Thursday, January 09, 2003

No Turkeys: I didn't get to go into turkey country because Weyerhaeuser lands are closed during the week. They might trouble themselves to print that on the maps they sell--you know, the one that says "Weyerhaeuser lands are open throughout the year..." Or maybe on their recorded access message I checked earlier. It's a damn good thing I took the trouble to get through to a real person so that I didn't drive for two hours each way and not get to go in.

This has affected me more than I thought. Being unemployed is so damn depressing, and I really needed a day in the woods. I haven't pulled my boots on for 5 or 6 months, and that, more than any actual scouting for game, is what I was looking forward to. The weather is outrageously good, too--cloudless skies, 50 degrees.

Oh, well.

Kim Jong Il: Both Time and Newsweek ask: Is Kim Jong Il more dangerous than Saddam? Short answer: Yes, by a large margin.

But that doesn't translate into a clear course of action, or negate Bush's Iraq policy, which I support (except that I think its too dovish). Analogies are dangerous, but here's one to chew on regarding North Korea and Iraq:

If some guy is walking down your street waving a gun around, it isn't likely that the police will refuse to respond because he "doesn't pose an imminent threat." If they wait until he kicks in someone's door, their options will quickly shrink in an unpalatable way. Likewise, if confronted with two gunmen--Gunman A waving a gun and Gunman B holding a hostage--it is not the least bit crazy to confront and arrest the less-threatening A first. If you spend 12 hours talking to the B, you may find at the end of it that A has taken a hostage of his own--or worse--while you were distracted. Focusing on threats in strict order of severity also let the criminals in the area know that they can get away with anything if someone else is doing something worse--which means that petty crime will spiral out of control. On the other hand, by neutralizing the smaller threat first, you prevent it from developing into a large one, and free up all of your resources to deal with the larger threat afterward.

Suppose we drop Iraq right now and go nuts for North Korea. What message does that send to the world? We're weak and easily distracted. Suppose we clobber and then rebuild Iraq--then the message is "Respect the agreements you have made with the U.S.--or else." Which message should we send Kim Jong Il right now, as he busily violates his 1994 agreement? Deterrence is enhanced when the results of bad behavior are clear. Something must be done about Saddam, and given that everything else has already been tried and failed, war is looking like all that's left.

Suppose we drop Iraq and in the meantime Saddam develops nuclear weapons. Now we have two lunatics with nukes, Saddam in western Asia and Kim in the east. Suppose we clobber and rebuild Iraq--then one threat is eliminated and we can focus on the other.

Suppose we drop Iraq "until the North Korea issue is resolved." Now Saddam has a motive to send money and encouragment to Kim. Even without Iraq's interference, North Korea may prove so intransigent that we simply cannot resolve the problem to our satisfaction--and all the while, the threat from Saddam grows.

Finally, I should point out that the magnitude of the Korean threat militates against hasty action, and Saddams current relative weakness is an argument in favor of action. North Korea is what happens when threats are not confronted until they are dire, which is what those who claim Iraq is not an "imminent threat" suggest we do. Just as police cannot simply charge in and lay hands on an armed hostage-taker for fear that he might kill hostages, we cannot directly defang Kim Jong Il without endangering hundreds of thousands or even millions of South Korean lives, precisely because Seoul is so close to the DMZ and because Kim probably has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. If we wait until every threat is as imminent as that posed by North Korea, we will be unable to deal with any of them at all.

If we do not confront Iraq soon, Saddam may soon have the means to wipe Tel Aviv off the map--effectively eliminating our ability to manage the threat he poses. Furthmore, the mere act of defeating Iraq will work wonders for our diplomatic position with North Korea, whereas irresolution will merely encourage all of our enemies.

Yes, North Korea is a greater threat than Iraq--so great, in fact, that our options are severely limited. Saddam may soon be just as great a threat, and it would be well if we stopped him before he reaches that point.

German TV II: I forgot to mention below that the German TV tax was justified to me by Germans who claimed that it was instituted because German law considers its citizens to have a fundamental right ("Grundrecht") to information.

None were able to explain to me how a fundamental right might be secured by placing confiscatory taxes upon it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

TV Licenses: OK, one post. I'm sending it in with my wife.

Yesterday Best of the Web asked what the story was on the term "TV license" in an article about a saint (dead since 777 A.D.) who got a bill for one.

This has to be one of my favorite parts of living in Germany for a year. In a nutshell: German public television is not supported by general tax revenues; it is paid for by a "TV tax" which is also levied on radios. Price: one TV and one radio will cost you $24/month. A radio alone is $9/month. Though all of your TVs and radios at home are covered by only one license (provided you have a nuclear family; an elderly parent pays a separate tax), your car radio is extra, and a portable radio you carry from home to work every day is charged twice. Bounty hunters use sleazy tactics to catch people who cheat; a common tactic is to pose as a survey taker--"Which TV programs are your favorites?"

Poor people are exempted from the tax provided they have time to navigate the famous German bureaucracy to get their exemption. A student of my acquaintence attempted to do so; she sent applications showing her income (an allowance from her father) and expenses to the national tax agency and her local broadcast stations, asking each for her exemption. The results were wonderful: one of the agencies denied her request on the basis that she was too poor--they claimed that no one could live on so little money, therefore she must be lying, therefore she did not deserve an exemption. The other agency declined her request on the basis that she was too rich, or rather, that her father was rich enough to simply increase her allowance.

I am not making any of this up.

All of this might be justifiable if German public television were commercial-free and of high quality. But any such hope is in vain; ZDF features incredibly sleazy prime-time soap operas all week and Hollywood movies on weekends, along with the inevitable commercials. The Germans also have commercials for commercials--"Without ads, the economy suffers."

The best thing I can say about the German TV industry is that they still play McGyver once a week.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

No Blogging: Today or tomorrow. Today I'm scrambling looking for jobs; tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll be hiking around looking for wild turkeys. Back Thursday with an in-depth look at why telemarketers seem to think I speak Korean.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Tapir on Jeopardy!: A Baird's Tapir (TAY-per) appeared on Jeopardy! last night, delighting those of us who hold our long-nosed, 14-toed brethren in high regard. The Tapir Preservation Fund was the only charity I gave to all through college, in addition to buying an array of tapir merchandise, and I always have hope that our friends will gain a higher profile. Hopefully a little national TV exposure will help.
Racial Profiling: Here's a long article about the initial results of the Washington State Patrol's research into racial profiling on Washington's highways. A couple of points:

The article notes approvingly that minorities and whites are stopped in roughly proportional numbers for ordinary traffic violations, and contrasts this to states like New Jersey where more minorities are stopped. This sort of thing always irritates me, because it is entirely possible that any skewing in the numbers is due to actual differences in the rate of violations--if drivers of one race speeds more, they'll get pulled over more. It's actually pretty hard to tell the race of a driver before pulling them over, so it's rather unlikely that police could intentionally be racist in making stops. If you doubt that, I invite you to try the following experiment: try to tell the race of drivers going in the opposite direction on the interstate or passing you as you wait to make a turn (don't get too distracted!). I've done this many times, and the lighting conditions need to be quite favorable for you to tell the skin color of any driver who doesn't pass quite close.

On the other hand, the WSP does search minorities at much higher rate than whites--and finds contraband somewhat less often (although the difference is small, 20% vs. 18.5%). So the possibility that cops are racist in their decisions to search is still open. But what's missing in this article is an analysis of what kind of searches these were. Do cops ask blacks for permission more often, or do they have probable cause (such as the scent of alcohol or drugs)? Interestingly, the paper claims to have gathered the data on these questions, but does not present it in a meaningful way. That's pretty damn annoying, because while the article and headline give the general impression that the state patrol is racist or at least "has a problem," the hard numbers they present do not bear that out.

We need to know: Do cops ask minorities for permission to search more often? Do minorities give the cops probable cause more often? Does race play a role in the decision to ask for permission--and if so, is that such a bad thing, given what is known about, for instance, drug-running gangs? But they don't tell us--they just offer marginally relevant numbers, anecdotes from minorites who didn't like getting searched, and comments from "experts" whose qualifications and political bias is unknown (except for Hubert Locke, who is a die-hard racial grievance lefty).

How irritating that they didn't do a better job.

Still, the broader question is whether or not it is worth anyone caring. Certainly I do not endorse police racism, but we aren't talking about framing innocents for murders or beating up law-abiding drivers. I have exactly zero sympathy for drug smugglers and fugitives; so long as their 4th Amendment rights are respected, I don't much care if the cops pulled them over because of their skin. I have just as little sympathy for those who give the police probably cause; one of the risks of smoking pot in your car is that the cops may search it on the basis of the smell. If they come up empty, lucky you--but don't expect me to gush with righteous outrage.

That leaves consent searches--in which the police lack probable cause and merely ask for permission. In that case, if your car is searched, it's because you permitted it when you didn't have to, which means that you must bear at least part of the responsibility. If the cops are abusive or threatening that's wrong, regardless of race, but if they ask and you say yes, it doesn't make sense to complain later.

I'm troubled to imagine that cops might ask minorities for permission to search because of racism--but, again, is this the most pressing problem for the minorities of Washington State, or the United States? I would have thought black-on-black murders more worrisome than gruff police officers, since death is more final and more painful than a 10-minute delay which is voluntary in any case. Ditto the grinding poverty of the Indian reservatons, or the terrible living conditions of migrant agricultural workers (which, at the least, the state is trying to improve).

The problem is that racial disparities in traffic stops are easy to find and easy to criticize, while solutions to the deeper and more important problems are elusive and, frankly, probably can't come from the government, which makes them less appealing to many.
What I need to know about Medicare: Friday's mail brought an urgent communication: an offer to get Important Information I Need To Have About Medicare and Me. I was instructed to mail back the special certificate to get a very important pamplet.

Now, there are two things I need to know about Medicare:

1) I'm not eligible for at least 40 years, and

2) By then, the system will probably have collapsed anyway.

You would think that it wouldn't take an entire booklet to explain that much.

The best part of this special offer was the advent of a new compound word: Senior-Americans. So we have African-Americans, Native Americans, Undocumented Americans, and, of course, Persons of Size. How long before the AARP starts demanding references to "Persons of Wisdom"?