Friday, December 14, 2001

More fun from the White House...

30 years ago, a guy named Joseph Salvati was convicted in Boston for a murder he didn't commit. The FBI knew it, because they knew who did commit the murder --- apparently from a local thug named Whitey Bulger, who they were running as an informant. Congress would understandably like to know why the FBI let an innocent man spend 30 years in prison, and George Bush thinks they shouldn't know.:

Disclosure to Congress of ... confidential recommendations to Department of Justice officials regarding whether to bring criminal charges would inhibit the candor necessary to the effectiveness of the deliberative process by which the department makes prosecutorial decisions.

So, he's invoked executive privilege, leaving the rest of us to wonder how Congress is supposed to exercise oversight of law enforcement agencies without being privileged to know what on Earth they are doing...

The Bush administration is pressuring other countries to reduce steel production, in order to raise prices --- giving them a choice of interfering in the operation of their own private industries, or losing imports to overtly protectionist American tariffs.

Gee, I thought Republicans were against this sort of thing...

Who's oppressing the Palestinians?

From an article on yet another call by Hizbollah for suicide bombings ("Pay no attention to those who say there are civilians and soldiers in Israel... they are all occupiers and invaders, partners in crimes and massacres''), we discover that

Some 360,000 Palestinians are registered as refugees in Lebanon. Denied the right to work or own property, they have become increasingly restive during the Palestinian uprising.

That's in Lebanon, outside of Israeli jurisdiction; the people denying these Palestinians "the right to work or own property" are their fellow Arabs.

It's not as if anyone is nostalgic for the salad days of the Lebanese civil war. (Well, maybe Hizbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is --- what can you say about a guy who says "... suicide operations are the weapon that God gave this nation"? But nobody sane). Still, if these folks feel compelled to attack their oppressors, it's kind of odd that none of the bombs find their way to the people who are actually keeping them destitute....

Found via Little Green Footballs.

Jewish "Defense" League chairman Irv Rubin recently got himself arrested for plotting to blow up a mosque. Great; a supporter of Israel who thinks Hamas has the right idea.

At least he's doing his part for the rest of us by undermining the stereotype; folks, there is such a thing as a dumb Jew.

The latest Internet Explorer security hole allows hostile websites to completely take over your machine. This has galvanized Microsoft, at last, to do something serious about security holes in their software --- they're bribing people who report them to shut up.

(The claim is that they want to make sure they have time to create a fix before letting the world know about the problem. But that would require them to acknowledge that there is a problem --- and even under the threat of imminent public exposure, they denied that the IE security hole ever was a problem for weeks).

Thursday, December 13, 2001

I'm shedding no tears for Yasser Arafat, much less Hamas, but consider for a minute Israel's last demand to Arafat, the one which he became "irrelevant" by failing to implement; according to the New York Times,

After the attacks Wednesday night, Mr. Arafat ordered the closing of all offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The order appeared to apply to Hamas's extensive network of schools and health clinics.

To stop the bombings, the Israelis were demanding that Arafat shut down schools and clinics. And the horror (and absurdity) of the situation is that they were right to do so.

This is one of the more underreported aspects of Islamic fundamentalism; these movements gain credibility and converts by providing effective social services to people whose governments just don't care. (And not just among the Palestinians; the Egyptian terrorist networks, Gama'a al Islamiya and Islamic Jihad, set up clinics, schools, and mosques while trying to violently overthrow Mubarak; Islamic Jihad, FWIW, spawned bin Laden's lieutenant, al-Zawahiri).

Which is, in a way, the most damning possible indictment of Arafat; with American and European governments lined up to give him the aid he would need to provide these services himself, he either wouldn't or couldn't, leaving the field instead to groups who were determined to block his diplomacy, scuttle his treaties, and undermine his authority.

The nastiest diatribe I ever heard about the PLO was from a graduate student at MIT who asserted, on the basis of his family's personal experience, that Arafat's PLO was hopelessly corrupt, that its leadership was a den of thieves, that foreign aid donors had learned the hard way to distribute even shipments of flour themselves, lest it be diverted and sold to line the pockets of some thug, and that there was no hope for improving the Palestinians' lot until Arafat was out of the way.

The guy was a Palestinian.

Stupidity around the world:

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

A hint that the dragnet is open just a little too wide: a Lebanese student trying to get back to school in Cairo may finally get released eleven weeks after being cleared by the FBI of any connection with the terrorists.

Salon has an even more extreme case, but if you're not a premium subscriber, you probably can't read it.

Sometimes PowerPoint helps get your message across. Sometimes it doesn't.
Some people blame America for just about everything. Pat Buchanan blames America for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

via Daimnation.

Well, even a delayed pundit can be prescient now and again. On Dec. 11, the department of Justice indicted Zacarias Moussaoui for conspiracy in the Sept. 11 attacks. On Dec. 9, I was musing, apropos of Moussaoui's arrest,

...there was apparently little or no follow-up at other flight schools to ask if other foreign students had shown similarly skewed priorities. If there had been, who knows? Something might have turned up.

Well, the director of the FBI doesn't know; from the press conference at the indictment, after several pointed questions along these lines, his final answer boiled down to this verbalized shrug:

Now, could we have done something else, perhaps, to avoid it in that investigation? Who can say? All I can tell you is that the agents on the scene attempted to follow up aggressively. The attorneys back at FBI determined that there was insufficient probable cause for a FISA, which appears to be an accurate decision. And September 11th happened.

Which doesn't exactly strike me as the voice of an organization which knows it screwed up and is trying to clean up its act.

But the real story here is the indictment of a man advertised now as a full-fledged al-Qaida terrorist for a trial in civilian court. These are the same civilian courts which, Ashcroft was testifying just last week, pose insuperable barriers to the trial of a terrorist, due to clumsy procedures, inadequate safeguards for classified evidence, flamboyant defense lawyers, and so on ad nauseam. When this discrepancy was put to Ashcroft in the press conference (last question --- he almost escaped!), his response:

We look forward to this trial and the presentation of the evidence, which is -- I think the indictments clearly indicated the direction in which we will move. And to go beyond the indictment now and try and describe the trial, it would not be appropriate for me to do that.

Ummmm... right.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Libertarian Samizdata continues to provide edification and amusement. Today's remarkable insight, from one Christian Michel (who "also writes on, one of Europe's leading libertarian websites"):
A modern State, all the more so if it claims to be democratic, is viable only when it rules a totally homogenous, uniform, undifferentiated population. Yet, whether we like it or not, populations will get more and more differentiated, by fortune, by education, by new ethnic awareness, by culture. States will either have to level down differences through brutal ethnic cleansing and economic intervention, with the risk of stifling innovation and prosperity, let alone human rights; or withdraw.

Well, then, the United States must really be going down the toilet. The population here is so differentiated that long-established members of the community who were literally working in the shadow of the ruined twin towers needed translators to talk to the Red Cross. Fanatics of one kind or another have been preaching the dangers of diversity here for more than a century and a half, yet they have somehow failed to materialize.

Ah, for the good old days, when only gibbering lunatics on the left preached the withering of the state...

With all the anthrax-laden mail flying around, you'd think our government would want to enforce the ban on biological weapons, or at least try to avoid pissing off other governments with that interest. And you'd be wrong. Having already torpedoed any actual enforcement (proposing instead that governments enforce the rules on their own) the US is now demanding to shut down all further negotiations on compliance measures, a demand which one arms control lobbyist describes as "obviously an attempt to sabotage the conference"; other EU delegates flatly call the Americans "liars". The negotiations have been thrown into chaos.

Via Follow Me Here

Ad peeve of the day:

Be original, an individual,
Drink Doctor Pepper
Be you, do what you do
Drink Doctor Pepper

The insinuation here is that people who don't drink Doctor Pepper are expressing not their own thoughts, but someone else's; they're not original but derivative, not individuals but members of some collective hive. Which makes them copywriters in an advertising agency.

The horror...

Monday, December 10, 2001

If the Democrats had a dirty tricks squad:

I can dream, can't I?

A comment on civil liberties:

Many of the measures in the absurdly-named "PATRIOT act" (the acronym for "SPITBOL" was less forced) are supposed to get law enforcement agencies more information. But you can have too much information --- and in some cases, they're already drowning in it. For instance, intelligence in Arabic is massively backlogged because of a shortage of translators.

And they've failed to make the best use of information they had, as in the case of Zacarias Moussasaoui, who got himself noticed at a Minnesota flight school in August by asking to learn to steer airliners in flight, but to save time and money by not learning the hard part of the job, takeoff and landing. That got him arrested --- but there was apparently little or no follow-up at other flight schools to ask if other foreign students had shown similarly skewed priorities. If there had been, who knows? Something might have turned up.

Would the FBI handle things any differently now? Not if every available agent gets detailed to ask immigrant Muslim housewives how much they know about Semtex.

You could make an argument for strict adherence to probable cause requirements, on the purely pragmatic grounds that the FBI's inevitably limited resources are best spent on information that is likely to actually matter...

What I saw last Friday evening:

It's December. It's Boston. It's after 8:00 PM; the sun has been down for nearly four hours. It's well over 60 degrees fahrenheit. People are walking around in short sleeves. They are comfortable. The trees like it so much that they're sprouting new leaves barely a month after shedding the old ones.

Last winter, here, people were complaining bitterly about the weather, or more precisely, the lack of it. The teevee weathermen hyped each storm that blew in as an impending crisis, predicting a six inch snowfall that would tie the city up in knots. (Some of us remember when six inch snowfalls in Boston were the usual thing, and we sneered at places like Washington DC and Atlanta for letting the occasional real snowfall tie them up in knots). And then would come... the disappointment. Some of these "storms" were officially measured at four to six inches of snow. Rumor has it that these measurements are performed by roaming the wasteland between the runways at Logan airport looking for the deepest visible windblown drift. I never saw more than two or three inches on the ground outside my apartment, invariably melted away to nothing a week later.

Saturday evening, we had our first snowfall here --- a few inches at most, and none at all on the roads, where it melted as it hit (though snowplows were driving past throughout the night, as if rearranging the ghosts of snowdrifts past). The guys on the radio were talking about eight inches of snow on the ground in Cambridge. By 3:30 in the afternoon, when I got to Harvard Square, the sidewalks were entirely clear.

When I was growing up, it was a rare thing to see bare ground that hand't been shoveled in February. That was New Jersey.

The evidence on global warming is not yet clear.

The warblog crowd has been giving apologists for Talimarinista John Walker a well deserved drubbing. If you can't get enough of this stuff, Unqualified Offerings eviscerates another apologist, George Walker Bush. Contrasting Bush's take on Walker with his Attorney General's take on some of the administration's critics, Jim notes:
Let me see if I've got this straight: disagree with a specific set of American policies and you are the next thing to a traitor ("aid terrorists"). Take up arms against American troops and their allies and you're "misled!"
It's good to see this guy isn't getting a pass...
My tagline here is "a chronicle of the absurd". What to start with?

How about this item --- a pamphlet discussing accusations of censorship and Noam Chomsky. More precisely, a pamphlet alleging censorship by Noam Chomsky.

Do you think that Chomsky is a radical on the fringe left? The Spartacist Youth Clubs are here to tell you that you are mistaken! Their recent pamphlet, "Noam Chomsky: Radical Impostor, Anti-Communist Censor", reveals the repugnant truth:

Like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dr. Noam Chomsky of MIT is not really what he pretends to be. Whatever Chomsky's radical rhetoric, he's nothing more than a liberal anti-Communist.

This feud goes back to at least May, 2000, when the Sparts published another leaflet, engagingly titled "Noam Chomsky: Imperialism's 'Armchair Anarchist'", slagging Chomsky because he fails to recognize the self-evident need for a Leninist revolution to overturn the insane, criminal, imperialist, capitalist world order. What's worse, he won't let them give long speeches explaining his error during the Q&A period of his lectures (which they coyly misconstrue as a "discussion period"), instead "stamped[ing] his followers into voting against our right to speak," thus preventing them from peddling their wares to the "students on campus --- particularly black, immigrant and working-class students --- who actually do burn with a hatred for the brutality of U.S. imperialism and are looking for a revolutionary alternative".

(In case that last part is a bit ambiguous, they clarify: "The Spartacist League ... looks to the example of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.... Although deformed by unrelenting imperialist pressure and undermined through Stalinist bureaucratic misleadership, for more than 70 years the Soviet Union continued to embody gains for the working class internationally." And North Korea's still doing it today!)

When I first encountered these loons, nearly twenty years ago, carrying signs outside my school's freshman dining hall explaining how their cause du jour required handing the United States on a plate to the Communist International, my instant response was, "oh, gee, a CIA front trying to discredit the left."

So, if Chomsky's analysis of recent events seems a little disjointed, remember he's been harassed by these nitwits for at least a year and a half, and make allowances...