Friday, May 31, 2002

Give me liberty and give me death!

Here's a clue to those who are wetting themselves over the changes in policy at the FBI. If you have a law enforcement agency, particularly one with "Investigation" in the name, you want it to investigate, If you don't want it to watch people, to ferret out the bad guys, don't have it in the first place. You can't expect people to protect you and then tell them they can't watch you.

We have become so rattled by fear of our own institutions, which we are supposed to control, that we are unable to defend ourselves from terrorists. The New York Times Editorial Page instead of cheering the demise of the stupid rules from the 70s which practically rendered the FBI impotent in the face of terrorism, sees it as an ominous threat to civil liberties. Look at the story arc: 1. We need stronger central government to make us secure from poverty, economic risk, etc. 2. The government is too powerful and intrusive into our lives. 3. We need more restrictions on government activity to enforce laws and detect terrorist plots. 4. Why didn't the FBI prevent this! Heads must roll!

This, apparently, is called "checks and balances." To me it sounds like laying down our weapons.

How stupid can we get? Apparently, we haven't tested the depths yet. Talk about straining at gnats and swallowing camels! (No offense meant to James Lileks)

Bob Mueller shouldn't be fired, but he shouldn't have been given this task. There should have been a special team created by Tom Ridge to access the output of the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. and act with the kind of speed and responsiveness called for in this situation, bypassing the bureaucracy, but not building a new one.

Zayed Yasin has dropped "jihad" from the title of his Harvard commencement speech. I'm so relieved. The revised title is "Of Faith and Citizenship." Of course, that must be a non-Christian faith or he'd be shouted down.

Most of the major universities in this country have become so hypocritical and flat out bigoted that a degree from them should be considered a major investment in error. My older son went to Harvard, but after what he told me about the experience I encouraged his brother to go to BYU, or to a community college. Universities are supposed to be places of learning, not indoctrination. Tolerance and critical thinking are fine, but it is apparent that those are just buzz words for the 60s radicals who seem to run these places today, and they only run one direction.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Mars has water! But it still needs women.

I think this is interesting, but I doubt we'll be sending a manned mission very soon. We just don't want to spend the money. I think we'd be better off if we did, because it would bespeak a spirit of exploration and challenge that America seems to be losing. We're more interested in security and comfort. After we landed on the moon, I was dismayed that we never went back, or built a base, or anything else. If we can't do that, I don't think we'll do anything more with Mars than maybe send a manned mission just so we can say we did it.

The Hum of All Fears

I usually wait for blockbuster movies to make it to WTBS or TNT, since the profanity is bleeped by then. As for Ben Affleck's new pic, I'm going to read the book.

Claudia Rosett makes a good point that the concern that this film will scare people seems kind of pointless when we live in a situation that should scare them witless.

The major fear I've been reading about is the fear of civil libertarians that the FBI might investigate innocent people. Nobody even asks the obvious question, "What's wrong with that?" It's not the Federal Bureau of Protecting our Delicate Sensibilities, you know.

Shortly after 9/11, I heard a woman describing her participation in a civil rights rally over the fear that the terrorist attacks would lead to a loss of our privileges and civil liberties. She noticed a car with two men in it parked nearby and felt the cold clutch of her rights being "chilled." I wondered why she didn't think about how nice it would be to have a few pigs, er, cops around if a bunch of terrorists showed up.

Investigations are not violations of rights. They can clear us of false accusations, but no one seems to think of that any more. The current panic about removing the absolutely idiotic restrictions on the activities of agents reminds me of kids in the back seat yelling, "He's LOOKING at me!" At some point, we need to tell the ACLU and the rest to grow up and quit whining.
No harm is done by someone checking you out. We spend a lot of money, time and effort trying to get others to look at us, but when it turns out that the FBI might have cast its gaze our way, we freak.

The thing that made past abuses abusive was that they were motivated by considerations other than protecting America and solving crimes. Remember Reagan's fondness for the phrase "Trust, but verify"? It's a good saying, and we should start chanting it. We establish police departments for a good reason, and if we catch their officers misusing their authority, they should be out on their ears, even prosecuted criminally, but that doesn't me we have to disable them to prevent them from doing something bad. Doing that is like buying a gun for self-protection, then filing off the firing pin so that it won't hurt someone by accident.

At some point, we have to realize that we have much more to fear than an intrusion on our privacy. In one of the versions of Chicken Little, she gets eaten by a fox who takes advantage of the fact that she is so focused on the sky falling, that she doesn't notice his machinations. If we can't trust the people we hire to protect us, or the institutional safeguards against overreaching and corruption, then we might as well just sit down and wait for the terrorists to come after us.

The Difference Between Thinking and Knowing

Claudia Winkler proves her wisdom, taste and good sense by defending the practice of memorization in schools. Would that our school administrators and educational theorists were this clear-sighted!

I really see nothing wrong with a certain amount of "rote memorization." because it develops mental skills that aid learning throughout life and establishes certain key facts as building blocks for future understanding.

Utah Gun Issues

This story covers the latest skirmish between legislators in Utah who seem to think that we don't have enough guns being carried, and judges who don't want them anywhere near their courtrooms. The legislature passed a law requiring lockboxes to be installed in all the state courthouses to allow people carrying handguns to store them on the site when going to court. The judges don't want them even in the buildings. So they have now declared courthouses to be secure areas, not just the court rooms and foyers near them. They make a good point: It is not a good idea for someone whose life has just been turned upside down by losing his family to walk out the courtroom and be able to pick up a gun.

The legislators argue in terms of the poor guy having to leave his gun home and be unprotected between there and the courthouse and back again. Gee, I didn't know I was in so much danger. Now I agree that we have a right to carry guns for self-protection, but this is hardly the wild frontier. I know people who go their entire lives without carrying a piece and never even get shot at. In fact, I kind of wonder about the stability and self-control of someone who feels naked without his .45 mag.

There is also an issue between the legislators and the President of the University of Utah, which has a policy prohibiting firearms on campus. The academics argue that guns are antithetical to the atmosphere of learning and discussion which should prevail on campus. I would remind them that rape is too, and they have a policy against that, but it still happens.

The real problem in all of this is that we really have no good way to know who can or cannot be trusted to handle guns responsibly. Most people are fine most of the time, but in times of great stress, anger or fear, we don't all react predictably. Perhaps we need to require more than an FBI background check and a perfunctory gun safety session before we entrust people with concealed carry permits. I would like to have more people carrying. I really would. I think it would result in a safer society, even though there might be more dead criminals, but I know enough yahoos who think they are Wyatt Earp to be completely comfortable with the present rules.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

This article by Josh Marshall is interesting for more than his conclusions. He doesn't like the "neocon" cowboys who want to go after Saddam, because they don't couch their arguments in "details about Iraq, geopolitics, or anything else," other than compelling logic.

It seems to me that the careful, thoughtful people who have all kinds of detail, history, geopolitics, etc. to support their cautious approaches, often are so bogged down by what's on the other hand that they end up dithering in the face of things like the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia, or the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland by the Nazis.

The essence of heroism is that one knows all the bad things that could happen if one attacks, but one does it anyway because it is right. There are times when we have to grit our teeth and watch helplessly as evil has its way, but it should always be harder to do than acting. Clinton's dealings with bin Laden are an example of how the intellectual approach ends up costing more in the end.

Once you're satisfied that you've considered all the angles, there isn't any point to continuing to examine the options. You have to decide and then act. Bush 41 was successful in the Gulf War, because his gut told him "This shall not stand," and he went to work. But when he let diplomatic considerations persuade him to call off the destruction of the Iraqi army, he blew it and assured his loss of a second term. Americans have a strong sense of what is right and what looks like cowardice.

To me, all one has to do is look at the videos of Halabja, the Kurdish town attacked by Saddam with mustard gas. That has its own logic that says we have to act. Let the career military men plan the campaign, the rest of us only need to know that he needs to be destroyed, the sooner the better.

Bob Mueller's announcement of reorganization of the FBI are pretty pointless.

A few observations:

1. The FBI has a legitimate mission that it must continue to do. Reorganizing it to fight terrorism is like trying to repair a car while it's running down the highway.

2. Two scriptural allusions: A house divided against itself cannot stand. Don't put new wine in old bottles. The FBI has evolved for one purpose, to build cases and convict criminals. It has been slapped silly because of abuses of its investigatory power in the past, and has just gone through 8 years where it was held in deep distrust by the administration. Now we're expecting it to turn on a dime and change its culture and methods to counter a threat nobody took seriously during all those years.

3. The skills and thought processes of intelligence gathering and prevention of terrorist attacks is different from coming in after the fact and gathering proof for use in court. Mueller wants to bring up some CIA hotshots to run the FBI's new program, but I think it will just create a lot of friction and interference with each other.

Mark Steyn pops the environmentalist balloon.

I'd like to be an "environmentalist," really I would. I spend quite a bit of my time in the environment and I'm rather fond of it. But these days "environmentalism" is mostly unrelated to the environment: It's a cult, and, like most cults, heavy on ostentatious displays of self-denial, perfectly encapsulated by the time-consuming rituals of "recycling," an activity of no discernible benefit other than as a communal profession of faith.

What is so dangerous about this cult is that it is endorsed by a national media who thinks religion is the opiate of the masses, but doesn't see all the elements of religion in this form of animism. They repeat environmentalist propaganda like a mantra and never question it. What they should do is run a comparison between the environmentalist movement and Scientology. Both file lawsuits at the drop of a hat. Both are based on junk science, even science fiction. Both make prodigious amounts of money and are strict about how they deal with defectors. I think it would be fascinating to do a complete study.

Virginia Postrel demands that we terraform Texas. Good idea.
Of course, that's why environmentalists would hate it.

It reminds me of a thought I had when reading about windmills for generating electricity. The article pointed out that the air stream which turns the windmill loses energy, which seems obvious once you think about it, but I doubt that anyone has really thought much about what impact on weather widespread wind generation would have.

It all looks free when there is so much wind just being "wasted" but if we harnessed a substantial amount of it, wouldn't it have some effects on weather patterns? If so, what would they be? WE NEED A MODEL!

Maybe, if Texas covers its skylines with 300 foot windmill towers, it change its wind patterns sufficiently to cool down the state--or heat it even more! In any case, Virginia, just remember, it's worse in Houston, and it's not the heat; it's the humidity. And those of us without the humidity sure miss that water.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Here is the link to the interview with Ralph Peters I mentioned a few days ago. It contains more common sense than a Sunday's worth of D.C. pundits.