Saturday, March 30, 2002

Bungle in the Jungle

So Washington State can have a blanket primary but California can't? California's blanket (or "jungle") primary law went down to a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court defeat in 2000, yet a District Court judge decided this week that because there was no history of requiring voters to register by party in Washington, the primary system in that state could stand. Hmm. California has told people they had to register by party in the past, so a blanket primary now is unconstitutional. Washington state lets people register with affiliating themselves, so a blanket primary is fine for them.

But the two factors in this decision were a) whether the state parties were unduly burdened by people who weren't party members voting in their primaries and b) whether the state had a compelling interest in keeping the primaries as open as possible. The parties worry about people from other parties voting strategically in their primary for the least viable candidate. But isn't that just as likely in one state as they other? And on the second point, why would the state have a compelling interest to keep primaries open in Washington but not in California? Yes, California's system was closed tighter than Washington's had been. But if blanket primaries are a good idea for any state, wouldn't that mean that California needs that kind of openness even more that Washington, whose primaries were fairly open to begin with? This seems to suggest that when it comes to election law, a state is even more bound by precedent than a court is.

Incidentally, I'm inclined to agree with the three parties (Republicans, Democrats, an Libertarians) that a blanket primary does in fact infringe on their right to freedom of association. There's a strong argument that no state should be allowed to have a blanket primary. The fact that the District Court judge relied so heavily on past registration practices, however, seems to have produced a troubling contradiction.
Strung Up By His Own Bowtie

Washington, DC's Inspector General has reported on a multitude of ethics violations made by Mayor Anthony Williams and his staff. Raising campaign money in government buildings and using government resources, it is alleged. The mayor has denied wrongdoing, of course, going so far as to include in his public statement the phrase that, in Washington, is generally regarded as a veiled admission of guilt: "Because of insufficient management oversight, mistakes were made." The passive voice to the rescue again. We had a corrupt mayor before, of course. But at least he had some personality.

Friday, March 29, 2002

The End of a Long, Crooked Path

It's hardly surprising that Yasser Arafat has ended up pinned down in his headquarters and surrounded by the Israeli military, waiting to become a martyr. What is surprising that it didn't happen ten years ago - and that before the end came, he had received and rejected an offer of a sovereign Palestinian state. Followers of Said and Chomsky should ask themselves if the Palestinians, or any Arab League members, ever made an equivalent offer of compromise toward Israel.
Worm Parking Only

James Lileks' Bleat today on his daughter's early mastery of counting and language led him to a critical appraisal of Sesame Street which was right on target:

"Thank Sesame Street? No. We just watch the Elmo and Count portion. Most of Sesame Street bugs me and bores her. The theme annoys me. Big Bird annoys me. The location segments appear to be set in this Serpico-era New York where kids have to get tetanus shots before they touch any of the playground equipment, and the parents all look like it’s 1974. (Possibly because the film is old, and it is 1974.) It’s often smug and self-righteous - today, for example, there was this worm who was about to take the worm subway. The human person was praising the worm for taking the worm subway instead of driving a car, and said 'when you drove the worm car you were stuck in traffic, and you couldn’t find a parking spot! I’ll bet you’re so much happier now that you have the worm subway.' Jebus."

Even by the 1980s I had begun to think that the live-action shots of kids running around on the playground looked disturbingly gritty and dated. As if all of the featured children were from some unusually rough public housing project and had to be sent to the public park where they filmed part of Sesame Street to keep them away from the dealers and pimps in the hallways. That, combined with the PC indoctrination, make Thunder Cats seem like a viable viewing alternative.
I Assume Revealing jpgs Are Still Allowed

Declan McCullagh of Wired News and the Politech mailing list alerts us that some unconstitutional chicanery is going on in the Northwest. The State of Washington's legislature has decided to outlaw posting the personal information (address, phone number, social security number) of law enforcement officers online. You can still post any other Washingtonian's personal information, but cops are a protected species. They already get to tear up their speeding tickets, now this?

For residents or those planning trips to the Evergreen State, you'll need the right apparel to comply with the spirit if the law.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

Stop Building that Soylent Green Factory

Today the New York Times editorial page alerted readers to a trend demographers have observed for several years, namely that the rate of global population growth is slowing dramatically and falling well below the alarming estimates made in previous decades - the most famous of which was Paul Ehrlich’s hilariously wrongheaded book The Population Bomb.

The story of the Third World population explosion that didn’t happen is an important one. For people who think modern civilization is inherently unsustainable, it is a reminder that not every trend we see today will continue at the same rate 50 years into the future. When Ehrlich was writing his breathless predictions of doom, there was some reason to be nervous if you assumed the then-current reproduction rates would continue forever. A wealthier, more urbanized, and more technologically advanced tomorrow stopped the increase, however, and solved the problem (at least into the foreseeable future).

One other thought - the NYT warns world leaders against letting this good news make them complacent:

“But further gains will be difficult. … A woman of 25 with two children needs a steady supply of contraception for the rest of her reproductive life if she is not to have another.”

Must not be very many Catholics on the NYT editorial board. Too bad, because there are a lot of them in the Third World.
Don't Blame Me, I Voted for the Existentialist Libertarian Druid

Thanks to Marc Webster for this one too:

The conventional knowledge about California's upcoming gubernatorial election is that having beaten the moderate-to-liberal Richard Riordan in the Republican primary, nominee Bill Simon, Jr. has too conservative a reputation to have a chance of unseating Gov. Gray Davis. Perhaps, but there's a new wrinkle in the story: the Libertarian party's nominee for Governor and self-described existentialist libertarian Druid, Gary Copeland. Like any true libertarian, he's done a lot of drugs - including LSD. The experience expanded his mind so much he decided to run for a major elected office in the U.S. as a third party candidate. Naturally he gets some flak for being outspoken about his Druidry, but he doesn't mind: "'It doesn’t bother me at all,' says Copeland. 'It’s not an issue with me. It’s their issue, not mine. When people speak, they speak for who they are. . . . It’s my path to serve, and I’m doing that. I know not everyone’s going to agree, but that’s okay.'" Right on, dude. Another charming fact - his address is 5 Moccasin Trail, Trabuco Canyon, CA. Sounds like a peaceful place to live.
This Just In: Whitman Ineffective, Grass Still Green

The Nation's David Corn has a column on Mother Jones' website lamenting the lack of influence EPA Administrator Christie Whitman seems to have in the White House. The Administration says she has broad authority to address environmental issues, but she's constantly being undermined by Bush's domestic policy team. Well, yeah. Does this surprise anyone? If it were up to Bush and Cheney there probably wouldn't even be an EPA. They think energy, for example, should be cheap and plentiful rather than tightly regulated and assiduously conserved. People in the White House don't really agree with a lot of what the EPA does, so why should anyone be shocked when they cut the Agency's enforcement budget or contradict Whitman's public statements? Yes, it's probably no fun being EPA chief in a conservative administration. But it's also no fun being a taxpayer in a Liberal one.
Public Schools are SOL

Virginia is expanding their statewide assessment (the SOL, or Standards of Learning test) for public school kids - now every student in grades 3 through 8 will be tested every year. This is, in part, an attempt to comply with the test-crazy federal education bill (the "No Child Left Behind Act") that recently became law. Tests are fine, but the question should be what schools do once they have the results. If scores are low, by whatever measure, what exactly is going to happen? Teachers unions say you can't punish schools for low scores by withholding funding - they're the ones who need the most help. They should get extra money! What should be done for exemplary schools? Why, they should get some kind of reward ... maybe grant money to expand their efforts and teach other schools their strategies. I'm beginning to see a pattern. To give credit, the Bush education bill didn't give into this line of argument entirely. The requirements of the reform, in fact, may force schools across the country to fire thousand of teachers who, according to new the standards, are no longer qualified to teach. Which reminds me, didn't the Gingrich of 1994 say that the Republican Revolution was going to abolish the Department of Education?
Panda Assault!

The curators at the National Zoo here in Washington aren't calling it attempted rape, but the details do seem to point in that direction. On Sunday morning, Tian Tian made his move on the zoo's female panda, Mei Xiang, and was swiftly rebuffed. She spent the next day and a half huddled nervously in her favorite tree trying to keep away from the brute.

Now I'm as saddened at this development as anyone, but let's not forget these pandas are only here on a 10-year lease from China. We're paying the Reds a million dollars a year each for these things, and if we don't gets some heart-meltingly cute cubs out of the pair, we'll simply be out of luck. This calls for some serious romantic therapy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Gunning for Campaign Finance

Seems as though the NRA is the only civil liberties group that is interested in defending free speech. The minute President Bush signed the mess that was supposed to be campaign finance reform into law, the NRA sued. What's the ACLU up to? They're just starting to think about a court case. Their only disappointment is that we as citizens weren't robbed entirely of our First Amendment rights to political speech altogether, and a system of public finance put in place of those rights. Perhaps they're too busy defending the rights of children to view pornography in their public libraries?
I just wanted to respond to the Speedy Gonazales tragedy. There really isn't much more for me to say other than this IT'S NOT FAIR.
Put Down the Candy and Let the Little Boy Go

Just when you thought the counter-culture had finally won and there were no more repressive mores to overthrow, academia lurches forward into a whole new cesspit of social innovation. Mark O'Keefe of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reports on a trend to excuse sex between adults with children, illustrated by the impending publication of the book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex by the University of Minnesota Press. It seems that a growing number of academics, such as Harris Mirkin of University of Missouri-Kansas City, have decided that prohibitions against having sex with children are just another set of repressive constructs: "Children are the last bastion of the old sexual morality," he wrote. For good reason, one might counter. According to O'Keefe: "These academics seek to change the language, moving away from 'pedophilia,' which often evokes a charged negative response. ... In its place would be more neutral terms such as 'intergenerational sex' or 'adult-child sex.'" Yes, people do tend to react negatively toward pedophilia. Maybe that's a clue.

This story also featured in James Taranto's Best of the Web on
Sophomoric Dreck?

Interesting blog news coverage in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, written in blog style as a series of post in reverse chronological order.
Three Cheers for Oversized Yellow Sombreros

Despite being "hugely popular" on the Cartoon Network Latin America, Speedy Gonzalez will no longer be seen here in the land of his birth. The Cartoon Network has stated quite clearly that they have zero interest in enduring any negative publicity or defending common sense: "We're not about pushing the boundary. We're not HBO." True enough. How sad, though, that just as black actors are finally getting the Oscars they deserve, the Academy Award-winning (Best Animated Short, 1955) Hispanic mouse we all love is being forced off the air. Land of Opportunity indeed.
Paging Dr. Badass

Let me be the first on this page to express my approval for the President's outstanding choice for Surgeon General. Dr. Richard Carmona of Arizona is not only a trauma surgeon, but a cop and a member of a SWAT team. He's a high school dropout who went on to be come a physician and a former Green Beret who won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam. He grew up in poverty in Harlem and is now hanging out at the White House - what more could you ask for? The website doesn't have it up, but if you can find a copy of today's USA Today, the picture of Carmona in riot gear aiming his sidearm is perfect. The Post ran a photo of Carmona, Bush, and the new NIH director behind a lectern. Lame.
Screw the Primaries, We Can Settle This With a Simple Game of One-on-One

In the wake of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan going down to an embarrassing defeat to Bill Simon, Jr. in the Republican primary for Governor, we have news of a political newcomer on the horizon. That's, right Magic Johnson may just be running for mayor of L.A. in 2005. Along with Charles Barkley's occasional musings about running for Governor of Alabama (as a Republican, no less), this could be the biggest sports-politics crossover since Jack Kemp became Buffalo's Man in Washington. No disrespect intended, of course, toward former Congressman and current Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Steve Largent.
Running Air Cover for The Fighting Hellfish

Thanks to Marc Webster, the Tacoma Titan, for sending the link to this story -

The Telegraph reported this week that the U.S. Army's Apache helicopters are unable to fire their Hellfire anti-tank missiles because debris from the launch would damage the tail rotor. I guess the Pentagon must have lost their big rubber stamp that says "DESIGN FLAW." The Army has, of course, responded to this problem by going ahead with plans to buy 67 Apaches at a cost of over $38 million each. They're designed to normally carry four Hellfires on each side, so to compensate, "the US has restricted its Apache helicopters to firing missiles only during wartime and to launching them only from the right-hand side of the aircraft to try to ensure that the debris does not hit the tail rotor." Pilots are also instructed to lean slightly to the left and giggle the clutch while firing.
Somebody Make it Stop!

Cintra Wilson nails this year's Oscar ceremony on the head. "It is the gargantuan, ass-licking brainwash of the year, and We, the People With Televisions, are supposed to watch and enjoy it".
Get Your Hand Off Her TPS Reports This Minute!

According to a new poll, a substantial number of employees don't want their romantic relationships regulated by employers. Astounding. Even though office romances can cause jealousy, misunderstandings and all manner of counterproductive mayhem? Even knowing that, people still don't want the corporate authorities regulating who they can date. The poll is featured on a site for Human Resources managers and the like, so perhaps it's not so strange that they seem surprised. Anyone's whose entire job consists of making rules for people is bound to be in favor of regulating supply closet hook-ups.
Expatriate Paradise

Have you ever wanted to live the dream of being a young intellectual abroad, an exemplar of the bohemian lifestyle? Of course you have, but since most bohemian locales lack soft toilet paper and sufficient ice in your drinks, you've stayed right here where you belong. My good friend Brian Carroll, however, has made the leap, and is currently residing in Prague. Read about his adventures and Eurotrash dance club experiences on The Prague Blog.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The New Super-Minority

John Nichols of The Nation has a fascinating article about the reinvigoration of the American Left, as symbolized most recently by the Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour - aka, The Lollapalooza of the Left held in Austin, Texas. Speakers encouraged fellow travelers to speak out and dissent regarding the policies of the Bush administration. As with any mass movement, a siege mentality seems to have pervaded the audience. But at the same time that citizens were getting their vanguard groove on, speakers like Michael Moore declared that they held an even greater advantage:

"Echoing the slogan emblazoned on stickers many at the event wore, Moore declared, 'We are the majority in this country.'"

It seems a strange turn of events that the brave revolutionaries of "true democracy" can be both a persecuted minority and an invigorated majority. The Left used to revel in the idea that they were an enlightened few, slashing through the bland assumptions of capitalist culture to liberate the masses from their ideological stupor. They seem now, if this event is any sign, to have lost that inner confidence. They can dissent, but only if it represents what most people already think. In the face of the astronomically high approval ratings of George W., their minority status would seem to be assured. Yet they dismissed W.'s poll numbers as mere bullshit. Can they have it both ways? For some perspective, see also James Lileks' most recent Screed on Michael Moore's current book tour.
Big Oil Lights Up My Life

AP's environment correspondent H. Josef Hebert wrote a piece today on the small number of environmentalists and renewable energy advocates consulted by Secretary of Energy Abraham while working on the Administration's national energy policy; that is, none. Sec. Abraham had eight private meetings with industry leaders, but none with John Passacantando or Carl Pope.

The are two issues here - the first being that despite his job title, Abraham had very little to do with the energy plan produced by Cheney's task force. Energy policy was one of the White House's biggest pre-9/11 agenda items. That's why the Vice President rather than the Secretary of Energy was in charge of something called the Energy Task Force. He simply wasn't in the driver's seat. The second issue is that they met with industry leaders - CEOs and senior executives of utility companies - because those are the people who are responsible for actually producing energy. Environmentalists, for the most part, have made themselves responsible for criticizing energy production. It would be like having a Beef Shortage Task Force and inviting PETA. They're not likely to have very many constructive suggestions.
The Road to Victory - They Can Almost See it From Here

Some sound advice from the Post's E.J. Doinne for Democrats in Congress: oppose the Bush tax cuts. Repeal future tax savings so that ten years from now we'll have enough money for a prescription drug benefit for seniors. Sounds like smart politics to me. By the way, those Enron coffee mugs are still available.

They Call Him Mr. Tibbs

The news value of this year's Academy Award ceremony is beginning to grow cold, but the issue of black actors vs. Hollywood (and by extension the rest of the country) is still a compelling topic. There are some good reviews from Tunku Varadarajan and Jay Nordlinger wondering why there were no white faces in the Sidney Poitier tribute film, despite the sentiment voiced at the end that “Sidney Poitier is not just an African-American treasure, he is an American treasure.” I wonder myself.

Young Communists, Meet the European Union

Britain's salmon-colored financial sheet has a great piece today on political changes in Poland. Whereas young up and coming professionals used to join the communist party to get ahead and make connections, now it's training for membership in the EU that's keeping career climbers busy. With Poland slated to join the EU as early as 2004, they can't train people fast enough to fill the expected 2,500 job slots in the EU bureaucracy Poland is expected to receive. Yes, that's 2,500 administrative jobs just for one single new-member country. And people say the EU bureaucracy is overstaffed.

"Upwardly mobile leftists of previous generations attended courses on diplomatic protocol and good table manners when Communist Poland was emerging from rural backwardness after the second world war. Given Poland's continuing economic and institutional gap with the EU, entry will require a leap of similar magnitude, many Poles admit."

Good luck to them. At this rate of Eurocrat expansion, they can stop worrying about their economy producing private sector jobs altogether.

Pass the Lighter

At the same time the UK is moving toward decriminalization of marijuana, the U.S. government seems to be moving toward the criminalization of cigarettes. Ever more anti-tobacco civil cases are being allowed, and it's not merely the veteran smokers of 40 years who started the habit after seeing physicians doing Benson & Hedges commercials on black and white TV. Now even people who smoke lights are deciding they can cash in in court. The most recent lawsuit alleges that cigarette companies falsely represented low tar cigarettes as healthier than their extra tar brands. It seems that for several reasons low tar cigarettes aren't significantly healthier, the main reason being that smokers smoke more and inhale deeper with lights to get the same effect they'd get with double tar delight. But when lights were first introduced, no one knew that. Not only did cigarette companies represent lights as being healthier, so did the U.S. Surgeon General Julius Richmond (in 1981) as did any number of other public health advocates. How many doctors have pleaded with their patients over the last few decades: If you're going to smoke - at least switch to lights! Quite a few, I'd say. Are we going to sue them all for malpractice as well?
Afghan Barn Raising

The civilian population of Afghanistan just can't seem to catch a break. First the Russians, then the Taliban, then stale packets of baked beans falling from the sky, now yesterday's earthquake. One wonders, though, if the earthquake might not have the effect of bringing the country together. Any civic effort, even one as unfortunate as burying a thousand people and rebuilding their homes, is the kind of joint action that binds a community together. Might members of traditionally hostile tribes have to turn to one another for succor, surprised at the generosity of new friends?

Monday, March 25, 2002

Oscar the Grouch

This is the first year I didn't watch the Academy Awards, and I have to say I don't regret it a bit. For years people have derided the show as an insufferable, self-congratulatory spectacle. But much as the prospect of Christians being mauled to death by lions attracted large crowds, so does the annual public display of the Academy's regard for itself. I know, I know: the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood, plus the showmanship of the production are supposed to be fun, and reason enough to watch. Well, they're not. The show and its hosts have been solid boredom in recent memory. And the speeches! Barbara Streisand's interminable speech in 2000 about how wonderful she was and how so many people in her career have also recognized her super-stardom was enough to turn anyone off of the Oscars for good. So what's left? As a regular moviegoer, I oftentimes had some interest in who was going to win. But this year I didn't even agree with the nominees, let alone the final choices. Once the Oscars ceased to be any indication of superior artistic ability or talent, and instead an acknowledgement of box office success or a political straw poll of Hollywood, I decided not to watch. So there.
If You Build It, They Will Criticize It

How does writing like this get on to the op-ed page of the New York Times? I'm as happy as anyone to brand the NYT creaky and increasingly irrelevant, but usually they at least have some passable writing. Today's op-ed on what should be done with the World Trade Center site went sadly wrong. The author, Prof. Witold Rybczynski, argues that the city needs to decide as soon as possible what should be done, since infrastructure repairs will quickly narrow the range of possible uses for the 16-acre "superblock." OK, fine argument. But then he goes on to answer the inevitable response to his get-on-with-it advice: Doesn't planning something like the rebuilding of the WTC site take a really long time?

Prof. Rybczynski writes:
"But doesn't planning take time? Not as much as many people believe. Urban design is not rocket science. People have been building cities for thousands of years, and while technologies have evolved and changed, the principles of good city building are remarkably durable. We got it right a long time ago, which is why an old city, like London, Rome or Istanbul, often remains a delight."

What the hell does any of this have to do with New York City and the WTC site? Yes, human beings have been building cities for thousands of years. What has not happened in the last 8,000 years, however, is the need to rebuild a large section of downtown New York City. Yes, Professor, it is different than London or Rome. There are countless interests there who want everything from an untouchable public park-type memorial to a hyper-capitalist replacement for the Twin Towers, only bigger. Prof. WR wants to rush through the process of the most important construction project since the Empire State Building because he's afraid the new plumbing won't be conducive to certain floor plans? Also, I wonder what it means that a Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania (as WR is) can't say anything more complimentary of the vocation of urban planning that it "is not rocket science." Well, few things beside rocket science are. Casually dismissing of the idea that it would actually take some specialized knowledge to redesign a large chunk of Manhattan, however, seems at least a little odd.

And then there's the last sentence of the paragraph; to paraphrase: Istanbul is really old, and it's still a delight, so how hard could rebuilding lower Manhattan really be?

Huh? I'm afraid I'd flunk out of any of Prof. WR's U-Penn classes, because I have no idea what the two are supposed to have to do with each other. Yes, I'm sure Istanbul is a delight to visit, but I wouldn't want my portfolio managed there. There are also lots of old, delightful cities in the world - Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Mohenjo Daro - that nevertheless are no longer flourishing today. Professor - let people take their time with this. If they come up with a plan that requires a little utility retro-fitting, then that's just what they'll have to do. And as a fellow professor, I wish you the best of luck with your next op-ed.

William Raspberry has a surprisingly rational column on campaign finance in today's Washington Post. He comes awfully close to acknowledging that reform (as most reformers imagine it) is essentially a pipe-dream. It goes something like this: The political decisions that govern our lives are important to a lot of people. Therefore people are going to seek to influence elections so that good people are elected. We have ways of exercising that influence legitimately - like making campaign donations and financing issue ads. But if you take away the ability of people to make honorable efforts to advance their political ideas in the open, you end up with people who are either barred for meaningful political participation or who resort to shady, under the table tactics (an example of which, taken from the recent New Orleans mayoral race, can be round in Rob Walker's "Letter from New Orleans" column for The New Republic).

In Raspberry's own words:

"Campaign finance reform ... is an attempt to reconcile two conflicting ideas. We want our democracy in the hands of the people, but we also want our candidates and our parties to win. The former conjures up visions of volunteers in ramshackle offices, stuffing envelopes and making phone calls on behalf of their candidates. The latter -- certainly in national and statewide elections -- necessitates TV ads, polling, issues research and other things that cost a pile of money. Politicians have turned to those who can produce the money -- PACs, unions, lobbyists and well-endowed special interests ... ."

It's interesting that even as he recognizes the conflict between the desire for reform and the need to actually finance campaigns, he falls into a cliche-ridden trap. Any effort that can cast itself as grassroots must look like Raspberry's ramshackle office - volunteers stuffing presumably donated envelopes and making democratic phone calls. Low budgets = moral virtue. "TV ads, polling, and issues research," on the other hand are the kind of things that are in the hands of the special interests. Anything that is expensive must be financed by a shadowy group bent on screwing over the rest of the country for its own private gain. It never seems to enter anyone's mind that even big money can come from people of good faith who want to improve their country. Oh well - if a columnist like Raspberry can come halfway, we may be in a better place than I thought.

At Least it Wasn't Anthrax

I must sat that I'm shocked - shocked! - to read that Marion Barry is back on the blow. After the set-up in that motel room those 12 long years ago, I though he was clean for good. After all, when he announced that he would be running for a seat on the D.C. City Council a couple weeks back, he remarked on how great it is these days, waking up in the morning clean and sober. Yes, that must be nice. Former Mayor Barry is not the only high-profile personality having drug problems, though. It seems the Jesus was arrested for possession of 16 bags of crack in Seymour, Connecticut last week. He was kind enough to tell the arresting officers that for their good deed in arresting him, they had earned salvation. And I though all people had to do was accept Him into their hearts.

Saturday, March 23, 2002

Is Jonah Goldberg reading this blog?

In my post about the coming of security cameras to The Mall and its monuments [3/22/02, 9:29am], I provided a listing of likely locations: "Cameras around the Washington Monument, along the Reflecting Pool, hiding in Lincoln's nostril, tucked into the hem of Jefferson's coat." Now I find myself reading Jonah Goldberg's mention of the same development in his National Review Online column on the misuse of the idea of Big Brother: "The suggestion that, say, cameras in traffic lights or on the Mall in Washington are a 'return' to, or even just the first arrival of, Big Brother is something of a slander. You can be for or against cameras on highways, or up Lincoln's nose at his memorial — I really don't care much about the issue." [3/22/02, 4:30pm]

Hmm. Could it be that he picked up the image from my post?

Of course not. But I like Jonah's column, so it's worth pretending.

Friday, March 22, 2002

This in from the Hon. Zach Courser:

What news? What news in this, our tottering state?

How nice that the dummies that now represent the Tory party could give
Baroness Thatcher a few parting shots on her way out of public life.

There is something about American political parties that tends to lionize rather than cannibalize their former leaders. But Great Britain has always hurt the ones it should love. Winston Churchill's unceremonious defeat before then end of the war in 1945 comes to mind. But the level of ingratitude being shown to Thatcher by her party is shameful. It is perhaps too easy to forget the appalling state of the British economy and the general defeatism that pervaded British politics before Thatcher took power. Certainly her own party has forgotten. The ersatz conservative and Tory leader, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, apparently feels pressure from segments of the Tory party to "renounce" Thatcher and her views toward European Union. They wish to pursue more "grown up" policies and shed the parochial image of "small-minded, xenophobic and bickering Little Englanders." I take this statement as code: "grown up" policies are those you find in the Labour party and the editorial page of the Guardian, and "small-mindedness" is the stuff of conservatives. Perhaps those who feel this way would also feel more at home in the Labour government, instead of enervating whatever strength is left in the Tory party.
There seems to be a new consensus forming on the corporate attitude toward consumer privacy, if we are to believe the panelists at this week's Managing the New Privacy Revolution conference here in D.C. It seems more companies are realizing that collecting and selling personal information on customers (such as correlating age, sex, and income with product preferences and shopping habits) isn't as profitable as they thought. For a while it seemed the only business plan on the web was for emerging's to start business in the red by giving away free services, hoping to attract users to their site and persuade them to part with their precious demographic data, which the unprofitable site could then turn around and sell to a marketing firm.

But today National Journal's TechDaily is reporting that many companies have realized "that the financial impact of consumer preferences can outweigh the value of selling data," thus "the marketing industry has significantly altered its approach to online advertising." Imagine - consumers actually having a significant impact on the way corporations operate. Perhaps the privacy advocates who assured us that no one has any privacy as long as profit-hungry corporations are allowed to accumulate data on their customers have underestimaed the power of uncoordinated individuals to make their preferences known in the free market. It could, in fact, be The Invisible Mouse at work.
As if things weren't bad enough with the passage of the flagrantly unconstitutional campaign finance bill, now Ken Starr is going to lead the fight against it. I'm trying to think of a way to make supporters of free speech look worse and more suspect, but I'm having a rather difficult time. I assume the Right Wing Plutocrats Alliance will be filing an amicus brief as well. Not only is Starr generally unpopular, he's just the kind of person suspicious lefties expect to be up to his bald spot in all kinds of backroom political machinations. He probably drinks out of an Enron coffee mug. Especially among people who think the majority of political spending is by chemical manufacturers who want the legal right to test industrial toxins on third world children, this is a poor PR choice. Yes, Starr is a very talented attorney and former judge. He's committed and persistent, as any woman who ever owned a blue Gap cocktail dress can testify. But Ken Starr? It would be like Bill Clinton appointing Louis Farrakhan to the President's Commission on Civil Rights.
The gimlet eye of the National Park Service is poised to start watching us
here in DC
. Cameras around the Washington Monument, along the Reflecting Pool, hiding in Lincoln's nostril, tucked into the hem of Jefferson's coat. While this isn't the civil liberties slippery slope that activists are required by their employment contracts to claim it is, I also can't see that it will really be all that useful. What the Park Police who monitor the tapes (assuming they will actually be monitored) will end up with is endless hours of fanny pack-wearing tourists in unfashionable shorts staring at the monuments, a mixed look of pride and confusion on their face as they lip-read their way through Lincoln's Second Inagural.

No one seems to be claiming that this will actually allow us to stop potential attacks, only that once they do it, we'll have their pictures on file. Assuming, of course, they aren't evil criminal geniuses trying to foil law enforcement by putting things like ski masks and knotted pantyhose over their heads. The system seems especially irrelevant if it's meant as a reaction to Sept. 11. I doubt the average terrorist on a suicide mission is going to be put off by the idea of the Park Service snapping a grainy surveillance photo of him seconds before he tries to blow up the statue of Fala at the FDR Memorial.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Today from the BBC:
"Home Secretary David Blunkett has vowed to give victims of crime more support, [saying] ... he would introduce a new Bill of Rights for victims and a Commissioner for Victims."

A Commissioner for Victims? This seems like just the kind of do-gooder role that Jesse Jackson is always volunteering for. As a sign of thanks for the UK's support in Afghanistan, the U.S. could send the Rt. Rev. Jackson and the Clinton appointees to the Civil Rights Commission to London. By the end of the year, they'll have found more victims than anyone ever thought possible.

And thus it starts. Prof. Scammington's Faculty Lounge is open for business, invitations to be sent directly. If you see something in the world of news, politics, or crude internet humor that causes you to form a vague, uninformed opinion, this is the place for it.

And now, from the world of tricked-out pick-ups, something we all knew was coming. We are all fans, of course, of the No Fear decals and Calvin Pissing stickers that frequently adorn the back windows of red-blooded rednecks the nation over. Chevy fans have Calvin pissing on a Ford logo, Windows lovers have him micturating on a distinctly unhappy looking Linux penguin. It seems that the festive variant of Calvin Flipping the Bird *and* Pissing on something has caused local law enforcement ire in Florida. Did someone say ACLU court challenge? Naturally.