August 31, 2004

Convention Location

I've just read the most interesting thing about the choice of New York for the Republican convention:

After 9/11, I recall Guiliani (or possibly Bloomberg) asking both parties to hold their conventions in New York. The idea was to show the world that New York was NOT crippled by the attack, that all Americans stood with those who were hit the hardest by 9/11, and a colossal "FU" to the terrorists. I thought it was a fantastic idea. A lot of people thought it was a fantastic idea. The Republicans immediately agreed -- and that was HUGE. New York CIty has always been a fortress of Democrats, despite the last two mayors, and the GOP had never gone to the Big Apple. But they heard the city's call and answered.

The Democratic National Committee, however, had it's own agenda. They told New York that they'd be glad to come to New York, but only if they disinvited the Republicans. They didn't want to share any possible gains with being so close to 9/11's Ground Zero with the Republicans.

New York, to it's credit, told the Democrats to shove it, and they did

Is this true? I googled around a bit and couldn't find anything. But I couldn't come up with what I thought would be a good search phrase either.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:06 PM | Comments (429) | TrackBack

August 30, 2004

Another Problem with Fragmentary Terroist Groups

Cnn reports that two French journalists have been kidnapped with the terrorist group demanding that France abandon its ban on the hijab in schools. I'll admit that this story initially engaged the bitterly ironic side of me that thought "The silly French can't even surrender properly." My next thought was that this proves that you can't ever satisfy the terrorists.

Both sentiments aren't helpful in this context. This instance does however highlight a problem worth discussing. Even if we wanted to fulfill terrorist demands, and even if we thought it wouldn't cause more terrorism would it be possible to do so?

This is the flip-side of the fact that fighting terrorist groups in the Middle East is difficult because there seems to be so many of them--satisfying their desires so they won't fight us is just as difficult for the same reason.

BTW I'm against the hijab ban in France but that isn't the point.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:49 AM | Comments (564) | TrackBack

August 26, 2004

Fun Parody

I've received an email (from someone who will remain anonymous for reasons which should become obvious) annoyed with the popularity of a new website, The Iraq War Was Wrong Blog. The name alone explains why some of my friends might not like it. But never fear, it is really just a funny parody.

I'm including excerpts. Now for my liberal readers, please understand that I know this doesn't refute your arguments.

From Good Neighbors, Bad Neighbors in which the author first describes a fight he had with his neighbor (bolded emphasis mine):

We (are foreign policy) was bothering Arabs Muslims governments in the Middle East. NOT being good friendly neighbors (if you ask me), just like me with my indoor hackysacking. No. We were constraining their behavior / preventing various regimes from doing what they want to do/ expanding as they wish / arming to defend themselves / etc. In short: we offended them.

On 9/11 we received our "note" (like note Arun to me) asking (kindly, gently) (ok 3000+ kill (stock brokers mostly) to make point better) to stop our behavior. This was a chance (an opportunity) to make a mends by LISTENING (like I did, to polite note from C&C Music Factory fan) and changing are behavior accordingly as per all there wishes (ie. no American troops or citizens on Arabian peninsula anywhere/ dive vest from Israel completely,udderly / stop blockade of Iraq i.e. let Saddam trade with whomever however do/kill whatever he wishes / kick non Muslims out of Sudan / kick Russians out of Chechnya / kick Serbians out of Easter Europe / kick Indians out of Indian peninsula / etc.) Whatever - just good friendly neighbor behavior. This would of been civilized thing to do.

From Contained Really:

A helpful metaphor here, borrowed from another context, is the "lockbox". Just say it this way: We had Saddam contained in a lockbox. Examine that sentece carefully. That sentence proves all you need to know, relly. (Frankly I don't understand why the Kerry people don't say this kind of thing more often)

This (containment) (lockbox too) is a geopolitical term of art. It means, when someone (i.e. a country) (Iraq, say) is contained, what has happened is, you have set up an International web of regulations and inspectors and adnimistrators to make sure they do no bad stuff (i.e. you make a list of bad stuff to prohibit and that's what they'll be prohibited from). Thus, no bad stuff (from them) becomes possible (not within realm of possibility).

And from my favorite Sans-France:

The United States initiated and fought a war without (sans in French) France! This just makes NO sense whatsoever hestorically!

I don't know if Bush is just ignorant of history, or seeks to rewrite it. (Talk about Orwellian). But the United States fighting a war in which the French Army (l'Armee Francais) is not particpiating. It just boggles the mind!

Kerry would of not fought the (wrong) Iraq war at all. But if he did (which he WOULD NOT OF), he SURELY would of got the French Army to fight alongside are troops (which he would not of sent in the first place, to be honest). Clearly the French people are were eager (drooling even) to send their young men to fight and die in this (wrong) Iraq war they disagreed with, and they would of happily done it, it's just that Bush is such a cowboy and they didn't like him (personally). Waht an International Disaster!

Just thought I'd share. But to my conservative friend, it's a parody. Don't worry about it.

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August 25, 2004

Interesting Lexical Ambiguity

When I was reading China Mieville's The Scar, I came upon a case of lexical ambiguity that I thought was a bit fun. Like most examples, it was probably unintentional.

In this line one character, Tanner, is trying to talk himself out of being jealous of the fact that one of his friends, Sheckel, is developing a relationship with Angevine. He has just settled on the idea that Angevine has never expressed interest in Tanner anyway. The line is: "Tanner left Sheckel to his Angevine."

My first thought was 'His'? Tanner just talked himself out of thinking that Angevine was 'his'. But in context the 'his' refers to Sheckel. But this is the perfect time for useful lexical ambiguity because the whole purpose of the passage is to illustrate the emotional conflict of determining whose Angevine is. In the context of the book (and the fact that both Tanner and Angevine are former slaves) questions of implied ownership are even more intruiging.

Oh, and the book in general is quite good.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:52 AM | Comments (377) | TrackBack

Thoughts On Vietnam

I don't remember where I found this article, but it is very good. It talks about the uneasy political truce which had until recently held on the topic of Vietnam. The two most insightful thoughts in this post are:

And so years ago, wearied by their own arguments as much as by the arguments of their antagonists, sensible majorities of both the supporters and the opponents of the Vietnam war yielded to an unwritten domestic truce composed of two principles:

(1) Those who participated in the war, with the exception of anyone at or above the rank of general officer, are entitled to public honor for their service.

(2) Those who actively opposed the war, with the exception of the most extreme Jane Fonda-types, are not to be branded as cowards or traitors to their country.

Depending on one's political bent, one or the other of the two prongs of the domestic truce might be accepted only grudgingly, but it was accepted none the less, because most of us had become convinced that the best way to handle any question involving Vietnam was just to "let it alone."


Yet out of that silence, the nation's Vietnam experience did produce one apparent lesson that came to be generally accepted on all sides. The lesson was: "We must never ask our troops to fight a war without the 'full support' of the American people." Even more than the domestic truce, this dubious lesson was embraced by both sides, but for rather different reasons. The supporters of the war in Vietnam embraced this lesson because they naively believed that it would always remind everyone how anti-war protests had dispirited the nation and brought on defeat. The lesson would ensure that in the future whenever the nation embarked upon a war, protests would cease, and the nation would come together to "support the troops."

But those on the other side of the divide calculated more correctly that this "lesson" of Vietnam, if taken literally, had granted them a veto against any and every war. They knew that the "lesson" of Vietnam--that America must never fight a war without the "full support" of the people--supplies the easy logic by which a war's opponents, however few, can posit their opposition, however unwise, as the sufficient condition against that war. Understood literally (and this "lesson" of Vietnam is always accepted too literally) the lesson eventually boils down to this: "America should never go to war because there will always be some, usually substantial, domestic faction that opposes it." The historical truth is, that though he should always seek the broadest possible domestic support, it often happens that a wise statesman (Washington and Lincoln come to mind) will lead a war vehemently opposed by a substantial domestic faction. Because "full support" is an impossibility, making "full support" a condition for waging war is a debilitating policy, a policy that transforms the idiocy of Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore into self-fulfilling prophecy:

We must not fight without full support. Because Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore do not support the war, we do not have full support. Therefore, we must not fight.

And so the the "lesson" of Vietnam guarantees that opponents of a war receive instant political legitimacy because their very existence denies the "full support" that is believe to be required according to the "lesson" of Vietnam. If a deeper examination might have yielded better lessons from the Vietnam experience, the wheat seemed not worth the threshing, and most of us thought it best just to "let it alone."

The author suggests that Kerry broke this truce on the interpretation of the Vietnam war by, typically for Kerry, trying to have it both ways depending on the audience. He wants the honor of participating in the war to insulate him from questions of security weakness in his political career afterwards. That is the message for mainstream swing voters. He also wants the mantle of moral righteousness from having opposed the war for those with a more pacifistic bent or in some cases anti-American bent.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:35 AM | Comments (428) | TrackBack

August 24, 2004

Why We Must Win

This is an example of why we have to fight Sadr, he want to make Iraq into another Iran. This is why we have to fight Islamism, its adherents will hate us so long as we believe that killing an underage girl for engaging in sex is reprehensible. It is especially bad (if it can get any worse) because there are hints that she was killed for being raped: "She told the religious judge, Haji Rezaii, that he should punish the main perpetrators of moral corruption not the victims." or because she pissed off the judge with her suggestion, "The judge personally pursued Ateqeh’s death sentence, beyond all normal procedures and finally gained the approval of the Supreme Court. After her execution Rezai said her punishment was not execution but he had her executed for her 'sharp tongue'."

This took place in the normal legal channels of Islamic fundamentalist Iran. This is what Islamist groups want us to look like. This is how Osama bin Laden wants us to treat our women if we are to avoid his condemnation for tempting Muslims away from their faith. We aren't fighting against people who are angry at us because of captialist excesses. We are fighting against people who detest the things at the very core of Western society. What we are fighting is unfortunately much bigger than Al Qaeda. We are fighting a group of societies that spawn groups like Al Qaeda with their revolutionary Islamist ideology. To defeat the enemy we must not shy away from identifying it.

In that vein, I find this Amnesty International statement almost depressing:

Amnesty International today expressed its outrage at the reported execution of a girl who is believed to be 16 years old, Ateqeh Rajabi, in Neka in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran, on 15 August, for "acts incompatible with chastity" (amal-e manafe-ye 'ofat). Ateqeh Rajabi was reportedly publicly hanged on a street in the city centre of Neka.

Amnesty International is alarmed that this execution was carried out despite reports that Ateqeh Rajabi was not believed to be mentally competent, and that she reportedly did not have access to a lawyer at any stage.

The execution of Ateqeh Rajabi is the tenth execution of a child offender in Iran recorded by Amnesty International since 1990. Amnesty International has urged Iran's judicial authorities to halt further executions of child offenders - people who were under 18 years old at the time of the offence. This is to bring Iran's law and practice in line with requirements of international human rights law.

A bill to raise the minimum age for execution to 18 was reportedly under consideration by parliament in December 2003. However, the bill is not believed to have been ratified by the Guardian Council, Iran's highest legislative body.

Amnesty International believes that the execution of Ateqeh Rajabi underlines the urgent necessity that Iran pass legislation removing provision for the execution of child offenders, thereby preventing further execution of child offenders, and bringing Iran into line with its obligations under international law.

Further, the organization is urging the authorities to clarify whether Ateqel Rajabi had legal representation and whether a legally approved doctor deemed her psychologically fit to stand trial.

According to report on Peyk-e Iran, Ateqeh Rajabi was sentenced to death approximately three months ago, by a lower court in Neka in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran, for "acts incompatible with chastity".

During her trial, at which she was reportedly not represented by a lawyer, the judge allegedly severely criticised her dress, harshly reprimanding her. It is alleged that Ateqeh Rajabi was mentally ill both at the time of her crime and during her trial proceedings.

It is reported that although Ateqeh Rajabi's national ID card stated that she was 16 years old, the Mazandaran Judiciary announced at her execution that her age was 22.

The case reportedly attracted the attention of the Head of the Judiciary for the Mazandaran province, who ensured that the case be heard promptly by the Supreme Court. In Iran, all death sentences have to be upheld by the Supreme Court before they can be implemented.

The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, and Ateqeh Rajabi was publicly hanged in the city centre of Neka on 15 August. According to Peyk-e Iran, the lower court judge that issued the original sentence was the person that put the noose around her head as she went to the gallows.

On the same night that she was buried, Ateqeh Rajabi's corpse was reportedly removed from the grave by unknown individuals. The Rajabi family have lodged a complaint and have called for an investigation.

The co-defendant of Ateqeh Rajabi, an unnamed man, was reportedly sentenced to 100 lashes. He was released after this sentence was carried out.

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is bound not to execute child offenders. Both treaties provide that capital punishment shall not be imposed for offences committed by persons under 18 year of age at the time of committing the offence.

The focus of this AI bulletin is almost completely wrong. The shocking thing is not that Iran is executing someone for offences committed when they were under 18. The shocking thing is that they are executing a girl who may very well have been raped for the crime of being raped. At the very least they are executing a girl for the crime of having sex. Either of those scenarios ought to be the focus of the outrage. The age of the woman is almost entirely beside the point. If the woman was 30, the execution would still be outrageous. If the prevailing standard were that people in the world could execute 14-year olds this execution would still be outrageous. The age issue isn't the problem. By focusing exclusively on the narrow question of age, AI dodges the problem of identifying a society which is troubled on a much deeper level.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:33 AM | Comments (552) | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

McCain-Feingold Whining

Sen. John Kerry accused President Bush on Thursday of relying on front groups to challenge his record of valor in Vietnam, asserting, "He wants them to do his dirty work." Cite.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the independent Section 527 groups that McCain-Feingold has foolishly channelled money into. Kerry is relying on 527 groups which favor him (especially those funded by mega-wealthy Soros) so it is a bit rich to complain about Bush hiding behind a 527 group. And Kerry's call on Bush to make the SwiftVets stop would be illegal campaign coordination under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance debacle.

McCain-Feingold makes it very difficult for campaigns to influence third-party ads, and attempts to ban them would rightly be struck down as interference with the most core value of the First Amendment Freedom of Speech--freedom to speak about politics. It looks already as if McCain-Feingold has contributed to making campaigns uglier rather than cleaner. This wasn't a surprise--opponents of McCain-Feingold predicted it.

But we can all join Kerry and pretend to be shocked anyway.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:22 AM | Comments (804) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

Picking At A Scab

Kevin Drum has discovered a rather large number of seemingly anti-Bush movies:

By my count, that makes three separate movies this campaign season that are either pro-Kerry or anti-Bush:

Fahrenheit 9/11
Bush's Brain
Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry

Plus two more that, while not specifically anti-Bush, are certainly unsympathetic to the conservative cause:

Control Room

Have liberals finally figured out an effective way to fight back against talk radio?

UPDATE: And there's more!
Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Orwell Rolls In His Grave
The Hunting of the President
The Corporation
Team America: World Police
Silver City

Hollywood isn't exactly the most pro-Republican place is it? I'm shocked! Shocked I say!

This fascinating discovery would be less annoying if it had not been accompanied with the following statement: "Have liberals finally figured out an effective way to fight back against talk radio?"

The answer is: of course not. Conservative talk radio was the way that conservatives decided to fight back against the liberal media (and I'm using that word in the plural).

But that is the long way to the scab to be picked at--liberal bias in the news media. Patterico has an insightful post on some of the more subtle manifestations of liberal news bias:

The article, a front-page news analysis titled Kerry Put On Defensive About Iraq, just drips with sympathy for Kerry. But I don't find any clear misstatements of fact in the piece. The bias is in the way it's worded, starting with the very first paragraph:

Over the past week, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have thrown Sen. John F. Kerry on the defensive with a daily assault designed to tarnish his credentials as a possible commander in chief. But the orchestrated attacks also revealed the president's vulnerabilities on the issue that continues to shape the presidential campaign as much as any other.

I chuckled when I read the part about the "orchestrated attacks." It reminded me of the survey that one web site did of all the times Dan Rather had used the phrase "carefully orchestrated leak." You will not be surprised to learn that Rather always used the phrase to refer to alleged leaks by Republicans. Republicans are apparently the masters of "orchestration," whether you're talking leaks or attacks.
You see, whenever one candidate criticizes another, there are two ways to characterize what's happening. If you think the criticism may be valid, you will refer to the criticism passively, and discuss the "mounting criticism" of the candidate being criticized. But if you don't like the criticism, then you will refer to the criticism as an "attack." You will consistently phrase the description of the criticism in the active voice, as in: "Cheney attacked Kerry over the issue of . . ." Rather than saying that the parties voicing the criticism have "pointed out" their opponent's misstatements, you will say they "seized on" those misstatements.

I saw quite a bit of this type of reporting regarding the Democratic Convention. The speakers were constantly reported as avoiding 'attacks' when they cleary did not do any such thing. They hedged some of their attacks, they veiled some of their attacks, but they didn't avoid attacking. Nor should they have. But that doesn't excuse pretending that the general tone was uplifting and warm.

Patterico then has a brilliant side-by-side reworking of the article. It uses all the spin techniques found in the article except it spins them in favor of Bush and against Kerry. I really encourage everyone to read it. The stories are factually identical but the underlying tone is amazingly different. He highlights precisely what conservatives mean when they talk about media bias, and then turns it on its head. I was aware of the techniques he used, but I wasn't concious of them--if the distinction makes sense.

Read his side-by-side articles and then come back and pick the scab.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:34 AM | Comments (519) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Who Released Khan's Name?

Apparently it was Pakistan.

The release of Mr. Khan's name - it was made public in The New York Times on Aug. 2, citing Pakistani intelligence sources - drew criticism by some politicians, like Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who charged that this leak might have compromised the search in Britain and Pakistan for Mr. Khan's Qaeda partners. (No officials in Britain, Pakistan or the United States have told The Times on the record that identifying Mr. Khan had such an impact).

But I will join with Kevin Drum on this, which I have mentioned as a possibility before:

"Of course, Douglas Jehl or David Rohde of the New York Times, who were the first to report this, could just tell us and then we'd know. It's not clear to me how a simple acknowledgment of the nationality of their source would compromise the person who leaked this."

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 05:13 PM | Comments (460) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

A Withdrawal Plan I Can Get Behind

I see that Bush has announced a troop withdrawal from Europ and South Korea. This is an excellent idea that could have been implemented years ago. The troops in South Korea were positioned as a tripwire for the Cold War. South Korea is capable of defending itself against an agressive North Korea and has had large protests to get rid of the troops for decades. If we feel the need to invade North Korea, it can be done without the non-strategic tripwire installations. But frankly we wouldn't be invading North Korea without Chinese help anyway. Far more likely is a strike against the nuclear plant.

Troops stationed in Germany have mainly been a drain to the U.S. for more than a decade. They aren't located near the modern threats and have been the subject of much criticism for years.

Furthermore, this is a nice hint that Europe might want to consider funding a more realistic level of its own defense.

In a 'what liberal press' headline I see "Bush's Withdrawal Plan Could Draw Votes". First, I'm not sure that it is particularly likely to draw votes from military families if they weren't inclined to vote for Bush anyway--considering that, according to the Guardian, the plans won't be implemented until sometime between 2006 and 2011. Second, is that really the most important facet of one of the most important troop realignments since arranged to put troops in South Korea?

This Mark Steyn piece is a bit over the top in tone, but has a few very well placed comments:

My confrère was falling prey to theories of "imperial overstretch". But, as I wrote at the time in an article on "the death of Europe", "if you're not imperial, it's quite difficult to get overstretched. By comparison with 19th-century empires, the Americans travel light."

America's main "overstretch" lies not in Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa, but in its historically unprecedented generosity to its wealthiest allies. "The US picks up the defence tab for Europe, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, among others," I wrote. "If Bush wins a second term, the boys will be coming home from South Korea and Germany, and maybe Japan, too."

Well, the second term is not quite here. But America has already quit Saudi Arabia, and plans for South Korea and Germany are well advanced. When scholars come to write the final chapter in the history of the European continent, the six-decade US security guarantee will be seen as, on the whole, a mistake. Not for America, but the Continentals.

The so-called "free world" was, for most of its members, a free ride. Absolving wealthy nations of the need to maintain credible armies softens them: they decay, almost inevitably, into a semi-non-aligned status.

Even now, the likes of Mr Bruch see the US military presence in Europe in mainly economic terms - all those German supermarkets and German restaurants that depend on American custom. But, looked at in defence terms, if Don Rumsfeld wants a light, mobile 21st-century military, the last place to base it is the Continent: given that the term "ally" is now generally used in the post-modern meaning of "duplicitous obstructionist", it's not unlikely that any future Saddamesque scenario would see attempts to throw operational restraints around the use of US forces in Europe.

He then suggests a parallel between European reliance on US military power and EU subsidies from Germany:

The Germans get 11 per cent of the votes in the Council of Ministers and pony up 67 per cent of the EU's net contributions. And sooner or later, they'll figure out that pandering to a pampered populace at home is one thing, subsidising it Continent-wide is quite another. Then they really will go on the offensive.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 08:15 PM | Comments (370) | TrackBack

August 13, 2004

Hizbullah as a Model for Sadr's Party?

Sometimes you read something so shocking that you can't believe the author meant what he wrote. At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin exhibits many of the most worrying aspects of leftist criticism of foreign policy here:

The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before. There were some tentative steps in this direction in the period between the April insurrection and the current fighting. But, as with everything else they have done, the Administration was too clever by half, offering the facade of democratic processes, while trying to rig them in favor of their preferred clients. Sadr rejected the crumbs he was offered then. If he survives, his price will undoubtedly be higher now.

There is almost certainly a place in the political process for many of his followers if 'followers' is used in a loose sense of the word. There almost certainly is not a place for Sadr himself, now that he has tried to start a civil war on two separate occasions. You can't keep accomadating someone who thinks that armed insurrection is the solution to each political disagreement.

I would find "rig them in favor of their preferred clients" a funny description of trying to maintain some sense of secular government, except it is just so sad.

The whole thing smacks of wishful thinking about Sadr and Islamism.

But far worse is Prof. Quiggin's extension of these thoughts in the comments.

When challenged on "The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before...." he suggests:

Steve, the most obvious example is the Lebanese Hizbollah which was one of the leading participants in the civil war there, and committed numerous terrorist acts, but is now a more-or-less normal political party in the Lebanese context.

Hizbollah is still violently anti-Israel, but that is true of any party with significant popular support anywhere in the Islamic world.

Prof. Quiggin wants to use Hizbollah as a model for Sadr? He apparently doesn't see any difficulty caused by the calling it more-or-less normal in the Lebanese context. That is exactly like dismissing the gulag as more-or-less normal in the Soviet context. It isn't wrong in a descriptive sense, but as a model for how anything ought to work it is morally shocking. Or ought to be.

The hope that Islamist groups will be moderated by the attractions of office is certainly possible if Hizbollah is his idea of moderate. But that doesn't make it a good idea for Iraq.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:42 AM | Comments (503) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Statistical Games

If you read Unlearned Hand, you ought to read his new blog (with no pseudonym) Handful Of Sand. Actually you should read him even if you didn't read him before--he tackles all the right problems (even if I do think he does so in the wrong way lots of times).

He comments on a report about Walmart and public assistance, and his comments make perfect sense, but the statisitcal basis does not. (It isn't his fault, he relies on a Berkley professor who should know better). Here is a summary of Ken Jacob's findings

A recent University of California, Berkeley study found that the fast growing retailer takes more from communities than it gives.

"Because of the low wages and because people do not have health insurance through their employer, people rely on public support to make ends meet," says the school's Ken Jacobs.

Estimates are the result is a tab to California taxpayers of $82-million a year for health care, food stamps, and other social services.

Current and former employees say that sounds right, Whitaker observes.

"I don't have any health benefits, so I just got to make it," points out Wal-Mart employee Anthony Wilson.

Former Wal-Mart worker Brandon Police adds, "I've seen Wal-Mart employees have to rely on government welfare, housing, etc."

UC Berkely's Jacobs asserts, "This is a subsidy for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is, effectively, in California and the rest of the country, shifting their labor costs onto the public."

There is at least one seriously flawed concept here, and another flaw which is noticeable. The first flaw is that the study assumes that if these people were not working at WalMart they would not be getting public assistance. That is an assumption which requires a serious defense if we are to get past it. Many WalMart jobs are the very first step into the working world. For many of these people this is either a first job or their first job in a long time. It doesn't seem a stretch to suspect that many of them would be unemployed if they weren't working at WalMart.

There are arguments about the effect of small changes in the minimum wage on unemployment levels, but so far as I know the general understanding among economists is that a large increase in the minimum wage would lead to greater unemployment. If we are talking about a minimum wage increase large enough to end public assistance for minimum wage workers, we are definitely talking about a large increase in unemployment. This suggests that the most obvious 'remedy' is at least somewhat questionable.

The next problem with the study is that it assumes these people work at WalMart for a long time. For most, WalMart is an entry into the job market. Very few make it a career. This is important, because the Berkley report portrays the issue as WalMart taking abusing public assistance programs. But it seems helpful before making an accusation like that to understand what happens to these workers over time. If they go from being wholly dependent on public assistance, to partially dependent on public assistance while working for WalMart, to non-dependent as they go to work higher up on the job ladder, it seems that WalMart is providing a service to its customers in low prices and a service to the state in the form of taxes and in being a vehicle by which workers gain the skills to eventually be free of dependency on public assistance.

It is too bad that the Berkley study didn't look at the big picture.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:45 AM | Comments (673) | TrackBack

August 10, 2004

Medical Miracle

Did you know that they can make a prosthetic arm that can be stitched to your nerves and controlled by your brain? Cite

I had no idea we were this far along the cyborg path. I think it is great.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:23 AM | Comments (657) | TrackBack

Nothing to See Here

According to the EU fact-finding mission there is no evidence of genocide in the Sudan. See here, here and here.

After returning from western Sudan, Pieter Feith, an adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, told reporters in Brussels that "it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow killing going on, and village burning of a fairly large scale".

But this did not amount to genocide, Reuters reported him as saying.

As many as 30,000 people have reportedly been killed, and one million people have been forced to flee their homes in the region.

The US Congress and some humanitarian groups have accused Sudan of genocide, and a July 30 UN resolution threatens economic and diplomatic action against Sudan if it fails to act within 30 days to rein in the militias, known as Janjaweed, which operate in Darfur.

Khartoum has denied backing the militias.

Widespread, systematic killing, but fortunately no genocide. Whew, we dodged a bullet on that one. 30,000 or so peasants killed but no genocide. Genocide is defined as a calculated effort to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Unless the villages are being razed for the fun of it, which I suppose is possible, it would seem obvious that these people are not being killed for any military objective. Which suggests that they are being targeted for national, ethnic, racial or religious reasons. Is the problem that the EU can't find evidence as yet for calculated effort to completely destroy?

But really that is looking at it from the wrong direction. This isn't semantic confusion, this South African paper nails it as lack of political will:

The European Union said on Monday there was widespread violence in the Darfur region of Sudan but the killings were not genocidal, a potentially crucial distinction which underlined its reluctance to intervene.

The genocide convention, adopted by the UN in 1948, calls on signatories to "prevent" and "punish" genocide. If governments accept events in Darfur amount to genocide they would be obliged to intervene.

Given the risk of such a logistical and military challenge, that is something few governments are willing to contemplate.

Instead of sending troops the EU and US have called for support from the African Union, a pan-African body which Khartoum could not so easily brand imperialist.

Documents from the Clinton administration show that soon after Rwanda's slaughter started in 1994, officials were privately calling it genocide but refrained from doing so publicly lest pressure grow for a US deployment which the administration did not want.

The problem is not that EU cannot see genocide, it is that it does not want to act and therefore refuses to label this large-scale targeted killing as genocide.

These are the very same countries that Kerry believes will take over for us in Iraq. If they aren't willing to get involved a less politically controversial undertaking such as the Sudan, I see no reason to believe that they are going to want to get deeply involved in Iraq. This suggests, yet again, that Kerry's 'plan' to remove a significant number of US troops from Iraq in the near future is either too naive in its expectations of European help or a calculated misdirection attempting to hide the fact that he is willing to abandon Iraq to its fate.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:04 AM | Comments (412) | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

Dirty Tricks?

I have heard this story from a couple of unrelated sources, and I don't know what to make of it.

The story is that Republicans are engaging in voter registration drives in Florida with the "Republican" box already checked on the forms. This story has been related to me with various (though fairly high) degrees of outrage.

But as a dirty trick isn't it kind of pathetic? First, I suspect that most of the targets of registration drives don't really vote anyway. Second, they could still vote for Kerry, right? If anything, I would suspect that pre-marking the "Republican" box would be a ploy by the workers to look more valuable to the campaign staff (they are registering lots and lots of Republicans) than as a dirty trick by the campaign staff itself.

Am I under-reacting to this?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:44 AM | Comments (484) | TrackBack

August 06, 2004

Poor Reporting on a Serious Intelligence Leak

This story shows a very dangerous mishandling of intelligence information, but the reporting is so awful that I can't tell at whom I should direct my anger. (Initial lead provided by Kevin Drum)

Under pressure to justify the alerts in three Northeastern cities, U.S. officials confirmed a report by The New York Times that the man, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, was the source of the intelligence that led to the decision.

Is 'under pressure to justify' one of those editorial comments that journalists throw in, or does it reflect direct information that the journalist obtained? By that I mean did they learn this information from a call beginning something like "You guys are crazy about this stupid speculation that the terror report was politically motivated becasue..." or is the journalist just guessing even though the journalist began the conversation with something along the lines "Do you confirm the NYT report that the information was from..."

The proper way to interpret that paragraph isn't made clear by the journalist, and the two interpretations make for vastly different judgments of the Administration.

This is completely unhelpful too:

A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters on Friday that Khan, who was arrested in Lahore secretly last month, had been actively cooperating with intelligence agents to help catch al-Qaida operatives when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

Monday evening, after Khan’s name appeared, Pakistani officials moved him to a secret location.

Here we have a non-informative passive voice. Did Khan's name 'appear' because of the journalist digging up information from a Pakistani source and then publishing it either with the knowledge that he would be putting the man's life in danger and destroying a critical source, or with the reckless disregard of the possibility? Or did the Bush Administration do that? Who knows? (Well some reporters know but they aren't telling us). The name just 'appeared'.

The Times published a story Monday saying U.S. officials had disclosed that a man arrested in Pakistan was the source of the bulk of information leading to the security alerts. The Times identified him as Khan, although it did not say how it had learned his name.

'A man arrested in Pakistan' is probably plenty vague enough not to burn a source. 'Khan', however, is not. But do we find out how the Times knew to say 'Khan'? Of course not. Was it the U.S. officials? Was it the Pakistani source? Who knows? Mere readers sure don't.

U.S. officials subsequently confirmed the name to other news organizations Monday morning. None of the reports mentioned that Khan was working under cover at the time, helping to catch al-Qaida suspects.

Is this before or after Khan was whisked away to a secret location? Who knows? You might think you know because the confirmation took place in 'the morning', and the hiding took place in 'the evening'. But the confirmation took place in Washington D.C. while the hiding took place in Pakistan, a nine hour time difference. So if the confirmation took place at say 10:00 a.m. in Washington D.C. (morning) the hiding could have taken place before the confirmation but at 6:30 p.m. in Pakistan (evening).

Does the reporter know which took place first? Quite probably. Does he bother to tell us? Nope.

So we can have a huge range of perfectly legitimate reactions based on facts that could have been clearly reported, but were not. And that pisses me off, because I can't even tell who I should be pissed off at.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:05 PM | Comments (507) | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

Troubling Prosecutorial Strategy

This is worth looking at further.

FORT CARSON, Colo. (AP) - Three Army commanders were granted immunity from prosecution Friday in the case of two Iraqi civilians forced to jump from a bridge. One of the two allegedly died.

The decision by Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, cleared the way for the men to testify during a hearing to determine if three of their subordinates will face a court-martial in the case.

The three commanders, Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, Maj. Robert Gwinner and Capt. Matthew Cunningham, who have already received reprimands for interfering with the investigation of the case, had said they wanted to testify if granted immunity, defense attorney Capt. Joshua Norris said.

Two enlisted soldiers are charged with the death near Samarra on Jan. 3 and a third with assault for forcing the alleged victim's cousin to jump into the river. The cousin survived.

I would typically think that giving immunity to someone higher up the chain of command in order for him to testify against someone below him is a sign of responsibility avoidance. I can imagine theoretical scenarios where it might be a good idea--where the testimony would not expose the higher ranking person to prosecution to anything directly related to the case at hand, but rather to prosecution for some separate (and presumably less serious) offense. For instance if someone violated the rule against adultery in the military and found out about a murder, it would be appropriate to give them immunity from court-martial on adultery charges. It is not impossible that something like that is going on, but it seems highly unlikely. The most plausible similar situation would be if the commanders knew nothing about the murder but for some idiotic reason (worry that they would be blamed) tried to cover things up. However, if that were true it would be a bad policy to allow immunity because we really shouldn't encourage officers to cover up their lack of leadership skills through illegal means.

In short, I want to know what their testimony entails because that will let me know if the prosecutors are dealing with this case properly.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:39 AM | Comments (638) | TrackBack

August 04, 2004

It takes a Village

I just saw "The Village". It has been panned by many critics, and I'm not sure why. I thought it was really very good. But like the Sixth Sense I can't really talk about it, because you ought to go see it without knowing what the twist is. But you really should go see it. In general it is well acted, and the direction is excellent. Some of the things the critics say about the movie don't make sense. It isn't as if they didn't 'get it' because getting it isn't difficult at the end. Maybe they were expecting more of a Nightmare on Elm Street. One thing I have seen the critics complain about is that it has a mixture of suspense and love story and a bit of social commentary all mixed in. But it isn't mixed ad hoc. M. Night Shyamalan knows where he is going, and the fact that he can weave elements which often are found in the same movie into his work shouldn't be held against him.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:21 PM | Comments (535) | TrackBack

Anticipatory Search Warrants

Via Volokh I see a particularly disturbing law enforcement mechanism--anticipatory warrants. Orin Kerr provides a good working definition of the warrants:

...the government can get a warrant even if their case for probable cause hinges on some future event. If the future event occurs, the warrant becomes operative and they can execute the search. If the future event does not occur, then the warrant is not yet operative and they cannot execute the search.

In my super-cursory research in the topic I see that such warrants have been used at least as early as 1993 (People v. Sousa (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 549.)

The pro-warrant argument is basically:

Because anticipatory warrants enable the police to reduce the time that is consumed in obtaining search warrants, their availability encourages police officers to obtain a warrant in advance rather than forcing them to go to the scene without a warrant and there make a decision at the risk of later being second-guessed by the judiciary.

The problem is that if the warrant trigger is not precisely drawn, you haven't really removed the decision making from the policeman, you merely have removed the danger of a bad decision causing problems for the prosecution by pretending the decision is being made by a judge. The question of whether or not the exlusionary rule is the best way to enforce the 4th Amendment is beside the point. If we decide that warrantless searches don't provide useable evidence for trial (which I know is a vast simplification of the actual rule) then we shouldn't attack the idea of what a warrant is in order to get around it.

And (I'll admit I could be spreading disinformation here by not being aware of all the problems) but in this case, why did the police need an anticipatory warrant at all? Mr. Grubbs (and what an appropriate name for someone who traffics in child pornography) ordered child pornography through the mail. It was delivered by an undercover postal inspector. Maybe I'm wrong (I hope someone will correct me if I am) but couldn't the police just get the warrant and execute it as the delivery occurs? Is the problem that you can't swear that the particular movie will be found there until the postman delivers it? Why not deliver it when he is not at home and then get a warrant?

I don't really have a problem with this particular case, but the precedent is potentially quite sweeping. Furthermore, it isn't likely to be so much of a boon to prosecuters as initially thought. Will we have court battles regarding the definition of 'drug deal' about warrants based on police officers witnessing a 'drug deal'. The possibility of vague triggering events is very disturbing to me as a matter of policy. If we are going to bother with a check on police searches shouldn't we really have a check? And frankly it isn't even that strict of a check.

I haven't really thought through all of the implications, but my intial pass doesn't make me like the idea.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:55 AM | Comments (502) | TrackBack

August 03, 2004

Kerry Hypes Troop Withdrawal

Kerry is now suggesting that if elected he will be able to engineer a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq during the next four years. I haven't been able to find the full text of the speech, but here and here are two cites reporting on the speech. I think both headlines are misleading. He doesn't 'pledge' a withdrawal, he puts a bunch of conditionals around it. He doesn't 'sketch an exit plan' because he gives no useful details. The problem is that he is talking about it as a realistic possibility at all. Even with full European cooperation (which is itself an unrealistic expectation from Kerry) there couldn't be a noteworthy draw-down in Iraq during the next term.

This is the most worrying line:

Asked how long it would take him to bring troops home, Kerry said he would consider his approach "an unsuccessful policy if I hadn't brought significant numbers of troops back home within the first term."

When your policy goals are in the 'bring the troops home' vein instead of a 'we need to change X in the Middle East' vein (or at least 'X in Iraq') you aren't taking the War on Terrorism seriously. Bringing the troops home will be a side effect of a successful long-term Middle East policy. It is a stupid goal in and of itself.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 07:45 AM | Comments (490) | TrackBack

August 02, 2004

Seen at the Gym

While working out at the gym I saw an ad for one of their classes. It was called "Power Zen".

It seems impossible, but then I realized that it could be a meta-koan.

I wonder if the 24-Fitness people realize how deep they are.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:15 AM | Comments (497) | TrackBack