|Man Without Qualities|
Saturday, June 29, 2002
Is it more acceptable for a Presidential candidate to admit having been "programmed and controlled" than "brainwashed?"
Paradigm Shift Alert:
The New York Times today brings troubling news in the form of a photograph of the CEO and Chair of Xerox Corporation, Anne M. Mulcahy, who appears to be a plucky strawberry blonde! Xerox conceded earlier that as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission it would reclassify more than $2 billion of revenue from previous years, and said yesterday that it was in fact restating a much larger amount, $6.4 billion.
What's next? Maybe some ex-Michigan linebacker blowing the whistle on Ms. Mulcahy?
And what will this do to the media's (especially Maureen Dowd's) paradigm?
Friday, June 28, 2002
Hunter S. Thompson was wrong when he criticized the ether binge. In fact, there is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than an academic economist in the depths of a legal reform binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
The most recent example of this grim phenomenon is Burton G. Malkiel, a professor of economics at Princeton, who today snorts on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal that:
There is no way one can legislate accounting standards and there is no way to fix generally accepted accounting principles so that full transparency is assured. But perhaps the most useful thing we can do is to accept the suggestion of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that CEOs should personally vouch for the veracity and fairness of their company's financial statements. Perhaps the independent chair of the firm's audit committee should sign the statement as well. If the firm's statements later prove to be misleading, the CEO should be held criminally liable.
One wonders why Professor Malkiel does not have full faith in his insights. Strict criminal liability? Heck, why don't we just kill the CEO if the financial statements are later judged to be misleading? Didn't that kind of thing work when Mussolini ordered the engineer on any late train shot? Didn't that make the trains run on time? Of course, a naïf might be concerned that such "reforms" might lead to a certain inefficient conservatism in the financial statements of public companies. [And, as Ben Sheriff points out, overly conservative financials are misleading in their own way. So the CEO is doomed no matter what. Like the male black widow spider, the CEO is now to mate with the company only to be devoured.] But this is foolishness. In fact, under either Professor Malkiel's theory or my enhanced version, the CEO of a public company would never have an IQ in excess of 50, for surely nobody with an intelligence quotient higher than that would even consider remaining CEO of a public company, although to be fair to Professor Malkiel one must admit a certain tension between my enhanced proposal and some recent Supreme Court decisions.
One can imagine the scene in the office of, say, Sandy Weill, head of Citigroup, as his assistant enters with the freshly prepared annual financial statements for the sprawling financial services company. The plucky strawberry blonde lays the signature pages before the financial world's éminence grise with a perky comment:
Plucky Strawberry Blonde: "Here are the financials for you to sign. And you asked me to remind you about our treatment of the Argentina loan exposure at the commercial bank level, and that you will be held personally criminally liable if some jerk (as you called him) at the SEC thinks the financials are misleading after the fact. Here's your Mont Blanc."
Éminence Grise: "I think I need a new corporate title and a drink! ... What's this stuck to the back of the financials?"
P.S.B.: "O, you don't need to read that now. That's just my draft whistleblower memo to the Senate Finance Committee in case we need to put you in jail. The accountants added a macro to the spread sheet program that spits one of those out automatically every time they run the financials. They figured the things people like Watkins and Rowley were writing were so formulaic that it would save time to just add the whistleblower memo to the spread sheet program. You know ... the usual stuff. Climate of fear and/or greed. Oppressive male power structure. That kind of thing. It really only took a few lines of programming - and now it's all updated automatically every quarter."
E.G.: "I feel so reassured."
P.S.B.: "Yes. And here's a reprint of the latest paper from that nice Professor Malkiel at Princeton. It's titled "The Public CEO: Who Needs One? Who Wants One? Catchy, huh?"
E.G.: "Like an ad jingle."
P.S.B. "The paper intro says its based on the author's careful study of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a classical orchestra that performs without a conductor, with the discovered principles carefully applied to the modern corporation. Isn't that interesting? I didn't know they had those."
E.G.: "The man's a genius."
P.S.B.: "And the CFO called this morning to say our stock price has now reached drill-bit size. What did he mean by that? But he said not to worry, that we have lots of company now that Congress passed that reform act. Something about nobody being able to hire management any more."
E.G.: "I guess there's always a bright side. Good to have a CFO who sees the bright side."
P.S.B.: "Also, the company's last in-house lawyer cleared out his office yesterday. We're now entirely dependent on expensive, outside counsel relatively unfamiliar with our needs. Legal expenses are expected to increase about 1,000% this year with only a modest drop in effectiveness."
E.G.: "At last. After that Andersen verdict those in-house lawyers were just land minds waiting to go off. How many times did I hear one of them ask not to have their name added to my memo. Suicide, Plucky. Suicide."
P.S.B.: "O, yes, one last thing. Our lobbyist called from Washington to say that the President will sign that bill making academic economists strictly criminally liable if their advice and studies are used to support public policy changes but are then found to have been misleading."
E.G.: "Wonderful. It's a small thing - but it makes me feel so good."
UPDATE: Could Al Gore be planning a "Punch-and-Judy" type show with Paul Krugman? Among several hilarious things Mr. Krugman says in his column today is his observation:
"I'm not saying that all U.S. corporations are corrupt. But it's clear that executives who want to be corrupt have faced few obstacles."
That may have been true during the Krugman-beloved Clinton-Gore years, but with all these investigations and prosecutions launched by the Bush-Cheney team, such corrupt executives seem to be having a pretty hard time of it now.
Mr. Krugman builds his column around the conceit that different kinds of fraud are like different flavors of ice cream.
But somehow Mr. Krugman neglects to mention Clinton-Gore Tutti-Frutti - the most elaborate flavor of them all!
Word is Hillary is still selling it as filler for special sweet treats made with her own home-baked cookies - right there on the summer sidewalks of New York!
Amid a growing series of public company scandals now emerging from the Clinton-Gore era, Al Gore himself appears to have taken to stand up comedy!
Many people thought Messrs. Clinton and Gore were running the federal government - including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department fraud division - until January 2001. That would mean they were in charge while most of the alleged Enron chicanery went on and while Tyco did its questionable thing. Today we learn that Xerox Corp. will restate its Clinton-Gore years (1997-2000 in this case) results to reclassify more than $6 billion in revenues. This restatement resulted from the April 2001 settlement between Xerox and the Bush-Cheney SEC. Even the more recent corporate irregularities in the news clearly began in the Clinton-Gore era. For example, between September 2000 and year-end 2001, WorldCom extended its CEO, Mr. Ebbers, more than $430 million in unsecured loans to buy company stock -- of which $343 million were outstanding at the time the Bush-Cheney SEC announced it was opening an investigation. It is remarkable how many Clinton-Gore era irregularities Harvey Pitt and his new SEC have uncovered in the brief time they have controlled that agency.
But, with perfect comic timing, at a Democrat fund raiser in New York, "Mr. Gore blamed the nation's economic scandals — from Enron to WorldCom — last night on President Bush's economic policies." Mr. Gore almost seemed to suggest that the Bush-Clinton tax cuts somehow retroactively caused fraud from the Clinton-Gore years. What a card!
Having helped preside over eight years of non-feasance that allowed and inspired exactly the abuses now filling the news, Mr. Gore argued as persuasively as he dances the Macarena: "You see now what it means to have an administration that's that committed to fighting and working on behalf of the powerful, and letting the people of this country get the short end of the stick."
Mr. Gore also said the Securities and Exchange Commission isn't doing its job, and he called on its chairman, Harvey Pitt, to resign, suggesting Pitt is too cozy with captains of industry.
The article says that Mr. Gore was sounding likely Democrat campaign themes for November, but it does not say whether any of the 200 people in attendance were injured by convulsive laughter.
UPDATE: The New York Daily News writes that Mr. Bacanovic has offered to testify only if he given immunity. That would be a nice deal for him - especially if the deal only requires that he tell what he knows, and does not actually require him to incriminate anyone (that is, Martha Stewart). In that case, he could just reaffirm his already-told story. And he should be sure to say a lot, because under current federal law, he could essentially make it impossible for the prosecution to convict him with any evidence at all from whatever source just by making his testimony broad enough to taint every relevant fact. Could the prosecutors be silly enough to fall for that?
If a deal did require him to incriminate Ms. Stewart (or anyone else), a jury would probably seriously consider disregarding the resulting testimony. The recent refusal of the Andersen jury in Houston to accept that David Duncan even committed the crime to which he had confessed under similar pressure shows just how skeptical juries are of testimony obtained through such new-age torture techniques.
Of course, what is really strange about the prosecution's fixation on Ms. Stewart is that SHE IS NOT THE BIG FISH, regardless of whether she sold on insider information. If clear evidence of her guilt appears, then of course she should be prosecuted. But unless the government has indications that Ms. Stewart has done this kind of thing often before (and there have been no reports of that) it is just a ridiculous waste of time and public money for the prosecution to be making heroic efforts to bring her down as if she were some kind later-day Joe Bananas.
Martha Stewart is now, of course, under considerable pressure for her December 27, 2001 sale of about $250,000 worth of ImClone stock. The Man Without Qualities does not know Martha Stewart or whether she will ultimately be exonerated of the suspicions against her. However, if the state of the evidence in this matter is accurately reflected in the media, the hostility being cultivated against her is far from justified at this time.
As things are reported by the Wall Street Journal to stand now, Ms. Stewart and her broker, Peter Bacanovic each say that the ImClone stock in Ms. Stewart's account was subject to an oral $60 "stop loss" order. Such oral orders are really not rare with very wealthy people. Unless one of them changes that story, there is no material risk that either of them will be exposed to a charge of "obstruction of justice" or "insider trading" on account of Ms. Stewart's trades. Moreover, while reporters can write about an "expanding investigation," that Douglas Faneuil (Mr. Bacanovic's sales assistant) now doesn't support the existence of the oral stop loss order, and the assistant's reported assertion that Mr. Bacanovic "pressured" him - it will take quite a bit more than any of that to put Ms. Stewart in real danger. If Mr. Bacanovic "pressured" his assistant to lie, that could be a problem for Mr. Bacanovic. But it is not surprising that he would want his assistant to back him up if the "stop-loss" story really happened exactly the way Mr. Bacanovic said it did. So the "pressuring" doesn't add a lot of information with respect to Ms. Stewart. A more relevant enquiry - but one that to my knowledge has not been reported - is whether Mr. Bacanovic can cite to any other cases of his accepting oral "stop-loss" orders which he did not enter in the Merrill computer. Since Mr. Bacanovic is reported to have had a good number of Park Avenue set clients, he may be able to come up some such unentered orders.
Nor does the supposed "discrepancy" in the Bacanovic/Stewart versions of the "stop-loss" order, where she says the order was placed in November but he says December 10, amount to a hill of beans. If the two of them had invented the "stop-loss" order, why couldn't they agree on the date? Ms. Stewart is not exactly known as someone who has trouble with details. This "discrepancy" if anything suggests they did not invent the "stop-loss" order after the fact. Further, the e-mail that started the whole chain of events was sent on December 24 - two weeks after the last date both of them agree the "stop-loss" was in effect.
Nor does Mr. Bacanovic's December 27 telephone call to Ms. Stewart raise serious questions as to her - and it certainly is not inconsistent with the existence of a $60 "stop-loss" order. Some people (especially Congressional staffer Ken Johnson) have suggested that it would be strange - and potentially incriminating - if the stock had not yet declined below $60 at the time of the call. That is a real stretch. On December 27 the stock was at best just above $60 - and had been trending downward for weeks. So even if the price had not declined below $60 at the time of the call, Mr. Bacanovic certainly knew it might very well do that during the day - thereby activating the "stop loss." It is not surprising that a broker would call a client to inform her that he would likely be using her prior oral instructions to sell a quarter million dollars of her property during the day. Most people would not be surprised to get a call from their broker under such circumstances. Some people (again, especially Mr. Johnson) have suggested that it is suspicious that the telephone note taken by Ms. Stewart's assistant said that Mr. Bacanovic thought the ImClone stock price would start declining - even though it already had been declining for weeks. But the note is hopelessly ambiguous - as are many notes taken by busy assistants. And accepting Mr. Johnson's suspicion means we are to believe that Mr. Bacanovic would leave insider information that could put him in jail in a secretary's telephone note.
Unless and until some real evidence that Ms. Stewart lied to federal investigators emerges - and nothing meeting that description has percolated up yet - it is hard to understand why the media is so anxious to bring Ms. Stewart down. Worse, it is just outrageous that someone like Ken Johnson - a representative of the congressional committee investigating this matter - is repeatedly shooting his mouth off and raising essentially unfounded hostility towards Ms. Stewart. Nor is it proper that Merrill Lynch officials seem to be feeding their unsupported suspicions to the media on what seems to be an often-anonymous basis.
Perhaps all the people so anxious to savage Martha Stewart on the basis of very thin evidence indeed might keep in mind that by doing so they are throttling the stock price of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Inc. - a public company. That means a lot of hostile, irresponsible, unsupported speculation has cost a lot of innocent public shareholders a lot of money. Shouldn't there be a few more facts gathered before the demolition begins so much in earnest?
The actions and statements to the media of Ken Johnson - the Congressional committee "spokesman" - have been particularly irksome and gratuitous in this regard. Could he be upset that a Polish-American woman from Nutley, New Jersey who has never pretended to be anything else (despite the carping suggestions of her critics to the contrary) has made out so well all by herself? And this while sad Mr. Johnson has to make do on a Congressional staffer's salary.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Glenn Reynolds has drawn attention to a very interesting paper by Thomas Davies detailing the descent of Justice Souter into what might be called "intellectual fraud" in one of his opinions. But it may be that not only some law professors are tiring of what they see as Justice Souter's tale-tellings.
The just-released Supreme Court decision permitting school vouchers is interesting in many ways - and one of them is its manifestation of impatience by the majority Justices, especially O'Connor in her concurring opinion, with what they seem to come close to calling Justice Souter's intellectual dishonesty. Some representative samples from the O'Connor concurrence are reproduced below. In each of them there is, at least to my eye, more than the customary effort to get the better of a dissenting Justice's argument. There is a recurring accusatory theme: Justice Souter ignores evidence. He unfairly uses precedent. He cites narrow data selectively to support broad conclusions. In short, the implication seems to be that SOUTER IS INTELLECTUALLY DISHONEST, and some of the Justices are more than a little fed up with it. In comparison, while Justices Stevens and Breyer each filed separate strong dissents, Justice O'Connor does not suggest that they lack intellectual honesty the way Justice Souter does. Justice Souter has sometimes been thought to be an influence on Justices O'Connor and Kennedy (as in the Court's abortion cases). So if Justice O'Connor's is becoming alienated from her colleague's tactics, that could have far reaching consequences.
Here are the excerpts from the O'Connor concurrence:
"JUSTICE SOUTER portrays this inquiry as a departure from Everson. ... A fair reading of the holding in that case suggests quite the opposite."
"There is little question in my mind that the Cleveland voucher program is neutral as between religious schools and nonreligious schools. ... JUSTICE SOUTER rejects the Court’s notion of neutrality, proposing that the neutrality of a program should be gauged not by the opportunities it presents but rather by its effects. ... JUSTICE SOUTER’s notion of neutrality is inconsistent with that in our case law."
"To support his hunch about the effect of the cap on tuition under the voucher program, JUSTICE SOUTER cites national data to suggest that, on average, Catholic schools have a cost advantage over other types of schools. ... Even if national statistics were relevant for evaluating the Cleveland program, JUSTICE SOUTER ignores evidence which suggests that, at a national level, nonreligious private schools may target a market for different, if not higher, quality of education."
"JUSTICE SOUTER’s theory that the Cleveland voucher program’s cap on the tuition encourages lowincome student to attend religious schools ignores that these students receive nearly double the amount of tuition assistance under the community schools program than under the voucher program and that none of the community
schools is religious."
"And of the four community schools JUSTICE SOUTER claims are unavailable to voucher students, he is correct only about one..."
"JUSTICE SOUTER’s evaluation of the Hope Academy schools assumes that the only relevant measure of school quality is academic performance. It is reasonable to suppose, however, that parents in the inner city also choose schools that provide discipline and a safe environment for their children."
"Ultimately, JUSTICE SOUTER relies on very narrow data to draw rather broad conclusions."
"What appears to motivate JUSTICE SOUTER’s analysis is a desire for a limiting principle to rule out certain nonreligious schools as alternatives to religious schools in the voucher program."
While the now-infamous Ninth Circuit "Pledge of Allegiance" case and the Supreme Court "vouchers" case have been attracting attention, another judicial decision just released by the Supreme Court is also worth noting.
In that case, REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA v. WHITE, the United States Supreme Court overturned a Minnesota Supreme Court rule that prohibited a “candidate for a judicial office” from “announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues.”
This rule did not pertain to specific cases pending or likely to become pending before the courts. This rule prohibited judicial candidates from saying things like: “I think it is constitutional for the legislature to prohibit same-sex marriages.” Also forbidden were statements such as: "In my view, the Minnessota constitution includes more personal privacy protections than does the federal constitution - and that means that people have a state-constitutional right to engage in political speech in shopping malls," even if there was no shopping mall case before the courts, or about to go before the courts, at that time
Which comes to this: Minnesota elects judges, but the Minnesota Supreme Court rule prohibited candidates running for those elected offices from saying what they would do if they were elected even in general terms. Put another way, the Minnesota Supreme Court rule said to judicial candidates: "You are prohibited from talking about controversial but abstract issues directly related to the public office for which you are a candidate if you relate those abstractions to, say, a specific statute or set of facts. And you can't criticize past Minnesota Supreme Court decisions if you also say that you would not consider yourself bound by those decisions" That sounds like an election rule one might find in, say, Pakistan - since it is hard to imagine something that so obviously offends the First Amendment.
It is weird enough that any American judge would consider such a rule to be consistent with the First Amendment. Here, the Minnesota Supreme Court actually wrote the rule. But it gets worse: The United States Supreme Court overturned the rule by a vote of only 5-to-4. Incredibly, Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer all disagreed - and argued in jaw-dropping dissent that the rule was Constitutional.
It's important to keep this kind of thing in mind when considering just how much (or how little) may preserve us from legal systems like those of Pakistan.
Nobody should be too comfortable.
Instapundit links to Red Skelton's comments on the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Man Without Qualities has no problem with that.
However, the linked site includes this:
"In addition to being an accomplished entertainer, Noble Red is acclaimed as one of his century's greatest painters. His original oil paintings are displayed exclusively at Center Art Galleries, Honolulu, Hawaii, where they have been received with great acclaim by art critics and collectors from all over the world. Evocative of a bygone era, Red's clowns are welcome guests in homes worldwide, where you are continually reminded that the appeal of these fine character studies knows no bounds. Collectors include the rich and famous and those for whom the ownership of a painting by Red Skelton is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. Past ISCA President John Whipple has a number of original paintings."
Before acquiring any Skelton piece that passed through the Centers Art Galleries, readers may wish to keep in mind that Center Art Galleries was the perpetrator of a major art fraud, in which fake lithographs and prints (claimed to be by Dali and other famous artists) were sold as originals. The owners of the Center Art galleries went to jail, and the Galleries seem to have closed. But the outfit - and the phony "art" it sold - keeps popping up.
The government may have inadvertantly facilitated and expanded the reach of the fraud:
"The 12,000 fake Dalis and nearly 1,400 works attributed to Ernst Miro, Norman Rockwell and other artists that had been sezied by the government in its raid of Center Art in April 1985 and additional pieces seized in November 1994 went on sale at an auction conducted by Koll-Dove Global Disposition Services on October 21, 1995, in Belmont, California, to the consternation of much of the art world. Prints bore small stamps on the backs reading:
'COUNTERFEIT/UNAUTHORIZED/FAKE NOT A SALVADOR DALI WORK SALE OF THIS WORK AS AN ORIGINAL DALI PROHIBITED BY LAW.'
Sculptures bore a similar, but removable, sticker. The one-by-two-inch stamp did little to assuage those concerned about the Dali fakes' re-entry into the marketplace. 'This sale put the government in the position of being an accessory to future art fraud,' Colorado art appraiser Bernard Ewell, who testified for the prosecution in the Center Art trial, told The New York Times. 'It's sad,' added Constance Lowenthal, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research in New York, 'that the government had to try to recoup its fine money by sending these fraudulent works back into the market, marked or unmarked, when Center Art Galleries' revenues over a period of many, many years exceeded the fine by a huge multiple.'"
A bare majority of the Supreme Court has ruled the Cleveland school voucher program does not put the government in the unconstitutional position of sponsoring religious indoctrination, even though more than 95 percent of the vouchers are used to subsidize Catholic or other religious schooling.
"We believe that the program challenged here is a program of true private choice," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for himself and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
The complete opinion appears on the Court's website.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
With some misgivings, the Man Without Qualities succumbed to the persuasive powers of the abode's Cub-Scout-In-Residence, and yesterday we took in an afternoon showing of the new Spielberg movie, Minority Report. As noted here previously, I was skeptical, expecting something obviously derivative of Blade Runner. I was wrong. Minority Report is not derivative of Blade Runner the way, say, The Mummy is derivative of the Indiana Jones movies. That is, the derivation process is not one in which the atmosphere and "look and feel" of the earlier movie is openly and shamelessly emulated.
But Minority Report is highly derivative of Blade Runner, and the process of derivation is at bottom not complex - although the technical effort in creating this movie was clearly enormous and enormously complex. The derivation process here is roughly similar to the way Silly Putty is used to copy an image from the newspaper (preferably, the Funnies), faded and stretched. The blanched color tones of Minority Report resemble those of a Silly Putty image, but there is much more than that. The transfer process turns Blade Runner's futuristic casbah - unrestricted by the moral or legal and dominated by monstrous, floating, Ginza-like, god-like commercial images - into a bleached shopping mall differing from those of American suburbia today only by anodyne advertisements tucked below the mezzanine level on what might be liquid crystal screens retrofitted circa 2050 onto the original 1970's structure. The scripts exhibit a similar degradation, with Blade Runner's featuring fine pop-classic lines (Question: "Is that a real snake?" Answer: "If this was a real snake would I be dancing in a place like this?" - approximate). There may be memorable dialogue lodged somewhere in Minority Report, but I can't recall any. Minority Report's busy, ridiculous urban "Mag Lev" transportation system seems like a grounded, less-effective version of the free-floating Blade Runner variety. And one can't help but wonder if the Mag Lev's disturbing resemblance to that wooden, gravity-powered slot-car system that occupies much of the Cub Scout's room is perhaps somewhat deliberately obscured by the movie's washed-out color scheme. Then there are the chase scenes, where the short, intense Blade Runner specimens are replaced by a flabby Minority Report variety that become increasingly unpersuasive and eventually terminate in an outright gag (Cruise drives away in a car that has been robot-assembled around him).
So what? These are stylistic matters. If Mr. Spielberg has his own sense of style and it entertains, then the movie succeeds on its own terms.
But, as Joe Morgenstern points out, Minority Report is very pale entertainment. But, unlike Mr. Morgenstern, I believe the movie fails to entertain for a very straightforward reason: Minority Report is constructed as a movie of ideas (as is Blade Runner), but unlike Blade Runner, Minority Report exploits ideas so weak that even Mr. Spielberg cannot and does not commit to them.
Although Blade Runner was made well before Ian Wilmut cooked up Dolly the Sheep, that movie centered on disturbing and entertaining ideas of identity, memory and science that either very much affect us today or are tantalizingly over the horizon. For example, the entire android-driven plot is on one level preposterous, yet Dolly the Sheep seriously raises the likelihood that science will be able to produce artificial, genetically-selected humans (that is, "androids") within fifty years - perhaps less. One of the androids - a beautiful woman - discovers she has "memories" in fact borrowed from her creator's daughter. This resonates with the hideous "recovered memory" phenomenon of recent years in which witnesses have put others, sometimes others close to them, in prison on the basis of "memories" later discovered to have been implanted by therapists. And how many of us have discovered that we harbor childhood "memories" of family events we later learn we could not have attended - the likely product of vivid recounting by those who did attend. Then there is the vision of environmental apocalypse that provides so much of the atmosphere - in any meaning of the term - in the movie. There is no question that Blade Runner is powered by many rich, dense, disturbing, vivid and highly entertaining ideas.
On the other hand, I, personally, would be more than ready to make book on the likelihood that the victims of any drug addiction wave - any drug at all - will leave behind a precognitive offspring. That prospect is not one that troubles my sleep or enlivens my days - and my guess is that is true of almost everybody else. Indeed, every day seems to bring more doubts about even our existing tools for predicting human behavior, never mind allowing possibly perfect predictive capability. The pseudo-philosophical questions that arise from considering what would happen if one thought one had perfect predictive capability for a type of human behavior such as murder but then found out the capability might not be completely perfect have as much intrinsic entertainment value as the questions posed by a hypothetical realization that a child on a tricycle that one thought would be able to shoot out of the galaxy might actually only get half way there. Just not that many people have ever been burdened by perfect or near-perfect knowledge of the future to really care about these matters. As I have noted before, the premise of Minority Report simply eliminates all of the interesting considerations involved in intelligence gathering and predicting human behavior. It's no wonder the movie has to rely on silly, overextended chases and mood-demolishing gags.
As noted above, even Mr. Spielberg does not believe in the entertainment value of this movie's ideas. The basic moral issue here is suppose to be: how does one justify punishing people for things they haven't yet done - in this case, murders that have not been committed. The movie opens with a sequence that is supposed to illustrate all this: the Pre-Crime Unit stops a husband from killing his wife and her lover. As he is arrested, he says: "I haven't done anything." This after we have just seen the Pre Crime agent literally pull from the husband's hands a pair of scissors he has raised to kill his wife's lover! Well, maybe Mr. Spielberg's writers need to read up a bit on criminal law, but if a real-world cop ever has to pull from one's hand scissors raised over one's spouse's cowering lover, one should not count on beating the "attempted murder" rap by arguing "I haven't done anything." The fact is, every person arrested by the Pre Crime unit in Minority Report could be arrested today by the Washington, D.C. police and charged with a very serious existing, real-world felony: attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault come to mind, but there are others. Here's another example: A man lures a mother to a lake with the intent of drowning her, using as the lure the promise that the mother's daughter will be returned to her. The man and the mother show up at the lake, and he starts to attack her. Does anyone think that man has not already committed a serious felony under current law?
Under current criminal law, every crime consists of two parts: a state of mind coupled with the commission of a prohibited act. There is only one situation in which the conceit of the movie diverges from current law: Where a person has either not yet formed the state of mind to commit a crime or has not yet committed any act in furtherance of that state of mind. Under current law, such a person could not be arrested or charged, but in the movie he could be if the Pre Cogs identify him as a future killer. That is a real issue, although for the reasons described above, not a very entertaining or interesting one. Mr. Spielberg seems to understand that, because he never illustrates such a case in his movie.
Further, Mr. Spielberg does not even seem all that interested in his Pre Cogs having the power of precognition. In the sequence in the shopping mall, for example, the Pre Cog Agatha seems to be more of a mind reader than a clairvoyant (she tells the protagonist that a person approaching can identify his face, which has nothing to do with predicting the future). Later, she fails to predict that the Pre Crime unit will descend momentarily on the protagonist until they are right outside the door. Maybe she has an on-off switch that someone keeps accidentally bumping.
Minority Report is not without its charms - first and foremost being Tom Cruise's amazing ability to do as much as he did with this material. He deserves much better. But maybe Mr. Spielberg should get to know Tiger Woods. Mr. Woods dramatically took a considerable period off to completely revamp his approach to golf at a time many people thought he was already the best golfer who has ever lived. He emerged better for the effort. Mr. Spielberg may want to consider where he is going with the likes of Minority Report and A.I. in his immediate past.
Monday, June 24, 2002
The Wall Street Journal today presents a fine editorial on the government's disastrous prosecution of Andersen.
At its end the editorial makes a point which has been often made here:
"So the stage was set for a slam-dunk trial that became a pyrrhic victory. Last January I wrote that prosecutors shouldn't rest with some safe but technical case, that 'to satisfy what's on everyone's mind, they need to see whether they can make the case that top executives set out to steal from their shareholders.' Still waiting.'"
Yes. Aren't we all.
The Man Without Qualities has received by e-mail a Center for Immigration Studies press release stating that there will be a panel discussion Tuesday (tommorrow) June 25, at 10 a.m. in Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building on a new paper by Harvard economist George Borjas. Readers are invited to evaluate the Press Release, panel discussion and Professor Borjas' paper with their own good judgment.
The Press Release reads as follows:
WASHINGTON (June 2002) -- The foreign student program has come under intense scrutiny since September 11. Not only did 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour enter on a student visa, but so did other al Qaeda operatives over the past decade, including the man who rented the truck in the first World Trade Center attack, a top al Qaeda recruiter in the U.S., and Osama bin Laden's business manager. A 1996 law required the development of a system to track foreign students, but university opposition prevented the system from moving beyond the pilot stage. The border security law signed last month by President Bush spelled out further requirements and deadlines for the system.
But a new paper from the Center for Immigration Studies argues that wholesale re-evaluation of the foreign student program is called for "An Evaluation of the Foreign Student Program," by Harvard economist George Borjas, argues that the seemingly sensible, and even noble, aims of the program mask the fact that it fails to serve the national interest.
Among Professor Borjas' findings:
* The total net gain to the economy from the employment of foreign students and foreign graduates is less than $1 billion per year.
* The 275,000 foreign students at public institutions alone receive a subsidy from U.S. taxpayers of about $2.5 billion per year.
* 73,000 U.S. schools have been certified by the INS to accept foreign students, about twice the total number of state-accredited colleges, universities, vocational, and high schools in the country.
Prof. Borjas' paper will be the subject of a panel discussion on Tuesday, June 25, at 10 a.m. in Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
The speakers will be:
* George Borjas, Pforzheimer Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government
* Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus
* Terry W. Hartle, Senior Vice President and Director, Division of Government and Public Affairs, American Council on Education.
The full text of Prof. Borjas' paper will be on line the day of the panel discussion at www.cis.org.
For more information, Contact John Keeley at (202) 466-8185 or email@example.com.
There is some expressed skepticism now emerging about assertions that al Qaeda has not been severely damaged.
However, there has not been any effort by the Administration to challenge such assertions and the related assertions that bin Laden and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are "alive and well."
It is understandable that the Administration would not mount a campaign to refute such assertions, since there is presumably some strategic and political advantage in emphasizing the immediacy of the al Qaeda threat. The assertions may also be consistent with - or at least not clearly inconsistent with - what the what Administration knows, and much of that knowledge is almost certainly not possessed by the public and the media.
But it is less understandable that the media have not pointed out some rather odd aspects of these al Qaeda assertions.
Specifically, if bin Laden and Omar are free, alive and well, why have they not released a single videotape of themselves which was unequivocally created in the last month or so? There are clearly doubts about bin Laden's continued health and even his existence - the al Qaeda assertions that he is "alive and well" were clearly released to address exactly those doubts. Such doubts must have a severe affect on al Qaeda morale.
But don't such public assertions made without confirming, recent videotapes of these two men just tend to reinforce the opposite: that bin Laden and Omar are dead or seriously sick or wounded? Why would al Qaeda not release such tapes if they could? And what would stop them from making and releasing such tapes if bin Laden and Omar are actually "alive and well," as al Qaeda claims Regular release of such tapes had previously been part of al Qaeda's standard operating procedure - why has that changed if not that the tapes simply cannot be made?
Sunday, June 23, 2002