Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Attention Fans And Foes Of Fieger

Appellate Law and Practice has the latest on Geoff Fieger's continuing legal battle with the Michigan Supreme Court.

Christmas Tips for Parents of Two-Year-Olds

If you have gifts wrapped to take to a relative's house and leave them within reach, don't be surprised to hear the sound of ripping paper accompanied by the question, "What's this?"

If you label those gifts with a Sharpie, don't be surprised if.... [Your imagination is probably not as bad as the reality. ;-)]

Don't be surprised when the two-year-old finds the greatest joy in (a) unwrapping presents, and (b) the cheapest gift she receives.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is G.W. Bush A Genius When He's Behind Closed Doors?

I heard some comments on NPR a few days ago which brought to mind my prior thoughts on why George Bush is reportedly much more articulate in public than in private.
Here's a slightly different spin on [perceptions of Bush as stupid] - Bush talks down to the American public, spinning carefully scripted and packaged positions which are designed to advance his agenda while satisfying the largest possible number of likely Republican voters. If you accept that he believes what he is saying, some of those positions can make him seem stupid. This can even help explain some of the "he's wonderfully articulate in private" contradictions. In a private, off-the-record moment he is freed from his script and can actually address the facts and issues as opposed to hiding behind insipid sound bites. (Surely he does have a better plan for Iraq than "adapt to win", even if that's all he seems to say when asked about the situation in public.)
The comments I heard inspired me to consider yet another possibility.... Specifically, the person commented that in a private meeting Bush is articulate, informed, and doesn't resort to talking points.

Early in Bush's Presidency I heard it argued that Bush is inarticulate about things he doesn't care about, and articulate about issues that really matter to him. My proposal above was that many of the positions he takes in public are stupid, leading to the impression that somebody who says a lot of stupid things is probably stupid himself. But here's another possibility which, in a sense, ties the two together: Bush is a really bad liar. He stumbles over his words when he doesn't believe what he is saying. It is interesting in this context to note that no matter how tepid his prior performance, when Bush loses his temper at a press conference there is nothing ambiguous in his language and he doesn't trip over his words - he says what he means, quite clearly.

This could also explain why nobody turns on a tape recorder or videotapes a private session of Bush being brilliant and articulate behind closed doors - he goes off-message, and it's better politically for him to be perceived as inarticulate than to have the public know what he really thinks and intends.

Somehow it seems to be more comforting to just think of him as a bit slow....

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Beginning Of The End in Iraq?

Back before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a number of worst case scenarios were advanced by anti-war activists, with the effects of the invasion depicted as rippling through the region, toppling friendly regimes and resulting in general chaos. These of course were largely dismissed or ridiculed by proponents of the war. But now David Brooks has apparently reconsidered. In After The Fall he envisions just that occurring through the course of a "thirty year war" which follows a U.S. withdrawal:
In fall 2007, the United States began to withdraw troops from Iraq, and so began the Second Thirty Years’ War. This war was a bewildering array of small and vast conflicts, which flared and receded and flared again across the entire Middle East, but which were joined by a common theme.

The essence of all this disorder was that the Arab nation-states lost control. Subnational groups — like Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army — and supranational groups — like loosely connected terror networks, the new Sunni and Shiite Leagues and the satellite television networks — went from strength to strength while central national governments toppled and fell. The collapse of national governments led to a power vacuum that the more authentic and deeply rooted social groups sought to fill.
Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman reminds us that before the war we were often hearing quite the opposite from the pro-war side.

These scenarios have their value, of course, and at times they may even prove to be what occurs. But for the most part they have to be recognized for what they are - a doctrinaire trip down the slipperly slope. The proponents of all of these scenarios have one thing in common - they underestimate the ability of tyrants and dictators to control their populations and hold on to power.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Backscatter Machines and Privacy

Over at TalkLeft, there is some discussion of the TSA's planned installation of a body scanner with "backscatter" technology in the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The post addresses the technology from a privacy standpoint, but I have a common sense objection to the TSA's stated policy on the use of this machine.

It was interesting to read that the TSA has developed protocols relating to the storage of images from the machine - no images will be stored, and nothing can be printed. Reportedly they have also implemented a "privacy algorithm [which] would eliminate much of the detail shown in the images of the individual while still being effective from a security standpoint" - I guess they digitally put your underwear back on before displaying the image (or perhaps it's more like pasties and a G-string?) I had this discussion with somebody in the federal government quite some time ago, in the context of the use of this technology in federal buildings, and discussed at that time how it should be possible to find a way to process the image to reduce or eliminate the "nudity" without affecting its efficacy. That discussion had nothing to do with the TSA, and has nothing to do with the TSA's recognition of the technological tweaking I had thought obvious. I mention it only because it seems to have taken a long time for the proponents of this technology to implement even modest [no pun intended] changes to the image processing software which would remove a lot of the privacy concerns.

But do we need to be concerned about these machines as an invasion of privacy? Or are they primarily a waste of money.
The security agency's website indicates that the technology will be used initially as a secondary screening measure, meaning that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the X-ray area.

Even then, passengers will have the option of choosing the backscatter or a traditional pat-down search.
Has any type of cost analysis or efficiency analysis been done to see whether the cost of purchasing and maintaining these machines, and staffing them with technicians, would exceed the cost of, say, adding another agent or two and a few additional curtained areas where pat-downs could be conducted? If a pat-down is a sufficient substitute for the machine, it seems like a huge investment in unnecessary technology. If not, then passengers who wish to smuggle contraband will request a pat-down.

If the plan is to march so many people through the machine that the TSA can't realistically pat them all down, the privacy concern becomes a bit different, as that would make it appear that the criteria for subjecting somebody to this more intensive screening are too lax. One would hope that the plan isn't to loosen screening standards such that a sufficient number of passengers can be marched through the machine so as to justify its cost.