From the monthly archives:

August 2004

Sanitized for your protection

by Ted on August 31, 2004

“The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.”

That’s a quote from a Supreme Court ruling in 1972. It’s also apparently a state secret, as the Justice Department tried to black it out on a court document.

It’s part of a complaint brought by the ACLU (.pdf file). One aspect of the Patriot Act is a gag provision that prohibits anyone who receives a National Security Letter (a request for information) from “disclos[ing] to any person that the [FBI] has sought or obtained access to information or records.” The ACLU is contesting this, and their legal documents are subject to redacting by the Justice Department. This quote from the Supreme Court was one of many portions redacted.

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a member of the ACLU, this might be a good time.

Fistful of Euros on Pipes on Ramadan

by Daniel on August 31, 2004

Scott Martens looks into some of Daniel Pipes’ sources for the article on Tariq Ramadan linked in Ted’s post below, and comes up with a pretty appalling picture of misrepresentation and intellectual dishonesty. As Scott says in comments below, how the hell did Pipes think he was going to get away with this?

Real WMDs

by Henry Farrell on August 31, 2004

While we’re on the subject of slurs from Republican hack politicians, you all may remember Tom DeLay’s “claim”: a couple of months ago that John Kerry did indeed have the support of foreign leaders – such as Kim Jong-Il. “NKZone”:, your one and only one-stop-shop for North Korea related news, begs to differ. Apparently, a North Korean spokesman has recently “done an interview”: warning that Kerry’s call for CVID,[1] and pressures from Democrats for military action mean that a Kerry administration would lead to heightened military tensions. He suggests that North Korea would respond to increased pressure from Kerry by test-firing ICBMs into the high seas close to prominent American cities, and test-detonating a H-Bomb. I’m not a qualified North-Korea tea-leaf reader by any stretch of the imagination, so I don’t want to speculate too much on the source and meaning of this. Still, on its face, it certainly appears to give the lie to Republican claims that North Korea would prefer a Democratic administration.

fn1. “i.e.”: Complete, Verifiable Irreversible Dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Why do they hate America ?

by John Q on August 31, 2004

What kind of limpwristed surrender monkey would deride one of his own country’s most important military honours as being a bogus scheme cooked up for political purposes? Morton Blackwell, Republican of Virginia (and dozens of other delegates to the RNC). (hat tip, commenter Peter Murphy)

Personally, I blame Kieran. He was obviously the one who gave them the idea.

Update Just looking around, I haven’t found anyone on the Republican side of the aisle who is at all upset by this. The fact that it might not play well politically has obviously sunk in with the convention organisers, who’ve tried to call a halt, but there’s no-one denouncing this guy in the way that, say, Ted Rall copped it from lots of people on the left, including CT. Perhaps commenters would like to point me to those I’ve missed. (Please don’t bother with arguments that Rall is worse than Morton. I agree that he is. OTOH, Rall is a cartoonist and Morton, along with dozens of likeminded people, is a senior figure in a major political party).

Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert

by Ted on August 30, 2004

HASTERT: You know, I don’t know where George Soros gets his money. I don’t know where — if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I…

WALLACE: Excuse me?

HASTERT: Well, that’s what he’s been for a number years — George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he’s got a lot of ancillary interests out there.

WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

HASTERT: I’m saying I don’t know where groups — could be people who support this type of thing. I’m saying we don’t know. The fact is we don’t know where this money comes from.

Readers are invited to share some of the other things we don’t know. If we’re creative enough, maybe the Speaker of the House will share them with the world next Sunday.

Via Kevin Drum. Welcome back.

UPDATE: Suggested by R. Robot, here’s a useful chart comparing George Soros to Reverend Moon.

A little more on Tariq Ramadan

by Ted on August 30, 2004

Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam has a few posts (here and here) about the decision of the State Department to deny a visa to Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan was to begin teaching in the fall at Notre Dame. (See also Chris’s post on the subject.) A spokeswoman for the State Department:

said Mr. Ramadan’s visa was revoked under a legal provision that bans espionage agents, saboteurs and anyone the United States “knows, or has reasonable ground to believe, is engaged in or is likely to engage after entry in any terrorist activity.” She said she could not provide any details about Mr. Ramadan’s case.

I don’t know much about Ramadan, and no scholar is owed a visa. However, I’ve just read Daniel Pipes critical article about why Ramadan should be denied a visa (linked by Silverstein). His evidence alone doesn’t sound like it’s strong enough to keep him out of the country.

It’s maddening. I don’t like second-guessing this sort of decision, and it’s absolutely possible that there is good reason to suspect Ramadan. If that were true, the State Department probably shouldn’t be sharing their suspicions in great detail. But… if there’s real reason to suspect this scholar will engage in felonies while teaching at Notre Dame, why would the State Department invite Ramadan to reapply for another kind of visa?

“The man says he is Irish, he is also drunk.”

by Kieran Healy on August 30, 2004

Ireland “won a gold medal”: at the Olympics this year, but after the “appalling intervention”:,14782,1293496,00.html of ex-priest and arch-gobshite Neil Horan in the “marathon”:, Cian O’Connor’s performance in the showjumping competition wont’ be remembered as Ireland’s main contribution to the games. Dressed in a kilt and green hat with a handwritten sign on his chest reading “The Second Coming is Near,” Horan attacked the leader of the race, Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima, at around the 21-mile mark. He knocked the guy over into the crash barriers. Amazingly, de Lima got up and — though he looked like he was in agony — continued running, only to be beaten into third place. Horan’s last public appearance was at the “British Grand Prix at Silverstone”: last year, where he ran onto the track. You’ll notice from the “news photos”: that he was wearing the same outfit then as now.

I am of course horribly embarrassed on behalf of Ireland generally, and I hope some of Horan’s “sneaking regarders”: back home will be feeling bad now that they’ve pissed off the whole of Brazil and forever burned their already-slim chances of hitting it off with any of their volleyball players. At the same time, I despaired at the behavior of the Greek officials at the race. Although de Lima had a policeman riding alongside him, and the route was lined with people in official T-Shirts, and this was supposed to be games with the highest degree of “camera surveillance”: in history, Horan had no trouble running out onto the course and attacking the leader. The crowd reacted faster than the police. Even if you didn’t know that Horan had a history of interrupting major sporting events, you’d think that _someone_ at the race might have suspected that the guy in the leprechaun costume with a Star of David on his leg and a message about the end of the world plastered to him _just might_ have been planning to do something when the leading runners and the TV cameras hove into sight.

Privatised humanitarian interventions?

by Daniel on August 30, 2004

Richard Ingrams is an old fart, a homophobe[1] and an anti-Semite[2] and I have suggested on a number of occasions to the Observer’s letters editor that amost anyone else would make better use of the space that newspaper provides him every week. But this week, he has a quite interesting point that I think bears discussion.

His subject is Mark Thatcher, who has managed to get himself arrested on suspicion of financing a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Ingrams notes that it would be rather unfair in the current political climate if Thatcher does get found guilty and thrown into jail, because after all, everyone would agree that Equatorial Guinea’s current President is a thoroughly bad man and the Guineans would be better off without him in power. True, Thatcher and his alleged co-conspirators had no real plan to deal with the aftermath of their coup (other than securing the oil wells) and actually make the Guineans better off, and true, many people suspect that their motives were not entirely purely humanitarian, but the Butler and Hutton reports have established that this isn’t even a reason for anyone at all to lose their government job.

The serious issue raised by this joke is, if we accept the logic of the “strong version”[3] of humanitarian intervention, then why should we also say that it is only the job of states to carry out such interventions? Since, ex hypothesi, any special position for states is ruled out by the strong pro-war internationalist liberal stance, why shouldn’t groups of private individuals take action? For example, Harry’s Place has five main contributors, each of whom could probably raise about $200,000 if they took out a second mortgage; maybe they should be ringing up Executive Outcomes and getting a few estimates in on smallish African states. Why leave this to the government?

[1]In my opinion, although given his history at Private Eye I think it would be pretty hypocritical of him to sue me
[2]Specifically, he has in the past suggested that Jewish journalists should identify themselves as Jews when writing about Israel; some people might consider this to be anti-Zionist rather than anti-Semitic but to be honest I’m not interested in arguing such a ludicrous point.
[3]By this I mean the version pushed in the pro-war blogosphere, under which any intervention that removes a bad regime is by that token good. Not the rather stronger criterion used by Human Rights Watch.

A test of the efficient markets hypothesis

by John Q on August 29, 2004

Australian PM John Howard has called an election for 9 October. I’ve discussed the political issues here, but CT readers will also be interested in the implications for the efficient markets hypothesis. Centrebet , which didn’t do brilliantly last time, has the (conservative) Coalition at $1.55 and Labor at $2.30. If I’ve done my arithmetic properly, and allowing for the bookies’ margin, I get the implied probabilities as 0.60 for the Coalition and 0.40 for Labor. The polls have Labor ahead, but looking at all the discussion, I’d say that the consensus view is that the election is a 50-50 proposition, and that’s also my subjective probability.

How good a test of the efficient markets hypothesis will this be? Bayesian decision theory provides an answer[1]. If our initial belief is that the EMH is equally likely to be true or false, and the Coalition wins, we should revise our probability for the EMH up to 0.55. If Labor wins, we should revise it down to 0.45.

fn1. The workings are easy for those who know Bayes’ theorem and accept the modern subjectivist interpretation , but they won’t make much sense to those who don’t.

Load the flying bats

by John Holbo on August 29, 2004


After Flatworld, the sight of Oklahoma senator James Inhofe buckling on a virtual reality helmet at ICT headquarters seems positively old school. A technician shouts “Load the flying bats!” and the senator is transported to a damp tunnel near a farmhouse that may be an enemy hideout. Insects whir and water trickles in surround sound while digitized bats swoop and dive overhead. Inhofe is impressed. “It’s the closest thing to reality that I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “My feet felt wet.”

The senator is the institute’s most powerful advocate in Congress; he cosponsored the clause in the 2003 Defense Appropriations Act that gave ICT $7 million to build the Fort Sill installation. Last spring, the institute locked down another five-year contract with the Army.

A Republican who ran on a platform of “God, guns, and gays,” Inhofe revels in making statements that don’t play well in the liberal precincts of Blogistan. “I look wistfully back to the days of the Cold War,” he says, resting his cowboy boots on a chair after doffing his VR helmet. “Now someone very small can pose a greater threat than the Soviet Union.”

[click to continue…]

Sadr’s sharia courts

by Daniel on August 28, 2004

Bad news from some newspapers; there are suggestions coming through that Sadr was whiling away the time in Najaf by running a sharia court, complete with executions and mutilations.

The specific allegations about the 20 bodies in Najaf are not what I would call established fact – the bodies might simply be casualties of the fighting, and the fact that the allegations are being made by the Iraqi government undercuts their credibility somewhat given the number of fibs they’ve told about Najaf over the last few weeks – but the general historical sweep is likely to be accurate. When and if Sadr and Sistani are brought into the political process, it is very likely indeed that one of their main priorities will be to introduce sharia courts, and sharia courts execute and mutilate people.

[click to continue…]


by Belle Waring on August 28, 2004

Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t bother to read Pentagon reports, even the ones he commissions himself. Or Donald Rumsfeld is a liar.

The reports, one by a panel Mr. Rumsfeld had appointed and one by three Army generals, made clear that some abuses occurred during interrogations, that others were intended to soften up prisoners who were to be questioned, and that many intelligence personnel involved in the interrogations were implicated in the abuses. The reports were issued Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Thursday, in an interview with a radio station in Phoenix, Mr. Rumsfeld, who was traveling outside Washington this week, said, “I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes.”

A transcript of the interview was posted on the Pentagon’s Web site on Friday. Mr. Rumsfeld repeated the assertion a few hours later at a news conference in Phoenix, adding that “all of the press, all of the television thus far that tried to link the abuse that took place to interrogation techniques in Iraq has not yet been demonstrated.” After an aide slipped him a note during the news conference, however, Mr. Rumsfeld corrected himself, noting that an inquiry by three Army generals had, in fact, found “two or three” cases of abuse during interrogations or the interrogations process.

[Sir, there seems to be smoke coming out of your trousers…]

In fact, however, the Army inquiry found that 13 of 44 instances of abuse involved interrogations or the interrogation process, an Army spokeswoman said. The report itself explicitly describes the extent to which each abuse involved interrogations….

Mr. Rumsfeld also misstated an important finding of an independent panel he appointed and is led by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, saying in the interview with KTAR radio, “The interesting thing about the Schlesinger panel is their conclusion that, in fact, the abuses seem not to have anything to do with interrogation at all.”

But the first paragraph of the Schlesinger panel report says, “We do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.”


What his excuse? “That The New York Times would find the secretary’s misstatement and the subsequent effort to set the record straight is of interest is a shameless example of news that is sought during the dog days of August in Washington,”…Pentagon spokesman, Eric Ruff said.

Misstatements. My people call them “lies”.

Altruism as an Organizational Problem

by Kieran Healy on August 27, 2004

The University of Arizona’s “news service”: has done a little “press release”: covering a “recent paper of mine”: about the social organization of cadaveric organ procurement in the United States. One way to think about the paper is in relation to ongoing debates about offering commercial incentives to donor families. These debates are conducted in individual-level terms — they are about appealing people’s to selfish rather than their altruistic impulses — and they rely on a straightforward contrast between giving and selling. By doing so these arguments (both for and against markets) miss the role of organizational infrastructure and logistical effort in donor procurement, and the wide range of variation in procurement rates associated with it.

Light a single candle

by Ted on August 27, 2004

A point that’s possibly worth reiterating:

The Islamic world has ample reasons for legitimate criticism. Anti-Semitism, sexism, lack of democracy, lack of opportunity, nurturing of terrorism… these are sad realities, not the hallucinations of right-wingers. Anger and criticism are appropriate, but our approach has to start with the assumption that Muslims are not going away. Short of deliberate genocide, there’s no way forward in the long run except for “hearts and minds.”

There is much, much more to say about this. Luckily, an organization called Americans for Informed Democracy is taking a few steps in this direction. They’re putting on a series of thirty events in September and October on the subject of US-Islamic world relations.

The series will finish on October 12 with six “Face to Face” videoconference dialogues between young leaders at six universities in the U.S. and six in the Muslim world, including in Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey.

The series is intended to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks with a call to action out of the ashes of tragedy. As you know, the recently released report by the 9/11 Commission stressed that the U.S. must “act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world” and to share America’s “vision of opportunity and hope.” We hope that our efforts can help to build understanding between non-Muslims and Muslims in the U.S. and then to extend that understanding to the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

No one initiative like this will change history. But what other option is there, really?

Debating comprehensives

by Chris Bertram on August 27, 2004

Our very own Harry Brighouse — who is away from the internet at the moment — features in “the latest Times Educational Supplement”: . Harry is engaged there in a debate with … his dad. But since Tim Brighouse is commissioner for London schools and Harry has written extensively on justice in education, that’s just as it should be. The subject of the debate: for and against the comprehensive ideal in Britain’s schools. (To read the whole thing, you’ll need to buy the paper version.)