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November 14, 2002


What Kind of Homeland?
It took long enough to happen, but a William Safire column today kicked up a storm about the "Total Information Awareness" intelligence dragnet proposal stashed inside the 'homeland security' bill. If the bill passes . . .
Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you — passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance — and you have the supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.
Someone in the White House really needs to read his Eliot. He once wrote:
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Last September, the National Security Agency intercepted an interesting phone call — it included a statement, in Arabic, that "tomorrow is zero hour." What a great bit of information! Problem is, the agency never got around to translating it . . . until Sept. 12.

Where is the wisdom in addressing that problem, and others like it, with a grab for more information? That makes as much sense as responding to getting lost by driving faster. Total information awareness in the midst of a total comprehension failure misses the point, and could end up making matters worse.

Instead of sniffing up more data smog, why doesn't the government redouble its efforts to parse the information it has? We seemed to have quite a bit before Sept. 11. It might have been nice if the nation had possessed the wherewithal to make sense of it.

John Perry Barlow has a smart plan that would cut through the intelligence mess. Which means, of course, that it'll never see the light of day. =,

Greg G. @ 5:38 PM | # |


Jiang's Jiggy Wit' It
Chinese President Jiang Zemin ceded the post of general secretary of the Communist Party today, but not before stopping to revise the party constitution around "the important thought of the three represents."

"The three represents"? What?! Are Chinese officials taking time out at party conferences to give shoutouts to their homies?

I can already imagine it: "Whazzup, my dogz, this is Jiang Ziggy-Ziggy Zemin, givin' big shout-outs to Deng Xiaoping, who represented in the new school, kickin that capitalist flava wit' tha bling-bling; to Mao Zedong, to whom I give all honor and glory for all that I have achieved — peace; and much love to our main man Karl Marx, the original gangsta, keepin' it real since all the way back in the day in 1848. Wherever you are, Karl, to us you're always in tha hizzz-ouse — every breath we take. Word up." (Cue P. Diddy with the Beijing Gospel Choir here.)

Silly? Yeah. But would it be any more meaningless than this tripe?

Greg G. @ 4:40 PM | # |


What's Up, Mr. Snarky Citation Man?
On Tuesday, Howard Bashman — who runs a top-notch blog — pointed readers to a 9th Circuit opinion that, while reinstating Gennifer Flowers' lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, shoehorned in a darned peculiar citation (emphasis added):
We agree with the district court that the trio of colorful waste metaphors — the references to the Star stories as "trash," "crap" and "garbage" — are not defamatory under Nevada law. "[M]ere rhetorical hyperbole" is not actionable. Wellman v. Fox, 825 P.2d 208, 211 (Nev. 1992). Wal-Mart can call a competitor's store "trashy," even if the store is not, in fact, unkempt. Levinsky's, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 127 F.3d 122, 129-30 (1st Cir. 1997) (no relation). And the Washington Times can call the protest signs in Lafayette Park the "garbage" of "pitiable lunatics" with impunity. Thomas v. News World Communications, 681 F. Supp. 55, 60, 63 (D.D.C. 1988). Even assuming that the "trash," "crap" and "garbage" statements were directed at Flowers rather than at the Star or the situation as a whole, they are nothing more than generic invective. See Levinsky's, 127 F.3d at 129 ("The vaguer a term, . . . the less likely it is to be actionable."). The law provides no redress for harsh name-calling.
Levinsky's? Clinton? "No relation"?! What's that all about? I think Judge Alex Kozinski (no relation) has some explaining to do.

Greg G. @ 12:55 PM | # |


Follow the Money
Hey all! Sorry to leave you all so bereft of fresh, snappy content.

Chris Mooney — I'll append his name to the blogroll before the week's out — has background information about the 'science and religion' cover story in the latest Wired. Given the success of the well-funded vast right-wing conspiracy [note to readers: envision a slight twinkle in my eyes as I wrote that], I suppose I have to keep my skeptical wits about me now more than ever.

Greg G. @ 11:13 AM | # |

November 12, 2002


Selective Amnesia
Before Glenn Reynolds pops his cork one more time about the raging "racism, antisemitism and homophobia" that defines Americans who lean left, I'd like to gently point out that here in Georgia, the Republican candidate for governor surfed to victory with the help of a wave of sentiment in favor of putting the Confederate battle emblem back on the state flag.

One can argue that the flag honors nothing more than pride in the South's heritage, of course. Anyone who does would, though, has to reckon with the fact that the 'Conferderate' Georgia flag was first raised in 1956, a mere two years after Brown v. Board of Education. That seems to suggest alternative motivations, to say the least.

Does that prove that progressives can't be racists? Of course not. But assailing political adversaries for the [debatable] biogotry of a few while ignoring it amongst one's allies takes a healthy amount of disingenuousness.

You would think that a Yale Law graduate would be more careful with his intellectual integrity. But such is the dissembling, obfuscation, and misrepresentation that has become the stock in trade of the the right's house provocateurs.

Greg G. @ 12:19 AM | # |

November 11, 2002


Notes on the State of Virginia—
When I stopped in at Barnes & Noble yesterday, I noticed that Garry Wills has a new book out about a favorite topic of mine: the University of Virginia. Appropriately enough, he gave it the title of Mr. Jefferson's University. [Gosh — where did he think of that? =, ]

It looks like a stimulating read — but then, Wills usually is. If I read it soon, I'll let you know what I think.

Greg G. @ 5:48 PM | # |


Y'Know, The Emerging Democratic Majority Never Mentioned This
Next time you hear new Senate environment committee chairman Wayne Allard and his cohorts itching to get their mitts on the Clean Water Act, just remember that chemical-tainted water may be causing bigger problems for blue-state voters than the GOP thinks. A new University of Missouri study suggests that fertilizers may be giving men in farm country a case of, er, flagging fertility.

Let's think about this: lower fertility could mean lower birthrates, which would help the red states out grow the blue ones . . . hmmm. If I were totally unprincipled, I might say that the Republican victory last week might not have been such a lousy development after all. =)

Greg G. @ 4:55 PM | # |


Don't Call It a Comeback . . .
. . . but Wired magazine has been on a great roll, and I don't just say that because Brad DeLong writes a column for them these days. Somehow, the magazine has managed to emerge from all the turmoil of its post-Condé Nast purchase, late '90s days with its edge back, thank God.

Speaking of whom, the magazine gives the God in the machine top billing this month. In a package of four stories, writers such as Gregg Easterbrook and Kevin Kelly range through topics from the nascent rapprochement of science and faith to a medical researcher's increasingly personal embrace of the power of prayer. It's a compelling issue, one that provokes like nothing else on the newsstand — just like the first issue I ever bought, way back in 1994.

On the other hand, there's Fast Company, which has been in the doldrums for over a year. Definitely tired. Bordering on expired, unless someone injects it with some desperately needed vigor.

Greg G. @ 12:38 AM | # |