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Friday 30 November 2001

EU to outlaw racism?

The EU have proposals under consideration that would, among other things, criminalize “xenophobic” speech. The define “xenophobia” as aversion to individuals based on “race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin”.

  1. Does this mean that it would be illegal for Euro politicians and activist groups to put forth their complaints about American “imperialism”, “hegemony”, etc., which are based largely in general antipathy toward the United States?
  2. Does this outlaw Euroskepticism? That’s a kind of xenophobia, isn’t it?
  3. Does it mean that the British would no longer be able to legally hate and make fun of the French, the French the Germans, the Austrians everyone, and everyone the Spanish?

My guess is that it wouldn’t do any of those things; they define xenophobia as aversion to “individuals”. It seems that you could still legally hate an entire nation.

The most interesting question, should this tripe actually become law, will be #3 above. If an EU citizen who speaks one language hates another who speaks a different language, is that xenophobia, or just a colorful regional prejudice, like a Londoner thinking Geordies are idiots?

Posted by tino at 12:18 30.11.01
Thursday 29 November 2001

The need to Grow Up

I came across two interesting articles in The Guardian today, written by a Brit living in Montgomery County, Maryland. The first is about the requirement, for prospective driver’s licensees in Maryland, to attend a drugs-and-alcohol education course. The second is about Montgomery County’s attempts to regulate smoking in private homes. Both are interesting, and illustrative of why I won’t live in that state.

Aside: Santa Claus has been stricken from the holiday program in one Montgomery County town, too, after a couple of people complained that Jolly Old St. Nick made them “uncomfortable”. John Ashcroft makes me uncomfortable, can we do something about that? (Note, 3 December: Santa actually did show up in the end, and was welcomed by all. There was even some great footage on local Washington TV of several Santas attacking someone who was there spouting anti-Semitic gibberish with a bullhorn.)

Posted by tino at 13:47 29.11.01

Mid-East warns US on Iraq

According to the BBC, “Middle Eastern countries have voiced concern” that the U.S. may start bombing Iraq soon as the next move in the War Against Evil.

I think that the middle-east should just shut the hell up. In the end, bombing, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, and the subsequent lifting of U.N. sanctions are the best things that could happen to Iraq. For the U.S. and U.N. to capitulate and lift the sanctions while Iraq remains defiant would seriously damage their credibility, and for the Iraqi government to back down now after ten years of refusing to submit to the will of the U.N. would probably be fatal. Whether the sanctions were the right course or not is another matter — but in any case it’s clear that they’re not working, and to leave them in place is probably ultimately more damaging than bombs.

The U.N and “peace” have been given, as John Lennon suggested, their chance. Unfortunately, this approach has not worked. Working through the U.N. rather than through puppet governments have not stopped middle-eastern regimes from calling for “Death to the United States.” Decades of negotiations, sanctions, summits, and study have not made the middle-east or Iraq any more stable or less xenophobic. A few years of war in the 1940s, on the other hand, set Germany and Japan on the paths that led to them becoming two of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful nations. Ten years on from V-E day, Porsche was again building Le Mans-winning cars in Stuttgart. Ten years on from V-J day, Sony was producing the world’s first transistor radio in Tokyo. Ten years on from the end of the Gulf War, Iraq is still wallowing in its own crapulence.

Posted by tino at 00:17 29.11.01
Wednesday 28 November 2001

Expenses of identifying WTC dead

In her article in today’s Guardian headlined The hierarchy of death, Anne Karpf complains that too much money is being spent on identifying the dead in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Her first paragraph:

They say death is a great leveller. They’re wrong. Inequality pursues us after life too. Consider Ground Zero. While international attention has shifted to Afghanistan, the vast project of body-part retrieval in Lower Manhattan is probably the most exorbitant expenditure on the dead in our lifetime, and yet remains almost entirely exempt from criticism or debate. Ground Zero has been cordoned off, not only physically, but also politically and financially, though it’s a provocative message to the rest of the world, where death comes cheaper.

Ms. Karpf goes on to ask “How does it feel to the rest of the world to see the care lavished on the parings of American bodies in death, such as no complete third world body ever receives in life?”

Simultaneously, the article hints that it’s wasteful for the U.S. to take this kind of (expensive) care in identifying its dead, while suggesting that the same care would be nice to have in “developing” countries.

It seems to me that the “developing” countries are free to do what they like with their dead without fear of interference from the United States. If these “developing” countries have not yet found a way to make enough money to make mass DNA tests — or decent hospitals, or whatever else it is that they’re lacking — possible, perhaps that, and not some moral failing of the United States, is the problem.

Posted by tino at 12:59 28.11.01

More recent reading

Another book I’ve been reading recently is dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath, by David Kuo. It’s an insider’s story of Value America. Value America, in case you missed it, was to be an on-line Wal-Mart, a purveyor of everything under the sun. It wound up crashing and burning in a remarkably short time as a result, it seems, of the founder’s inability to build and run a business of this sort.

I haven’t yet finished reading the thing, so my characterization of the company may be incorrect. What I’ve read so far certainly mirrors my experience at other 1990s startups, though. The book teaches the valuable lesson that sometimes the emperor indeed has no clothes. Corporate culture, particularly startup corporate culture, tends to revolve around this worship of the founder and CEO. In some cases, where a giant, profitable company has been built out of nothing — Microsoft is one good example — this might be justified. But a lot of the founders and CEOs being revered within their little corporate worlds for their “talent” and “vision” have neither. This is an important thing to know.

Posted by tino at 12:42 28.11.01
Tuesday 27 November 2001

Bureaucracy, Law, and Business

The other day, I picked up a book called Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Amazingly, it finds that companies that focus on their products and customers produce the greatest returns for shareholders. On the other hand, companies that focus on delivering higher returns to shareholders, well, usually don’t. It’s a matter of defining your output: does the company produce widgets, or does it produce itself? Too many public companies, egged on by unrealistic demands of the securities markets, seem to regard their stock as their primary product; whatever it is they actually do in order to make money is merely an inconvenient part of the stock-manufacturing process, its costs to be cut ruthlessly in the name of short-term profits.

For some reason, this reminded me of an article by Jonathan Rauch in the New Republic a while back called Law and Disorder. The article is about Hidden Law, and how a lot of things, like sexual harassment or “hate speech”, are fundamentally ill-suited to being regulated or eliminated by formal law. Rauch’s (excellent) thesis is that these things must be dealt with by hidden law, which is really nothing more than a fancy term for mutually-agreed social convention.

In the article, on the subject of the law’s struggles to handle something it’s innately not designed to deal with, he says:

Then you get Bureaucratic Legalism: the notion that if you get the process right, the outcome must also be right. Outside of the legal system, people realized years ago that red tape, in the form of rules and hearings and paperwork, does not ensure sensible outcomes.
Though I would contest this; certainly the mad rush of the last decade or so to ISO-9000ize things in the business world points to a thirst for bureaucracy in private enterprise as well.

Posted by tino at 14:29 27.11.01

How far can (should) airline security go?

That’s the subtitle of an article by Malcolm Gladwell that appeared in The New Yorker in October. It’s now almost two months old, but I’ve found myself in that time referring to it in conversation a lot, so it’s probably worth a read.

Gladwell — author of The Tipping Point as well as a lot of insightful and interesting articles — explores the connection between increasing security and enforcement and the actions of those who seek to (or succeed in) getting around that security.

He does manage to fall for the How-did-terrorists-get-those-knives-on-board idiocy (remember that on September 11, carrying Stanley knives onto an airplane was acceptable), but this is not a fatal flaw.

Posted by tino at 12:17 27.11.01

Another Shoe Drops in Iraq

According to CNN, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammad al-Douri has said that unless sanctions against his country are lifted, “We will not permit … weapons inspectors. We have nothing to inspect.”

It’s safe to assume that the U.S. isn’t going to think much of lifting sanctions, and it’s probably safe to assume that Iraq would still tell the U.S. to go to hell with its inspections even if sanctions were lifted.

So I’d look for a repeat of this sentiment directly from Baghdad, and bombing soon after; assuming that the dance partners face no delays due to Iran or the Saudis (see below).

Posted by tino at 10:34 27.11.01
Monday 26 November 2001

Persian Gulf Prognostication

Persian Gulf Prognostication

It’s been the subject of speculation ever since September 11, but now official word is starting to come out that Iraq will soon be a U.S. target.

This isn’t at all surprising or particularly interesting. For the last ten years, the United States has been fighting an extremely low-grade war against Iraq, and Saddam Hussein has been regularly sending up balloons of invective against us. What’s interesting is what a stronger and more active anti-Iraq American posture implies now about the political situations in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Bush père was not a moron; neither were Colin Powell and the other people who ran the war against Iraq in 1991. Yet it would seem that the United States pulled out of Iraq in direct opposition to the Weinberger Doctrine (later and now called the “Powell Doctrine”). The Weinberger Doctrine, born of the mistakes of Viet Nam, calls for the U.S. to, among other things, commit massive resources, clearly define its objectives, and sustain the commitment to meet those objectives, before engaging in military action.

It therefore seems evident that a U.S. movement against the current Iraqi régime indicates imminent political upheaval in either Iran or Saudi Arabia or possibly both. Either Iraq must be dealt with and the U.S. will therefore mount covert action to mitigate the latent threats in its powerful neighbors to the north and south, or the situations in Teheran and Riyadh have shifted sufficiently that Saddam Hussein has outlived his usefulness to the United States.

Watch for U.S. action against Iraq and revolution in Iran to happen in the same week. There’s not enough information around — news from Iran has completely dried up in the last few days — for me to predict which will happen first.

Posted by tino at 23:36 26.11.01

Dope and Federalism

There is an article in The National Review Online that echoes a lot of the things I said a couple of weeks ago about federalism. A short quote:

In August, Mr. [Drug-Czar designate Asa] Hutchinson told the Washington Post he would enforce the federal ban because he wanted to “send the right signal” on medical marijuana. In other words, the best explanation of the DEA’s war on medical marijuana is symbolism.

Posted by tino at 17:08 26.11.01

‘Cheekiness’ predicts criminality

Oh, this is just priceless. As reported in an article in the Telegraph, there is a proposal to place children in eleven London boroughs under surveillance by the police, if they’re thought to be ‘at risk’ of committing a crime.

How do you tell who’s at risk? Acording to the article, “children involved in cheekiness, minor vandalism and causing nuisances” will be targeted.

This is, of course, the logic of the whole “gateway drug” argument. Most criminals were “cheeky” or “caused nuisances” when they were children. They’re now criminals. Ergo nuisance-causing must lead to criminality.

The article further states that the children’s behavior will “be monitored at school and on the streets by special squads of police officers and social workers, even though the children have not committed a crime and will not have been warned that they are being watched.”

Oh, yeah, this’ll be real subtle. The kids will never suspect a thing. If you assign cops to tail every child who’s a repeat offender at cheekiness, or minor vandalism, or nuisance-causing, you’ll wind up with hordes of police clogging the streets every day when school closes. More buses will have to be added to routes that students ride, just to make room for all the police.

You see, all children are cheeky and cause nuisances. And just about all of them engage in minor vandalism. It might be more profitable to target kids who are the children of lowlifes, and whose families do not instill in them a decent set of values and respect for others. That might wind up looking like you were targeting racial or economic minorities, though. Better to treat all children as potential criminals. That’s definitely a workable solution.

Posted by tino at 16:05 26.11.01

It’s a wonder the driving age isn’t 35 now

The other night, Nicole and I were talking about some of the dumber things that are being done these days to “protect” “children”. I remembered an article I’d seen in the Post some time ago, about changes in drivers’ education. Here it is.

Some of the changes make sense: they point out to students that they shouldn’t pump the brake pedal in cars with anti-lock brakes, for instance. But the article says that they also teach kids to:

Keep the headlights on at all times for better visibility.

Grasp the wheel at 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock to protect arms if the airbag deploys.

The first thing — about the headlights — is at best dubious. I’m not going to talk at length about this, but I’ll just point out that if you’re driving in sunlight, a couple of electric light bulbs are not going to make your car any more visible. If the problem is that people can’t see other cars, why don’t we just mandate flashing orange lights, à la tow trucks, on top of every car? Wouldn’t that increase visibility even more? The problem isn’t lack of visibility, it’s lack of attention.

The second thing — to keep your hands on the bottom of the steering wheel — is entirely absurd. Try this sometime while you’re driving. I have, and I wind up with almost no ability left to control the car. I have searched high and low for any studies that suggest that this is a good idea — that there is, first of all, an actual risk of injury from putting your hands on the steering wheel where they ought to go, and that this is a greater risk than that posed by the limited control you’ve got while holding the wheel down at the bottom — and I have come up with nothing. I think that this movement is the result of meddling parents of the sort who have no better use of their time than to attempt to legislate their children’s safety.

Posted by tino at 12:19 26.11.01

Gun article on page C1 of The Washington Post

The article discusses the merits of the M-4 vs. the M-16 vs. the AK-47 vs. the AK-74. In the Style section, no less. While Style is always in style, it would now appear that guns are as well — quite a change from the Post’s usual position on the things.

Posted by tino at 10:32 26.11.01
Monday 19 November 2001

VDOT: Convenience and Cost Savings ‘Not Useful’

In a recent Dr. Gridlock column in the Wasington post, Bruce Williams, a spokesman for the corrupt organization that runs Virginia’s transportation system, defended Virginia’s use of an electronic toll-paying system (‘Smart Tag’) that’s incompatible with the system used by all states from the Virginia state line north to Boston (‘EZ-Pass’). Because the systems are electronically compatible, Virginia wouldn’t have to replace transponders or readers to join the EZ-Pass consortium. Nevertheless, Williams said that joining EZ-Pass

would not be cost-effective and would not be very useful to Virginia’s motorists. The bulk of the 340,000 Smart Tag transactions every day on the state’s eight toll roads and bridges involves commuters, not cross-region travelers.

Well, obviously. Since Smart Tags only work on Virginia roads, not many “cross-region travelers” are going to bother with them; they’re just going to pay the toll manually, a transaction that costs VDOT significantly more than the electronic doowackys do. And I don’t think VDOT has ever counted the number of cars with Virginia plates — filled with people who pay VDOT’s salaries — lined up paying tolls the old-fashioned way on the NJ Turnpike. VDOT’s determined what would be useful to us, and the arguments they offer in support of their position are almost completely nonsensical.. Blithering idiots.

Posted by tino at 22:36 19.11.01

Tommy Thompson On Top of Things

HHS chief: Anthrax letters likely domestic terror — or so says the CNN headline. Problem is, that isn’t what the article says. In the article, HHS honcho Tommy Thompson is quoted as saying that they believe that the Anthrax letters are the work of “an individual in America, or individuals.”

Which, of course, you can tell by the postmarks on the envelopes. I sure hope that the government is withholding information in order to avoid tipping off potential suspects.

Maybe next week, Thompson will be on TV claiming that, after further study, they believe that the sender of the letters had access to envelopes and stamps, and that they believe that he was in New Jersey at some point.

Posted by tino at 19:31 19.11.01

American Schools In Crisis!

The other night, I heard a PSA on the radio in which the announcer urged the listeners to get involved in their local public schools. American schools, he said, were dangerously underfunded and out-of-date, and needed community support if the United States was not to slip behind other nations.

This is hardly cause for comment, except at the time I was listening to The Big Broadcast, an old-tyme radio show, on WAMU at the time, and the PSA was part of a Studio One production of The Red Badge of Courage, recorded in 1947.

American education isn’t in crisis. Our high-schoolers score lower, on average, on university entrance exams than students in other countries because a much larger percentage of American students take the exams. A lot of students do poorly because they come from cultures and from families that don’t give a rat’s ass about education. And money has nothing to do with quality of education.

Don’t expect to see the government saying any of this any time soon. Left-wingers like the idea that education is in crisis because it allows them to get more involved in children’s lives, and because it allows them to spend more money. Right-wingers like the idea because it gives them an opportunity ot attempt to destroy the NEA.

Posted by tino at 16:21 19.11.01

Disgust, Not Fear

CNN reports today that 87 percent of those going on a trip of 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving will drive instead of flying because of “fears of flying” after the September 11 attacks.

When will this idiocy end? It’s not fear of attack, but knowledge of the certainty of hassle, wasted time, long lines, and facing the bitterness of the commercial aviation industry.

Myself, I will be driving from Washington to the Midwest this week. Partly this is because it’s been a long time since I’ve had a road-trip adventure. Partly it’s because flying around holidays is absurdly expensive. But mostly, it’s about not having to be subjected to abuse from the airlines.

Posted by tino at 15:20 19.11.01