November 14, 2007

"Tahini tracking."

Is it a problem that the government is doing it — or only that we know it's being done?

46 comments:

paul a'barge said...

Wait a minute. The linked article is written by that Eric Muller, the guy who slammed Michelle Malkin's book about Japanese Internment in WWII. This is the guy who is in complete denial about the existence of traitorous Japanese during WWII and the danger these Japanese posed to our war effort.

The man is a complete mutt. He's one of the most virulent anti-profilers out there.

You want to lose a war and your culture at the same time, you saddle up and ride the anti-logic trails with a mutt like Eric Muller.

Roost on the Moon said...

Mutt? I don't know what that means, except as applied to dogs that aren't purebred. What's a mutt?

Ann Althouse said...

Paul, I think most mainstream thought is that the Japanese internment was a mistake.

RC said...

Something can be wrong or mistaken without being WRRRROOOOONNNGGGGGG!

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

Paul, I think most mainstream thought is that the Japanese internment was a mistake.

That's true, Ann, but Malkin's minions don't. They revel in whitewashing the past and rewriting history.

JohnAnnArbor said...

He also has cyber-stalked Malkin, comparing her posting times on her blog with her travel plans. He's a bit of a nut.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere between "lock 'em all in camps" and "ignore that certain groups are more likely to blow stuff up than others."

peter said...

Classic: Muller's a nut, so let's not pay attention to what he wrote.

What he's said in this article is in essence that it's stupid to think consumption of middle eastern food bears any meaningful correlation to the presence of terrorists. And that it was stupid to suppose that a Japanese person's adherence to Japanese cultural traditions indicated disloyalty during World War II.

That strikes me as true. Did you notice the Soviets' most successful atomic spy at Los Alamos during WWII was recently posthumously given the highest award available to a Russian? "Stewart D. Bloom, a senior physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, who also studied with Dr. Koval [the spy], called him a regular guy. 'He played baseball and played it well,' usually as shortstop, Dr. Bloom recalled. 'He didn’t have a Russian accent. He spoke fluent English, American English. His credentials were perfect.'"

So when Muller says it was stupid to judge the loyalty of Japanese interns based on whether they played baseball, it seems pretty plausible.

So, Ann, no, I don't think the problem here is that we know the government is doing this. I think the problem here is that our government is fighting terrorism in stupid ways.

Bissage said...

Professor Muller’s piece contains not even the intimation that such measure are illegal. Instead, his piece is chock-full of truthy goodness. I’m sure those victims of "six years of suspicion and scrutiny" appreciate the free service he provides: feeling their paranoia at them. No matter that he thinks the intended beneficiaries of measures he characterizes as "sensible" are insufficiently sophisticated to "appreciate the principle." A friend in need is a friend indeed. They must feel grateful.

And law enforcement gets some free advice to boot! Who knew some citizens distrust the government? More gems like that from Professor Muller are sure to follow. He must have thousands of better ideas how to identify extremists in our midst. After all, he’s studied the Japanese internment.

Kirk said...

Peter,

When the government confirms that these are the only things it's doing in the effort to preempt terrorism, get back to me. Until then, yawn....

Roost on the Moon said...

Following RC and AnnArborJohn, does anyone care to propose a reasonable line to draw? Assuming (BIG IF) that monitoring consumption of middle-eastern cuisine is an effective way to prevent terrorist attacks, is it ok to do?

I'm uncomfortable with any kind of tracking of non-suspects, but I realize that that is kind of the extreme end of the spectrum (here at least). I'll predictably differ from most of the regular commenters here because we have very different beliefs about the nature of the terror threat. This isn't resolvable.

But I'd be interested to read a proposed "line we don't cross" from some of the reasonable people who think some such tracking is necessary. At what point do you not use an effective, available tactic for reasons of civilian liberty?

Bissage, you clearly don't like Muller's tone, but what do you think of the issue? It can't just be "Leave the governing to the government," can it?

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

But I'd be interested to read a proposed "line we don't cross" from some of the reasonable people who think some such tracking is necessary. At what point do you not use an effective, available tactic for reasons of civilian liberty?

It seems to me that, for an awful lot of people, there is no "line we don't cross," no freedom we don't compromise, no privacy we don't breach. Except their own, of course.

reader_iam said...

I'm going to keep this in mind next time we stock up on Middle Eastern food items (tahini, falafel mix & etc.).

Damn vegetarians and ethnic-food lovers.

Roost on the Moon said...

Seems that way to me too, but I know that a handful of the War-on-Terror apologists that comment here are bright, thoughtful people. So lets hear from them before it becomes "Thumbscrews v. Pinkos".

JohnAnnArbor said...

It seems to me that, for an awful lot of people, there is no "line we don't cross," no freedom we don't compromise, no privacy we don't breach. Except their own, of course.

Who are you talking about? No one I've heard about approaches that position.

Palladian said...

"What he's said in this article is in essence that it's stupid to think consumption of middle eastern food bears any meaningful correlation to the presence of terrorists."

Well, maybe it is? As I recall, Atta and the rest of the psychological midgets that perpetrated the attacks on 9/11/01 had lived fairly Western-style lives while in the United States. I think that organized terrorist cells would be sophisticated enough to affect some kind of "cover" for themselves prior to an attack, including not hanging out at falafel stands.

And also, many of the consumers of Mid-Eastern foods are not ethnically or religiously related to the cultures that originated those foods. While it's not a perfect analogy, it's a little like tracking pasta sales to try to catch Italians. You'd end up with a jail cell full of college students. I was a vegetarian for many years and I consumed a lot of hummus, baba ganouj, pita bread, etc. And now that I'm following a weight loss, health-improvement regimen, I buy a lot of chick peas. Will I end up being tracked?

bill said...

reader_iam, I'll do you one better. I plan to start ordering cases of Tahini and boxes of grow lites. Start the betting on who shows up first, the FBI or the DEA.

Bissage said...

Bissage, you clearly don't like Muller's tone, but what do you think of the issue? It can't just be "Leave the governing to the government," can it?

Roost, I was recently accused by Revenant and Luckyoldson of slavish obeisance to the government. I’ll admit that annoyed me. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that they are strangers with their own selfish motivations. And they’re wrong.

Thank you for being more thoughtful and extending to me the presumption of decency I do my level best to extend to others. It's true I’ve thrown a few elbows here at Althouse (to steal Sipp’s way of saying it) but only after becoming convinced a commenter has been consistently acting like an asshole on purpose. (There are three times I wish I’d exercised a wiser forebearance.)

That said, I have no strong opinion on the merits. I am circumspect by nature and my legal training and experience have taught me to make findings of fact and conclusion of law based on evidence of record, when necessary.

I don’t like to discuss things in the abstract and that’s much of the reason why I stay out of the politically charged back and forth at Althouse and try to keep my comments narrowly focused, hopefully entertaining.

But I like to read what others have to say and I respect your contributions.

Roost on the Moon said...

Thanks Bissage, and likewise. I don't have any legal training, so my interest is restricted to a citizen's "ought"; I'm not qualified to touch a lawyer's "is". For me whether this profiling is currently legal or not isn't the juicy question.

I want to hear from those who think that if it works, it is just fine, but also respect that there is some important line (legal, philosophical, pragmatic, or otherwise) that we should be vigilant about. Maybe it is ok that the government monitors our food purchases to keep us safe. But what about, say, books? At what point is American Intelligence too powerful?

paul a'barge said...

consumption of middle eastern food bears any meaningful correlation to the presence of terrorists

Any demographic tracking that orients toward Middle Eastern habits is a valuable potential tool in tracking terrorists.... because so many people in America who are of Middle Eastern origin are either terrorists or terrorist enablers.

Believe me, Muller is not out to make the War against Islamic Fascism a success. He is out to promote the weakening of America and American interests.

paul a'barge said...

Paul, I think most mainstream thought is that the Japanese internment was a mistake.

I agree that this is an accurate description of most mainstream thought. I also agree that this thought is wrong.

Japanese internment camps were a reasonable, justifiable reaction to bona fide evidence of Japanese infiltration of America and of Japanese traitorism at a time when America was at war.

No one was exterminated and everyone was released once we had won the war.

We need to bring back that kind of determination to win in our current war.

Our choices should be Victory or Victory, and Eric Muller is not on the side of winning the War against Islamic Fascism.

jeff said...

"Paul, I think most mainstream thought is that the Japanese internment was a mistake."

Today it is. Was it in 1941?

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

Was it in 1941?

No Jeff, it was not. Racial animosity was rampant.

jeff said...

"What he's said in this article is in essence that it's stupid to think consumption of middle eastern food bears any meaningful correlation to the presence of terrorists."

Sure. As a stand alone data point. Is it? Or is it one of many? If so, what are the others?

Trooper York said...

Bissage said....
"I stay out of the politically charged back and forth at Althouse and try to keep my comments narrowly focused, hopefully entertaining."
Cool. Just stay away from the Hillary Clinton sex fantasies because I am as territorial as a feral cat.

Pogo said...

Given the limited resources, I suspect this food-tracking thing is a waste of time.

I'd prefer they hired as many Arab interpreters as possible and scour the internet, including YouTube, for jihadist talk. They should also, I'm afraid, start attending the mosques, as it has been these fundamentalist enclaves where most of the plots in the US, England and Spain have been plotted.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

I'd prefer they hired as many Arab interpreters as possible and scour the internet, including YouTube, for jihadist talk.

IIRC, they've hired a bunch but keep firing them because they turn out to be gay.

Pogo said...

How could that be?
Amahdinejad said there aren't any Arab gays.

Roost on the Moon said...

Iranians are Persian.

Roost on the Moon said...

Pogo, you're a coherent commenter who plainly supports aggressive intelligence gathering, where do you draw the line? At what point would your Orwellian heebie-jeebies kick in?

jeff said...

"IIRC, they've hired a bunch but keep firing them because they turn out to be gay."

I have heard this a lot about the military discharging gay translators, but then I heard somewhere else that the number of Arab translators discharges is just a handful compared to the whole, and that in any event they are hired right back as contractors. Anyone know if there is anything to this?

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

Amahdinejad said there aren't any Arab gays.

I think you meant Iranian gays. In that case, he should have told the Iranian parliamentary delegation that met a group of UK counterparts recently to keep their mouths shut. When asked, they defended hanging homosexuals no matter what age.

BTW, the Chinese Communists were saying that about China as late as 1978. They said it was a bourgeois Western vice that had disappeared in 1949 when all the gays were rounded up and sent to re-education camps. They always left out the part about executing those who failed at re-education. I've never forgotten the useful idiots I knew who went to China at that time and asked about gay rights and prison reform. The Chinese told them they had no prisons, either. Everyone was just happily re-educated. And they believed that claptrap!

Pogo said...

Randy,
I was only joking, It made no sense if it referred only to Iranians.

Anyway.
Roost, I would say that these programs should be permitted to be broad and clandestine, but with oversight from outside of the agency surveilling. The time for spying should have a definite end-date forcing renewal.

It's an action that has no clear line: do too little and we risk American lives, thousands of them. Do too much and we risk losing our country to totalitarianism.

Defense is the most basic function of any government, even before it can protect any freedoms. I believe we are in World War 4, and it's going to last for decades. I believe it's going to get worse. I believe England will choose, and are choosing, the path of totalitarianism to manage the threat.

I suggest that as much as possible we openly discuss the tactics we are using, and refuse to reject surveillance out of hand. But the military and police need also to remain sensitive to their charge.

I believe they are more sensitive to this than they are being credit for. I believe the current crop of soldiers are among the finest in history, actually.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

FWIW, I knew you were joking, Pogo. The first part my reply was, too.

Pogo said...

On the internet, no-one can hear you scream, or snark.

RC said...

Roost on the Moon, my comment specifically referred to something not being right. I was merely pointing out that disagreement shouldn't always merit outrage. I get so tired of it. People can't seem to discourage or poopoo something. They have to make it into something terrible to somehow justify their opposition, as if that were necessary.

JohnAnnArbor said...

On the internet, no-one can hear you scream, or snark.

Unless the web page has one of those annoying self-playing sounds on it.

Eric Muller said...

Jeff, above:

"Paul, I think most mainstream thought is that the Japanese internment was a mistake."

Today it is. Was it in 1941?


No it wasn't, but it had happened yet, either.

Roost on the Moon said...

Pogo, good stuff on security and transparency. For what it's worth, it is reassuring to hear someone who supports the current administration acknowledge the tension between security and freedom.

I believe we are in World War 4.

Zuh?

Are we calling the Cold War WW3 now? And the "war on terror" is 4? So, in 10-20 years, when tensions spark between us and China, will that be 5? Two world wars at once, that will be a neat trick.

Roost on the Moon said...

RC,

Yeah, I think I understood the first time. And I agree with the sentiment. "Following" wasn't really clear in my first post, but I meant that you and AnnArborJohn both seemed to be calling for some kind of middle ground to be calmly discussed, to which I give the double thumbs-up.

Pogo said...

Are we calling the Cold War WW3 now?

Some have done so for decades.

AllenS said...

You are what you eat.

Nutritionist Victor Lindlahr

paul a'barge said...

No it wasn't, but it had[sic] happened yet, either.

Oh look. The stalking troll has joined us for this discussion.

That certainly ends that.

Revenant said...

How exactly do we jump from "the internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong" to "figuring out where most Muslims live is wrong"?

During WW2 the country made the mistake of assuming that "all A are B" implied "all B are A". Because our enemies were Japanese, the thought went, all Japanese are our enemies. That was, of course, false.

Well, right now, in this war, all our enemies are Muslims. That doesn't mean all Muslims are our enemies, and we're not *treating* all Muslims like they were our enemies. But it does mean that our enemies are almost always going to be found where Muslims are found. So finding where that is, is useful information. And if the innocent Muslims feel bothered by that, well, sorry guys. Get over it.

Revenant said...

What he's said in this article is in essence that it's stupid to think consumption of middle eastern food bears any meaningful correlation to the presence of terrorists.

Why is that stupid? All sorts of bits of data you wouldn't think matter can tell data miners, actuaries, and other analysts quite a lot about the people those bits of data apply to, especially when you combine them with other bits of data. If terrorists are more likely to eat "middle eastern food" than non-terrorists are -- which is pretty much a given, considering who the terrorists are -- then "where middle eastern food is being consumed" is, in fact, ONE data point for spotting potential terrorist activity. It obviously isn't the ONLY data point you want to use, but we're not living in the 19th century here. If you've got a large database of correlations you can make some freakishly accurate predictions based on stuff you wouldn't think was connected at all.

Obviously it doesn't indicate anything by itself. But if, for example, you have one bit of data indicating a plan to attack American oil infrastructure and another bit of data showing that four known Al Qaeda members have entered the country and a third bit of data showing a highly unusual blip in falafel consumption in a town near the Alaskan pipeline, that collectively might provide a good lead you might want to check out. When you have a large number of potential leads and a limited pool of resources to chase them down, anything you can do to increase the average strength of your database hits is helpful, even if the overall effect isn't a huge one.

paul a'barge said...

Oh look. Eric Muller is full of crap ... (again).

Eric Muller ... synonymous with urban myth.