Three new Chandra developments:
1. "[O]ur information was that she did not often jog outdoors. She usually used a treadmill" says D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer--although there is a bit of conflicting testimony on this point. See the LAT's account.
2. Boy, did WaPo's reporters get a rise out of Gainer when they asked him about a local Fox TV scoop claiming that "evidence at the scene indicated Levy may have been tied up."
"If it is true, the individual who released it should be shot or put in jail," [Gainer] said. "That type of specificity should never be discussed. That type of specificity could limit our possibility of solving this case and have a negative impact on the prosecution.
"How disappointing it is that some alleged professional is doing that type of talking in a case. It is the worst breach of investigative protocol."
Guess it's not true, then, huh?
3. The Washington Times reports that police believe Levy's body "was dumped in Rock Creek Park," although it seems that they don't know when that happened. Since the 'dumping' could have occurred immediately after the killing, the real lede of the Times piece should have been "police don't believe Levy was killed where her body was found." A police source notes that Broad Branch Road, the nearest actual street, "has no shoulders or sidewalks" -- i.e. it's a bad place to jog. (The Times might have added that it's a narrow winding road where cars come around corners at alarmingly high speeds.) "There are several nature trails but none within half a mile on the side of the stream where Miss Levy's remains were found."
Levy still may have been accosted while jogging somewhere (even if she was ordinarily a treadmill person, she'd already quit her health club and might not have had access to any treadmills). But the idea that she was jogging near where her body was found (the theory propagated by Condit/Winona mouthpiece Mark Geragos) appears less and less plausible. ...
P.S.: It's not noted on the various maps linked below, but one landmark is very close to the now-famous Klingle mansion -- namely, the condo where Condit lived. It's less than a mile away. ... [Thanks to alert kf reader D.J.]
P.P.S.: After Condit was caught clumsily disposing of a watch box in a Virginia park, a common, and not unpersuasive, exculpation of him (offered by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, for one) went something like, "He can't even get rid of a watch box. How could he ever get rid of a body?" But if Levy's body was just dumped in a corner of the park, doesn't this method of disposal appear not altogether dissimilar to the method by which Condit disposed of the watch box? Just asking! ...
Thursday, May 23, 2002
Gary Condit may well be cleared of the Chandra Levy murder – that would be intensely disappointing, but it's possible. Condit's lawyer, Mark Geragos, was quick to jump on the D.C. Police for missing possible evidence that Levy was killed by a random criminal while jogging. ("If, as reported, she left with only her tennis shoes and her keys, and was going jogging, wouldn't you look on the jogging trails?") But before you go pinning the blame on, say, the imprisoned Salvadoran assailant, discussed here and here, whose victims were Rock Creek Park joggers, take a close look at this map generously provided by WaPo. (Or at this even more detailed map.) It's a 3.2 or 3.3 mile schlep from Levy's DuPont Circle apartment to where her body was found, if you could travel in a straight line. If you actually ran between the two spots, skirting obstacles and traffic, etc., you'd probably have to go at least 3-and-a-half, probably 4 miles. That's a 7 or 8-mile jog, round trip, even if you assume her body was found near the spot at which she was planning on turning around. Was Levy training for a marathon? Most joggers fall into the 2-5 mile camp, no? … True, Levy could have taken the subway to Cleveland Park and started her jog further north. But who takes the subway to jog (when the run from Levy's apartment through the park to the Klingle mansion, the destination she'd scoped out on the Web, is a pleasant, manageable 2 miles)? And how was Levy going to get back – there are no subways near the spot on Broad Branch road where the body was found, and it's not a place where you can hail a cab. … Isn't it much more likely that Levy was just walking, not exercising? And if she was walking, how likely is it she'd walk almost two miles north of the Klingle mansion—in the opposite direction from her house -- unless she was walking with someone? …Note: On CNN yesterday, Geragos said "This apparently is on a jogging trail that is, if you will, if you scout out between Chandra's house and this mansion that was found or was located on her Website, that this was apparently on a direct line or at least arguably a direct line along that path." Yes, it was on a direct line, but in the wrong direction –i.e. it was on the line going from the mansion directly away from Levy's house. … Plus, D.C. Police tell WaPo their investigators in the Levy case earlier "interviewed [the convicted Salvadoran assailant] and cleared him of any connection to the disappearance." ...
The Phoenix memo was transmitted electronically to FBI headquarters, distributed to two counterterrorism units there and sent to the counterterrorism team in New York, where some of the FBI's top anti-terror experts worked.
Sounds pretty good -- the FBI has e-mail after all! But the key efficiency of the Net, which the FBI seems to have missed out on, is the ability to get information not just from the periphery to the center, but from the periphery to the center and to the rest of the periphery--to everywhere in the organization instantly, in other words. That's what computers do.(Shoshana Zuboff wrote a book about it.) ... In this case, a simple chat room would have gotten a) the suspicions of Williams in Phoenix (who was worried about al Qaida pilots but hadn't thought they'd use planes as weapons) onto b) the screens of agents in Minneapolis (who were worried about student-pilot Zacarias Moussaoui's tendency toward martyrdom) and c) the screens of whomever in Washington might have remembered al Qaida's plans to crash a plane into the CIA. ...True, Williams also marked his memo "routine" -- but if you put three routine thoughts together you sometimes get a non-routine thought. The Net can employ multiple minds in a continuous attempt to make all those connections. ... Oh, yes: Williams also knew "that it typically takes 60 days for such documents to go through the chain of command at FBI headquarters," WaPo reports. Doesn't that seem a little pre-digital? If you use the Web it might take 60 hours to make the key connection. Or maybe 60 seconds. ... [Thanks to alert kf reader E.U.]
I now think that the radio show bio of David Frum mocked by Harry Shearer and then kausfiles -- the one crediting Frum with "creating nearly all of the phrase 'axis of evil'" -- was intended at least half as a joke. What makes me so sure? I've got proof! After I wrote that item, I was clearing out my old voicemail messages and came across one from Sarah Spitz of KCRW, which airs the radio show in question, telling me I'd get a "chuckle" out of the release they'd written about Frum. ... P.S.: Here's the press release. You, the reader, make the call! ... [But was it only half or 'nearly all' a joke?--ed. I think they were trying to hype Frum and laugh at the hype at the same time, a trick familiar to readers of the WaPo "Style" section.] ... My apologies to Spitz and Frum.
Endangered-Quirk-Watch: The previously-expressed fears that GM is disingenuously denouncing SAAB's "nutty professor" image as a prelude to erasing all the brand's quirks and turning it into a banal mass-market Opel (see item below) are heightened by this LAT squib, which notes that the new SAAB 9-3 "has been blanded" and shares its chassis with the forthcoming Chevy Malibu. .. Could be good news for the Malibu rather than bad news for SAAB! At kausfiles these days we think that when a giant American corporation takes over a small, quirky competitor it can produce a valuable benefit for all of society . ... Only time will tell! ... [Thanks to alert kf non-reader, my mother.]
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Lagniappe, whose author seems to know a lot more about drug development than the author of kausfiles, offers a very useful account of what was hype and what hope in the Gina Kolata/Judah Folkman cancer-cure story discussed below (on Monday). Lagniappe's wrap-up:
The person associated with the Kolata article who really deserved to be whacked over the head is James Watson. He grabbed the spotlight with his ill-considered statement that "Judah is going to cure cancer in two years." Well, it's been four years now, and it's not happening. Judah Folkman's concept is already going a long way toward curing cancer, but his compound isn't.
So "Folkman's concept is already going a long way toward curing cancer"? I rest my case. I'd even rest Watson's case. By Lagniappe's own account, Kolata was right to make a big fuss about Folkman.. If you can't get on the front page by "going a long way toward curing cancer," what do you have to do? ... Consumer Warning: The email from Derek Lowe, who is this Lagniappe person of whom we speak, contains the frank disclosure: "I work for one of the big drug companies." It's obviously not a company that is putting its money on peptides, judging from Lowe's opinion of them. Discount appropriately after reading.
The most provocative words you can say to an angry man, police negotiators tell us, are "calm down." TNR's Leon Wieseltier tells panicked Jews, especially American Jews, to calm down. It might work, though, because Wieseltier's technique (as usual) is slashing and fight-picking, not falsely or condescendingly serene. "Calm the f--k down," would be a more accurate paraphrase. Also, as Wieseltier plausibly argues, the panic and anger of American Jews is in part hollow, a result of their lack of experience with a geniune threat to Jewish survival. As a Beverly Hills boy (high school class, 96% Jewish), I think he nails it (except for the facile comparison of black and Jewish fear of prejudice toward the end). ....
The scary thing is that Eric Alterman will probably be really good at blogging. That's not entirely a compliment. But he has strong, not-always-predictable opinions, and he's not scared of making some enemies (or, in this case, prosecuting an old enmity with New Republic owner-editor Martin Peretz). Apart from his kind words for kausfiles, I found his new MSNBC blog highly annoying (and just as much about Eric Alterman as Andrew Sullivan's blog is about Andrew Sullivan). But I'll be back tomorrow. ...
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Surprisingly useful WSJ op-ed by the normally unimpressive R. James Woolsey, ex-CIA director. Woolsey points out that leaks to the media really have cost us (bin Laden stopped using his satellite phone when someone told the press we'd figured out how to intercept its signals). He also calls for a dream team of scenario-mongers with fewer fiction writers than N.Z. Bear's (see below), except for everybody's pick, Tom Clancy. But what struck me was his mention of incoming FBI director Mueller's plan to "consolidate" counterterrorist efforts to
help ensure in the future that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis who have suspicions about a terrorist threat will not work in ignorance of one another's efforts.
Is consolidation and centralization the only, best answer here? What about the sprawl of the Internet? If there's anything this new technology of communication is good for, it's letting agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis and anywhere else bat around ideas and suspicions, so that connections are quickly made, lots of ideas are quickly generated, with the promising ones bubbling rapidly to the top. Does the Bureau not have some sort of secure list-server or chat room where an FBI man in Phoenix who thinks terrorists might be attending flight schools could post something, and learn from the agent in Minneapolis who has Mr. Moussaoui in custody that something might indeed be afoot? For efficiency, it sure beats typing up memos and sending them to a central location in Washington. ... Or is the FBI too turf- and hierarchy- and career- conscious to try this obvious decentralized electronic solution? ...Update: Alert kf reader S.R. says they need a "team blog." ... Reader S.K., an ex-Microsoftie, says they just need to modify Microsoft's in-house bug-tracking software, called RAID. ("It's got everything that the FBI could use to track terrorism reports: color-coded urgency and severity indicators, ways to track by source of problem, who reported it, what--if any--resolution occurred and by whom.") Maybe Mr. Ballmer will patriotically donate it. ....
This just in: Late-breaking solutions to the mind-body problem in WaPo. ... Maybe I've been brainwashed by Robert Wright (who discusses the issue in this Time article), and I understand how the subjective feeling of consciousness might be produced by "highly organized brain chemistry." But I don't quite understand the "why"-- why would this consciousness come about?. Where's the big evolutionary edge? Couldn't you have an organism that looked like a human and did all the things humans do -- calculating advantage, striving to amass resources, lunging for status, feigning humor, seducing friends, punishing enemies -- in mechanical, computer-like fashion without any internal human feelings at all? A robotic creature, in short, not unlike California governor Gray Davis! And couldn't this organism succeed in an evolutionary sense (at least until it ran for president)? ...Consciousness still seems gratuitous, a gift. Philosopher David Chalmers says:
It seems God could have created the world physically exactly like this one, atom for atom, but with no consciousness at all. And it would have worked just as well. But our universe isn't like that. Our universe has consciousness.
P.S.: What's the news here (aside from Professor Wegner's book)? Hasn't Daniel Dennett been saying "it's all just brain mechanisms" for years? Dog bites man! (Man feels pain!) ...
Monday, May 20, 2002
An anti-angiogenesis drug -- i.e. a drug that tries to starve tumors of the ability to grow blood vessels -- has shown such promising results in treating kidney cancer that they stopped the experiment in order to give it to the placebo group. ... Somewhere, Gina Kolata is smiling. ... Kolata, you may remember, was the NYT reporter huffily denounced by the New Yorker, Sam Donaldson, and Liz Smith, among others, on the grounds that her front-page story on anti-angiogenesis treatments raised "unrealistic expectations" of a cure. "Forget cancer. Is there a cure for hype?" wrote the New Yorker's Atul Gawande, who compared the anti-angiogenesis buzz to the fen-phen diet fad. Now it looks as if Kolata at least hyped the right horse, or one of the right horses. ... Even if anti-angiogenesis drugs only prolong the lives of kidney cancer sufferers, that's front-page news, no? Or would you prefer to see more on Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book sales? ... The respectable medical opposition to raising "unrealistic expectations" has always seemed to me to be based on a snobbish guild-like belief that the masses can't handle information -- and a desire to keep doctors' waiting rooms unclogged by all those poor citizens who, for some reason, unrealistically want to live. ... [But Kolata's piece was about Dr. Judah Folkman, and his anti-angiogenesis drugs worked only in mice--ed. Sure. And Dolly was only a sheep. But once we knew about Dolly, it wasn't hard for the human mind to almost instantly imagine the larger implications of cloning, which are in fact now being played out. Ditto Folkman's mice. Both stories were front-page material.]....
It's alarming that our intelligence agencies ignored some early warnings of the possibility of a 9/11 style hijack-suicide attack. But wouldn't it be more alarming if there hadn't been any early warnings that were ignored? (In other words, if nobody in the vast anti-terror bureaucracy had figured out the possibility?) ... To avoid such a complete failure of imagination, Blogger N.Z. Bear argues that science fiction writers should be called on to staff a government "dream team" to think of what terrorists might do next. (Better them than some Hollywood hacks!) Bear notes some promising precedents, offers four novelist names, and calls for further nominees. ...kf's candidate: Thriller writer James (Six Days of the Condor) Grady. ... Update: Alert kf reader S.R. writes:
Why do you need to "staff a government dream team" to tap into the creative intelligence of the country. The Office of Homeland Security should put up a web site with an e-mail link: Send us your terrorist plots. Give a $1000 bounty to anyone who submits a new one, $250 to anyone who suggests a new twist on an old one..
That's thinking outside the box about thinking outside the box! Sounds good to me. ....
Sunday, May 19, 2002
"David Frum, former economic speech-writer for President George W. Bush, is credited with creating nearly all of the phrase 'axis of evil,' which made headlines and raised political hackles across the world when used in Bush's 2002 State of the Union address."
P.S: This morning's Le Show was a good one, but isn't yet online. ...P.P.S.: Which part of the three-word phrase was Frum not responsible for? Answer: "evil." Frum had it as "axis of hate." ... Hey, that means he wrote only 6 of the ten letters. OK, 7 of 10 if you give him credit for the "e" in "hate." ... Studies show that "nearly all" requires at least 8 of ten. ....
Harmonic convergence of misguided populism: Did you know that bad influence Bob Shrum is behind Robert Reich's campaign too? .. Shrum is also helping historian Doris Kearns Goodwin rehabilitate herself. ... Maybe if Reich loses his gubernatorial race Shrum can run a campaign to get Reich tenure at Harvard! [It would be easier to get Reich elected governor. Actually, it would be easier to get him elected Miss America--ed. I forgot -- at Harvard they know him].
Saturday, May 18, 2002
The joy of being able to blame others (blamenfreude?): John Ellis has a short, cogent analysis of why AOL's incoming CEO Richard Parsons must be smiling inside, despite all his company's highly-advertised troubles:
AOL's stock price has hit rock bottom. The worst of the advertising recession has passed. Everything that went wrong is being blamed on someone else. ...The break-up value of just the Time Warner assets now exceeds the market capitalization of the merged entity. Barring scandal, a year from now we will be reading the "Parsons-led AOL Turnaround" story.
Speaking of blame, isn't it strange how all the Los Angeles Times's problems are now being attributed to ex-editor Shelby Coffey? Joel Kotkin's analysis of the Times' problems even uses the term "Coffeyism." But the LAT was an anesthetized, underperforming giant for decades before Coffey showed up. I remember a near-definitive California magazine anti-LAT piece in the 1980s by Rian Malan. ... The LAT of that period always reminded me of the Land's Endcatalog: The products look like clothes, they're trying to be clothes, they're somebody's idea of what clothes should be --- but there's something off, they're too stiff and square cut, as if the people at Land's End were earnest, clean cut WASPs who decided to build a great clothing company but don't know the shmatte business.... Coffey was supposed to make things better, and I suspect that, overall, he did, despite the PC absurdities of the LAT's riot coverage. ...The LAT's new Chicago owners seem, at least, to know the shmatte business. ....
Friday, May 17, 2002
Hillary and Breaux's Do Si Do: There's been more about welfare reform on The West Wing recently than on kausfiles. That will not stand! ... A good place to start is with Amy Goldstein's WaPo report on the House passage yesterday of a Republican bill to renew the big 1996 reform law (which expires this year). Goldstein says that the Democrats' alternative bill, which lost in a close vote, would have "expanded the education and job training that people on welfare could get." That's a highly tendentious, misleading description of what's at stake The issue isn't whether people on welfare can get training. Under either bill, as under the current law, welfare recipients can get all the training the states want to give them. The question is whether training can be a reason (or, more tendentiously, an excuse) for not working -- specifially whether more training and education courses can substitute for a minimum amount (24 hours a week) of work, or must come on top of thatpart-time work. ... The House Democrats' version of reform -- saying it's OK not to work for years if you're in some sort of vocational training program -- was tried before 1996. It flopped. Training and education courses became a swamp of delay -- a way, not to prepare for the labor market, but to avoid the labor market, much the same way graduate school was a way to avoid the Vietnam draft. It was only when Congress in 1996 abandoned the "train first" approach and required some actual work -- specifically refusing to count most training courses as "work" -- that reform produced results. ... It stands to reason that if people know they have to work anyway they'll take more seriously the training that can get them better pay for their labor. ...
P.S.: It's disconcerting enough that, in the Senate, Hillary Clinton signed on to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council version of reform, which is relatively tough on this "training vs. work" issue. (My fellow HRC-bashers can debate whether this makes her less objectionable or more insidiously cunning. But it works for me! And it really pissed off the NYT.) More bizarre is the behavior of erstwhile centrist Democrat, Sen. John Breaux. Breaux was a pro-reform stalwart in the legislative fight of 1996, but now he's signed on to the more wimpy, training-oriented "bipartisan" Senate Finance Committee bill. In the NYT today we find Breaux whining like Marian Wright Edelman about how (in Robert Pear's paraphrase) the House bill "would force poor women to seek jobs with no assurance of child care." What's happened to him? ... [Is there enough money for child care?--ed. The states get the same amount of money they got when caseloads were twice as big, so there should be. If it's not enough, more can be added. That's just not a reason to make a big stink about the House GOP bill, and the old Breaux wouldn't have done it. It's possible, though, that Pear added some special spin to Breaux's words.]
Update--E.J.'s non-apology apology: WaPo columnist and 1996 welfare reform foe E.J. Dionne does the minimum necessary mea culpa, noting that he turns out to have been mistaken when he predicted disaster back in '96, admitting that the "race to the bottom" he predicted never materialized and that the law has worked out pretty well. ... But then he says "I do not regret opposing the 1996 welfare bill," apparently on the grounds that even though he was completely wrong the bill could have been more generous to the working poor. ... Huh? What about the "sharp increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit" Dionne boasts about in this very column? Just because Congress raised the EITC a few years before it reformed welfare doesn't mean the two weren't seen -- and explicitly touted, by Bill Clinton --as part of a carrot-and-stick package to "make work pay" and require work. ... With the necessary faux-self-critical formalities over with, Dionne gets back to spouting the current paleoliberal party line, pushing training over "make-work" as if he'd never heard of the WPA, Franklin Roosevelt's highly successful "make-work" program. ... Why is cleaning up parks "make-work"? It's real work. It cleans up the parks! But it also threatens municipal employee unions,who are paid much higher wages to do things like clean up parks. Municipal unions (and equally-threatened construction unions) are a big Democratic constituency. So modern Democrats have perversely come to oppose FDR's solution. ... (Actually, unions opposed the WPA in FDR's time as well. Roosevelt even had to break a strike.) ....