Saturday, July 30, 2005

Baby, Think It Over....

The "Baby Think It Over" program is supposed to convince young teens that babies are hard work, fussy, and can be unpleasant to care for - as part of educational programs to discourage pregnancy. But why do I find myself reading a deposition where one of these dolls was a "hot property" among seventh grade girls, such as they actively petitioned their teacher for the privilege of taking it home? When I think that over, I wonder how effective this curriculum is....[1]

[FN 1] A quick Google search shows that at least one recent study has shown no statistically significant differences in sexual behavior or in students' attitude toward parenting, following completion of the "Baby Think It Over" program. (Somers & Fahlman, 2001).

Hillary Clinton

An editorial in the London Guardian suggests, in relation to Hillary Clinton, that the U.S. isn't ready for a woman President. I'm not so sure about that - I will concede that there is more than enough gender bias in this country to make a woman's battle for the White House quite difficult, but I think a lot of the 40% of Americans described in the article as making that assertion are describing what they believe to be the perspectives of others, not of themselves. That is, while 40% of Americans don't believe the nation is ready for a female President, only a subset of that 40% is actually expressing their own unwillingness to vote for a female candidate.

Still, I doubt that Hillary Clinton will be the appropriate candidate. As the article suggests, some on the right get apoplectic even at the mention of the name "Clinton" (let alone when it is prefaced by "Hillary"), and the smear machine is in overdrive. By way of example,
In his vicious new book, The Truth About Hillary, Edward Klein jumps from her alleged promiscuity "Hillary and Vince's love affair was an open secret"; to her supposed frigidity - "Did the Big Girl have any interest in sex with a man?"; to her rumoured lesbianism - "To Arkansas, she walked like a lesbian, talked like a lesbian, and looked like a lesbian."
Modern poitics: Throw lots of mud, anticipate that people will ignore the facts and logical inconsistencies, and see what sticks. Strangely, it seems to work.

But that's fodder for the political "right", which will for the most part vote for the Republican candidate. There may well be something to the notion that all of the smear campaigns against Hillary Clinton will be "old news" by the time of the next election, and that she will have good traction with the "center" / "swing voters". My concern is that, particularly with her attempt to be a centrist Senator, Hillary Clinton will succumb to attacks from the political "left", even from within her own party.

I wonder, also, what surveys would suggest about whether the nation is "ready" for a "non-white President". I don't like to see any qualified candidates excluded from consideration for public office because their parties believe that the nation isn't ready for them due to a biological trait. Let's hope that perceptions don't trump reality, so as to hold back progress.

Stopping Terrorists

Today, Colbert King takes on a couple of recent editorials by Charles Krauthammer, Paul Sperry, which he believes (in my opinion, correctly) espouse racism as a response to "terrorism", and one by Haim Watzman, a trigger-happy defense of the shooting of an innocent man by the London police, who believed he might be a suicide bomber. The Watzman piece presents the standard "us versus them" position that our sins are forgivable, because we have good intentions when we kill innocent people. Well, that may make our sins more forgivable, but it would be better not to kill innocent people. And it would be better not to rationalize the failure to improve practices which result in the loss of innocent lives, while glossing over the fact that the systems which resulted in the loss of innocent life can be - and often should be - improved.

Most of Mr. King's editorial, though, is focused on the Krauthammer and Sperry columns, which effectively direct the police to focus their attentions on young muslim men, while giving everybody else "a pass". As Krauthammer puts it,
We could start with a little age pruning -- no one under, say, 13, and no one over, say, 60. Then we could exempt whole ethnic populations, a list that could immediately start with Hispanics, Scandinavians and East Asians. Then we could have a huge saving, a 50 percent elimination of waste, by giving a pass to women, except perhaps the most fidgety, sweaty, suspicious-looking, overcoat-wearing, knapsack-bearing young woman, to be identified by the presiding officer.
The issue of "racial profiling" became a national concern a few years back, as a result of lazy, careless decisions by our nation's appellate courts, including the Supreme Court. Those decisions took science and statistics out of profiling, and transformed a profile from something that could be statistically demonstrated to be indicative of probable criminal activity, to whatever an individual officer claimed to be consistent with his experience. So what started out as a process by which justifiable suspicion could be created by a pattern (e.g., a single, young male Hispanic airline passenger, flying on a one-way ticket which was purchased with cash on the date of the flight, arriving no more than one hour before the flight, not checking any baggage, and flying on a route associated with drug courier activity) became a carte blanche for officers to assert profiles that amounted to "driving while black". Race can be an appropriate element in a profile, but the courts permitted it in practice to become the leading (or exclusive) element, and then expressed (or is that feigned) shock at the mess that resulted.

The larger problem of broad "profiles" is that they effectively become meaningless - and Mr. King does a good job of detailing how meaningless (and over-broad) the Krauthammer and Sperry "profiles" are. If the police were to follow the Krauthammer model, they would search phenomenal numbers of young men of color, and most of those searches would produce... nothing.

Beyond noting that there are non-muslim cultures in which suicide bombers don't meet Krauthammer's profile, King doesn't address Krauthammer's statistical argument, which is,
You object that either plan -- giving special scrutiny to young Islamic men, or, more sensitively, just eliminating certain demographic categories from scrutiny -- will simply encourage the jihadists to start recruiting elderly Norwegian women.

Okay. We can handle that. Let them try recruiting converts, women and non-usual suspects for suicide missions. That will require a huge new wasteful effort on their part. And, more important, by reducing the pool of possible terrorists from the hundreds of millions to, at most, the tens of thousands, we will have reduced the probability of an attack by a factor of 10,000. Those are far better odds at far less cost to us in money and effort. And infinitely less stupid.
When I consider the success the Tamil Tigers had in recruiting female suicide bombers, I am not reassured by Krauthammer's claims. But more to the point, Krauthammer assumes that if we were to systematically search any young many who "appeared" to be Muslim, we would cause a reduction in efforts to recruit suicide bombers among young Muslim men. I have seen no evidence of that - in fact, it seems that Israel's experience was that as it increased its security measures, it inspired greater recruitment. The eventual reduction in the number of successful bombings, to a level similar to that enjoyed during the period of relative peace preceding the second Intifada, is due to the construction of multi-billion dollar barriers, and to police methods which have improved interdiction, not to a reduction of volunteers.

So with no evidence that the number of young male volunteers will be affected, and some evidence that heavy-handed police tactics might actually increase their number, is Krauthammer seriously proposing that any male between the ages of 13 and 60 who "looks Muslim" be subjected to searches on such a regular and systematic basis that we can be sure that they are not carrying bombs? And based upon the number of U.S. suicide bombers to date, the result of this massive police effort would be an interdiction rate of... 0%? And this effort would last indefinitely? Get real.

And if we're talking about searches of bags as people enter the subway, we're at best diverting a potential suicide bomber to a different target. Worse, with his "free pass" program, while we focus upon the pool of people from whom Krauthammer asserts (in prototypical racist manner) that there are "hundreds of millions" of potential suicide bombers, we are giving the terrorists a guarantee of success each time they find a bomber who qualify for Krauthammer's "free pass".

And then, of course, we have the McVeigh/Nichols model of terrorist bombing (both of whom, by the way, would apparently qualify for Krauthammer's "free pass") - who says you need to carry a bomb on your person, or be a suicide bomber, in order to carry off a spectacular terrorist attack?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flabby Body, Flabby Brain?

Today, Thomas Friedman laments that America is on the decline.
I have been thinking about [the virtues evidenced by Lance Armstrong and his Tour de France team] lately because their abilities to meld strength and strategy - to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow - seem to be such fading virtues in American life.

Sadly, those are the virtues we now associate with China, Chinese athletes and Chinese leaders.
Okay... so the virtues which caused American athlete Lance Armstrong to win the Tour de France are the virtues Mr. Friedman associates with China's Tour de France team? Um... I can't seem to find it. Or perhaps he means their programs to identify potential athletes at a tender age, remove them to boarding schools where their skills can be nurtured, and have many of them participate at the highest levels in international competition. Granted, that's not the way we do things here, but that's also not likely to change.

But what in the world does he mean with his apparent hero worship of "Chinese leaders"? Is Mr. Friedman aware that China is a totalitarian, communist nation? Please, even if you are enamored with what can be done with that type of power and control, don't wish that leadership upon me.
Talk to U.S. business executives and they'll often comment on how many of China's leaders are engineers, people who can talk to you about numbers, long-term problem-solving and the national interest - not a bunch of lawyers looking for a sound bite to get through the evening news.
Isn't this the same thing we heard about Japan's industrial leaders back in the 1980's? My, how things change.
We are now playing defense. A top C.E.O. wants to be paid not based on his performance, but based on the average of his four main rivals! That is like Lance Armstrong's saying he will race only if he is guaranteed to come in first or second, no matter what his cycling times are on each leg.
Mr. Friedman seems to believe that it is news that American CEO's obtain contracts which require them to be paid more than the industry average. But benchmarking is old news and, while it certainly has played a major role in the exhorbitant compensation packages paid to many CEO's, should be recognized as such. I am not arguing that bloated executive salaries help companies - it often seems more like legalized looting of stockholders' investment. I will certainly concede that such compensation packages are much less likely under a communist government. But it is far from a new phenomenon.
I recently spent time in Ireland, which has quietly become the second-richest country in the E.U. ...
How are we defining "richest" - because by GDP, Ireland is about 16th on the list, behind such nations as Denmark, Portugal, and Greece - and way behind Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the U.K. Of course, Friedman is speaking of "per capita GDP", where Ireland recently became second only to Luxembourg among EU states. I'll give Ireland credit for its accomplishments - we could do much of the same here, for faltering and impoverished regions of the country, if we chose. It took a great deal of investment and effort, and a great deal of E.U. grant money, to pull Ireland up by its bootstraps. But we have different spending priorities.
Wouldn't you think that if you were president, after you had read the umpteenth story about premier U.S. companies, such as Intel and Apple, building their newest factories, and even research facilities, in China, India or Ireland, that you would summon the country's top business leaders to Washington ask them just one question: "What do we have to do so you will keep your best jobs here? Make me a list and I will not rest until I get it enacted."
We have a trade policy which favors large, multinational corporations. It would take a rather dramatic transformation of that policy before the Bush Administration asked corporations to look beyond their bottom line, and advanced policies to keep jobs and factories here.
Instead [of forming policy to significantly reduce our dependence on oil] we are about to pass an energy bill that, while it does contain some good provisions, will make no real dent in our gasoline consumption, largely because no one wants to demand that Detroit build cars that get much better mileage. We are just feeding Detroit the rope to hang itself.
Ah yes - the allegorical "Detroit", where cars are made, as opposed to the real one where they used to be made. Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler... aren't they all now Delaware corporations? But I thought the comparison was to China, which itself is increasingly dependent upon oil. Or perhaps to Ireland, which as of 2002 was the 7th most oil-dependent economy in the world, and third-most-dependent in the E.U. Perhaps we should segregate economic issues from the largely theoretical notion that if we were less dependent upon oil, terrorists would be less of a threat.
And if you were president, would you really say to the nation, in the face of the chaos in Iraq, "If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them," but they have not asked.
No, I wouldn't. But if I were a columnist for the New York Times, even when addressing such a duplicitous comment, I wouldn't pretend that the President could wave a magic wand and conjure troops from thin air.
Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that's the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.
I realize that Mr. Friedman is speaking metaphorically - I don't expect that he will be donning spandex and mounting a racing bike any time soon. But what does he expect? Apparently, he only just woke up to the problem of runaway executive pay, and hasn't even noticed that "Detroit" has become a mere metaphor for the auto industry. It would be great if the rest of the nation were two steps ahead of him, and energized to press our leadership to revitalize depressed areas of this nation. Sure, we should reconsider tax policies which result in the starvation of our public universities, and deterioration of our nation's infrastructure. But how do we get there from here? It's much easier to identify a problem than it is to solve one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Honorable Mention?

Is this type of thing enough for a Darwin Awards, honorable mention (you know, the stupid things people do that don't kill them, such that they would qualify for the full award?
911 Operator: 911, What's the nature of your emergency?

Darwin Nominee: I don't care what my wife told you; I didn't touch her.
Does it make a difference that this was the first contact between the household and the local constabulary?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sorry, It's Firm Policy

Robots, cyborgs? Sorry, but you'll have to go elsewhere. "We represent people.....Exclusively".[1]

FN 1: Yes, I know they're trying to come up with a clever variant of "We don't represent insurance companies".

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Shielding the Press

The New York Times today editorializes in favor of a federal "shield law" to allow reporters to "guarantee that journalists are allowed the right to protect the names of confidential sources in most circumstances." And certainly, the public interest can be advanced by having certain information made public, where the source might not be forthcoming if not for the shield.

Here's my challenge, though, for the New York Times: Compose a "shield law" that you believe would serve the interests of reporters and the public, without encouraging criminality or jeopardizing national security. Then ask yourself two questions: First, would Judith Miller's source be protected under the law? And second, if not (or if a judge found that she was not shielded), would she testify? Because if, at the end of the day, we end up back where we started, what's the point of the exercise?

To the extent that the New York Times endorses language that permits forced disclosure "to prevent imminent and actual harm to the national security", is the naming of a covert CIA operative, and associated identification of her nominal "employer" as a CIA operation, not an actual harm to the national security? Or is the Times only concerned about the effect on national security after the leak is published, and not the harm to national security that results from the leak itself? Somebody leaks battle plans - but you can only force the identification of the leak before the battle is lost. And if the battle is won despite the leak, hey - no harm, no foul, right? That would be a curious rule.

In bringing up, "privileges already granted to doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers and spouses," it is important to note that the privilege requested by reporters is of a different nature. When somebody tries to pierce the attorney-client privilege, for example, they do so with knowledge of the identity of the holder of the privilege. That is, the client. The same is true with regard to medical privilege and spousal privilege - the identity of the patient or spouse is known. States as a rule hold that a client's identity is not covered by attorney-client privilege, just the confidential communication. And it should go without saying, for any of those privileges, that if the holder of the privilege instructs the lawyer, doctor, or spouse to broadcast the confidential communication to others, a later attempt to assert the privilege would fail.

That is to say, traditional privilege protects the information, even though the source is known. Reporters claim a privilege which protects the source, even when the information is known. The effect of such a privilege, and its public policy implications, are quite different than those implicated by other forms of privilege.

The Bush Administration hates leaks, except when it is orchestrating them, and is thus adamant that there should be no law protecting reporters, even as it is quietly rejoicing in Miller's decision not to reveal or, probably more accurately, confirm the identity of her sources. Would you fall on your sword for somebody who is simultaneously knifing you in the back?

Proceed With Caution

When naming an organization, care should be taken not just to have a descriptive name, but in relation to how the organization's name might appear when contracted into abbreviated form. As that does not always happen, if you're a member of an organization such as the National Association of Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Attorneys, you should probably spell out the organization's entire name when adding it to your résumé. Let's just say, your proud declaration of your membership in NAABLA is probably not something you want your prospective employer to misread.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

War on Drugs Gone Wrong

John Tierney is getting a lot of attention for his piece on "Punishing Pain", in which he tangentially addresses Florida's bizarre, over-the-top drug laws. I do have a criticism of the piece, as in order to imply the innocence of the subject of his piece, a man who is presently incarcerated for forging prescriptions for narcotic medications, he effectively accuses the man's doctor of writing improper prescriptions and of committing perjury. Such an implication is not necessary to his point, which is that you shouldn't have to risk incarceration to obtain effective pain relief.

The Florida law itself is not about "punishing pain" - it's part of the "war on drugs"> Reading the statute, it appears that Florida tacked language pertaining to prescription opiats onto a clause that was written to address street drugs, specifically heroin. The "mixture containing"-type language the statute uses is common for laws addressing street drugs that are "cut" by drug dealers. The presumption that somebody with 28 grams of heroin intends to traffic drugs makes more sense than the notion that somebody with a bottle of 60 Percocet (about the number of pills that, during his period of addiction, Rush Limbaugh obtained via prescription in any given week, and not likely to be more than a month's supply for any chronic pain patient) is a drug dealer? That's a stretch. On the other hand, if you looked to the actual weight of the drug, let's say 10 mg Percocet, you would have to have about 2,800 pills to implicate the law, which would make a presumption of intent to deal seem more reasonable.

Whatever you think of the law, the outcome in this case seems unjust. It does not appear that Mr. Paey ever engaged in drug trafficking, or that he ever had any intention of doing so.
Scott Andringa, the prosecutor in the case, acknowledged that the 25-year mandatory penalty was harsh, but he said Mr. Paey was to blame for refusing a plea bargain that would have kept him out of jail.
Well, no. The prosecutor picked the charge. The prosecutor chose to pursue Mr. Paey through three trials. And no matter to what degree the prosecutor felt bound by duty to do so, an absurd sentence mandated by law is not rendered less absurd by a defendant's unwillingness to plea bargain.

It is a shame that Tierney was so focused on the mistreatment of "sick people", as he could do more good by explicitly arguing for the introduction of some common sense into the "war on drugs". Or was that a deliberate choice - he doesn't want to challenge the war on drugs? I guess we'll find out over the next few years, if he continues to address these issues.

Bloggers' Rights

CJR Daily today observes,
Say that blogs are granted the same protections as news organizations. What is to stop, say, corporations or trade unions from setting up stealth blogs to promote their agenda, while collecting funds from the public or to spend on ads to promote their own interested point of view?
One might ask, what's to stop corporations, religious organizations, or chambers of commerce from setting up stealth news organizations to promote their agenda?
Many partisan bloggers are little more than political activists, and as activists they raise funds for their own pet political causes, something reporters don't -- and can't -- do. In this, they should be included under campaign finance laws.
But "reporters" apparently can obtain secret, lucrative contracts from the government to push a particular story or perspective. News organizations can carelessly (or perhaps intentionally) run "video news releases" which are disguised as news coverage. Mainstream "reporters" and columnists can act as willing conduits for dubious (or false) stories to advance their careers and curry favor with politicians. Reporters at press conferences for important subjects can act like sheep, afraid of being culled from the herd if they ask tough questions.
In the end, it's a complicated issue, and both sides have salient points.
True. But who's the pot and who's the kettle?

Crocodile Tears Revisited

Today's Times attempts to rehabilitate Judith Miller, by rationalizing her conduct.
But the hard truth is that no reporter can choose the circumstances for upholding a principle. It doesn't matter whether we think a source is a good person or has good motivations. A reporter promises confidentiality, and the paper backs up the journalist because otherwise the public will not learn what it needs to know. It's up to the reporter and editor to determine whether information given under a promise of confidentiality is reliable. But reporters cannot apply ideology when protecting their sources, any more than civil liberties lawyers can defend the First Amendment rights of only the people they agree with.
But wait - the paper just got through telling us that Miller didn't write a story, so it seems fair to assume that the leak at issue did not implicate the needs of the public to "learn what it needs to know". At a certain point, when a reporter shields dubious sources with promises of anonymity, the reporting ends and what amounts to a conspiracy begins - a conspiracy that allows a lazy reporter to sit behind her desk, get sensational "scoops" from anonymous high level sources, and print them without regard to their truth. That's not protecting the needs of the public - it is self-serving conduct, which primarily helps the reporter, secondarily helps her newspaper sell copy, but in fact causes harm to the public. When one of those dubious sources later telephones the reporter to leak the identity of a CIA operative, as part of a revenge plot against the operative's husband, the public interest is not advanced by protecting the source. Once again, the public interest is harmed.
The prosecutor produced what he claimed were waivers of confidentiality signed by White House officials, and his supporters have asked how Ms. Miller or any other journalists could remain silent if the presumed sources say they are free to talk. In fact, these documents were extracted by coercion, so they are meaningless.
That is true, actually. If everybody has to sign a waiver to keep his or her job, the source will be placed in the position of either signing a waiver or being identified by virtue of his or her refusal. To the extent that a reporter is willing to go to jail on principle under such circumstances, there's some substance to the principle. Whether or not this applies to Miller? Not even the NY Times seems to know.

Personally, I think Miller's "principles" are that she is protecting her ability to be a lazy reporter, an eager conduit for salacious and inflammatory rumors from people like Karl Rove, reprinting them without regard to truth. I don't believe that the "sources" she is protecting are those traditionally associated with reporting - that is, she didn't find them by doing anything that is traditionally associated with investigative reporting. They came to her and she cut a deal with them which was against the public interest. She kept her end of the deal (and gained considerable notoriety) by disseminating innuendo and falsehood on their behalf, with scant regard for the public interest. So I have little sympathy for her present, ostensibly "principled", stand.

In fairness, at least when it came to this particular story, she was more principled than Robert Novak.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Cost of Research

In an unsigned idiotorial, the Washington Post apparently joins with those who wish to do away with comprehensive medical insurance programs, noting that new medications can be extraordinarily expensive and concluding,
Drug companies charge this much mostly because our broken non-market system allows them to get away with it.
As if the typical patient with a typical illness gets a $100,000.00/year medication? The idiotorial asserts,
The standard justification for high drug prices is that they finance medical research. Yet huge research budgets are justified only if they achieve something useful. Usefulness means not just producing drugs but extending and improving the quality of life at a reasonable price.
Oh - so pharmaceutical research should only take place when the pharmaceutical company knows in advance how much the research will cost through the time of FDA approval, the market for the drug, and that the research will be successful. Because scientific research always occurs in a predictable straight line, and scientists always end up with the exact thing they desired when they commence a particular line of research, right?

Or perhaps you should consider that Viagra was initially developed as a potential treatment for high blood pressure and angina. MAO's, an early form of antidepressant medications, were discovered by a researcher who was trying to create a pain remedy for tuberculosis patients. While modern research attempts to remove chance from the equation, you can't be certain at the outset that research will be successful, that it will produce a medication that is more effective than the alternatives, that it will produce a medication that treats the targeted condition, or that it won't turn out to be a dead end.

The iditorial also omits mention of the cost of advertising, or the drop-offs in price when competing medications come on the market, when production methods improve, and when patents expire. It fails to mention that pharmaceutical companies spend enormous sums on marketing, both to doctors and directly to consumers, and pass those costs along to us in the price of our medicines. It fails to mention that the place where its "straight line" formula best applies is where a drug company is trying to produce a competing medication for an existing problem - that is, it is cheaper and easier to create a medication to compete with others that already exist within a given therapeutic class, than it is to create the first drug within a class.

Incredibly, the idiotorial then attempts to apply a nebulous economic formula to human life, asserting,
Cancer doctors are willing to prescribe medicines costing more than $300,000 for an extra year of life, according to a study by Dr. Eric Nadler of Harvard Medical School. But by analyzing how much people are willing to pay for various life-extending safety precautions, health economists have concluded that society values an extra year of life at about $75,000. The physicians' indifference to cost explains why drug firms charge outrageous prices.
Well, no. Whatever value "health economists" might derive for the value the population at large places on the last year in the life of someone else, the calculus changes when the issue is personalized. Few people would take $75,000.00 to give up their last year of life. Few would take $75,000.00 to give up the last year of a loved one's life. So what exactly is this idiotorial suggesting when it argues that we should look at this $75,000.00 figure, and "create a health care market that pays for only cost-effective treatment"? Cut off the elderly after they hit that magic cost point, and let them pay their own way or die?
Meanwhile managed care companies, which were once regarded as the best hope for containing unjustified spending, have been more or less defeated; but faced with this failure of the private market, federal policy is to move Medicare toward a private model.
So we are told that the problem is that there is too much insulation between medical cost and the consumer, market forces should be applied to make the health care market more "rational" and thus more affordable, but this is best done without "privatizing" Medicare? The mind boggles.

What? You Want *Tears*?

Some news agencies and columnists seem shocked that the U.S. public is indifferent to the incarceration of Judith Miller, for her refusal to obey a lawful court order that she disclose her source(s) in relation to the "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame. David Broder suggests that the moral of the story is that reporters need to be more careful when selecting their sources - but that doesn't apply to Miller (at least in this context) as she didn't run a story on Plame. She obtained information from sources which revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative. To the extent that some people are less sympathetic to Miller because of her history of cultivating dubious anonymous sources, and printing stories based upon their "disclosures" which ultimately proved to be false, I don't think that explains the public indifference to Miller's incarceration, or the possibility that it might be extended by virtue of criminal contempt charges.

The public has a natural skepticism of "anonymous sources", and with good cause. A lot of misinformation, and a lot of injustice, has resulted from the abuse of anonymity. When a reporter asserts that she will go to jail rather than disclose her source, the public can reasonably be expected to consider the actual downside of disclosure. Not the "chicken little" downside, where we are immediately propelled down a slippery slope to a point where nobody dares to provide information to reporters under cover of anonymity. But an actual downside - the here and now, "in this specific case" downside, which can be weighed against the benefit of disclosure.

In the case of the "outing" of Plame, the "downside" of disclosure is that the people who leaked Plame's identity will become known. In a best-case scenario, if you accept the word of the Bush Administration's spin doctors, Plame herself had limited value as an operative. But it isn't just about Plame - it is everybody who had contact with Plame during her covert work, and everybody associated with the company she ostensibly worked for, which was also unmasked as a CIA operation. And while I doubt that the typical citizen has thought through all of the ramifications of the disclosure, I don't think that there is much sympathy at all for the people Miller is protecting. This is not a situation where a leak helped unmask government deception, government corruption, or crimes by government officials. This is a situation where the corrupt, deceptive, and/or criminal conduct is the leak itself.

Am I surprised that Miller, her appeals exhausted, her justification for her refusal to testify (she has a release, but it might have been coerced) tenuous, and the principle for which she ostensibly stands (advancing the ability of the media to uncover sensitive stories by protecting anonymous sources) turned on its head by the actions of her sources, gets little public sympathy? Particularly at this point, where Miller's testimony appears to be desired not to gain new names, but to connect a few key dots to complete the investigation of a crime? Not at all.

Broder also notes,
Novak, who has a well-earned reputation for carrying water for his favorite conservatives, has not been prosecuted for publishing Plame's name and has refused to discuss his role in the case or his dealings, if any, with the grand jury investigating the leak.
At this point, is there actually any lingering doubt about Novak's cooperation with the Grand Jury?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Mr. Pecker Gets A Politician Into Trouble

What can I say?
A few years ago, according to the book, tabloids were writing about Mr. Schwarzenegger's alleged sexual affairs, hurting his political prospects. Then, in July 2003, when Mr. Schwarzenegger was contemplating running for California governor, he met with Mr. Pecker.
Okay, we're dealing with two different "individuals", but obviously that's not the first time a "Mr. Pecker" has led Arnold into controversy.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wrongful Death

Not the tort kind - the "death penalty" kind.
In this case, an extremely unusual private investigation was conducted after Mr. Griffin's death. It was sponsored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and led by Samuel Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. That investigation has pretty much demolished Mr. Fitzgerald's account of what occurred and prompted Ms. Joyce to reopen the case.

* * *

Professor Gross, who has received extensive pro bono help from prominent law firms, has given prosecutors the names of three men he believes committed the murder, and the evidence that points to their guilt.
Professor Gross has an unusual background for a law professor (at least at a school like Michigan) - and it's good to hear (although not surprising) that he continues to perform this type of work. He also taught one of my favorite classes in law school, and always seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.

Driving History

David "Babbling" Brooks today suggests, in relation to selecting a Supreme Court Justice:
Mr. President, don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Ideas drive history, so you want to pick the person with the biggest brain.
I'm not sure which of the current set Mr. Brooks believes to have small brains. But I'm not sure that, within the context of his thesis, "bigger is better". If the selection is about driving history, as Mr. Bush can certainly attest, history is often more driven by bad ideas than by good ones.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Over at Evan Schaeffer's Legal Underground I found reference to an interesting story about how some companies are now using plaintiff's firms for corporate litigation, much to the consternation of defense lawyers:
But defense attorney Levi McCathern of McCathern Mooty in Dallas believes corporations are selling themselves out to the plaintiffs bar. He argues that plaintiffs attorneys are winning businesses over because of the lucrative verdicts they get.

Companies are impressed with these big verdicts, he said, so they're willing to hire plaintiffs attorneys to take on their big cases.

"I just think they'd be better served by using the defense bar," McCathern said. "Commercial litigation has long been the work of the defense bar. But not anymore. ... I've seen it go south."
So businesses are using plaintiff's lawyers for their commercial litigation because they have the temerity to beat defense firms in court and obtain large verdicts, rather than sticking with defense firms out of... tradition? The nerve!


Somebody writes in to a law forum with a tale of woe:
A week ago I was caught shoplifting at a local store and my court date is tomorrow. ...

I was going to ask for a PD (counsel) on my court date because after I pay the stores $200 civil fine and whatever fine that the courts will give me providing they don't lock me up and I have to make bail, I just won't have the money for counsel. Not to mention the fact that I have not told me husband about the incident because I don't want him to worry or stress over my stupidity and I did not want my kids to find out. What procedure do I need to go through when I get called before the judge and requesting counsel?

I have one final question for you. I have been told not to admit premeditation, but my excuse (not like there should be an excuse) is better than saying, "I don't know why I did it." My excuse is it was a fraternity stunt. I had to either get select items from the store or I had to inflict bodily harm on someone, and I personally felt that stealing was better give the options. I do totally understand however that my decision was poor altogether and I am a total idiot for doing it to begin with; however, I thought the fraternity would look good on the old résumé when I graduated. Anyway, would the truth be better than the old I don't know why or should I say I don't know why I did it?
A bit short in the internal consistency department? Or have college fraternities now opened their doors to married women (with children)?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Word Games

William Raspberry, addressing the First Amendment, tells us:
"There's nothing in common sense - and certainly nothing in the First Amendment - that requires government hostility to publicly expressed religion, which is where the requirement that government be 'secular' takes you," he says. "I think it's better to say 'temporal' rather than secular. Temporal means the here and now, without reference to the hereafter. Our government was designed to be temporal, but you have only to look at the words and actions of the Founders to understand that they had no interest in the sort of secularity the court now seeks to enforce."

But it's not just in impossibly arcane Supreme Court decisions that "secular" plays us false, says Hasson. "It gets us in needless trouble internationally as well. The Arabic word for secular is almehni, meaning godless. So when Muslim fundamentalists hear us talk about secular government, they think we mean, quite literally, a godless government. Temporal translates into another Arabic word entirely, dunyawi, or worldly.

Hasson is not just playing word games.
Well, yes. He is.

Take for example somebody who argued that the Elbonian word for "Godly" is "ignorant". While it is fair to respond that the Elbonians, a fictional ethnicity featured in Dilbert cartoons, are famous for their ability to get pretty much everything wrong, the better response would be to point out that if "ignorant" is the best word in the Elbonian language to describe the concept of Godliness, the Elbonians in fact have no word for Godliness. Further, as we are not applying the inaccurate Elbonian definition of Godliness within our nation - we use the English language, after all - the deficits of the Elbonian language have no relevance to our domestic debates.

If I were to add to this that the Elbonians translate the word "Cotton Candy" as "Worldly", you would probably find it ridiculous if I were to suggest that we call our government a "Cotton Candy government" in order to convey a more accurate meaning to the Elbonians. "But," you would assert, "Cotton candy in English means 'a candy made by spinning sugar that has been boiled to a high temperature'." And you would be right. While "temporal" is a closer match to "worldly" than is "cotton candy", it still carries a different meaning (particularly in its most common uses) than worldly.

This ultimately raises some questions for Mr. Hasson: What is the Arabic word for "worldly"? Because if it is something other than "dunyawi", which you say means "worldly", we're engaging in some pretty peculiar contortions. And if "worldly" (which you suggest to be a word which properly conveys the nature of our government to other cultures) translates to "dunyawi", why do you prefer the term "temporal" to the term "wordly"? Perhaps, to confuse the English language debate?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Gotcha Politics

Is it just me? Because sometimes it seems like even people who should know better are way to quick to embrace "gotcha politics" - most notably the character assassination of public figures based upon a single comment or statement, often taken out of context, usually blown way out of proportion. The problem seems to be getting worse, perhaps because that is the nature of our times, although this is an area where bloggers seem inclined to fan the flames.

As by now everybody knows, when asked to comment on the effect the London terrorist attack had on the markets, Fox anchor Brit Hume said,
Well, maybe. The other thing is, of course, people have -- you know, the market was down. It was down yesterday, and you know, you may have had some bargain-hunting going on. I mean, my first thought when I heard -- just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, "Hmmm, time to buy." Others may have thought that as well. But you never know about the markets. But obviously, if the markets had behaved badly, that would obviously add to people's sense of alarm about it. But there has been a lot of reassurance coming, particularly in the way that -- partly in the way the Brits handled all this, but also in the way that officials here handled it. There seems to be no great fear that something like that is going to happen here, although there's no indication that we here had any advance warning.
Or perhaps you didn't know that. Perhaps your understanding is that he flipped on the television, saw that terrorists had attacked London, and declared, "This will give me a great opportunity to buy stocks!" Because, more or less, that's how certain people (most of whom should know better) are trying to reshape that comment.

I'm not going to defend Brit's words, which obviously could have been more artful and sensitive. I'm just tired of this effort to sabotage people's entire careers and legacies (or even those of institutions - e.g., "Amnesty International said 'gulag' so they have no credibility and we can ignore them forever and ever") on the basis of a poorly chosen word or poorly phrased comment, when we know what the person really meant.

Now I will grant, there are times when a poorly chosen word or comment reflects so badly on the speaker that they deserve to be dragged to the (figurative) public pillory, or at least that their future conduct and statements be regarded with a somewhat jaundiced eye. A civil rights leader, for example, who uses an ethnic slur to refer to the Jewish residents of New York. Or a judge who uses the same type of "[slur]-town" epithet in relation to its largely black population. If you can scrape back from that type of conduct, well, I'll never look at you the same way. And if you can't, you deserve your fate.

There's also a context where somebody uses hyperbole, exaggeration, speaks in the heat of the moment, or speaks without thinking, and makes a statement that should result in immediate clarification and apology. And your reaction to being confronted can cast fair light on how strongly your comments should be held against you. If you contend that you are not a bigot but think you should be able to survive describing your staff in terms such as "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple" you had better act quickly to explain yourself - because otherwise, I won't be crying for you when you have to resign 18 days later. If you say warm things about Strom Thurmond's presidential campaign, but can't bring yourself to quickly explain how you could forget its racist and pro-segregation emphasis, and apologize for saying something that stupid without thinking, you don't deserve to be the Senate majority leader.

As we move into gotcha, we have fair political comment, sometimes involving hyperbole, exaggeration, the heat of the moment, or momentary thoughtlessness, which is distorted, exaggerated, or beaten to death in the name of gotcha politics. It may not be wise for a singer to express in a concert, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." But it's a statement made at a concert for goodness sake, and how often do those live past the moment they are said? It's also fair political commentary, even in a "time of war", to disagree or even be ashamed by your nation's leader - just as it is fair to vehemently disagree with that sentiment.

And then we have comments that we know are true. That a horrific description of prisoner treatment, even if we assume it to be truly exceptional, is the type of account we would expect to read in relation to a state we hold in contempt. Or, moving back to Hume's comment, imagine that part of your job is to comment on such things as market movements, and imagine that following a terrorist attack you view as far less consequential than other major geopolitical events there is a sharp downturn in the market. Would you not have a thought similar to Hume's? I didn't follow the markets on the dates at issue, but had I done so I would have been skeptical of the sell-off.

It is inevitable that people who are in the public eye, and who are constantly making on-record or public statements, will at times make mistakes. Hume falls into that category - he makes enough statements that it is inevitable that he will have some, many, which could be worded better. That's no excuse to try to distort his inartful statement into "When I heard about the terrorist attacks, I immediately thought of buying futures." If you have any doubt, demand clarification. "Are you comparing our troops to Nazis?" "Are you really stating that when you heard of the terrorist attack, your first thought was how to profit in the stock market?" The sad part is, when you know the answer will be "Of course not", and you run with it anyway to score a cheap political point.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Changing the Balance

Robert Novak, anticipating Rehnquist's imminent retirement, informs us,
That would enable Bush to play this game: Name one justice no less conservative than Rehnquist, and name Gonzales, whose past record suggests he would replicate retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on abortion and possibly other social issues. Thus, the present ideological orientation of the court would be unchanged, which would suit the left just fine.
Well, not really. But maintaining the ideological status quo would probably be the sort of bitter pill the left would quickly swallow, given the alternative. But, as Novak obviously knows, Bush's problem is most certainly not how to please the political left.
If a Rehnquist vacancy now is thrown into the mix, will Bush be tempted to temporize by naming one conservative and one non-conservative? If he nominates conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice and thus creates a third confirmation, will he think he has escaped by saying he has named two conservatives? No such maneuvers will make Gonzales acceptable to the Bush base.

Consequently, Bush's USA Today interview has been a source of intense anxiety on the right. Typically, the president did not defend Gonzales on his merits but with outrage that anybody would dare criticize his friend. That reflects a general schoolboy attitude that is losing the president support from fellow Republicans and conservatives.
I find it interesting that in this hypothetical scenario (in which Bush names "one conservative and one non-conservative") Gonzales is somehow transformed into a "non-conservative". That, to me, highlights the depravity of our present political classifications (or, should I say, stereotypes) - you can only be a true conservative these days, it seems, if you adhere to the philosophies of the religious right - even if you are otherwise contemptuous of everything traditionally associated with political conservatism. Otherwise, you're at best a "paleo-conservative" or, worse, a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

If Bush gets the opportunity to appoint two justices, and he doesn't make appointments which leave the religious right satisfied that Roe will be gutted or overruled, he will create an interesting conundrum for the Republican Party - a party which got about 30% of its votes in the last election due to high voter turnout and high voter loyalty among the religious right. If, in appreciable numbers, they stay home or vote for a third party candidate in the 2006 or 2008 elections, the post-election maps may be considerably more blue than the Republicans would like.

Oh, sure, you can make the same argument that Gore made in 1999 - a Republican counterpart to "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." But if you voted for Bush on the belief that he would deliver the Supreme Court and saw him deliberately pass on the opportunity to fulfill that implied promise, how inspired would you be to vote for a Republican candidate who in all likelihood will be more secular and more centrist than Bush?

Missing Money

It's not hard to find expressions of indignation about the "oil for food" scandal. And hey - there's good cause for indignation. But many of the harshest critics of the UN, lamenting the manner in which Iraq's corrupt leaders diverted Iraqi money, are completely silent about this.
The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. They have also discovered that $8.8bn that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it has gone. A further $3.4bn appropriated by Congress for Iraqi development has since been siphoned off to finance "security".
It took Hussein about a decade to siphon about $9 billion from "oil for food". It took Bremer a fraction of that time to lose $6 billion from the same program, along with a few billion dollars of money contributed by U.S. taxpayers. So, while I'm all for holding accountable those who participated in and profited from "oil for food", I would like to see some heads roll over the billions lost to corruption and incompetence under Bremer's watch.

And we complain about a whitewash at the UN.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

So Much Self-Righteousness In Such A Small Space....

Fans of Christopher Hitchens, assuming such creatures still exist, may want to change the channel.

A recent Hitchens piece in Slate was, well, typical of his work. Which is to say, unimpressive except it its ability to rationalize, self-justify, and demonstrate Hitchen's tireless ability to pat himself on the back. Now, you might think he was going to address an unexpected subject, or demonstrate a bith more thoughtfulness than usual, as he explores the unfortunate shooting of Iraqi news correspondents by U.S. troops. But... well, you know better already, don't you.
But the truly sobering reflection is that crimes and blunders of this kind are committed, in effect, by popular demand. It is emphasized every day that Americans do not want to read about dead soldiers. So it is arranged that, as far as possible, they will read (or perhaps not bother to read) about dead civilians instead. This is the price that a "body-bag" mentality exacts.
See - it's in no way the fault of the military that innocent people die as a result of military policies that emphasize troop protection. It's the fault of lily-livered Americans who can't stomach the notion that our troops might be injured or killed. But for these weak-kneed Americans, presumably our soldiers would be proudly dying all over Iraq in order to present a friendlier face to the locals. If only liberals would share Hitchen's apparent belief that troops are pawns - cannon fodder, if you will - the Hitchens vision for Iraq might come to fruition.

But wait a minute. It isn't the liberals Hitchens is impugning. It is the conservatives and their "liberal hawk" peers (even if he doesn't want to come right out and say it). Why do I say that? Because if the government and military were playing to the sensitivities of people who thought this war was a bad idea from day one, we wouldn't be in Iraq. Hitchens is accusing the military of conforming its policies to the expectations of people who supported the war, but expected it to be quick and easy, and (like the liberals he loves to impugn) don't like the idea of Americans coming home in body bags.

Hitchens tells us, surprise, that Hussein and his fellows were nasty people, they did nasty things, and that they hoped that high troop casualties would weaken American resolve. Well, how do I say... duh? But last I checked, Hussein was in prison, his buddies weren't running the show, and the easy victory that was all-but-promised by the war's strongest supporters has faded into a violent insurgency that the Bush Administration would like us to believe is in its "last throes"... even if those "last throes" might last, oh, ten or twelve more years. (It is curious that Hitchens, after depicting a Machiavellian Hussein, plotting to undermine popular support for the war through suicide attacks on troops at checkpoints, can't resist undermining his own argument with a gratuitous addendum to his column, describing Hussein as "deluded and deranged during the final days of his despotism". He always wants to have it both ways)
Military and civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are a test of something beyond themselves. They are part of a design, by those who boastfully claim to be unmoved by killing or by being killed, to evoke in us an emotion that they themselves negate. This terrible quandary cannot be escaped by leaving our civilian allies unprotected, let alone by shooting them if they don't wave quickly enough.
Well, yes, it would seem that leaving our allies unprotected, or shooting them, would be bad policy. It is hard to believe that we have been unable to formulate a system by which our allies can be better identified by our troops, so as to avoid unfortunate "friendly fire" deaths. But as for the rest... what the heck?

Military and civilian casualties are not a test of our fortitude, or of our commitment to a cause. Also, military and civilian casualties caused by enemy activity should not be confused or conflated with military and civilian casualties caused by our mistakes. We are to believe that there are people "who boastfully claim to be unmoved by killing or by being killed", and they are testing our fortitude by somehow forcing our military to respond to domestic political concerns by creating policies of self-protection which at times result in unnecessary civilian casualties? Even if I accepted that argument, how does it support Hitchen's thesis? (Perhaps he hopes his readers will, by this point, forget that the deaths under discussion weren't caused by suicide bombers?)

I don't want to seem like I'm being unfair to Hitchens - I do understand the points he is trying to make. I am simply astounded that he makes them so poorly and that, with even the slightest reflection, he should realize that he is undermining his own past and present positions. Hitchens would also do well to address the public relations strategies that made many of the war's most vehement supporters believe that the Iraq invasion would be a quick, easy war with few casualties, and candy and flowers for everyone.

As for his comments on Professor Ellis? It's hard to speak to them without seeing the letter at issue. But I do think it is fair game to ask, of all the nations in the Middle East, and of all the nations which have well-documented connections to anti-U.S. terrorism or more specifically the 9/11 attacks, why did we choose to attack Iraq? You can easily regard the attack on Afghanistan as a frontal attack on Islamic fanaticism in its own homeland, and as being in retaliation for the attack on ours. Iraq? C'mon. If that's in fact what we wanted to do, shouldn't a considerable number of other nations been way ahead of Iraq on our "to invade" list?

Slate would do well to dump Hitchens in favor of, say, Paul Craddick, who (whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions) obviously puts a great deal more thought into these issues for a weblog than Hitchens is willing (or perhaps capable) of extending even when paid.

A change in business model? My latest experiences involve mediocre selection, mediocre prices, poor "in stock" inventory, poor performance on delivery, and poor customer service.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Today, Eugene Robinson takes us (for some reason) through the divorce proceedings of Terry McMillan. Perhaps I should spend more time reading the Post's gossip columns, or Us Weekly - I wasn't even aware that Ms. McMillan was getting divorced.

The gist of the column seems to be that somebody as savvy, intelligent, and well-educated as Ms. McMillan should have been able to see right through the deceptions of her much-younger husband, and recognized him as one of the "slick, predatory, no-good players" that appear in her novels. (Perhaps it is that depiction that inspires the column - the woman who was too good for the players got played, and this is her comeuppance.)
First of all, I'm thinking that an educated, accomplished, professional woman in her forties, even while joyfully regaining her groove with a Jamaican cabana boy less than half her age, would have to be thinking in the back of her mind that this probably wouldn't turn into forever.

Maybe McMillan made that calculation and decided to bring him home anyway. I hear that men have been known to bring home hot, young, empty-headed things, and she did have the foresight to make him sign that prenup. But if it were all calculated, she wouldn't be so angry. The betrayal isn't just that he's lost interest in her; it's that his new interest is in men.

Here's where I get myself in trouble (if I haven't already): In 10 years with this guy she didn't have a clue? In the bathroom cabinet, no stock of overly metrosexual hair products? No hint when the business he got her to finance turned out to be a dog-grooming salon? Terry McMillan, such a keen observer of love and war between the sexes, and nothing ever showed up on her "gaydar"?
I have a somewhat different reaction.

Terry McMillan spent her childhood in Port Huron, Michigan. I recall reading in Time Magazine, many years ago, about how she spent her years as an early teenager, spending her time volunteering in the public library. How when she got the opportunity to escape her childhood home, she took it - ultimately becoming an author, and becoming a success not because of her family and community, but in spite of it. Her success, or some shadow of it (if nothing else, escaping the family and environment, going to college, and becoming a success) is the type of vision most people reading this blog might have for themselves, had they been born into similar circumstances - the notion that, with their inherent intelligence and academic interests, they too could have escaped.

But some families are reminiscent of the trash monster from Star Wars IV - the moment they sense you might escape their misery, they wrap themselves around your ankles, pull you down as hard as they can, and try to drown you. I am not one to try to psychoanalyze Ms. McMillan, but if I were in her shoes I would be angry at her husband not, as Robinson suggests, because "he lost interest" - or even that his interest was in men. I would imagine finding somebody much younger than me, certainly, but probably also much different from anybody I ever knew before and, after ten years, being angry when he turned out to be yet another anchor - somebody whose attentions and affections now appear to be all about getting money.

In any event, I think Ms. McMillan's achievements are remarkable, and I would rather read an article that applauded her achievements rather than one which... well, I hope wasn't gloating over disappointment in what really should be her personal life.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Be Careful Driving

At least around here, the roads seem to be full of drunk drivers on their way home from their first "Independence Day Weekend" parties.