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Dead Men's DNA Trails

Posted by Ogged
on 06.21.03
Here's the latest Saddam strike to wait and see about. The Guardian Sunday Edition, the Observer (I think that's how they're related), reports that DNA analysis is being done on human remains after a missile strike last week on a convoy in Iraq believed to be carrying Saddam and one of his sons.
Despite previously unfounded US claims that Saddam had been killed during the bombing of Baghdad before the invasion by America and Britain, the sources indicated that they were cautiously optimistic that they had finally killed the target they described as 'the top man'.
We'll hope and see. UDPATE: Hope no more. The Administration isn't sounding very optimistic.

 

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Y IZ Dat?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.21.03

The Economist (subscriber only) asks,

WHO now recalls that Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty, first tried to plant his luminous lady not in New York harbour, but at the homely entrance to the Suez Canal? In her original form, she was to be an Egyptian peasant swathed in robes, and titled "Egypt Bringing Light to Asia".

Who recalls? Who knew?

Well, some did.


 

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Ambassador Lindh?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.21.03
Jack Balkin has word of an incredible report: the FBI is negotiating with the Taliban for a more stable arrangement in Afghanistan. I'll wait to be outraged until I know whether 1) this report is true and 2) the reconstituted Afghan regime won't just include Taliban, but institute their religious policies. But that's just me. The problem for the Administration will be how to explain this Realpolitik when their rhetoric has been that of good and evil. People don't mind crafty bastards. They hate hypocrites.

 

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Howard Dean

Posted by Ogged
on 06.20.03
Howard Dean has been building support, we'll see how he handles this.
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said Friday that his 17-year-old son was cited in the burglary of a Vermont country club with four teenagers searching for liquor.
UPDATE: Good first move: Dean has a statement about this and it's at the top of his blog.

 

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The Document Doctor?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.20.03
Today's story of an "edited" EPA report may be the most politically significant news in quite a while.
The White House directed a major rewrite of an assessment of climate change, removing references to health and environmental risks posed by rising global temperatures, according to internal draft documents made public Thursday.
Several Senate Democrats, including some running for president, accused the White House of "doctoring" the Environmental Protection Agency report to suit President Bush's skeptical views on global warming.
Nevermind the importance of the report or even the truth of the charge. The big news is that this comes close enough to the unfound WMD controversy that the Democrats finally have a pattern of behavior they can use against Bush that undecided voters might actually care about (unlike his verbal stumbles and his "unilateralism"). Bush doctors government reports. It's short, it's damning, it's the first thing Dems have had in a long time. Keep an eye on this "meme," as they say.

 

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Can I Blush?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.19.03
There's no such things as race, and don't you crackers ever forget it!


 

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Iran

Posted by Ogged
on 06.19.03

There's a lot of information flying about Iran, but many people don't understand that there are lots of factions in the Iranian community and only a vocal minority is making its voice heard. I'm Iranian. I was in Iran last year and I'm in contact with people there. So, I offer this cautionary note to those who want to be informed and to help, because you must be very careful about where your information is coming from when it comes to Iran.

Always remember, the regime is more brutal than you've heard and it is despised and it has to go.

The MKO is universally reviled by Iranians. Any government with even the smell of the MKO about it would be rejected out of hand. The US enjoys tremendous support among Iranians, but backing the MKO would be disastrous for America's image in the country.

Beware the Monarchists. That's Reza Pahlavi and his coterie. Whenever you see Reza Pahlavi or hear from his supporters (that includes the National Review crowd: Amir Taheri, Rob Sobhani, Michael Ledeen etc.) ask yourself one thing: how many former members of SAVAK are affiliated with Pahlavi? SAVAK, you'll recall, was the Shah's secret police. It was oppressive, it was brutal, and it was one of the main reasons Iranians overthrew the Shah. How many SAVAKie, as they're known, still work for Pahlavi? He won't answer that question, because he says he wants to focus on the future, not the past. But the past is right there with him: it's the SAVAKie and the former men of the Iranian military who still call him "your majesty," and are hoping to ride American money back to their former lives, after the people in Iran have died to smooth the way.

Take NITV hype with a grain of salt. NITV (also an outlet sympathetic to the Monarchists), is good and people in Iran do watch it. But NITV isn't behind this uprising. The young people of Iran have no jobs, no freedom, and no hope for a better future under the mullahs. That's why they're willing to die.

Do not support the Iran Democracy Act. The people lined up for the money this bill promises are the Monarchists and the MKO. If someone proposes a bill to fund NITV and other Iranian stations, support that. If someone proposes a bill to fund human rights groups in Iran, support that. But Iran doesn't need external opposition groups. There are good and brave people aplenty in Iran. There are the ones you can see, in the streets. And there are the ones you can't see, who have been fighting the mullahs while the rest of us were going about our business. They are in the jails and this is their revolution.


 

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Tourism

Posted by Ogged
on 06.19.03
Sorry posting's been light, things have been busy and that last post took a lot of time, what with calling people, taking notes, etc. I was just looking at this page and it reminded me of something that happened while I was a writing tutor in college. An undergraduate came in (it was a drop-in center) for help on his paper. I can't remember the topic now, but it was dull. He was very nice and apologized for coming in with such a boring paper. "Don't worry about it," I told him, "you think this is boring, a guy came in a few months ago with a paper about tourism in North Dakota." He looked up. "That was me."

 

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Spam Spin Unspun (Part 2)

Posted by Ogged
on 06.18.03
There's much more to the story of Microsoft and spam legislation. After I posted this morning's entry, I received an email from the CEO of Unspam, Matthew Prince, [full disclosure: I've met Prince socially 3 or 4 times] that said Microsoft has fought to weaken anti-spam legislation in Missouri and Michigan. Prince writes to say that Missouri's anti-spam law
...had passed one chamber of Missouri's legislature. The governor had said he'd sign it. Then, at the last minute, it was stripped by an amendment which had originally been suggested by Microsoft's lobbying team.
But that's not all. Prince claims that in Michigan, where State Senator Mike Bishop is sponsoring a do-not-spam bill, Microsoft is "fighting...to stop the law from being passed." I called Dennis Darnoi, Senior Advisor to Bishop, for his take on Microsoft's role. According to Darnoi, Microsoft's shifting arguments against the bill--first citing privacy concerns, then security, then enforceability--have been "disingenuous at best." Darnoi says that around the Michigan state legislature, Microsoft has come to be known as the "Axis of Inertia." I made several calls, both to a lobbyist for Microsoft in Michigan and to a senior executive of the firm, but was unable to reach either person. I'll keep trying. In the meantime, this Seattle Times story of Microsoft's efforts to weaken anti-spam legislation in Washington state may also be of interest.

 

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Spam Spin Unspun

Posted by Ogged
on 06.18.03

You might have heard that Microsoft filed a huge suit against spammers yesterday. Good for them, I thought. I might have thought too soon.


 

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Purity

Posted by Ogged
on 06.18.03
Kieran Healy takes a pretty cheap shot at Harvard President Lawrence Summers. Summers said to this year's graduating class,
.. it is not clear to me that we do enough to make sure that our students graduate with the ability to speak cogently, to persuade others, and to reason to an important decision with moral and ethical implications.
In response, Kieran links to this internal World Bank memo that Summers wrote in 1991. Summers argues, with what we're supposed to assume is reprehensible callousness, that the World Bank should be in favor of moving pollution from more developed to poorer nations. Let's set aside the problem of how Kieran justifies the moral assumptions that would allow him to condemn Summers. The issue is simpler than that, because even assuming basic liberal democratic beliefs, Summers makes an excellent case. His points, as I read them are 1) if we measure the cost of pollution in terms of lost wages due to ill health, then those making the least will lose the least when they get sick or die 2) the first, say, 10 units of pollution in fact cost less than, say, units 190-200 because beneath a certain threshold, pollution has almost no discernible effect 3a) the vigor of objections to pollution varies proportionately with income, such that those earning more will object more 3b) by "pollution" people often mean "stuff that makes the air ugly," but ugly isn't necessarily unhealthy and economic gains may well be more important (even to general health) than ugly air. He's making explicitly economic arguments here and, prima facie, to this non-economist, they seem quite right. The more general problem seems to be that someone would so coldly discuss doing harm to people whom we know don't have much of a voice to raise in their own defense. But I think there are at least two answers to this. Summers gives one of them in the memo.
The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in [less developed countries] (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.
In other words, in any given instance, there are myriad arguments to be made against particular economic proposals; particularly in poor, developing nations where the changes wrought by those policies are likely to be wrenching. But submitting to those arguments would compromise a larger program that will have a greater long-term benefit for those affected by the proposed changes. More succinctly still, not enacting policies because they're controversial does more harm than good. The almost instinctive revulsion at this kind of argument is likely the legacy of the grand "improvement" plans of the 20th century. But Summers is not a dictator; he's an economist making an economic argument. His "just between you and me" brackets the social and political forces he knows quite well will oppose what he proposes. That brings us to the second argument to be made in Summers' defense. Condemnation in this case seems to depend on a categorical view of right action: We should all endeavor at all times to treat others in a manner proper to their status as human beings. But that's just one way to conceive right action, and, if I may say so, it's a manner that, in its univocal conception of the "right," is more consonant with the totalitarian improvement programs than is Summers' adversarial approach. It may well be a more healthy society in which Lawrence Summers advocates for his "ruthless" economic policy and protestors rail against it and politicians attempt to adjudicate between the competing visions than one which insists on agreement between all parties. Summers is indeed cogent and persuasive in his memo. And he is clearly aware of the ethical implications of what he is proposing. But that, I think, makes him even more admirable: as an economist, he is able to think clearly about the issue without being influenced by ethical concerns; that's what I want in an economist. Thank goodness for the protesters and thank goodness for Lawrence Summers.

 

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Roland Foster, But Not Just

Posted by Ogged
on 06.17.03

I've posted a few times about the story of AIDS researchers coming under political pressure to not use words like "homosexual" and "needle exchange" in their research. Yuri Guri, who has been doing amazing work on this, has posted an update where he, as far as I know, breaks news. Roland Foster, who seemed to be behind much of the pressure put on the researchers, now says that he was working at the behest of offices in the Senate. Stay tuned.


 

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But What About the Bridges?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.17.03
Think you'd like to live in San Francisco? Are you sure you have the proper sensibility? (via Attu)

 

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The Oligarchs

Posted by Ogged
on 06.17.03
Just when I was getting used to thinking of Putin as president for life, comes word that all is not stable in Russia. Hope the next guy has a nice soul.

 

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Leave it to the Pros

Posted by Ogged
on 06.17.03

James Suroweicki (spelled without looking!) has a very good article in this week's New Yorker about media consolidation. He even throws a bone to nutjob anti-trust trusters like my sometime co-blogger, Unf.

The familiar argument against such concentration is that, by giving a small number of companies too much control over the flow of information and content, it erodes democracy. But the problem isn't just that a small number of companies run the media business right now; it's that, under the current system, the same companies will likely be running the media business twenty years from now.
...
In theory, this state of affairs shouldn't be sustainable. If you ignore good programming, you'll pay a price in the marketplace. Fewer people will watch. And your competitors will presumably pick up the shows that you've rejected and will reap the benefits. Eventually, companies that don't put on shows that people like will have to change or go out of business.
...
In practice, though, most big media corporations enjoy a degree of insulation from the discipline of the marketplace ... What's more, the media industry now operates like a cartel, and it isn't in the cartel's interest for its members to bid up the value of programming produced by outsiders ... The control that these companies have over supply and demand doesn't leave much room for newcomers ... If the F.C.C. doesn't want to do anything about this, perhaps some enterprising antitrust lawyer might.

It's one of the clearest explanation of the issues I've seen, so if you're interested, read the whole thing (it's not much longer than this excerpt).


 

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Affirmative Action

Posted by Ogged
on 06.17.03
There's an Op-Ed in the NYTimes by Amy Ziebarth arguing for class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action. The whole editorial is worth reading, but here are some excerpts to get us started.
Even though my son is Hispanic, he will never face the same obstacles as the Hispanic teenagers who grow up in the inner city. Barring a drastic change in our family circumstances, my son will never have to worry about his safety as he comes home from school. He will never have to live in a housing project or try to learn in a classroom with 38 other students. Though he will probably face discrimination, he will always have an advantage over students who are born and raised in the inner city.
...
What we need is a new method to promote diversity, one that focuses on class rather than race. Class-based methods use financial and geographic indicators rather than skin color to determine whether a student will have something unique to bring to the table. Universities like Michigan use race-based diversity programs to ensure a multicultural student body.
Class-based diversity programs can be used to achieve the same ends because most minorities tend to be poorer than whites. In 2001, for example, the median household income was $29,470 for blacks and $46,305 for non-Hispanic whites, according to the Census Bureau.
Because of this disparity, class-based diversity programs will inevitably promote racial diversity in admissions even if they are not explicitly intended to do so. And by ensuring that students are admitted from historically low-income urban neighborhoods, racial diversity can be achieved without using skin color itself as a means of distinguishing among students.
...
Race-based programs tend to foster suspicion about the success of minorities. They have been blamed for undermining the self-esteem of blacks and Hispanics. And their constitutionality is certainly questionable.
Let me concur with a familiar example: being scared of black men. My guess is that non-poor whites tend to conflate markers of class with markers of race. If you had asked me several years ago, when I was living in an area where the poor were mostly black, I would have admitted to some fear of black people and therefore, to some racism. Now I live in an area where the poor are black and Hispanic. Suddenly, some young Hispanic men make me nervous too. But the area in which I live is remarkably diverse and includes wealthy blacks and Hispanics. I reflexively consider them part of my own circle, included when I say "we." My fear isn't a response to race, it's a response to markers of wealth. Given my views, it was with some interest that I read a letter to the editor in response to Ziebarth. Douglas Haynes writes,
By stressing class at the expense of race, Ms. Ziebarth overlooks a crucial goal of affirmative action: to challenge white supremacy in public life by validating racial diversity as a societal good.
As a surrogate for diversity, need-based programs mask the subject of racism while depending on the existence of disparities along racial lines. Such programs are little more than political compromises that do little to advance racial justice in our society.
There are several issues here. "To challenge white supremacy in public life." What does that mean? That's a genuine question, not an argument (I'd grant, for example, that the justice system is racist from top to bottom). But "white supremacy" and "public life" are too vague for analysis. But let's grant, for the sake of argument, that "white supremacy," whatever it means, is a fact. Mr. Haynes says we should challenge that supremacy by "validating racial diversity as a societal good." Is racial diversity really a societal good? If I were fighting dirty, I'd ask whether we should promote laws barring miscegenation, in order to ensure that the races don't blend into a universal mulatto. But the real problem here is that we've confused the symptom with the disease. The presence of people of differing racial backgrounds isn't itself some good to be pursued, it's just the most obvious sign that there was likely no discrimination against minority races in whatever process was used to choose students and that the pool of qualified applicants was itself racially diverse. In other words, where racial diversity occurs without affirmative action, there we have evidence of the absence of discrimination. If racial diversity is not a good "in itself," what then, is the purpose of affirmative action? It's a palliative, designed to aid members of a group that we have determined faces unfair barriers to success. The hope, as I understand it, is that a critical mass of members of that group will be produced, such that they, by example and leadership, can lift the entire group to a level of fair competition with the rest of society. The obvious way to state the nub of the question is "what counts as unfair and what is society responsible for remedying?" But I think that's misleading and glosses over the most difficult thing to say. I may be responsible for someone's sorry state but it may yet be a bad idea for me to help him out of it. The worst of it is that if I'm asked to help, I really do have an obligation to do so. I can't put you in a bad state and then tell you it's better for you if I don't help, even it it's true. This is the dilemma at the heart of the affirmative action debate: whites are responsible for blacks, but living up to that responsibility diminishes blacks. For the reasons Ziebarth gives, a class-based system can remedy much of the problem of racial injustice while avoiding the unfair situations Ziebarth describes and, most importantly, by removing the stigma from racial minorities. I don't mean only the stigma of "affirmative action success," but something much broader, the stigma of being those to whom things (whether good or ill) are done. Class, because it's perceived to be a porous category, membership in which is often the result of accidents of circumstance, doesn't carry the essentialist baggage of race. Mr. Haynes is correct that using class to remedy problems of race depends on underlying "disparities along racial lines," but that hardly seems an objection. As long as those disparities exist, class-based affirmative action will address them; when the disparities no longer exist, class-based approaches will still be helpful to the poor of whatever race. There is a compromise here, but it's a wise one. We try to address racial injustice while skirting the pernicious effects of racial preferences. (One final note. I looked up Mr. Haynes and his email address is listed on his website. Since it's unfair to attach his name to a complex argument he only had a few lines to make, I'm going to invite him to join us in a discussion here. In the meantime, in fairness, do keep in mind that he hasn't had his full say in what I've written above.)

 

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Unspam

Posted by Ogged
on 06.16.03
We've linked to Unspam since we started the blog, because it always seemed like a promising solution. Glad to see it's getting more attention.

 

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Rand Beers

Posted by Ogged
on 06.16.03
Tapped and Josh Marshall are all over the story of Rand Beers, the White House counter-terrorism advisor who just resigned due to his dismay at the conduct of the war on terrorism. He's so upset that he's now working for John Kerry's campaign, to do what he can to change the administration. Tapped has a good excerpt and comments. Here's the article to which they refer.

 

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Right of Reply

Posted by Ogged
on 06.16.03
The only good thing about this idea is that it won't work. (via Corante)



 

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But Wasn't He a Bad Man?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.16.03
Will people care that intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction may have been exaggerated? No, they think we already found the weapons! (via Atrios)
A third of the American public believes U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to a recent poll, and 22 percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons.
Come on. I know it's gauche to rail about the stupidity of large portions of the population, but can't we have spot checks and public spankings for some of the more obvious questions of our time? Is this really OK?

 

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Google.BBC

Posted by Ogged
on 06.16.03
Instapundit linked to these emails that the BBC (in a very cool instance of interactive journalism) received from Iranian protesters. He noticed what I think is pretty obvious: one of the emails is quite sarcastic.
I absolutely reject the concept of "democracy" and "freedom" as nakedly false phantoms of the west. Who would ever want to be "free" when they could instead live in the glorious order and sanctified grace of Sharia? Why does anyone need to have an opinion for himself?
In a list of emails, I don't expect any comment from the BBC. But then I noticed that in another BBC article about the situation in Iran, that message was the only one they chose to feature in a box accompanying the story. Maybe they assume that everyone will know it's sarcastic, but that hardly seems warranted, given the overheated religious rhetoric we often hear coming from the Middle-East. Then I decided to google the author of the message, "Shahin Shahida," on the off chance that something would turn up to to help decide whether this person was being sarcastic. Amazing. The third result was this story by the BBC about Shahin Shahida, an Iranian musician living in the US. Not, I'd say, an ardent supporter of the Islamic Republic.

 

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Precocious And Stuff

Posted by Ogged
on 06.15.03
The business of merchandising Harry Potter is in full flower, despite J.K. Rowling's misgivings. But what will they do about this?
"None of the kids are crazy about it," said Emma Bradford, 9, of Brattleboro, Vt. "Some people say how stupid it is that they are coming out with Harry Potter toothbrushes and things like that. I think they should just stop with the books and movies, otherwise it just goes sort of overboard into a more Disney thing."
When nine-year-olds are using "Disney" as a pejorative in a discussion of marketing, we are living in a far different world than the one I grew up in. (And Disney has a serious problem.)

 

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A Golden Opportunity

Posted by Ogged
on 06.15.03

Let's bring back the poll tax! No, he's serious.



 

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