Saturday, October 26, 2002

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BEAM HIM UP MARKET

Scott Wickstein has build himself a new blog house and you're all invited around. It's called The Eye of the Beholder, though I'm sure Scott will continue to examine all issues with both eyes wide open (if nonetheless cast right) BTW: Tell him exactly what you think; I'm sure he'll return the favour, if he hasn't already. Congratulations, Scott!
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THE BOGUS OUTRAGE OF THE RIGHT EXAMINED

Rob Schaap offers a close look at what passes for argument amongst some right-wing pundits.

NOTE: Permalinks aren't working, so go here and scroll down to 'Another Leftie Whinge - or The Danger of The Neat Narrative in an Untidy World'. In the meantime, Rob has had a nice little analysis of one of John Ray's flights of fancy.
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FREE SPEECH AND NASTY GOVERNMENTS

Bargarz writes this stock-standard paean to free-speech and the evils of government, opining:

Some days I thank the fates that the internet was developed in the USA, regardless of what the Europeans may claim(In 1992, Tim Berners-Lee, a British researcher at the CERN physics facility in Europe, developed HTML, [not the internet] which in turn was improved by the development of Mosaic in the USA). The internet (and WWW) was therefore moulded by the freedoms inherent in the US Constitution and popularised by network effect. Come to think of it, I'm not sure that the Internet could have come about in any other society - certainly not as we know it.

He concludes ominously:

Regulation is just another word for control. Control of ideas, control of opinions, control of information.

I don't quite get how on the one hand you can praise the virtues of an amendment to a constitution in a particular country--that is, an amendment to a list of regulations written to establish a government and a list that remains the guiding regulatory force of that country--while at the same time poo-pooing the very idea of regulation as some sort of evil control. No 'regulation' and I'm afraid there is no 'country' with which to be enamoured.

Also, it is worth a read of Digital Capitalism by Dan Schiller to get some idea of the fact that internet was itself the product, not just of government regulation, but of public finance, research and expertise. It was then further "regulation", under the influence of industry lobbying, that allowed it to move into the private sphere to the extent that it has, and which I presume Bargraz approves of.

On the contrary, regulation can be the very method by which freedom is established. Privatisation, however, is nearly always "another word for control. Control of ideas, control of opinions, control of information."

Friday, October 25, 2002

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THE SNIPER AS ISLAMIC TERRORIST

I've been reading through some of the right wing blogs talking about the sniper and it is quite revolting. The persistent, blinkered, endless emphasis on this guy's conversion to Islam as the defining element in his murderous behaviour has reached such a pitch that it borders on, what?, lunacy. It is worth reading this piece on Muhammad's background to get some sense of the guy. Ordinary is the word that comes to mind. It is worth reading this post by Max Sawicky to delouse yourself after reading the rightwing rubbish. And if you incline to "Islamic terrorist" angle, it might be worth considering the notes they left, which make no mention of any religious or political motivation. No hint, as far as I can ascertain, that this was being done for the glory of Allah, because they hated the "Great Satan", to avenge transgression in the Middle East, or any other suggestion of such motives. Just a demand for ten million bucks and ultimately, some of the clues that nailed them.

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SHOOTINGS -- DAY IT'S OVER

After three weeks of pretty singular attention to the Washington-area sniper, and with lots of people checking in here every day to follow the story, some sort of summary is in order. At the moment, though, I'm not quite ready to do that. Maybe later today or tomorrow. Until then, two thoughts to be going on with, one completely frivolous, the other, the real bottom line of the last three weeks.

The frivolous comment is to do with this story I happened upon. I bet this guy wishes he hadn't had it published on the day the case was all but solved:

Cut Moose loose.

Charles Moose, chief of police in Montgomery County, Maryland, seems like a very nice fellow. He'd probably be just the kind of chief you'd want overseeing the new anti-shoplifting squad at the White Flint Mall. He'd be great setting up speed traps on the Washington Beltway. He'd be aces responding to the latest string of house burglaries in Chevy Chase.

Routine suburban stuff, Moose is your man.

But as the top law-enforcement official in charge of a multi-jurisdictional manhunt for the deadliest serial sniper this country has ever known?

Hmm.

Local control is certainly a laudable goal. But it's long past time for the big boys to step in here.


Even if he stands by his claims, maybe he wishes he was a little less condescending.

The second point I wanted to make was simply to remind us of those who were killed:

James Martin, 55, of Silver Spring, Md. Killed Oct. 2. A Vietnam veteran and program analyst for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His father died when he was 8, and he worked his way through college. Martin had an 11-year-old son and was a Boy Scout leader, school volunteer and church trustee.

James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, of Abingdon, Va. Killed Oct. 3. A landscaper, he served on the regional board of the Boys and Girls of Greater Washington and volunteered with a Crime Solvers hot line. He had moved from Maryland to Virginia, where he and his father owned a Christmas tree farm, but still honored a contract to mow the lawn outside Fitzgerald Auto Mall in White Flint, Md. He was mowing the lawn when he was killed.

Prem Kumar Walekar, 54, of Olney, Md. Killed Oct. 3. He was a cab driver who immigrated at age 18 from India, where he was getting ready to spend his retirement. Relatives said he worked hard, sent money to his father in India and helped bring his siblings to America. They remembered him as a quiet man with a good sense of humor.

Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring, Md. Killed Oct. 3. Friends described Ramos, a native of El Salvador who worked as a baby sitter, as a hardworking immigrant who dreamed of building a prosperous life. Ramos was remembered as a cheerful, fun-loving wife and a doting mother of a 7-year-old son. She belonged to several church groups.

Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring, Md. Killed Oct. 3. Originally of Mountain Home, Idaho, she decided in junior high school that she wanted to become a nanny. After high school, she went to a nanny school in Oregon. Her father, Marion Lewis, said she was "special to everybody she met and she brought friendship and love."

Pascal Charlot, 72, of Washington, D.C. Killed Oct. 3. A carpenter who immigrated from Haiti years ago, he fixed things for his neighbors a doorjamb for one, a box around a radiator for another. He lived with his wife in a rowhouse decorated with potted flowers on the porch, and tomatoes and bell peppers in a small garden.

Dean H. Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Md. Killed Oct. 9. A Vietnam veteran, Meyers was a project manager in the Manassas, Va., office of Dewberry & Davis, a civil engineering firm. Friends and co-workers said he was hardworking and thoughtful someone who would help carry heavy packages and feed stray cats.

Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia. Killed Oct. 11. A businessman and father of six, he had co-founded an organization to promote black self-sufficiency. Neighbors remembered his friendliness and penchant for playing basketball with his children.

Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, Va. Killed Oct. 14. She worked in the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center studying terror threats. A co-worker described her as a loving wife and mother who watched out for everyone in her family.

Conrad Johnson, 35, of Oxon Hill, Md. Killed Oct. 22. Johnson, a married father of two sons, was a bus driver who had worked for Montgomery County for nearly 10 years. A neighbor described Johnson as a fervent football fan, weightlifter and "real family man." He loved his boys. He was always taking care of them, doing things for them. Every time you see him it was always, 'I've got to take my sons to this place or something.'"

Thursday, October 24, 2002

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LAND OF THE REALLY FREE

In the wake of the fatal shooting of two people at an Australian university, plans are underway for a handgun buy-back scheme and stricter controls on guns in general. Sweet home Australia:

A national handgun buy-back scheme and amnesty for shooters to hand in illegal weapons could begin before the end of the year after federal and state governments yesterday agreed to tighten handgun laws.

Sporting shooters will be banned from having any weapon that is not used at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games or similar events under a 13-point plan presented by Prime Minister John Howard. Police, security guards and military would be exempt.

The proposed uniform national rules to tighten licensing controls and restrict the number and types of guns held by shooters, comes after two students were killed and five wounded in a shooting at Monash University on Monday. The alleged gunman was a legal gun owner.

Mr Howard said details would be worked out by a meeting of police ministers on November 5 and a sporting shooters' advisory council before a meeting of state leaders and the Federal Government on November 29.

He said if the changes were adopted they would "very significantly tighten the handgun laws of this country".


Of course, the move has massive support from Australian citizens, as can be seen from the reaction of the head of one of the major shooters associations:

Three national gun clubs, the Sporting Shooters Association, Pistol Australia and Field and Game Australia, said they backed Mr Howard's proposals.

Sporting Shooters spokesman Gary Fleetwood said his club's 125,000 members wanted to "reduce the risk of inappropriate people taking possession of handguns" while working with the government to allow genuine sporting shooters to continue their chosen sport.


What, no accusations that gun-control advocates are really the local chapter of the Taliban? Gosh.
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SHOOTINGS -- THE UNRAVELING? -- UPDATE 3

As speculation mounts that the Washington sniper is actually Osama bin Laden, television news is releasing, drip, drip, tidbits of information. For instance, John Muhammed was spoken to by police early in the spree when he was found asleep in his parked car somewhere in Maryland. The event was recorded, as was a description of the car.

They are also saying that there appears to be some modification done to the car they have impounded, where a hole has been punched in the trunk that would allow the gun to be poked through. In other words, the car is modified, apparently, so that someone could lay down inside it, take aim and fire. The shell casing would then be kept within the car and the accomplice could casually drive away.
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HOW I JOINED THE TALIBAN AND DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IT

The NRA is a big, popular organisation with plenty of clout. They are not some fringe group; they are mainstream. They are taken seriously. You'd think, then, that there might be some obligation on them to conduct themselves in a less hysterical fashion. Cue the national anthem while I run by you some quotes from a recent speech by Executive Vice President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre:

I've been a freedom fighter for 20 years. But I never thought I'd witness such a wholesale surrender of freedoms beyond the right to keep and bear arms, but also the right to privacy, the right to move about freely, the right to political free speech, and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure....If you look around this room, you realize this is the largest gathering anywhere in the world of freedom fighters. The NRA is the largest organization on the planet of people who defend individual freedom. And win.

Well, clearly their remit doesn't extend to "freedom from hyperbole".

In the 2000 elections we won a battle, but not the war. Because the gun-ban lobby was laying in wait for bad news - for an assassination, a school shooting, a deranged gunman, a celebrity murder to make bad news their good news. In this respect, they used September 11th as a godsend. Within weeks, the ailing gun-ban lobby was back, marketing terrorism as the new reason to ban your guns. Led by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin and Barbara Boxer, even John McCain, these groups began painting a fictional picture of wild-eyed terrorists equipping rogue armies through small town gun shows in the heartland of America.

Okay, so he's right about this. Bloody opportunists. How dare they take advantage of tragedy to push their own agenda. Don't they know that, like the Washington sniper case, 911 and the threat of terrorism was actually a chance to reinforce the need for personal security and to exclaim with gusto the need for individual's right to carry a gun? This isn't agenda pushing, it's just true. Ask your local NRA representative.

But in the meantime, you have to be on the look out for the real threat to freedom aka people who don't agree with us:

Andrew McKelvey and Americans for Gun Safety represent a whole new kind of enemy. They're just the visible side of a shadowy network of extremist social guerrillas fueled by anonymous wealth, sophisticated research, free media access and high-dollar consultants. You know, terrorism against freedom isn't just practiced with bombs and box cutters. Anti-freedom elitists in academia, the media, rich foundations and government can do permanent damage to individual freedoms just as real as an insurrection or coup. Together they form a sort of Taliban, an intolerant coalition of fanatics that shelter the anti-freedom alliance so it can thrive and grow.

Yep. If you have a different opinion to the NRA, you are clearly Taliban material. But this is not an unsubtle position. Wayne has thought about this:

"Don't get me wrong. Americans can differ on many things..."

Well that's good:

".....but not on the facts of freedom. The Bill of Rights doesn't care about opinion polls. It doesn't tolerate cherry-picking some parts but not others. It doesn't kneel before opposing points of view. The Constitution is pristine and inviolate. And those who promote that we be less free are political terrorists."

Oh.

But Wayne, you big freedom fighter you, you don't really mean that stuff about the Taliban, do you?

In fact, the way Andrew McKelvey's network operates sounds a lot like Osama bin Laden and the Al-Queda. A billionaire with an extremist political agenda, subverting honest diplomacy, using personal wealth to train and deploy activists, looking for vulnerabilities to attack, fomenting fear for political gain, funding an ongoing campaign, to hijack your freedom and take a box cutter to the Constitution. That's political terrorism, a far greater threat to your freedom than any foreign force.

Sheesh, and the right goes on about how the left is anti-American, intolerant of free speech and how it seeks to intimidate opponents through abuse and vitriol. Babes in the woods, I reckon.
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THE AUSTRALIAN BLOG GUN CONTROL DEBATE

Ken Parish has done a sterling job chasing down the statistical fabrications of the Australian gun touts. Check in at his site and read through what he has to say. The main pieces are here and here.

As important as the statistical debunking is, ultimately it is the last point Ken makes that is the most important:

Thus, the argument that gun ownership deters crime is complete nonsense, just like all the other gun lobby arguments....Fortunately, it appears that Prime Minister Howard and all the State and Territory leaders agree. So do the great majority of Australians. That is why governments appear to have decided to implement tough new laws severely restricting handgun ownership. We can expect the gun nuts to continue telling lies and squealing like stuck pigs about their "rights" being removed. Don't expect most Australians to take any notice.

The vast majority of Australians want strict gun control. No argument can be made here for "majoritarianism" - this is a clear democratic desire. If you even remotely accept the legitimacy of the will of the people, then all other arguments fall away: the gun-wanting minority just have to accept that their society doesn't share their views and it is therefore time for them to get over it. Sure, they can still whinge and whine on their blogs or in letters to the editor or whatever, but somewhere in their achy-breaky hearts they have to accept they can't have what they claim to want. This shouldn't be too hard for the right-wing populists amongst their number who are always telling us how important it is to listen to the "will of the people".

In the meantime, John Quiggin has suggested the following, as yet unanswered challenge to gun wanters: Rather than fighting over the statistics, which are pretty clear-cut, I'd be interested to see some of these critics present a principled statement of a libertarian position (there's obviously more than one) on gun ownership.

Additionally he has said: The debate over gun control rages on, but as far as I can see, no-one on the pro-gun side of the debate has taken up my invitation to present a principled libertarian position. Instead, as Jack Strocchi points out in the comments thread for a previous post, the pro-gun side is trying to make a consequentialist and utilitarian argument that widespread gun ownership will save lives. It's dishonest to make this argument if, in fact, you would oppose gun control regardless of the net impact on murder rates and so on. So, I'm putting forward a proposition which I'm inviting pro-gun writers like Alex Robson to join me in endorsing:
Proposition: Since any other costs and benefits of gun policy are trivial in relation to the saving of lives, I support whatever gun policy is most likely, on the available evidence, to minimise the loss of life from homicide and related causes. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who is not prepared to endorse this proposition (or some marginal variant) should be assumed to be dishonest when they present factual claims about the effects of different gun policies on murder rates and so on.


We wait with baited breath for the inevitable fudges in response to both requests.

But while we're about it, let's add another request for clarification, following on from my earlier comments. Given that a vast majority of Australian citizens wish to see strict gun control, including severe limits on ownership, I invite gun advocates to simply acknowledge this fact and accept that within Australia at least, theirs is a marginal position.
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SHOOTINGS UPDATE -- PASSING COMMENTS
OR WHY THE NAME "MUHAMMAD" DOESN'T NECESSARILY MAKE YOU AN ISLAMOFASCIST
TERRORIST DESPITE THE EAGERNESS OF SOME WELL-HIT BLOGS
TO INSIST THAT IT DOES


Three cheers for Unqualified Offerings who writes: The ironic thing about the case is that, to whatever extent Islam-inspired anti-Americanism turns out to have fueled Muhammad's spree, it still doesn't seem like settling early on the "terrorist theory" would have helped catch him. Everyone wanted the police out there looking for foreign sleeper agents with "olive skin" and "broken english." But Muhammad is as American as I am. Call him, with reservations, "the black Tim McVeigh."

Okay, the "black Tim McVeigh" line is a bit OTT, but at least there is some acknowledgement that the simple label of "Islamic terrorist" conceals as much as it reveals. Whatever Islamic connection there is with this case (if it turns out that these are the guys) cannot be separated from the American connection.

Unfortunately, the Instapundit can't seem to wrap his head around this fact and he continues with his shoddy, blinkered speculations:

The TV people are still playing this as "a new kind of serial killer" -- but it's not. It's terrorism. It may be terrorism of the "leaderless resistance" variety -- or not -- but unless this is a huge screwup by the authorities it's pretty obviously Islamic terrorism, and neither the authorities nor the media commentators are enhancing their credibility by pretending otherwise.

I wait with baited breath for him to announce the left-wing connection as well.

If this is a new form of terrorism, Islamic or not, it's a homegrown variety, and people and pundits should start to deal with that.

Here's a link to some background on these suspects, or as a guy on MSNBC just put it: "They are now officially suspects we have been told unofficially."


UPDATE 2:::::

A rifle has been found in the boot (trunk) of the suspect's car and is being tested.
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WHILE WE'RE WAITING

The Hampster has up a bunch of great quotes, mainly one liners from the tonight shows. My favourite is, of course, this one from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show:

"Some scholars have argued [that] the Constitution clearly states only Congress can declare war, and they are not allowed to simply delegate that authority to the president. However, you can get around that with the legal technique of taking the word 'constitution' and adding the word 'shmonstitution' to the end of it." —Jon Stewart

But you should go read the others as well. (He also links to my most recent bit on guns, for which, many thanks.)
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SHOOTINGS DAY 21: DAY THE LAST?

Maybe we really are in endgame. No-one is saying, but everyone is hinting once again, and I must admit, as the stories of connections with Alabama, Tacoma and other circumstances get reported, it is sounding more and more likely. Given that virtually everyone who has had a theory about this case, including me, has been wrong, it is probably a time for patient silence (or maybe impatient silence). In the meantime, here are the latest details:

NBC’s Pete Williams cited sources as saying the two were tied to the sniper attacks via several leads:

A Tacoma, Wash., home once lived in by Muhammad was searched Wednesday and investigators found bullet fragments as well as a tree stump that had been used as target practice.
A caller to the FBI tip line had bragged that a Montgomery, Ala., shooting in September was tied to the sniper, and Malvo’s fingerprints were reportedly found at that scene.
Malvo’s prints reportedly were also found on a piece of paper at one of the sniper crime scenes.
A Jamaican bank account provided by the person communicating with police was tied to Malvo, said to have been born in Jamaica.
In addition, the Baltimore Sun and Seattle Times reported that investigators had received a tip about Muhammad from a Tacoma-area phone.
A federal source told the Seattle Times that a friend of Muhammad’s and Malvo’s, made the call, saying he “had suspicions” about the pair.
The tipster reportedly said the two sometimes took target practice at the Tacoma home even though it is in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood.
The source added that the tipster said the two fired a rifle that uses .223 caliber bullets, the same as those in the sniper attacks.

HOW MEN WERE TAKEN

The two were taken into custody at 3:19 a.m. ET Thursday after a motorist at a rest stop spotted a car for which police had issued an all points bulletin just three hours earlier.

Police closed off a portion of Interstate 70 near Myersville in Frederick County, Md., while they detained Muhammad and Malvo, who were sleeping in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Police said they were taken into custody without incident.
The men were then taken to Montgomery County, Md., where the sniper investigation is based.
The arrests came amid a flurry of activity in the investigation of the attacks that have killed 10 people and wounded three others since Oct. 2.
Muhammad, who also goes by the name John Allen Williams, is said to be Malvo’s stepfather.
Investigators publicly stressed that Muhammad and Malvo were only being questioned, but law enforcement sources told NBC News that the two could be charged with murder as early as Thursday.



Wednesday, October 23, 2002

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UPDATE 2

No word yet on whether investigators have taken up Glenn Reynold's suggestion to place bowhunters in trees around the Washington D.C. area. However, they are searching for a 1990 Chevy Caprice and want to speak to two men, one in his forties, believed to be ex-army of ten years and the other possibly in his teens. The media obviously know more than they are letting on, but we are about to get a press conference from Chief Moose, so hopefully all, or most will be revealed.

UPDATE 3

The guys they want: John Mohamed aka John Allen Williams (Black, 6' 1") and Lee Malvo. They say this is about an unrelated firearms offence. But they also say that they might have information that is useful. License Plate: New Jersey NDA 21Z.

Moose just gave his press conference with these details. Then he made a separate announcement directed at the sniper. He said stuff about understanding the difficulty he has had contacting them. He offered to set up a phone line "just for you" and he said they had an answer to the questions he (the sniper) had.

They're the basics as I know them now.

However, I've been watching the MSNBC coverage and they, despite uttering the usual provisos about not jumping to conclusions, have let it be implied all night that the two named men were in fact the snipers (never stated, only implied) and that that is what Moose would announce. When this didn't eventuate, their "expert" had the nerve to say "this is almost exactly what I had expected," when in fact he had spent the entire evening big-noting himself with information he had that we didn't. It was shoddy in the extreme.

I'll be interested to see how others react to this because my impression was certainly that we were a lot further along than we now seem to be, and that tonight was going to be the announcement of suspects. Let me be clear: they were very careful to not to actually say this; however, the nature of their discussions led you to believe that were simply complying with police wishes not to say anything definitive until the police themselves had made the announcement. This simply wasn't true.

The long and the short of it is, apparently, they have a couple of guys out there who are armed and dangerous who might be of help with their inquiries, there seems to be some link with some evidence in Washington State, and they are still negotiating with the sniper. Anybody who tells you any more than that, based on televised information, is lying.
SHOOTINGS DAY 20

Ballisitic evidence has confirmed the shooting of a bus driver yesterday connects that murder with the other sniper shootings of the last two weeks. The sniper also left another note, repeating his demands and threats. These include a demand for ten million dollars and threats to hurt more children.

Does the Washington-area sniper really want $10million? I doubt it. So why ask for it? To see if he can get the police to give it to him. Apparently the note said that all this was "about more than killing people", which I don't doubt. It is about something like excercising power and control. Shooting people definitely lets you do that, but so does making ridiculous financial requests connected to complicated instructions about delivery. My guess is that it is ultimately the killing rather than the money that this guy will find the most satisfying.

Regardless, negotiations don't seem to be going too well. There's been trouble with the tape recorded voice; difficulty with the money transfer ("not electronically possible", as Moose put it); and the police have also asked that the sniper ring in and get a toll-free number that he can contact police on (glad it's toll free; hate to think of the guy having to put some change in the pay phone.) As well, there have been hints that the notes have been written in "poor English". How long can it be before CNN has a "forensic linguist" on air? (Might volunteer my services.)

Meanwhile, the White House had a few things to say. President Bush is authorising prayers and money be spent on the effort to catch "this ruthless person on the loose." Mrs Bush Bush reccomended reading to children and opined that, "It's sad." Vice-President Cheney's whereabouts was unknown.

As well, Washington-area spruiker, Ari Fleischer, detailed Federal involvement in the investigation:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has provided to the Sniper
Task Force 454 agents; 59 inspectors, nine canine handlers, and 101
support staffers to do lab and computer and intelligence analyst work.
The Customs Department has provided two A-Star helicopters, which are
light-lift helicopters. And to support them, Customs has provided a
20-person flight team, as well as they have made a Blackhawk
helicopter available.

The United States Secret Service has provided 50 special agents to the
Sniper Task Force. The FBI has 600 personnel working on this matter.
They are focused on profiling, on working on the leads, the Marshals
-- the Federal Marshals are involved, as well as the Drug Enforcement
Agency are involved. I said earlier that all significant laboratory
work is being conducted at both the FBI and the ATF bureaus. And the
FBI is coordinating all evidence and forensic work.


There has been a lot of activity in the area, though it is probably wrong to assume every siren, or even every helicopter, is connected to this investigation. Still, each and every one makes you think of it and ignites the feeling that either there has been another murder or they have finally got him. Unfortunately, the former always seems more likely than the latter. I continue to get many emails expressing good wishes towards me and my family, for which I am very grateful. I notice, too, that Jeff Cooper has blogged on the mysteries of "connection-by-blog" and I thank him for that. BTW: continue to check out Shouting 'cross the Potomac for further information.

UPDATE:::::

And then as we speak, police and federal agents are conducting a search on the other side of the United States, in Tacoma, Washington State. They are raking a backyard in a suburban house, using metal detectors, looking for shell casings and bullet fragments, according to MSNBC. Way too early to conclude anything -- though apparently it is the house and not the occupant that is of interest. (Perhaps a former residence of a suspect?) Anyway, the only thing that seems certain is that there is a connection with our friendly neighbourhood sniper, here in the other Washington, District of Columbia.
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GUNS as FREEDOM and FREEDOM FROM GUNS

In the wake of the shootings at Monash University in Melbourne, it is interesting to see the Australian blog reaction. Across the ideological spectrum the responses I've seen have generally (generally) called for more control, not less. Once again it highlights the cultural differences between my homeland and my current place of residence. It also highlights the fact that American groups, like the NRA, who constantly use Australia as an example of their so-called slippery-slope argument--that regulation leads to confiscation--are simply being dishonest. The argument doesn't arise, as confiscation is not an issue. Australians, by and large, wanted gun control; they supported the buy-back scheme (confiscation, if you prefer); and they re-elected the government that instigated their wishes. American gun advocates should be more careful how they use overseas examples.

As Jason Soon points out:

If I were an American I would take a more nuanced position on gun control than the one I am taking here in agreeing with John (i.e. a ban on all private ownership of handguns) but because the circumstances there differ in two respects -
i) there is already a tradition of widespread gun ownership that has to be taken into account because it would mean a greater circulation of guns among criminals, which might have the sorts of consequences discussed in the Lott and Mustard study if a ban were enforced. Which is not to say that an effective ban which significantly diminished the circulation of firearms would be impossible with sufficient political commitment. Fortunately we need not worry about these matters - the genie has not yet been let out of the bottle in Australia. I have never seen a real gun in my life and would like to keep it that way;
ii) there is obviously a constitutional issue that all good liberals must take account of. Again, there is fortunately no such complication in the Australian system. And we are not any less freer (sic) than Americans because of it, though we are undoubtedly more secure in body and property.


In fact, the Australian government is speaking once again about tightening gun laws and once again has clear public support, even if the Victorian Government is reluctant. Handgun ownership, in particular, needs to be addressed and was a weakness in the legislation passed in the wake of the Port Arthur shooting. (Link via Bargarz, another Ozblogger in favour of gun control.)

John Quiggin notes: "[T]he Monash killer was, until yesterday, a perfect example of the 'ordinary law-abiding gun-owner' represented by bodies like the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia." Thus, even ownership regulation is insufficient and there should be an outright ban, with a few specific exceptions. "When the SSAA has worked out a foolproof plan to keep potential murderers out of their ranks, I'd be happy to give their guns back." Ken Parish comes to a similar conclusion.

Ken, in fact, takes a closer look at some of the statistical arguments, including attempts by American John Lott to inject himself into the Australian argument. Ken's post is a useful debunking of some of the facts that are currently being pedaled by some Australian bloggers, such as Zem. It's worth a read.

Jason Soon's instinctive attempt to contextualise his response within Australian experience is worthy of mention.

On the other hand, we have influential people here in the US who consistently argue from an American perspective in assessing gun laws in other countries, all the while, of course, being annoyed when those in other countries dare to apply their standards to America. Thus Glenn Reynolds endorses Natalie Solent's complaint that some British arguments ignore legitimate American concerns and actual conditions:

Briefly, here my main complaint: nowhere is there any attempt to describe the rational, statistical and historical arguments against gun control. The whole BBC diagnosis - I use the word advisedly - is in terms of the US psyche. In terms of "a splinter embedded in the US psyche", actually (in the sidebar here), in case the careless reader does not get that we are talking about a mental problem here. There are plenty of factual arguments against gun control that have nothing to do with anyone's psyche, but the BBC ignores them. John Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime is extremely well known in the US and is, I would say, the biggest focus of head-to-head statistical debate between the two sides; you won't even hear the subversive title quoted by the BBC. Lott claims, among other things, that spree killings take place disproportionately in places such as schools where the murderer can expect to find unarmed victims.

Even if we allow for what I'd say is way-too-uncritical reading of Lott's material, Solent's are probably reasonable concerns. But the argument has to cut both ways.

Reynolds doesn't seem to realise this. He also links approvingly to this piece about British attempts at gun control and shows once again that he doesn't like others doing to him what he claims the British are doing to the US, complaining about "an almost pathological hostility to the very idea of self-defense, and an idealization of "professionals" as a source of protection."

In fact, as in Australia, it is not a pathological hostility to self-defense, as Reynolds condescendingly says, as a vast and general mistrust of living in a society full to overflowing with guns. Some people don't like it and are happy to see their governments try and do something about it. Different countries with different historical conditions have, not surprisingly, come to different conclusions about how they want to deal with guns. Reynolds can't see past his own blinkered views about what constitutes the correct relationship between a people and its government (see here for some further thoughts on this).

Reynolds has even recently argued that something like the Second Amendment of the US Constitution should be incorporated within universal human right's law.

The argument is spurious beyond belief. Using examples like the genocides of Rwanda and Somalia he suggests that, "Given that the traditional approaches of conventions and tribunals have failed miserably, the human rights community should be prepared to endorse a new international human right: the right of law-abiding citizens to be armed." Such "arguments" might not answer the perennial question as to why other people seem to "hate" Americans, but it might help answer the generally more pressing one as to why many people get annoyed at Americans. Put briefly, some of us would like to see Americans stop trying to universalise practices just because they like how they work in their neck of the woods.

The silliness of the argument is shown when we apply Reynolds' conclusions based on African examples to a country with completely different circumstances, like say, Australia or Britain. Even if we concede his main point and allow that an armed population might have prevented massacre in the African examples (although we should seriously consider, as Reynolds does not, the possibility that guns would have added to the death toll), to simply reduce the reasons for genocide to the lack of armed civilians is extremely misleading. To even imply, as Reynolds does, that the African examples were simply a case of an armed government turning on an unarmed population is itself spurious. But to then universalise from such examples borders on dishonesty.

Ultimately, Reynolds endorses the conclusions reached in a Washington University Law Quarterly article: "a connection exists between the restrictiveness of a country's civilian weapons policy and its liability to commit genocide." Well, as long as you take nothing else into account, I guess. On this logic, governments in Australia and Britain are on the verge of unleashing genocide. If your reaction to this is, oh come one, Rwanda and Somalia are completely different cases, then you've understood my point against universalisation.

Given Reynolds' usual contempt for the United Nations, one wonders why he is willing to encourage its adoption of such an approach or why he is even interested in how they conduct their business. Could it have anything to do with the fact that an individualist right to bear arms enshrined in international human rights law would provide good support to attempts to get the US Supreme Court to interpret the Second Amendment as an individual right? If so, his argument is not just silly; it is cynical in the extreme.

The reaction of another Australian blogger illustrates a further point. Economist Alex Robson also quotes favourably the previously mentioned article from Reason. The article, in part, says this:

Gun regulations have been part of a more general disarmament based on the proposition that people don't need to protect themselves because society will protect them. It also will protect their neighbors: Police advise those who witness a crime to "walk on by" and let the professionals handle it....
But modern English governments have put public order ahead of the individual's right to personal safety. First the government clamped down on private possession of guns; then it forbade people to carry any article that might be used for self-defense; finally, the vigor of that self-defense was to be judged by what, in hindsight, seemed "reasonable in the circumstances."...


To which Alex appends: "So much for Jason Soon's "essence of the rule of law".

Not unlike American gun advocates, Alex seems to see this less as an issue about guns per se and more about arguments to do with individual rights versus the role of the state. Any regulation is opposed simply because of what Jason Soon, in a great later response, calls "knee-jerk libertarianism". It's a good description.

The individual rights' arguments in regard to guns founder in the same way that so many other individual rights argument founder: they fail to recognise that individual freedom is a product of social conditions not something separate from it (see here for some more of my discussion of this).

I've lived in England, the US and Australia for lengthy periods of time and have felt far less safe in the US than in the other two. Grossly unfair, I suppose, in one respect, as it it is neither quantifiable nor provable, but in a sense that is the point. It is as much about an individual's background level of comfort as they go about their day-to-day business as it is about statistics, theories of self-defence or philosophies of government. As someone who is highly unlikely to ever own a gun for any reason, including personal defence, I'm always going to feel safer in a society with less guns than one with more. In fact, I'm going to be safer in a society where gun ownership is minimal. The less people with guns the less likely I am to be confronted by someone with a gun. If one of my objects in life is to not be shot, then my personal safety is enhanced by an absence of guns, even if such absence can't be enforced completely. I'm happy, as are most Australians, to allow a democratic government, acting with a clear majority of support, to minimise firearm ownership and heavily regulate those that remain. The simple truth is, most gun advocates aren't. So who is impinging on whose freedom?

I understand that circumstances in the US perhaps dictate a different approach to what I would prefer and to that which I applaud in Australia. US gun advocates should recognise the same thing about other countries and stop trying to interpret events (or even statistics) from elsewhere through their own prejudices.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

OTHER BLOGGERS ADMINISTER GEORGE W. A POLYGRAPH

Two other good bloggers have also commented on the Bush Administration's elastic approach to semantics, Jeff Cooper and Josh Marshall. I've got two posts on it below.
DAY 19 -- UPDATE 2

I heard a journalist say on CNN last night that the note left by the sniper at the Ponderosa in Richmond, Virginia, was quite lengthy and contained a number of specific threats. The journalist said that the media had been asked not to reveal any of the information they had been made privy to. Nonetheless, there is a link to a news story circulating on some blogs at the moment that does report some of the specific detail. Depending on how things go, I might link to it at some stage. In fact, I now notice that the NY Post is also running with the same information, namely, that school children in the Richmond area have been threatened. So it looks like that particular embargo has been forgotten. The article further claims that the note is three pages long and demands money. Maybe it does, but I doubt the sniper wants money.

In the meantime, CNN provide this useful point-by-point that summarises some of the confusing events of last few days:

?A letter police believe to have been left by the sniper behind the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia -- the scene of Saturday night's sniper shooting -- contained a phone number. Police were instructed to call the sniper at that phone number to establish communication.

?Police said the number was for a residence and they felt that the sniper had inadvertently transposed the last two digits of the phone number. When the numbers were reordered, the phone number led to a business, which investigators thought was a more likely point of contact.

?Authorities had both the original number and what they believed to be the intended number routed to the sniper task force offices in Rockville, Maryland.

?Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles Moose stood in front of television news cameras Sunday night and announced: "To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa last night -- you gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you. Call us at the number you provided."

?Investigators believe the sniper called the number -- now routed to the task force -- Monday morning but used some kind of device to disguise his voice, according to the source. The source would not say whether the caller appeared to be using a tape recorder or some sort of voice-altering device.

?Moose came out again before news cameras Monday afternoon, saying, "The person you called could not hear everything that you said. The audio was unclear. We want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand."

?One official said that the letter found behind the Ponderosa restaurant contained several demands and a timeline for officials to act. If officials failed to act, the source said, the letter threatened other attacks.


What this neglects to mention is that news of the note came to the police via their tipline and that that call was traced to a phone booth in the Richmond area which in turn led to the stake-out we witnessed yesterday. It seems most likely that call was made by the sniper or an accomplice, if there is one, which means, doesn't it, that he never actually left the area of the Richmond shooting which, if true, has all sorts of ramifications for the investigation that no-one really seems to be speaking about. For a start, it undermines the importance of the "white van" angle and it might even suggest we are dealing with someone who is able to be in the area and not be noticed. It seems to me at least as likely that he stays in the area after the shooting as it does that he escapes in a white van. The big problem with the "stay" theory is what happens to the gun.

Speaking of the tip-line, this report says they have had over 7000 calls including a couple of people claiming to the sniper.

Many news channels last night, as they lined up their "experts", claimed that the new note and the phone contact indicated that things had "moved into a different phase", that it had "turned a corner" or "crossed a line" and even that we were "entering endgame". I must admit that there is a sense of that, though it's hard to define. Nonetheless, this morning's shooting, presuming of course that it was carried out by the same guy, suggests that we are once again back to business as usual. He won't stop until he's caught.

UPDATE 3

One site I haven't spent a lot of time on before but that is providing some good information and reasonable discussion is Shouting 'cross the Potomac. Check it out for supplementary information.
DAY 19 - UPDATE

The man shot this morning was a 40 year old bus driver. He has just died in a Maryland hospital. I'm sure everyone's thoughts are with his family.

FACT CHECKING THE PRESIDENT'S ASS

After my posts last evening about the way the Bush Administration has shamelessly sought to redefine the term "regime change" comes this article in The Washington Post this morning:

As Bush leads the nation toward a confrontation with Iraq and his party into battle in midterm elections, his rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy in recent weeks. Statements on subjects ranging from the economy to Iraq suggest that a president who won election underscoring Al Gore's knack for distortions and exaggerations has been guilty of a few himself.

Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition. Ronald Reagan was known for his apocryphal story about liberating a concentration camp. Bill Clinton fibbed famously and under oath about his personal indiscretions to keep a step ahead of Whitewater prosecutors. Richard M. Nixon had his Watergate denials, and Lyndon B. Johnson was often accused of stretching the truth to put the best face on the Vietnam War. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, too, played with the truth during the Gary Powers and Bay of Pigs episodes.

"Everybody makes mistakes when they open their mouths and we forgive them," Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess said. Some of Bush's overstatements appear to be off-the-cuff mistakes. But, Hess said, "what worries me about some of these is they appear to be with foresight. This is about public policy in its grandest sense, about potential wars and who is our enemy, and a president has a special obligation to getting it right."


While it's nice to see the President picked up for this, I think Hesiod is right in saying:

Why not just state the TRUTH? The President is a LIAR. And not just about mundane things, like trying to cover up a personal sex scandal....No. He LIES about life and death issues, such as the basis for our going to war!

Regardless, the rest of the article is worth a read because of the list of examples it provides.

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SHOOTINGS DAY 19

A man has been shot this morning, much closer to the site of the original murders in the sniper case and therefore much closer to our home. Details are really vague as I write this, but it seems he was shot while getting off a bus. He's alive, but in a critical condition in a Maryland hospital. I can hear the helicopter/s overhead and have been watching the footage on CNN. The bus stop seems to be in a reasonably built up suburban area and there is kid's playground nearby which, of course, backs onto a wooded area. Latest reports suggest a single shot, "tremendously loud" as one witness said, which it would have sounded at that time in the morning. Police have blocked off the major thoroughfare of Connecticut Ave. I drove my son to school down Wisconsin, another major road connecting Maryland and DC, and the traffic was no worse than usual. A police car was at the front of the school and this morning was the first morning I heard parents talking openly about the events. Normally such talk is tactfully avoided. And just to prove how rational human beings are, the conversations I heard were about how our school was an unlikely target as there was no easy access, and therefore no easy escape. Such are the compensations you look for. After yesterday's hype and anti-climax there is a real sense that this guy is consciously trying to manipulate police and the people in the area, keeping resources stretched and everybody on edge. I wonder about what leads police really have and wonder too how close to home they are looking.

Monday, October 21, 2002

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THE ONGOING PROMISE TO MOVE THIS SITE ELSEWHERE

Blogger seems to be slower on the uptake at the moment than George Bush at a quote-reciting convention. My apologies to all visitors to this site for how long it is taking to load. The fickleness of the comments system isn't helping either. I will carry my blog-home elsewhere soon, once work permits. In the meantime, I hope regular as well as recent visitors will persevere.

BTW: Ken Parish has already made the move. I advise you all to go visit his new digs.
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WORDS WILL MEAN EXACTLY WHAT WE WANT THEM TO MEAN:
HUMPTY DUMPTIES IN THE WHITE HOUSE


Two posts down I noted that "regime change" seems to have changed its meaning as the Bush Administration pulls back from actually attacking Iraq. If the policy has changed, then apparently so must the meaning of this phrase. To repeat, both Fleischer and Bush today have said words to the effect: "...if Iraq did all the things the president called on them to do...then the very nature of the regime would have changed," suggesting a marked shift in meaning. However, the public record is simply too full of examples of the previous meaning for them to get away with this:

Condoleezza Rice, 3 months before the election that (more or less) brought Bush to power, August 9, 2000:

"The containment of Iraq should be aimed ultimately at regime change, because as long as Saddam is there, no one in the region is safe."

Ari Felischer

--- However, when Fleischer was asked if inspectors are allowed in, can Iraq still avoid a regime change, he replied: "The policy of the United States is regime change with or without inspectors."

---Donald Rumsfeld, 3 Sept 2002:

"The policy of our government has been [a] regime change" in Iraq that deposes Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld said.

---Dick Cheney:

"I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein. Some concede that Saddam is evil, power hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons we should rule out any preemptive action.

"That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this: `Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it,"` he said.

"Yet if we did wait until that moment, Saddam would simply be emboldened and it would become even harder for us to gather friends and allies to oppose him."

In Afghanistan, he said, "the world has seen that America acts not to conquer, but to liberate ... We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq.

"With our help, a liberated Iraq can be a great nation once again," he said.

There's also this story about a Cheney speech which also makes the meaning pretty clear.

And lest there be any doubt at all as to how "regime change" was being used by the Administration, here it is explained, straight from the President's mouth:

George W. Bush, April 6, 2002:

"The policy of my government is the removal of Saddam," he said at a news conference April 6. He added, "I think 'regime change' sounds a lot more civil, doesn't it?"
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SHOOTINGS UPDATE 6

The latest from CNN, who I have to say have been hyping-by-implication that the sniper was in the bag. It ain't necessarily so, or even very likely:

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Authorities have found no evidence connecting two men who were taken into custody Monday near Richmond, Virginia to the sniper attacks, law enforcement sources said.

They described the men as undocumented workers -- a Mexican and a Guatemalan -- who "may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time," according to CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena.

Two men were taken into custody Monday morning and questioned as part of the sniper shootings probe. One was a Mexican man, 24, in a white Plymouth Voyager who stopped at a pay phone at an Exxon gas station near Richmond.

Neither man was initially charged with any crime, and federal law enforcement sources said no evidence has been found linking either man to the shootings.


Having had that small dig at CNN, it probably should be said that the police bear some responsibility for the over-reaction. I've been basically impressed with how they have handled this awful event, including media relations, but this is a blemish no matter how you look at it. They needed to nip such speculation in the bud much earlier in the piece.
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JUST TO PROVE IT'S NOT ALL SNIPERS ALL OF THE TIME

The White House has a new line. It involves redefining, for purposes of fudge, the term "regime change." I just heard George Bush use almost exactly the following words, but these ones are actually quoted from the whirling Dervish of media control, Ari Fleischer:

"Clearly, if Iraq did all the things the president called on them to do, which they seem to have no inclination to do, then the very nature of the regime would have changed," Fleischer said.

So we no longer require Saddam to actually vacate office or die, we just require a slight metaphysical adjustment, a willingness to do what he is told. Is that what everybody else thought "regime change" meant up to this point?

To further add to the centrifugal force emanating from the office of spin, Fleischer also said:

"Let the change of ways take place and ask me about it after it takes place, and we'll discuss it," Fleischer said. "This is one of the greatest stretches of the hypotheticals, of the possibles, of the unlikelies, that we could possibly, hypothetically discuss."

The article doesn't record if the journalists present fell on the floor laughing.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go and see if my son has implemented "clothes change" since getting home from school. Clearly if he has decided to alter the clothes he wore to school then the very nature of his clothes will have changed.
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SHOOTINGS -- UPDATE 5

Richmond police just gave a press conference that clarified nothing. In fact, you couldn't hear it and not come away less confident that they have caught the sniper/s. Maybe they have, but more likely, they have caught someone who was trying to sell information to the police. It seems information about the presence of a note at the Ponderosa was phoned into a tip line. The call was traced to a booth near the crime scene and close to the phone booth where two men were apprehended this morning. The note apparently included an "allusion" (CNN word) to money. The thrust of the reporting is that the two guys captured this morning had more to do with the note than the killings. Still, I don't see how someone who wasn't involved in the killings managed to leave a note at the crime scene.

All very confusing, and lest I attract the ire of Wired, I will refrain from speculating too much (which has been my general policy all along).

MORE INFO:

One of the guys taken in (not arrested, despite my use of that word earlier) was described as "born in Mexico".

The voice that rang in the note tip was in an accent described as "uncertain origin"

The last shooting has been positively linked to the others via forensic evidence of the bullet removed from the victim

The victim is recovery and is expected to survive

One CNN reporter was pretty confidently saying that "her sources" were quoting a 7 out of 10 chance that the guys apprehended were the snipers. She seemed a lot less confident after this latest press conference. Me too.
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SHOOTINGS -- UPDATE 4

The most interesting thing at this stage--apart from the arrests, obviously--is that Chief Moose made his announcement about preparing a response to the people who phoned them at almost the exact moment that the two people in Richmond were being picked up. The significance of this is that it suggests that there may be others involved to whom Moose was addressing himself - an accomplice, a witness, somebody who provided a tip. Alternatively, maybe he was trying to redirect the media from the "sting". On the subject of the sting, it seems to me that one explanation is this: it was the sniper/s who left the message at the latest crime scene and to which Moose referred last night. The message was something to the effect that that he/they had had enough and wanted to surrender. They made the arrangements and this is what we saw this morning in Richmond. Watching the news, the pick-up occurred at a phone booth outside a gas station. A white MPV pulled up in front of the booth and the police moved in almost immediately. A person was taken from the car and driven away. Looks like someone was trying to avoid being seen and being shot. Pure speculation on my part.

For more info, there will be press conference at 1pm.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 18 -- UPDATE 3

Here's as much as anyone knows at the moment, via CNN. I just watched some footage of the "sting" operation and the police taking the van away. Pretty amazing:

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Police looking for the sniper who has terrorized the Washington area for nearly three weeks picked up two men for questioning Monday, a federal law enforcement source said.

The first man was in a white minivan -- described by a witness as a Plymouth Voyager -- that had pulled up to a pay phone at a gas station in Henrico County. The second man was picked up "in the vicinity," the source said.

The men were picked up without incident, the source said, based on information that "some people of interest might be in that area." Both men were taken to the Henrico County Jail for questioning.

It was not known whether they are connected to the sniper shootings, which have killed nine people and wounded at least two since October 2.

One witness, R.E. Dotson, said the minivan had a temporary Virginia license tag but no state inspection sticker. Another witness, Keith Underwood, said the man did not put up a struggle after officers got him out of the vehicle, which was then towed away.

Other developments

The sniper task force confirmed that a letter was found in the woods behind the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia, where a 37-year-old man was shot and critically wounded Saturday night on the way to his car in a rear parking lot with his wife. A source close to the investigation said the letter included "significant content."


The letter was the first communication police have found in their investigation since October 7 when a Tarot card was found near the scene of a shooting at a middle school in Bowie, Maryland.


Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles Moose issued a brief, cryptic statement on the sniper shootings around the Washington area. "We are going to respond to a message that we have received," he said Monday. "We will respond later. We are preparing a response at this time."


The victim of Saturday's shooting was in critical but guarded condition at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond after doctors operated a second time. More operations are likely.
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IS THE WASHINGTON SNIPER FRENCH? NOW INCLUDING UPDATES TO BREAKING NEWS

As if in defiance of the Wired story about the way blogs speculate, what about this story from Reuters:

France's Defence Ministry has confirmed the desertion of a student from its prestigious St Cyr military school who left for a holiday in Canada and the United States in August and failed to return.
Defence Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said on Monday that he could not confirm some media reports that the man had been identified by fellow trainee soldiers from a police sketch of the sniper who has killed nine people in the Washington area since October 2.

U.S. authorities have not released a sketch of the sniper to the public.

"At this stage, we have absolutely no certainty that this military deserter is the Washington sniper," Bureau said.

The French man, aged 25, who had shooting experience and was training to be a second lieutenant, has been reported missing to local police and gendarmerie who forwarded his details to Interpol, he said.

Bureau said the man had been reported as a deserter in early October and that he had had no contact with his family since leaving for North America sometime in August.


This is going to need some investigation! And thanks to Bernard Slattery for emailing me the story.

UPDATE: The big breaththrough??

Authorities in Virginia have taken an individual into custody in what may be a development related to a series of sniper shootings in the Washington D.C. area.

Police surrounded an outdoor phone at a service station in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, some 25 kilometers south of where a sniper struck Saturday. One person was detained and his car was taken away.
Link.

ALSO:

After last night's cryptic plea for "a person" to contact them, the police apparently have been contacted:

Authorities trying to communicate with the Washington-area sniper said Monday they have received a message and were preparing a response.

The investigators didn't specify whether the message was a new communication or the same one they discovered near the scene of the latest shooting.

Police in the Richmond suburbs, meanwhile, surrounded a gray and white van parked next to an outdoor phone. They later towed it away.

"The message that needs to be delivered is that we are going to respond to a message that we have received," Montgomery County police Chief Charles Moose said in Rockville, Md. "We are preparing a response at this time."

Moose left the podium immediately after the statement, and said beforehand he would not take any questions.

Police found a note in the woods near the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, Va., a few miles north of Richmond, after a man was shot and critically wounded Saturday night.


But do these two pieces of news perhaps contradict each other?

UPDATE 2

CNN is covering live and reports 2 people are in custody and being questioned.
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BLOGGERS AND THE SNIPER

Being an astute observer, I managed to notice the ten million hits I've got today from Wired. They've done a story about how the blogs are covering the Washington sniper. It concentrates on the "conspiracy theory" angle, which is fair enough in one way as many blogs are overdoing the guessing game. Nonetheless, it might have been nice to also acknowledge that some sites have given a pretty good discussion of other matters that arise, especially in regard to gun control. Still, it was pretty brief article and I guess you can't cover everything.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

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WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT?

Zem links to an amazing statistic.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 17 -- UPDATE

The Maryland police chief gave a brief and cryptic press conference earlier this evening:

To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa (restaurant) last night, you gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you, call us at the number you provided.

He wouldn't say anymore and wouldn't take questions. Good way to calm speculation.

I've been watching the endless guessing on CNN and their "experts" are warning us not to jump to any conclusions, but are obviously talking themselves into the conclusion that it is a message left by the killer. Another possibility is that it was left by someone who witnessed the crime last night and is going to great lengths to keep their identity hidden. I can understand why someone might really want to stay anonymous, but I suspect that if you were witness and that's what you wanted, you'd probably still try and ring in anonymously or maybe mail a letter.

"Call us at the number you provided," suggests a note with a public phone number on it, or maybe they even left a mobile phone at the crime scene and intend to ring that. Would be a risky thing to do. Still, if, if, if this was left by the killer, then this is a big change and suggests that the whole thing might be about to play itself out. It also further diminishes the chances of a Middle Eastern terrorist connect, I think, in that they would have no intention of finishing up in the way that this suggests.

CNN also report that during a second long operation tonight, the bullet was removed from the man shot last night. He's still critical, but it sounds like he might survive, please make it so. Retrieving the bullet is obviously also good news.

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SHOOTINGS IN AUSTRALIA

I'm lifting this straight off the News.com site:

TWO people have been shot dead and up to eight others seriously injured at Monash University's Clayton campus in outer eastern-Melbourne today.

The shooting occurred at the Menzies Building of the university at about 11.20am.

Police say one person is in custody.

An ambulance spokeswoman said paramedics at the scene confirmed two people were dead, and two badly injured.

One young man with abdominal injuries is in a serious condition and will be flown to the Alfred Hospital in inner-Melbourne by helicopter, she said.

Another person has been taken to the Monash Medical Centre and up to six more people may have been shot.

A woman who works at the nearby union building says two injured people with blood on them came through to the medical centre.

She's told Melbourne radio 3AW a former policeman rushed in to call police just before 11.30am.


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SHOOTINGS -- RELATED

Mathematics is very uncomforting, I must admit. I know that I (or my wife or son or someone else close to us or someone not close to us) are more likely to be hit by a car or to be electrocuted in our house or meet some other form of mundane premature end than we are to be hit by a sniper bullet, but it doesn't really help (maybe a bit). Accidents happen. But there is nothing accidental about what this guy is doing, and it is the thought of someone being out there trying to kill whomsoever he chooses that renders any mere calculation of numbers pretty much irrelevant.

Still, it is as well to remember that in the time the sniper has been at work in the area around my home, 18 other people have died at the hands of more conventional murderers: "They included a congressional intern who was also a poet. A mother found stabbed in her apartment. A young man who called his mother every day to tell her he loved her....Six of these deaths occurred in Prince George's County and one in Montgomery County; no traditional homicides were reported in Northern Virginia. One body was found in the woods of Howard County. Another victim was a mother who doted on the daughter she named Diamond. One worked for a caterer at the CIA. Another fled a civil war in his native Sierra Leone, only to see his mother die when terrorists crashed a hijacked plane into the Pentagon last year."

As I say, as well to remember. However, do I detect, what? a slight tone of chastisement in this article too?:

The stories of these other violent deaths -- now called "traditional homicides" by detectives -- were not broadcast across the country. No multijurisdictional task forces investigated, and no news conferences were held. In a region living in fear of a sniper, the deaths of these homicide victims have gone largely unnoticed, their lives unheralded by those who never knew of their violent end.

If so, at whom is it directed?
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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Since I started reading blogs, James Russell's Hot Buttered Death has been one I checked in on regularly. Of late though, he has really cranked it up a notch. He seems to be doing a lot more extended commentary, rather than simply a link to a story with a passing comment of his own. I reckon he's doing a great job, and I'm really enjoying the range of topics and what he has to say. If you haven't checked in for while, click HERE.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 17

The man shot last night is still in a critical condition in hospital. They have been unable to remove the bullet from him and therefore cannot confirm a link with the other killings. At the risk of yet more idle speculation, I'd be very surprised if this wasn't connected:

The man came out of surgery shortly after 11 p.m. Fort Wayne time after about three hours of surgery and was in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Pam Lepley said. She said his injuries were still life-threatening and wouldn't speculate on whether he would recover.

Some witnesses said they heard the shot coming from a wooded area at the edge of the parking lot, Ashland Police Chief Frederic Pleasants said. He said no bullet had been recovered and no witnesses reported seeing the shooter.

Ashland is about 90 miles south of Washington and about 35 miles south of Fredericksburg, where two previous shootings this month were linked to the sniper.


Watching the live telecast on CNN last night, it seems that the police did a great job in closing the area down very quickly, getting road blocks into place. Despite this, there is no sign of the guy. So it is starting to seem that road-blocking is something the police do because they can, and not because it is effective. I guess you could say that it is still necessary, limiting the escape options, but unless it is being done in conjunction with other procedures, I suspect it will remain ineffective. It really seems to me, based on nothing much, that this guy is just walking away from the scene, particularly easy last night under cover of dark and through a wooded area. As this site suggests, I'd be checking the nearby hotels (also some useful information there about the location of the latest shooting including a map).

Meanwhile, the "lead" reported yesterday of a shell casing found in a rental van looks to have petered out. Predictably, I would have thought, as mentioned below.

If you're interested in a bit of background on the forensics of shell cases etc, here's an article. (Incidentally, for Australian readers, the coin they use in the photograph for scale is a little smaller than one of our ten-cent pieces.)

Also, the talk of gun control is thick in the air. The Democrat candidate in the upcoming Maryland elections seems to be getting some traction with calls for stricter controls. There is some further, more general, discussion here. This story, incidentally, comes from Minneapolis, where, as I said in this post, gun control was one of the questions that featured at a candidates debate the other night.

Of course, there is still plenty of opposition to "using" this sniper incident as an "excuse" for limiting weapon ownership or even regulating their use (slippery slope to confiscation you understand). For instance, AmSoAPundit writes: "A lone, cowardly gunman murdering people in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, should not be cause to deprive us of our gun rights any more than a racist inciting hatred against minority groups should be cause to deprive us of our free speech rights."

It seems gun advocates are never short of glib phrases. Surely the point is that this is not a case of A single incident causing a rethink, but simply the latest example in a long line of crimes that seem to be aided and abetted by easy access to guns. The "argument" is bogus. Having said that, AmSoAPundit has some great discussion of the broader issues, which I'd like to respond to sometime soon.