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Saturday, May 04, 2002
Gee, maybe the sky isn't falling.
It's a fundamental tenet of journalism that good news gets buried ("Plane didn't crash") and bad news gets front page headlines. Perhaps that's why the New York Times hides their story about reduced carbon monoxide in New York City's air deep within the paper.
While the city violated the federal standard more than 150 times in 1978 alone, it has met the standard for nearly 10 years, according to the E.P.A., in part because of pollution controls on cars, and cleaner fuels.
Still, it's refreshing to at least see it reported. Too often the only news coverage of the environment is generated by environmental lobbyists' scare tactics.

Friday, May 03, 2002
If planes are hijacked, only hijackers will have planes
Airline pilots want to be armed. Twenty thousand of them signed a petition to Congress demanding that they be allowed to keep guns in the cockpit. Showing that they don't really understand the issue, flight attendants disagreed:
Responding angrily, the union for flight attendants declared that it would fight the proposal unless the pilots agreed to use their guns not only to defend themselves, but also to ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the airplane.
So let me get this straight: the flight attendants (nee stewardesses) would rather have the plane hijacked than have pilots be the only ones not defenseless?

Besides, that response misses the point entirely; pilots wouldn't be using the guns to defend "themselves." They'd be using the guns to defend the cockpit. And defending the cockpit does "ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the plane." But most importantly, defending the cockpit protects us on the ground. If potential hijackers (nee Saudis) know that the pilots are armed, they may think twice about trying to hijack the plane in the first place, making everyone safer. 

Predictably, the disarm-Americans crowd was opposed, listing all the things that could go wrong, but ignoring the reasons why pilots would want to be armed.
Although a number of House members spoke in favor of arming pilots, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opposed the effort.

Oberstar said arming pilots would give "new meaning to the flying shotgun in the days of the Wild West." Oberstar called the bill "impatient" because it would distract the TSA from the larger tasks ahead, such as using machines to screen all checked luggage for explosives by year's end.
But the award for mindless cliche of the day goes to the nonvoting delegate from the nation's gun-free crime capital:
Another Democrat, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, said a gun in the cockpit could harm innocent bystanders. "We know guns in the homes are more likely to be used for killing relatives and for suicide," she said. "We have to consider guns in the cockpit might be used for more than the purpose intended."
We know that statistics in the Congress are more likely to be used for killing the truth, and for demagoguery. Perhaps we should ban Eleanor Holmes Norton, just to be safe.

Thursday, May 02, 2002
Our kind of lizard
Josh Chafetz over at OxBlog explains why Pervez Musharraf's (probably) corrupt election victory wasn't such a bad thing:
And he's our Lizard, too. Sure, we're being hypocritical when we support a dictatorship anywhere. It is of such hypocrisies that international relations is made. And sure, we should support a return to a real democracy, with freely contested elections, as soon as possible. But right now, Central Asia is in crisis, and in times of crisis, even democracies have turned to temporary dictatorships. Ancient Greek and Roman republics had provisions allowing for the appointment of an absolute dictator during wartime, and even American presidents -- including Lincoln and FDR -- have assumed extraordinary powers during times of war. The ancient democracies understood that there was a crucial distinction between a dictatorship, which may sometimes be necessary temporarily to save the republic, and a tyranny, which is always antithetical to democracy. In modern times, we have found that stable democracies can dispense with dictatorships, even in times of crisis (although they may have to increase the power of the elected executive somewhat). But Pakistan has never been a stable democracy, and, in a time of crisis such as this, perhaps the best we can do is to make sure that its dictatorship does not degenerate into a tyranny. That is, we should make sure that Musharraf remains the best Lizard for the job, and we should seek to get lizards out of office entirely as soon as possible.
P.S. If you want to know about the lizards, you have to go to Josh's page.

But I bet Saudi students were thrilled
How much money do you think the New York City Board of Education wasted to learn that some students are still upset about the attacks on 9/11? Which students are most affected?
Children who live or attend school near ground zero were most likely to experience mental health problems, but they were not so heavily affected as children from around the city who had relatives or acquaintances injured or killed in the attack. Symptoms included thinking obsessively about the attack; trying not to think, hear or talk about it; trouble sleeping; chronic nightmares; and shortened attention spans.
So, people who knew victims were most upset, and people who lived nearby were also very upset. And the people who died weren't too happy about the whole thing, either.

What's a few months -- or years -- between friends?
The Washington D.C. Department of Corrections apparently flips a coin to decide who to keep in jail.
A homeless man was mistakenly imprisoned at the D.C. jail and an adjacent correctional treatment facility for five months because Department of Corrections workers failed to update computer records to indicate that a court had ordered his release within two days of his arrest.


The District is facing a $440 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Joseph S. Heard, a deaf, mute and mentally ill man who was wrongfully kept behind bars at the jail for nearly two years after a misdemeanor trespassing charge against him was dismissed. Heard was freed in August when corrections officials discovered that files authorizing his release never arrived -- and that no one at the jail had bothered to check.
But they don't always keep people in jail wrongfully; sometimes they let them out wrongfully:
Another recent case of records mismanagement involved Michael D. Hamilton, 42, a convicted bank robber who is being held at the jail on a one- to three-year sentence for parole violation after serving more than 15 years in the Virginia prison system. On March 2, a Saturday, he was erroneously released from jail.

That night, a corrections records supervisor phoned the home of Hamilton's mother in Southeast Washington to say that the jail had made a mistake and that he had to return to the facility. Hamilton did so, but not until Monday morning. Relatives said he was granted permission by the records supervisor to finish out the weekend with his family, a claim the supervisor disputes.
Hey, isn't that how Yasser Arafat runs his prisons?

Wednesday, May 01, 2002
Putting the "vice" in vice principal
I don't think any commentary I could provide would add anything to this story about school officials:
Angry parents demanded the resignation of a California high school vice principal Tuesday because she lifted the skirts of teenage girls at a dance in front of men and male classmates to make sure they were wearing "appropriate" underwear.

Parents at Rancho Bernardo High School in suburban San Diego say the vice principal, Rita Wilson, made the girls prove that they were not wearing thong underwear before they were allowed into the dance on Friday.

In some cases, said Rancho Bernardo parent Kim Teal, girls also were made to partially undress if Wilson or another teacher suspected that they weren't wearing bras.
Has anybody tried drug testing the vice principal?

Update: Having read the local coverage of the story, there's an even more horrifying element:
San Diego city police Officer Greg Bisesto said that while patrolling the dance, which was attended by about 725 students, he watched Wilson force dozens of girls to lift their skirts. He said he heard Wilson ask the questions: "Are you wearing underwear? If so, is it a thong? . . . Then let me check."

"I just thought, 'Oh, my God, what is she doing?' " Bisesto said. "This is totally out of line."


Bisesto, the police officer, said he approached Assistant Principal Michael Mosgrove and asked him to talk to Wilson about her behavior. Bisesto said he does not know if Mosgrove spoke with Wilson, but he said the examinations did not stop.
So a police officer watched what was happening and didn't do anything???!??!?!?

Maybe they'll even stop blaming Jews for the 9/11 attacks
Palestinian officials now admit that there was no Jenin massacre.
Palestinian officials yesterday put the death toll at 56 in the two-week Israeli assault on Jenin, dropping claims of a massacre of 500 that had sparked demands for a U.N. investigation.

The official Palestinian body count, which is not disproportionate to the 33 Israeli soldiers killed in the incursion, was disclosed by Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, the director of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement for the northern West Bank, after a team of four Palestinian-appointed investigators reported to him in his Jenin office.
So when does the apology arrive from the United Nations?

By the way, I think they call this "denial":
He no longer used the ubiquitous Palestinian charge of "massacre" and instead portrayed the battle as a "victory" for Palestinians in resisting Israeli forces. "Here the Israelis, who tried to break the Palestinian willpower, have been taught a lesson," Mr. Kadoura said.
I wonder if the Palestinians have ever heard of Pyrrhus?

Study shows nuclear war would hurt minorities
The New York Times loves this stuff: black and hispanic people pay higher interest rates for their mortgages than white people do. Or at least a new study being released today by the Center for Community Change claims that this is true. (According to the Times; I failed to find the study on the organization's badly-organized website.)
A far greater share of black and Hispanic homeowners with above-average incomes still have mortgages with higher interest rates than whites with comparable incomes, according to a study to be released today. The research suggests that conventional banks, despite recent progress, have failed to reach many minority borrowers who would qualify for good mortgages based on their salary and credit history, housing experts said.

In its most surprising finding, the study said that the racial disparities increased as homeowners' salaries rose. Among households that made at least 120 percent of the typical income in their metropolitan area, 32 percent of blacks held high-interest, or subprime, loans while only 11 percent of whites did. Among households that made 80 percent or less of the typical local salary, 56 percent of blacks had subprime loans and 25 percent of whites did.

"The market isn't working as it should," said Allen J. Fishbein, general counsel at the Center for Community Change, a housing advocacy group in Washington that conducted the study. "It's pretty striking."
The market isn't working as it should. Groups that produce absolutely no value for society, like the Center for Community Change, somehow manage to stay in "business". They can produce "research" with absolutely zero value, and yet somehow never get discredited. They can study the granting of credit by lenders without actually looking at the factors that lenders use in granting credit, and the Paper of Record still thinks they're worthy of receiving press coverage:
The study's authors acknowledged that their findings did not prove that minority borrowers unfairly pay high mortgage rates, because applicants' credit histories were not considered. But the authors said the gaps between subprime lending to whites and minority borrowers were probably too big to reflect only credit differences.
"Probably?" Ah. I believe that's the method lenders use for granting credit: "Well, you didn't put this information on the application, but you'll 'probably' pay it back. Have some money." Wouldn't science be so much easier if we could use the "probably" standard?

Also, the Pacific Ocean is "really big."
The New York Times discovers that international law isn't clear, and can't be enforced. Is this news to anybody except Noam Chomsky?

Tuesday, April 30, 2002
Sounds good? It isn't.
Last week, the Washington Times carried an op/ed piece by Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kyl, promoting their Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment. (Or, rather, the "Feinstein-Kyl Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment." I know Washington is all about promoting oneself, but isn't it a little unseemly to name a proposal for a constitutional amendment eponymously?)
We need a victims' rights constitutional amendment because of people such as Roberta Roper, Sharon Christian, Ross and Betty Parks and Virginia Bell. Ms. Roper was denied the opportunity to watch the trial of her daughter's murderer; Ms. Christian was not informed of her rapist's release from custody and ran into him two weeks after the attack; Mr. and Mrs. Parks were never consulted regarding a seven-year delay in the trial of their daughter's killer; and Ms. Bell suffered debilitating and expensive injuries from a mugging but received only $387 in restitution.
All those sound like unpleasant experiences for the people involved, but it trivializes the constitution to suggest that it be amended to prevent them. To suggest that it's a good policy to notify victims when their attackers are being released is one thing; to suggest that someone should have a constitutional right to be so notified is quite another. The Constitution is a document to establish and limit the authority of government, not to hand out goodies. To say that criminal defendants have constitutional rights, but "crime victims have absolutely none" is just demagoguery. Crime victims have the same rights that criminal defendants do.

Indeed, it's not even clear what a constitutional amendment would accomplish in the instances described by the senators; most of them sound like bureaucratic failures, not constitutional ones. Indeed, as Feinstein and Kyl indicate, laws guaranteeing victims many "rights" already exist.
Moreover, mere state law has proven inadequate to protect victims' rights. For example, a U.S. Justice Department-sponsored report found that, even in states with strong legal protections for victims' rights, many victims are denied those rights. This report concluded that state safeguards are insufficient to guarantee victims' rights, and that only a federal constitutional amendment can ensure that crime victims receive the rights they are due.
See? If "victims are denied those rights," it's because someone isn't doing his job, isn't enforcing the law.  A constitutional amendment isn't magic; it still needs to be enforced just like any other law. If the Feinstein/Kyl logic is that the states ignore the law, then doesn't that suggest bigger problems with the government than whether there are victims' rights bills? And don't think that the government is incapable of ignoring constitutional amendments; from racial preferences to gun control, politicians treat the constitution as a mere suggestion when it suits them to do so.

So is there any real point here, other than pandering?

Can I just get some Flintstones vitamins?
Another victory for free speech, as the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote overturned a ban on advertising certain types of drugs. The government's seemingly indefensible position was that by keeping information about "compounded drugs" -- essentially, drugs custom-made for an individual customer -- from the public, that this would protect the public health. The logic, in part, was that if customers didn't know about the drugs, then customers couldn't ask about the drugs, and thus customers who didn't need the drugs wouldn't get them. But as the court held:
If the First Amendment means anything, it means that regulating speech must be a last — not first — resort. Yet here it seems to have been the first strategy the government thought to try.
Given that the law already restricted the sale of compounded drugs to people who needed them, it would seem difficult to argue that keeping them ignorant serves any additional useful function.

Kudos to Eugene Volokh, whose analysis of the free speech proclivities of the Justices continues to hold true. "Liberal" Justice Steven Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, in favor of restricting speech, just as Volokh's work suggests would be likely.

This ruling, while relatively insigificant itself, is yet another strong signal that the court is unlikely to look favorably on the advertising prohibitions contained in the McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan campaign finance "reform" bill. Historically, pornography and commercial speech have been the least-protected, first amendment-wise, and yet this court has now ruled, in the space of a month's time, in favor of freedom in each of these areas. Doesn't look too good for McCain.

Monday, April 29, 2002
Paul Krugman, eat your heart out
Stephanie Salter, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a genius. She points out that the Bush Administration keeps publicizing captured Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah's warnings/rumors about future terrorist plans, even though those threats may not be credible. Some might think that the Bush administration was just being cautious, or that Tom Ridge was being self-aggrandizing (a la Gray Davis last year), or that individual administration employees were participating in the great Washington sport of leaking to the press. But not Stephanie Salter. Salter has figured out the Secret Bush Plot. (We know it's a Secret Bush Plot, because Salter is careful to mention the "hijacked presidential election.")
So why, given who Zubaydah is -- al Qaeda's chief of operations and a sworn enemy of the United States -- is the Bush administration so eager to leak his every utterance? And to the hated U.S. news media, no less?

It couldn't possibly be to stir up confusion and insecurity, could it? To keep much of America where it's been since the horrors of Sept. 11: scared and buying anything the White House sells?
Good thinking, Stephanie. Clearly, publicizing rumors that are quickly revealed to be false is a way for the Bush administration to get people to believe "anything the White House sells." (Next: Salter reveals that the Ford Explorer rollover problem is just a scheme by Ford to get free publicity.)

Cry me a river
Bill Clinton is having trouble raising money for his presidential library. He's short of his goal and hasn't yet collected the money that was already pledged. Or maybe he isn't having any trouble at all:
A spokeswoman for Mr. Clinton, Julia Payne, said that despite the concerns about the pace of the campaign, the former president has not had any trouble raising money or getting commitments for his library. Instead, he has devoted very little time in the last 15 months to the pursuit, focusing instead on raising money for dozens of other causes. Ms. Payne also predicted that Mr. Clinton would ultimately have no trouble raising the entire sum.
This is worth reporting? "All the News That's Fit to Print" is getting sillier and sillier. Either way -- whether Clinton's having trouble or not -- who cares? Why is the New York Times giving Bill Clinton's fundraising efforts free advertising?

So now what?
Both the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders agreed to a U.S. proposal to end the siege of Arafat. Arafat wouldn't agree to hand over prisoners to Israel, and, given his history, Israel wouldn't trust Arafat to keep people in prison. So now the prisoners will stay in Arafat's custody, but American and British observers will monitor the situation to make sure they stay in prison. In exchange for allowing this, Arafat gets freedom of movement within the West Bank and Gaza.

The conventional wisdom is that this is supposed to provide Israel with some breathing room in its attempt to hold off the U.N. inquisition over the Jenin massacre hoax. Maybe it will. But since the U.N. has shown itself ready, willing, and able to blame Israel no matter what the situation, that seems a weak approach. Maybe it's just a way to hold Arafat more accountable for terrorist attacks like the one at Adora on Saturday. The Palestinian-apologist argument has been that Arafat can't be blamed for terrorist attacks because he was impotent as long as Israel was isolating him. Well, now he won't be isolated, and won't have that excuse.

That's certainly how President Bush sees it:
President Bush said yesterday he expects Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "condemn and thwart terrorist activities" within the next 72 hours. Top Stories

     The president sent that message shortly after he personally negotiated a deal to end the Israeli siege that has trapped Mr. Arafat at his West Bank compound since March 29.

     Mr. Bush said the next few days will prove how serious the Palestinian chairman is about ending the violence.

     "His responsibility is just what I said — to renounce, to help detect and stop terrorist killings. And the message can't be more clear, and we're going to continue to hold people accountable for results," Mr. Bush said.

     Saying "much hard work remains" to reach peace in the Middle East, Mr. Bush focused on the role Mr. Arafat will play.

     "Chairman Arafat should now seize this opportunity to act decisively in word and in deed against terror directed at Israeli citizens," he said.

     Mr. Arafat "hasn't earned my respect," the president said. "He must earn my respect by leading."


     Having arranged the deal to free Mr. Arafat from his monthlong captivity in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Mr. Bush said: "Chairman Arafat is now free to move around and free to lead, and we expect him to do so. One of the things he must do is condemn and thwart terrorist activities."
Yeah, and then he'll cure cancer and land a manned spaceflight on Mars.

It's hard to see what Israel has gained from this exchange. If history shows us anything, it's that Arafat never keeps his promises -- but that this failure by Arafat never helps Israel win the support of the so-called international community. So now Israel doesn't have the prisoners they want (unless Britain and the U.S. plan to keep their monitors there indefinitely), and Israel doesn't have Arafat. All Israel has is the quixotic hope that Arafat will suddenly turn into a statesman. When that doesn't happen, Sharon will be able to say, "I told you so" -- but that's not going to be much consolation.

Sunday, April 28, 2002
Multilateral is French for America-bashing
Some diplomats are annoyed at the United States because we keep using our influence in international affairs. The United States successfully pushed to have Jose Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare, removed from his post. This comes a week after the United States' successful effort to replace the head of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thus "prompting concern among some countries about the way Washington is able to influence the fate of international officials who fall foul of its policies." Uh, isn't that the way it's supposed to work? Is the United States supposed to support international officials who don't act in our interests? Well, if you believe the French, the answer is apparently yes:
Some delegates shared Bustani's disquiet. "Multilateralism is based on the independence of international organizations and their leaders," says Anne Gazeau-Secret, the ambassador of France, which abstained in Monday's vote.

If other governments followed the US lead and sought to remove United Nations officials whom they disliked, she worried, "a chain reaction risks leading to the destruction of the multilateral system."
Doesn't that just sum up the attitude of the French so perfectly? Bureaucrats are supposed to be "independent." They're not supposed to be responsive to their constituents. Trying to get them to be accountable would destroy multilateralism.

Incidentally, reading complaints such as the one above, one might get the impression that the United States sent in Navy Seals to arrest Bustani and remove him from office. In fact, the OPCW held a vote, which Bustani lost, 48-7. Uh, that sounds like multilateralism to me. (And the seven who voted in favor of Bustani? In addition to his home country of Brazil, the freedom-loving states of Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, and Russia. Is the United States supposed to be apologetic for disagreeing with this bunch?)

But it gets even more hypocritical: some complained because they alleged that the United States was using money to sway the outcome of the vote. (The U.S. hasn't yet paid half of its 20% share of the organization's $60 million budget.) So, according to the multilaterists, the United States should pay far more than its share but not have any special influence over the workings of the organization. Say, whatever happened to no taxation without representation, anyway?

I know you are, but what am I?
Charles Johnson provides a sampling of what it would sound like if American diplomats talked to Arab countries the way Arab diplomats talk to us.

Who would have guessed it?
Somehow, I missed this story this week -- perhaps because it was buried in the paper -- but Tunisian authorities have finally admitted that the explosion at the Djerba synogogue two weeks ago was a terrorist attack, after initially claiming, implausibly, that it was a routine accident.
After the attack, a group directly linked in the past to al Qaeda, the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites, asserted responsibility. Authorities are taking the claim seriously because a faxed statement by the group to two London-based Arabic newspapers contained the name of the truck driver before authorities had released it.

According to German media reports, Nawar, 25, who had lived in Lyon, in southern France, called a contact in Germany immediately before the blast. During the call, which was intercepted by German intelligence, the driver, when asked if he needed anything, replied, "I only need the command."
While this is hardly an unexpected development, it's much more significant than the limited coverage makes it seem. Not just because, as the paper says, "it would be the first completed by [Al Qaeda] outside Central Asia since Sept. 11." But because it exposes, more clearly than any words could, the lie about terrorism being the fault of the victims.

There are so many, particularly on the left, who claim that Muslim terrorism is caused by American foreign policy, or Israeli occupation, or both. Some of those who say this are motivated by anti-Semitism, and some by reflexive anti-Americanism. And some are just naive. These people want to justify homicide bombers by saying that the poor Palestinians just don't have any choice because they don't have F-15s and tanks. But this Tunisian atrocity wasn't an attack on Israel or the United States. This wasn't an attack by a poor starving refugee. This was a premeditated, well-financed attack on a Jewish target.

This is what Israel is fighting. This is what America is fighting. And these fights won't be won by negotiation or appeasement. They'll be won only when Islamo-fascism is so discredited by defeat that liberal democracy is seen as the only viable alternative.