Unqualified Offerings

Looking Sideways at Your World Since October 2001

December 29, 2005

New Coments Policy

No commenting drunk. Unless you’re a happy drunk.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 12:56 pm, Filed under: Main

New Urban Legends from Old!

If you put a frog in a pan of water and turn the heat up very gradually, he has over 200 words for snow.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 12:55 pm, Filed under: Main

Casual Causality

Hesiod tips me to an interesting Seattle Post-Intelligencer Report regarding FISA, the Bush Administration and domestic spying. The paper went over Justice Department reports to Congress and found that the special FISA Court acted uncannily like an independent oversight body - its statutory role - toward Bush Administration wiretap requests, rejecting or modifying (mostly the latter) 179 of them since 2001. Interestingly, the Post-Intelligencer reports that 173 of the 179 modifications came in 2003 and 2004, which leaves only 6 closer to the period four years ago in which the Administration was actually setting up the new FISA-bypassing surveillance program. The article and James Bamford (whom it quotes) suggest that the program caused the tinkering more than the tinkering caused the program - the FISA Court tightly monitored warrants because of its displeasure with whatever the Bush Administration had the NSA doing.

This fits with previous reports about FISA concerns that it might be approving warrants based on “tainted” (unapproved) surveillance. It makes the timing of Judge James Robertson’s resignation curious though. It seems likely that the FISA Court knew or suspected about the illegal program for most of its duration. Did Robertson really only find out about the expanded domestic spy program with this month’s repo rts? Was the public reporting the last straw somehow? What was his actual calculus last week and over the last four years?

What it shows, I think, is what you already suspected: just how inadequate the “checks and balances” are that we learned about in high school. We know a few members of Congress knew something about what the Executive was doing. We know a few members of the judiciary knew something about what the Executive was doing. We know a few members of the press knew something about what the Executive was doing. We know that none of them either stopped it or, for the longest time, publicized it. We know we missed our “accountability moment” because of the press - the not-just-useless but actively harmful New York Times especially.

What we don’t know would, of course, make a longer list.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 12:54 pm, Filed under: Main



But I would suggest that a fella can believe with perfect sincerity — even without succumbing to libertarian panic — that liberty and security are complementary, not mutually exclusive. The proverbial “challenge in the coming debate,” or at least one of them, is to re-insert that idea back on the table when the Wise Men decide which Founding Principle to ignore next.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 12:20 pm, Filed under: Main

December 26, 2005

Make a Nerd Explosion!

RGB Bill and I are looking to play Dogs in the Vineyard at my house in Maryland or his house in DC on January 2 and we have openings for two players. This will be a one-shot so there’s no continuing obligation. I have an invite out but some people are too busy guest-blogging on high-profile sites to answer their e-mail so it’s first-come-first-serve now. E-mail me at “jimhenley-funky-a-symbol-gmail.com” if you’re interested. The game is super duper cool and Bill and I are swell fellows.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 2:04 pm, Filed under: Main

Watch What We Do

Every few months there’s talk about how the US will start withdrawing troops Real Soon Now, followed by articles about how maybe we won’t. The interest the establishment media shows toward these episodes baffles me. The government has hundreds of officials giving briefings pretty constantly, don’t they? They can’t all end up on the front page. Why play up remarks that are always hedged and prospective and have a history of not bearing out? US troops levels have fluctuated within a narrow band of 120-150K for almost three years now, through several different outbreaks of plans to start reducing, soon, depending on conditions, hopefully, troop levels.

Minor news will occur when troop levels actually drop substantially below current levels and stay down. Real news will occur when we realize just how strange and remarkable it is for the US to have any troops in countries like Iraq at all.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 1:57 pm, Filed under: Main

December 22, 2005

On the Road Again

Packing tonight for our drive to sunny (better be!) Florida for Christmas week. We’ll be shuttling between Avon Park and Sarasota, a town I’m sneakily fond of. Of course, it may have gone to hell in the five years since I was last there, who knows?

I should still be blogging - the McDonalds in Avon Park advertises a wifi hotspot and who knows what else I’ll find when I get down there, and it’s not like posting frequency here could meaningfully drop from its recent rate. The best news is that, while we’ll probably still be on the road Saturday afternoon, I’m told that ESPN radio will be carrying the Redskins game, so if we can find stations we’ll be able to live the excitement. Blogging tomorrow depends on motel connectivity.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:28 pm, Filed under: Main

December 21, 2005

Might As Well

I don’t burn with outrage at the very thought of drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge anyway, but it seems to me that if you think there’s anything to “peak oil” theory, then drilling in ANWR becomes a downright good idea. If you don’t believe in peak oil you can probably afford the luxury of keeping the “pristine wilderness” of ANWR super-duper pristine. But if you do, the marginal impact on the ecosystem there seems to lose cleanly to the benefit of cushioning the shock of world demand outstripping world supply. The extra time for the globe’s economies to find substitute in other resources and processes for petroleum can spare a lot of genuine hardship.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 11:13 pm, Filed under: Main

Open Up, It’s - !

Radley continues to pursue the Cory Maye case and learn ever more disturbing things:

I think this reflects even more poorly on the way the raid was handled. Only one of the eight officers — the officer from the task force — had any narcotics training at all. He was on the four-man team who executed the warrant for the other apartment, that of Jamie Smith. Which means none of the officers who raided Maye’s home had training in serving a high-risk narcotics warrant.

Here’s another troubling tidbit — it was the ununiformed volunteer cop who kicked down Maye’s door. Also, given his volunteer status, Allday wasn’t authorized to announce “police” prior to entering the apartment.

I did the bolding there.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:49 pm, Filed under: Main

Taking Comfort Where I Find It

I gotta go all the way to Logan’s blog to get cheered up by commenter Anodyne?

I accept that selection bias on some cognitive dimension may make it more likely for some people to be attracted to libertarian principles and arguments than others. But do you believe that self-identifying libertarians are any more likely to adhere to their principles in the face of uncertainty (or, alternatively, be more likely to process information and/or assign weights to perceived threats more neutrally) than any other group? Is there something magical about libertarian ideas that precludes the possiblity of systematic errors of judgment and/or naturally prevents disagreements within the flock?

Thanks, I needed that! The Richard Posners and Glenn Reynoldses of the world are just “our” versions of Joe Biden and Paul Berman. Democrats had to bear the cross of the Liberal Hawks and squeamish politicians. (Should we call them “hawkchickens?”) Conservatives have to deal with big spenders like Ted Stevens and his apologists.) Everybody’s got their weenies. A decade ago Virginia Postrel coined the perfect term for where everybody’s weenies end up, too: the “Lethal Center.” She probably wouldn’t approve applying the term to this issue, but she builded better than she knew.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:43 pm, Filed under: Main

Conventional Wisd0m Catches Up

Honestly, just last night Mrs. O and I had a conversation in this very room about how the domestic spy program and the blatant assertion of untrammelled executive power that characterizes the Gonzaleschina are Nixon’s Revenge - not just the same mindset, but the same people, propounding the same principles. The idea is not original to us, I realize, but I was still amused that Hotline just this morning got Cheney to practically say this in so many words. (I have conceived of a marvelous proof of this claim but it is unfortunately too much of a paid-subscriber service to fit in this weblog link.) Excerpts:

Traveling aboard AF-2 from Pakistan to Oman, VP Cheney told reporters that the Bush admin has “restore[d] the legitimate authority of the presidency,” reversing a “weakening of the office dating back more than 30 years.” Cheney said “an erosion of presidential power and authority” emerged during Pres. Ford’s admin, during which Cheney served as CoS, but that the pendulum has now “swung back.” Cheney: “At the end of the Nixon administration, you had the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy. There have been a number of limitations that have been imposed in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate.”

Part of the Bush admin’s efforts to restore presidential power, Cheney said, was the ‘02 decision to authorize unwarranted domestic wiretapping. Cheney: “I don’t think there’s anything improper or inappropriate in that, and my guess is that the vast majority of American people support … what we’re doing.”

More Cheney, defending the wiretapping program: “It’s not an accident that we haven’t been hit in four years. Either we’re serious about fighting the war on terror, or we’re not. … I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think the world we live in demands it” (mult, 12/20).

Every syllable is classically Nixonian, from the invocation of vast silent majorities to the identification of America’s security with what this particular crowd feels like doing. Cheney could never suggest that perhaps some policies they’ve pursued have been effective, some have been counterproductive and some might not be worth the cost in whatever fiscal or spiritual coin you trade. No, if they did it, it must be good and necessary.

Somewhere in there they would hint that They Know Things We Don’t that would prove the wisdom and propriety of their actions. But that excuse has to count as a hard sell after all the aluminum tubes and mobile labs and Curveballs and tortured truck drivers. They probably do know things we don’t know. But neither they nor we can know that they know them - known knowns and unknown unknowns and all of that - so they should please not bother with that routine.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:33 pm, Filed under: Main

Damn You, Loyal Readers!

Steve asks in comments downblog:

Did you ever think you’d see the day when you’d have to ask a bunch of self-proclaimed libertarians if any state action was morally indefensible even if it was done in the name of national security?

Um, no? I didn’t?

Richard frigging Posner has flunked the test on this one


Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:12 pm, Filed under: Main

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town - To DESTROY!

Eve tips me to a Santa rampage in New Zealand.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 9:21 am, Filed under: Main

It Still Needs to Be Said Apparently

1. My attitude is not the problem. YOUR POLICIES are the problem. The people who actually have the power to conduct policy are the problem.

2. Anyone who wants to prate about their sincerity and their positive outlook as if it somehow outweighed the foreseeable results of their own goddam hubris, while the Administration they’ve trusted and its suppporters to whom they’ve cleaved assert literally unlimited power over what we used to be able to call citizens, those people need to go fuck themselves.

In 2002 I was practically begging people, as sweetly as possible, to comprehend the likely outcome of this folly. I’m not going to spend 2006 trying to impress people who wouldn’t listen then with how chipper I can be, or sniffling my pious wishes that their harebrained schemes had worked out a little better. Nor am I going to sit back while the President doubles down on a bad bet and treat the onlookers egging him on as if they were worth taking seriously. (Two words: “New Prague.”)

My deal for all of these people hasn’t changed: Learn something and I’ll take you seriously. You don’t need to apologize. You don’t need to genuflect. God knows you don’t need to strike a particular attitude. (I would recommend losing one.) All you gotta do is catch on and start writing that way. Or, if you have actual power, as opposed to me and Judith Weiss and a million other net.kvetchers scrutinizing each others’ inflections, running the country that way.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 8:53 am, Filed under: Main

December 20, 2005

Pete Townshend, Thou Shouldst Be Living at This Hour

Diana Moon tips me to the early returns from Iraq, and the early reaction in some of its parts. Returns:

The election commission last night announced shocking preliminary results of the elections in 11 Iraqi provinces. The results “after counting 89% of the votes in Baghdad showed that the UIA [United Iraqi Alliance, the main religious Shiite coalition — ed.] won 1,403,901 votes, the Accord Front [also referred to as Iraqi Consensus Front; main religious Sunni Arab group — ed.] won 451,782 while Allawi’s list [Iraqi List, secular — ed.] won 327,174”, said a spokesman of the election commission.

That is, the theocratic Shi’ite ruling coalition got almost two thirds of the vote in Baghdad itself - forget Basra and Nasiriyah and the Holy Cities of X, Y and Z, but in the quondam most cosmopolitan city in the Arab world, recent seat of a ruling Sunni-secular government and region of the country most exposed to all that benevolent hegemony we’ve been showering on Mesopotamia.

The reaction, from Our Correspondent and various loser parties? Fraud!

It is obvious now that the Sh’eat-Kurdish dominated commission which we hoped would act with integrity and transparency closed an eye on the violations committed by the Kurdish and religious She’at parties.

Lost in last week’s celebratory noises were reports of ballot hijinx and security personnel openly bearing pictures of UIA candidates. There are four possibilities, and I invite you to spin any or all of them as great victories for our Grand Strategy:

* the US is okay with the theocrats defrauding the electorate
* the US simply can’t stop the theocrats from defrauding the electorate
* the US didn’t even realize the theocrats were defrauding the electorate
* the electorate just plan prefers the side the US least wanted and Iran most wanted to win the election

Diana plumps for the last of the four options. Paraphrasing, you may think that Salam Pax was an oddball in Iraqi political terms, but the Iraq the Model boys are no less so - the bulk of the country wants sectarianism, even the bulk of Baghdad, site of the sprawling Sadr City development.

She may well be right. And that’s bad enough. But if it is fraud, then what the Glorious Project has accomplished so far is to create one more Arab country where the ruling party can hold elections that its control of the Army, police and bureaucracy allows it to steal. This is truly the dawn of a new era of Muslim governance!

And if it’s not fraud? That might be even worse. The out parties in Iraq are convinced it’s fraud. Probably some of the ruling coalition’s supporters think it’s fraud - they’re just glad it was their side pulling it off. And outside Iraq, in the bulk of the largely Sunni Arab and Muslim world, ordinary folks and malcontents alike think it’s fraud too, and figure that the United States swept in to foster and guarantee a corrupt, anti-Sunni Shi’ite theocracy beholden to Persia. This is the “beacon of reform” that’s supposed to beckon them.

Every one of us, and I include Ayatollah Ali Khameni of the Holy City of Qom in that number, can be proud of having dedicated, as of tonight, 2157 American lives and 7533-plus wounded service members, some maimed for life, to that achievement. Whichever it is.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 10:18 pm, Filed under: Main

What We Do for Fun Around Here

Mrs. O is reading me the more droll passages from the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, the Intelligent Design ruling that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III handed down today (pdf). There’s some great stuff in there:

It is important to initially note that as a result of the teachers’ refusal to read the disclaimer, school administrators were forced to make special appearances in the science classrooms to deliver it. No evidence was presented by any witness that the Dover students are presented with a disclaimer of any type in any other topic in the curriculum. An objective student observer would accordingly be observant of the fact that the message contained in the disclaimer is special and carries special weight. In addition, the objective student would understand that the administrators are reading the statement because the biology teachers refused to do so on the ground that they are legally and ethically barred from misrepresenting a religious belief as science, as will be discussed below.

Even the footnotes can be worth your time:

Throughout the trial and in various submissions to the Court, Defendants vigorously argue that the reading of the statement is not “teaching” ID but instead is merely “making students aware of it.” In fact, one consistency among the Dover School Board members’ testimony, which was marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath, as will be discussed in more detail below, is that they did not think they needed to be knowledgeable about ID because it was not being taught to the students. We disagree.

And right after that:

Dr. Alters, the District’s own science teachers, and Plaintiffs Christy Rehm and Steven Stough, who are themselves teachers, all made it abundantly clear by their testimony that an educator reading the disclaimer is engaged in teaching, even if it is colossally bad teaching.

One hesitates to advise “read the whole thing” for a 139-page judicial opinion. Especially considering that we ourselves haven’t read the whole thing. Nevertheless, you might want to at least skim.

Posted by Jim Henley @ 9:37 pm, Filed under: Main