THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 293 January 19-25, 2004
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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January 19, 2004
There was a fair amount of both mail and short commentary in View over the weekend. You might start there. The Chaos Manor User's Choice Awards and the annual Orchid and Onion Parade begin with this issue of BYTE; for those who don't know, I write my monthly column all at once rather than weekly, and the editors break it into weekly chunks. The awards are done the first week of January for the previous year.
Saturday I did a short squib on the Pickering Appointment. There will be more in mail.
There is also a comment on The Hubble Death Sentence.
I am pleased to report that due to the generous efforts of Mr. St. Onge, the book of the month page has been brought up to December 2003. You may find it here.
And there is a speech by a Congressman on trends in conservatism that is worth your attention.
I will have more including mail, but that ought to be enough to start the week...
And a little good news from the front:
Museum of hoaxes
|This week:||Tuesday, January
The media created Dean, and is now busily crushing him like a bug. Interesting.
Fred just elaborated on what you wrote today:
I can't say that he's wrong at all, and that is more than a bit scary.
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
Here is the latest from Fred. In his usual obnoxious manner he starts out trying to see how much of his potential audience he can offend. For those who stay the course, he has something to say. I don't always agree with all, or sometimes even with any of it but he always hits close enough to the truth to make very uncomfortable reading. like you, he makes me think.
Patrick A. Hoage
Fred in his usual manner goes to the heart of issues. The essay on "FAKING IT" (meaning on faking democracy) begins:
While the United States is freer and more democratic than many countries, it is not, I think, either as free or as democratic as we are expected to believe, and becomes rapidly less so. Indeed we seem to be specialists in maintaining the appearance without having the substance. Regarding the techniques of which, a few thoughts:
(1) Free speech does not exist in America. We all know what we canít say and about whom we canít say it.
(2) A democracy run by two barely distinguishable parties is not in fact a democracy.
A parliamentary democracy allows expression of a range of points of view: A ecological candidate may be elected, along with a communist, a racial-separatist, and a libertarian. These will make sure their ideas are at least heard. By contrast, the two-party system prevents expression of any ideas the two parties agree to suppress. How much open discussion do you hear during presidential elections of, for example, race, immigration, abortion, gun control, and the continuing abolition of Christianity? These are the issues most important to most people, yet are quashed.
All of which is true, and all of which is cause for concern.
But: do understand that the Republic was intentionally set up to "fake it" in the sense that it wasn't intended to be a Democracy. The old John Birch Society had most things wrong, but their slogan was correct: "This is a Republic, not a Democracy." That was intended by the Framers, and their intention was defended in The Federalist Papers, a series of letters to the editors of newspapers, written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay under the pseudonym "Publius", and intended to persuade voters to ratify the Constitution of 1789 as drafted in the Convention of 1787.
It is a commentary on American public life and the quality of public schools that most students in our schools have never heard of the Federalist Papers, and most colleges consider The Federalist too difficult to be assigned to undergraduates (upper division political science majors sometimes excepted). Letters to the editors of newspapers, intended to be persuasive to voters, are now arcana, impossible for high school students, and too difficult to be assigned to college students.
Left to me, I would make it mandatory to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of The Federalist a requirement for admission to college. Left to me I would make it mandatory to have a rudimentary knowledge of The Federalist before you could register to vote in a Federal election. But that's an aside and not what this comment is about.
The Framers rightly feared direct democracy, and rule by "faction" which is to say by political parties. They also understood there would probably be no way to suppress parties as such, although they did manage to keep them from being organized for a number of years. The notion of federal laws governing the establishment of political parties, and federal tax money being paid to political candidates, would have been enough to make most of the Federalists revolt, possibly to bring back King George as the lesser of the evils visiting the Republic.
But: while they feared direct democracy, they also understood that government should address the real problems of the Republic as seen by the citizens: the notion that two parties could suppress all comment and debate on the most important issues facing the Republic: immigration, citizenship, government hostility to public religion, an armed citizenry, would have sent the Framers back to their Committees of Correspondence concerning the Public Safety, and the militia into the streets to bring down a foul tyranny in blood; and I don't think I exaggerate.
"The important thing is that every citizen be armed." Is that debated now?
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof" in a nation that had tax-supported established churches in 7 of the 13 states at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted did not mean that federal courts would intervene to take down a manger in the public square. God save the United States and this honorable court.
In Los Angeles the police are forbidden to interfere with the activities of gang members who have been convicted of crimes and deported and are now illegally back in the country: the policeman who arrested this criminal whose "parole" was contingent on his being deported, cannot arrest him on sight as an obvious criminal, because the LAPD is not allowed to have any enforcement powers in immigration matters. If they did it might interfere with the illegal immigrant's rights to public largess, education, health care, and welfare. And I wish I were making this up.
Now perhaps this is as it should be, but it is not that way due to any debate and election. Indeed, California voted to deny illegal aliens public benefits, but the Federal Courts have ruled that unconstitutional under reasoning that strains the imagination. California must collect taxes and pay benefits to people who are criminals under Federal Law but who will not be interfered with by Federal officers -- and this on orders of Federal Courts.
Perhaps this is as it should be, but shouldn't some of this be debated? How many candidates for public office have you heard commenting on these matters?
Fred puts things bluntly and strongly, and I would argue that direct democracy is a cure worse than the disease; but the Republic the Framers created is pretty well gone now, and the Imperium isn't paying much attention to the people either.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security
I doubt those words are studied much in schools today, nor is Federalist 10, nor most of what I learned in 8th grade civics in rural Tennessee.
So it goes.
The State of the Union was about what we expected. Stay the course in Iraq: we probably have no other choice, and it is hard to quarrel with that. And I do note there were no more trumpets sounding: no more places to invade. Perhaps some of that mania has burned away in the sands of Iraq.
Buried in the speech were some fundamentals that make me think Bush is a deeper man than many think. He persists in trying to privatize at least a part of social security, as he should: make people stakeholders. It's a kind of distributes I favor. The best defense of the rights of property is that lots of people have some. The more people not dependent on the largess of government the healthier the republic.
He says that government can't do everything but he doesn't say it forcefully. We shall see. It was a stirring speech in ways.
But as Fred says, we don't debate certain issues at all. We all know what we can't say and who we can't say it about.
Example: the silly girl who insisted on making jokes about having a bomb in her bag. Of course she acted like an idiot, and she certainly rated having her stuff taken apart and being put to considerable inconvenience for it; but it was still her bad idea of a joke, and everyone knows it was a bad joke, and it is not merely unjust but an arbitrary act of tyranny to threaten her with 15 years in prison. Eventually the tyrants will graciously allow her to leave the country after several days or weeks in jail, and they will expect us to applaud their generosity.
And the fact that there are those who say, well, you shouldn't make such jokes demonstrates precisely what is wrong: we have lost all sense of what it is like to be free people. Freedom by definition means doing some things that others find abominable. But the fact remains that she is no threat, and never was a threat; she is no terrorist and never was a terrorist; and if we want to discourage people from making such jokes in future, the proper way is a thorough search: "all right, we will take you seriously." And possibly a fine: "All right, you have cost us time and trouble, and you will now pay." But to put the taxpayers to great expense to jail her, try her, and possibly send her to a place that costs more per year to keep her than it would cost to send her to Yale is absurdity on stilts.
But we were born free.
January 22, 2004
Yeah, and anyone who picks his nose in public ought to be pilloried, and people who walk hand in hand on Sunday ought to be dunked, and what is this freedom crap anyway? Ordnung!
Maybe she ought to be shot.
But what she is guilty of is bad taste, and maybe of wasting some time because even though the officials knew she was making a bad joke they should go through her stuff with some care just to discourage others. But the only thing bad about "bomb jokes" in airports is that if they weren't discouraged, everyone would be making them, and that would waste a lot of time.
Kowtow to them officials. Obey. Ordnung.
The fact is that a lot of benighted people are pretty dumb, or have annoying habits, or irritate the holy heck out of us enlightened ones, and maybe we should be telling them what to do with the public jailer to back us up. Of course that's expensive.
The point of self government is that it is efficient and cheap, and I for one can put up with people making bad jokes.
As to "things are slow enough without having to investigate everyone making bad jokes," do you imagine that arresting her made things go faster? Or that it was necessary as a deterrent to keep others from doing that?
The TSA isn't focused on airplane safety it is focused on CYA with the rules. Bureaucracies generally are.
Well, the actual study concluded that it was "fear of flying" that caused a big increase auto traffic after 911 and thus "the terrorists" are responsible for the increase in traffic deaths by about 100/month since 911. Air travel is safer than auto travel, and thus the increased deaths are due to decreased air travel...
My guess is that at least half the increase in auto traffic at the expense of air travel is the TSA and the imbecility of evacuating airports at the drop of a hat -- I am amazed they didn't evacuate Miami airport when the silly girl said she had a bomb -- and all the other meaningless (meaningless in terms of increasing actual security) TSA measures.
Incidentally, the fact that they didn't evacuate the airport argues strongly that no one believed she had a bomb, and that there was thus no danger, and therefore they need not have hauled her off to the hoosegow as opposed to giving her a stern warning about the seriousness of the situation.
There are ways to increase aircraft security, but in fact the 911 scenario of taking over airplanes and using them as cruise missiles won't work any more: some pilots are armed, cockpit doors are strengthened and locked, and passengers aren't going to passively submit. Yes, it's worth keeping guns off airplanes unless they are in the hands of commissioned officers or police; but they aren't going to take over airplanes with boxcutters any longer and we all know it. The purpose of TSA is to pay itself, and to intimidate passengers, and get us all scared as hell, not of "terrorists" but of being sent to jail for 15 years for saying the wrong thing. Or for that matter being accused of it. Speak up, don't mutter...
January 23, 2004
The incident itself wasn't all that important: a rather silly English girl thought it would be funny to make jokes about bombs in her bag. It's obvious that everyone in the airport knew she was joking. The bag wasn't the kind of thing one would put bombs in, it was carried on and surrendered with a smile, and was in the process of being searched when she said it. In a word, it was hardly shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, or even "Bomb!" in an airport. It was merely a bad joke.
She was arrested, and her crime is sufficiently odious to justify 15 years imprisonment for interfering with airline operations as well as violation of the terrorist sections of the Patriot Act.
I have so far received no letters supporting the proposition that she deserves 15 years, but I have several defending her arrest and jailing. The arguments made are first, that this is not an issue of free speech or liberty: you have no right to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater. That one we can dismiss, because she didn't do that, and no one imagines that she did. No one took her seriously. There was no panic. The bomb squad wasn't called. The airport wasn't shut down and the terminal evacuated, which the TSA seems to like doing every now and then. She didn't cry "Fire!" or "Bomb!" and cause a panic. She merely make a joke about being careful with her bombs.
The second argument made is that she should have known better. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and besides, there are generally signs posted saying that threats are taken seriously, and clearly she's a bit stupid. Simple, even. That one misses the point: I don't care if there's a law and and a bunch of signs: the law itself is wrong. No, I am not arguing that there should be no prohibitions against making silly jokes about bombs in airports. Without such prohibition there would be incessant jokes, all costing time and subjecting the TSA people to needless irritation. I am saying that a simple misdemeanor prohibition authorizing the TSA to subject such people to special searches and relieving them of any responsibilities if the joker misses the flight would be more than sufficient to stop the jokes, and a simple warning that "We take such threats very seriously; are you sure you want to say this?" would work ninety-nine percent. of the time. There is no need to threaten fifteen years imprisonment.
The final argument made is that she isn't going to face fifteen years. So? In a free society there is rule of law: the law states what you can and cannot do, and specifies the penalties for doing it. We don't have that, in this instance or in many others. Instead, we have enormous penalties that can be threatened, then bargained down so that the authorities are protected. "Yes, we trashed your house on the anonymous denunciation by someone accusing you of keeping bombs in the basement and molesting children in a secret room. No, we didn't find any evidence that you did any of that. However, we will try you on those charges and others, and we will seek to send you away for twenty years. On the other hand, if you will plead guilty to felony possession of four tracer bullets, which are prohibited, we will put in a word for you at sentencing, and drop all other charges. And of course you will no longer have any standing to sue over illegal search and seizure."
I could go on, but surely the point is clear? Arbitrary and discretionary power to the police and prosecutors is the essence of tyranny: it's the definition of an authoritarian society. Franco's Spain didn't claim much more than that, nor did Fascist Italy prior to the pact with Germany and declaration of war. Letting the public prosecutor decide who will and will not go to jail without regard to what was done is the best way I know to make sure everyone walks just right. But then as Fred says, we don't have free speech: we all know what you can't say, and who you can't say it about, and while you won't be prosecuted for saying it, something can generally be found to make you shut up. Note what happens to protestors when the President is around: they can go off out of sight or face being charged with lese majeste, specification making threats against the President or at least "refusing to cooperate" with officers in pursuit of their duties.
And finally, I am told, I should shut up about this: yes, it's a bit of an imposition, but we are all of us safer, and eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Get used to it.
Which is terrifying: Does anyone imagine that most tyrants do not think they are acting in the best interests of the society and their people? Sure, there are real monsters like the sons of Saddam Hussein, and often "benevolent dictatorship" degenerates into that. The son of Marcus Aurelius comes to mind. But many authoritarians have good intentions. Franco comes to mind. As do Mussolini and his son in law Ciano.
And I am quite certain that most TSA officials are nice people, kind to their wives and children, good neighbors, and are certain that they are doing good for the Republic by helping keep us all secure.
Just as I am certain that the people detaining Padillo without charging him with anything believe they are acting in the best interests of the country. But so did those who charged Milligan, which set the case law in this situation. See http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/26.htm for an astute commentary as well as the Milligan decision.
It's a long way from a silly girl making jokes to a undoubted bad guy going about looking for ways to make dirty bombs; or is it?
No graver question was ever considered by this court, nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole people; for it is the birthright of every American citizen when charged with crime, to be tried and punished according to law. The power of punishment is, alone through the means which the laws have provided for that purpose, and if they are ineffectual, there is an immunity from punishment, no matter how great an offender the individual may be, or how much his crimes may have shocked the sense of justice of the country, or endangered its safety. By the protection of the law human rights are secured; withdraw that protection, and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers, or the clamor of an excited people.
Mr. Justice Davis, for the Court, ex parte Milligan
One more point: al Qaeda wants to ruin the United States by any means necessary. If they can induce us to take measures that do it for them -- and parts of the Patriot Act and most of the TSA have terrible economic effects -- then they will be getting their work done with little effort.
Our answer to al Qaeda shouldn't be to restrict our own liberties. It should be to restrict theirs. While I have no brief for throwing an American citizen taken into custody on American soil into jail without charging him with something, I will strong argue the right of the United States to send special forces into al Qaeda territories, disrupt their meetings, shoot down those who resist including any American citizen misguided enough to be enjoying their company, and generally make war against the enemy. We ought to have operations groups combing the hills in Pakistan. We ought to have sent an operations group into the al Qaeda camps after the Cole, after the bombing of the barracks in Arabia, after the destruction of our embassies. We knew where the enemies were, and sending in a few cruise missiles wasn't a good answer.
The invasion of Iraq was a mistake in my judgment because it ties our hands: so much of the military is taken up with occupation of a country that was already deterred and weakened and contained that we don't seem to be able to go after the people who really are plotting our destruction.
Instead we clamp down on our own liberties in the hopes of preserving them.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And guarding our liberty shouldn't take the form of giving a lot of it up: even the right to be foolish and silly, or the right to have evil intentions.
Perhaps I am remembering another Republic, in peace and in war, but I would rather make our enemies afraid than intimidate our own citizens.
I just got an email about "my account" that said my email address was about to expire, and I should open the attachment to see what I can do about it.
Needless to say my account isn't about to expire and I am not about to open the stupid attachment to learn details, and you shouldn't do that either.
I am sure all my readers know this.
It's yet another spam scam that tries to infect your system. Don't open unexpected email attachments, and do not send any personal or financial information to anyone who asks for it unless you initiated the contact. If you think your accounts of any kind need attention use the telephone to call the credit card company or bank, and you make sure that number is real and you didn't get it from some scam artist.
It's dangerous out there. Be careful.
Bob Keeshan, CAPTAIN KANGAROO, RIP
January 24, 2004
I was cleaning up and archiving images when I found this memorial to Columbia. Leslie Fish tells why we were once excited by the dream.
January 25, 2004
Golden Globes today. And I have taken the day off.
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