Wednesday, May 15, 2002

THERE ARE GOING TO BE A LOT OF upset people over the following David Cay Johnston report in the New York Times:
The classified memorandum written by an F.B.I. agent in Phoenix last summer urging bureau headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men enrolled in American flight schools also cited Osama bin Laden by name and suggested that his followers could use the schools to train for terror operations, government officials said for the first time today.

The memorandum said terrorist groups like Mr. bin Laden's might be sending students to the schools as the first step in what could be a concerted effort to place Islamic militants in the civil aviation industry around the world as pilots, security guards or aircraft-maintenance workers.
There's no question there were security holes: the INS demonstrated its incompetency beyond a reasonable doubt. But before one uses this memo to condemn the FBI for failing to heed its own agent's warnings, let's ask:
1. On what level of actual intelligence and what level of actual speculation did the memo come from, and from how high-ranking an agent?

2. How many memos are produced with similar or lower levels of speculation by similarly-ranked or higher-ranked agents?

3. What level of resources would it take to respond to each of those memos with the effectiveness to shut down a speculated operation in a couple of months?
It's very easy to have 20/20 hindsight and complain that a particular memo wasn't followed. When I litigated automobile products liability lawsuits, there was almost always one feature that, in hindsight, could have prevented grievous injury, and plaintiffs wanted to assess blame that the car didn't have that particular safety feature (even though the feature might have caused harm in other ways). But one has to evaluate these matters ex ante: we can't turn back the clock, so the question becomes, going forward, what's feasible? Or, if you're allocating blame, in the summer of 2001, what was the feasible prevention efforts that could have been anticipated? What probability does one assign to the actual September 11 scenario (close to unthinkable outside of Tom Clancy novels), and how many other scenarios had equal or greater probability x magnitude of potential damage figures? And what level of resources would it have taken to address all these scenarios, and would Congress have allocated those billions of dollars to do so?

One of my favorite trial exhibits was a response to a plaintiff's complaint that, in addition to the warning in the owners' manual, the manufacturer should have put a warning light or buzzer or sticker on the dashboard, and that might have prevented the horrible accident that was at issue in the lawsuit. We mocked up a dashboard that had a cacophony of warning lights and buzzers and stickers for every warning in the owner's manual. If you try to protect against every little risk, you end up protecting against none of them at all. Not exactly analogous, but the point remains: you can't selectively pick the memo that in hindsight was most prescient and complain that everyone else wasn't equally prescient.

The cheapest way to stop terrorist attacks is to (1) pre-emptively take out the terrorist structure that produces the attacks; and (2) make sure the INS (or replacement agency) is doing its job.
A "HOT OR NOT?"-style site that works in two dimensions. (via Rabbit)

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

IF YOU'RE ONE OF MY handful of readers from MIT and Harvard, here's the anti-divestment from Israel petition, whose signatories outnumber the Chomsky divestment petition by more than 7 to 1.
RESOLUTION OF A "Petition to the Natidnal Labor and Relation for the Labor Board to Review and Enforce All of Tolefree Precise in All of His Files and Lawsuit and Enforce All of Tolefree Afotiri Contracts in All of His Files Reason Violation of Tolefree Civil Rights Amed Broken Contract and Other."
DANIEL FRANK, the third-funniest man in Austin, notes that the Vagina Monologues missed a casting opportunity. And, via Frank, I learn of Mark Evanier's fascinating blog, which includes a link to a Harpo Marx sound clip.
FREE submachine-gun training just outside of Las Vegas. I almost want to make a weekend out of it.

Monday, May 13, 2002

A NUMBER OF BLOGGERS HAVE been excited by Scientology's recent payment of $8 million and change in the Wollersheim lawsuit. I'm not sure why. Sure, it's a setback to the extent that Scientology had a slogan of "not one dime to Larry Wollersheim." But this was a suit that was brought in 1980. Okay, some of that 22 years of litigation was waiting for appellate courts to decide appeals. But I don't know a lot of law firms looking forward to 22-year court battles in the hope of collecting a $3 million contingency fee. And if Scientology had given up the ghost a little earlier, that judgment would be substantially smaller -- two thirds of it is interest that accumulated at 10% over several years.
YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that I haven't posted much on the Middle East lately. That's because, as I mentioned recently, I discovered Charles Johnson's site. Everything I find, lgf has already written about. I've stopped looking for material on the subject in the press, and just read his synopses of what's going on. I need another niche.
DEPARTMENT OF WILD COINCIDENCES. John Malkovich's favorite anti-American reporter, Robert Fisk, whines that people called him on his atrocious commentary. No big deal: we're used to the lunatic left claiming martyrship status for themselves for spitting in the wind. Catch, however, his utter cluelessness, writing in May 2002:
But the e-mails that poured into The Independent over the next few days bordered on the inflammatory. The attacks on America were caused by "hate itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising kind that Fisk and Bin Laden have been spreading," said a letter from a Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA.
Talk about missing the story: Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA is the father of murdered reporter Danny Pearl.

UPDATE: Credit where credit is due: H.D. Miller posted about the same thing 36 minutes before I did.
I'M CLEARLY IN the wrong business:
[Steve Soifer] offers a three-day workshop for shy bladders, held monthly in cities in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. It costs $300 to attend. The first day is a group counseling session. During the second day, attendees gorge themselves on water and then, in pairs, practice voiding in their hotel bathrooms. In this exercise, one man stands at the toilet while his partner stands a comfortable distance behind him. As the first man begins to urinate, his partner inches closer, eventually standing directly behind the man, sometimes touching or razzing him as he urinates, to re-create the feel of a busy public restroom. The closing event of the workshop, which Soifer calls the "graduation ceremony," is held in a bathroom at a train station, airport, or, occasionally, a ballpark.
INSTAPUNDIT has excerpts of Dershowitz tearing Chomsky to shreds, and a first-hand account of the Israeli art students.