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August 31, 2002

augusta national vs women

High ratings, global corporate reach and sheer mystique make the Masters and the British Open events of great significance. What few of the millions of weekend television viewers realize, however, is that the Masters and the British Open are run by clubs that do not accept women for membership. Simply put, both Augusta National and the R&A are exclusionary all-male clubs. Although Augusta maintains that its policies are not exclusionary -- its bylaws do not explicitly bar women members -- the fact stands: Since its opening in 1932, not one woman has been invited to join "the National." The R&A has been exclusively male since its founding in 1754.

In Fight Over Women, Masters Gives Up Ads: Rejecting demands that it quickly add women as members, Augusta National Golf Club said yesterday that it would do without commercial sponsors for the 2003 Masters telecast because the sponsors could come under pressure from women's groups. The club said that it had stripped its tournament of advertising from its three sponsors -- Citigroup, I.B.M. and Coca-Cola -- to protect them from a campaign begun in June by the National Council of Women's Organizations. In doing so, the club is also shielding itself from pressure it may receive from those companies to admit women as members.

My, my. How very impressive. Augusta National is willing to do without quite a lot of money to be able to discriminate as it will. How virtuous of them to protect their sponsors from pressure.

Mind ... their sponsors had not as yet experienced any pressure. And, you know, Citigroup, IBM, and Coca-Cola would strike me as companies well able to fend for themselves. (But not Pepsi. Pepsi notoriously has a spine of jello, as they have recently demonstrated yet again. But I digress.) And I expect that CBS and the USA Network subsidiary of Vivendi Universal will also be well able to fend for themselves.

"We are sorry, but not surprised, to see these corporations drawn into this matter, but continue to insist that our private club should not be managed by an outside group," Johnson said. "As I previously said, there may come a day when women will be invited to join our club, but that decision must be ours. We also believe that the Masters and the club are different, and that one should not affect the other."

And that's an impressively sophistical argument. Yes, the Masters and the club are technically different. However, the one is the most visible and spectacular event sponsored by the club; otherwise, outside Georgia, the club is completely invisible 11 months of the year. Thus, people identify the one with the other.

Had Augusta National chosen to do so, they could have admitted women fairly quietly at any time in the past few years, without anyone outside the club thinking that it was necessarily due to outside pressure. People might have felt that Augusta National had decided that, yes, women are both golfers AND people and might deserve admission. (Then again, Augusta National didn't admit that blacks were both golfers and people until 1990, and then at the point of the PGA's bayonet, when they declared that they would not hold PGA-sanctioned events at segregated clubs. Unfortunately, the LPGA has no such leverage over Augusta National. It's also worth noting that the PGA itself would probably not have caved had the Shoal Creek mess not induced sponsors to pull out of tournaments at segregated clubs, thus endangering prize money. Augusta National may, in fact, know its sponsors well. Oddly enough, Golf Digest Companies -- which owns Golf for Women, which has been a leader in publishing on this issue -- also publishes the official journal for the Masters Tournament. Given Augusta National's wonderfully autocratic method of handling things, I would expect that privilege to be withdrawn for the 2003 tournament, if the contracts have not already been signed.)

Interestingly, according to current PGA and US Golf Association rules, because of these specific policies, Augusta National cannot host the US Open, US Amateur, or PGA Championships. Mind, it's probably not a big issue; both the PGA and USGA are generally reluctant to allow a course to hold more than one major tournament per year. Still, it's very odd that both organizations would sanction a tournament held at a club so thoroughly at variance with the organizations' current rules.

In July, [William Johnson, chairman of Augusta National] said the club would not be "bullied, threatened or intimidated." He said that women would become members on the club's timetable, but "not at the point of a bayonet." To be sure, not wanting to be forced into a decision by outside pressure yet again is quite understandable. It might even laudable, under other circumstances. That said ... I'm guessing that the club's timetable allows women to be admitted somewhere on the twelfth of never, being as it's the 21st century and they still haven't quite gotten around to it yet.

... Augusta National's private prejudices are doomed by the very success of the Masters, a global event with vast public exposure, whose giant corporate sponsors -- Citigroup, IBM and Coca-Cola -- reach across the world. All-male clubs are legal, and Johnson may defend them. In April, he argued his club was "non-exclusionary," indicating he did not see it as all-male, even though Augusta National has never had a female member. But to reject an entire category for membership in a club that hosts such a public international event, and to insist on the public's acquiescence, is to fail to understand public values.

Well ... "doomed" is not quite the right word. After all, they may continue for some time to come.

(For those feeing that Tiger Woods should say or do something constructive about the issue, may I commend to you an impressively acid commentary from last month's USA Today.)

Interestingly, there are those that take issue with comparing Augusta National's exclusion of women with its exclusion of blacks. The issue, as I understand it, is that because segregation was a legal requirement for so very long, that somehow makes it different. OK, fine; that explains Augusta National's whites-only policy up through 1960. How then do you explain the thirty years after that?

After 1960, Augusta National's exclusion of blacks was a choice, pure and simple. A choice which they were legally allowed, but not required, to make. And until 1990, there were no significant consequences to that choice; when they were threatened with the loss of the tournament sanction, they admitted blacks. Now, again, admitting women is a choice, legal and allowable, if perhaps reprehensible. For the moment, Augusta National chooses to deal with the consequences of that.

Posted by iain at 03:18 PM


August 30, 2002


Media Relations: batman! the musical?/ August 30, 2002

Posted by iain at 04:55 PM


first amendment

CBS News | Support For 1st Amendment Slipping: Support for the First Amendment has eroded significantly since Sept. 11 and nearly half of Americans now think the constitutional amendment on free speech goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to a new poll. [...] "Many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism," said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, based in Arlington, Va., which commissioned the survey. Almost half also said the media has been too aggressive in asking the government questions about the war on terrorism.

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

The fun part is reading the details. Nobody is particularly interested in having their own first amendment rights curtailed, you understand. They just want it to happen to everyone else. Therefore, we should infringe on freedom of religion -- especially those Muslims, gotta censor those Muslims. 48% believe that newspapers shouldn't criticize the government. (But 70% believe that newspapers should publish freely. Um ... what? How is that possible? What sort of odd little thing is going on in people's minds to make them think that those two things go together? To be honest, that alone makes me want to know exactly what questions were asked and how they were asked, because those conclusions simply do not make sense stated in the same survey.)

And of course, people want to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning. (But they don't mind printing disposable versions in newspapers -- which actually is illegal -- or writing all over them. Right. WhatEVER.)

When President Bush addressed the nation last September 20, he cautioned us that "freedom and fear are at war." He noted that the terrorists targeted the United States because we embrace liberty. "The terrorists hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other," the president told us.

Apparently, we just don't embrace freedom of religion or speech all that often these days.

Posted by iain at 03:00 PM


August 29, 2002

back together again

Meyers has PFA against boyfriend withdrawn: No more court battles. No more restraining orders. John Stachokus and Tanya Meyers, the couple who garnered national headlines during their recent battle over Meyers' decision to have an abortion, apparently just want to be left alone - together. The once-feuding couple resumed their relationship shortly after Meyers suffered a miscarriage two weeks ago, Stachokus' grandmother said Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Meyers officially withdrew the protection from abuse order she obtained against Stachokus at the onset of the lawsuit.
     Neither Meyers nor Stachokus would comment on their relationship.

... No, I shouldn't think they would.

This is the sort of thing that just has you scratching your head and wondering, "What the hell are they thinking? ARE they thinking?"

Posted by iain at 02:07 PM


tulia drug sting investigated by texas

Texas Attorney General Opens an Inquiry Into '99 Drug Sweep: Attorney General John Cornyn of Texas has opened an investigation into a 1999 drug sweep in which about 12 percent of the black population of Tulia, Tex., was arrested. The decision failed to appease civil rights lawyers, who describe the arrests in an undercover operation as atrocities and want the convictions overturned. Mr. Cornyn, who announced the investigation on Monday, suggested that he had opened the inquiry partly because of confusion that had arisen this month about whether the United States Justice Department was continuing its own civil rights investigation of more than two years. (NY Times, registration required.)

... It took Texas two years to decide to look into whether or not state laws may have been violated in a bust that arrested more than 10% of the blacks in one town, carried out on the word of a man that the sheriff's office had been warned not to hire by his previous employers, and who has subsequently been determined to have been lying in several of those cases.

Yes. Quite.

Cornyn had previously refused to order an examination of the 1999 sting operation in Tulia, a town of 5,000, in which more than 10 percent of the town's black population was arrested. Fourteen are serving prison sentences of up to 90 years. In reversing his position, Cornyn, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Phil Gramm (R), said a "slow-moving" federal investigation had failed to determine whether state laws had been broken.

I would point out that a federal investigation is not supposed to determine whether or not state laws have been broken. That is, understandably enough, the responsibility of the state.

Purely in political terms, I don't understand why the man would risk raising the issue at this point in time. Even if the federal government had dropped its investigation -- which it may not actually have done -- since the opponent hadn't raised the issue, why on earth would you want to remind voters of your two years of inactivity on what is manifestly a miscarriage of justice? There is absolutely no light in which taking this path makes political sense. And if justice was the issue -- as one would hope it would be for an attorney general, but that would be hoping for an awful lot -- then the investigation should have started ages ago.

Posted by iain at 01:54 PM


death and the state's purse

Nichols' hearing delayed.

Apparently, Oklahoma's revenge has been insufficiently financed.

Posted by iain at 11:13 AM


execution of juveniles

3 Justices Urge Broader Death Penalty Ban: Three Supreme Court justices said yesterday the court should consider abolishing the death penalty for killers who committed their crimes as minors. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer were outvoted in the case of a Texas inmate who was scheduled to die yesterday for a killing committed when he was 17. Toronto Patterson had asked the high court to delay his execution and consider whether such executions are unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. He was executed late yesterday. The three justices, part of the court's liberal wing, said Patterson's execution should be put off at least until the Supreme Court convenes next month to consider cases for the coming term.

There may or may not be a consensus forming in the country about the execution of juveniles -- I'm not sure what that would be based on, since the bare majority of the 40 states with some form of execution allow execution for crimes committed under the age of 18. (21 of 40, according to Capital Punishment 2000, issued December 2001 by the US Department of Justice.) It's not that I don't think that barring the execution of people for crimes committed while they were juveniles wouldn't be a good thing to do; it's just that there's no domestic consensus whatsoever that it's something we should stop doing, as opposed to the execution of the mentally retarded. (Of course, if you add in the states which don't allow execution at all, then you wind up with 29 of 50 saying that execution for crimes committed by juveniles is wrong. Which may or may not be how the liberal wing would prefer to present it.)

In any event, if the Court itself can't determine to halt an execution so that the case can be heard, how can they expect to come to consensus themselves? Granted that this is unusually public pressure from the Court itself -- and has anyone noticed that these little off-term statements by Court members are becoming more frequent? -- but it's highly unlikely at this stage that the liberal wing of the court is going to get enough people to even agree to hear such a case in the near future. After all, if these three were voting to hear the case, all they needed was just one of the moderates or conservatives to agree that the case should be heard, and they couldn't get that vote.

Side note: given the number of people on death row in various states, it looks like California and Texas will be getting those chairs and syringes a workout pretty soon. After all, with that number of people awaiting execution, surely the states will begin running into large numbers of them who have finally exhausted their appeals. It will certainly be an odd sight to watch crunchy-granola-liberal California vying with Texas and maybe Florida for the title of Execution Capital of the World.

Side Note 2: Interesting little nugget hidden away in the report.

Persons under sentence of death
                    1990      2000
White              1,379     1,990
Black                947     1,535
American Indian       25        29
Asian                 15        27
Unknown race           1        12

On the one hand, the number of blacks and whites under sentence of death increased by roughly the same number. On the other hand, the proportion of blacks compared to whites has spiked dramatically; it's very close to actual parity. Considering as we're only 20% of the country's population, surely that indicates that something terribly odd is happening out there. What it is, I'm sure I don't know.

Posted by iain at 10:39 AM


the experiment

The Experiment: Gay and Straight: Forget "Survivor", "Big Brother" and "The Real World," Fox News Chicago is pleased to announce a revolutionary reality TV project that hopes to bridge the gap and forge a better understanding between Chicago's gay and lesbian communities and the rest of the general public.

You know ... I could respect this more if it weren't for the fact that I watched the contestant tapes section of Fox News Chicago last night. I mean, it's not the contestants I take issue with; they are who they are. It's the organizer stating baldly that "they don't want people with open minds. We want people with issues." I suppose it might make for decent television -- no, I don't intend to watch, but I never watch Fox news, generally -- but it makes for a sucky living situation. And, frankly, it's not real. The plain fact is, by and large, there are a decent number of open minded straight people out there. And there are even more who are ... if not quite open minded, then willing to leave people alone as long as they're left alone. And Fox is eschewing both of those groups and aiming for the people with "issues".

Thing is, you're unlikely to find gay people in the reverse position. Yes, there are gay separatists out there -- do not ask me how they manage to survive -- but they would never volunteer for such a project. And most of us just don't really have problems with straight people as a whole; it's kind of silly to even think that way. ("Straight people are perverse! Perverse, I tell you! They're going to burn in hell! Just after they have a kid or two to keep the species going!")

And all of that said ... all but two of the straight women and maybe one of the straight men make me cringe. There is no way I could live with them for a week, or however long The Experiment will be running. I doubt I could spend very much time around any of them socially.

That is going to be one tense household.

Posted by iain at 01:31 AM


economists and escalators

One Small Step for Man ... and one giant leap for economists: How we figured out why people walk up staircases but not up escalators. By Steven E. Landsburg ..... It was observed early on that if you stand still on stairs, you'll never get anywhere. But for reasons I can no longer entirely reconstruct, that explanation was dismissed as overly simplistic. Soon the search for a deeper theory was under way.

I gather that apparently economists spend an inordinate amount of time completely stoned to the gills. I mean, what other reason can there be for spending an entire week on why people don't walk up escalators, but do walk up stairways? And not just one person, but an entire department. Doesn't that argue for the mass use of possibly illegal substances?

Either that, or we should be very worried about economics departments in our finer institutions.

And they got it wrong, on top of everything else.

Oh, not the marginal analysis part. No idea on that. Tried to take economics one term. Taught by Torquemada. Math without numbers. (Shudder.) The whole area of study might as well be voodoo. No, the marginal analysis is not the issue.

The issue is that apparently, they've never actually watched people and escalators. People do walk up escalators. In fact, there's an entire etiquette for it; stand on the right side, walk on the left side. (Rigidly observed in Europe, so I'm told, and they get terribly annoyed at Americans because we're a bit more flexible about the whole thing. But I digress.)

Basically, their theory fails because they were too stoned to actually go watch people use escalators.

(Actually, if I understand their theory, what it really means is that there are three levels of marginal analysis and not two. First ... oh, good grief. Now I'm doing it.)

Posted by iain at 01:24 AM


August 28, 2002


Interview : Stereotypes of homosexuals [with J. Michael Bailey, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University]

Q: What stereotypes have turned out to have some truth to them?
     A: One big thing is occupational and recreational interests. In fact, hairdressers, professional dancers, actors and designers tend to be gay men, at least at much higher rates than their population rate, which is somewhere between 1 and 4 percent. And women who are in the armed services, or professional athletes (two of the three best all-time women's tennis players are lesbian), are disproportionately lesbian.
     Children who are sex-atypical do tend to become homosexual. Especially males. Boys who want to be girls become men who want men. Most very masculine girls probably become heterosexual women, but their rate of homosexuality is probably still higher than would be expected given the population rate of female homosexuality, which is probably less than 1 percent.
     Recently, we have shown that on average, gay men and lesbians are very different on average from straight people in the way they walk and speak. There is such a thing, evidently, as a gay voice. And lesbians tend to look different than straight women -- in particular, they have shorter hairstyles.
     On the other hand, some stereotypes about homosexual people are due to the fact that they are in certain other ways psychologically like straight people of their own sex. For example, gay men have lots of sex partners compared with straight men. This is because they have a male-typical level of interest in casual sex, but because they are seeking other men with the same interest, they can have as many partners as they want. Straight men are constrained by the desires of women. I think that there is nothing intrinsically "gay" about having hundreds of sex partners. Lots of straight guys would if they could. But they can't, because they can't find female partners who'll have anonymous sex with them.

My, but the commentary in various places on this article will be fascinating. And huffy, too.

Interesting ongoing research projects, too. That "Dating Preferences Study" sounds like it must have some interesting results. Although I think I'm going to need it put into words of one, or maybe even two, syllables. Regarding the latter, our research would suggest that feminine gay men, in particular, may be most likely to suffer rejection from other gay people. In addition to their mistreatment by heterosexual people, we might expect that they would have more adjustment problems than most. So, basically, if you're a nice nelly gayboy, you're going to be getting it on the chin from both straights AND gay men. What a profoundly alienating experience that has to be.

Posted by iain at 01:38 PM


vive la france!

To commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, a French studio is unveiling an unusual omnibus movie called "11'09"01 September 11," which consists of 11 separate submissions from key directors in as many countries.
     The problem: Several of the segments are stridently anti-American.
     Consider the dialogue from the Egyptian submission directed by Youssef Chahine. "The U.S. and Israel are democracies, their governments are elected by their people -- thus it is legitimate to attack their people," says the character, an unnamed filmmaker.

You know ... that almost makes a kind of bizarre sense. Attack the people, and you may force a change in government policy. After all, if the government derives its ability to govern from the consent of the people, doesn't it logically follow that it derives its policy from its people? (Well, that's not actually how things work, quite, but you can almost understand how he wound up there. Leaving aside, of course, the utter immorality of the odd bit of mass murder.)

The movie's first segment, from Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, begins with Iranian schoolchildren explaining, "The United States want to bomb us, so we must built shelters." Amid references to a possible U.S. atomic bombing of Iran, the teacher encourages the pupils to commemorate the 9/11 victims with a minute of silence, but the kids keep talking about their own local tragedies.

What? Drop an atomic bomb on Iran? Where on earth do they get that one? (From Bush naming Iran as part of his Axis of Terror, I suppose. But still ... an atomic bomb?)

Meanwhile, India's Mira Nair focuses on the true story of a Pakistani-American who died helping New York firefighters at the World Trade Center. His unexplained disappearance on the date of the attack led to police and media suspicions of his possible association with terrorists -- something that wouldn't have happened if he had been named Jesus or David, his mother says in the segment.

Unfortunately, probably quite true.

"11'09"01" has yet to find a U.S. distributor.

Somehow, I'm not even remotely surprised.

Posted by iain at 01:20 PM


god for president

GoMemphis: Columnists: .....The President wants to turn churches into "faith-based" government subcontractors. Now some members of Congress want to turn churches into political action committees. A bill in Congress would amend the tax code to allow churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship to get involved in partisan political campaigns.

Well, that ought to produce some interesting sermons. "God wants you to vote for Shrubya and his candidates in the next election. No, really, he does. God told me so himself." (Mind, that probably happens anyway.)

I don't imagine that the law quite violates the establishment clause. After all, it reverses things; it's not the state giving money to religion, but religion giving money to individual candidates. (Although there is that pesky "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" thing. Does "no law" in fact mean "no law"?) And, technically, isn't religion basically a very specific interest group, viewed that way? Why on earth shouldn't they be allowed to give money the way any other tax-exempt group can? ... oh. Tax exempt groups can't give money. Oh, dear.

Where this law might have constitutional problems, in fact, is that it separates churches out from other nonprofit groups and treats them differently, for no legislatively good reason other than that "we wanna."

(And now for something completely different and utterly unrelated: somehow, I find it disturbing that the Library of Congress THOMAS site makes it look as though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are unrelated documents. A nit, I know, but it's just weird.)

Posted by iain at 12:12 PM


real beverly hillbillies

Media Relations: real beverly hillbillies/ August 28, 2002

Posted by iain at 11:55 AM


August 27, 2002

scholarship entry updated

ENTRY UPDATED, 11pm: scholarships, merit and otherwise

Posted by iain at 11:01 PM


lavender mafia strikes again

Charges filed against trio in anti-gay drive: Special prosecutor John Aguero filed formal charges Monday against [Christian] Montoya, 17, and two others: notary public Ralph Patterson, 76, and Anthony Verdugo, 40, leader of the local Christian Coalition and a board member of Take Back Miami-Dade, the group seeking repeal of the gay rights measure. All three were arrested last week and released from jail. A fourth person, not yet identified, is expected to surrender today. [...] Rosa Armesto de González, an attorney representing the three, said the arrests are politically motivated. [...] ''This is the work of the homosexual, bisexual and transsexual mafia that wants to destroy our families and take away the right of every Dade County citizen to vote'' .....

HA! The Lavender Mafia strikes again! Fear us!

Next time, we'll take Cleveland. Not that we actually want it, but you know, it's just something to do.

(Don't these people think that we Mafiosi have better things to do than to conspire to destroy families in South Florida? There's the entertainment industry to control, we have to rescue Martha Stewart from herself ... I mean, jeez!)

The lesson for today: every time someone brings up that old "Mafia" thing, they will be mocked mercilessly. (The concept of "Marlon Brando dressed up like June Lockhart" is just deeply deeply disturbing, somehow. Deeply.) And afterwards, we'll send in the Evil Queens Without Taste to redecorate their house.

Posted by iain at 01:41 PM


scholarships, merit and otherwise

USS Clueless - Working like it is supposed to: Harvard's researchers are cheating. They're using the patina of a scientific study to deliver political commentary.

If you look at the study itself, the Harvard researchers aren't quite cheating. (Not precisely, anyway.) They're quite explicit about the fact that they think the states have improper goals, and they're quite explicit that they're not examining the programs in the light of the state's goals, but in light of what they think the state should be doing. (And curse you for making me defend Orfield, even for one second! He was one of my professors, and I couldn't stand that class! I thought he was a yutz! Curse you, man!)

THAT said ... an income cap for such programs, regardless of race, does not strike me as unreasonable. Why on earth should the state pay people to go to college who can actually afford on their own? Making such programs scalar, a combination of merit and means, does not seem inequitable; equal opportunity does not mean paying someone who doesn't need the money. If people can actually afford the tuition, pay for their books as a way to day, "You done good this term, kid." Save the full tuition scholarships for those who need it due to lack of income; surely a great many of the dropouts the study decries aren't due to scholastic inability, but plain financial inability.

If you want more black kids to be awarded merit scholarships, go out into the cities and start encouraging those black kids to study harder while they're in high school so that they learn more, get better grades, and higher test scores. Tell them that studying is for their own benefit, and that it isn't "being white". But talk to them as individuals, don't talk to them as a group. Grouping someone is the worst thing you can do to them, no matter what color they are.

Enough, and more than enough.

Yes, there are cultural issues at work. Yes, people bear their own responsibility for what becomes of their lives. There are also issues of being poor, and of going to wretched schools, which do make a difference, and in which these children have no control. You can be as selfdirected, as ambitious as you like, and at that point in your life, if the people and information and other resources aren't there for you to build a proper educational base, you will struggle.

It is extraordinarily offensive to essentially state, "It's all black kids' fault that they're not better students." It is extraordinarily offensive to say, "Don't treat them as a group," when you're doing exactly that.

(For what it's worth, the New Mexico scholarships are doing exactly what they're designed to do, although they probably do need tweaking. New Mexico has a serious problem with losing all of its good students to other states -- the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University, with the exception of certain -- generally graduate-level -- programs are not necessarily the best. Diplomas from better known universities can perhaps open different doors for the students. In any event, a principal goal of these programs -- oddly, no longer explicit, although it was way back in my day -- is simply to keep the better students in the state. Generally, people stay in the state from which they graduated college, at least in the near term. If the state can keep its best and brightest, it benefits. At least, that's the theory.)

STEVEN DEN BESTE RESPONDS: Update: Iain Jackson takes extreme exception to my opinion on this, but I think perhaps there's less disagreement between us than he thinks. First, I'm not saying that the opportunity for everyone is now already exactly equal; I'm well aware of the issue of substandard schools and other such barriers. Second, I'm not saying that no scholarship program anywhere should ever focus on the needy. What I am saying is that it is a good thing for some scholarship programs to not focus on the needy, even as others continue to do so. In that I disagree with the Harvard researchers, whose agenda apparently is that all scholarship programs must include a means test because it is always a waste to reward those who are not needy. (Complete response at the bottom of the same page.)

And that was not the substance to which I took offense, or at least not entirely. I'm not saying that there aren't some things which should be awarded purely on merit. I do not entirely disagree with the Harvard researchers that, given the extremely limited pool of state moneys, perhaps the states might be better served trying to help those with greater financial need rather than simply rewarding merit. But, again, that wasn't the part to which I took offense; it's a minor pont of disagreement, nothing more.

The qualification about opportunity is appreciated, and the lack of any such consideration is, in fact, a large part of what was so disturbing in the original piece. It read essentially as if the quality of schools, and the role they play in equality of opportunity, was not and should not be a relevant factor in how the states decide to disburse their money to students. There is also the fact, as I did state, that you say, in essence, Don't deal with black kids as a group, deal with them as individuals, which, in the midst of a paragraph of quite expansive generalization, is just bizarre.

And then there's this:

Don't teach them to be proud of being black, teach them to be proud of being themselves.

First, being black and being proud of yourself are not mutually exclusive.

Second, I truly cannot describe how profoundly and utterly offensive that statement appears. I do know that it isn't meant to sound the way it does; I do know know that offense is not intended. I do know, more or less, what was meant. Nonetheless, as a statement, and especially as the cap to a paragraph which essentially blames black kids themselves for underachieving ... I honestly did not and do not have the words to describe my reaction at the time. Which, unfortunately, led to some continued misunderstanding about where my objections actually lay.

Note that I am not now, and did not previously, disagree that the cultural factors you mention are a problem, or that they need to be fixed, somehow. My objection was to the bare statement which made it appear that only those cultural factors are at work ... and to that one unfortunate sentence.

(And I do know that as a debating tactic, bringing up what is technically a new argument is unfair. All I can say is that at the time, I truly did not know how to discuss it.)

Posted by iain at 01:22 PM


minority report

Welcome to the Wilmington, Delaware Department of Precrime.

Wilmington police photo policy under fire: Two Wilmington police squads created in June to arrest street-level drug dealers have taken pictures of at least 200 people who were not arrested for any crimes. The pictures, names and addresses of the people - mostly minority men - are being used to create a database of potential suspects to investigate future crimes, Police Chief Michael Szczerba said. Legal experts and state and federal prosecutors say the tactic is legal. Criminal defense attorneys, the American Civil Liberties Union and minority groups say it is not. [...] Mayor James M. Baker said criticism of the photographing is "asinine and intellectually bankrupt," and he will not stop the practice. "I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks," he said. "Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional, it's constitutional."

Unfortunately, Wilmington's policy doesn't seem to be unconstitutional; the Chicago Police Department was last year given federal carte blanche to escape a consent decree and spy up a storm, although they note that now they would never never NEVER do such a thing: Today, Chicago police say they wouldn't consider doing what Wilmington is doing. "We go by past actions and not by what people look like," said Dave Bayless, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. Besides, Bayless said, the Chicago police have a system called Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting, which lets them instantly tap information on more than 4 million arrests dating back 12 years--from the city and 132 suburbs. The photos are of people who have been arrested, but not necessarily ever convicted. (And yes, even I will note that a database of photos of people who have actually been arrested and charged is a qualitatively different thing than a database of photos who have never been accused of a crime.)

Note that the City of Chicago's observance of that previously mentioned consent decree has been markedly lacking. The fun part is, even though the courts of appeal agreed to relax the restrictions of the consent decree, at the time that the city spied on the protesters at the 1996 Democratic National Convention, they were violating the terms of the decree, and should have been found in contempt for that reason alone. Later loosening of the decree should have had no bearing on that case.

In any event, if the federal courts of appeal were citing "terrorist acts" in April 2001 as a reason to allow "intelligence units" to collect information on people who had committed no crimes, then imagine what they would say now. "You want to collect information on the innocent, because they're poor minority men in bad neighborhoods? Go right ahead! In fact, hand 'em over to the feds, who can have them designated enemy combattants, and we'll never have to see them again!"

Apparently, what you look like and where you live now makes you a suspect in this country, even though you haven't ever done anything wrong. Apparently, despite being innocent of any wrongdoing, walking on the street and doing otherwise legal activities now constitutes suspicious behavior.

And people wonder why minority youth are so overwhelmingly hostile toward The System.

Posted by iain at 10:49 AM



130 on Death Row write Ryan for help: More than 130 Death Row inmates took the first step by early Monday evening toward persuading Gov. Ryan to reduce their sentences to life in prison before he leaves office in January. Almost all 160 Death Row inmates were expected to file clemency petitions by a Monday deadline to be placed on the Prisoner Review Board's October docket and reach the governor before he retires.

I do wonder what the ol' gov will do with these.

For example, I would think that all cases having anything to do with Commander Jon Burge and his precinct would automatically get clemency. At this late date, it's going to be almost impossible to determine which people were abused and which are only claiming abuse.

I wonder if the governor will explain to the public his reasons behind whom he choses and whom he denies. I mean, I could be said to be a bleeding-heart liberal, and even I would twitch mightily at the very idea of commuting Jacqueline Williams sentence, or that of the man who helped her commit that crime. (The baby survived the murder of his mother, and was actually in their possession when they were arrested. Of that crime, at least, there seems remarkably little doubt.)

The prosecutors may be terribly upset -- after all, it reflects on their work and their ethics to have the governor say, "Well, I think there's some chance this person may be innocent, so I'm commuting their sentence," -- but as I understand the Illinois constitution, there's not a damn thing they can do other than try to rally public opinion to their side. Granted, in this day and age, the public will, for the most part, be on the side of the prosecutors. However, when you've been as thoroughly worked over during your administration as Governor Ryan has, I don't imagine that you really care much what the public thinks of you doing something you feel to be the moral and right thing to do. (It's almost a certainty that he'll be indicted on some corruption charge as soon as he leaves office. Too many people near him have been charged in the "licenses for bribes" and other scandals for him to escape. And he may not want to; however difficult a trial might be, at least it would give him some chance to clear his name, if he's innocent. Then again, he might be found guilty regardless of actual innocence ... But I digress.)

Posted by iain at 10:28 AM


August 26, 2002


Appeals Court Rules Against Closed Sept. 11 Hearings (washingtonpost.com): A federal appeals court Monday ruled that the Bush administration violated the Constitution by holding secret immigration hearings for a figure under investigation in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Well, well.

According to the Detroit News, the panel decision was unanimous. That has to distress the administration slightly; not even a vague dissent to hang an appeal on.

And make no mistake: they will appeal. At this point, as I understand it, there are two choices: they can either request a hearing from the full Court of Appeals bench -- not particularly likely, really, given that there was no dissent -- or they can appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Unless there's some virtue in delay, I would expect the latter to be the approach taken by the administration.

As for the Court itself ... hard to tell, really. My very general sense is that they might want to duck this case for the moment, since all sorts of terrorism cases are headed up the pike. Then again, this one contains issues completely unrelated to the others.

Posted by iain at 12:44 PM



U.S. man who castrated another man charged with illegally practising medicine | CP

Good grief, WHY? (No, not why was he arrested. Why would you want them chopped off at all, let alone on someone's kitchen table.)

It also turns out it's a somewhat old story, although they only got around to charging him for that one last week. He's apparently castrated more than 50 men on that very kitchen table. (Again, WHY do they want that?)

And apparently this insanity seems to be going around, in various forms:

Alcoholic goat-mayor is castrated by cowboy: They called Jim Bob Hargrove a coward, but it takes balls to castrate an alcoholic goat. Especially when that goat is the local mayor. And it probably requires even more nerve when that cloven-hoofed politician is owned by a Texan millionaire, trying to impress a Hollywood actress. The people of Brewster County, Texas, found themselves at the centre of such an unlikely scenario this week when Mr Hargrove went on trial accused of emasculating Clay Henry III with a kitchen knife last November. It was said that once the deed was done, Mr Hargrove, 41, popped the hircine mayor's testicles into the fridge, effectively freezing Mr Henry's assets. Mr Hargrove has pleaded not guilty.

Now let me get this straight-ish:

The man castrated a goat.

The goat was the mayor. (In fact, the goat seems to be the heir to a technically democratic dynasty. His sire was mayor, and his grandsire was mayor. How ... different.)

The mayor was apparently owned by a millionaire, who was apparently not amused.

Posted by iain at 12:34 PM


the mistaken attention of retailers

Gays Draw Attention of Retailers: It may be too soon to dub 2002 as the year e-commerce sites devoted themselves to America's 16.5 million gays and lesbians. But an increasing number of online executives are paying close attention to this group, for reasons that become obvious after only a cursory glance at its demographic profile. Not only do gay and lesbian Internet users tend to be more affluent and more highly educated than their straight counterparts, according to Internet executives and research firms. They also have considerably more discretionary income, since they typically have fewer children at home. (NY Times, registration required)

Oh, for the love of ....

Doesn't the Times do ANY research? (Or, for that matter, editing. That first sentence is a dangling clause. Tsk. But I digress.)
As I have said before: Gay affluence is a myth. A myth that far too many people are terribly attached to. Retailers like the idea of marketing to the affluent and upscale, no matter who they are. Gays like the idea of being thought urbane and well-off -- "See? We make it in spite of you!". And the bigoted like the idea because they can say, "Hey, they're doing better than everyone else. Why do they need any more help?"

Which would be fine, but every single part of each of those arguments is a lie. Fewer gays are likely to be affluent and upscale, and lesbians are fairly likely to be outright poor. Being thought of as incredibly well-off is not helpful to any cause; it just makes retailers recognize us as a market. (And, to be frank, there's relatively little that needs marketing directly to gays and lesbians.)
To be sure, the Times article is only reporting on what other companies are doing. But you'd think that on occasion, when running a thoroughly unnecessary piece like this, they might do enough research to point out that the companies are following their lemming instinct based on information that is, at the very least, incomplete, and more likely completely inaccurate.

Posted by iain at 10:36 AM


August 23, 2002

bushlet, act 1

BUSHLET:Oh, what a brogue and pissant shave am I!

My. Who knew you could do that with Shakespeare? Or the Shrub, for that matter? Who knew?

Posted by iain at 03:22 PM


ashcroft vs fisa

Secret Court Rebuffs Ashcroft: The secretive federal court that approves spying on terror suspects in the United States has refused to give the Justice Department broad new powers, saying the government had misused the law and misled the court dozens of times, according to an extraordinary legal ruling released yesterday.

Sad thing is, most of the offenses the FISA court objects to occurred under the Clinton administration. That said, I cannot imagine that Ashcroft and his minions wouldn't and have not grossly misused their powers under this act. (To be quite honest, I can't imagine how you can easily avoid misusing them. To expect that the FBI's intelligence division will refuse to share information with its own criminal investigations divisions flies in the face of common sense.)

Unfortunately, Congress seems willing to lessen the standard for getting FISA warrants approved. Since the Justice department is not in the least concerned about privacy protections and the difference between domestic criminal and foreign intelligence investigations, it seems certain that once Congress lowers the standard for getting FISA warrants, the court will find itself again being grossly misused.

Ashcroft has appealed the decision ... to the court itself, which seems nonsensical on its face. The court essentially has to overturn its own decision -- which, against all precedent and in the face of Justice's opposition, it released to the public, as it has released no other document ever -- in order for Ashcroft's appeal to succeed. FISA sits more or less outside the normal federal judiciary channels, although it does draw its judges from the standard judiciary; there is no real superior court, due to the nature of the information on which it bases its decisions.

Posted by iain at 03:05 PM


bt loses hyperlink claim

Hyperlink patent case fails to click: BT has lost its controversial bid to sue Prodigy Communications over a patent that it claimed covered the use of hyperlinks. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon awarded Prodigy its motion for summary judgment to have the case dismissed, saying that no jury could find that Prodigy infringes BT's patent. The ruling frees all Internet service providers from the threat of having to pay a license fee to BT for hosting pages that use hyperlinks--the building blocks of the Web. If BT had won and license fees had been imposed, the charges would have almost certainly been passed on to ISP customers.

Well, thank goodness for THAT.

BT will probably appeal the dismissal, but I can't imagine that it will go any better at the appeals level. And at some point, they'll have to say, "You know, we're spending an awful lot of money on lawyers to keep losing a case that we knew we'd lose anyway."

Posted by iain at 02:05 PM


yet another IE problem

News: Microsoft warns of Office, IE security risks: Microsoft said Thursday that "critical" security lapses in its Office software and Internet Explorer Web browser put tens of millions of users at risk of having their files read and altered by online attackers. [...] In addition, Microsoft reported vulnerabilities in the three latest versions of its dominant Internet Explorer browser software that allows infiltrators to read files. Microsoft urged users to fix the glitches by downloading software patches from Microsoft's TechNet Web site.

Sigh. Just, you know, sigh...

Posted by iain at 01:38 PM



Kids love fire. Kids always want to help their dads build a fire in the fireplace. Kids can't wait to learn match tricks, Zippo tricks, and that thing they learn in the Scouts with the twig and the twine and the dried-out leaves and the pretty pretty flames that call to them, "Kid? Oh, kiiiiiiiiid -- come to me. Set me! Plaaaaaay with me." I too heard the siren song of burning stuff. All kids do. It's not that they want to destroy things or hurt people; that's the last thing most of them want. They want to watch stuff burn, though, and at one point or another, your child is accidentally going to melt or sear something in the service of that desire. Maybe it's a Dixie cup. Maybe it's the heel of her shoe. Maybe it's a small patch of kitchen counter. Declare a semi-annual Supervised Conflagration Day at your house and let them do it where you can keep an eye on things. Buy a fire extinguisher for every floor (you should do that anyway, or so I read). And see what I said last time about hiding things. Putting matches in a twee little canister on top of the fridge is just asking for a house filled with the stench of singed Barbie hair. Trust me. No, no, no -- trust me.

Actually, in my case, it was a pile of garden trash and a bamboo stand. In my defense, I would like to say that they never said that I couldn't burn the garden trash when they told me to get rid of it, and they'd been complaining about the bamboo stand forever. (Um ... OK, burning the bamboo was kinda sorta accidental. But still.) And I'd seen the neighbors burning trash, so I knew you could do it.

The fact that the fire department eventually got involved was just a small bonus.

Nothing besides the trash pile and the bamboo stand were harmed. Although the back fence was slightly singed.

And the advantage of the neighbors having done the same thing the day before (without, of course, the whole fire department thing) was that nobody had to ask why I'd done such a damfool thing. A win-win situation! (With, you know, the odd bit of being grounded until college, but them's the breaks! And after all, they didn't mean it.)

Posted by iain at 12:17 AM


August 22, 2002

inheritance and privacy

Senate approves bill to let registered domestic partners inherit: The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would allow surviving domestic partners to inherit property under intestate succession laws. The bill, by Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek, was approved 22-13, and goes back to the Assembly for concurrence in Senate amendments. Under the bill, the property of a registered domestic partner who died without a will would go to the other partner, in the same manner as surviving spouses inherit.

My, my. Here's hoping it gets through. And the privacy bill as well. (Although, frankly, if it does become law, I would expect it to be challenged almost immediately as a violation of interstate commerce.)

Posted by iain at 11:54 AM



The Al-Arian case is an utter and complete mess.

USF's Dramatic Move Spawns Legal Debate: The University of South Florida's overhauled case against Sami Al-Arian is a desperate act that puts the school in a clumsy position of proving a professor aided terrorists, his attorney said Wednesday. USF President Judy Genshaft's first comments about her new strategy were strong, too, as she accused Al- Arian of "using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activities.'' School officials confirmed Wednesday that they want to fire the suspended professor on grounds he has disrupted USF for years through support of terrorism. It's a fundamental change for a school that had carefully avoided raising criminal issues in its original case for dismissal in December. USF also is asking a state judge to rule on whether firing Al-Arian would violate his First Amendment rights. Essentially, the school wants to test its case before acting, a maneuver that reinvigorated debate over this unprecedented case. [...] Potential litigants commonly employ the state's declaratory judgment law to ask for a judge's opinion before acting, Rogow said. But it is a rare move for a university.

Apparently, the University of South Florida believes that Al Arian will take the Fifth rather than answering questions about the various materials. This will prejudice his case in the eyes of a jury. And the precedent they're using makes sense (although the Tampa Tribune article doesn't tell you why it makes sense; one of the university's accusations is that he tried to help fund suicide bombers.) In any event, Al Arian is expected to try to move the case to federal court, due the the First Amendment issues that the university itself cited. If that happens, do federal district courts often make that sort of advisory judgement? I know that the Supreme Court sometimes does, when requested by the administration, but I don't know that much about what district courts do. (And in a full trial, the university would almost certainly lose on the first amendment issue, although not necessarily on the others.)

According to the June 23 Tampa Tribune:

Israel Ties Al-Arian To Jihad Board: Sami Al-Arian, the professor being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged ties to Middle East terrorists, helped found the governing council of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and then served on it, current and former senior Israeli intelligence officials say.... U.S. law enforcement officials disagree. The threshold for convicting people in terrorism-related cases is far higher here than in Israel, they say, and - while they understand the Israelis' frustration - this case may dwell in a legal gray area.
     Such disagreement is fairly common when investigations in the United States require help from other countries, said Robert Blitzer, the FBI's former chief of domestic terrorism investigations. "They can do more with less,'' Blitzer said of the Israelis. "They have a tendency to read an awful lot into a piece of information to the degree that they view it as enough to do something. But we know here it's not enough to get a conviction. Al-Arian "is a representative of the Islamic Jihad, a known terrorist organization, here in the United States doing his thing in support of that organization, trying to radicalize and bring into the organizational fold more and more Muslims,'' Blitzer continued. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's broken U.S. law, Blitzer said.

The trick is that although his activities, if proven, would break current US law (the ever so lovely PATRIOT Act and its codicils), at the time he was doing them, they may not have been illegal. Depending, of course, on precisely what he was doing.

The AAUP is a bunch of wusses; South Florida should be placed on censure for what they're doing now, whatever good that does. The university has already stated that one of the reasons they're trying to fire him is for anti-Israeli remarks that clearly fall in the realm of protected speech.

In any event, Salon has a couple of articles about the case; they've been covering it for a while. Unfortunately, they've stuck the first one behind the premium wall, but the other is still available:

The prime-time smearing of Sami Al-Arian

(I'd forgotten he was related to al-Najjar. Another nasty case. And what a difference a few months makes. Can anyone seriously imagine Congress voting to repeal the secret evidence acts now? Or even being seriously perturbed by them?)

Posted by iain at 11:46 AM


August 21, 2002

ru-486 back in the news

Abortion Opponents Seek Ban of Abortion Pill

Well, now, isn't that interesting?

Seems that based on five women who had severe problems, out of the more than 8,000 in the initial studies in the US and France, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists are all stating that the drug's approval should be revoked.

Of those five women, one had a heart attack, and one had an infection that nobody can actually trace to the pill. The other three had previously unknown ectopic pregnancies, and one of them did in fact die due to fallopian rupture. However, the drug is specifically contraindicated for ectopic pregnancies. (I'm guessing that the manufacturer must recommend sonograms before taking the drug; otherwise how would you know it was ectopic beforehand? The hormonal reaction is the same whether ectopic or otherwise.)

I wonder where this will go? Under Clinton, the FDA would have thanked them politely for their concern, and then filed it in the circular file. Given that Ashcroft is intervening in abortion and other related cases where no federal issue is at stake -- one assumes at Shrubya's command -- I would expect that regardless of the actual scientific merits, there will be heavy pressure from the administration to rescind the approval. (In fact, that's pretty much what I'd expect to happen. I cannot imagine this administration not taking that opportunity. Then again, Shrubya has surprised me once or twice before. Maybe he'll do it again.)

Posted by iain at 06:03 PM



San Francisco now has two -- count 'em, two -- adult dodgeball leagues

And the only reasonable thing to say to that is: WHY?

Chicago, for instance, plays host to both the World Dodgeball Association and the National Amateur Dodgeball Association, which attract hundreds to their tournaments.

Leagues. There are national and theoretically international dodgeball leagues. Centered here.

This is just SO embarrassing.

Such a forgiving playing surface simply won't do for Lloyd Rivera, a 25-year-old San Francisco resident who has formed his own league called the S.F. Blood Warriors (who, he's quick to note, have not actually spilled any blood yet). The league meets every other Sunday at 1 p.m. on a blacktop at Presidio Middle School, at 29th Avenue and Geary Boulevard; the next game is scheduled for Sept. 1. "We play in this sunken blacktop area," Rivera says. "So it's kinda like Rollerball, except no wheels and no neoprene/latex jumpsuits." Rivera says he formed the league because he was tired of so many basketball games degenerating into dodgeball matches. And he thinks it's a shame the sport doesn't occupy a more prominent place in the adult world. "You're not supposed to hit people in the face or slam into each other at work -- that's looked down upon now," Rivera laments. "Well, this is a nice way of pegging people in the face and getting away with it."

"Nice". Rollerball without wheels and jumpsuits is "nice". I see. Clearly this is some definition of the word "nice" heretofore unknown to mankind. I mean, traditionally, the word "nice" has not involved the desire to hit people in the face and shed their blood, or even merely the desire to call yourself the "Blood Warriors."

"Nice". Hmm. Yes. Quite.

Posted by iain at 09:50 AM


refugee status

So on those days when life is pretty well screwing you over, and you're thinking that it truly sucks to be gay in this country ... well, it could be much, much worse.

Refugee Status: Tayseer, as we'll call him, a 21-year-old Gazan whose constant smile tries to conceal watchfulness, learned early on that to be gay in Palestine is to be a criminal. Three years ago his older brother caught him in bed with a boyfriend. He was beaten by his family, then warned by his father that he'd strangle Tayseer if it ever happened again. [...] Tayseer fled Gaza to Tulkarem on the West Bank, but there too he was eventually arrested. He was forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see. ("You slap one part of your body, and then you have to slap another," he recounts.) During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle. Through the entire ordeal he was taunted by interrogators, jailers, and fellow prisoners for being a homosexual.
     When he was released a few months later, Tayseer crossed into Israel. He now lives illegally in an Arab Israeli village and works in a restaurant. His dream is to move to Tel Aviv. "No one there cares if you're gay," he says. These days, though, he knows that an illegal Gazan in Tel Aviv risks being deported and that he's safest staying where he is.
    And if he were sent back to Gaza? "The police will kill me," he says. "Unless my father gets to me first." [...]
     Since the intifada, Ganon tells me, Palestinian police have increasingly enforced Islamic law: "It's now impossible to be an open gay in the P.A." [...] Because the world hasn't forced the P.A. to tolerate gays, Palestinian homosexuals are increasingly seeking refuge in the only regional territory that does: Israel. In the last few years hundreds of gay Palestinians, mostly from the West Bank, have slipped into Israel. Most live illegally in Tel Aviv, the center of Israel's gay community; many are desperately poor and work as prostitutes. But at least they're beyond the reach of their families and the P.A.

Irony needs to ease up on the anvils, you know?

The last paragraph of that article is ... I don't want to imagine that sort of despair.

Posted by iain at 12:06 AM


August 20, 2002

internment for citizens?

Camps for Citizens: Ashcroft's Hellish Vision: Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's announced desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants" has moved him from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace. Ashcroft's plan, disclosed last week but little publicized, would allow him to order the indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens and summarily strip them of their constitutional rights and access to the courts by declaring them enemy combatants.

My, you go on vacation for a week, and all the loons break out.

I have absolutely no problems believing that our Lord High Minister of Injustice would do this. Internment camps for citizens are precisely the sort of thing that would appeal to his narrow, little mind.

Unfortunately, LA Times and Common Dreams aside, I can't actually find one single solitary comment, one single solitary textual citation to the fact that Ashcroft actually said that. According to Turley, sometime between July 31 and August 14, when the editorial appeared, Ashcroft said ... something. He doesn't quote the man, he doesn't give a date or a time, he doesn't say anything. I know full well that Turley's piece was commentary and not an actual news article, but you'd think that in a commentary piece that provocative, the LA Times editors would bounce back to him and say, "Source this. We need actual quotes. What did the man say, and when did he say it?" I've searched both alltheweb and Google, I searched directly in the NY Times, SFGate and tried the Washington Post (its search engine is down), I searched directly in the LA Times itself (and might I add that the people writing Letters to the Editor about that editorial are a scary lot themselves), I've used every applicable keyword I could think of, and there's just NOTHING.

Assuming that Ashcroft did indeed say such a thing ... I know the press is still somewhat in "roll me over, lay me down, kick me again" mode, but why haven't they reported on this? Why isn't anyone saying ANYTHING?

Having said that, I note that Justice is conceding that it essentially has no legally supportable reason to hold Jose Padilla, and yet it continues to do so anyway. So, frankly, it's not at all hard to believe that Ashcroft thinks that internment camps for citizens are just fine and dandy.

Hey, maybe with a little luck, he'll institute prison camps for song swappers. (Really, Congress should be ashamed of itself for this one. And Feinstein needs a good bitchslappin'. Surely Justice has one or two better things to do with its time. Like putting everyone into prisons without justification. Telling Congress to go screw itself when it tries to exercise its proper oversight powers.)

INS will begin fingerprinting "higher risk visiting aliens" on September 11. (I think I would tell all nonwhite peoples planning to visit the US anytime soon to avoid this country during September. Getting in will be ugly.) And the head of INS is leaving. There's an agency with a firm hand on what it's supposed to be doing these days, eh?

Posted by iain at 05:17 PM


trillion dollar lawsuit

The Nando Times: ANALYSIS: Can a trillion-dollar lawsuit stop Saudi terror-cash flow? ..... U.S. law allows victims of terror attacks to recover from assets held in the U.S. by foreign sponsors of terrorism identified by the State Department. Mr. Gerson says the trillion-dollar figure comes from multiplying the 3,000 victims in the Sept. 11 attacks by the average of $30 million recovered in such suits and then multiplying it by three as allowed under U.S. law that provides for triple damages for terror victims.

And that is the key problem with this lawsuit. In order to work properly, it's not enough that they're suing individuals (most of whom are, after all, dead) and organizations. They're also specifically citing the government of Saudi Arabia, or at least members of its family and officials. In order to succeed under US law, Saudi Arabia would need to be formally identified as a state sponsor of terrorism by our own State Department. While nobody at State has any significant doubts about the matter, for policy reasons, Saudi Arabia is highly unlikely to be added to that list now or in the near future. Given the law, what's likely to happen is that the court will simply sever the Saudi officials from the suit -- as officials of a country not cited, they cannot be included and otherwise allow it to proceed. Unfortunately, that will have the effect of undoing the stated goal of the suit; it will leave the people with the money in a position to continue doing what they do. Assuming, of course, that they are funding terrorist organizations as has been alleged by various sources.

"We have justice and morality on our side," said Thomas Burnett Sr. ... As may be, but what they do not have on their site, at least not completely, is the law itself.

Posted by iain at 11:19 AM


August 19, 2002

the cost of capital crimes in illinois

Death penalty fund unable to cover all defense lawyers' bills: TOULON, Ill. -- Stark County Circuit Judge Scott Shore was dismayed when bills for lawyers defending a death penalty case in his court were refused payment by the state. The reason? The Capital Litigation Trust Fund, created to help ensure competent handling of death penalty cases, ran out of money to pay defense lawyers at the end of the last fiscal year. The same thing happened in some other rural counties, and local officials are worried that it will happen again during the new fiscal year that began in July, possibly jeopardizing prosecution of some death penalty cases.

Apparently Ohio isn't the only state running out of money to pay for death penalty cases; it's happening in Illinois, as well. Granted, Illinois counties are not yet refusing to prosecute death penalty cases for fiscal reasons (and probably couldn't, in any event). However, if the state continues to run out of money at the end of the fiscal year -- and despite requests for increases in the budget for the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, given that the state is expected to have a significant overall shortfall by midyear which will require state agencies to have a major midyear recision of a portion of their current budget, one does not expect any such increase to happen ...

Wending out of that thicket of digression, let's put it this way. I suspect what will happen is not simply that lawyers will refuse to take on capital cases. After all, the fund is still there, however reduced it may become. What will happen is that lawyers will refuse to take on cases after a certain date. For example, they will refuse to take on cases after January (the middle of the fiscal year) because they know that bills submitted after a certain point will be refused. (Said bills also cannot be resubmitted at a later date; you cannot bill for work done in a prior fiscal year, especially after you've billed once for that work during the current fiscal year.) So if you happen to get nobbed for a capital crime from, say, May through December, you're fine. (There's a bit of overlap because the fiscal year doesn't start until July 1, but they can probably do work early on and hold the billing until after that date, as long as some of the work was done after that.) You get arrested after January 1, well ... just your tough luck, isn't it?

Posted by iain at 04:01 PM


unc koran course to continue

heraldsun.com: Court Won't Halt UNC Quran Course: A federal appeals court refused Monday to halt a program to expose new students at the University of North Carolina to information about the Quran. Attorneys for a conservative Christian group on Friday had asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to stop Monday's discussion sessions of a book that interprets the Islamic holy text. Members of the Virginia-based Family Policy Network and three unidentified UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen contended the assignment was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected the motion, ruling that "the appellants have failed to satisfy the requirements for such relief." The brief ruling contained no further explanation.

Well, I can't say as I'm remotely surprised that Family Policy Network lost that case. I am surprised that the court was quite as .... terse as they were in their decision. Usually, on such declarations, courts will state, "These were the requirements you needed to meet; this is why you did not succeed in meeting them."

Then again, I don't suppose that a court in the heart of the Bible Belt has any desire to make things much more difficult for itself by going into detail when the law doesn't require it.

And the legislators who say that " their vote would have been no different had the book been a study of the Bible," are almost certainly lying like dogs. They would not have dared vote that way in this day and age, unless they were people of extraordinarily strong conscience who would be prepared to be voted out of office over what is, after all, a fairly picayune but resonating issue.

What, me cynical? Why do you say that?

Posted by iain at 03:39 PM


releasing names

Sheriff Keeps Name of Officer Secret, for Now: The Polk County sheriff received a temporary injunction Thursday to stop The Ledger from publishing the name of an undercover officer who shot and killed a man during a July 26 drug raid. [...] The officer shot and killed Jason Michael Britt, 22, during a raid on Britt's home in Lakeland. Sheriff's officials say Britt was shot after he threatened the officer with a baseball bat and refused to drop it. Because the officer works undercover, sheriff's officials have refused to release his name. It is the first time in memory that a Polk police agency has not disclosed the name of an officer who killed someone.

OK, work with me here: doesn't releasing the name of the person that was shot effectively release the name of the officer? I mean, they have to make that a matter of public record, correct? There will be an investigation and all sorts of brouhaha -- undercover or not, refusing even to investigate or put the results in a public record would be to state that under some circumstances, the police cannot be held accountable for what they do, which isn't possible. So ... how do they avoid releasing the name of the officer anyway?

Posted by iain at 03:11 PM


available for your foot

Boondocks, August 19, 2002

And they were, too.

Posted by iain at 02:23 PM



Frisbee golf inventor's dying wish / He wants his ashes molded into memorial discs: Just before he died, the creator of the game of Frisbee golf said he wanted his ashes to be mixed into new versions of the famous plastic disc and his family hopes these limited-edition Frisbees could be sold to help fund a museum in his honor. Edward "Steady Ed" Headrick made his wishes clear to his family in the weeks before his death at 3:30 a.m. Monday at his home in Santa Cruz , his son Dr. Daniel Headrick said today. "For years, he used to joke about saying he wanted to live on as a Frisbee, " Daniel Headrick said of his father. "We always thought he was joking. But he made it clear he was serious. He wanted us to use his ashes in making some Frisbees. He even said he hopes we throw them around in his honor."

I think I may safely speak for many people when I say: EWWWW! I'm sorry, but I don't want to be throwing around no dead people!

Although he didn't invent the FrisbeeTM itself, Headrick did improve the original design so that it actually flew well. He also patented something called the "professional model" Frisbee, whatever that may be.

In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel last year, Headrick acknowledged the special power of the Frisbee -- one of the simplest and most successful toys ever devised. "I felt the Frisbee had some kind of a spirit involved. It's not just like playing catch with a ball. It's the beautiful flight," Headrick said. "We used to say that Frisbee is really a religion -- 'Frisbyterians,' we'd call ourselves," he said. "When we die, we don't go to purgatory. We just land up on the roof and lay there."

And then apparently friends and relatives take you off the roof and throw you around a little more.

Posted by iain at 11:49 AM


August 18, 2002

the gray lady makes a change

Times Will Begin Reporting Gay Couples' Ceremonies: Starting next month, the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times will publish reports of same-sex commitment ceremonies and of some types of formal registration of gay and lesbian partnerships, the newspaper announced yesterday. On occasion, the Vows column will be devoted to a same-sex couple. The reports will appear in the pages that are currently headed "Weddings," and the heading will change to "Weddings/Celebrations," the announcement added. Howell Raines, executive editor of The Times, said: "In making this change, we acknowledge the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend in society toward public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples -- celebrations important to many of our readers, their families and their friends. We recognize that the society remains divided about the legal and religious definition of marriage, and our news columns will remain impartial in that debate, reporting fully on all points of view. The Styles pages will treat same-sex celebrations as a discrete phenomenon meriting coverage in their own right."

My goodness. How times do change.

Posted by iain at 09:20 PM


costs of justice

Cost of death penalty trial stirs debate in Ohio: The state and a prosecutor are appealing a ruling that a death penalty trial for a man accused of killing a college student would be too expensive. Vinton County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey L. Simmons ruled Aug. 8 that prosecutors couldn't seek the death penalty for Gregory McKnight, who is charged with aggravated murder and kidnapping in the 2000 death of Kenyon College student Emily Murray. Simmons said paying for McKnight's defense against the death penalty would deplete the $2.7 million general fund budget of the small county in southern Ohio. "The court finds that the potential impact of financial considerations could compromise the defendant's due process rights in a capital murder trial. The court finds that this risk is unacceptable in this case," Judge Jeffrey L. Simmons wrote in his ruling.

Well, there's a twist you don't see every day. The state (or county) pleading poverty for the defense.

Ohio is a "death qualified" state -- that is, the attorneys for the defense have to meet a minimum standard of expertise or experience set by the Ohio Supreme Court. Certification also needs to be renewed regularly. If the county doesn't have a state-funded public defender's office -- and Vinton County does not seem to have such -- then private attorneys get drafted, for lack of a better word. However, unlike military conscription, private attorneys have some leeway to refuse the assignment. Capital cases tend to be extraordinarily expensive, when properly conducted. Ohio reimburses the county a fluctuating percentage of the fee, but it's not normally 50% of costs -- at one point it was 41% -- and it fluctuates depending on the state budget. Given that state budgets have taken a shellacking this year, it's probable that reimbursement rates for death penalty trials have plummeted in Ohio. After all, the state had to cut services for the retarded by 15 percent; it's highly unlikely that they would spare indigent defense, especially when the US Supreme Court has in its wisdom said that the state needn't concern itself with allocating sufficient funds for an adequate defense. In addition, many counties cap the maximum they're willing to spend on capital cases. (Given that the judge is concerned that it will exhaust the general fund, I would imagine that Vinton County's code does not cap reimbursement. Although they can do so -- and probably will after this -- since state bodies are not generally allowed to make ex post facto laws, the limit would not apply in this case.)

It will be interesting to see where things wind up after all is said and done. It's hard to imagine that the state would say that the county must bankrupt itself to provide one man's defense, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine that the state will support a decision that the death penalty cannot be pursued, purely because the state can't afford the defense.

Posted by iain at 09:01 PM


August 16, 2002

letter to a law student

Letter to a Young Law Student- Don't go to law school: But if you must, take my advice. By Dahlia Lithwick: ... Life is short. Misery is overrated.

I would point out that most of this advice applies to professional school generally. (Especially point A.) And perhaps graduate school generally. (Although liberal arts graduate students are, in my many years of experience, extremely unlikely to forget to have a life. After the first year, that is. Most of them spend the first year thinking, "What the HELL am I doing here?" Even though they usually already know.)

However, liberal arts grad students do NOT get to ignore their grades. At all. Because they kick you out if you fall below a B+/B average. (However, intellectual physics have nothing to do with library school, at least. And I'll bet they have nothing to do with medical school, either.)

Posted by iain at 02:26 AM



"Because of security issues, the hassle factor, anything less than 300 miles became easier to drive," Walczak says. Suddenly, airlines accustomed to tussling with each other over passenger legroom, hot meals and frequent-flier points find themselves losing customers to the open highway. Airlines have cut the number of seats on flights under 200 miles by 15% since a year ago. That compares with an 8% cut in domestic seats overall. To US Airways, the threat from Chevys, Fords and Toyotas has become as palpable as its losses to Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran. The airline, which has the shortest average flight lengths of any major airline, filed for bankruptcy protection this week. [...] Many business travelers have raised their driving-time thresholds. "I have established my cutoff at five to six hours," says consultant Bill Teater of Mount Vernon, Ohio. "I can not only avoid the (airport) security charade protecting me, but I can get to my destination sooner."

A pilot for a Delta Air Lines subsidiary would not fly Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior from Cincinnati to Toronto because the pilot thought Melchior posed a security risk, an Israeli radio station reported. Melchior, who was being escorted by State Department officials, told Israel Radio that he waited on the plane Friday for more than an hour before the pilot evacuated it, saying there was a security risk. When Melchior disembarked, he said he was told he was not allowed to get back on the plane.

The Sky Has New Limits ... The changes all come from the most dramatic restructuring in the airline industry in decades, prompted by a sluggish economy and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks 11 months ago. Earlier this week, US Airways filed for bankruptcy protection. Two days later, American announced an overhaul of its operations. And on Wednesday, United Airlines said it may also have to file for bankruptcy protection if it is unable to slash costs.

You know what? At this point in time, I could care less if all the airlines go completely out of business. Of course, that won't happen, but right now, I wouldn't mind if it did.

(I'm having a little nonsequiturish rant at the moment. Bear with me.)

Over the past few months, counting connecting legs, I've been on six different flights. I've been searched five times at the security point, and five times at the gate. And I've been watching how things happen, and I'm pretty sure that I've figured out how the searching works. The rules are:

  1. On flights with fewer than 10 nonwhites, all nonwhites are to be searched. It doesn't matter what they look like, whether they're Chinese or Japanese or Black or whatever. All nonwhites are to be searched. If they happen to be last in line, and this might make them miss their flight if we decide not to hold it ... well, it's their fault for not being white, isn't it?
  2. On larger capacity flights with more than 10 nonwhites being carried, 90% of all nonwhites should be searched, if possible. We will also search a generally trivial percentage of whites, because that may be enough to keep people from noticing the nature of our searches.

People say that we should suck it up, do our bit. Well, you know what? I'm tired of being singled out for "doing my bit" almost every time I take a plane. If the airlines really truly want to do something related to security, what they should do is this: (1) Go ahead and do whatever it is they do at the security gate. Do NOT do detailed searches at this point, unless there's some overwhelming reason other than the color of the passenger's skin. (2) Hire security people to man each and every gate and search EVERYONE. Now, someone like Mr Kristoff will say, "But what about Granny/Grampa in their wheel chair? They're clearly not terrorists! Why bother with them?" What they mean, of course, is, "Why check white people? We didn't blow up the buildings." You know what? I don't give a rat's ass whether Granny or Grampa is a terrorist. I don't care that white people didn't blow up the World Trade Center. SEARCH EVERYBODY. Tell people to get there three, four hours ahead of time, because the lines will be hellishly long.

At the same time, you also strip pilots and crew of their ability to make any sort of authority to make any judgement about who constitutes a security risk and who does not. Let's face it: the fact that a pilot continued to refuse access to a diplomat, who was vouched for by officials of our own State Department, is beyond ridiculous. If each and every person is thoroughly searched at the gate, then unless a person is actually making a nuisance of himself, there's no reason the pilots or crew should have that authority, is there?

The plain fact is, we don't know what a terrorist looks like. Most Arabs in this country are not terrorists. Most blacks and Hispanics are not terrorists. Most Asians are not terrorists. Yet all of us are far more subject to search than anyone else. Sure, a terrorist could look like Mohammed Atta. I will even concede that it's somewhat more likely. They could also look like Richard Reid, or John Walker Lindh. And, yes, they might even look like me. We Don't Know What They Look Like. (And, you know, if you do come across a terrorist that looks like John Walker Lindh, who happens to be flying a plane, isn't it fairly likely that he would conceal whatever it is he has in Granny's wheelchair or knitting or whatever, knowing that she's not likely to be searched?)

The airlines will say, with some justification, that if they instituted a policy like that, they would lose a lot of passengers in their short and medium range flights, that people would drive or take the train. You know what? I don't care. If everyone gets thoroughly searched, at least that's fair. If each and every person gets searched, that would constitute, as they say, equality of opportunity and results.

Posted by iain at 01:43 AM


suing saudis

Sept. 11 Victims' Families Sue Saudis : Families of 600 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks filed suit yesterday against Saudi Arabian banks and charities and members of the royal family, accusing them of financially sponsoring the al Qaeda terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court here were three Saudi princes, seven banks, the government of Sudan and international charities that the U.S. government has contended are linked to terrorist groups.

My, my, my. Isn't that interesting? Somewhare in the halls of government, some undersecretary is thinking, "Well, that's JUST what we need." Along with a number of four letter words that don't need repeating. After all, this is a family weblog! ... wait, no, it isn't.

In any event, things will move at a nicely glacial pace in this case. There will be all sorts of continuances and discovery and whatnot. That said, the discovery phase ought to be particularly interesting. I would imagine that the plaintiffs will be subpoenaing the government for its records on the matter, and the government will be citing confidentiality, intelligence and executive privilege in its attempts to keep information away from them. The case will wend its way to the Supreme Court, which, three years or so from now, will likely tell the government that it has a responsibility to provide some information, if not all that the plantiffs desire. The government will then provide heavily redacted copies of cretain information, and the case will go back to the Court for just a touch less redaction, please. Eventually -- say, ten years or so from now -- we'll actually get around to hearings on the merits.

Or possibly not, since the principle has generally been that you may not sue foreign diplomats, heads of state and governments in quite this manner. It is allowed in certain circumstances -- such as those resulting in large numbers of deaths or imprisonments, as with the Iran hostage crisis and Libyan bombing of the Pan American flight and a few others. So somewhere along the line, the courts will need to decide if this case fits those circumstances. It should, but who knows? Our government will be heavily on the side of the defendants, trying to get this case out of court, out of the papers and out of the way of their foreign policy of appeasement for oil.

Posted by iain at 12:48 AM


August 08, 2002

drug resistant hiv

HIV rapidly growing resistant to drugs: [...] Investigators discovered that while only 3.4 percent of the 264 new cases they tested were resistant to 15 anti-HIV drugs from 1995 to 1998, the rate jumped to 12.2 percent of the 113 new infections in the years 1999 and 2000. At the same time, the rate of HIV infections resistant to more than one drug rose from 1.1 percent to 6.2 percent. The resistance to the drugs was most common among homosexual men.

Well, it's not as if any of this is even slightly surprising. Combine a highly adaptive virus with widely prescribed treatments, and add in a population that largely feels that once they've seroconverted, safe sex is someone else's problem, and you not only get resistant diseases, but multidrug resistance on top of it. We've seen it with tuberculosis, we've seen it with bacterial infections generally, and now we're seeing it with AIDS.

Granted, it's going to take a while before drug resistance reaches a level that renders the drugs largely useless. But not a long while, given that the rate seems to be increasing three percent per year. (That said ... it's an unusually small study, given that the numbers should be easily available. The CDC tracks new AIDS infections, and it shouldn't be that hard to get blind information from doctors on them; in fact, I should imagine that the CDC would require that type of reporting as part of the disease intelligence.)

Posted by iain at 06:45 PM


August 07, 2002

rocker, again

Rocker Rocks The Boat Again

You know ... there goes a man of Very Little Brain.

I mean, you'd think once on this particular merry-go-round in one lifetime would be enough, wouldn't you? That the public filleting he took last time, to the point of essentially losing his job, would have been enough to teach him that regardless what you think, there are things that public figures Just Do Not Say In Public. Even (and perhaps especially) when people are trying to bait them -- a fact about which there seems to be some dispute.

Apparently, he just likes that particular ride so much he had to take it one more time.

Posted by iain at 12:45 AM


us and arabia

Views Aired In Briefing On Saudis Disavowed


Why, yes, this would be a "douched with Drano" moment, why do you ask?

See, the problem is, we do regard the Saudis as enemies. (Most sensible people, anyway. And even most people in Shrubya's administration seem to have wheeled round to that view.) And the Saudis know we regard them as enemies. We know they support terrorism at every level. We know they have no intention or desire to pursue terrorism in their country, as part of their deal with the Islamists that keeps the royal family on the throne.

We also know, and they know, that at the moment, neither country can afford that state of affairs to be publicly discussed. The house of Fahd depends on us for ... well, its existence, really, although that connection becomes more tenuous every day as the Islamists push at the throne. And the US depends on Saudi Arabia for a goodly portion of our oil ... although with Russia, Venezuela (fraught though they are), Mexico and other countries rising in importance, it's quite possible that this connection is becoming more tenuous as well; already our number 1 oil supplier is now Russia and not Saudi Arabia. (And if you'd said in 1988 that such a thing would happen, people would have thought you insane.) But nonetheless, public hostility is nothing either country can afford right now, so we will smooth it over, the appropriate Defense official will be chastised, and Defense will scramble to figure out how on earth this sensitive thing was leaked. (They won't find out, of course.)

Mind, part of the analysis does seem a bit wrong headed. Removing Hussein from Iraq might produce regime change in Saudi Arabia by producing unrest in that country, true. However, what on earth makes them think this would be a good thing? Regime change in Arabia would come about through wholesale slaughter of the royal family -- and the majority of them have really done nothing to deserve that -- followed by which the Islamists would take over. The only other option -- and this seems slight -- is that the army would take over to force a secular Islamic state to appear. (And yes, that seems a contradiction in terms, but that's more or less what happened in Turkey and Pakistan. In Turkey, they seem to have been able to tilt somewhat more toward the secular, whereas Pakistan is tilting alarmingly toward the Islamist. But I digress.) The army doesn't seem to have the will or desire to produce that result, however. (There's also the fact that any such revolution would leave us with hundreds of people stranded at Prince Sultan and other places in the country. We might very well find ourselves forced to commit acts of war just to get everyone out.)

State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said that Powell, in his conversation with Prince Saud Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, reassured the Saudi government that the Rand analyst's briefing does not "reflect the views of the president of the United States or of the U.S. government." U.S.-Saudi relations are "excellent," Reeker continued. "We share a broad array of interests, including a common vision of peace, stability and prosperity in the region," he said.

No ... No, I don't believe we do, somehow.

Posted by iain at 12:35 AM


bankruptcy reform

Senate Delays Final Vote on Bill to Overhaul Bankruptcy: Senate leaders have decided to delay a final vote on a bill to overhaul the bankruptcy system until at least September, a move that raised new concern among the bill's supporters that anti-abortion activists will work to kill a bill that otherwise enjoys broad bipartisan support and has long been championed by powerful lobbyists for the credit-card industry and banks. The Senate's decision today to delay the vote -- which had been expected this week -- came as anti-abortion members of the House vowed to block the bill unless it is rewritten to remove a provision aimed at preventing anti-abortion protesters from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying court judgments. The House members managed to block a House vote on the compromise bill last week.

Well ... anything that kills this bill is probably a good thing, no matter who it comes from, I suppose.

Thing is, if the antiabortionists had just left the thing alone, the first time the provision was used, it would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional. It's a denial of equal protection on its face; one class of debtor is singled out, for no really good legislative reason. If the law was more neutrally written -- that nobody with a judgement against them could use bankruptcy as a way to avoid paying the judgement -- then it would be more likely to survive, but to single out one category of violator and say, "You! You don't get to declare bankruptcy, because we Just Don't Like You!" -- that is not a law that would survive constitutional muster.

And depending on how the whole thing is written, there's the vague, if unlikely, possibility that striking the clause might take the entire law down. Doubtful, though; courts tend only to strike as much of a law as they need to. There's nothing unconstitutional about the rest of the reform. Unwise, stupid, serving the banking services community at the expense of anyone who might actually need to declare bankruptcy ... but not unconstitutional, except for that section.

And why, one might wonder, did the banking services industry need this bill so desperately? Well, their past business practices were hardly sane or sensible:

The amount that Americans owe on loans for houses, cars, credit cards, and other purchases adds up to nearly 100% of their annual income after taxes. That's up from 75% in 1992, after the last recession ended. [...] Unlike businesses, consumers still have an easy time raising money. When they max out one credit card, it's a cinch to sign up for another. Outstanding consumer credit, most of it from credit cards and auto loans, rose 5.7% in the 12 months ended in May. And the amount of home-mortgage and home-equity loan debt outstanding keeps rising, too. It's up 10.5% for the year ended in March. Banks have been eager to expand consumer lending, because profits from their commercial loan, brokerage, and investment banking departments have tanked. Income at Citigroup's (C ) consumer businesses, for instance, grew 25%, to $2 billion, in the second quarter. [...] And despite being burned repeatedly, lenders still increase loans to subprime borrowers. [Bank One economist Diane C. Swonk] thinks that's a big factor in strong auto sales.

Oh, wait: that's not past practice, that's current practice.

In other words, having gotten Congress to at least try to bail them out of the mess the banking services industry got itself into by being profligate with credit, the industry has had little reason to change.

To be sure, they're trapped in this odd little tango with the consumer. Yes, they can restrict credit somewhat, and probably will. However, if they tighten up too much, consumers will stop spending. They stop spending, businesses stop selling, and the economy stops growing. Which means that banks don't make money either, because they're already restricting business borrowing, and given the plague of business bankruptcies, that's not at all surprising, either.

Posted by iain at 12:10 AM


August 06, 2002

jeb bush vs florida's constitution ... again

State judge strikes down voucher law: As the school year nears, a Tallahassee judge ruled Monday that Florida's 3-year-old tuition voucher law violates the state constitution by using tax dollars to aid religious schools -- dealing a setback to Gov. Jeb Bush's sweeping educational reform plan. The ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge J. Kevin Davey, which the state will appeal, prohibited the Department of Education from implementing its ''Opportunity Scholarship'' program at 10 failing schools in four Florida counties. Five of those schools are in Miami-Dade County, three in Palm Beach and one each in Orange and Escambia counties. [...] Davey said the language is ''clear and unambiguous'' in Article I, Section 3 of the Florida constitution: "No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.''

Well, this will be fascinating. I would imagine that it will take at least the rest of the school year to clear up the mess. It would be difficult to argue that vouchers do not at least constitute indirect aid, even if the voucher law itself is silent as to religious schools. I suppose it hinges on whether or not it matters, for the law's purpose, as to who makes the decision. After all, the state merely says, "Your school sucks. Here's a voucher. Go ye and find decent private education." It's the parent who looks around and discovers that in their area, they have a choice of a Dominican Catholic school, or a Franciscan Catholic school, or perhaps a Jesuit Catholic school. (The Catholic Church's commitment to education does mean that there are a few more of them than of other denominations.)

On the other hand, if, to comply with the law as written, the state said, "Go ye and find decent private NONSECTARIAN education" ... well, then there's another problem, isn't there? (Actually, a law written that way would likely not survive a federal Constitutional challenge; not favoring religion does not necessarily mean disfavoring religion.) I mean, in most of the neighborhoods where any sort of choice exists, the choice is between failing public schools and Catholic schools. (Or, less frequently, other religious schools.) And the plain fact is, most students coming out of failing public schools can neither afford not succeed in many private schools, vouchers or no.

It's understandable that people are sick of trying to fix the private schools. After all, we've been trying to "fix" them, one way or another, for decades now. But somehow, you would think that pulling students out and bankrupting the system would not be the logical answer.

Posted by iain at 02:18 PM


abortion rights

Judge rules woman can have abortion against boyfriend's wishes: A Luzerne County Court judge today lifted an order that had temporarily blocked an abortion, allowing a 22-year-old woman to end her pregnancy against her former boyfriend's wishes. [...]
In a strongly worded decision, Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Conahan said the ex-boyfriend, John Stachokus, 27, had failed to cite any legal authority establishing that he has a right to prevent the abortion of Tanya Meyers, now about 10 weeks pregnant. Stachokus is the father.

Independent of the other factors, I do wonder what that first judge was thinking. They had to know that there was absolutely no controlling legal authority for that decision under either Pennsylvania or federal law. As noted, the Court has repeatedly stated that the father's wishes are not relevant concerns from a legal standpoint. So why on earth would you issue a stay you couldn't support?

And why on earth would you issue it in favor of someone against whom the woman had received a "protection from abuse" order?

I don't deny that there's a certain inequity in the way that society works on these issues, but then, nobody ever said that the world was fair. (And, you know, guys, use a damn condom if you want any say in not having children. Or having them when you want, for that matter. If it's unfair that you have no say in what happens after pregancy occurs, you certainly can at least try to have a say in whether or not you get yourself into that situation in the first place.)

Posted by iain at 01:46 AM


sec vs aol

The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the particulars of dealings between AOL Time Warner Inc and PurchasePro.com Inc, according to reports Friday. The Wall Street Journal quoted sources saying the SEC has contacted Las Vegas-based PurchasePro for documents as part of a wider probe of AOL's accounting practices. [...] While PurchasePro's own accounts are not believed to be in question in this particular inquiriy, the company does have the dubious honor of being a firm that Arthur Andersen LLP dumped. The two companies had disagreements about accounting that were subsequently resolved. According to regulatory filings, the foundering accounting company, which signed off Enron Corp's books, resigned as PurchasePro's independent auditor late last year following "a disagreement with prior members of the Company's management regarding proposed recognition of revenue derived from reseller agreements between the Company and certain of its business partners."

So, if I understand this just right, PurchasePro, as part of its accounting for its business with AOL, was using accounting methods that Andersen deemed irregular? Good ol' we-never-saw-a-creative-accounting-method-we-didn't-like-Andersen? The same company whose negligent oversight as auditor seems to have played a part in the four largest bankruptcies in business history? THAT Andersen?

... AOL is about to get its head chopped off by the SEC, isn't it? I mean, in normal times, they'd just get a handslap fine, but in these days of corporate malfeasance and the desire to be seen punishing same, the government will have a vested interest in coming down hard on the country's biggest media conglomo.

Posted by iain at 12:55 AM


August 05, 2002

media relations update

Media Relations: not returning to the pines after all/ August 5, 2002

Posted by iain at 02:28 AM


August 03, 2002

scouts v connecticut ... again

Federal court rules state can bar Boy Scouts from charity list: Connecticut did not violate the rights of the Boy Scouts when it removed the group from a list of charities that state employees contribute to through a payroll deduction plan, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled.
     The Connecticut State Employee Campaign Committee removed the Boy Scouts from its list in 2000. The move came after the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities found that including the Boy Scouts on the list violated the state's anti-discrimination laws, because of the scouts' policy that bars homosexuals from their organization.
    The Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts and one Connecticut scouting council filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state, arguing that exclusion from the list was a First Amendment violation.

Interesting how excluding gays from the Boy Scouts is a proper exercise of the First Amendment and freedom of religion, but they believe that penalizing them for doing the same thing isn't.

Fascinating to watch this odd little domino effect across the country, and the fits of panic by various Scout organizations. It baffles me that it never occurred to them -- and it clearly did not -- that if they force the state to allow them to practice discriminatory tactics, the state will then turn around and say, "Because we must allow you to discriminate in this way, we are not allowed to give you certain privileges any more. If people wish to support you on their own, that's fine, but by state law, we are no longer allowed to help." The Scouts seem to have assumed that all would sail along as it did before.

I also find it interesting that the Scouts are willing to waste precious resources on this fight. Surely this case has already cost them more than the $10-15,000 they would have received from direct donation through the state program. Granted, there's a certain principle at stake. And I fully expect, if the Scouts appeal, that this will go up to the Supreme Court again. This time, however, I'm reasonably certain that the Court will rule in favor of the state, and they will be legally correct to do so. Nothing in Connecticut law prevents the Scouts from expressing their opinions, after all, or restricting employment based on those opinions.

The funny part is that the Scouts seem to assume that expressing their opinion is all this case is about. The state must allow this form of expression, true. But the Scouts forget that they are an employer, as well as a charitable organization. In that role, when they are granted a variance from state laws, there is a cost. That cost is that the state may no longer do business with them. (Quite apart from anything else, surely the organizations on that list of allowable direct-donation charities is purely at the state's discretion. There is no requirement that they allow any given organization on that list, and they can almost certainly remove any organization from that list almost at whim.)

On the one hand, I feel somewhat sorry for the kids getting caught in the middle of all this. After all, they'll be the ones with fewer materials and services, or whatever it is that the Scouts does. On the other hand ... perhaps it's not a bad thing for them to learn that the right to discriminate has its consequences.

Posted by iain at 02:54 AM


August 02, 2002

detainee information

Judge Rules 9/11 Detainees Names Be Released: A federal judge ruled Friday the United States must reveal the names of people detained in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a major victory for civil rights groups.
The order by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler gives the government 15 days to comply and allows only two exceptions: if the detainee is a material witness to a terror investigation and if the person being held does not want to be identified.


Within those 15 days, two things will happen: (1) the government will go to the Court of Appeals for a stay, pending substantive appeal, and (2) the government will make a substantive appeal, stating that they should be the only ones who are allowed to decide whether or not someone is a terrorist, that they alone should decide the necessary standard for determining terrorist affiliations, and so on and so on and so on.

The court of appeals will almost certainly grant the stay; when the government's policy is built on not releasing information, it's hard to make the case that the policy won't be harmed by releasing information. As for the substantive appeal ... eh. Really, it doesn't much matter what the Court of Appeals decides, procedurally speaking; it's getting appealed to the Supreme Court no matter who wins or loses.

It will be fascinating to see where the Court falls on this issue. I think they'll support the government's position, ultimately, but it's going to be a close run thing. I suspect how close it will be may well come down to whether or not there's another attack in this country in the next year or so. With distance comes enough perspective that the Court may be persuaded that the policy as it stands is illegal; if there's another attack, they may decide it's justified.

Posted by iain at 04:57 PM


skating frenzy continues

This just keeps getting weirder and weirder, doesn't it?

Rogge: Skating will stay in Olympics: IOC President Jacques Rogge said the athletes affected by the figure skating scandal should not be punished for the misdeeds of others. [...] “I think we should not penalize the athletes — who deserve to compete — because of the wrongdoing of some judges,” Rogge told The Associated Press on Friday. “The athletes are not guilty. Some judges obviously are.” When asked if the figure skating medals could be reviewed, Rogge said, “We want to have the full truth. We want to explore this.”
      But IOC Vice President Thomas Bach suggested the results could be voided. “At this moment, I am not ruling out anything, not even the annulment of the Olympic results,” Bach said Friday. “But I don’t think much of quick shooting. A quick clarification is the most important now. It’s about the credibility and its existence.”
     When asked if the IOC could act before the criminal investigations were finished, Rogge said that “depends on the information that we receive.”

You wonder if the IOC is even listening to itself at the moment. They don't want to hurt the skaters, who are blameless, but they're considering revoking the medals. How, precisely, do they think such an action won't hurt the skaters? They don't think much of "quick shooting", but they want "quick clarification". Um ... huh? What? Was that even English?

In the meantime, the Russian pairs skaters want to sue US networks for showing their picture in conjunction with the stories about the Russian mobster. I'm thinking that a lawyer should quickly acquaint them with libel law in this country; they have absolutely no legal grounds for suing about their depiction in a story to do with their sport and their results, especially when the nets have studiously noted that the skaters themselves have nothing to do with the plot. (Plot. There's a criminal plot. In skating. Hoo boy.)

Posted by iain at 04:47 PM



My goodness. Ohio is just a happenin' place these days, isn't it?

Ohio Supreme Court rules lesbian couple can adopt same last name: In a victory for gay rights, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a lesbian couple can legally adopt a last name they created. The court said in a 6-1 vote that Belinda Lou Priddy and Jennifer Lane Bicknell followed all required procedures to change their names and their intent was not fraudulent. The ruling reversed lower courts' decisions denying the name change.

Well, frankly, it doesn't strike me as a victory for gay rights per se. Mostly the court was saying, "If you follow the requirements of the law, and your intent isn't to defraud, then you can call yourself whatever you damn well please."

I make you a prediction: someone in the Ohio state legislature will, at the soonest possible date, introduce a law that makes it illegal to change your name in such circumstances; that unless you're getting married or divorced, you are not allowed to change your name at ALL. It will be outrageously discriminatory, of course, but outrageously discriminatory laws do seem to be the flavor of the day in this country, do they not?

Anti-porn law aimed at Net argued: After a day of testimony on a new Internet anti-pornography law, Chief U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice said he will announce at 4:45 p.m. Friday whether to issue an order temporarily restraining the state from enforcing the law. The law is scheduled to take effect Monday. The law adds computer images to the ways of illegally displaying sexually explicit material and other content deemed "harmful to juveniles."

I must admit, I'm puzzled by the article. If the law is as simple as stated therein, then it should certainly be illegal on its face; there's nothing about computer images that is intrinsically illegal. For that matter, various district courts, courts of appeal and the US Supreme Court have held (more than once, by now) that "harmful to minors" is an improper standard to apply to the entire internet. You are simply not allowed to try to dumb down the entire internet so that it's safe for children. (In fact, depending on how it's phrased, the pre-existing Ohio "harmful to juveniles" law may be unconstitutional on its face; if you're not allowed to dumb down the internet for children, you're certainly not allowed to dumb down the entire world. However, since the pre-existing statute is not at issue, I expect it will survive just fine.)

The attorneys general say that they're not trying to regulate the internet, but that's clearly disingenuous at best, and a baldfaced lie at worst. If they were truly interested in regulating the people, as one of the plaintiffs notes, they would simply add other offenses to other parts of the legal code. The fact is, if you can dumb down the whole internet, then as a law enforcement officer, it makes your job ever so much easier. You have nice, pablum content on all the law abiding sites, and the nonpablum content then stands out. Much easier to handle that way.

Unfortunately, the world doesn't exist to make law enforcement's job easier.

Posted by iain at 02:12 AM


fbi v congress

FBI Leak Probe Irks Lawmakers: FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and have asked many if they would be willing to submit to lie detector tests as part of a broad investigation into leaks of classified information related to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to officials involved in the inquiry. [...] Although the chairmen of the intelligence committees, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), asked the FBI to conduct the inquiry, its unprecedented scale has angered some lawmakers, according to people close to the investigation. The lawmakers are unhappy that the FBI, an agency they oversee, is investigating them. [...] Congressional leaders established a joint intelligence panel this year to review the performances of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and to recommend improvements to the government's intelligence community.

So ... let me get this straight-ish.

The FBI is investigating Congress, at Congress' own request. Congress oversees the FBI, which is a branch of an executive department. Congress is also investigating the FBI because they have concerns about its performance a year ago.

That is just one spectacular mess. Can we say "conflict of interest"? I knew that we could.

You know ... if it weren't for the fact that the office no longer exists (and that there is no criminal or civil violation alleged), this is precisely the sort of situation that a special prosecutor was created for. This is an utterly intractable situation; the FBI will accept restraint in investigating Congress because Congress controls its purse strings, and Congress might be more careful about investigating the FBI because they have no idea what information the FBI could reveal if it chose.

Posted by iain at 01:46 AM


August 01, 2002

the fix was bigger?

Six Olympic skate judges contacted? A suspected Russian mobster might have contacted as many as six judges in trying to fix a pair of figure skating events at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Italian police said. [...] In exchange for fixing the events, U.S. prosecutors say, the reputed mobster wanted a visa to return to France, where he once lived.

... but ... it's just ... skating.

I do wonder if the IOC might take this as a reason to suspend the International Skating Union, until it cleans up its act. Mind, it would be very carefully done. You suspend them now, you see, and tell them that they have two years to put in place reforms that prevent this sort of thing. (Not that they could, but it's the attempt that counts.) The advantage of suspending them now is that it's effectively meaningless; after all, the Olympics just ended, and Turin isn't until 2006. A true suspension, through 2006, would have the various broadcasters up in arms; skating is their ratings gravy.

But still ... mobsters?

Posted by iain at 12:02 PM


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