Friday, July 19, 2002

APOLOGIES: I'm copying a LGF post word for word, because It's Important.
The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the State Department’s outrageous abuse of their visa powers: Siege of State.
We sympathize with the argument, made by Colin Powell and others, that visa decisions are a foreign-policy matter. The problem is that Congress no longer trusts the State Department to administer visas honestly, much less in America's best interests. And why should it, given the department's track record since September 11?

That's the day the U.S. was attacked by 19 airplane hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals. Yet instead of shutting down its Visa Express program for Saudi citizens the next day, as common sense would suggest, State kept it going as if nothing much had happened.

Even now the department won't tell Congress what the program's status really is. During sworn testimony last month, State's Dianne Andruch implied that the program had been "shut down," and that there was now a waiting period for male Saudi applicants to enter the U.S. But last week a cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Riyadh that was leaked to the press made clear that Visa Express was still up and running, because he was asking for guidance on how to close it.

It gets worse. A single Foreign Service Officer in the Jeddah consulate issued 10 of the visas to the Saudi hijackers. Yet GAO investigators told House staffers that no one from State ever interviewed that officer after 9/11 to learn what might have gone wrong.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

OOPS. The family of famed (and gorgeous) Indian actress Samyukta Verma became a bit too excited as their flight landed in New York, nervous passengers notified flight attendants, and the family was detained for five hours until the joint terrorism task force determined the Hindus were harmless.

The lyrics to "Jaan Pehechan Ho" from Gumnaam.
HEY! I HAVE MY very own blogchild! (Does this make Instapundit a bloggrandfather?) It's hard to believe that I actually inspired anyone to write their own blog other than through thought processes similar to "Geez, if crap like that can get on the Web, imagine what I could do!"

Speaking of Instapundit, I don't think I've read it in a week. So apologies if I'm repeating anything there.
DID YOU KNOW that each individual Crayola crayon now also has a "www.crayola.com" logo? I think there's something wrong with that.

I was in an associate's office today, as we were trying to rewrite a sentence for a filing we were making, and he eventually ceded his computer to me. He was amazed as I rapidly used the [Alt] key in succession with a variety of other commands to do a variety of edits and swap windows, all without moving a mouse. "Geez," he said without irony, "this is stuff the young guys are supposed to know." Gee, thanks. Of course, I'm older now than a number of attorneys were when they supervised me, um, almost a decade ago. And it's been thirteen years and two recessions since I spent a summer in New York doing advanced Microsoft Word editing at 80 wpm for a variety of advertising, real estate, banking, and consulting firms. I'd rather not think about it.
OTHER VISA COMMENTARY: Ginger Jaye Stampley and Ted Ahlgren. After further thinking, I disagree with Ginger (and my earlier speculation) that the problem is one of missing magic words. Armitage is demanding that Justice provide State with the underlying data so that State can make the ultimate evaluation. That's purely turf protection: State doesn't want the new FTTTF nosing in on an area where it used to have pretty much free rein. If it were purely bureaucratic infighting, Armitage's wrong-headed legal analysis wouldn't be such a big deal; it would simply be the opening gambit in a negotiation in the hopes of generating a brokered compromise at the Cabinet level that let State keep its authority. But, criminy, we're in a war. There comes a time when you switch modes from the internal debate to pulling together for a common goal even if you don't agree with every jot and tittle of the methodology or policy. And this isn't the first time that State, having lost the internal policy debate at the executive level, set out to sabotage the winning position, to the country's detriment.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

HOUSTON ASTROS OWNER Drayton McLane is whining that he'll lose $14.5 million this year. Of course, $9.5 million of that is "amortization," not real cash losses, since his ballclub is appreciating in value, not depreciating. Michael Ozanian figured for Forbes that the Astros actually profited by $4 million last year.

Even if we take McLane's numbers at face value--$115 million to buy his team, $105 million in losses--the Astros today are worth $337 million. If McLane sells, he'll walk away with a nine-digit profit (assuming the owners don't kill the game by forcing a strike). Given that McLane leveraged his investment in the club (banks put up a large chunk of that $115 to $220 million), his profit ratio is even higher than that looks. Poor baby.
I SHOULD FEEL a lot happier that my portfolio is up 10% today, but a 10% rise after a 50% drop is still a 45% drop. I'm somehow still ahead for the last two years.
WHO ELSE BUT Daniel Frank to come to the defense of "Holmes and Yoyo" and "Turn-On"?
BACK TO VISA EXPRESS. Joel Mowbray has an axe to grind, so I don't know how far to trust his analysis. Could it really be, as he writes, that the State Department is, as a matter of policy, ignoring the dictates of Immigration and Naturalization Act, and claiming to the Justice Department that "[believing that] an applicant may pose a threat to national security... is insufficient [grounds] for a consular officer to deny a visa."? I'd love to see the actual Armitrage letter he's referring to. If there's even a grain of truth to this, it goes to show that Congressvolk demanding that the State Department be stripped of visa issuance powers aren't completely crazy. The State Department doesn't help its case by having security officers harass Mowbray for asking a tough question at a press conference. Mowbray's arguments sound more reasonable here, though an NRO editor should explain to him that italicization is best done in moderation.

UPDATE: Here's the Armitage letter. It's as bad as Mowbray says, but not for the reasons he gives (his quotation is out of context). The letter reads:
Unfortunately, the information we have received from FTTTF so far has been insufficient to permit a consular officer to deny a visa. The information we have received states only that the FTTTF believes the applicants may pose a threat to national security and therefore the FTTTF recommends against issuance.
FTTTF is the Justice Department's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. The real problem is the next paragraph.
Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), only consular officers have the authority to issue or deny visas. All visa refusals must be based on a specific statutory ineligibility; if there are no grounds under the law on which to deny an alien a visa, the consular officer is required to issue the visa. In order to deny a visa, a consular officer must know or have reason to believe that the applicant is ineligible under one of the specific statutory grounds. For the purposes of our work with FTTTF, we are looking at the terrorism provisions of the INA, which are contained in section 212(a)(3)(B).
The law states that the decision to exclude on terrorist grounds under Section 212(a)(3)(B) can be made by the consular officer or the Attorney General, but Armitage is refusing a request from the Attorney General on the grounds that the decision rests with the consular officer. Armitage's reading of the law is simply untenable--especially since if the FTTTF tells the consular officer that an individual is a terrorist who should be excluded, the consular officer, by definition, "has reasonable ground to believe" that the individual fits within the (a)(3)(B) exclusion category. My question is: why do we need Congress mucking around in this? Where the heck is the White House Office of the Legal Counsel--it's their job to step in to an intra-agency turf battle and, in this case, tell State to back down and follow the $*@#!ing law?

(Armitage is also incorrect that visas should be presumptively granted, but that's a different issue.)

I'll concede: one possibility is that the FTTTF is not dotting i's and crossing t's. There might be "magic words" it needs to use in its correspondence with State that it is not using (e.g., "It is the decision of the Attorney General that..."). Perhaps the fault lies with John Ashcroft for failing to delegate the Attorney General's powers to the FTTTF. But, if so, why doesn't Armitage say this instead of making a bogus argument that the sole authority rests with a consular officer? And why is State more concerned with protecting its bailiwick than with national security?

The whole issue is frustrating. There is a correct answer here, but it's being obscured by particularly poor argumentation by both Mowbray and State. What I see in the Armitage letter, however, makes me think that Mowbray has a point.
"GIRLS ARE PRETTY" got a front-page spot on Blogger.com. Good for them. Today's entry serves as a substitute for any commentary I'd make on the Moussaoui trial. (warning: foul language)
MY CO-BLOGGER WRITES immediately below:
Show me a society in which legal equality for women has diminished as tolerance for sexually explicit material moved from greater to less (as, indeed, these things fluctuate historically, even in the U.S., even before the 1960's), and we'll talk.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but legal equality for women declined between 1995 and 2001 in Afghanistan. I strongly doubt that tolerance for sexually explicit material increased during that time in that place.

That's not to say that there isn't some "Laffer curve" of sexual tolerance whereby too much isn't worse off for a society than somewhat less, or that the experience in Afghanistan has or hasn't relevance here, of course. In the Afghan case, both variables were the result of Saudi-style Islam being imposed upon the nation. Still, that does tend to support Eugene's observation that there's a correlation between women's lib and tolerance of sexually explicit material, at least at the macro level.

Part of the reason for this is that the MacKinnon-style theories of pornography leading to violence are new. Canada has adopted censorship laws on these grounds, and some censorship has taken place in the U.S. under the rubric of sexual harassment law, but, in general, most MacKinnon-style anti-pornography laws have been found to violate the First Amendment. In short, there's been very little opportunity for society to experiment with points far off of the correlation curve: legal equality for women has been made politically feasible in large part because of relatively recent advances in birth control and reduced death rates in childbirth and infant mortality. Richard Posner's "Sex and Reason" has numerous failings, but a fascinating, if cold-hearted, discussion of why there are economic reasons that a society that restricts women to familial roles would also seek to restrict means of sexual expression outside the family.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

ON PORNOGRAPHY: No, I don't systematically have it in for Max. But he's right in that I need to be more blog-aware (internet availability allowing), which is what brought me to this gem by Max crony, Eugene Volokh. He makes an interesting -- completely specious, but interesting -- point about an apparent correlation between greater tolerance for sexually explicit material and greater equality for women, and then goes on to wave away claims that the tolerance might itself be harmful to women or their rights. I must say I appreciate his nod to empiricism in acknowledging that correlation should not be confused with causation, but it would have been nice also for him to acknowledge the copious amount of research that has been done in this area.

First things first: a correlation requires two continuous variables. The comparison drawn by Professor Volokh cites one small run of data, the U.S. in the 1960's, against a discrete entity, "the Arab world." Show me a society in which legal equality for women has diminished as tolerance for sexually explicit material moved from greater to less (as, indeed, these things fluctuate historically, even in the U.S., even before the 1960's), and we'll talk. I raise this point only because even though Professor Volokh scrupulously avoids claims of causality, I suspect he's interested in sneaking in at least a little whiff of causality; a correlation really isn't a terribly interesting thing on its own. An intra-cultural example in which the two variables moved together would be much more remarkable. As it is, the most the data support would be a claim that a third variable -- say, a particular species of male liberalism -- advanced both tolerance for sexually explicit material and freedoms for women. In the 1960's. In the United States. My, social science is awfully deflating, isn't it?

Moving on: it's a bromide in social psychology that exposure to violence leads to violence, exposure to sex leads to sex, and exposure to sex + violence...well, you don't really need me for this, do you? Citable evidence is long, Max's indulgence for my increasing share of his cyber estate is not. Here's a few to get you started:


Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to pornography and acceptance of rape myths. Journal of
Communication, 45, (1), 5-26.

Donnerstein, E., and L. Berkovitz, "Victims' Reactions in Aggressive Erotic Films as a Factor in Violence Against Women,"
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 1981, pp. 710-724.

Weisz, M. G., & Earls, C. M. (1995). The effects of exposure to filmed sexual violence on attitudes toward rape. Journal of
Interpersonal Violence, 10, (1), 71-84.

Incidentally, you'll notice my wording: sex plus violence. Does that mean that sexually explicit (non-violent) material worsens women's place in society? Only in that it tends to confound the studies of amazingly obtuse researchers who still fail to cull it from their inquiry into sexually violent material and thus come up with null results, I suppose. No, seriously: it has LONG been recognized (e.g., Money, J., and Athanasiou, R., in American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 1973) that consistent exposure to pornography leads to boredom and indifference unless new ground is broached; a simple internet search will confirm that, and no, I'm not providing those cites.

And please, Professor Volokh, define "harm": I'm truly glad our laws recognize rape as a punishable crime. That alone, however, fails to relieve the constraints on my freedom imposed by a society determinedly oblivious to the effects of rape myths in pornography, and which thinks a campaign aimed at women that admonishes "don't walk alone!" is a satisfactory solution to a rather serious limitation on personal autonomy. What if I wanna walk alone?

I won't touch the comment about firing Colin Powell. At the moment, anyway.