionist debate according to what happens to be convenient at the time; an observation I've heard echoed elsewhere.

Still not enough analysis for you? Then check out Howard Bashman's post at How Appealing, which he was kind enough to refer me to. Howard brings up the interesting point that this decision, given that it was 5-4, may be a factor in future Supreme Court nominations:

The Court's Eleventh Amendment jurisprudence is unusual in that the four more liberal Justices find themselves in the role of strict constructionists while the five-member majority expounds upon a theme that the majority freely admits transcends the Constitution's text. The four dissenters have gone on record in earlier dissents as ready to overrule the foundation of the Court's jurisprudence in this area should a fifth vote to do so ever become available. These cases thus involve a subject matter where a change in the Court's personnel could make a big difference.

My thanks to both Mark & Howard for their cogent explanations, and hopefully they will each point out any inaccuracies or distortions that I may have inadvertently introduced into the discussion here.

I am a bummed bear with respect to my plea for a spiffy new logo. So far a grand total of zero (0, none, zip, zilch, nothing, nada, bupkiss) submissions have shown up in my inbox.

I mean, InstaGuy has got one. VodkaGuy has got one . This has got something to do with anti-bear discrimination, doesn't it? Admit it.

(If you're confused, look at the top-left of the page and follow the "Click here if you're interested in designing the new TTLB logo" link.)

But anyway, it's only been a few days, so I'm sure the lack of response is because all you graphically-inclined type folks have been slaving away feverishly since then, and are simply waiting until your designs are absolutely perfect before sending them to me.


The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that India's military has detailed plans for a limited war against Pakistan. The level of detail obtained by the CSM's reporters (and leaked by the Indian military) is remarkable:

Within the first 48 hours, India is expected to attack the Neelam Valley Road across the Kupwara sector in Indian-held Kashmir, says an Indian Air Force officer involved in the planning. The Indian Air Force will try to destroy an important bridge over the Jhelum River which connects Pakistan with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. But "Indian action will attract heavy Pakistani punishment," says General Mehta (an Indian military analyst).

What, no timetable? Well, actually, there is:

Indian military sources say India has secretly told the US and Britain that it will wait two weeks to see if international diplomatic pressure halts infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian territory. "This could be easily verified by monitoring [radio and telephone] intercepts," says Ret. Major Gen. Ashok Mehta, an Indian military analyst. If infiltration does not significantly drop, a senior Army official says India plans a 10-day assault in Kashmir. "It will be like Kargil [the 1999 war between India and Pakistan]," says Mr. Mehta. "The military action will be predominantly infantry led and intensively supported by the Air Force."

The running theory as to why the Indian government is letting this stuff leak is that they are trying to threaten Pakistan into clamping down on cross-border terrorism. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings institution is quoted in the CSM piece: "They are threatening to use force to compel another country to alter its behavior. In this case, their target is both Pakistan and the US, and they are compelling the US to put pressure on Musharraf to rein in cross-border terrorism."

This makes sense as an analysis of the Indian military's motivations. Does the policy itself make sense though? I'm more than a bit skeptical. Sounds a lot like a game of chicken where neither side is going to blink...

PS - I first learned of the CSM article on KCRW radio's To the Point yesterday. Click here if you want to listen to RealAudio of an interview with one of the CSM's reporters about the piece.

Obsessive Rankings Update

Back up on Daypop to #17 now.

Still on the front page o' Slashdot

#25 at Blogdex.

Obsessive? Me? Never...

Islamic clerics in Egypt have teamed up with the Business Software Association and issued a fatwa against copyright piracy. (Found on Slashdot).

"Piracy is the worst type of theft and is prohibited by Islam," (Sheikh Ibrahim) Atta Allah declared.

Well alrighty then. Mohammed wasn't big on swappin' warez and rippin' MP3s, I take it?

Clarification: The fatwa was from the clerics, not the BSA. As far as I know they do injunctions, not fatwas, which I guess are arguably far more dangerous...

Amish Tech Support outdoes himself with a moving open letter to Adam Pearl. Go check it out.

Friday, May 31, 2002

"Back in the Day" (or, as Salon titled it, "When 300 baud was the bomb") is at #18 and rising at DayPop, and is the top story on the front page of Slashdot.

Well, that's kinda cool. Thanks, all.

Update: Doh! Dropped to 20 on DayPop. Ah, success is fleeting...
Linking to InstaPundit referenced articles is often pointless, but this one's worth it... and it's best if you go through his link rather than directly. I strongly urge you to spend a minute considering the geopolitics involved and the possible common enemy of which Glenn speaks before proceeding on... see if you get it right...
Senegal Defeats France in World Cup Opener

As Nelson would say:


This is especially delicious since apparently the entire starting line up of Senegal's team actually play professionally on French league teams. Which, I would assume, makes them --- let's say it together boys and girls --- immigrants.

(Hey, I've refrained from the obligatory blogospheric French-bashing up until now; a guy's allowed to have a little fun now and then.)
Glenn Reynolds has challenged my masculinity!

This will not stand! He may think he can run forensic rings around certain fools who shall not be named, but we shall see how he stacks up against a Real Bear! Have at you!

Actually, I think he was just being polite and not making assumptions. And good for him. Or, er, should that be "good for it"?

In my case, regardless, it's "he" Glenn, honest. Ask my fiancée; she's checked. And thanks muchly for the congrats....

Happy Fun Pundit turns his razor-sharp analytical skills on the Bill of Rights.

(it's been linked to elsewhere, but it actually made me laugh out loud, so that's pretty much a gotta-link-to in my book).
On a lighter note:

Patio Pundit puts his finger on what's been bugging me about the new Slate-supercharged Kausfiles:

" it me or does it suck now? Not the kausfiles content, that's smoking. But it doesn't feel right. There's no archives, no link list. I understand that there are some tradeoffs "working for the man." But they don't even give Mickey that day tab thingamajiggy."

Yeah. Mickey's still cruisin', but he needs to smack those Microsoft weenies slinging the HTML upside the head. The layout is killin' us.

Is this where we're supposed to start a petition or something?

"Free Mickey's Prose! "

"What do we want?"


"When do we want 'em?"


SAM Missile Update: If you read nothing else, read this.

Well, had my moment in the sun, now back to work. And unpleasant work it is this morning.

The Washington Times (found via The Corner) has a report today that goes beyond yesterday's CNN piece indicating that al Qaeda might have surface-to-air missiles that could be used against U.S. airliners and says that "new intelligence indicates that Islamic terrorists have smuggled shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles into the United States." (emphasis mine).

The CNN report, which I mentioned here, contained no indication that these weapons might already be in the country.

This is very, very not good. I'm going to keep thinking long and hard about what I would do, if I were Bush or Ashcroft or Ridge right now, to stop what I fear is going to be another terrible loss of life. I will confess to you that right now, I just don't have an answer. But please, if you've got an idea --- send it to me. This is not an idle intellectual exercise: this is for real, and as intelligent, informed citizens of this country we damn well better be doing our part to think creatively about how to stop these monsters --- because our diversity of mind and thought is our greatest strength. Let's not squander it.

Update: VodkaGuy has a more reasoned assessment of the threat over at his place. He points out that modern airliners are pretty stable craft, and as such, might be able to withstand losing an engine to a SAM strike.

I'd like to believe that, but I question whether a SA-7 (which apparently is the type of missile most likely to be used) would outright destroy the wing of the plane, as well as the engine. Anybody with a better military background than VP and myself care to chime in here?

Update Again: VodkaGuy got back to me in email near instantaneously, and indicates that a SA-7 warhead is much too small to wreck the wing. This is good news.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

I'm pleased and a little baffled to have an announcement of sorts to make.

My piece "Back in the Day", which was previously posted here as a weblog entry, has been accepted for publication by You can now find it here, in all its actually-published-by-a-real-magazine glory. This is my first professional sale, and I have to admit to being a bit dazed by the whole thing. (I'm not doing a very job of acting all blasé about this, I know. Oh well. )

A special thanks goes out to Meryl Yourish on this one --- not only is she, in fact, one of the people whom I spent those days with way-back-when, but it was her kind words about the piece that encouraged me to take the leap and send it off to Salon. Thanks, Meryl! (And for everyone reading this who is not Meryl, go visit her site, already! If you like my stuff, you'll like hers too.)

If you were already a TTLB reader: thanks to you as well; the high traffic stats are the other thing encouraging me to keep this up.

And if you are just coming here from Salon: Welcome! I hope you'll stay a while and enjoy my other work. You'll find an odd mix of serious essays (or at least, mini-essays) on my thoughts on politics and world events, humor (or at least, attempts at it), and links to random stuff I've found elsewhere. Check out the list on the left navigation bar for some of my (self-selected) "greatest hits", if you're wondering where to start (or heck, just start scrolling down.). The tone around here ranges from flat-out-silly to deadly serious, so I suppose that takes a little getting used to, but what can I say: I'm inconsistent, and enjoying it.

And please, be sure to follow the links you'll find in many of the pieces below to other fine webloggers' sites. There's a wealth of bloggy riches out there, just waiting for you! (If you're looking to get right to it, check this post for a nice list of other weblogs to start with). And if you're totally baffled by my use of the word "weblog" and just trying to understand what the heck I'm talking about, check out this article by John Hiler which discusses the relationship between "bloggers" (from weBLOG ) and professional journalists (it also has links around it to other pieces explaining other aspects of "the blogosphere").

Whether you're a new visitor or you've been here before, please feel free to drop me an email and let me know what you think --- I like feedback, and my popularity is nowhere near the level where getting mail from readers is an irritant. Just be sure to mention whether you are writing privately or for publication on the site, and if it is for publication, let me know whether you'd like your name to be attributed or withheld.

So in closing: thanks to the old readers, welcome to the new, and apologies to everyone for a post that reads way too much like I'm accepting the Oscar...

-N.Z. Bear

Remember when folks were suggesting that the FBI needs to be blogging to improve their communications (search on 'FBI needs a blog' -- I still haven't figured out if Mickey doesn't do permalinks now that he's hit the bigtime or if I'm just clueless.)?

Well, looks like the military end of the war on terror already is:

"...the Tactical Web Page, (is) a secret, secure Web site being used in combat for the first time, through which American commanders at Bagram air base and in the United States can direct the fight in Afghanistan.

The system collects all information and communication in one place. Commanders confer in chat rooms and pass on orders; messages scroll across the screen, alerting developments from the field; maps show friendly and enemy positions. "

Cool. Not quite blogging, but close enough...

There is now a site that allows New York City bloggers to place themselves on an online NYC subway map , which can then be browsed by subway stop to find the nearest blogger.

I find this deeply, deliriously cool.

I am, however, damned jealous. Although I can't claim to be a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, I did spend about five years there, and enjoyed it greatly. My fiancée’s family is still back in Manhattan, so we still visit every now and then. But we haven't been since September, and I miss it. (James Lileks' beautiful photos of the city did not help one bit, either!)

But for the record, if I still qualified, I'd be on the 6, right down at the Bleecker Street stop, where apparently you'll also find scott heiferman's fotolog: , , and

Here's a big 'wassup' to my old 'hood !

FBI warns of shoulder-fired missiles threat.

I've been saying this was one of my biggest worries since last September. Glad to see it only took the FBI eight months to catch up.

The real problem is, I have no bloody clue how you defend against this kind of an attack on a commercial jet. I'm afraid the answer is, "you don't."

Miss Russia wins Miss Universe title

Damn. My money was on that hot little six-armed number from Alpha Centauri.

Bush is sending Rummy to South Asia to give India and Pakistan a stern talking to. I suspect top on the list of topics will be politely explaining to them that it is positively rude to interrupt somebody else's war.

SecDef is also going to be giving a press briefing in about 30 minutes (9:30 am PDT), so you've got a few minutes to go grab some popcorn. I suspect he'll be in a grouchy mood --- mainly because, well, he's always in a grouchy mood, and besides, I hear India is miserable this time of year...

VodkaDude makes a very simple, but very important point regarding the reports that Pakistan is drawing its forces away from the hunt for al Qaeda leaders and focusing on their cross-border shennanigans with India:

It’s official – we have lost the initiative in this war. And anyone who studies the subject knows that losing initiative is the surest way to losing everything.

Yeah. I'm afraid the guy with the martini is right.
From the "isn't he dead yet?" file comes a story from MSNBC indicating that Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (who makes even Dostum look good) has called for a holy war against the U.S. and Great Britain. According to MSNBC:

“I invite all the believers to be united and to be ready for war to liberate your country from the foreign oppressors,” Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said in a handwritten letter circulated in Afghanistan and to some of his followers in Pakistan.

Hekmatyar, for those of you joining this movie in the middle, is yet another classic warlord type a la Dostum, only worse. Most of what I know about Afghan history I learned from Ahmed Rashid's excellent book Taliban (which I'm proud to say I discovered before it hit the bestseller lists, and which is still worth reading today, I assure you, as this story makes abundantly clear) and I seem to remember Hekmatyar being an all-around thug who switched sides pretty much any time it seemed convenient during the last twenty years of Afghan civil war and has spent the last few decades making a homicidal nuisance of himself, stirring up trouble wherever possible. He's about the only major warlord (left alive) that I know of that doesn't seem to have gotten pulled into the 'big tent' of the interim government --- which, given the level of unsavoriness of some of those who are there (back to Dostum again), gives you an idea just how helpful a chap Mr. Hekmatyar is.

MSNBC continues:

Hekmatyar has allies both in Iran and within Pakistan’s secret service, known as the InterServices Intelligence, or ISI.

“I personally think right now that he will receive more support from Iran than from Pakistan because the Americans are everywhere here right now,” [Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan’s spy agency] said adding that Hekmatyar has sympathizers in Pakistani intelligence.

“There is certainly a lot for sympathy for him in ISI, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into material assistance,” he said. That assistance would likely come from Iran.

Hmmmm. Remember this ? Worried yet ?

Locking the gun cabinet

Has it occurred to anyone else that the fact that the September 11th terrorists were trained at American flight schools actually has a bright side?

Sure, it was a massive intelligence failure; we've been through that discussion. But I find some comfort in the fact that to gain the skills and knowledge required to carry out their attacks, the Islamofacists had to come to America to do it.

Why is that good? Two reasons.

First, because it reinforces the point that has been made before: that this is a war between the modern civilization of the West and its allies, and an essentially medieval subculture that does not, within itself, contain anything resembling the scientific knowledge required to thrive in the modern world. And you don't have to be a serious scholar of history to know how that type of conflict always turns out.

Second, and more significantly, it means that the power to stop the next attack is most likely in our own hands. There are no al Qaeda scientists huddling somewhere coming up with a new weapon that we'll have to counter. The weapons that they have used --- and will continue to use --- are ours.

This means that the problem we face isn't analogous so much to a homeowner attempting to perfect his home security system with an alarm, private security guard, and watchdog --- it's analogous to that same homeowner simply ensuring he puts a padlock on his gun cabinet.

There will be future terrorist attacks; guaranteed. We will never be able to lock up the weapons of retail terror: small arms, light explosives, and the like. But the weapons of wholesale terror --- nuclear arms, bioterrorism agents, radioactive material --- these things are possible to 'lock up'. And that's where our focus needs to be.

I'm very optimistic that this can be done. I'm less optimistic that it will be done. Issues such as keeping Russia's nuclear materials safe are non-trivial to say the least, as the Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces (from the office of the Director of Central Intelligence) shows. The report, released in February 2002, includes such reassuring statements as:

"Russian facilities housing weapons-usable nuclear material—uranium enriched to 20 percent or greater in uranium-235 or uranium-233 isotopes and any plutonium containing less than 80 percent of the isotope plutonium-238—typically receive low funding, lack trained security personnel, and do not have sufficient equipment for securely storing such material....In 1992, 1.5 kilograms of 90-percent-enriched weapons-grade uranium were stolen from the Luch Production Association... In 1994, 3.0 kilograms of 90-percent-enriched weapons-grade uranium were stolen in Moscow..."

(Minor bit of good news: it takes about 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb. Major bit of bad news: it takes a lot less to make a "dirty bomb" and spread nuclear material over a populated area [PDF].)

"In August 2001, an anonymous military officer claimed in a Russian television program interview that security was lax at 12th GUMO sites. The officer outlined a number of problems at the storage sites, including charges that there are personnel shortages and that alarms systems operate only 50 percent of the time. The officer speculated that a terrorist organization could seize a nuclear warhead...

Much like other parts of the military, the Strategic Rocket Forces and the 12th GUMO have also suffered from wage arrears as well as shortages of food and housing allowances. In 1997, the 12th GUMO closed a nuclear weapons storage site due to hunger strikes by the workers; in 1998, families of several nuclear units protested over wage and benefit arrears. According to Russian press, the MOD addressed most of the arrears by early 1999, and wages are now paid regularly. Even when paid, however, officers’ wages rarely exceed $70 a month and wives cannot earn a second income because the storage sites are usually located far from cities, according to the anonymous 12th GUMO officer.

Housing for 12th GUMO personnel is of poor quality or nonexistent. According to the Chief of Staff of the 12th GUMO, there are 9,500 homeless active duty and retired officers. The poor living conditions of the officers—who contend with lack of heating, leaky plumbing, and deteriorating buildings—have been reported by Russian press.

Yuck. Another point that the report makes is that basically, the Russians don't have the money to fund the improvements necessary to safeguard their weapons and fissionable material. It's all coming from us. (I had hoped to find a recent article or citation I could quote here with a status report on how much funding we are providing --- and if it is adequate --- but I've totally struck out on my research this morning. If anyone can give me a link or provide info, I'd appreciate it).

This is all rather grim. But to return to my original point: there is good news here. And that is the simple fact that our destiny is in our own hands. If we can do what must be done and lock up that gun cabinet, then the chances of wholesale terror drop immeasurably.

The game is our to lose. If there is another major terrorist attack, it will not be because the terrorists were brilliant. It will be because we were stupid.

In case you had any doubts, the Washington Post lays out the connections between al Qaeda and ongoing violence in Pakistan:

"Local and al Qaeda footprints have been found" in every major strike against so-called soft Western targets in Pakistan this year, said a senior Pakistani security official. Officials have connected al Qaeda to the kidnapping and murder of American newspaper reporter Daniel Pearl in January, a grenade attack on a church in Islamabad on March 17 that left two Americans and three others dead, and a car bombing May 8 outside a hotel in this southern port city that killed 14 people, including 11 French technicians.

In addition, raids by Pakistani and U.S. security agents have uncovered evidence that extensive al Qaeda operations are being planned and carried out from inside this country, a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism.

Patio Pundit does the numbers and inflicts a math lesson on newbie blogger Eric Alterman

There's a shuttle launch today, and unusually, it's scheduled at a time rather convenient for viewing: 7:44 pm EDT this evening.

The weather looks like it might not cooperate, but assuming it holds out, here's some links of interest:

Main Space Shuttle page at NASA
- Basic information on the mission

Shuttle Countdown Status Page at NASA
- Cool page with a java applet showing the realtime countdown, with links to lots of detailed information on the launch procedure. Want to know exactly where the Hazardous Gas System Engineers sit in the control room? This page is for you.

Kennedy Space Center Video Feeds at NASA
- Nice page that has links to the actual RealVideo and Windows media streams from NASA (which presumably will broadcast the launch itself), but doubly neat in that it has a large gallery of still images, updated every minute or so (it's configurable, too!) taken from various NASA cameras.

Shuttle Mission STS -111 Special Report from
More info on the mission from Lou Dobbs' other gig.

Clear skies and the best of luck to the mission team...

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Stop them, before they commentate again

To: The Blogosphere

From: N.Z. Bear

Subject: Intervention for Layne, Welch

A troubling development has come to our attention here at TTLB, as I'm sure it has to many of our fellow citizens of the Blogosphere. Two previously articulate, intelligent bloggers have developed a most disturbing ailment.

They have begun talking about sports.A lot.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste; particularly when it's wasted in such a clearly self-destructive manner. Observe, if you will, the following from Mr. Welch's log (quoting Mr. Layne, so we can indict both of them for this particular offense):

"LA came back with some fucking energy and balls. Double-teamed the shit out of Moby, bummed out the Turk, bummed out Webber & the Serb. Defense was mostly terrific. Kobe started doing that thing he does, Shaq made four crucial free throws in a row, Milosevic missed a crucial free throw with a minute left, and you saw the rest...Motherfucking Horry. Motherfucker."

I will give Mr. Layne the benefit of the doubt and grant him, for the moment, that the words involved in that convoluted mess of invective appeared to derive from what we commonly refer to as the English language. But the semantic content of the statement is an absolute mystery to me. He seems to be talking about a well-known electronica artist doing something nasty to Slobodon Milosovich, while avoiding hostilities with Istanbul, but I'm not entirely sure.

Another example: take this shining bit of prose from the previously articulate Mr. Layne:

"That guy who looks like Moby and that guy who looks like Webber, they were good.... .Memo to Phil: When Rick Fox is having a bad night, just get him out of there. Don't be shy about using Shaw and Hunter. That third-quarter strategy? It sucked the big ass tonight. Sometimes you gotta drop that Zen Yoda shit and respond, eh?

Phil? Hunter? Zen Yoda? I kinda grok the last part there, but I just can't comprende the rest of this gobbledygook.

Admittedly, I grant you, this appears to be primarily a problem with Mr. Layne, with Mr. Welch participating in somewhat of an "enabler" role. But I fear for both of them: truly, I do.

So I beg each and every one of you, citizens of the Blogosphere: lend Mr. Welch and Mr. Layne a hand in their time of need. Show them that there is a world inside their computer monitors that does not involve sweaty (heterosexual) men slapping each other on the ass and running swiftly back and forth, back and forth down a well-varnished parquet floor. The life of the mind is in here, in the blogosphere, where such mundane concerns as athletics, exercise, and maintaining a heart rate with a vague possibility of precluding a coronary before the age of 40 are irrelevant. Ideas are the thing!

We must rescue our errant sheep, and bring them back to the geeky flock. I beg of you all, have mercy on these poor lost souls, and show them the way back to true bloggerly happiness!


Just dropped here by that weird link on Meryl's site?

Wondering what the hell she meant by "Still grinning. Like a Cheshire Cat" ?

Thinking that you're going to find the answer here?

Think again, friend, think again...but enjoy your stay anyway ...

Professor V has a deeply irksome post about intelligent design where he follows up on an item from Max Power.

The post is irksome not because I disagree with the Prof's argument, but because as usual, it's extremely well-reasoned, and damnit, I can't find away around it. And I really, really want to.

He argues that despite the strong urge to shoot down proposals to teach intelligent design in schools (the heart of the matter at hand), the arguments against doing so are tenuous:

Nor can one argue that intelligent design is unproven, but evolution is proven. Evolution has not been proven in any common sense of the term -- true, it's (to my limited knowledge) more or less consistent with the evidence, but intelligent design is consistent with the evidence, too. Intelligent design, in turn, is neither proven nor disproven; it may not even be disprovable, absent some quite remarkable and uncontrovertible divine revelation.

Professor V is making a rather irritating habit of coming up with intelligent, articulate arguments which logically lead places I don't want to go. I wonder if I asked him nicely if he would stop...

Update: I may not have the intellectual horsepower (well, at least after a long day of posting) to challenge the great Professor V, but Max Power rises to the occasion and lands a few body blows (in an extremely civilized, intelligent, non-Bennett-like kind of way). Not quite sure I'm convinced, but it's a fun fight to watch.

Question to the audience: Are we seeing here simply a difference in frame-of-reference? If I didn't know better, I'd say that the differences between Prof V and Max Power stem, in large part, from Prof V taking a viewpoint on the issue from the perspective of a strong legal framework, whereas Max is looking at it from the perspective of the common standards of scientific research. Both are intellectually honest and rigorous, but they can, I think, lead to different conclusions given the same set of facts.

Hmmm. I seem to be doing color commentary on a bloggerly debate. Now that's kind of odd...

Wanted: New Logo

Ok, I know, it's not like the existing logo (see top left) is old. It's more that it's not really a logo. In fact, it's just two pictures I inelegantly crammed together and slapped some text over. And one of these days Gateway might notice that I swiped the laptop picture from their product catalog, and then everything's going to go to hell.

So here's yet another chance to earn both my eternal gratitude and a free Truth Laid Bear coffee mug, should such a wonder ever come into existence . (But see, it won't come into existence unless I get a cool logo, so it's all connected).

TTLB Logo Search Frequently Asked Questions

What are you looking for?

Something very similar to the existing logo, but in an original drawing. I'd like to see the following characteristics:

  • Should be a simple line drawing, preferably black-and-white or with minimal use of color

  • Should be "logo-like", i.e., simple, elegant, etc.

  • Should depict a polar bear peering at / hunched over the keyboard of either a computer or a typewriter

  • The polar bear should preferably being wearing a fedora, and possibly wearing glasses. I'm going for the 1930's hack journalist look.

  • The logo should contain the words "The Truth Laid Bear", and, if possible, have the slogan somewhere as well (although this is not a requirement): "A bear, the world, and the strong urge to hibernate". (Note: Both of these are really optional; I can always put "The Truth Laid Bear" right under the logo. You do the graphics, I'll worry about the words...)

What's in it for me?

I told you, a free coffee mug.

No, really. What's in it for me?

Well, I'll credit your drawing somewhere visible on the front page of the site, and include a permalink to your web page or email, if you like.

No money?

Who do you think I am, Kaus? You see a Boeing parked anywhere around here?

Will you promise to use my submission if I send it to you?

Absolutely not. If I don't like it, I ain't using it. So while I appreciate any efforts anyone puts in, if your feelings and/or ego is easily bruised by rejection, please don't send in a submission.

Does it have to be a polar bear? I've got this thing for brown bears...

It has to be a polar bear.

Black bear? Panda? I can really do great things with Koalas....

Polar bear, damnit.

Picky, aren't you?

Yup. Get over it.

I think your idea for the logo sucks. I have a much better idea. Can I send it to you?

Well, sure. It's not like I can really stop you. But I suggest running the concept by me first. See above re: picky.

How big should it be?

Definitely no bigger than the current logo; it's pretty huge. Preferably about 50% to 70% of the current logo's size. I aim for the site to be vaguely readable at monitor resolutions of 800x600, and to look good at 1024x768 or higher, and the new logo will go in the same spot the old one sits now (I like my site design, for the moment at least).

Does file size matter?

Size always matters, and don't believe anybody who tells you different. But in this case, small is beautiful. I'm paying for bandwidth (a little) and may pay for all of it eventually. So keep it small -- the current logo is like 30K or something and the new one definitely shouldn't need to be any bigger than that.

I'd love to help, but I have a question you didn't answer here. What do I do?

Ask me in email, and I shall respond. All will become clear.

I have the perfect logo for you and want to submit it. How do I do it?

Send it to me in e-mail as a GIF or JPEG.

Thanks to anyone who takes a shot, and I look forward to seeing what TTLB readers have to offer!


Five Things You Can't Do at SFSU --- And three that you can

In light of the incident at SFSU, I signed up with Joe Katzman's blog-burst effort today, and asked for a piece to respond to for my blog to support the effort. Joe stuck me with SFSU's Strategic Plan, in which SFSU "Envision(s) (the diversity of) Our Second Century" (at length). Clearly, I offended Joe in a previous life.

But I take the cards I'm dealt, and so, after reviewing SFSU's vision, I present you with a list of the things you can't do at SFSU (and the appropriate citations of their vision statement as to why), and three things that you apparently can do.

What You Can't Do At SFSU

1. Tell your girlfriend that her dress makes her look fat.

Why? ""Behaviors which are intolerant, insensitive, or discriminatory are deemed unacceptable." Not that I'd recommend trying that line anyway, of course. But I challenge any woman to tell me that such a comment is not "insensitive".

2. Completely cover your office walls with life-sized portraits of Celine Dion.

Why? "The "Principles of Conduct for a Multicultural University" shall be reaffirmed. Every unit office shall display a permanent poster copy of the principles..." Not sure what a 'unit office' is, exactly, but I'm glad I don't have one. I suppose you could make a small space for one and have Celine all around it though...

3. Start a film club devoted to the Austin Powers films for the sole reason that you think Dr. Evil is a strong role model for today's youth.

Why? "Faculty, staff, and students who have an opportunity to plan or influence extracurricular activities should do so with a goal of increasing student learning about diversity, since extracurricular activities provide important opportunities for students to learn about individual and group differences. From films and speakers to clubs and student residence halls, extra-curricular activities should be viewed as resources for such learning. " So if Dr. Evil doesn't have something to say about multiculturalism, he'll just have to "zip it!"

4. Tell your new dorm mate that you think she's an idiot because she's decided to worship the band Yes as gods, and thinks Jon Anderson speaks to her through a Holy Lava Lamp.

Why?"...religious, and other individual or group differences shall not be regarded as hindrances to success. Rather they shall be treated as positive opportunities for the enrichment of our educational resources and the quality of our campus life." So don't you go harshin' her mellow while she's communing with the ole' lava lamp.

5. Form a "Generation Y and Pissed About It" club for 18-25 year olds to protest the fact that your generation didn't get a cool moniker like "Baby Boomers," "Flower Children", or even "the Me Generation".

Why? "The University shall develop a general harassment policy and procedures that will address all forms of harassment including, but not limited to, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and age. " So you can forget about telling that damned 35-year-old grad student who keeps showing up at your meetings and suggesting "Children of the Millennium" as the perfect name to shove off --- he's protected by the vision, baby.

But despair not! There's still a few entertaining things that you can do at SFSU.

What You Can Do at SFSU

1. Band together with a few of your friends and scream at fellow students to "Get out or we will kill you"

2. Put up posters around campus accusing an entire ethnic group of the murder and cannibalism of innocent infants.

3. Trap a group of your fellow students against a wall with a mob and chant for their deaths.

Anyway. My tongue is firmly in cheek, of course. But I think you get the point. If you're going to have a code like this --- and see my post below for my dim view of such codes --- you must enforce it consistently and firmly. And as I mentioned earlier, it sure sounds to me like some of actions which occurred went beyond hate speech and straight into good old criminal offenses.

I reserve my final judgment on the administration of SFSU (and the local authorities) --- I reserve it for now, but not for very long. Perhaps they will follow through with the positive (if tentative) steps they have taken so far. But they need to do so swiftly, for the damage is already being done. Leaving this kind of behavior go unpunished --- selectively enforcing their code of behavior based on political biases --- will eat away at the confidence of not just Jewish students at SFSU, but any thinking students at that fine institution that their college home is a place that is genuinely safe for them --- not to mention genuinely safe for rational thought and debate.

In particular, I would call on the University to release the videotape taken of the event (surely I can't be the first person to request this). It was of a public event in a public forum, so I suggest they not even bother with any attempts to claim "privacy of the students involved". Let their student body, faculty, and the world see the facts as they happened --- and then judge for themselves whether the University's response is adequate and appropriate.

Let us all hope that my optimism is not misplaced.


I haven't posted much on the incident at SFSU, mainly because other folks have done such an excellent job of covering it (notably Meryl Yourish and Joe Katzman).

But if you're not familiar with the story already --- or even better, want suggestions on actions you can take to influence the outcome of this incident --- you should definitely head over to Winds of Change. There, Joe Katzman has assembled a comprehensive list of bloggers who are focusing on the events at SFSU, and the aftermath.

For the record: I wasn't there, but I'm quite convinced by the reports of people I trust that the counter-protesters on the Palestinian side of the argument crossed the line from peaceful demonstration into intimidation and threats of violence. (And quite possibly, if I remember my law right, may have committed criminal offenses above and beyond any violation of University codes, given that the threat of physical attack is actually the "assault" part of "assault and battery".)

I take a fairly dim view of "hate speech" codes --- I tend to think that the existing laws barring threats of violence provide an adequate level of protection while not trampling on honest debate. But I agree with those (like Glenn, I believe) who hold that any campus that has them (as I believe SFSU does) has to apply them consistently. Selective enforcement of such codes is guaranteed to result in about the worst possible blend of censorship by authorities and intimidation by individuals that you can come up with.

Anyway, that's my $0.02. Now go check out Katzman's site.


Okay, this is a little sappy, but the urge just struck me to throw out a note of thanks. To who?

To you. Whoever you are.

TTLB is the work of one person; me. I do it for fun, and in fact I've only been doing it for less than two weeks. But in that time, I have been remarkably fortunate to have a great deal of traffic sent my way by the likes of my old friend Meryl as well as by blogger heavyweights Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus. And to be as complete as possible: the links from mortal humans such as Prof. Volokh, Electrolite, Amish Tech Support, Eric Olson, Bubba, Patio Pundit, and yes, even Mr. Roboto have been great as well. And to all of these folks (well, almost all...) I am grateful.

I do keep an eye on my traffic logs, which can be a rather obsessive behavior at its worst. And seeing folks come in as referrals from all the places above is terrific. But you know what gives me, as Christopher Hitchens is fond of saying, "a little holiday in my heart" ?

When I see someone surf onto the site with no referral at all. 'Cause that means, some poor fool actually came here directly and wants to see what I've got to show them today.

And that's a great feeling. So: I thank you, invisible reader, wherever and whoever you are. I hope my work lives up to your expectations, and I hope you continue find it worth your valuable time and attention. For that is a precious coin, and one for which I shall strive to deliver full and fair value.

PS - And to the few people I've noticed who have actually bookmarked this site: wow, you people really have questionable taste...

More things I don't know much about: This story in the New York Times describes what is apparently a landmark Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday regarding the ole' classic tug of war between states' rights and the power of the Feds.

Bear Assignment Desk (with apologies to Mickey)

Assigned To: Prof. Volokh, Prof. Reynolds, Ms. Lithwick

Assignment: Describe, in plain English that a simple bear can understand, exactly what the heck this ruling means, 'cause the Times story just isn't cutting it for me. It sounds important, but I'm not quite sure I get it. Exactly what kinds of cases are we likely to see (or rather, not see) now that this ruling has been handed down?

More wisdom from the fellow who knows more about Pakistan than I do (well, one of many):

The Kolkata Libertarian points to an interesting scenario in which Pakistan could score a public relations (if not military) victory over India should true (non-nuclear) war break out.

Go read it. We should be paying more attention to this crisis, and TKL has got a front-row view.

Update: Whoops. I mistakenly implied that TKL currently resides in India; he doesn't: according to his bio, he's living "in Chicago making a living as a born-again software designer...[and is] awed by the rites of spring and fall". My bad.
CNN (reporting from Reuters, reporting from the original study by the Electronic Privacy Information Center) reports on that Carnivore, the controversial system designed to "wiretap" email, might have provided information about Osama bin Laden before September 11 --- if it had worked right.

Apparently, a Carnivore "run" looking for al Qaeda e-mails also picked up e-mails from non-targeted people, which is against the law. And the operator of the system got so flustered that he deleted the whole run, including the lawfully collected al Qaeda intercepts.

A ways back, the Justice Department was going to submit Carnivore to a fairly rigorous peer review by a panel of high-powered encryption and security gurus from the private & academic sectors. The conditions that were placed on the review, however, were rather restrictive, and eventually, the review went to a less-qualified group (see EPIC's site for their report).

I'm serious about this peer review kick folks. There was a time, not so long ago, when everybody who knew anything that mattered about security and encryption either worked at the NSA, or at IBM. But that time is gone, and the Feds need to get over it.

This is just funny. But when you screw up designing systems that matter, people end up dead. And it looks like that's what may have happened here.

Let me make my views on this general subject clear: I am not a total absolutist when it comes to privacy, electronic or otherwise. I believe now (and believed before September 11th) that there is a legitimate need for law enforcement to be able to intercept communications by individuals suspected of committing or intending to commit crimes.

What I object to is that our government continues to apply 1950s-era approaches to solving technical problems in 21st century. As with my comments on Amnesty yesterday: I agree with the objective; I just wish they'd do a better job.

One proposal that I find very intriguing is the idea of making Carnivore open-source. While this may seem absurd at first, it actually makes a great deal of sense when examined more closely.

Security experts Matt Blaze and Steve Bellovin testified to exactly that before Congress in July of 2000: you can find a summary of their testimony on Blaze's page . (Full disclosure: I've met and socialized with Blaze a few times, although not in several years: he's a friend-of-a-friend. You have been warned. )

At any rate, I think we're going to see a great deal more discussion in this area going forward. Because as we've learned in many other areas since September, the old approaches just aren't working any more --- if they ever were.

PS - Glenn also has some comments on this matter.
In a post yesterday, Andrew Sullivan admiringly quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Barak describing the Palestinian leadership:

"They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth'."

This troubles me a bit. If Barak is referring to the culture of the PA itself, then I'm with him 100%. But he seems to be referring to Palestinian culture more generally.

To be clear: I'm willing to accept the possibility that Palestinian culture does have genuine defects, and that one of them may be a more tolerant view of deception. I do not suffer from the liberal disease of assuming that all cultures and religions are equal, and that none of them have any inherent flaws. But if you're going to fling out an accusation like this, I'd like to see some evidence or basis to back it up. (And no, the fact that Arafat is a liar does not prove the point: one man does not a culture make).

Anyway, this smacks to me of a statement that Sullivan has picked up on because it happens to agree nicely with his worldview (and for the record, at least with respect to the PA, it also syncs with mine). But that doesn't make it a valid argument.

And by the way: How exactly is Barak separating Palestinian culture from Judeo-Christian culture? Last time I checked, "Palestinians" included some Christians as well.

Anyone else with a firmer grounding in Palestinian or Arab culture care to chime in here? I'd welcome input from people who actually have knowledge in this area.

Finally: Yes, this is yet another post which criticizes Mr. Sullivan (at least a little bit), so I think I'd better put my cards on the table here. I actually like Sullivan, and enjoy his writing. He's got a sharp mind, and a good moral sense that does not reduce down to "everyone should do what I think is right". I think he's got a blind spot with respect to Bush, but nobody's perfect. And I also think he's been letting his weblog run on autopilot a bit lately, which I suspect is because he's devoting his energies to his stage performance in "Much Ado About Nothing" (and more power to him for it!) And finally: I've sent Sullivan an email each time I've commented on him in my weblog, which is my standard practice with anybody. Yes, I certainly wouldn't have minded a link; no, I didn't get one. But that's his right; no complaints here.

Got it? Good...
The terror of HIV

InstaGuy draws our attention to a speech by U.S. Senator Bill Frist in which he warns that HIV "is increasing the possibility of terrorism". The story is also commented on by SK Bubba at Yes, But...

There are two parts to Frists' (alleged) claims, and I'll take them in turn:

1) HIV is causing a massive collapse of the social, economic, and (eventually) political structures in Africa, and that will create a breeding ground for terrorism (my words, not his, but this is clearly Frists' argument).

This, I think, is irrefutable, and is something we absolutely must pay attention to. If the fact that millions of people are dying isn't enough to move us to action through sheer human decency, then perhaps the motivation of preventing future terrorism will. (No, I do not have a magic bullet suggestion on how to solve the problem; it's complicated. But doing nothing, which is essentially what we've been doing, is definitely not the answer).

2) HIV could be used as a biological weapon to commit bioterrorism attacks.

Here, the problem is, I'm not sure that this is actually what Frist said, or what he meant. Bubba thinks it is, responding: "he DOES seem to be suggesting, by lumping HIV in with anthrax and smallpox and plague, that HIV could be used as a biological weapon? This IS totally irresponsible. As an M.D., Frist should and does know better. How are the terrorists going to spread this agent -- by forcing us all to have unprotected sex with infected martyrs? "

If that's truly what Frist meant, I'm all with Bubba here. The problem is, the only basis for drawing that conclusion in the original article is this statement: "Frist drew a parallel between the tiny HIV virus and the equally minute biological agents - including anthrax, smallpox and the plague - that terrorists could use as weapons." Note that this is not a direct quote, so we're relying on the reporter's interpretation of what "drawing a parallel" means. I think it's a bit of an interpretive leap, without any clear quote from Frist, to say that he's suggesting HIV is going to be used as a weapon in the way Bubba describes.

What I think we can clearly conclude, though, is that he is at least suggesting that there are similarities between the problem of solving the HIV crisis, and the problem of combating bioterrorism. To me, that's a perfectly sensible argument, although as Bubba points out, Frist may well be drawing that comparison to gain public support for a major funding initiative he's promoting. But that doesn't necessarily make it an invalid comparison.
The UN is worrying out loud about death threats, arrests, and outright murders taking place in Afghanistan which may be politically motivated.

From my read of the UN briefing, it looks like one major problem area is Herat. This is not a big shock, since Herat is under the control of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has always seemed to be a classic example of a stereotypical warlord thug (here's another link to an interview with Dostum. Hint: never trust anybody who with a military background who refers to themselves in the third person). I don't think he "gets" democracy, and I don't think he has any interest in learning.

Obviously, the Loya Jirga process is going to be extremely interesting. Not surprisingly, the press (at least, the U.S. press) seems to have totally forgotten that there's a country over in central Asia which still needs a real government, so I think we're going to have to rely on surfing the UN web site for a while...

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Eugene Volokh discusses a web site which posts photos of women who are suspected of getting abortions (taken from outside the clinics) in an effort to shame them into... well, feeling ashamed, I guess.

Question to Prof. Volokh (or anyone else): Could any kind of an "improper use of name or likeness" argument be made here? I poked around the web site in question, and didn't see any requests for donations, which might have made that kind of attack easier. But surely some benefit is accruing to the fellow hosting this web site by using these women's photos.

Update: Professor V has swiftly responded to my query, and in a nutshell answers, "Nope". I actually should have known that, but it's been quite a few years since my Comm Law class...
Robert Crawford wrote in to respond to my ... well, it wasn't a claim, let's call it my wishful thinking that General Musharraf is a secular leader:

As I understand it, Pakistan is essentially an Islamist state. Article 2 of its constitution ([here]) says "Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan". Also, look at "The Objectives Resolution":

While Musharraf's coup suspended some of the Constitution, his "Provisional Constitutional Order No. 1" specifically exempts the Islamist parts of the Constitution from exemption: [see here]

Musharraf's not a secularist holding out against the fanatics; he's just a more pragmatic fanatic.

Mmmmm. You're not brightening my day here, Robert...

Update (Wednesday): Robert has a blog, here.
Remember that nice little Saudi PR campaign designed to convince us all what wonderfully cuddly teddy-bears our arm-choppin', terrorist-fundin' friends are?

Well, NPR program On The Media has an interview with Michael Petruzzello, the poor bastard who led the campaign for the PR firm which drove the ads, Quorvis Communications. (What, he couldn't get the Marlboro gig?) He has a rather hard time of it explaining why nobody wants to run his ads.

Check it out . It's in RealAudio, but they will likely have a transcript up on their home page soon too. (You might have to advance through the show to the proper segment; the link doesn't seem to work as I expected... I believe it starts at 33:54)

PS - Yeah, yeah, NPR = Evil Liberal Media, I know. Get over it --- some of their programs are well worth listening to, and On The Media IMHO is one of 'em.
Did you know that InstaMentions now come with free editing?

Not only did Glenn kindly cite my Amnesty post below, but he also pointed out a grammatical error (now corrected) in my 'graph beginning "But reading through their report..."

A gentleman and a scholar, that Reynolds...

Update: Sheesh. Meryl twists the knife by pointing out that I misspelled "grammatical" the first time around. No gentleman, she, but a scholar, perhaps...
I've decided to leave the Memorial Day page header up at least through the end of today; traffic was rather low over the weekend and I'm expecting a surge of back-to-workers today (if that's you: get the hell back to work, slacker! But not before you finish reading all my stuff.)

And besides: I think this year, I'm just fine with devoting an extra day to showing appreciation towards our soldiers.
Amnesty International has released their Annual Report 2002 today.

Unlike some of my esteemed colleagues in the blogosphere, I don't think Amnesty is wrong about everything. I tend to think of them in the same mental bucket as the ACLU: each group represents an extreme viewpoint which forms a useful and necessary component of the overall cultural and political debate. If they didn't exist, we'd quite likely have to invent them.

But reading through their report, I'm struck not so much by the specific points they raise -- some of which I agree with, some of which I do not --- as by the tone of the document, particularly where it comes to criticism of the United States. And I think I've put my finger on the problem. Try this experiment, as you read the report: imagine, each time you see a statement critical of the U.S., that it was prefaced with the following:

"Amnesty recognizes that the United States is, bar none, the world's foremost defender of human rights in the world today. The contributions made by the U.S. to the freedoms and human rights of both its own citizens and those of the world are unparalleled in the history of nations. From the founding documents of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, to its repeated intervention to avert humanitarian catastrophes in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, America has contributed greatly to the cause of human rights throughout its history; leading the way in enshrining such rights in law, and defending them, where necessary, with force of arms. However, the U.S., like any state of fallible human beings, is not perfect, and therefore, in the spirit of improving an already-great civilization, we offer the following criticisms of recent U.S. policy..."

Amnesty, I think, does themselves a severe disservice simply in the way they present their criticisms. I suspect people often react negatively to their complaints on items such as civilian casualties during our bombing of Afghanistan not because they think bombing civilians is a good thing, but because Amnesty takes such a combative and accusatory approach, with seemingly no recognition at all of the contributions the U.S. (or other Western democracies that they place in their sights) have made to the cause of human rights worldwide.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's not the fact that they criticize U.S. policy that bothers me; it's the fact that they're just, well, such jerks about it.


Foreward, Page 1:As the "war against terrorism" dominated world news, governments increasingly portrayed human rights as an obstacle to security, and human rights activists as romantic idealists at best,"defenders of terrorists" at worst.

Ignore the actual thrust of the statement for now: just focus on that first phrase. Why is "war on terrorism" in quotes? Which part of that phrase is being questioned? War? Terrorism? Er, "On"? With two little punctuation marks, Amnesty manages to make themselves sound skeptical that there is an actual war going on, thereby alienating that large segment of the world that has not been in a coma for the last nine months. Not bad for the very first page !

Introduction, Page 1: On 7 October the USA, in collaboration with its coalition allies, began a sustained bombing campaign in Afghanistan as part of President Bush's declared "war on terrorism". By the end of the year, an as yet unknown number of Afghan civilians had been killed or injured or had their homes or property destroyed, in circumstances that led AI to call for investigations by competent authorities to determine whether violations of international humanitarian law had been committed.

Wouldn't this be a nice spot to recognize, even in passing, that regardless of the acknowledged negative of civilian casualties (the existence of which is not debated; the magnitude of which is) , there was equally inarguably a massive positive achievement for human rights here -- i.e., the removal from power of one of the most repressive regimes on the planet? I don't even ask that Amnesty agree with my view that the positive outweighed the negative --- all I ask is that they at least acknowledge that the positive exists.

And we haven't even gotten to the, shall we say, slanted presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The headline for that section of the Introduction is "The intifada", so I guess we can't accuse Amnesty of not getting their bias out on the table right up front. This section is a great example of how to slant a story by the selective use of space and detail: following an introductory paragraph which matter-of-factly states statistics about deaths on each side, the report devotes a bit over two full paragraphs to Israeli offenses, with a grand total of one --- count it, one --- sentence devoted to Palestinian terrorism (not a word you'll see Amnesty use).

Despite these problems, there are some things to agree with in Amnesty's report. Such as:

Foreward, Page 2: We must turn the debate about security and human rights on its head - human rights are not an obstacle to security and prosperity, they are the key to achieving these goals. Human security comes only with human rights and the rule of law. Human rights are the basis for creating strong and accountable states, without which there can be no political stability or economic and social progress. Yup. Though I expect we might disagree on the methods to achieve this particular goal.

Foreward, Page 3: The same governments that denounced the human rights abuse of women by the Taleban government of Afghanistan remained silent about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia. Another big Yup.

And that's the frustrating part. Amnesty's mission is a vital one, and one that I support from the bottom of my heart. Torture is bad. Human rights abuses are bad. There is no argument between us here. But Amnesty continues to miss the story by focusing disproportionately on the abuses perpetrated by the civilized democracies of the planet. It has been argued that this is deliberate: that Amnesty knows that they are more likely to be able to affect change in these nations, simply because they do care about human rights.

But that is a coward's way out, and it is a betrayal of the noble mission which Amnesty has taken upon itself. The mission is clear, and it is a just one. I only wish they'd do a better job at it.

Monday, May 27, 2002

The New York Times has a piece today documenting the last hours and moments of the Twin Towers, which people I trust speak highly of. I haven't read all of it yet, but certainly will soon.

If you find that story compelling, I also would recommend listening to the broadcasts on the emergency radio channel of the NY fire and police departments, which are available on the 'net here.

A few warnings/notes about that link: first, you will probably hear an advertisement before the actual clip starts. It's entirely possible that it will be for products that are staggeringly inappropriate to be hawking on such a serious broadcast. Second, this outfit seems to think they are a real radio station, and so when you open the link you apparently get dumped into a broadcast "in progress" with no ability to control start/stop time. Many months ago, I found a much better site that allowed you to review individual chunks of the broadcasts at will, but I can't seem to find it now --- if anyone else has a a better link, please send it my way.

But, if you can get past those issues, the broadcast is riveting, and if you had begun to lose that sharp feeling of anger and sadness from last September, is guaranteed to bring it back in full force.

Need more? has audio clips. Try this 911 call from the morning of the attacks. Or David Letterman's concise, moving summary of the attacks on his first broadcast following them. And if you need to be reminded of the resolve necessary for the fight ahead, try President Bush's statement to Congress, or even better, John McCain's simple declaration of September 12th.

For me, today is a deeply appropriate day to review material like this. For although those that lost their lives on September 11th were not, for the most part, soldiers, they were without question causalities in a war. A war which started long before September 11th, and which stretches ahead of us into the future to an end we cannot now know: except that we know it will most certainly end with our victory.

What we also know is that we must remember those we have lost, and that the only way to truly honor their memories and their sacrifice is to continue the fight against the cowards who robbed them of their lives. The fight will take us on a long road; one which merely began in Afghanistan, and which winds through the capitals of Islamabad, Baghdad, Riyadh, and others. The pressure to allow the regimes who solemnly claim to be our allies in public to remain in power, quietly supporting the murderers in the darkness through funds, arms, or simply words of hatred against our nation; that pressure will be great. There will never be sufficient evidence to convince the world that these regimes are evil. There will always be those who cry "racism"; "oppression", and "national sovereignty" in defense of the tyrants, the religious fascists, and the murderers.

But to reject those voices, and press on with the fight, is simply what we must do. And it is the only way to truly remember our lost from this war, and those that came before, with honor.

Update 5/31: I've removed the actual .wav sound files which the links above; I had temporarily stored them on my personal server but need to conserve bandwidth (it costs $$$) --- especially with the flood of Salon folks coming through today. If you want to hear them, go directly to the WavSource site above --- they are all there.

The BBC has some early reaction to General Musharraf's speech on Pakistani television today, in which (the BBC indicates):

General Musharraf answered Indian claims that Islamabad was allowing militants to carry out attacks by saying that Pakistan would not allow terrorism to be launched from its soil...He said no infiltration was taking place into Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Hmmm. That statement about "not allowing terrorism" from their soil would sure be a lot more reassuring if I had any faith that the statement about "no infiltration taking place" was true. Which I don't.

The BBC also shows here that they do know how to do things right on the web with excellent background coverage surrounding the main article here, including a grim little map which shows the striking range of both Pakistan and India's missiles, along with data on the nuclear payloads which can be mounted on them. (Bottom line: Both sides have the capability to nuke any site in the other's territory, as well as quite a bit of real estate in surrounding countries if they chose).

CNN also covers the story (with background that isn't so shoddy either), and includes this quote from the general:

He said Pakistan wanted dialogue, but he added: "If war is thrust upon us, every Muslim is bound to respond in kind."

I find it worrisome that Musharraf is using this kind of vaguely Islamist rhetoric in his call-to-arms. I'll confess up front that I haven't paid nearly as much attention to the general as I probably should have (and there are lots of people out there who know more than I on the subject, including this fellow ). But isn't he supposed to be the secular guy holding the fundamentalists in check?

Tonight on FOX: Who Wants to Marry a Terrorist?

The Corner (whose permalink seems busted, but whose main page is here) points out a story in a Portuguese newspaper which describes one of the 13 Church of the Nativity exiles as "Single, with a free house and a reliable allowance, all he needs is a bride", quoting a PA spokescritter as stating: "He is not married, he does not have a girlfriend. We are looking for a bride for him."

David Grant, call your office! This is a reality show begging to happen. "We've provided this handsome gunman with twelve sexy infidel daughters of the Great Satan. Which will he choose to make his bride?"

This is totally Lair's schtick, so I leave it to him to pick up from here...

By the way, in poking around for this piece I came across this page from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provides detail on exactly who each of the 13 men are and what they are accused of. It's not an objective source, of course. But it provides a convincing level of detail (even includes sources, in some cases) and frankly, I'm far more inclined to take the Israeli's statements at face value than those of the PA. I would, however, like to see a similar document from the PA perspective (or any other opposing view) --- so if it anyone has a pointer, send it my way. You don't have to agree with it, just pass it on, I'll post it, and intelligent people can make up their own minds. The wonders of a free market of ideas in action, baby.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

More from Bennett

Everyone else getting as tired of this as I am? Good. Like bloody pulling teeth, it is.

Anyway, Mr. Bennett has deigned to provide us with an actual source of data to substantiate his arguments. He posts the following on his page in response to my last assessment of his responses:

"Maybe this will help. Twenty percent of lesbians died of murder, suicide, or accident--a rate 487 times higher than that of white females aged 25-44. The age distribution of samples of homosexuals in the scientific literature from 1989 to 1992 suggests a similarly shortened life-span."

All-righty then. We've now got two documents on the table available for fact-checking; and gee, I only had to ask twice.

With that, I've accomplished my objectives from my original challenge: first, to ensure that his reprehensible comments did not go unanswered and to make my opinion of them and his conduct clear; and second, to encourage him to put some actual facts on the table to support his statements (or, alternatively, to demonstrate that he had no facts to provide.) Now, both his readers and mine can make that judgment for themselves (and I encourage anyone interested to check the source he provided on partner abuse among lesbian couples as well. ) Justice is served.

I don't intend to spend any further time on the matter; to be frank, I'm skeptical regarding the veracity of the sources Mr. Bennett provided, but fair is fair: he has provided them, so that's worth something. Again, the key is that now anybody interested can check for themselves. As it happens, I'm not actually all that interested (never was): my interest was in getting Mr. Bennett to put his cards on the table; not in spending the next few weeks debating this issue.

I encourage anyone interested in further pursuing this matter to continue checking Bennett's page; I'm sure he'll have a nice dose of invective about my ending this conversation; probably something along the lines of declaring victory and claiming that he's proven his case. What he doesn't seem to realize is that bringing assertions to the table of discussion is the beginning of productive argument and debate; not the end of it.

This will be my last post on this issue barring extraordinary occurrences; in the immortal words of Ms. Rosenberg: "Bored now."

Update (Monday): I won't be investing any more of my time in this, but I will post any (reasonable) information readers send my way, out of courtesy to those investing their time. On that note, Jody over at NakedWriting pointed me to this page by UC Davis Professor Gregory Herek, which at first blush, appears to give a thorough Fisking to the source Bennett quoted. For the record, Bennett has now withdrawn the citation on his site after folks pointed him to the same resource. Update Redux: Alex Elliott points out this piece by Andrew Sullivan, which provides some additional debunking. Kinda figured Andrew would have something to say about this fellow.

New page header for a day or so, but I suppose that's obvious. I believe it speaks for itself.

Evil Lesbian Update

In his own comments section, Bennett has responded to my challenge as follows (I include my original questions, Bennett's responses in quotes, and my own commentary)

1) Women who choose other women as sexual partners are more likely to inflict domestic abuse on their partners than heterosexual males.

Bennett: "See Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships by Claire M. Renzetti. It reports that fully one-half of lesbian relationships are violent; the corresponding figure for straight relationships is around 1-3 percent, depending on how you define "violent."

Okay, we have one source; it's a start, I suppose. And it's on Amazon, so it must be true.

In seriousness, though, I have not read Ms. Renzetti's work so I can't comment on it positively or negatively. I'd welcome feedback from any readers with additional information or opinions, certainly. But let the record show that Mr. Bennett has honorably provided us a source to investigate for this claim.

(Note: I replaced Bennett's link to the $83.95 hardcover edition with a link to the nice cheap $29.95 paperback edition. Oh, and if you use my link you won't be kicking back cash to Mr. Bennett, either, which I believe the original link would have).

2) Women who choose other women as sexual partners are more likely to suffer from the following potentially fatal diseases: X, Y, and Z. (I leave Bennett to fill in the blanks).

Bennett: "Life-span data is easy to come by, and it supports my other claims, which didn't come out of thin air."

Trust me, Richard, thin air isn't where I thought they came out of. But I'm sorry, you get zero points for this answer: vague hand-waving that data is "easy to come by" doesn't cut it.
BearPower Revealed!

Following this TTLB exclusive regarding Mr. Bennett's hypocrisy with regard to matters linky, it appears that Bennett has quietly redesigned his right navbar to no longer separate out 'pro' journalists from bloggers (the very offense for which he castigated Virginia Postrel).

Coincidence? We think not; particularly since TTLB sent Mr. Bennett an email referring to the aforementioned post which he acknowledged receipt of.

Let the record also show that said navbar changes occurred without any public acknowledgement of TTLB's comments (or links to the post on the matter), which, if I understand Bennett's own standards correctly, makes him a bloghole.

TTLB is now flush with triumph, and we see near-endless possible uses for this newfound power to inflict site redesigns at will (which, we promise, will be used only for Good, not Evil). The dilemma is simply which to affect first. Should we convince CNN that five characters is too goddamned small to make a search dialog? Dissuade Ain't It Cool News from vomiting up pop-up ads like a drunken sailor? Or simply convene an intervention with Jacob Weisberg to assure him that no, those slide-out ads that cover the whole page are not the coolest thing since Microsoft Bob ?

Possibilities, possibilities.

PS - I promise to leave Mr. Bennett alone for at least a little while ('cept maybe responding to any follow-ups he might lob my way re: evil lesbians). I'm starting to go all Sullivan-Krugman-y on him, I know...