Friday, July 11, 2003

Foot-in-mouth disease seems to be spreading. Consider Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy. The guy is used to dealing with problems his way; he dealt with a corruption trial by getting a bill through parliament which effectively declared him above the law. But upon assuming the EU presidency, he found that tactic has its limits; when he suggested a German MEP might make a good concentration camp guard in a movie, he found, much to his surprise, that the Germans didn't take it as a harmless little jape.

And barely was that fracas smoothed over (with expressions of "regret" which stopped conspicuously short of an apology), then he had another problem to deal with -- one of his ministers described German tourists as ''hyper-nationalistic blondes'' who ''loudly invaded'' Italian beaches, and "arrogant beer guzzlers" who hold ''noisy burping contests,'' prompting German premier Gerhard Schroder to cancel his Italian vacation, and threatening the entire Italian tourist industry, which relies heavily on the Germans.

The obvious solution in this case would be to ditch the underling, but that may not be easy -- he's a member of the Northern League, which is agitating for more government responsibilities, and hardly wants to lose a position.

Oh yes, the specific responsibility of the minister who made these latest remarks? Promoting tourism...

Thursday, July 10, 2003

And now, the mission of the Department of Homeland Security begins to creep:

The agency created to combat terrorism now is targeting those who prey on children.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge announced ''Operation Predator'' on Wednesday. The initiative seeks to crack down on crimes by child predators by pulling together once-fragmented investigative and intelligence resources.

It will target illegal aliens and foreign nationals who have avoided deportation.

Now, I haven't got much to say in favor of child molestors. But even pursuit of heinous criminals can run off the rails, as we in Boston have seen over and over, courtesy of our local FBI branch, whose investigation of local organized crime figures led it to tip off one homicidal informant to his impending arrest, and set up an innocent man to serve 30 years in jail for a murder committed by yet another informant.

Which is why we have checks on government authority -- checks which are notably weaker for the DHS, due supposedly to its particularly urgent mission. Bad enough, if it stays limited to investigation of real terrorists. Far worse if folks like the DHS cop I saw in the subway the other day (strictly speaking, TSA -- his uniform had "TSA" all over, including the back of the collar) start poking their noses into general law enforcement.

via Eschaton.

At BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin reports on new and intriguing life forms:

Brain Rat Cells in US Control Robotic Semi-Living Artist in Australia

Roland points us to a Georgia Institute of Technology news release announcing that U.S. and Australian researchers have jointly created "a new class of creative beings, 'the semi-living artist'." I don't know what all the fuss is about. I think the last couple of guys I've dated could be described as "semi-living artists," and at least one of them may well have been controlled by rat neurons.

But she doesn't address some of the questions raised by the existence of these semi-living artists she's been dating -- questions which may be of considerable interest to researchers like those at Georgia Tech. What is their habitat? What are their housing requirements? And most importantly, would experiments on them require approval from a Human Subjects Committee?

Students who bought the textbook "Taxes and Business Strategy" by Myron Scholes, et al., may want to reconsider the purchase. The primary author testified in court yesterday that he is "not an expert with regard to taxes". As if to prove the point, he was then forced to admit that a tax shelter he set up could not possibly have generated a profit exceeding his fee -- which may well render it an illegitimate accounting gimmick in the eyes of the IRS...
So, why wouldn't everyone sign up for the national do-not-call registry? Sympathy for the devil telemarketer:

Kay N. Landon..., a teacher from Edgewater, Colo., a Denver suburb, would love an evening with her husband and children to be uninterrupted by telemarketers. The sticking point is Crystal, one of her former students.

Ms. Landon said that Crystal, whose last name she did not want to reveal, was an unwed 19-year-old who supported her 2-year-old daughter by selling long-distance service over the phone. When Crystal first got the job, she would call Ms. Landon on the phone to practice her sales technique.

"Telemarketers are not evil people," Ms. Landon said, explaining Crystal was neither pushy nor mean, and really needed money. If I sign up, she said, "I know it puts many more people out of work."

Just think of it as doing your bit to get the economy going again. Hey, it's at least as likely to work as, say, Dubya's tax package...

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

In the runup to the Iraq war, Dubya's crew successively bullied, belittled, and bypassed the UN. Now it finds itself with a massive peacekeeping problem (for as long as there still is any peace in Iraq to keep), with overstressed troops who are poorly trained for the job, and who have already been in the field way too long, with no relief in easy sight. Meanwhile, other countries with experienced peacekeeping forces find, for some reason, that they just don't want to make a major commitment to helping us out.

There is only one possible solution: armed, unmanned crowd control robots.

via Boingboing.

The latest from our apostle of democracy in Iraq:

U.S. civilian ruler Paul Bremer said on Tuesday Iraq should consider privatising its state-owned sectors and foreign investment in its oil industry before a permanent sovereign government takes over.

Bremer is offering this as advice to the "governing council" he's setting up -- whose members are, at best, utterly dependant on him for maintenance of their positions. And he isn't offering them a whole lot of choice, anyway -- the oil revenue won't be nearly enough to pay for governing expenses otherwise, as skeptics were pointing out months ago.

The upshot: the Americans will come in, and immediately oversee the sale of the country's choice assets and industries to Western companies -- largely American ones, unless there's a very sharp turn in contracting policies. Distinguishing that from looting on a grand scale is left as an exercise for the interested reader. I'm betting most Iraqis won't be interested, to say nothing of the larger Arab community we're supposedly trying to win over with our wise and charitable work here...

via Atrios.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

And now, shooting the messenger: the stewards of American government and industry are shocked, shocked to discover that a map of the country's physical communications infrastructure can be compiled from public sources:

When Gorman and Schintler presented their findings to government officials, McCarthy recalled, "they said, 'Pssh, let's scarf this up and classify it.' "

And when they presented them at a forum of chief information officers of the country's largest financial services companies -- clicking on a single cable running into a Manhattan office, for example, and revealing the names of 25 telecommunications providers -- the executives suggested that Gorman and Schintler not be allowed to leave the building with the laptop.

Because the work -- Gorman's Ph.D. thesis -- would only exist on the laptop, and not, say, on backup tapes elsewhere. And, of course, no one less well-intentioned could ever redo the same.

via Daily Kos, among many others...

Monday, July 07, 2003

On the internet, no one knows you're a dog. Unless you announce it.

via Joseph Duemer.

From the "friends like these" file, we have a suggestion for the Democratic party from Alan Wolfe, who begins by noting that:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH and his Republican allies, following a course of avid partisanship and truth-be-damned rhetoric, have changed the rules of American politics. Would-be Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 therefore face a dilemma. They can play by the new rules and increase their chance of winning, but at the risk of weakening the country. Or they can opt for responsible, moderate proposals that would strengthen American society-and almost certainly consign themselves to immediate electoral defeat.

... and then goes on to argue the case for defeat. It's good for the soul, it seems:

Even if Democrats could become more aggressive and commit themselves to the no-holds-barred rules favored by their opponents, should they? My answer is no. There is more at stake in the election of 2004 than who wins. The slash-and-burn approach to both domestic and international politics taken by the Republicans has been very effective, but only in the short-term. Eventually, the United States will pay in lost international prestige for its unprovoked war in Iraq; indeed, it may have done so already. And at some point in the future, Americans will pay in high interest rates and economic stagnation the costs of the tax cuts passed now. Were they to follow Bush and his allies' strategy of dividing the country, lying about their objectives, and treating loyal opponents as enemies, Democrats would add to the poison that is damaging the trust that makes democratic politics possible.

You've got to wonder why Wolfe thinks it's somehow a contradiction in terms to go into bare-knuckle fights in favor of responsible policies; FDR certainly had no trouble doing that. And let's not forget that even Gore, who has been legitimately criticized for a lackluster campaign, unambiguously won the popular vote. But given Wolfe's questionable notion that certain defeat (his words) would follow from acting responsibly, there's a bigger question:

Isn't there already another party for people who care less about what their votes do for the country than for what they show about the ineffable purity of their souls?

Update: Chris Bertram links to the same piece. He seems not to have noted that Wolfe is urging the Dems toward policies which will, he expects, "certainly consign them to ... defeat".

The INS, under Ashcroft and Dubya, has been criticized for excessive attention to Arabs. But perhaps that's unfair; they seem to be excessive in dealing with everybody -- witness, for example this tale of a long-time Hispanic resident of the United States who now faces permanent deportation because of what amounts to a typo on his birth certificate...